Inner Strength

by Krickis

18 - Inner Strength

Chapter Eighteen

Inner Strength

“Princess? We’re running late.”

“Just a minute, we’re almost ready,” Twilight answered through the door.

In actuality, they were sitting on the hotel bed while Fluttershy panicked at the thought of the crowd forming at the convention center. “It’ll be okay, Shy. Remember, they’re all there because they support us.”

“I know,” Fluttershy said. They were in Canterlot, which was expected to be the biggest stop of their tour. It was also the first real stop. They had made an appearance in Ponyville before leaving, but it had been much less formal, since they knew most of the ponies in town. It turned out that almost everyone back home did support them, but they had been so focused on the negative reactions that they never even noticed the positive ones. But Canterlot was home to the Virtuous Equestrian Society, which put both of them on edge.

Fluttershy took a deep breath, mimicking Twilight’s breathing technique. She stood up and put on her most worry-free smile. “I’m fine. We should get going, we don’t want to be late.”

As soon as they left the room, they were flanked by guards. Twilight had complained about them, but apparently Princess Celestia had insisted. It was an official publicity tour by Equestrian royalty, after all, and even if Twilight could protect the two of them by herself, the guards did add an air of authority to their presence. So they let the guards escort them down to a chariot to ride through Canterlot, Twilight awkwardly adjusting her crown the whole way.

They stopped before they could reach their destination. “What’s wrong?” Twilight asked.

“Some ponies are blocking the road,” a guard answered. “We’ll take care of it.”

They waited for a few minutes, but nothing happened and eventually Twilight grew restless. “It’s got to be the VES. Wait here, I’ll go check on things.”

“No, I’m going too,” Fluttershy said. She was nervous about facing them, but that was part of why she wanted to go. She had been terrified of Stormy Skies, but since she stood up to him, all of her nightmares had stopped. She wasn’t going to let her fears stop her, especially from standing beside Twilight.

When they stepped out, they saw hundreds of ponies blocking the way. The guards were trying to reason with them, but they weren’t moving. A few of the guards started making threats of imprisonment, but they did little good. Pretty soon things were going to get forceful unless somepony backed down.

Although a lot of the protesters were shouting angry slurs or carrying signs with hateful messages, Fluttershy didn’t want anything bad to happen to them. After what Silver Spark had told them about why the VES was formed, she wondered how many of them were just afraid of something they didn’t understand. She had faith that Twilight would be able to resolve things peacefully, but when she turned, she found the alicorn staring wide eyed into the crowd, which easily outnumbered their escort twenty to one.

“It’s okay, Twi,” Fluttershy said.

“I know, it just looks like a lot. There’s lots of ponies who accept us. Everypony in Ponyville was happy to see us in town again.” Twilight spoke more to herself than to Fluttershy. “There’s seventy-eight thousand ponies in Canterlot; this is only a small fraction. It's not as bad as it looks. There are just a few hundred ponies here, and they're all here because they hate us.” She started backed up towards the carriage.

Fluttershy draped her wing over Twilight. “Twily, look at me. Just me, don’t pay attention to anypony else. Everything will be okay, I’m here with you. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Twilight said. Even if it was an automatic response it made Fluttershy smile.

“They’re all angry, because they’re afraid. They let fear control them.” She shook her head. “It’s miserable feeling like that. But just because they’re afraid doesn’t mean we have to be. I’m not afraid, because you’re here with me. I love you, and we’ll get through this together, but they’ll just be miserable. I’m not afraid of them because I feel sorry for them.”

Twilight took a deep breath and gave a small nod. She was clearly still upset, but she smiled a little. “Thanks, Shy. You’re right.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but we do have a schedule to keep.” Both mares turned to see Princess Celestia standing by their chariot.

Twilight smiled while Fluttershy began to bow, but was cut off by the princess placing a hoof on her shoulder. “Please, Fluttershy, there’s no need for that.” She pulled the pegasus into a hug before doing the same with Twilight. “I was going to say something sooner, but I couldn’t help overhearing what you said, Fluttershy, and I simply couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“Oh, uhm, well, I’m sure that’s not, uhm…” Fluttershy blushed at the praise and hid in her mane.

“You are indeed wise beyond your years, Fluttershy,” Princess Celestia said. “Twilight is very fortunate to have you to take care of her.”

Twilight smiled and brushed away Fluttershy’s mane. “I certainly am.”

“Now then, there’s still the matter of what to do with these ponies,” Celestia said. “I think I’d better speak with them.”

As Princess Celestia walked towards the protesters many of them bowed and some tried to hide their posters in embarrassment. Very few remained resolute in front of the Solar Princess. “Hello, my little ponies,” she greeted them warmly. “You’re all with the Virtuous Equestrian Society, correct?”

A few murmurs of agreement was all the answer she got.

“While I acknowledge your right to protest, I’m afraid I must inform you it is illegal to do so in the street – or the convention center, which is privately owned. You may gather across the street on the sidewalk if you wish, provided you do so peacefully. Also, if she is in attendance, I’d appreciate if somepony could point me to Ivy Jewel.”

Nopony had to, however, as Ivy Jewel herself walked through the crowd. She greeted the princess as if they were old friends and she was not in direct violation of the law. “Princess Celestia, it’s been too long. How are you, dear?”

From behind Fluttershy and Twilight couldn’t see the princess’s face, but her tone remained pleasant. “I am well, Ivy. I trust you are as well?”

“Oh, I can’t complain. I’ve been doing alright for myself these past few months. It’s always so exciting knowing you’re making a difference. I am afraid we’ll have to disappoint you however, as we won’t be moving.” Even as she said it ponies behind her began shuffling out of the way.

“Ivy, be reasonable. What is it you hope to accomplish?” Celestia asked, sounding like a teacher chiding a student. “I believe your organization claims to be all about spreading information. Doesn’t this seem a little excessive?”

Ivy remained composed, either unaware that her followers were sneaking off one by one or ignoring them. “We will do what we have to in order to keep Equestria on the path to virtue.”

“And you believe barring Princess Twilight from meeting with other ponies is the way to do this?” Princess Celestia shook her head. When she continued the warmth from her tone was gone, although she never elevated her voice. “There are several reasons this will not work. For one, you will not stop Princess Twilight, Fluttershy, or even one pony from entering this important event. Anypony who tries will be spending the night in a prison cell, and I will personally escort them if need be. Secondly, if you did somehow succeed in barring our way, I would simply relocate the event to the castle. Make no mistake, the guards will not allow you anywhere near the premises. Finally, while I don’t expect you to understand, there is nothing wrong with Princess Twilight’s relationship. The only thing that would make me fear for Equestria’s future is if you were to succeed tonight.”

By this point protestors and guests alike were frozen in place watching the scene unfold. Ivy gritted her teeth and didn’t reply.

Twilight walked up to her. “Hello, Ivy.”

“Twilight,” Ivy acknowledged curtly.

“I wanted to let you know I’ve actually taken your advice,” Twilight said. Ivy eyed her suspiciously. “A few months ago I finally found time to catch up with Silver Spark.”

Ivy’s jaw fell, but she quickly composed herself. “Did you now? Well, the princess has made it clear we can’t stay here, so I suppose we’ll be on our way.” Her supporters all turned to her with varying looks of confusion.

“Yes,” Twilight said. “You know, he’s speaking at the event tonight. You’re more than welcome to stay and hear what he has to say.”

“Why is Silver Spark here?”

“Isn’t he one of us?”

“She must be lying…”

“Ivy, what’s she talking about?”

Ivy Jewel lowered her voice. “Please stop, Twilight. Don’t do this to me.”

Anger flashed across Twilight’s face, but before she could say anything Fluttershy put a hoof on her shoulder. Twilight sighed and stepped closer to Ivy. “Ivy, you have no idea what you put us through. But, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, all I want is for you to give your son and his coltfriend another chance. I think if you saw how happy they are together, you’d change your mind about all this.”

Ivy stepped back and narrowed her eyes. “I will give my son all the chances he needs, provided he fix his life choices. Goodbye, Twilight, Celestia.” She stormed off, leaving a bunch of confused followers in her wake.

With one last look at the two princesses, they all stepped aside, clearing the way for ponies to enter the convention center.

Twilight frowned at Ivy Jewel’s departure. Fluttershy nudged her. “It’s okay, Twi. Maybe she’ll come around, but in her own time.”

“Truth be told, she’s always caused more than her fair share of trouble,” Princess Celestia said.

“I really thought she might change her mind, for Silver’s sake,” Twilight said. “I mean, he’s her son. Doesn’t she care about how much she’s probably hurting him?”

“She is misguided and her actions are wrong, but her intent is always with him in mind,” Princess Celestia said. “She is afraid for his future, and fearful ponies are always the most dangerous.”

“But she doesn’t have anything to be afraid of!” Twilight said.

“Most of the things we fear are nothing to be afraid of,” Celestia said, smiling wryly. “I remember one time two mares had themselves convinced I would banish them if I found out they had tried to take care of my pet.” Twilight grimaced while Fluttershy hid in her mane. Princess Celestia chuckled. “Come, let’s go inside. There are many ponies waiting to meet you two, and I don’t think we’ll have to worry any more about the VES tonight.”

As they walked in, ponies stamped their hooves and cheered. Fluttershy backed into Twilight, who waved sheepishly. She knew they were all there because they wanted to see her and Twilight, but even though she knew they weren’t judging them, she found it impossible to move. Luckily, two ponies came up to them instead.

“Mom! Dad!” Twilight said. She hugged Night Light while Fluttershy hugged Twilight Velvet, then traded places.

“Twilight, Fluttershy,” Twilight Velvet greeted them. “It’s so nice to see you both. I hope you didn’t have any trouble from those nasty ponies outside.”

“A little,” Twilight said, “but Princess Celestia got them out of the way."

“I’m certain you could have handled it yourself,” Princess Celestia said. “I just sped things up a bit.”

“Let’s get out of everypony’s way here, then we can get caught up,” Night Light said. “Silver Spark was just introducing us to Sea Star. He’s certainly grown up a lot since he lived next door to us.” He led the way back to the table.

The layout was designed to encourage ponies to move around and socialize, with round tables arranged in a circle so every table had at least three others around it. Everypony sat on one level, with no high table for guests of honor.

When they reached the table Silver Spark and Sea Star turned to greet them, but stopped when they saw Princess Celestia. They both stood up to bow hastily. “That’s really not necessary,” Princess Celestia said, taking a seat. “This is your event after all, I’m only here as your guest.”

“It is an honor to have you here, Princess,” Silver said as everypony sat down.

“I’m happy to be here,” the princess said. “And I must say this is better than your typical Canterlot elitist party.”

“I’ve been to a few of those; couldn’t let this one be quite so dull,” Sea Star said.

Princess Celestia smiled as she recognized him. “You were kicked out of the gala last year. They said you tried to poison me.”

Sea Star nervously grinned. “Well, I, uh… It wasn’t actually poison, it was whiskey. I, uhm… meant it as a joke.” He averted his eyes.

“It was a mistake, Princess. I assure you nothing like that will ever happen again.” Silver grabbed Sea’s hoof.

Celestia smiled. “You know, Luna tried the same thing once, only that time I had a meeting with representatives from Griffonstone. While she actually managed to get me to drink the alcohol, it fortunately didn’t do anything. I don’t get drunk easily.”

“Oh, is that an alicorn thing?” Sea asked.

“Partly. I’m also larger than the average pony.” Celestia chuckled. “In any event, no harm was done, and now you two are doing a world of good. I think we can put that incident behind us.”

“Thank you, Princess,” Silver said.

He still looked nervous so Twilight decided to change the subject. “So how’s everything going with Unity?” Unity was the non-profit organization they founded to provide the books to ponies in need as well as find ponies willing and able to be their supporters. While Twilight had helped secure funding and designed the books, it was Silver Spark who actually ran the company. Royalty in the private sector was a mess of red tape, and while Twilight could certainly sort through it, she and Fluttershy had decided that they trusted Silver to manage the company, and Twilight simply had too many other responsibilities.

“Smooth sailing so far,” Sea said.

“The real test will be down the road, once this tour is really underway,” Silver said. “I have a feeling we’ll see quite the influx of ponies requesting a book in every city you visit.”

“We’ve been writing to a delightful young mare,” Twilight Velvet said. There was a limit to one book per pony, at least until they saw how things went, but Twilight Velvet and Night Light had decided to take one book between the two of them, since they had always worked together to raise their own kids. “She actually reminds me a lot of you, Fluttershy.”

“Do you have a book, princess?” Night Light asked.

“Officially, no,” Princess Celestia said. “I don’t think ponies would feel comfortable telling me or Luna everything they might need help with, so we decided to use pen names. I’m Sunny Skies and she’s Moon Beam.”

“Hmm… Not sure if I trust Princess Luna to keep that secret,” Night Light said.

“I have reservations as well, to be honest,” Princes Celestia said.

Fluttershy frowned. She knew Luna could be eccentric and impulsive, yet there were still few ponies she respected as much as the Night Princess. “Uhm… I think Luna’s very good at keeping secrets…”

“Of course, you’re right, Fluttershy,” Princess Celestia said. “And speaking of secrets, she won’t tell me anything about her pen pal. Mine is a filly who’s more than a little head strong, but very determined in her dream of becoming a captain in the guard. It’s a bit like when Sunset Shimmer was my apprentice.”

They talked for a while more about everypony’s pen pals. Twilight and Fluttershy actually didn’t have their own; they were waiting until after the tour. Silver Spark had decided to do the same thing, since he was busy with his new job, but Sea Star had one.

Before too long, however, they decided it was time to speak with some of the other guests. No matter how much they liked catching up with their Canterlot friends, they were there to meet with other ponies, after all.

As they greeted various ponies, Fluttershy noticed one young mare who was never too far away. She smiled and tapped Twilight on the shoulder. “I think somepony’s a little too shy to talk to you,” Fluttershy said, gesturing to the mare who kept glancing over to them while she talked to a few other ponies her age.

Twilight smiled and walked over to them. “Hello, everypony. I hope you’re enjoying yourselves?”

“Princess Twilight!” The mare said as everypony grinned excitedly. “Yes, we’ve been having a great time. It’s so exciting to be here! We’re the gay-straight alliance from Celestia’s School For Gifted Unicorns. I’m the club president, Star Shine.”

Twilight and Fluttershy both lit up. “Oh, so you’re the one who wrote that letter!” Twilight said.

Star Shine blushed. “Oh, yeah, that was me. We were all so excited when you wrote back. Thank you so much, it meant a lot to all of us!”

Twilight shook her head. “Actually, I want to thank you. That was the first letter I read when Silver Spark convinced me that I didn’t need to be afraid of what everypony had to say. That letter meant a lot to me.”

“Really?” Star Shine asked excitedly.

Fluttershy nuzzled Twilight. “She cried when she read it.”

“Fluttershy! Don’t tell them that!” Twilight said, blushing.

Fluttershy giggled. “We both cried a lot that day.”

The students looked like they might burst with excitement. “Don’t worry, princess, your secret’s safe with us,” Star Shine said.

“Uhm, would you mind if we took a picture with you two?” another student asked.

“Of course not,” Twilight said. Everypony gathered around Twilight and Fluttershy as one of the students used magic to operate the camera from a distance. “Would you mind sending us a picture once it’s developed? We’re starting our own photo album on this trip.”

“No problem!” Star Shine said.

“Thank you. Now, as much as I wish we could talk more we have –”

“Fluttershy, Twilight!”

Fluttershy turned in time to see a brown pegasus latch on to her. “Amber? What are you doing here?”

“She came as my date,” Luna said as she calmly followed behind. With Amber Glow running at her, she hadn’t even noticed Luna was there. Everypony from the school stared dumbfounded.

“Oh, are you two official now?” Fluttershy asked as she hugged Luna.

“We’ve gone on a few dates, but neither of us is trying to start a relationship at the moment,” Luna explained.

Amber shrugged. “Yeah, you know, I gotta keep my options open. I don’t know if I want to settle for just a princess. I think I could probably get somepony much cooler, like an actress or something.”

Fluttershy and a few of the students laughed, but most were still too awestruck. “Wait, Princess Luna, does that mean that you’re gay too?”

Luna smiled. “Not quite, I just don’t allow things like gender affect whom I court. A thousand years ago there were not many other ponies like me, but I believe now ponies call it pansexual.”

“Wow! I never heard about that!” one of the stallions said.

“Indeed. Princess Twilight and Fluttershy have inspired many to be more open with themselves and other ponies, myself included.” She smiled warmly at the couple before continuing. “Although not all the princesses are so full of themselves that they feel the need to hold a press conference about it.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Yeah, or you just actually like when ponies spread rumors about you.”

Luna turned up her nose but Amber laughed. “Yeah, she totally said ‘Let’s just keep them guessing.’ She gets off on being mysterious.”

Luna narrowed her eyes. “If you’re going to spoil the fun than, I shan’t include you as my co-conspirator any longer.”

Amber just chuckled. “Yeah, ‘cause you’ll find so many other ponies who will put up with your weirdness.”

“I could easily find another pony to take your place,” Luna said.

“Maybe, if you want to hang out with somepony who only cares about your crown,” Amber said. She had to stretch to reach but she kissed Luna’s cheek. “I, on the other hoof, actually like your weirdness.”

“Naturally,” Luna said. Somepony suggested another picture, so everypony gathered. At Luna’s insistence stuck their tongues out at the camera. Fluttershy was pretty sure she saw Amber turn at the last moment to lick Luna.

“Twilight, I brought you a gift,” Luna said, wiping her cheek. She levitated a crate over.

Fluttershy was confused, but Twilight seemed excited. “This isn’t… It couldn’t be.” She pulled off the lid to reveal it was full of tangerines. “It is!”

Luna chuckled. “Now before you get your hopes too dashed without warning, yes it is quite impossible. Those are not the fruit we ate in the dreamscape, but rather the closest I could get. They are imported from Chineigh.”

“Really? You didn’t need to go through all that trouble,” Twilight said.

“She’s actually being modest,” Amber said. “She personally went to Chineigh to get them.”

Luna threw a hoof over Amber’s mouth and chuckled. “I had business there anyway. Political stuff.”

Twilight smiled and hugged Luna. “Thank you, Luna. That was very thoughtful.”

“You’re quite welcome, Twilight.” Luna surveyed the crowd. “Hmm, do you think that’s him over there?”

Amber hovered for a better view. “Yeah, I think it might be!”  She landed and turned to Twilight and Fluttershy. “It was great running into you two, but we’re actually here to meet my pen pal.”

“I didn’t know you had journal,” Fluttershy said.

“You bet I do! I was kind kind of nervous about the idea of being somepony’s support, but Luna talked me into it. This event is the perfect chance to meet up and hang out.”

“That’s great!” Twilight said. “Have fun, we’ll swing by and meet him after you have a chance to talk.”

“Sounds cool. Later!” Amber and Luna waved and disappeared into the crowd.

Twilight and Fluttershy said goodbye to the students and made their way back into the crowd, occasionally stopping to talk with anypony that wanted to speak with them. A few wanted advice or reassurance, but most just wanted to thank or congratulate them. Some ponies said they had originally come for advice, but all the other ponies present were so helpful that they didn’t feel like they needed it anymore. Eventually, Twilight said it was time to make her speech, so they made their way to a small stage.

As they stepped up to the podium, all talk died down as everypony turned to them. Fluttershy stepped closer to Twilight and looked out to the crowd. While there were a lot of ponies she didn’t know, it wasn’t hard to find the ones she did. Twilight’s parents waved proudly. Amber whispered something into a colt’s ear while she gestured to Luna, causing him to snicker. Celestia was surrounded by the students from her school and smiling warmly. Silver Spark and Sea Star were sitting at a crowded table, where they had likely been talking moments before, but now sat in attention of the two mares. She looked next to her to see Twilight smiling encouragingly at her. True, everypony was watching them, but she was surrounded by friends.

Twilight tapped on the mic, and the sound echoed throughout the room. “Hello everypony, and thank you all for coming out here tonight. To tell you the truth, being in front of everypony here is a little overwhelming. I know a lot of you look up to us, but the truth is that until recently I was terrified of leaving the house. A lot of you sent me letters after I came out and didn’t hear back from me for almost two months, because I was afraid to open them. That went on until Silver Spark and Sea Star came to Ponyville to tell me that it was okay, that I didn’t need to be afraid.” She paused as everypony applauded them.

“When I finally did read the letters, a lot of ponies said I was their hero, and I don’t think I did much to deserve that. I’m trying now, but I don’t think we need heroes to look up to so much as we need friends to support us. That’s what Unity is all about. I’m still new to this whole thing myself. A year ago I had never been in a relationship before, and not too long before that I hadn’t even told anypony that I’m gay. There’s a lot I’m still learning every day, and, really, I’m still scared myself. When I first saw the protesters outside earlier, I didn’t want to face them, but then Fluttershy told me something that gave me the strength. She told me that we’re the lucky ones, because we’re not letting hate and fear control us. Because instead of hating, we can love. And she’s right. There’s too much good in life. I know that for some of you, that’s probably hard to see right now. My biggest hope is that Unity can help everypony see what I did when I finally read all your letters: that you’re not alone.

“Tonight’s actually a pretty important night for me. Because it was a year ago today Fluttershy asked me out.” As everypony cheered again, Fluttershy blushed. She hadn’t expected Twilight to announce that. “I don’t think many ponies realize how much she does. Coming out was her idea; I was too afraid to. I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t exactly handle it well when she told me she wanted to. Everypony talks about how brave I was, but anything I’ve been able to accomplish has been because of her, and all of our other friends. Because nopony can handle everything all on their own. We need to help each other.”

She turned to face Fluttershy and held out her hoof, which she took and stepped forward. Twilight rested her forehead against Fluttershy’s. “Happy anniversary. I love you.”

Fluttershy closed her eyes. “I love you too. Happy anniversary.” She wasn’t sure what possessed her to do it. Maybe she wanted to embarrass Twilight for talking about her so much. Maybe she let herself forget about everypony watching for a moment. Maybe she just realized she loved this mare enough that nopony else mattered. Whatever the reason, Fluttershy leaned in and kissed Twilight, to the roar of approval of everypony watching.

They stepped down and moved through the crowd, everypony along the way offering their congratulations. They took a seat next to Twilight’s parents as Silver Spark and Sea Star walked up to the podium. Silver made his own speech, mostly about the journals and how to get one or how to volunteer to be a pen pal for a pony who needed help, but Fluttershy found it hard to to focus. Her mind kept wandering back to the shock that she had kissed Twilight in front of her parents, Princess Celestia, and everypony else. It wasn’t even a long kiss, and if Twilight had been embarrassed she certainly didn’t seem like she still was.

Once the speech was over, Fluttershy applauded along with everypony else, although she had barely heard a word of it. “Uhm, I think I’d like to take a moment. Walk with me?”

“Of course,” Twilight said, leading the way down a hall.

Once there was nopony around, Fluttershy propped herself against a window sill. The sun was going down and the sky glowed orange.

“I can’t believe you actually kissed me in front of everypony,” Twilight said, grinning.

“I’m sorry,” Fluttershy said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Don’t be sorry. I’m not.” Twilight propped herself up next to Fluttershy and stared out the window. “So, after being stuck with me for a year, what do you say? Sick of me yet?”

Fluttershy leaned against her. “Never.”

“Good, because I don’t plan on going anywhere.” Twilight wrapped a foreleg around her. As they leaned on each other watching the sun set, Fluttershy knew she was right where she wanted to be.