• 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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44: The Shade

Luna’s arrival wasn’t heralded by the crash of thunder or a howl of wind. There was no angry roar in the Royal Canterlot Voice, nor bolts of magic raining down from above to smite the apparitions who tormented her beloved.

Instead, there was a drastic drop in temperature, enough that Twilight could feel her coat going rigid. All the individual hairs stood on end, brittle as a frozen glass. She could see the surface of the lake freeze over, along with a nearby pool of blood spilled forth from some poor gryphon. It was as if all the heat had been drawn from the cave.

Then, preceded by a heavy, ominous absence of sound, Luna simply was there in the space between Twilight and their doppelgängers, her starry mane and tail whipped into a frenzy of comets and falling stars.

She let out a slow breath through her nose, into her double’s face, then slowly turned to look at each Night Guard in turn, all down the line. Her gaze lingered on the captains, past and present, especially on Erebos and Moondancer together, before they drifted to the false Twilight.

There was a crackling of ice somewhere to Twilight’s left. The temperature had just fallen off the proverbial cliff.

Her tail twitched. Luna spoke in a low voice filled with fury colder than the frost which heralded her arrival, “Cease.”

A rush of wind swept through the cave. Each and every Night Guard dissolved into wisps of smoke, without so much as an effort or show of magic. Her eyes then returned to her double, and she flared her wings open in challenge.

“You,” Luna growled, “are not welcome here. You were told that Twilight Sparkle would never be yours, shade!”

The dream Luna didn’t so much as flinch. Her brows raised ever-so slightly as an amused smile played upon her lips. “Once again, such bold words for a mare too terrified to open a book and reflect upon her past.” Gazing at the real Luna for a brief moment with a half-lidded stare, she turned her attention to Twilight. “Why not ask our beloved how she took to our old methods, hmm? This nightmare was not my design. Well, I may have made one or two additions.” Her eyes glittered. “I do believe she will look quite fetching in our colors, no? And how well she will serve our Night Guard … in an auxiliary role, of course, I shan’t risk her health so carelessly.”

Twilight saw the way Luna winced, but she didn’t back down. Rather she shifted, putting herself between the false Luna and Twilight again. “That will be addressed later. You have crossed a line not meant to be crossed! Assailing me in my own dreams is far enough, you old ghost! I know not how you came here, but you will leave!”

“Why not make me, little Luna? Or are you too cowardly to see it through?”

The Princess of the Night gritted her teeth, her neck muscles tensed and her wings flared out wide. “I will not allow you to poison her mind or ruin her as you did me! This little vision you created will never come to pass!”

“And yet,” her doppelgänger continued as if Luna’s fury meant nothing to her, “I am still here. With her.” She reached out and flicked Luna’s nose, earning a snarl. “With you. As I ever will be, no matter how hard you try to pretend otherwise. I will ever be just over your shoulder. You cannot change what you have done, and I will not be buried, Luna. You cannot change what you were, and still are deep down.”

It was Luna who broke their stare down first. She turned away with an angry huff and whiplike flick of her tail. Her furious teal eyes fell upon Twilight and softened a touch. She strode over to Twilight and wrapped a hoof around her shoulders in a tight embrace, wings still spread wide as if to shield her from the mere sight of her counterpart.

“I apologize,” she whispered. “This I feared more than anything when we first began talking. My past should not be your burden, nor your torment, but mine alone.”

“Oh, but that cat is quite out of the bag, little Luna!” The words made Luna stiffen. Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight watched the dream Luna slowly start to circle them like a shark. The grin upon her muzzle was just as predatory. “And our love was so very curious about all the things we did to protect our ponies and our sister’s heart, quite the vivid imagination, judging by—ho! I believe this is Rudiger! An accurate visage, if I do say so myself. Well, no, on second thought, I believe Aconite poisoned him.” She stood over the fallen gryphon, the first Twilight had seen, and shook her head. “I trust you remember why Rudiger was targeted, little Luna.”

Twilight’s eyes flitted back to Luna, her Luna, in time to see her squeeze her eyes closed. A visible shudder ran down her body.

“I prefer not to,” came the whispered reply.

Her double snorted. “And you wonder why I call you coward. He well deserved his end. His crimes more than warranted it.”

“I put such things behind me, you old ghost!”

The false Luna’s face contorted in disgust. She stopped circling with a stomp of her hoof which rang through the cavern like a cannon’s retort. “No. You bury your past out of cowardice and shame, you sniveling brat!”

Twilight’s gaze flitted between them, even as Luna shifted again to block her from looking. Her mind raced into action faster than the Wonderbolts themselves could ever hope to fly. The dream Luna, this ghost from her past, haunted her and clawed at her mind. For a second, she dared to imagine Luna, the real Luna, succumb to its words whispered like a poison in her mind.

The mere thought sent a chill to her core.

No, not a ghost from her past.

This was a shade of her past. It was Luna herself. Twilight had read her writing just a short while ago. Cold, calculating, yet with a wicked edge to her every action, even her affections. Everything was considered with respect to how it might function with the Night Guard, how it might serve Equestria. Even how she looked at Twilight—a lover with a wonderful mind, perfect to serve the Night Guard in a non-combat role.

The epitome of having her cake and eating it too.

“I care not for your opinion,” Luna murmured. Her ears pinned flat against her mane as her feathers bristled and spread, filling Twilight’s vision like a curtain of midnight blue. “It has never mattered. You cannot hurt me, you cannot change me. I have found what I lost.”

“If that were true, I would not be here, little Luna. And do spare me the dramatics.” Twilight heard her resume her circle, slow and methodical, drawing nearer with each step until she was able to loom over both mares. “I know full well who holds the key to your heart. Why else would you work so hard, so long to ensure that she could not see me? Even now, as she stands before us, before your true heart, you obscure her from the truth. How like all those ruffians of old who never told their wives of their crimes, even when they awoke to their last sight—our eyes.”

Luna seemed to shrink in size. Her eyes clenched shut, she gritted her teeth, pained, no doubt, but a rush of memories she wished would stay dead and buried beneath the sands of time.

Twilight, on the other hoof, was thinking it all through, like one of the puzzles she worked on in the kitchen with all her family when she was a filly. Luna didn’t want her to see this shade, this amalgamation of all she was in the past. She didn’t want her anywhere near those events that led to her final fall to Nightmare Moon.

Anytime it was brought up, she evaded it. It was her problem, her burden, not Twilight’s. It should never be Twilight’s.

But that wasn’t quite the full reason.

The shade had just supplied it, and Luna’s words over the past several months all leant credence to her conclusion.

“As you are more than aware, I do not have the most… positive relationship with my subjects. Not that I can truly blame them, as my actions a thousand years ago more than earned their distrust and fear.”

“In a fantasy world, one night of goodness in one town may have restored my reputation. But we do not live in such a world, young Spike. I have a great many things to answer for.”

“I am not proud of what I did, or what my Night Guard did on my orders.”

All of it clicked into place. Every word, every loss of Princess Celestia’s smile, the way she wept over the memory, the way Luna spoke of her history, how even her shade, her tormentor, mocked her for how she looked at her own past.

Luna was ashamed, yes. That much was quite obvious. But it wasn’t that she was ashamed that anypony might learn her secrets.

Just one.

Only ever one. She had given that much up when she awoke from her nightmare.

“Do not! Never look! Never, never look! Never let her see!”

Never let her see, she said. As she clutched the mare she loved and hid her from the very sight of her mirror.

The mirror.

That’s it!

Twilight turned to Luna and reared up, placing her hooves on her girlfriend’s shoulders. “Luna,” she whispered, “I need you to listen to me for a moment, and I need you to trust me.”

Those beautiful teal eyes opened, filled with pain and shame. “Always,” she choked out.

“Change this. All of it. Take me to your dreams, to the nightmare you had this morning.”


Cupping her cheeks, Twilight touched their noses together. “You didn’t want me to look at your mirror,” she continued. “Why? Why did you cover your mirror with a sheet and stop me from looking at it? What was in that mirror you were so afraid of, love?”

“I—” Luna’s eyes flitted between her and the shade. The color seemed to drain from her cheeks. “Twilight, my love, you cannot. You—”

“This is pointless,” the shade scoffed. “This, beloved, is the very thing I was telling you. Look at her. Weak, frightened of what? A mirror, a nightmare, and the memory of her past. It shan’t be long until she sees the world and realizes the need for a stronger hoof once again. Very soon, indeed.” Fluffing her feathers, she looked at Twilight with a hint of affection and unhidden pride. “Then, you will have the love of a mare worthy of—”

Twilight turned to level her with a glare. “I’ve heard more than enough from you and I don’t care to hear more.”

The shade’s smile faltered. “E—Excuse me?”

“I didn’t stutter. I wasn’t talking to you, I don’t care what you have to say. I’m talking to the mare I love.” She returned her gaze to Luna, the real Luna, and nuzzled her. “I’ve read most of the book, Luna. All the way to how angry you were when you lost the love of your subjects. I’ve seen the shade that’s been haunting you, but one thing I’ve been struggling with is how the mirror fits into all of this.” With a small, comforting smile, she leaned in and planted a soft kiss on Luna’s lips. “You came to save me from your nightmare, love. Take me to yours and let me do the same.”

Snarling, the shade’s horn flashed. The entire cave glowed teal. “I will not allow it! This weak, pathetic thing I became will not escape this time! I control this dream realm! I will be whole again, beloved, and you will see that my love is eternal and my protection absolute!”

“Funny,” Twilight mused. “Claiming to control the Princess of the Night’s domain. If she can’t escape you, then maybe one of you could answer me one question …”

Though she never broke eye contact with Luna, she could feel the intensity of the shade’s stare. Both Luna’s, real and false, regarded her with confusion, their ancient minds unable to realize that she’d seen what they had not.

Or, more accurately, what one had missed, while the other pretended it wasn’t so.

“If Luna can’t escape this dream and you’ve been tormenting her all this time … how did she wake up this morning?”

Luna’s jaw dropped. Slowly, she turned to face her double, Twilight followed her gaze and had to stifle a grin when she saw the expression on the shade’s face.

Horror. Absolute horror at the loss of control. Her hold on Luna was over, and she knew, in that instant, she had been bested. Which left only one response.

Her cold, beautiful features twisted in rage. Her eyes flashed, her pupils elongated into familiar slits as fangs began to peek from behind her top lip. “You little wretch! Before you know my embrace, I will see to it you suffer for this, beloved!” With a roar that shattered the ice in the cave, she leapt at Twilight, her horn flashing dangerously.

Time seemed to stand still. In fact, it did.

The shade froze in mid leap. Only her eyes moved, darting about fervently, widening in surprise.

Twilight felt Luna rise to her full height and take a step forward. A soft, powerful wing draped across her back. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Luna’s expression harden, illuminated by her horn glowed a shimmering teal.

“The dream realm,” she spoke with quiet authority, “is and ever will be mine, you old ghost. ’Tis my shame that I needed a reminder, but—” She turned to fix Twilight with a fond gaze “—perhaps it comes from the only one who could make me hear it. And if my love wills that we visit my nightmares, if she wishes to shoulder my burden, my pain, as she has in secret longer than I know, then it will be so!”

Luna stomped upon the stone floor once, and a roll of thunder echoed through the cavern. A shimmering light spread from the spot her hoof had struck, washing away the cold, hard floor littered with fallen enemies, spatters of blood, and frost. In its place was soft blue carpet, a crescent canopy bed with a circular mattress, midnight blue covers and pillow sheets that twinkled like the night sky. Beautiful paintings hung from the walls while silken curtains drawn shut shrouded the room in cool darkness. What captured Twilight’s gaze, however, was a mirror, covered by a sheet.

The shade, however, was nowhere to be seen. Though there was a muffled cursing from beneath the sheet, then a rapping of metal horseshoes on glass. The mirror jolted. Somepony was trying to get out.

Twilight looked to Luna and offered a smile before ducking out from under her wing. She stepped closer to the mirror, stopping just before her hooves touched the sheet spilled onto the floor, and gestured toward it. “Take it off and look.”

Her jaw tightening, Luna gave a solemn nod and stepped forward. With a tug of magic, the sheet came off the mirror to reveal the shade, trapped on the other side, her eyes alight with fury and the veins in her neck bulging as she tried to force her way out. The twin blades hidden in her shin guards flashed and scraped against the glass.

For a moment, the Princess of the Night regarded her silently. She drank in a deep breath, then closed her eyes. “I hate her,” she whispered to Twilight with her exhale. “I hate her because I hate myself for what I did in those days.” Slowly, she opened her eyes and turned to face the younger mare. “I would say I hate that you learned of all this, but …”

Twilight rubbed their shoulders together. “I’m still here. Nothing between us has changed.” She turned to fix the trapped shade with a winning smirk. “As you’ve said before, you’re not that mare anymore.”

“Quite so.” Luna took a step forward so she was almost nose to glass with the mirror, looking upon the shade with disdain. “You were correct, old ghost. I cannot change my past. I cannot change that I was once you, that your actions were my own, and that you will always be there, just over my shoulder, as all memories are. However, this reality does not give you power over me. Even if it took the love of another to make me understand the truth.”

The shade shrieked, but her voice was trapped behind the glass. She pounded and slammed her hooves against her prison, desperate to get out. Her eyes flashed teal and hot, angry tears welled up and began to spill down her hollow cheeks. Her fur darkened, turning an eerie shade of black.

Just as Luna’s had once before.

“Ah, there you are,” Luna said as though talking about the weather. “In your lowest moment, you become Nightmare Moon. How fitting this comes as I impart some knowledge upon you—this all gives me power over you, old ghost. You are my past, you will always have a place behind me. Not before me. With that said, it is time to put you in your proper place.” Her horn glowed, Luna’s magic washed over the mirror and began to bleed through to the other side.

The shade staggered back, hastily trying to avoid the tendrils as they came for her, but to no avail. They latched onto her legs, her neck, her very body, and began to drag her forward and nailed her in place so she stood in the same position as Luna.

The Princess of the Night regarded her with a cold stare and whispered, “Get thee behind me.

White lightning arced over the defeated shade’s body. She writhed in place, her mouth opened in a silent scream as arcane magic coursed through her body. Slowly, her muscles relaxed, the blackness bled out of her coat to midnight blue once more, the slitted pupils shrank and filled out, and the glow in her eyes dimmed.

The shade faced Luna, wearing the same expression, standing the exact same way as the real one. Nothing more than a reflection at last. Luna let out a relieved sigh as her shoulders slumped, like she had finally freed herself of some great weight.

Twilight approached slowly, rearing up to wrap her girlfriend in a warm hug. “You did it!” she whispered.

“Yes.” Luna turned to nuzzle her forehead. “Though not without your help once again, my love. In my day, it was I who saved the sweet, beautiful damsel or strapping, handsome stallion.” Her eyes shone with humor and mischief. “I suppose now I owe you a token of my affection as reward?”

A rosy blush arose in her cheeks. Twilight ducked her head to hide, her tail swished merrily. “N—No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary! I’m just happy to—”

“Love,” Luna cut her off, the mischief in her eyes was as bright as the very stars in her night sky. “What did I tell you about accepting compliments from royalty?” Chuckling, she planted a kiss on Twilight’s nose. “You will receive it. But first … awaken!”

All around them, the dream realm dissolved in a flash of teal.

When Twilight opened her eyes, she found herself met with a pair of familiar faces.

The first was her teacher, Princess Celestia, her brows furrowed and ancient purple eyes showing concern as she paced back and forth, glancing every couple seconds at her student. Pristine white ears perked up when their gazes met and she brought a hoof to her chest as a relieved sigh escaped her lips.

Then the second face filled her vision, its teal eyes shining with joy, ears perked, and a smile standing in contrast to a coat of midnight blue.

Luna cupped her cheeks and planted a deep kiss upon her. Twilight let out a tiny squeak, her eyes crossing and tail lashing against the mattress as a warm tongue teased and probed along her lips. Her hooves slowly encircled the Princess of Night’s neck and drew her in for a tight embrace.

From her place beside the bed, Princess Celestia snorted. “Should I leave you two alone? Or has the urgent matter I have yet to be informed of passed?”

With a small, muffled “oh!” into the kiss, Luna drew away to nod at her sister. “Yes. There was a … matter with my memories. A shade, of sorts, haunting me.” She ducked her head and mumbled, “After, ah, Twilight read the book on your advice, the shade was able to somehow manifest in her dream while she rested. Using my connection to the dream realm, if I were to guess.”

Princess Celestia stiffened. “And this shade was defeated? It won’t haunt either of you again?” At Luna’s nod, she let out another sigh. “Thank heavens. And you, Twilight? How are you in the wake of all this?”

Twilight paused a moment to lick her lips, her ears waggled while she savored the lingering taste of Luna’s kiss. She glanced between the sisters, a smile spread across her face. Then she turned to lay her head on Luna’s shoulder, rubbing her cheek against it so their velvety smooth coats tickled against her. “I’m fine. Happy, if all this helped Luna.”

Her girlfriend tilted her head to lay it atop Twilight’s. “There will always be some regret regarding my past,” she admitted, “but I believe my … girlfriend has seen me through the worst of it. I suspect I shan’t be allowed to wallow again while I have her.”

“Or the girls. Or Spike. I’m telling them to pester you when I get home.”

“If you wish to invite mischief upon yourself, pray not let me stop you, love.” Luna fixed her with a coy smirk. “And I could just as easily tell them to pester you about accepting my compliments and affections.”

A tiny smile tugged at Princess Celestia’s lips. “Then all’s well that ends well. Excellent.” Her smile faltered a touch, she looked down at her hooves. “I must apologize to both of you. If not for my insistence that Twilight ask about the book, this entire ordeal could have been—”

“Sister?” Luna interrupted, turning to fix her with a look.


“’Tis in the past. Put it behind you. As I have.” With a smile, Luna rose, tugging Twilight to the edge of the bed so she dropped onto four hooves and stood with her. Then she wrapped a wing around her, teasing her back with soft, downy feathers. She began to walk toward the door out to the hall, though not without pausing to meet her sister’s gaze. “And thank you for telling her about it.”

Princess Celestia blinked. “I’m … sorry? I’m missing a lot of context here. Care to share?”

Luna waggled her ears. “There are some things I must keep secret, sister dearest. The content of one’s dreams is among them. Now, come along, I would take dinner with my lovely girlfriend—that term is still strange to me—before she joins me for Night Court.”

With a sigh, Princess Celestia bowed her head. “I understand. Forgive me, I do not mean to intrude upon your domain.”

“Peace. There is no offense taken. I am quite happy to put this all behind us.” She turned to smile at Twilight. “And move forward together.”

Twilight smiled back, waggling her ears happily. Yes, together. Finally, a chance to just be a normal couple—as normal as it could get dating a princess, at least.

But something nagged at the back of her mind. Luna wanted to move forward, they all did.

She stopped walking, slowly turning to gaze at the black book resting on Luna’s desk.

“Love?” Luna called, confused. “Is something the matter?”

Twilight bit her lip. She turned to look Luna in the eye again, giving what she hoped was an apologetic smile before she ducked out from under her midnight blue wing and looked to the desk.

Both sisters followed her gaze. The sound of two sharp breaths made her ears twitch.

It hurt. It hurt both of them to the very core. That stupid little book, all those memories of pain and loss.

All the blood on Luna’s hooves. And the visage of a happy mare’s smile chased away fresh in Princess Celestia’s mind, as if it were only yesterday.

For them, perhaps it was. The book itself was the embodiment of all that pain, all that misery.

Slowly, she padded over to the desk. Her horn glowed a bubbling raspberry and floated the book over to her as she turned to face them. “I can’t pretend I know better than either of you,” Twilight whispered, “but you’ve both tortured yourselves with the contents of this book long enough. Far too long.”

They bowed their heads. Luna drew in a deep breath. “I do not fear it as I once had,” she muttered. “But … I hope it does not sound petty of me to want this kept out of public sight.”

“Not in the slightest,” Princess Celestia replied, her eyes flitting over to the book and regarding it as if it insulted her very being. “Were it not for the sake of my understanding and a want to preserve as much of what I could salvage of your belongings after our battle, I would have destroyed it ages ago. I’ve come close.”

Twilight took a deep breath. The perfect spell to solve all their problems floated to the forefront of her mind. She closed her eyes and, with a slow exhale, cast it.

Flames flared to life a mere hoof’s length from her nose, engulfing the offending book.

Without looking, she conjured a waste bin, barren of anything that might add more fuel to the flames, and dumped the burning book into it. Only then did she open her eyes to meet their gazes. In unison, they each watched it burn. It seemed as though the spectacle itself took hours, days even.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Twilight could hear the shade screaming and cursing to the heavens. Powerless to do anything to maintain her hold over Luna ever again.

Smiling to herself, she trotted around the smoldering remains and wrapped Luna in a hug. A shudder ran through the Princess of Night’s body as she returned the gesture.

“It’s done,” Twilight whispered. “No more.”

She felt Luna’s snout nuzzle into the crook of her neck.

“No more,” Luna agreed.

Luna’s idea of offering a “token” of her affection to reward Twilight for saving her from the shade quickly endeared itself to the younger mare.

Twilight found herself seated with Luna on a large cushion upon the dais, looking out over a Throne Room empty of all save for a few Night Guards standing watch and Moondancer as she scuttled back and forth carrying paperwork or giggling at the pair of romancing mares. However, none of that mattered much to Twilight. The Night Guard were ever loyal to their mistress and, as she had come to learn, the one who held her heart.

So while they did grin and snigger and waggle their ears as they pretended not to notice the way Luna held her close, both hooves around her neck in a loose embrace and her large, powerful wings wrapped around her body like a soft blanket of midnight blue, she could at least take solace in the fact that none would go running to share the details of how her girlfriend nuzzled her sweetly, crooning sweet nothings, poems, and niceties that had long fallen out of practice in her ear in between kisses—fluffy, deep, and all in between—with any staff or gossip columnists. Or worse.

Her brother and Cadence.

If not for a well timed nuzzle into the crook of her neck, or the sweet caress of soft lips against her collarbone, she might have shivered in fear. Instead, it was a shiver of desire, and a tiny mewl.

Luna hummed. Her breath played such wonderful sensations across her coat as she slowly nuzzled her way to Twilight’s jawline. “For all my sins and all the things I did in my past,” she whispered huskily, pausing only to kiss beneath the younger mare’s chin. “What ever did I do to deserve such a perfect, delightful mare?”

A rosy blush already in bloom across her cheeks and snout spread to her neck, and even the delicate tips of her ears. Twilight’s eyes fluttered shut as she felt Luna’s soft lips brush against her own. She dared to interrupt her girlfriend’s affections with a tiny kiss, earning a playful teasing of warm tongue and the slightest nip of flat teeth which coaxed forth a gasp. “I—I don’t know about perfect!” she stammered.

Another kiss, fiercer, more insistent, silenced any further doubts. One of Luna’s hooves trailed up her cheek, cupping it softly and drawing her in deeper, like she was slipping into a warm bath.

One Twilight would be quite content to never leave, she admitted, as Luna flirted her tongue against her lips again.

As they parted, Luna laid her forehead against Twilight’s, chuckling breathily. “Does this mare yet refuse my compliments? Or does she desire a more vivid detailing of my love for her?” she teased. “Shall I then tell her of her brilliance? How she is the guiding light for me as my moon or beloved stars served for ponies for countless ages? Shall I draw her closer in my embrace, let my hooves wander and caress her gorgeous form, and comment on how this coat of mulberry feels as soft as silk and warm as a happy fire? Or—” she leaned down, pressing her snout into the crook of Twilight’s neck and drew in a deep breath “—shall I simply delight in the musty scent of book pages mixed with the iron of ink, and a hint of lavender?”

Her words snapped Twilight out of her reverie, a squeak escaped her lips as her tail twitched and ears burned, pinning against her mane. “Luna!” she whined, glancing at the Night Guards in time to catch one of them sucking in his lips and finding heavy interest in an empty corner of the Throne Room, just past the door.

“Yes, my love?” the Princess of the Night purred, her eyes alight and dancing with affection and naked humor.

Twilight tried to lean back and press a hoof against the larger mare’s chest, but her embrace was too tight. She could do little more than wiggle and try to fake a glare, which only seemed to further amuse her tormentor and earned her a rather cheeky kiss to the tip of her nose.

Wrinkling her snout, she blew a breath into her girlfriend’s face, earning a raised brow at her rudeness. “There are ponies in the room!”

“My Night Guard? Love, please.” Luna threw back her head and laughed. “I believe you mistake my Foals in Gilded Dress for naughty school foals, Twilight. Not a word of any of this will escape this castle.”

The memory of how gleefully Shining and a certain Night Guard exchanged information before the Royal Archives floated to the forefront of Twilight’s mind, she made as though to voice her complaint, but stopped just short.

They hadn’t been talking about Luna at all. Rather, it had been all about Erebos causing trouble and running his mouth, and a subsequent prank idea to teach him a lesson. Nothing compromising to their princess, or her privacy. For all she knew, any who came looking to gossip about Luna might find themselves engrossed in a rather unpleasant meeting with Erebos himself.

To say nothing of how they might take ponies—especially loose-lipped tabloid journalists—meddling in her love life.

Somehow, it felt as though Twilight had just signed on to have a collective of older siblings in addition to Shining. A notion banished from her mind by another kiss and a slow nuzzle around her nose.

“And I have you all to myself, in the middle of Night Court,” Luna whispered. “An empty Night Court, yes, but one more full than any I have had in many years.”

Twilight ducked and buried her head in Luna’s chest, both to bask in the warmth and feel of her girlfriend’s soft coat, a chance to rub her cheek against it and just enjoy the happy mood, and to hide how red her face had turned. Truth be told, as much as it embarrassed her, as much as whispered flattery, nuzzle, and kiss in front of the guards made her feel, as much as her insides squirmed …

It was nice.

And she wanted more.

She felt Luna chuckle, her warm breath ghosting through Twilight’s mane. A pleasant shiver raced down her spine and spurred an eager lashing of her tail. Twilight arched her back, pressing up against Luna’s front.

“Yes, I quite enjoy this. Living in the here and now, and looking to the future rather than the past.” Those powerful hooves wrapped tighter around her shoulders, soft lips pressed into her mane, just beneath her left ear. “A future, I should hope, is spent in your company.”

Again, Twilight buried her face in Luna’s chest, the cool touch of her obsidian peytral pressed against her forehead. All the while, a big, goofy smile spread across the young mare’s face.

A future with Luna?

She nodded, nuzzling into her girlfriend’s chest and mumbling out something she hoped sounded vaguely like words of agreement. Her mouth simply wasn’t cooperating in the slightest.

The sound of hoofsteps against the tile floor spared her any further embarrassment. Both mares sat up a bit straighter. Luna paused long enough to adjust her crown and peytral while loosening her embrace enough so that Twilight was able to turn to face their visitor, but still be held close.

Erebos stood before them, a wry smirk playing upon his lips despite the weariness evident in his eyes. It had been a long day for the Night Guard captain, and he hadn’t been granted the fortune to have a nap like either mare. Yet there he stood, ready and waiting for his princess to be ready.

Once Luna gave him her attention, he bowed. “Your Highness,” he spoke gravely, his voice carrying a note of solemn duty and … was that … excitement? Yes! It was! Erebos straightened up, his smirk bloomed into a bemused grin. “There is a petitioner here for Night Court.”

Twilight’s heart leapt into her throat, her ears flicked at the sound of Luna sucking in a deep breath.

“I beg your pardon?” Luna said slowly. “Is this meant to be some sort of prank, Erebos?”

He shook his head earnestly. “No prank, Your Highness. There is a mare here to petition you. We, ah—” his lips twitched “—had an interesting time deciphering what she wanted, but we found a translator. Her wording was … quite confusing at first.”

The Princess of the Night furrowed her brows. “I see. Pray tell then, what is the nature of her request?”

“An invitation of sorts. Would you like me to call her in?”

With a wave of her hoof, she nodded. “Yes. This should prove interesting.” Though she did fight to keep composed, Twilight could spot a hint of an eager grin, like a filly on her birthday, tugging at her lips. Midnight blue feathers fluffed and relaxed as she sat up straighter, the picture of regality, save for the way she maintained her embrace.

Erebos stepped to the side and faced the door. He nodded to the guards posted at the door, one of whom poked his head out and waved somepony in. Then, he took a deep breath and called, “Presenting Miss Vinyl Scratch of Ponyville, formerly of Manehattan!”

Twilight’s ears twitched. She sat bolt upright, eyes wide and ears erect as she watched Ponyville’s resident disk jockey and snarky mute saunter into the Throne Room, Night Court now, with the same casual air with which she might enter Berry Punch’s bar, but without her purple shades covering her red eyes. Vinyl gave a jaunty wave of her hoof to the guard who summoned her, along with a couple quick hoof motions and waggles of her ear which Twilight knew translated to something along the lines of “Thanks, toots.”

It earned a snort of laughter and a fanged grin from any of the Night Guards who understood hoof language—which, as it turned out was half of them. The others joined when their partners filled them in and a feeling of general amusement settled over the room, a sense even Twilight wasn’t immune to.

Basically, it all could be summed up with the phrase “this is going to be good.”

Vinyl stopped a short distance from the dais and bowed low, awaiting Luna’s permission to rise.

With an arched brow at the grinning guards, Luna spoke, “Miss Scratch, rise.” As she did so, Luna continued, “I do apologize that you endured such a wait, despite my lack of petitioners.” She paused to give a sheepish rustle of her wing and gesture to the empty Throne Room with a wave of her hoof. “The lack of any such ponies has grown so accustom to me that I have since used the time to reflect.”

A playful grin made its way across Vinyl’s face. She tapped out a quick rhythm and then pressed her nose while laying her left ear flat and perking her right, drawing a blush and sputter from Twilight. Her grin broadened as she brushed her shoulder and tapped her elbow, then mimed tipping a hat.

Luna glanced at her. “What did she say?”

“She says she’s a veteran of that sort of reflecting as well, but mostly when ‘Tavi’ is around,” Twilight mumbled. “And then she added ‘what’s good, homeslice?’”

Snorting, Luna raised her brows. “I see. Well, I suppose the company is what is good. Though, now my curiosity is piqued. What brings you to Night Court? This is quite a ways away from Ponyville for a social call.” She paused a moment, then cast another look at Twilight. “Love, would you mind …”

“Not at all. I’ll translate.”

“Thank you.”

Vinyl sat back on her haunches and launched into a flurry of signings and taps against the floor, fast enough that even Twilight had to lean forward and squint to make sure she caught it all. She could tell Vinyl was quite excited, both by the smile on her muzzle and the speed with which she relayed her message, punctuated by a sort of “tada” gesture which ended with her hooves pointing toward Luna.

It all clicked. Twilight sat up straight again. “Oh!” She smiled. “Oh, is it that time already?”

Luna nudged her shoulder. “Love, for the benefit of those among us who cannot comprehend hoof language?”

“Oh, right. Sorry.” Twilight gave an awkward cough. “Vinyl says that the Royal Canterlot Symphony is playing in the Royal Hall in two days. She’s in town so she’ll be able to watch Octavia, and she wanted to see if there was any chance you might take her up on the offer she made at Golden Harvest’s party to come as well.”

For a moment, Luna seemed to hesitate. She bit her lip, her gaze flitting between Twilight and Vinyl. “I … recall your mention that the balcony still bears my mark. And that the tradition of my beginning the concert was taken up by my sister and niece.”

Vinyl nodded.

“Then I will once more be in such a position.”

The mare nodded again, more adamantly than before.

“I am … torn. I do wish to return to the old ways, but I am loath to insert myself and take away from such a performance.”

The smile ran away from Vinyl’s face. She looked to Twilight and signed a few quick things, ending with a brush through her mane and figure eight.

Twilight turned to face Luna. “She says that Octavia has been hoping you would come, but has been too nervous to make an official request herself. It would mean the world to her for you to come, and Vinyl’s sure the other players would feel the same.” She brushed her hoof against Luna’s, and added, “A lot of ponies have wondered how and when you would come back into the public eye. Why not the concert?”

She watched her girlfriend’s face cycle through emotions. Anxiety, uncertainty, joy, and excitement, all in a rush. Luna wanted it so badly, that much was clear, but she needed a push.

Fortunately, Twilight had one or two ideas. She reared up and leaned in close to whisper in her ear, “What if I stayed here a couple more days so I could go with you? We can sit on your balcony together.” A bit of daring drove her to kiss Luna just beneath her ear, payback for earlier. “It could be your first night back, as well as our second date.”

By the way Luna’s eyes went wide and shone with glee, she knew her push was a resounding success, even as Luna turned to nuzzle her nose before giving her reply, “I accept. But—” she held up a hoof “—on two conditions.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight saw Vinyl waggle her ears. “She says what’s that?”

“I wish to visit her after the curtain falls. Additionally …” Luna grinned. “Tell nopony.”

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