• Published 13th Feb 2015
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Twilight, Good Night - Carapace

To better herself, Luna has studied Twilight's actions and friendship reports. She never expected to find herself under the microscope in turn.

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14: A House Where All's Accustomed

Though uniform on the exterior, the abode of Princess Cadence and Captain Shining Armor was anything but humble, or even uniform, for that matter.

The walls were painted a soft peach, and decorated with lavishly framed pictures, each containing images of the couple’s younger days. Lovely picnics on the rolling green hills at the base of Canterlot Mountain; Shining Armor himself sporting a rather put out look and glaring at Cadence while she laughed at the dollop of whipped cream she smeared on his muzzle; the pair, along with a much younger Twilight Sparkle, goofily crossing their eyes and puffing out their cheeks at the camera.

A trio of such happy ponies, the love shared evident in each image she passed. From the times shown with Shining Armor, to those with stallions and mares of bygone days, those long since passed and turned to dust.

What was it that Celestia referred to Cadence as? “Quite possibly the most curious of our number? Young but old, wise but blissfully naive. She rises with the love shared with those around her, and falls with each loss.”

Of course, that did little to ease the pain in Luna’s heart whenever she looked upon Cadence; the young princess who had been chosen to rule by Celestia’s side after banishing her own sister.

With a shake of her head, she returned to the pictures, unable to fight the traces of a smile crossing her face at their shared joy.

Alongside those happy days, Shining Armor’s proudest stood on display. Receiving his first post, the first time in his armor, Celestia herself awarding him a medal for his services on some assignment, even his parents trying in vain to get him to crack a smile while posted outside the palace gate, only for him to completely break protocol to sweep little Twilight up into a hug.

So much love, so many happy days shared between these two.

Luna hummed. Odd that I see no sign of awards or pictures of both shaking hooves with the upper crust—both have certainly interacted with them in my presence, and no doubt before my return. Perhaps, that is not where they place value.

More like Twilight, then. Fitting, given that they were such important figures in her life—Shining for more obvious reasons, but Cadence had been her foalsitter, according to Celestia’s stories.

Of all things she could say about Celestia, telling tall tales about her students was not among them.

Raucous laughter, Shining Armor crying out, his voice almost shrill in contrast to his usual soft spoken tone or barking shouts, brought her back. Let it pass, she is precious to Tia and Twilight. The mare may be a bit… intrusive and needing of a lesson in boundaries, but she means well. And she is certainly more a noble pony than some in our midst.

Not to mention, Cadence was a major factor in Twilight’s growth and development. Something she was very curious about, namely the effects on her demeanor.

“Cady! Please! Mercy!” Luna wrinkled her nose at the plea. What in the name of the stars and moon are those two doing in there?

A low taunt, Cadence crowing to her victim. Another bout of laughter, snorting and the thumping of hooves against the floor.

Fidelius stopped just before the opened doorway to their sitting room, his expression flat, betraying no sign of annoyance or amusement at whatever antics the couple engaged in when they turned in for the evening. As if the sound of two grown ponies playing like foals was business as usual.

At least, until she caught just the slightest twitch of his grayed eyebrow and a merry twinkle in his eyes. Withholding laughter. This is routine.

“After you, Princess Luna,” he bowed and swept a hoof to the room, the source of all the noise.

Nodding in kind, she trotted briskly passed him. The narrow hallway gave way to a more open sitting room; the light blue carpeting served as a contrast to the soft peach painted walls and the plush red loveseat and matching couch, complete with pink heart-shaped pillows. More pictures of the happy couple and their loved ones decorated the walls, including one rather interesting image of a preteen Twilight wearing Shining Armor’s helmet—the edge of which had comically fallen over her eyes.

Luna’s appreciation for the décor, however, was short lived. Her attention was drawn to the couple currently laying on the floor.

Or, more accurately, Shining Armor was writhing on the floor, tears of mirth streamed down his face as he kicked his hooves into the air and tried to throw Princess Cadence off of him, her pink and purple tinged feathers tickled mercilessly along his sides.

“OhsweetCelestia!” He cried, wriggling to his left to escape a rather adventurous primary teasing under his ribs, only to grant his tormentor free access to the space between his side and foreleg. “Cady, please! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! No more!”

Cadence’s eyes danced with mirth. She swiped her feathers across his barrel and leaned in, her muzzle just a hair’s length from his. “Oh, you haven’t even begun to pay, Shining Armor! This’ll teach you to eat the last of my ice cream!”

Raising an eyebrow, Luna watched in muted fascination as her niece drew back and took a deep breath.

From his spot on the floor, Shining gasped and tried to fend her off, giving one last futile plea through his giggles, “No! Not that! Cady, no!”

With her cheeks puffed out, Cadence darted forward, pressing her muzzle into his belly and blowing as hard as she could.

Luna swiveled her ears back and winced at the offensive sound of the vicious raspberry her niece employed against Shining Armor. The pinned stallion shrieked and writhed, reduced to uncontrollable laughter and incomprehensible pleas of mercy under her assault.

Perhaps announcing my intent would have been wise. Her muzzle flushed red. Walking in on a moment of intimacy... certainly not something she’d expected of the pair in their sitting room. A place so out in the open for any visitor to see.

Beyond her comfort. She averted her gaze, awkwardly rustling her wings and whispering to Fidelius out of the corner of her mouth, “Could you…”

A single nod. Fidelius coughed lightly, earning a flick of Cadence’s ear in his direction. “Princess, Captain, you have a visitor.” He stepped to the side and bowed low. “May I present Princess Luna, Mistress of the Night and Princess of the Moon.”

Cadence turned sharply, hear ears perking up and tail swishing happily. A broad grin creased her muzzle as she folded her wings and casually hopped off of Shining Armor, leaving him panting for breath, his chest still shaking with the occasional giggle.

“Princess Luna!” She squealed, like a foal on Hearth’s Warming Day. She bounded over, coming to a stop just within hoof’s reach and made as though to rear back, ready to catch Luna in a tight hug.

Her left hoof froze in mid air, hanging awkwardly a moment before she thought better and lowered it back to the ground. The smile never left her muzzle, though Luna’s keen eyes managed to catch the slight twitch of the corners of her mouth. The signs were there.

Straining. Hiding her disappointment from me. A curse, a flick of her tail. Luna wouldn’t dare call her niece a fool. For all her faults, Celestia would not choose a simpleton as her pupil, let alone receive the blessings of ascension. A gift few ponies even knew could be given.

Luna sniffed, her brilliant teal eyes locked on Cadence’s purple; the way they danced with joy at the sight of her ancient aunt, and seemed to hold the slightest spark of hope easily read.

I may not yet have forgiven myself for my own failures, but that does not mean I cannot forgive my sister’s loneliness. Her eyes softened, she took a deep breath as she readied herself to make a move. Nor does it mean that I cannot return kindness and patience with an olive branch of my own.

Exhaling through her nose and giving what she hoped was a welcoming smile, Luna stepped forward and wrapped a foreleg around Cadence’s neck in a gentle embrace—holding her close, but not so tight that the poor mare couldn’t breathe.

Cadence’s sudden gasp, the way her shoulders tensed up and her wings unfurled just slightly, as though readying herself to take flight, betrayed her surprise. “P-Princess?” she stammered, a hint of hope, the little filly wanting so much to gain the approval of her senior.

Blasted idolizing. I must remember to smack Tia for not nipping that in the bud. “You refer to my sister as ‘Aunt’,” she began, keeping her tone gentle, “if it would please you, I would not be averse to being referred to likewise.”

She bit back a curse. Far too formal, as if she were granting the privilege to some commoner in the old days rather than family—albeit, one who was adopted into the fold. By right, Cadence should feel comfortable referring to her as such. In reality…

Straining to maintain her smile, she bit the inside of her cheek. Another shortcoming of mine. My grudges push those who would help away—save for those more stubborn than me. A glance back to her niece. Cadence’s expression seemed to shift from elation to uncertainty and back again.

Pink coated hooves quivered against the wooden floor, as if Cadence were forcing herself to keep all four firmly on the ground lest she leap into the air. Her tricolored tail wagged like that of a happy puppy as she finally managed to speak, “R-Really?”

Luna inclined her head just slightly and let her hoof rest on Cadence’s shoulder. “Truly, I do.” Hesitating just a moment, she flicked her tail before quirking her brow and fixing a smirk upon her muzzle, just as she had when teasing Twilight. “Well? Embrace me, niece. Or shall I inform your ever-meddlesome ‘Auntie Celestia’ that you require medical attention to pull you out of—Oof!

Quick as a cat, Cadence darted forward and swept her up in a bone-crushing hug. “Yes!” she squealed as she pressed her cheek against Luna’s.

The air rushed from Luna’s lungs, her ears splayed back as Cadence babbled at a mile a minute, something about “Waiting so long” and “Auntie Luna” over and over again.

“Niece!” She wheezed, her own strength failing against that of her younger, more excitable niece. “Alicorn longevity does not reduce the pain of—ack!—broken ribs!”

Almost immediately, she was released, falling roughly on her hooves. She inhaled deeply through her mouth, her ribs ached, quite the testament to young Cadence’s strength. To make one as old as myself wince…

“Sorry! I’m so sorry, Auntie Luna! I-I was just so excited, I couldn’t help myself!”

A snort from Shining Armor, who had managed to control his laughter enough to roll over onto his belly and watch the scene before him, made their ears flick in his direction. “I always told you to be careful about how excited you get, honey.” Amusement tinged his voice as he stood, his blue eyes gleamed with mischief. “Maybe I should blow the whistle on your little weakness, so Princess Luna can avenge your little assault.”

In a whirl of pink and purple feathers, Cadence was across the room and upon him. She quickly clamped her hooves on top and bottom of his muzzle, looking over her shoulder at Luna with a plastic smile. “Eheheh, he’s just such a joker, my Shining! R-Really! No embarrassing weaknesses like being utterly helpless to resist a giggle fit when somepony just strokes a feather across his ribs!”

He simply beamed, mumbling something indecipherable that brought a rather heated blush to Cadence’s muzzle and made her ears lay flat against her scalp.

Cheeky colt, Luna noted, a smile playing upon her lips. Though, I suppose being able to take and receive such teasing is a prerequisite for dealing with Cadence, if Celestia’s tales are true. “Good evening to you as well, Captain,” she nodded. “I must admit, I hardly expected to find the vaunted Captain of my sister’s Day Guard so thoroughly subdued upon my visit. Perhaps a return to the guard training program is in order.”

Snorting, Shining Armor brushed her hooves aside. “With respect, Your Highness, I think you’ll find that the ponies who run the school might be a tad unwilling to bark orders at me—I trained quite a few of them!”

“In that case, I shall simply task Captain Erebos to oversee your secondary evaluation. There will be no leniency or glad-hoofing in the guard.”

A slight quirk of his eyebrow. “That’s perfectly fine, Your Highness. Captain Erebos can oversee remedial lessons. Only if I can return the favor after I’m finished recovering.”

“I may very well take you up on that, Captain. As much as I appreciate him, it would seem that the good stallion doth forget that there are consequences for practical jokes against his princess.” And, perhaps, my foals in gilded dress will learn not to aid a certain stallion in hiding my coffee. “Idle chitchat aside, there is a matter I wished to consult the pair of you on. If you are not too—“ she raised an eyebrow, her smirk turned almost predatory “—occupied.”

To her credit, Cadence didn’t even blink at the accusation so much as she returned the smirk in kind and wrapped a wing around Shining’s barrel. “Oh, not at all, Auntie! For you, I think I can put off disciplining this one until later!” She punctuated her remark with a quick nip of his ear, and a whispered comment that brought dopey smile and a deep blush to his muzzle. With a little titter, Cadence bumped her flank against his, nudging him toward the couch. “Please, sit! Fidelius, would you mind fetching us some drinks?”

“Right away, Your Highness,” he replied smoothly, bowing low. “What would you like this evening?”

“Tea, please. If that’s acceptable to you, Auntie.”

Luna chuckled as she took her place in the loveseat across from the pair. “T’would seem that tea will soon become a major staple of my diet should I continue spending time with you and yours, niece. Tea will be fine for me as well. Thank you, Sir Fidelius.”

He bowed lower, both a show of respect and to hide the smile threatening to break his façade. “You flatter me, Princess. I am but a mere hoofservant to—“ He broke of to wince as a shimmering blue aura twisted the tip of his ear.

“Take the compliment, you naughty stallion!” Cadence called, slipping onto the couch next to Shining, her wing still wrapped tightly around him. “Unless, of course, you mean to refuse her?”

Only a slight raising of his brows. A shared joke, more of their practiced routine. “Of course not, Your Highness. I will return momentarily. Princesses. Captain.” Fidelius turned sharply and trotted out of the room.

Shifting in place to find a more comfortable spot, Luna frowned at the overly soft cushion. Far too soft for her taste. Yet another difference between us: Cadence prefers overly soft and brightly colored furniture, I prefer mine more firm and the colors more reminiscent of my nights. She raised a critical brow at one of the pillows to Cadence’s left, one the same shade of pink as her niece’s coat. T’would seem that we both have the tendency to find comfort in things that match our greatest talents and duties.

Predictable to a fault, then. How very fitting, given just why Celestia had gone looking for another alicorn in the first place.

Stop there. Luna smiled in spite of her wandering thoughts, she deliberately glanced around the room for distraction, her eyes lingered on the pictures. “You two have made quite the home for yourselves,” she began, “so many happy memories on display throughout.”

“Oh, yes!” Cadence beamed and nodded. “We just had so many pictures we loved and couldn’t decide which to put up and which to put into an album, so Shiny and I just started playing around with places to put them.”

“We ended up with a bit of a clutter the first couple times we put everything up. I think we had more pictures than free wall at one point.” Shining rubbed at the back of his mane, chuckling to himself at the memory. “I think that was more my fault, actually—or was that all the furniture being strewn about?”

“It was both, you great, big goof!”

“Really? I was sure I only messed up one of them.” He brought a hoof to his chin and furrowed his brows. “Wait a minute, you were the one who had all those pictures of me parading in my old armor! I only put up a few pictures of us, a few of my family, and some of Twily!”

Arching her brow, Cadence hummed, her smile never dropping as she leaned over to whisper something into his ear. In a rather impressive show, Shining went through a wide ranging change of expression in the span of a few seconds: first, his eyes went wide, his jaw dropped, and his ears stood ramrod straight.

“I-I mean, yes! That was definitely me!” He corrected himself, the rosy red blush coloring his cheeks once more.

Luna had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes. Young ponies these days. Not a bit of shame between them. She coughed lightly. “Quite. Though, I must admit myself a bit taken aback that the pair of you decided to live in the military district rather than the castle. Would you not find more comfort in one of the suites?”

The pair shared a look. Shining gave a halfhearted smile and shrug of his shoulders. “Er, with respect, Your Highness, I always feel like I’m at work in the castle”

“Oh, you should’ve seen it, Auntie! He was so uptight, I could’ve stuck a—“

This time, it was Shining’s turn to quickly cover her mouth with a hoof, a look of indignation crossing his face. “Cadence! Not in front of Princess Luna!”

Muffled giggles, a little brush of the tips of her feathers earned a yelp and a little jump, more than enough for Cadence to slip from his grasp. “I’ve said it in front of Auntie Celestia, with you right next to me, no less! Don’t be so stingy just because it’s Auntie Luna tonight!”

Sitting up straight, Luna caught the way Shining’s eyes flitted to her. Nervousness, unease shone, he wasn’t yet comfortable in her presence. At least, not yet in such a personal—or familial, if Cadence should have her say on the matter—fashion.

So professional, and so uncertain how to handle me as anything more than a princess. How very much like your younger sister. Though, to be perfectly fair, he at least dealt with the surprised just a bit better. He wasn’t bowing low or slipping into his on-duty persona. Whether or not that had more to do with his maturity or the fact that his lover so happened to be a princess in her own right, one with her wing wrapped quite snuggly across his back, she had the grace to leave well alone.

Still, best to nip it in the bud. Especially if she wanted to make any headway into asking her question. “If it would please you, Cap—er, Shining, rather—” she broke off to chuckle at the way he blinked owlishly and perked up his ears “—you are off duty and ’tis I who came unannounced to your home. Please, be at ease and, given your relationship, I believe it might be more appropriate for you to accustom yourself to calling me by name, rather than title.”

Both ponies’ ears seemed to perk up higher. Shining blinked and worked his jaw, struggling to think of an apt reply while Cadence simply grinned and held him tighter, happy with the tacit blessing.

Good. A happy niece was good, and progress in their relationship would please Celestia. Not to mention, serve her more immediate purposes more readily than if she’d walked in acting coldly. As had been the case of most of their interactions. Yet another thing she’d have to work on.

Shining shifted in his place, his lips curved upward into a half-smile. “Er, well, what can we do for you this evening, Luna? You mentioned that you had some business you wanted to speak with us about?”

Luna allowed herself a smile. Quick to adapt and adjust, a carryover from the guard training. And certainly quicker to accept it than Twilight had been. “Yes, a matter regarding a few recent visits I have had with your sister, Twilight Sparkle. There are certain habits of hers that I find quite perplexing.”

“Oh?” The smile slipped from his face, his muscles tensed. “Captain Erebos mentioned that you were visiting with Twilight while we were at the pub. Said something about you two sharing music and chatting the night away, if I recall.”

“It would seem that I need to remind the good captain that he owes fealty to me, not the stallion buying him drinks.” Putting him through training a second time is suddenly all the more tempting. I may even oversee it myself. “But, that aside, he is correct. I should also note that I have visited her thrice now: once to convey my appreciation for past deeds, a second time to discuss music, as Captain Erebos mentioned, and, most recently, I accepted invitation to spend time with her friends.”

“Really, now?” Cadence arched a brow and leaned forward, crossing her hooves on the couch. Something about the tone, the way she drawled and how she gazed at Luna with that faux serene smile harkened back to another mare who so loved to push her buttons and slowly pull stories out of her.

A little thing she likely learned from Celestia over the years, but without the measure of teasing that typically came as part of the deal.

Either Cadence had adapted her own to place more emphasis on the interest than on the fun of coaxing stories out of other ponies, or she did it without intent. Judging by the ease with which she went from playful banter with Shining Armor to a bit of idle chat, Luna would place her bet on the former.

“Yes. In fact, she was quite insistent that I was welcome. Though, Twilight did make mention that Miss Rarity was a bit displeased that I requested a more casual affair, and the Cake family was a bit uneasy on the whole thing…”

“If I recall, Twilight mentioned that she had a friend who was big into the Canterlot fashion scene—or trying to break into it, at least. That might be where she picked it up.”

Luna hummed in affirmation. “T’would make sense, I suppose. And Tia made mention that the Cakes all but fawned over her during that visit when Philomena played her trick. That aside—“ she coughed lightly into her hoof “—during my visits, I have noticed little bits of Twilight’s behavior that have raised a few concerns of mine.”

“Nothing too serious, I hope.” Shining furrowed his brows. “She’s not one to be overly casual around important figures, especially Princess Celestia. I’d think that she’d put you in the same category.”

“Indeed, yes. She was quite respectful, if a bit overly so, as you say. But I could not help but notice that she tends to hold a bit of an aversion to praise.”

The pair inhaled sharply, almost in unison. Shining set his mouth into a thin line, rubbing a small circle into the cushion he shared with Cadence. “I see.” He mumbled something under his breath and shook his head before addressing her again. “If you don’t mind my asking, why’s that a problem?”

Cadence spoke up first. “Shiny, remember what I had to teach you about accepting compliments when we first met?”

A little blush, the way he ducked his head and mumbled again, repeating the very thing Luna had told Twilight during her first visit as if it were practiced routine. “It’s rude to refuse a compliment from royalty.”

“That’s right.” She cooed, playfully patting him on the head like a young foal. She turned to Luna and shot a wink. “Oh, if you could’ve just seen Shiny back in those days, Auntie! All I had to do was tell him just how impressive his shield spells were and how handsome he looked whenever he got that serious look in his eyes, the one he always used to have when playing one of those little strategy games or during magic practice, and he’d just melt!”

“I wasn’t that bad!”

“Honey, trust me when I say that you really don’t want me to have Fidelius fetch the old pictures. Anyway—oh, there you are, Fidelius!” As she spoke, Fidelius trotted in, floating a tray of three cups and a pot of tea. “Just set it down on the coffee table, please. I can handle it.”

“Princess, really, it’s no trouble—“

“I said I could handle it, Fidelius! By the rolling tides, it’s almost like you think I’m a little filly all over again!”

An odd smile graced his lips, his eyes seemed to twinkle, like a parent letting fond memories play through his mind. “Of course, Princess. If you need anything else, I am but a ring of the bell away.” He nodded toward the tiny bell resting on the table.

With one last bow, he left the trio to their business, his soft hoof steps echoed down the hallway.

Shaking her head, Cadence set about adding milk and sugar to the cups, her magic working to prepare all three at once. “I swear, that stallion would see to it that we were carried around the moment we tried to step hoof out the door! He mothers us worse than Twilight Velvet!”

“Don’t remind me. I still remember when they met to go over how many sweets I was allowed to have.” Shining took hold of his cup in his pink aura, giving her a nuzzle and tiny peck as thanks before turning back to Luna. “So, all jokes aside, pinning down just where Twily started to turn inward when praised is a bit difficult. I’m not even certain if there’s just one event that I could point out and say ‘that’s the cause’.”

Of course. No easy fix, that would just be too convenient. Luna hid a frown behind her teacup and took a sip, starting just slightly as a familiar taste registered. The same as Spike’s brew… interesting. That, however, could wait until later.

“If you wouldn’t mind elaborating, please?”

Shrugging, he took a sip of his tea, though he didn’t pause to savor the taste quite like she and Cadence. “Well, for that, I have to go a bit roundabout. If I have to be entirely honest, Cadence is right to a point; I wasn’t particularly good about handling praise either. I got awkward, I’d scuff my hooves against the dirt and I’d try to find an excuse to get out of the center of attention.” He rubbed a hoof against his shin, his smile sheepish. “Really, my family didn’t do a lot of big showy things when we got good grades—that stuff was always reserved for home, when we were all together. A lot of stuff for us was just small little affairs, even birthdays.”

“I finally pulled him out of that, for the most part. You still struggle with big parties sometimes—though, it’s really just that you want a bit of time between the two of us where we can unwind after.” Cadence put in. “But, Twilight had it a bit more… shall we say difficult? She didn’t have, well, me to push her forward to do things in class or to even the drive to join something like a debate team or even the chess club. She wanted to study, so that’s what she did. Just buried her muzzle in books and researched nearly anything she could.”

Luna set her cup on the saucer and let it hang in the air. “Interesting. Pray tell, how does that combine with familial habits—“ she broke off to nod to Shining “—play into her aversion? Why, when I attempted to laud her for her part in my return, she shrank inward and attempted to play it off as naught but civic duty! The mare faced me in a form seething with ancient fury and dark magic, and calls it—in the modern vernacular—‘no big deal’!”

“We’re getting there, I did say it would be roundabout.” Shining let out a deep sigh. “It’s a mix of things. Our parents being private, but encouraging, most of my friends always doted on her and sort of acted like she was the group mascot. Really, she used to get so embarrassed whenever I would tell them about the spells she’d picked up.”

“And mine were worse, I’m afraid.” Cadence shook her head. “She really was the little foal among the big fillies. But, that’s still just a part. Did Auntie Celestia tell you about the day in Court? Where she got a bit stern with a few of the petitioners?”

“Indeed, she was a bit remorseful over the matter. Though she did not go into much detail, if her manner of dealing with such antics has remained constant over the past millennium, I can surmise just how she dealt with it.”

Nodding, Cadence continued. “I’d say your guess is probably right—Auntie doesn’t typically suffer arrogance and, if I had to hazard a guess, that was something Twilight picked up on quickly.”

“Now, there, I must point out that my sister is, at very least, fair in her dealings.” Luna set the cup and saucer down on the coffee table, steepling her hooves. “There is a distinct difference between taking pride in one’s accomplishments and simply being arrogant. Your cousin, Blueblood, for example—“

“Auntie, let’s not even go there.” The smile on Cadence’s muzzle grew strained. Shining did his best to bite down on his lip in order to hold back his laughter, earning a little elbow to his ribs. “Yes, you’re right that there is a difference, but think of it from a little filly’s point of view: somepony tried to be proud in front of Princess Celestia. How might that look? How might that feel to her?”

Luna set her jaw and closed her eyes. Flashes of years past, lectures and arguments from millennia ago. Her elder sister gazing down on her, with a look about her more akin to a disappointed mother than an angry sister. The manner with which she spoke, how calm and collected she made herself; never yelling, just talking in that same tone.

Even when facing down Nightmare Moon, Celestia had only spoken sternly and given warnings…

“I know it all too well, I’m afraid.” Far too well. “So, family, older ponies crooning over her like some sort of trophy—“ the pair across from her shared a wince at her choice of wording “—and my sister being stern. Truth be told, I would have expected something a bit more drastic. Though, depending on just how young Twilight was and whether or not the message was repeated.”

Shining coughed, raising a hoof. “Yes, but that’s not even mentioning school foals. Being Princess Celestia’s personal protégé put her in another light; she was basically seen as either the pony to be friends with or the biggest teacher’s pet in school. And, well, Twily wasn’t exactly big on socializing, so…” He trailed off and rolled a hoof through the air, the words unnecessary.

It harkened back to her earliest friendship reports; trying to find it in herself to be able to step out of what she knew in order to understand and relate to her newfound friends, something she couldn’t approach like a school project.

Just as her problem with nerves and praise wasn’t something Luna could approach through direct confrontation. Quite the little conundrum you are, my friend, she mused. If I press, I wager you would retreat inward and distance yourself, or simply try to divert me to something else. However, I cannot let this continue, therefore remaining silent is not an option.

How might Celestia approach such a problem? Little hints, nudging Twilight toward her friends in Ponyville, subtlety.

Subtlety was an art. Choices of color or the notes of a song could evoke a wide range of emotions, from jubilation to gripping fear to sadness and everything in between. Even the way her Night Guards moved through the darkness, their hooves silent and forms night invisible, was rooted in the old way the sisters taught lessons.

Luna just had to find the right direction to nudge Twilight along. And, of those she knew, one was playing coy and using the chance to teach her a lesson, two would worry that their daughter was in some sort of trouble, one was Twilight’s favored assistant, and then there were the two across from her.

“What would you suggest?” She asked, keeping her tone level.

“For what?” Cadence raised a brow.

“If one were to try to pull her out of her proverbial shell, how would you suggest it be done?”

That brow arched higher, a smile played upon Cadence’s lips. “Ah. Interesting.” She held up a hoof. “I shouldn’t have said interesting that you would want to help. No, just that I’m surprised that’s what you’re so focused on. The last I’d heard, you were rather taken with her—“ she rolled the hoof through the air, in similar fashion as Shining had “—way of helping others.”

“I am!” Luna blurted. She snorted and stomped a hoof into the couch, grimacing at the growing smile on her niece’s muzzle and the look of amusement in Shining Armor’s eyes. “I should say, I do find her way quite endearing. But I would see that she learns to hold herself in higher regard. Recoiling in the face of compliments is something I find rather worrisome. What if, for example, she were to present research before a hall? Would she fold under the pressure? Perhaps she might stammer and look away while mumbling her findings to the hall, ultimately making herself out to be weak in their eyes.”

“That, I doubt would be a problem as long as the focus is on the subject. Once it shifts to questions on how she thought do conduct the research and once ponies start really looking at her…” Shining winced visibly. “All right, I can see your point, that’s a problem. And for her, a big one, considering that she wants to look into just about everything under the sun.”

He tapped a hoof against the cushion, his gaze fell to the floor as he grumbled something under his breath. Cadence took his hoof in hers, leaning in to hold a hushed conversation.

Luna brought the cup back to her lips, slowly draining the remnants of her tea while the couple whispered to one another. Rude, perhaps, but if it meant a way to help Twilight, she could suffer a momentary lapse.

Slowly, Shining fixed his gaze upon her again, silently observing her a moment before speaking up. “She’s most comfortable around those she’s known longest—reverence of Princess Celestia aside. I’d imagine she doesn’t get quite as shifty around them.”

“Forgive me, but I must point out that she was quite uneasy when Rainbow Dash praised her during my most recent visit.”

“To be brutally honest, that doesn’t surprise me; you’re a new friend. She’s still sort of feeling you out, so to speak.” He gave a bit of a half smile. “She probably shrank back and checked to see how you reacted, right?”

Her brows furrowed, Luna hummed in the affirmative. “Quite.”

“I figured as much, that’s about the same as how she acted when I brought the guys over for game night, or when a few of Cady’s friends stopped by the house.”

Cadence nodded once, but stayed silent, seemingly content to tap her hoof against the couch and weigh her own thoughts. Her tail flicked, she inhaled through her nose and held a moment before releasing slowly through her mouth. “She’s always been a bit finicky on that front, I think. Getting her to open up took some time, but being her foal sitter helped. For me, anyway. I suspect you might already have a similar in route.”

A derisive snort, a flick of her ethereal, starry tail. “Niece, while your aid is appreciated, if you are about to suggest that I volunteer to foal sit a fully grown mare, I would recommend a visit to the nearest mental doctor.”

“That isn’t—oh, stop laughing, Shining!” She gave a swipe of her wing across his back, eliciting a strangled squeak from the snickering stallion. Snorting, she turned to face Luna again, her eyes flitting back to Shining just briefly. A flash of that mischievous intent, the same way they gleamed when she had him at her mercy, there and gone in an instant. “ Auntie, that’s not what I meant! You’re taking it too literally!”

“Kindly clarify, then.”

Cadence chuckled and shook her head, a rueful grin crossed her muzzle. “My fault for the wording. Let me put it this way, I took a long route to becoming her friend: I started as her foal sitter, just another pony to watch over her, and slowly built my own relationship with her. You, on the other hoof, got help from her and then made it very clear that you wanted friendship.”

“It, ah, was not quite as quick as your summary might suggest…” Luna pointed out weakly, raising her hoof in a manner akin to a nervous foal confronted by a teacher. “I dallied for several months.”

“Yes, yes, I know! But the point stands!” She waved a hoof dismissively. “You made the first move and she accepted your friendship. You’re ahead of the curve!”

“So you say. But how? What advantage do I possess in this situation that you lacked?”

Shining cut in, his smile retuned to his muzzle once again as he caught onto where Cadence had taken things. “Simply put? Your relationship is built on mutual admiration—you don’t necessarily have the hurdle Celestia, Cadence, or I faced as more authoritarian figures. You can just be Luna and Twilight!”

She blinked, tilting her head to the left. That was it? That was the brilliant insight into her newfound friend’s life?

Wrinkling her nose, she brought a hoof to her chin. As Tia might say in similar situations, any advice, even if it might be something she didn’t quite expect or want, could be used to better herself. Or, more applicably, to help her better another.

Twilight Sparkle had offered—rather forcibly—to aid her in her quest to resume her old relationship with the ponies that had come to fear her so. A task, in Luna’s opinion, that would take more than simple words or little jokes with the foals to achieve. Far too much darkness clouded her past, events long since buried by the sands of time and painstaking efforts of her sister.

But helping Twilight, returning the favor to a friend, that was worth something.

To help by simply being there for a friend. Luna wracked her brain, something was familiar about that. One of Twilight’s lessons, if I recall. Or one from another friend.

To stand by a friend, much like her Night Guard, Moondancer, and sister stood by her as she struggled to adapt. That was the key.

“You have given me much to think about,” she began, sliding off the couch and standing. Before the pair across could mimic her action, she held up a hoof. “Please, do not stand on my account. I will not detain you any further.”

Cadence started. “Oh we’re happy to help!” She broke off, chewing on her bottom lip, her ears pinned back. “You could stay for dinner, if you like,” she mumbled timidly. “I’m sure Fidelius can make a bit extra.”

Her first instinct, to make up a flimsy excuse, flashed before her. The refusal died before it even reached her throat, quelled by the hope shining in those brilliant purple eyes.

Move on. Give her a chance.

“I suppose, if good Fidelius would not be too troubled.”

This time, she was ready for Cadence to leap off the couch and sweep her into another hug. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” She drew back, only to give a quick nuzzle before releasing her grasp. “I’ll go tell Fidelius straight away! You’ll just love his butternut squash casserole!”

She was gone in a swirl of feathers, leaving Luna alone with a decidedly amused Shining Armor.

After a moment, he spoke, his voice tinged with barely restrained laughter. “You realize that you just made her entire week, right? I won’t get a wink of sleep with how she’ll be babbling tonight.”

Luna simply rolled her eyes. “I am quite certain that you will live, Captain. If being deprived one night of sleep is enough to render you unfit for duty, then perhaps I should make good on my earlier threat.”

“Like I said, I’ll do it if he does.” Shining scoffed as he laid his head on the cushion, a lazy smile playing upon his lips.

Such a cheeky stallion, just as Cadence said. Well, he would learn with whom he was dealing soon enough.

Her muzzle creased into a coy smile, her eyes flitted back to Shining Armor. “I do seem to recall an old law from ages ago—still on the books, I believe. Stealing a princess’ ice cream was a crime most terrible, even in my day. Punishable by tickling day and night by those offended by the crime.”

The look of utter horror, the way his jaw dropped, hanging wide open as he tried to find his voice was a sight she would hold quite dear.

Never trifle with the Princess of the Night, she crowed inwardly. For her talent for mischief is unmatched and her time endless!

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