• Published 12th Aug 2013
  • 13,697 Views, 217 Comments

Warring Dusk - AlphatheGriffin17

A happy day soon descends into a war between two peoples. Canterlot is under siege, the princesses are captured and Dusk must take up arms or watch his home fall.

  • ...

Love Is In Bloom

"Okay everyone, are you all ready?" Fluttershy asked her bird choir. They all chirped brightly. "That's great. Now, make sure you use these last few minutes to get in all of the practice you can. We want to make this as special as we can for Princess Cadence."

They all nodded. The red jay, the one who had been consistently singing off key, hopped up to her. He chirped a few times.

"Who, me?" she asked. "Don't worry, little friend, I'm fine." He chirped again. "Oh yes, quite… quite sure. It's nothing, really." Another chirp. "Thank you for your concern but… I really am fine. Don't worry about me. You… you all just keep practicing. I just… need a few minutes."

She hurried away before her birds had the chance to persist. She kept flying, she waited until she was out of sight. That was when the barrier she had been holding up against her tears finally collapsed.

She knew she shouldn't be crying. The wedding was going to go ahead after all, after everything that had happened. Cadence and Shining were going to have the most special day of their lives. All of her friends would be there, alive and well after defeating another great evil, just like they always had done. She should be happy too. Like they were going to be.

But instead, all she could think about was the roar. It echoed in her mind and shook her very soul. Like the impact of that burning tail against her body.

It was even worse, knowing what was at the other end of it. Or rather, who.

From the moment she had woken up and seen Ray again, that was all she could think about. Every time he'd opened his mouth, she'd heard that roar bellowing from it. Whenever she looked into his eyes, she saw them flash with white, burning rage. It was like Ray didn't even exist anymore. There was only the Beast. Wrath.

But, now and again… she would look and see a face that made her want to cry even more than hearing that roar. An expression of utter desperation, like a child who needed comforting after a horrible nightmare. She knew that it had to be her who would hold him close, who would wrap her hooves around him gently and tell him everything was going to be okay. She wanted nothing more, whenever she saw that face.

But then she'd hear the roar again. She'd imagine that red mist rising up, closing around her. His easy smile that she loved to see would turn into a hungry leer as his teeth sharpened into wicked points. Those warm, caring eyes would turn into a fathomless, blood-red abyss that would swallow her whole. The roar, the echoing, terrible roar, would be the last thing she ever heard…

She almost cried out in fear. Her tears came thicker and faster. She wanted to help him… but how could she? How could she when, the last time she tried… he hadn't even hesitated. He just lashed out at her. How was she supposed to believe she could help him after that?

"Oh, little sister." She jumped at the sound of a gentle, familiar voice breaking through her shell of fear.

"O-oh my… Dusk…" She tried to wipe away her tears. "I… I'm sorry, I didn't hear you come in…"

"Evidently," he noted. "What's the matter?"

"N-nothing," she said quickly. "N-nothing at all… everything's fine."

He wasn't convinced. "I learned a long time ago that you shouldn't try to hide away from your problems just as much as you shouldn't try to hide them from others."

"W-what d-do you m-mean?"

"You know what I mean, Fluttershy. We've all noticed it. We just want to know what it is."

She bit her lip. She couldn't lie to save her life. Not to her friends, least of all her big brother.

"Is… is that why you're here?" she asked quietly. "I'm… I'm sorry if I've been worrying everypony."

"It is one of the reasons," he admitted. "I also came to see if you were ready for the wedding. Your choir is good to go?"

"Just about," she said as positively as she could. "They've all been practicing. Really hard. They're… they're ready."

"I would think so, considering the amount of hours you've been putting on for that practice," he said. "But before I ask what's wrong, I have a message for you."

"A… a message? F-from who?"

"From Ray."

She froze at the mention of his name. Her whole body tensed and she could feel her heart pounding against her chest. And not in the nice way.

Dusk noticed her reaction. "I think he's the problem your hiding from, isn't he?"

"I… I…" No, there was no point in lying. "Yes…"

"Don't worry. I think it's fair to say we all are, more than a little."

"O-okay…" She gulped. "What's… what's the message?"

"I think you would know that if you would just go and see him yourself," he answered.

A shiver went down her spine. "W-what?! B-b-but how can I… how can he…?"

"Why is that such a terrifying prospect?" he asked. "He misses you. Don't you miss him?"

She couldn't answer. Not verbally. She just nodded. It was almost involuntary.

"Of course you do. We all know why it is you're upset, Fluttershy. We understand, but you can't just hide away like this. I tried and it didn't turn out so well. Don't you remember?"

Again, she only nodded.

"Exactly, so you know what I mean," he said. "It's only Ray. Just go and see him, because I really think it'll help and not just you. Trust me, it'll be okay."

He made it sound so easy. He made it sound like such a simple idea. She knew it was much more than that. Now, she managed to find her voice.

"B-but Dusk… how can you think that it's okay?" she asked fearfully. "I mean, Ray is… he's… he's a monster."

Dusk didn't say anything for a bit. He just gazed back at her and she could see an old wound reopening in his eyes.

"Is that how you saw me, little sister?" he asked quietly. "When Doom took over… did you just see me as a monster too?"

"What? No!" she said quickly. "No, of course I didn't! I could never… this is different!"

"Why? What makes Ray different compared to me? Do you not like him as much as me?"

"No, nothing like that-"

"Then what is it, Fluttershy? Why is this different?"

"Because he's still there!" she cried. "It's not like with you, you're back to normal again! You're not a monster anymore but Ray…" She bowed her head, her mane draping over her eyes. "I'm… I'm scared. I'm scared because he's… he's not the same anymore. It's not like it was before… I don't think I can look at him… not without those horrid, red eyes looking back at me…"

She felt the beginnings of tears again. She became aware of a shadow falling over her form. When she looked up, she saw Dusk standing before her. Gently, he placed a hoof on her shoulder and brushed her mane away.

"That's what you may think, little sister," he began softly. "But Ray didn't just suddenly acquire the demon during the battle. He's always had it. From the moment he walked into Ponyville, the moment he met us, it was there, festering away inside of his mind. But do you think he let it show? Do you think that, at any point, he let his suffering be shown?"

She sniffed loudly. "N-no…"

"Did you still like him? Didn't you want him as your friend? Didn't you like spending time with him?"

"O-of course…"

"Then, that's just it," he said simply. "It's still the same Ray you know. You just know a little more about him now."

"B-b-but how can I… how can we…?" She couldn't finish her sentence.

"Fluttershy, I'm not saying that you shouldn't be scared, but it shouldn't be of him," he went on. "The thing inside him may have hurt you, I understand. But him… the only thought he's had about you since then is how sorry he is for letting that thing hurt you. For not letting you know."

"R-really?" She looked up now. "He… he said that?"

He nodded, still smiling. "He did. He asked me to tell you, along with that, out of all of us, he wanted you to know most of all."

She barely contained a gasp. "H-he… he did?"

"He did," confirmed Dusk. "I know it's hard, looking at him now and knowing what he is and what's inside him, but you've always managed to show kindness, even to the most frightening of beasts. Don't you think Ray deserves a little bit of that now?"

Fluttershy opened her mouth, to try and say something in reply. But the words died in her throat and she felt a certain amount of shame sweep over her. Thinking about it like that, there was really no denying it.

Dusk was right.

"Right, we'd better start to get ready. The wedding starts." Just as he reached the door, Dusk turned back and smiled. "You're an important part in his life, Fluttershy. I don't think you want to lose that. No more than he does."

With that, he walked off to prepare himself. Now, it was those words that were echoing in her mind, almost drowning out the roaring in turn.

Everything was ready. The decorations were up. The guests were gathered. The groom and bride were waiting. They were all dressed immaculately, the girls with their manes done up and flowers worked into them. Twilight herself looked especially beautiful in Dusk's opinion, with her dark pink dress, her mane curled at the fringe and back and wearing a wreath around her head.

Even Ray had been allowed out of his room to attend the wedding. He stood at the back dressed as smartly as they were, yet his mane still managed to look a mess despite the fact it had been combed. He managed to offer Dusk his signature grin, which he returned with a tip of his hat.

It was as if the preceding battles hadn't even happened, but there were a few changes. Instead of Celestia, Luna was now presiding over the ceremony in her place, apparently at Cadence's request. One of the windows was covered with a black curtain that blotted out some light, like the kind of material worn for a funeral. Not too many changes, but enough to remind him that a lot had happened since they first received that invitation.

Dusk decided not to think too much about that. Mainly because Twilight had just readjusted the tie on his suit, just after fixing her brother's badge, the one his favourite uncle had given him. This time, Cadence had no objections to him wearing it.

"Twilight, please," he whispered when she also started to press down parts of his suit and fix his hat. "I look fine."

"I know you do, but I want to make sure you look your best," she countered. "Now, hold still. I think I see a crease here…"

Shining smirked behind her. "No point in trying to resist, believe me. You might as well get used to it."

"I thought I would have been at this point." Dusk grimaced when she started to wipe away at his face. "Twilight, please! You're my marefriend, not my mother!"

"Just hold still," she hissed. "It's a little bit of grime I want to get off here."

"Shining, help!"

Shining laughed. "Hey, nopony forced her on you. Don't think I'm gonna do that for you when it's your turn."

They both blushed.

"Excuse me?" Dusk asked.

"Shining, what do you mean by that?" put in Twilight.

The captain only smiled and turned his attention to the front. They did too, for Fluttershy's birds had just begun singing Here Comes the Bride. The guards at the doors levitated them open. First came the Cutie Mark Crusaders as the flower girls, scattering petals from the baskets they held in the mouths.

Then came Cadence, with every step as graceful as a waltz. Even Dusk couldn't help but stare a little at how radiant she looked, wearing her pure white gown, her train carried by another group of Fluttershy's birds. Every bit the bride she deserved to be. Then he caught the glare Twilight was giving him and smiled awkwardly. She rolled her eyes, but he could see the smile playing on her lips.

Some tears were shed watching her procession up the aisle, including from Twilight's mother and Rarity. She stopped before Luna, who nodded graciously. She turned to her husband-to-be and gazed lovingly into his eyes. He returned it and turned their eyes to Princess of the Night.

"Before we begin, let us take a moment," Luna began sombrely. "Let us take a moment to remember those who fought so that we could be here to celebrate this day. May those who were injured and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this city, for us and for Equestria itself never be forgotten. Let us see to it that they will all be remembered in this."

She used her magic to pull down the curtain covering one of the windows. It was a new stained glass window, one that depicted their defeat of the changelings of which two had been made. One would be here, the other in Canterlot Tower with the others. Set around Cadence and Shining casting their spell were dozens of ponies, including Dusk and his friends, all facing boldly outward. Above them were names. The names of those who had fallen.

Everypony fell respectfully silent. The guards all saluted in honour of them. Squinting, Dusk could make out three names he recognised. Dreadwing, Cliffjumper and Hard Edge. Ironically, his own hoof also drew up in a salute. He didn't even really know it he was doing it.

He felt a warm hoof on his shoulder. He looked to see Twilight, smiling proudly at him. Enough of a reminder that their sacrifice was a worthy one indeed.

The moment passed. The guards stood back to attention. Cadence and Shining were gazing into each other's eyes once more. It was time.


"Luna," whispered Cadence, "could you maybe… tone it down a notch?"

"Oh. Yes, of course. Apologies." She cleared her throat and began again. "Mares and gentlecolts, we are gathered here today to celebrate the union of the real Princess Mi Amore Cadenza–"

"Princess Cadence is fine," she corrected.

"Hm. The union of Princess Cadance and Shining Armor. The strength of their commitment is clear. The power of their love, undeniable. May we have the rings please?"Spike proudly walked up and presented them, Luna levitating them onto their horns. "I now pronounce you-"

"Luna, I think it needs to be emphasized more than that. In accordance with tradition."

At Cadence's prompt, her youngest aunt seemed to smile. "WE NOW PRONOUNCE THEE MARE AND COLT!"

Dusk let a smile break out at the proclamation. He watched the newlyweds walk out onto the balcony, greeted by the cheering crowd below. He could have sworn that he also heard a chorus of howls echoing from the mountains. His friends gathered around him and watched them too. He noticed that Ray still stood at the back, but he still managed to look happy.

He noticed Fluttershy glance at him, but she looked away just as quickly, a slight blush to her cheeks.

"I am proud of you all, mine little ponies," she said sincerely. "Once again, you have faced great odds and emerged victorious. Though this might not be celebration we envisioned, it is certainly one you have earned. All of you." Her eyes flickered to Ray.

Dusk bowed humbly in return. Cadence and Shining kissed each other deeply and now, even Twilight had tears brimming over her eyes.

"Rainbow Dash, I believe that it is your cue," noted Luna.

The Pegasus grinned and darted to the sky, leaving her dress behind. Seconds later, the colours of her sonic rainboom painted the sky and spread as far as the eye could see while she made a rainbow that covered all of Canterlot.

"BEST WEDDING EVER!" Pinkie shouted with a huge grin.

The celebrations carried on well into the beginnings of the evening. Now, after visiting various places around the city and even paying Cloudsdale and Ponyville quick visits, it was time for the reception. Dusk proudly stepped into his role, his colours dancing along with the bride and groom, holding each other tenderly in their forelegs.

As they danced, Dusk saw Twilight nod to Pinkie out of the corner of his eye. The mare beamed brightly and dashed over to a disk station and sound system, pulling Vinyl Scratch out from under the desk.

"Let's get this party started!"

The music gained a more upbeat tempo and beating rhythm. Pinkie whipped out a microphone and tossed it to Twilight. She caught it with her magic and began to sing.

Love is in bloom

A beautiful bride, a handsome groom,

Two hearts becoming one

A bond that cannot be undone because

Love is in bloom

A beautiful bride, a handsome groom

I said love is in bloom

You're starting a life and making room

For us

Cadence and Shining began to dance more in time with the new music, the captain twirling the princess in his hooves. Dusk matched the occasion by making his colours dance more. He was able to keep up the display, even when Twilight offered him the mic to take up the song.

Your special day

We celebrate now, the pony way

Your friends are all right here

Won't let these moments disappear because

Love is in bloom

A beautiful bride, a handsome groom

I said love is in bloom

You're starting a life and making room

For us

Rainbow bobbed her head in time with the rhythm. At the behest of Rarity, she had put her dress back on for the reception. She didn't much care for them, but she was willing to do it if it was for an occasion like this. She cast her eyes around. Maybe one of the Wonderbolts would be here.

"A most excellent sonic rainboom, Rainbow Dash," praised Luna, who had just walked up to her. "Such a display is worthy of recognition."

"Just doing my bit, Princess," she shrugged, though she felt a glow of pride.

"I don't know, I'm inclined to agree with the princess," a new voice said. "I've heard all about the sonic rainboom, but it's nothing like seeing it."

"Phoenix!" Elation surged through her at the sight of the dragon expert dressed in a tux, looking just as burly as before, with a few new burns and scars. "What are you doing here?"

"I got a special invitation from Princess Cadence," he told her, returning her smile. "Thought it might be a nice break from the Badlands."

"You have a line to the princesses?"

"Who do you think it is that funds his research?" Luna smiled. "I shall leave you both to catch up."

As she walked away, Rainbow glanced the two princesses share a look at them. Luna winked while Cadence smiled. She didn't focus on them though, only the stallion before her. She noted how his muscles almost seemed to rip from his suit.

"Right." She smiled at him, getting a feeling in her chest she usually had when she was flying. "So, you liked my sonic rainboom?"

"It was quite a sight. You're not so bad yourself," he added.

"Oh uh… thanks," she muttered, the feeling increasing. "You uh… you look good too."

"Thanks. I had to swipe this from the first store I saw to look the part and even then, this one's a little small."

"Yeah… I mean, uh, that's too bad." She laughed awkwardly. "It's good to see you again."

"It's great to see you too." He nodded to the space in the middle. "You want to have a dance? I'm a little rusty, but I'm sure you've got a few moves."

"Yeah, that'd be great!" She coughed to try and hide her enthusiasm. "I mean, yeah, that's cool. Whatever. I can show you some moves, but I'm leading, you got it?"

"If you insist," he said, inclining his head.

"Yeah, you just hold on," she added. "You might be able to handle dragons, but I'm a lot worse than any dragon."

He followed her onto the dance floor. "A lot prettier too."

"Shut up," she muttered, though she had a hard time keeping the smile off her face.

They weren't the only ones who had taken to the dance floor. Rarity had to take a few minutes to recover from the spin she'd just been sent on by her partner.

"My goodness, Spike!" she tittered. "I… I had no idea you were so light on your feet."

"Yeah, well, I had to get a hobby in-between fetching and carrying while in Canterlot and they have great dance class here." He pulled Rarity close while she levitated him so he was at eye level. "Never thought they'd actually come in useful though."

"My, my… assistant, dancer, piano player, warrior, gentlecolt." She fluttered her lashes at him. "You are quite the renaissance dragon, aren't you Spikey-wikey?"

"Only the best for you, my lady," he returned. He paused. "I mean, you think so, right?"

She kissed his lips briefly. "You tell me, see if we can't add great thinker to the list too, hm?"

"You got it!" He spun her around again, grinning happily and flew after her, pulled along by her magic while she laughed happily.

Watching them from the side-lines was Applejack. Her eyes followed Rarity and Spike, Cadence and Shining, Rainbow and Phoenix, Dusk and Twilight, all out on the dance floor together. Part of her kind of wished she was out there with them, with some nice guy of her own.

"Not gonna get up there and bust a groove, AJ?" Pinkie asked brightly.

"Maybe later, ah guess," she shrugged. "Right now, ah don't wanna feel like ah'd be gettin' in somepony's way."

Pinkie smiled slyly. "Ooh, Applejack's thinking of bringing a new member into the Apple family orchard?"

"Aw, Pinkie, no! Nothin' like that!" she insisted quickly, ignoring the rising heat to her cheeks.

"Okay, okay," she placated. "Still, looking at Cadence and Shining and everypony here… kinda makes you think, doesn't it?"

"Ah suppose. Wait, 'bout what?"

"Ya know, maybe finding somepony," giggled Pinkie. "Maybe have something really special, like they all do."


"I'm not saying you should just pop the question right now," she said quickly. "But maybe it wouldn't hurt in finding a nice stallion, or mare, I don't judge and sharing something really special with them."

Applejack frowned thoughtfully. "Ah guess so." Another thought occurred to her. "And, uh, it's stallions fer me, just so ya know. Ah mean, ah'm flattered ya take an interest, Pinkie, but ah…"

She giggled all the more. "Silly billy! I wasn't talking about you and me! We're great friends, but that'd just be weird. Although, like I said, I don't judge."

"Right, good ta know," said Applejack, laughing along now. "You thinkin' about findin' a special somepony then, Pinkie?"

"Maybe one day, if I meet the right stallion. Or you never know, might be a mare," she added. "Just not you AJ, sorry."

She laughed. "Ah think ah can live with it. So, nopony here catch yer eye?"

"Not really," she admitted. "I'll find somepony, I'm sure, but right now, there's plenty of Pinkie for everypony without somepony getting greedy."

"Ah hope that don't mean what I think it means."

"Of course not, silly!" she repeated. "What about you then, AJ?"

"Same story here," she said.

"That doesn't mean you haven't been looking though, am I right?"

She blushed again. "Uh… maybe."

"Okay-dokey-lokey, I'll give you a hoof then! Or an eye, unless you have eyes in your hooves."

"Pinkie, that ain't-"

"Let's see then… hey, isn't that Soarin' from the Wonderbolts over there?" pointed Pinkie. "Didn't he buy one of your pies at the Gala?"

"Yeah, he did," Applejack nodded. "Gotta say, ah always like a feller who has a good appetite."

"He's not bad eye candy either, am I right?"

"Ya think so?"

"AJ, trust me, I know my candy and that's a pretty sweet one, right there."

"Yeah… ah guess he is. Seems a decent sort too." Applejack stared for a moment, then stood up. "Excuse me, Pinkie. Ah suddenly feel like indulgin' ma sweet tooth."

Pinkie giggled, satisfied her work was done and bounded off back to the mixing desk.

But there was one pony who was neither on the dance floor, nor in the side-lines. It was Fluttershy who left all of the excitement and the dancing, though not because of her shy nature. Even if it did play a small part. But it was tiny compared to the bigger part that drove her.

She had just seen Ray leaving the party and going off into the gardens. This was her chance to do right by him. She'd been hiding away long enough and like Dusk said, it wasn't him that she was scared of. She had to face her real fear.

She found him in a clearing in the garden. His back was turned, his head hung. She lingered for a while on the fringes, but knew what she had to do. Calling on all the courage she could muster, she spoke his name.


He spun around, staring like he could hardly believe his eyes. She thought she saw them flash red, but dismissed it as her imagination. She didn't flinch. She didn't hide. She stayed exactly where she was. She had stood up to her fears before. She would do it again.

And as she saw him now, Ray really wasn't scary.

"Flutters…" His voice was almost as quiet as hers was. "You're… you're here…?"

"I am. So… so are you."

"Yeah… Celestia decided to let me out, just for the wedding." He paused. "Even if she hadn't, I probably would have snuck out anyway. No way I'm missing this."

Despite herself, she giggled. "I thought you would have done something like that."

"Yeah, you know me. All of me now, I guess." He rubbed the back of his head. "Did um… did Dusk give you my message?"

"Yes." She didn't know what else to say other than that. She thought she would have a good idea, but as always with Ray, her mind was blank.

He, however, didn't seem to have any problem. "Well, I meant it, I really did. I am really, really sorry for not telling you all, especially you. I mean, I wanted to, but then there was that seal and I was scared, you know? I mean, it was alright with Dusk for the most part, but me? I didn't know how you'd react to that, but that doesn't excuse-"

"Ray," she said softly. It was enough to silence him. "I just want to ask you something. If it's okay with you."

He looked apprehensive, but nodded. "Go ahead."

"Okay…" She took a moment to collect herself. "You remember when we had to lift all of that water to Cloudsdale? How I thought that… I wouldn't make any difference?"

"Yeah… I do."

"Do you remember what it was you said to me? That gave me the confidence to do it?"

He nodded mutely.

"Say it again. Please."

He shifted on his hooves. "You know what I said…"

"Please, just say it."

He was silent for a while longer before speaking again. She noted that he seemed a little closer, but put it out of her mind for now. She strained her ears to make sure she heard.

"You're… you're important to me, Fluttershy," he murmured. "My life… it wouldn't be the same without you."

"And you… you really mean that?" she whispered.

"Yes…" He tried to look her in the eye, but couldn't hold her gaze. "I… I don't know how you feel about that now. Especially after all of this. I… I can't tell you how… how sorry I…"

"Look at me, Ray. Please." It took a few minutes, but he managed to look right back into her eyes. And she into his. "Oh my…"

"You can see it, can't you?" he said quietly. "You can see… him?"

Now, it was she who nodded.

"Are you scared?"

It took her a little longer to sum up the courage to speak her answer.

"Y-yes… I am…"

"I figured you would be…" He started to look away. "I don't blame you at all…"

"Don't." He stopped. He looked back at her. "You're right. I… I am scared. B-but it's not of you."

He blinked. "But… I don't understand? I'm practically a monster…"

"I don't see any monsters here," she echoed, feeling braver. "I just see a sad, lonely unicorn who looks like he needs… a little kindness."

His eyes widened in disbelief. "Flutters… I…"

"I've seen monsters before, Ray. A manticore, a d-dragon, Discord and his Paraserpents. I was scared of those too. I mean, of course I was, it's me…" She felt something catch in her throat. "B-but every time, I could have run… but I didn't. I stayed, I f-faced them because… my friends needed me. They needed my help a-and I took the chance to give it. I f-faced the monsters with them and I helped to protect them. I did it before… I can do it again."

"F-flutters…?" He looked like he could barely believe what he was hearing. "You… you mean you…?"

"Y-yes. I don't know what I can do but… I want to help protect you from this monster too," she said sincerely. "It is scary, but… I think that's just part of being brave, right?"

They'd gotten closer to each other without even realising it. She was so close, she could count every hair on his messy head.

The disbelief was lifting. Ray was now the image of a pony for whom all of their prayers had been answered, his hope returned. She could see his eyes shimmering and that was what let down her barriers again when she'd been trying so hard to hold them back.

"Oh, Ray!" Her eyes flooded. "Ray, I-I'm the one who should be sorry! I sh-should have s-s-said this sooner, b-b-but I… I was just…"

"You were scared," he said with complete understanding. "I get it. I was scared too, of one thing especially."

"W-what of?"

He spread his forelegs in an unmistakable gesture. "Of never seeing you again."

"Ray…" She fell into his embrace, crying into his chest. "I am so, so sorry. I really am…"

"You're not the only one," he said gently.

She looked up at him. "I-If there's anything I can do to make it up to you…"

"You don't have to do anything," he soothed. He paused. "But… I'd say this is pretty good…"

They were so close now. She could feel his warm breath on her face, feel the beating of his heart against his chest. It was going just as fast as hers. She looked right back into his shining, yellow eyes. She didn't see the red in them anymore. They were his eyes.

They'd gotten closer without realising it before. That same influenced was pushing them a little further now. It guided their faces slowly towards each other, began to raise their lips to meet. They didn't even really need to think about it…

"Hey, Ray!" They jumped apart at the sound of Rainbow's voice. "Ray! You out here?"

Fluttershy's cheeks felt like they were on fire when she realised what she and Ray had nearly done. She began to stammer yet again, while Ray mumbled and rubbed the back of his head. Yet she didn't feel so embarrassed about it. That warm feeling that always surfaced whenever she was around Ray only seemed to have grown stronger. Was it too much to hope it was the same for him too?

Whatever it was… she was glad it wasn't gone. And that she had him back.

"Yeah, I'm right here, Rainbow!" he called.

The Pegasus darted around the corner a second later. "Fluttershy? Hey, are you guys finally talking to each other again?"

"We are, yes," Fluttershy said proudly. "And… I'm ready to start talking to you all again too. I'm sorry for making you worry so much."

"Don't sweat it, we get it must have been hard for you," shrugged off Rainbow. "What were you two doing out here anyways?"

They both blushed again and it was Ray who answered. "Nothing much. Just… talking."

She looked a little unconvinced at first, but smiled regardless. "Well, it beats whatever you were doing before. Anyway, I've been sent to get you."

"What is it?"

"Celestia," she answered with some disdain. "She needs to talk to you. Says it's really important."

Ray's face fell, as did Fluttershy's. She even found herself moving protectively closer to Ray. In the end, the stallion sighed.

"Let's get it over with then…"

Staying close to the stallion, Fluttershy followed Rainbow out of the forest. She hadn't been brave enough to say anything before, but if Celestia was going to impose more conditions on him for keeping him here, she would object to them. If she had to.

Fluttershy noted that there was quite a sizable distance between Celestia and the rest of her friends. They were all watching the Princess with some wariness or mistrust. Cadence and Shining were there too, the former glaring at her aunt while the latter had his eyes darting between them both, clearly on the lookout for any trouble.

"Good evening, Ray," she greeted politely. "I trust you're enjoying the reception?"

"Um… yeah, I guess." He looked up at her. "I guess you want me back in my room, huh?"

"There won't be any need for that, Ray," Cadence said sharply. "You can stay for as long as you like. You don't need to be told when to return to your prison."

"Yeah," agreed Rainbow, turning to Celestia. "Aren't you already keeping him in there long enough?"

"Actually, that's the subject I wish to address, Rainbow Dash," she replied patiently.

"Oh, well that's a good sign," remarked Rarity sarcastically.

"Sister, I think it would be best of you speak your piece now," Luna advised with a slight edge.

"Very well." She took a moment before resuming. "Now, you all know that the decision I made, I made for the good of Equestria and its people. However, in the wake of this decision, I can see now that it hasn't been for the good of one my people. I have been giving it much thought, trying to reason with myself, but I realise that I cannot, in good conscience, stand by my decision anymore. Though I still don't really know if this is the best thing to do, it is without a doubt, the right thing."

"What are you saying, Princess?" asked Twilight.

"That I've made a mistake, regarding Ray," she answered. "That is why I have decided that he shall be allowed to return to Ponyville, with all of you."

Fluttershy was shocked at this decision, but she could feel a sense of elation growing as the news began to sink in. The others all looked just as disbelieving and shocked. Pinkie actually cleared out her ears of some confetti to make sure she'd heard right.

"You're joking," Dusk gasped.

"I don't joke, Dusk."

"Not all of the time," remarked Luna. "And this would be a particularly cruel one if you were."

"I assure you, I'm completely serious. However," she added, "in doing this, there are some conditions that you'll have to adhere to."

"Name them," Ray said breathlessly.

"Firstly, you are not to leave Ponyville at any time, unless accompanied by at least one of the Elements. This is so you always have somepony watching him for signs of the Beast. Additionally, if all of the Elements should happen to leave Ponyville for whatever reason, then you are to accompany them, no questions asked. If you start to lose control, at any time, then it is the responsibility of the others to contact me, however they can, as soon as possible."

"We can handle that," said Applejack. "We'll keep an eye on him and give ya a buzz if beastie boy starts gettin' restless."

"Secondly, you are to wear this." She levitated out a metal necklace, adorned with a single shard of blue crystal. "I've spent the last few days preparing this in my own private quarters. Within this crystal is a special sealing spell, designed to assist in keeping Wrath's influence on Ray under control by further suppressing the destructive energies within."

"But sister, I thought you said that no spell would work in keeping Wrath from emerging," pointed out Luna.

"I did. That's why I spent a lot of time experimenting with many different spells in my quarters, to create one specifically for this purpose," she replied. "It is designed to activate the moment it detects any of Wrath's power leaking out. Ray is to keep this necklace on at all times, no exceptions."

Pinkie stared at the necklace. "Ooh, neat. Now you get to wear a necklace like we all do. Except Twilight, she gets a crown, but I think a necklace is better."

"Finally," she said, with a slight smile, "I wish you to join in the task of the others in writing letters to me regarding any lessons you've learned about friendship, but only if you so choose."

"Well, Ray?" asked Twilight. "I'm sure Spike would be more than happy to let you send letters, if you ever want to."

Ray had a grin plastered on his face. "I could think of a few things to write about friendship, I'm fine with my friends sticking to me like plasters, just so as I get some privacy and wearing a necklace sounds like a blow to my masculinity, but hey, it works for Dusk."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I'm kidding, man," he chuckled. "I accept your terms, Princess. Thank you, thank you so much."

"You're more than welcome," she smiled.

Now, they all cheered and celebrated at the return of their friend.

"Alright, Ray's back!" Rainbow punched his foreleg. "You don't get rid of us that easily."

"This calls for a party! Oh wait, we're at a party. Yay!" cheered Pinkie.

"I would have missed having my favourite ruffian around," admitted Rarity.

"Jus' so ya know, yer job's not been taken, so yer good ta come back workin' on the farm," Applejack informed happily. "Easier'n findin' a replacement."

"It's good to have you back, Ray," said Twilight. "I don't think it would have been the same without you."

"I can second that," put in Dusk. "You can count on us, if you ever need us."

"Welcome back to the fold, Ray," said Spike, placing the necklace on him. "There, now it's official."

Fluttershy didn't say anything. She just smiled warmly at him and nuzzled his cheek, promoting a blush from them both. She was just happy to have him back, more than she could say.

"Definitely the right decision," said Celestia. "I would also like to express my own apologies to you, Ray. I sincerely regret any pain that I caused you, not just from how I behaved but… from what I did to you. I don't expect you to ever forgive me, but I just want you to know that I am truly sorry for what I put you through."

He managed to smile. "So am I."

"I know somepony here who has forgiven you," Cadence said, stepping forward. "I only help you can do the same for me."

"I already have," Celestia said. "Thank you, my dear niece."

"Thank you, my dear aunt." She smiled. "There are some slices of cake left, if you want some."

The princess laughed. "You read my mind."

"What, now Cadence is psychic too?!" Pinkie cried in disbelief. "Is this a magic thing or can anypony do it?"

The reception passed with even more elation, now that Ray was back. The stallion threw himself into the celebrations, wolfing down a good deal of the appetisers, keeping them laughing with his unique humour, along with Pinkie and even sharing a dance with Fluttershy. Dusk was happy to share in the joy and even more so knowing Ray was coming home with them.

Eventually, it was time for Cadence and Shining to go off on their honeymoon. Dusk and Twilight waited at the entrance of the carriage they'd be taking. The newlyweds approached them, beaming proudly.

"Twilight! None of this would've been possible without you, little sis," Shining said sincerely. "Love ya, Twily."

"Love you too, B.B.B.F.F," she returned, embracing her sibling.

"Have a good time on your honeymoon," wished Dusk as Cadence hugged him. "You two deserve nothing, but the best."

"I could say the same for you and Twilight," Cadence said. "You take good care of each other, okay?"

"We always do," they said at the same time, blushing a little.

The couple smiled knowingly and entered the carriage.

"Ready to go?" Shining asked his wife.

"Oh! Almost forgot." Cadence stuck her head out of the window and tossed her bouquet.

"IT'S MINE!" Rarity screeched, barging past some mares to intercept it.

But Dusk thought he saw a blue aura appear briefly around the flowers. They suddenly changed course as they neared the ground and travelled unmistakably towards one mare.

Out of instinct, Twilight caught it. It was only after she saw exactly what she caught that she blushed heavily, along with Dusk. All of their friends exchanged smirks with each other, while the unicorn couple smiled bashfully at each other.

They watched the carriage pull away, the legend 'just married' displayed proudly on the back.

"Now this was a great wedding," said Twilight.

"Oh, yeah? Just wait until you see what I have planned for the bachelor party!" chuckled Spike.

As they burst out laughing, Dusk felt something nudge his shoulder. He looked to see Twilight, beckoning with her eyes to follow her. He did so, though it meant enduring a few wolf whistles and cheers from Ray, Rainbow and Pinkie.

He followed her until they arrived back at the same spot they always seemed to end up in. That place in the gardens where his whole life has changed forever.

"This is becoming quite a regular occurrence, my love," he noted with a smile.

"Are you complaining?" she giggled, patting the spot next to her.

"Not at all," he said, joining her and letting her rest her head on his shoulder. "Quite fitting, really. Last time, we were wondering what it was that stopped that Weeping Pegasus from taking over Ray's mind and why he was acting so stoic about it."

"And now we know," she finished. "It is quite chilling, isn't it? Looking at him now and knowing what he has inside of him."

"I won't deny it is, but I think it's better now we do know," he said. "At least we have experience with a situation like this."

"And how many ponies can say that," she remarked. "But you're right. I'd rather be able to help him like this, rather than having him locked up here."

"You didn't approve of Celestia's decision then?"

"Of course not. Just because I'm her student doesn't mean I think everything she does is right. Even if he does have that demon inside him, it wasn't fair to just keep him here like a prisoner. It was like with you, except he'd never be coming back."

"And it wasn't voluntary and I certainly hope you don't have any romantic feelings for him," he added.

"Don't worry, he's got nothing on you," she promised. "Besides, I think I already know somepony else who'd disapprove if that were the case."

"Indeed," he chuckled. "Like you said, at least now we can help him."

"Exactly, although I think it should be fine. That necklace has some powerful magic working inside it, even I could feel his power. We can make sure he follows Celestia's conditions and be there to act if anything does happen. We didn't abandon you, were not going to abandon him."

"I was hoping you'd say that." He nuzzled her cheek. "I'm glad to have you back, Miss Sparkle."

"Me too, my dearest Dusk," she returned. "After all, we both know you're lost without me."

"I don't know, I'd say I did a good job at rescuing you," he countered playfully.

She giggled and put on the tone of voice she used to make a point. "Ah, but it was only thought and motivation of rescuing me that gave you the strength to fight back and make it this far. So you see, you would be lost without me."

He sighed in defeat. "I suppose you're right, as usual."

"Of course I am, but I will say this." She rested her head on his shoulder. "I'd be pretty lost without you too."

He stroked her mane. "You... you really mean that?"

"How about you decide." She gazed up at him and brought her lips up to meet his.

Dusk savoured her taste, the feel of her feather-soft lips on his, her contented moaning, making sure he knew exactly how it was to kiss the real Twilight Sparkle. He ran his lips down the length of her neck again, drawing out those sharp, pleasured gasps before ending at the nape of her neck and back to her lips again.

This was definitely her. And he wouldn't be forgetting it, ever again.

"I think you mean it," he murmured when they broke apart to breathe.

"Of course," she whispered. "You have no idea how much I missed that."

"The feeling is mutual." His rational mind suddenly kicked back in gear. "I mean um… in the sense that uh… I missed you, of course! Yes, that's it!"

"Oh, right, yes, of course, yes," she stammered, her face flushed red. "Of course, yes… wouldn't want to… I mean, not that I wouldn't…"

"Neither would I… I mean, I would but… not um… not yet…"

"Not yet…?"

"Yes, you know… that thing?"

"You mean um… the um… the thing?"

"What thing?"

"The um… the 's' word…"

"Oh… oh! Yes, yes, right. Not um… not that."

"Not that I never would, I mean… I wouldn't, I mean… oh gosh…"

"Just um… yes, um… let's not talk about that right now."

"Yes, good idea, very good."

"I thought so too, yes."

"Good. Good, glad we're settled on that."

"Me too." Silence fell between them in the wake of that. "I suppose… we're still learning then."

"Yeah…" she agreed. But she managed to raise her eyes and smile warmly at him. "But, with you, I'm always willing to learn."

"I am too." His hoof rested on hers, which was still holding the bouquet. "I love you, Twilight."

She pulled both his hoof and the bouquet gently closer. "I love you too, Dusk."

They leaned forward in another kiss, enjoying this moment for as long as they could and not wanting to waste a single minute of it.

But something new happened.

He felt his horn against hers and felt a new energy surge inside it. He let the magic flow and his spell was met from a similar sensation from her, their magical auras merging together, shining as brightly as the stars they sat under. It was like that brief spark of magic they had when he'd rescued her, those little sparks of emotion they'd both felt from each other, but it burned much so much more. And they didn't feel like letting it pass this time.

It wasn't just a physical sensation they were sharing now. It was said that when two unicorns truly loved each other and their hearts were one, then they could connect in that moment with their magic, sharing thoughts and feelings in a way that no other ponies could. It didn't happen with all unicorns. In fact, it was so rare that it was practically a myth and even the most renowned magical researchers knew so little about what caused it because they had very few opportunities to study it when it did happen, since it was such a special moment between the two unicorns.

A Heart Bond. That was its name. It couldn't be forced, it couldn't be recreated from any other spell. It just happened. It might only happen once and never again or happen a few more times after. Those who reportedly experienced it could never say exactly what brought it on, but they could say that something definitely changed between them afterward. It didn't make any others love any less important. It just made theirs even more special.

He only knew this because Twilight's thoughts had briefly turned to it from a book she'd read when they'd started dating. He smiled through the kiss and continued to match her passionate urgency.

That had to be what they were experiencing now. He could feel her, inside his mind, every thought and feeling that she had, was having and would have about him filling him up. He knew it was the same for her. They had similar experiences like this before, but that had been through the spell that connected their necklaces or through the spells she used to soothe him in the wake of Doom leaving his mind. Those were nothing compared to this.

It seemed Luna was right about magic being as much about emotion as it was about energy.

All too soon, it seemed, they had to break apart to breathe. He was disappointed when the strength of that magic started to wane when they stopped, but it didn't fully go away.

"Still learning," echoed Dusk, placing his foreleg around her.

"Yeah…" She nestled into his shoulder. "But this is one lesson I'd never want to miss out on."

He kissed her head and turned his gaze to the fireworks overhead. "Neither would I…"

Author's Note:

Hey, you! Yeah, you! Where do you think you're going? It's not over yet, just one more to go!

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