• Published 18th May 2015
  • 8,061 Views, 682 Comments

Inner Strength - Krickis

When Twilight overhears a private conversation, she has to come to terms with how she feels about herself, love, and a certain somepony. All while weighing her public image against her personal desires.

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23 - Front Page News

Act IV


Chapter Twenty-Three

Front Page News

Rarity had, of course, offered to make entirely new outfits for them both, but Twilight knew she already had her hooves full. She was one of the four primary collaborators on the event, after all. Her hard work showed as everything looked perfect, although the high-class unicorn probably wouldn’t agree; Pinkie Pie had ensured that the garden party had enough party in it to keep it enjoyable for everypony. This was Ponyville, after all, not Canterlot.

For her part, Twilight organized the event – making schedules, supervising plans, and meeting with ponies to make sure everything went smoothly. Fluttershy, for the most part, just told other ponies that she liked their ideas, but occasionally she came up with solutions too simple for anypony else to see. It had been her idea to wear the dresses Rarity had made them for their first date, since they were already designed to accentuate each other, and both events were important firsts for them.

“Pinkie, really, I hardly think that type of game is appropriate for an event like this,” Rarity said, looking disappointingly at the pink mare. She had been talking to Amber Glow about the finer points of the song Octavia Melody was playing when Pinkie called everypony over to play pin the tail on the pony.

“Aw, lighten, up Rarity,” Amber said. “It’s a party!”

“Besides, everypony likes pin the tail on the pony!” Pinkie said. “Here, you can have the purple tail.”

“Fine, but only until all the guests arrive,” Rarity said, accepting the tail as Pinkie blindfolded her and Amber cheered her on.

Twilight chuckled as she watched the scene unfold. After all their help, she was glad to see her friends enjoying themselves. Not to mention keeping Amber preoccupied and away from Fluttershy.

“Where do ya want the cider, Twi?” Applejack asked. The Apples kept a supply of cider through the winter for special occasions, and Applejack had offered to bring some.

“Oh, just set it over there.”

Applejack, Big Mac, and Rainbow hauled in several casks of cider. Fluttershy had told Twilight that Rainbow and Applejack had gotten into an argument, and now they seemed intent on making it up to one another. Either that, or Rainbow was just excited about having some of the out of season cider.

Twilight did her third walk around to make sure everything was going well, then marked off the ‘triple check everything’ box on her checklist. She glanced over the crowd and couldn’t help but notice one pony in particular stand out from all the others. “Luna? What are you doing here?”

“Greetings, Twilight. Is it not obvious? I am enjoying the festivities.” Luna smiled wryly. “Although for the most part, I have been watching you stare daggers at the mare with your friends.”

“I was not!”

“Twilight, in the past half hour you have hardly let her leave your sight,” Luna said matter-of-factly. “And as you do not share my gift for sneaking around, it is only a matter of time until she realizes, assuming she has not already.”

Twilight shook her head. “You were watching me? Luna, this is why some ponies don’t trust you. You’re creepy.” She turned away, irritated. “Besides, you’re imagining things. I don’t have a problem with Amber Glow.”

Luna smiled and waved at somepony behind Twilight. “Truly? Well, that is good to hear, as she is approaching.”

Twilight glared at Luna, silently accusing her of drawing in the pegasus. Luna’s mischievous smile confirmed it. Wheeling around, Twilight smiled to greet Amber. “Hello, Amber. I hope you’re enjoying yourself?”

“Hi, Twilight. Yeah, I’m having a great time. You did a really good job on everything here.” Amber seemed a little nervous, but it was hard to tell if that was because she’d noticed Twilight watching her, or because the Lunar Princess was towering over them. Amber turned to her and bowed awkwardly.

“Please, rise. I am attending this event merely as Twilight and Fluttershy’s friend. Until the night arrives, I am not a princess, so you need not address me as such.” She gestured towards her crownless head.

“You know, taking off your crown doesn’t mean you’re not a princess,” Twilight said as Amber stood up.

“Of course not, that would be preposterous. I also had to request time off. You had best appreciate me, Twilight; I am using my vacation time to be here.”

Amber looked between Twilight and Luna. “You have to request time off? From who?”

“No,” Twilight said.

“Yes,” Luna countered. “From upper management, of course. And you would not believe the horrendous accrual rate this job has. Twilight simply has not been a princess long enough to earn any paid time off. Cadance has a few days, I believe, but she’s been saving them for your wedding.” She appeared to consider something. “Twilight, do you think we should form a union?”

Amber looked to Twilight for help. “Is she serious?”

Twilight smiled. “It’s always safest to assume ‘no’ but pretend ‘yes’.”

“Rude,” Luna said, casting a sharp glare at Twilight. “I can assure you, I am completely serious. If I were a princess, I should think I would have a royal escort. All proper princesses do.” She gave a sideways glance to Twilight, who had steadfastly refused any sort of royal guards.

“But wait, isn’t that dangerous though? What if you were attacked?” Amber asked.

Luna chuckled. “I assure you I can take care of myself. Would you like to know a secret?” She leaned in close to Amber. “All of Tia’s and my personal guards are really veteran members of the Celestial and Lunar Guards proper that are unable to adapt to civilian life. We tell them that it is a very prestigious promotion and let them think they have a very important job, but in reality, if ever we were attacked, I would likely be the one saving them.”

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” Amber said. “What about Twilight and Princess Cadance?”

“I don’t need guards. I don’t rule over anything.” Twilight was slightly annoyed at Luna for diminishing the role of one of the most important jobs in Equestria. “And I happen to know that Cadance’s guards are some of the best soldiers in all of Equestria.”

“You mean Flash Sentry is,” Luna said, smiling slyly. That earned a glare from Twilight, who preferred not to talk about him. “But you are right, Cadance’s guards are an exception. They need to be dangerous, though. I think Fluttershy could probably beat Cadance in a fight.”

“That’s not fair. Cadance helped stop the changeling invasion,” Twilight pointed out.

“So did Fluttershy,” Luna said. “I don’t mean to say Cadance is not resourceful, but I doubt she did much actual fighting that day.”

“At least she didn’t sleep through it.”

“I had a very busy night and wanted to be well rested for the wedding,” Luna said testily. Twilight knew that she was still sensitive about her role during the invasion, or rather, the lack thereof. “I have since made adjustments to the soundproofing of my room. Had anypony thought to wake me, that whole situation would have been brought to hoof much faster.”

“I don’t know what you would have done,” Twilight said. “Even Princess Celestia couldn’t stop Chrysalis.”

Luna shrugged. “I could take Tia.”

“Really?” Twilight asked with a sly smile.

Luna frowned. “Elements of Harmony notwithstanding, of course.”

“So, uh, what about you Twilight?” Amber asked, possibly mistaking their banter as actual tension and changing the subject amiably. “Are you some kind of badass warrior princess, too?”

“I don’t know about that.” Twilight rubbed her neck. “Most of the time I just solve my problems with my mind, and even when I do have to fight, it’s always with my friends to support me.”

“She is being far too modest. Twilight is unquestioningly the third most powerful pony in Equestria, even discounting the Elements and their bearers.” Luna tapped on her chin thoughtfully. “Or perhaps you are the second. Have you considered a friendly battle with Tia? It would be a glorious sight, to say the least.”

“I’m not fighting Princess Celestia,” Twilight deadpanned.

“Yeah, you probably don’t want to mess with somepony who can raise the sun,” Amber said.

“That has nothing to do with it!” Twilight said. “Although I’d say that answers the question. She can move the sun. End discussion.”

“Pfft! Nonsense, it moves on its own,” Luna said. Amber went wide-eyed and looked at Twilight as if she was wondering if everything she’s ever known was a lie.

“It does not!” Twilight said. “I should know, I had to move it once.”

“There we go, the playing field is level. I shall inform Tia and make arrangements for this dispute to be settled once and for all.”

Twilight facehoofed. Amber stared at her in disbelief. “Holy crap, did you really?”

“Yes,” Twilight said with a sigh. “Although I was operating on borrowed magic from all three other princesses at the time, so I’d hardly say it levels the playing field.”

Luna smiled and turned to Amber. “You know, there is a wonderful side effect of saying every ridiculous thing that comes to mind; I can tell the truth about anything I want, and ponies will still not know if I am joking. For example” – she moved closer to Amber, and stared into her eyes – “if I were to tell you that I have been blessed with a vision of your beauty in a dream, I would get to watch your reaction before deciding whether or not to ask if you would like to continue our evening together after we left here.”

Amber glanced to Twilight who just shrugged. Looking back at Luna’s clearly exaggerated lovestruck expression she grinned. “Well, I am a sucker for dumb pick-up lines, so I guess if you did ask something like that, I’d have to say ‘yes’.”

“Glorious!” Luna said, wrapping a foreleg around Amber’s shoulder. “It shall be a night to remember, I assure you.”

“Trust me, I don’t think I’ll be forgetting this any time soon,” Amber said.

Twilight wasn’t sure what was going on anymore, but they both seemed fine with whatever it was, so she excused herself. “I’m going to go find Fluttershy. It’s almost time for us to make our announcement.”

“She was in the kitchen last I saw her,” Amber said.

“Thanks, I’ll go see if she’s still there. And good luck on… whatever you two end up doing.” Twilight smiled contently as she made her way to the kitchen.

Amber had been with Fluttershy without Twilight, off in some deserted corner of the kitchen. So what? That was fine. Of course it was fine. Why wouldn’t it be? She was completely okay with it. Fluttershy would never do anything behind her back, so she didn’t have to worry about her being alone with her friend.

It didn’t matter that her friend wanted to be more than friends, or that she might be a changeling in disguise, or even that Fluttershy never seemed to stop smiling around whenever the two of them were together. That was all fine.

“Twily, what’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked.

“Nothing, I’m fine,” Twilight said. She blinked and looked around, realizing that she was already in the kitchen. She took some comfort in how busy it was, so there wasn’t much of a chance that Amber and Fluttershy had actually been alone together.

Fluttershy smiled. “That’s not your ‘I’m fine’ face.”

“You’re right.” Twilight sighed. “I’m just… really nervous.”

“Yeah, me too,” Fluttershy said, her smile faltering for a moment before returning as she nudged her marefriend. “But everything will be alright. We’ll support each other.”

Looking into Fluttershy’s eyes made Twilight feel incredibly foalish. “Yeah, you’re right.” Twilight nudged her back.

“So, how is everything out there?” Fluttershy asked. They had been together at the start of the party, but reporters wouldn’t stop asking questions, despite Twilight’s reminder that there would be a Q&A after the announcement.

“Well, Luna and Amber might be flirting. I think they have a date later, or something.”

“Really? That’s great!”

“Well, I’m not actually sure. I don’t think either of them really knows if the other one is serious.”

“I hope they are,” Fluttershy said. “I think they’d be happy together.”

“It would be nice,” Twilight said. She told herself she wanted them to hit it off because Luna deserved to be happy with somepony after all she’d been through, but it certainly didn’t escape her attention that it would conveniently resolve her concerns about Amber’s feelings towards Fluttershy. “If they do wind up together, hopefully they’ll learn from us and not try hiding it. Speaking of which, it’s time. Are you ready?”

“Yeah,” Fluttershy said, but she had a distant look in her eyes.

“Relax, it’ll be okay.” Instinctively she started glancing around before she realized it didn’t matter if anypony saw them together anymore. Aware that there were other ponies around, and positive at least some of them were listening in, she kissed Fluttershy anyway. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Fluttershy blushed, but smiled contently.

If any of the kitchen staff noticed, they professionally ignored it. “I’ll handle the talking,” Twilight said as they walked out of the kitchen. “Unless somepony has a question for you specifically, you won’t have to worry about any of that.” Fluttershy simply nodded.

As soon as they were out the door, lights started flashing as newsponies snapped pictures. Fluttershy stared at the ground as they walked towards the podium.

Scanning the crowd, Twilight noticed two ponies frantically waving for their attention. Perplexed, she tapped on Fluttershy’s shoulder and pointed at Pinkie and Amber, both of whom had identical mustaches. While Twilight didn’t get what that was all about, it seemed to cheer up Fluttershy.

Twilight cleared her throat and all talk died down, leaving only the continuous click of camera shutters. “Hello, everypony, and thank you for coming out here today. We invited you out here as representatives of Equestria’s most esteemed news sources. As I’m sure you are all aware, there have been some rumors concerning me and Fluttershy, which have been circling in various tabloids. I’ve actually been collecting some of the more interesting ones. But it’s time to set the record straight. Contrary to popular belief, we did not secretly elope. Fluttershy is not my wife.” She grabbed Fluttershy’s hoof in hers. “But she is my marefriend.”

The flashes and clicks doubled, and ponies again began talking, but this time every comment was a question directed at the two. Twilight had to knock on the podium with her hoof until they quieted down. “Please, we are happy to answer your questions, but one at a time. To get a few out of the way early: We’ve been dating for the past seven months, do not currently have any wedding plans, all of the other princesses know and approve, and, despite what one magazine claimed, I have not discovered a way for two mares to conceive a child through magic.” That had been one of Twilight’s favorites. “Now then, let’s start with you,” she said, choosing a pony at random.

“Why are you just now coming out about this?”

“This was a decision we did not make lightly. We’re both well aware that it’s unprecedented for a royal couple to be gay, so we wanted to be sure of what we were doing before breaking the news. It always seemed that the time wasn’t right, but lately I’ve come to realize that it’s been past time for a while.”

“Does this mean there will be more support for LGBT causes?”

“If you mean the Equestrian government as a whole, we have always tried to support all citizens, and do support several LGBT causes directly. Princess Celestia would be better suited to answer what plans there are for the future, and I’m sure she’ll be asked within the next few days. If you’re asking about Fluttershy and myself personally, we would certainly be happy to help in any way we can.”

“Fluttershy, does this mean you’ll take a more active role in leading Equestria?”

“Oh, uhm…” Fluttershy stared at the cameras as they clicked nonstop, before hiding away in her mane. Twilight wrapped a wing around her.

“Fluttershy and the other bearers of The Elements of Harmony are my partners in spreading friendship across Equestria, as well as my most trusted advisors in political matters. Her role will remain the same.”

The questions continued in the same vane for the rest of the Q&A, with everypony finding new ways to ask how this would change Equestria, and Twilight’s continuous answer being that it wouldn’t. It came as a huge relief when Rarity stepped in to inform them that the time Twilight had allotted for questions was up, and the remainder of the event would be a celebration. Twilight made it clear that they would not be answering any more questions for the rest of the day.

“Hey, Shy, how you feeling?” Rainbow asked, wasting no time in flying over to them.

“I’m okay,” Fluttershy said. “I’m just glad that part’s over with.” She looked like she might faint, so Twilight and Rainbow supported her as they walked to the table their friends were at.

Before anypony could say a word to them, a reporter was already at hoof. “Princess Luna, a moment of your time?”

Luna, who Twilight noticed had seated herself next to Amber, smiled politely. “As Princess Twilight has already informed you, both my sister and I were already aware of this, and could not be happier for both of them. The same can be said for everypony at this table. I believe I also speak for everypony here when I say we will be joining them in not answering further questions.” Murmurs of agreement were heard all around.

“Yeah, so go on now. Git,” Applejack said.

“Applejack, let’s not be rude,” Twilight said. “While we aren’t answering any more questions, you are of course free to stay and cover the remainder of the event, if you really think Equestria needs pictures of us eating. I’m starving.”

Twilight had learned how to deal with the press. They wanted a story, and whether it was good or bad didn’t matter, so long as it was interesting. All she had to do was not give them one. Remain polite and detached, and they’d leave. Demand to be left alone, and suddenly tomorrow's headline was ‘Princess Twilight Restricts Freedom of the Press’.

Within a few minutes he left, as she had predicted. “Why don’t we ditch this place?” Rainbow asked. “We can have a real party at the castle.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I knew this would be part of being with Twilight. Let’s just make the most of the day.”

“Well then I think it’s time to turn this party up a notch,” Pinkie said. “Hey, Octavia! You ready to liven things up?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” the cellist replied. “Hit it, Vinyl!”

The DJ nodded and dropped a record onto her turntable, which Pinkie must have helped smuggle in because it hadn’t been part of the plan. Whatever complaint Rarity had been about to make was cut off in the classical-dubstep hybrid that began playing.

“I never did understand this modern music,” Luna said, speaking up over the sound.

“Yeah, I prefer cabaret,” Amber said.

“I don’t know, I kind of like it,” Twilight said, extending a hoof to Fluttershy. “Dance with me?”

“Er, darling, are you sure that’s wise?” Rarity asked.

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked.

“It’s just that, well, there are a lot of ponies here, and you of course know that this event will make the headlines, and…” she looked around for somepony to help her politely phrase her thoughts.

“You dance like you have four left hooves, Twi,” Spike said. Rainbow choked on her cider.

“I do not!”

“Twilight, having witnessed your dancing, I will have to agree with Spike,” Luna said. “However, I fully support you in all things, including your decision to make a foal of yourself.”

“Fluttershy, you don’t think I’m a bad dancer, do you?”

“Oh, uhm, I love dancing with you,” Fluttershy said, grinning extra wide.

“Aww, don’t listen to them,” Pinkie said, pulling the alicorn to her hooves. “Just get out there and shake it!” She pulled Twilight and Fluttershy part way onto the floor, before dancing into the crowd.

“I, uhm, really would like to dance,” Fluttershy said. Twilight shot a victorious grin at Spike, who was too busy eating to care.

As the couple walked onto the dance floor, Twilight saw Pinkie talking to Vinyl Scratch, who nodded and turned some dials on her turntable. The hectic music slowed, with most of the electric elements fading to support the orchestral ones. The mood of the music was decidedly more romantic than the previous high energy song, which suited Twilight perfectly.

Before long all the reporters and other ponies faded away, leaving nothing but Twilight, Fluttershy, and the music guiding them along.

Twilight didn’t even bother opening the newspaper. She didn’t have to. She just picked it up and set it on the counter.

The salespony frowned. “You know, there’s much more liberal papers, Princess. You could at least see what both sides are saying.”

Twilight smiled. “Don’t worry, Fluttershy always gets the other side. But I want to be well informed on what everypony’s saying, not just the ones who approve.”

“Hmph. If you say so. Just try not to take that mess there too close to heart.” He took her bit then smiled. “Hey, have you seen the new Bulletin yet?”

Looking at the cover of the Semifortnightly Equestrian Bulletin, she couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s great. I’ll take this one too.” The cover read ‘Royal Grudge Match: Celestia and Twilight to Settle Long Held Dispute’. It featured a picture of the two of them fighting, created with image editing that was halfway decent, assuming you were in poor lighting with the eyesight of a bat.

Twilight set another bit on the counter, which the salespony shook his head at. “It’s on the house. Hardly anypony but you still reads that thing anyway.”

“Thank you, but keep the bit. You can use it for the next pony if you want.”

“Will do, Princess,” he said, waving her off.

Twilight began walking home, her spirits lifted by the Bulletin. She was becoming increasingly sure that it was the highest quality paper in Equestria.

She smiled and waved at a colt as she walked past. He waved back, until his mother noticed whom he was waving to and pulled him close to her before briskly walking off. Sighing, Twilight walked the rest of the way with a cloud over her head.

For a week, she had been walking to the newsstand every morning to see what new headlines there were about her and Fluttershy. The first couple of days, she had flipped through them to see if they were still talking about it, but she’d stopped doing that. They were always talking about her, even if it wasn’t on the front page.

One of the more extremist papers was even convinced she had forced Fluttershy into the relationship, citing the shy pony’s reluctance to answer questions. The day that they finally ran out of new ways to imply she was ruining Equestria would be so welcome that she planned to frame the paper.

Like the salespony had said, ponies were divided in their opinions, but Twilight didn’t need two papers to tell her that. All she needed to do was look around her. For every happy face there was a scowl, or a pony avoiding her eyes, or the occasional outright jeer. She didn’t need the paper to tell her how ponies felt, she just hoped it could tell her why.

But the answers were always the same. They talked about her relationship as being immoral as if it was just some universal truth that didn’t need any sort of justification. Sometimes there were vague allusions to ‘our children’ and the impact seeing such a high-profile same-sex relationship might have on them, but they never seemed to clarify what the impact they were afraid of was. It was just another universal truth.

As soon as Twilight reached the castle she went straight for the kitchen. Spike had fallen in sync with her new routine, and was already up and about. “Morning, Twilight. Just finished making tea.” He poured them each a cup, then turned down the stove to keep what was left in the kettle warm before sitting down at the kitchen table.

“Thanks, Spike, I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Twilight said, taking a cautious sip of her tea, then setting it aside to cool. If Spike could even feel the heat, it clearly didn’t bother him, as he drank his as if it was room temperature. “Take a look at this.” She smiled as she slid the Bulletin across the table.

Spike broke into a grin as soon as he read the headline. “Where do they come up with this stuff?” he asked, eagerly flipping through to the story.

“I don’t know,” Twilight said. “If the Bulletin hadn’t been around when I was a filly, I’d swear Luna’s secretly the editor in chief.” She pulled out her own paper. Scanning the front page showed there was no sign of her today. But flipping through it, she was quickly able to find a picture of her new least favorite pony.

A week after the announcement and ponies are still abuzz about Princess Twilight Sparkle’s shocking revelation. Many ponies have concerns about this turn of events, but felt there was nothing they could do. One brave pony stepped forth to give a rallying point for everypony who still respects the wholesome values this land was founded on. We were able to sit down with Ivy Jewel, founder of The Virtuous Equestrian Society.

Thank you for joining us today, Ivy Jewel. I’d like to start by congratulating you on accomplishing so much so fast.

Oh, the pleasure's all mine. And more so than a personal achievement, I think it speaks volumes for this great land of ours that so many ponies were quick to stand up for what we know in our hearts to be the right thing.

You were neighbors with Princess Twilight. What was she like as a filly? Did you ever suspect anything like this?

Twilight was a normal foal. She used to play with Silver Spark, my son. But as she grew she became more distant. I tried to keep myself in her life. Her family never has been the best role models for traditional values, after all. But she prefered to isolate herself, and that was when I started to worry about her. I’m deeply saddened by the path she’s taken.

What was it like for your son to hear about his foalhood friend?

He always remembered her fondly. While it came as a shock to him, he’s thankfully a grown stallion now, fully capable of realizing what she’s doing is wrong. I worry most for all the little colts and fillies who look up to her because she’s a princess.

On a less personal level, what do you think this will mean for Equestria?

I’m concerned, of course, but I’d like to believe what we’re doing can make a difference. We already have two thousand members all across Equestria, just within a week. Ponies are rejecting this.

What does The Virtuous Equestrian Society plan to do moving forward?

Currently, we are spreading information and rallying members. We’ll be hosting our first charity event in Canterlot this weekend, where we’ll be raising money for traditional value causes.

“You know, that stuff will rot your brain,” Spike said, looking up from an article about Chrysalis and Tirek being spotted playing mini golf together. Twilight pushed the paper aside.

“It’s about Ivy,” she said.

“Don’t worry about her, Twi. She’s the same as always.”

“It’s not her that bothers me, it’s that so many ponies follow her.” She scanned the rest of the article. More vague comments about ‘traditional values’ and ‘moral decline’. Nothing substantial, no real arguments. She folded up the paper and levitated it onto a pile of others.

“Everypony will get over it soon, you’ll see. Before you know it, everything will be back to normal.” Spike shrugged. “And anypony who still has a problem with it the next time you save the world will forget all about it.”

“I hope you’re right, Spike.” Twilight sipped her tea while Spike continued reading.

It wasn’t that she regretted coming out. She had hated hiding things, and really, she knew it was past time. The only reason she held out as long as she did was fear, but now her worst fears had come true. There had even been a petition to remove her title. And while these were all things she’d have to inevitably face, she couldn’t help but wonder if there might have been a better way.

“Good morning,” Fluttershy said, walking into the kitchen and pouring herself a cup of tea before sitting down. “You keep waking up so early, and you were up late again last night. You need more sleep Twi. You should take a nap.”

Twilight smiled. “No way, we still have to check on the animals. Maybe after that.”

“You know I could do it myself, you really don’t have to worry about it,” Fluttershy said.

“It’s fine, Shy, I want to. Who knows, maybe the babies were born.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think Flower has a few more days, at least.”

“Baby skunks or not, I’m more than happy to help.” Twilight finished her tea and levitated the cup into the sink. Spike passed her the Bulletin and she read the front page story as Fluttershy drank her tea. Apparently, she and Celestia had an escalating conflict ever since Twilight had beat her in chess one time. As if Twilight would ever beat Celestia in chess.

Once she finished her tea, Fluttershy stood up. “Ready?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

“Bye, Spike,” Fluttershy said.

“See you later.” He waved as the mares left.

As the couple made their way through Ponyville, Twilight couldn’t help but tense up. She could feel everypony’s eyes on them. She kept close to Fluttershy, relying on the other mare’s support. Somehow, Fluttershy was able to weather whatever anypony else had to say. Twilight always tried her best to be the pillar for Fluttershy to lean on, but more often than not, Fluttershy was the one comforting her these days.

Still, she had to keep up appearances in town. She had already lost respect from a lot of ponies, so she had to at least appear strong for those who still stood by her. So she smiled and waved at anypony polite enough to do the same to her. Whenever possible, she greeted ponies by name, trying to remind everypony she was still one of them.

They couldn’t reach Fluttershy’s cottage soon enough. Twilight found herself second-guessing her decision to come along, but she knew that if she hadn’t, she’d be leaving Fluttershy to make the trip alone, and she couldn’t do that. She’d already put her through too much by trying to hide her away. It was more important than ever to show her marefriend she’d stand by her.

“Do you want to take a break before we get started?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight chuckled. “I know I spend most of my time in the library, but I think I’m in good enough shape that a walk through town isn’t going to wear me down. I’m fine, let’s get to work.”

Twilight began to walk away until she found herself weighed down by a pegasus wrapping her forelegs around her neck. “I love you, Twily,” Fluttershy said, her mouth up against Twilight’s ear. “Things will get better.”

Twilight turned to face her as she let go. She was going to smile, remind Fluttershy that she was fine, and tell her not to worry. Instead, she nuzzled against Fluttershy’s neck, hiding her face in her mane.

“It’s so hard,” she said.

“I know,” Fluttershy held her close. Neither of them said anything. Twilight closed her eyes and let the feeling of the pony she loved remind her why it was all worthwhile.

Eventually the sound of a pegasus landing in the snow caused them to pull apart. “Hi, Fluttershy, Twilight,” Derpy greeted them.

“Hello, Derpy,” Fluttershy said. “Would you like a drink to warm you up? It’s an awfully cold day to fly around.”

“No thanks. I’m already kinda behind.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a letter for Fluttershy. “Do you want yours now too, Twilight? Or should I bring it to the castle?”

“I’ll take it now if it’ll save you a stop,” Twilight said. “The sooner you can get out of the snow, the better.”

“Alright, let’s see here.” Derpy went rummaging through her bag, pulling out and handing Twilight letters periodically. By the time she was satisfied she’d found every letter, her bag was noticeably lighter, and Twilight was left with quite a sizable stack of letters and a few packages.

They had come pouring in since the announcement. Twilight was ashamed to admit she hadn’t actually read any of them. She was having a difficult enough time coping with what everypony said about her, she wasn’t ready to see it directed to her as well.

“You’re sure you don’t want to stay?” Twilight asked. “We’ll make cocoa.”

Derpy was obviously tempted, but shifted the still mostly full bag on her back. “Maybe next time. I’ll see you later!” She waved as she flew off.

Twilight flipped through the letters, scanning for names she’d recognized. She scoffed at one sent by Silver Spark. ‘Yeah right, no way I’m opening that one.’ Finding no other letters of immediate interest, she turned towards Fluttershy. “Well, nothing really pressing here. You ready to – what’s wrong, Shy?”

Fluttershy was staring at her sole letter. Her eyes were narrowed and she was frowning. She didn’t seem to hear Twilight’s question. Twilight placed a hoof on her shoulder, causing her to look up. “Sorry, what was that?” she asked.

“What’s wrong?”

Fluttershy looked back to the letter. “Let’s go inside. I… I’ll tell you about it once we’re out of the snow.”

Without waiting for an answer, Fluttershy led the way. Twilight was perplexed, but followed along without any further questions. They walked inside and sat on the couch, then Fluttershy resumed staring at the still unopened envelope.

Twilight sat down, pressing herself up to her distraught marefriend. She waited for Fluttershy to say something, but she just stared silently. “So… who’s it from?”

Instead of answering, Fluttershy just set it down next to Twilight. “Could you read it to me? I can’t…”

Confused, Twilight levitated the envelope, noticing the sender as she opened it was Stormy Skies. The letter itself was short with shaky writing which was a little hard to read in places. She read aloud.

“Dear Fluttershy, I know it’s been too long since we last spoke, and that’s my fault. I’m sorry for everything that happened. Losing your mother was hard on both of us.” Twilight stopped for a moment as it dawned on her who Stormy Skies was. Fluttershy didn’t say anything. “You probably haven’t forgiven me, but I’d like to start again if you’ll give me the chance. I’m sure you already know, but her birthday’s coming up. Maybe you could come over for dinner and we can decide what to do from there. With love, Dad.”

At first, Fluttershy didn’t react. But just when Twilight was about to say something, Fluttershy muttered to herself, “Why would I want him back in my life?” She grabbed the letter and glanced over it before tearing it in half. “Why can’t he just leave me alone!?”

“Fluttershy?” Twilight asked as the pegasus threw herself into Twilight’s chest and began crying. Twilight held her, just letting her cry. Eventually, when the sobs started to subside, she asked, “What happened between you two?”

Fluttershy breathed deeply for a while before answering. “He said it was my fault Mama was sick, that it was because I was born.”

“That’s horrible! Please tell me you don’t believe that.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “Not anymore, but I used to. Other ponies told me she had always been sick, even before I was born, but I still felt like it was my fault. And then when she was gone, well, he always drank a lot, but without her around he never stopped drinking.”

Twilight hugged her. “Did he… hurt you?” Fluttershy nodded. Glancing at the bits of paper that had been a letter a few minutes before, Twilight asked, “Has he ever tried to write to you before?”

“No. I haven’t seen him since the day I got my cutie mark. That was when I ran away from home.”

“You ran away from home? You never told me that!”

Twilight regretted her outburst as Fluttershy flinched. “I’m sorry. It’s just… I don’t like to talk about it.”

“Don’t be sorry, I didn’t mean to sound upset. I’m just… surprised.” She nuzzled Fluttershy’s head. “Do you want to talk about it now?”

Fluttershy took a few deep breaths and shifted in place so she was laying on her side, facing away from Twilight. She spoke slowly, and Twilight got the impression she probably hadn’t told this story to too many other ponies.

“After I fell out of flight school and discovered my talent with animals, I never went back to Cloudsdale. That day I just felt so happy and free. It wasn’t until night came that I started wondering if it was a bad idea. I slept outside for a few days before I found this cottage. It was run down at the time, but nopony was living here. Eventually some stallions came to tear it down, and they found me. I thought they were going to make me go back, but once the mayor found out, he had them fix it up instead, and even offered me a job watching over the animals. I was finally happy, but I kept thinking that Stormy Skies would come find me and take me back with him. He never did, though.”

“Are you still afraid of him?” Twilight asked. Fluttershy gave the tiniest of nods. She was afraid to suggest what was on her mind, but she needed to say it. “Uhm, I think maybe we should go.”

“Right, sorry, I got caught up in all that. The poor animals are waiting.” Fluttershy wiped her eyes and smiled. Twilight found it unsettling how natural her smile was, and wondered how many times these thoughts had been hiding behind that smile without anypony even knowing.

“The animals are fine, Shy. I meant maybe we should see him.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy stopped smiling. “No.”

“It’s your decision, Shy. But you’ve been letting him loom over you for all these years. No matter how horrible he was, he can’t hurt you anymore.” Twilight brushed Fluttershy’s mane out of her face. “If you don’t want to forgive him, then you don’t have to. But I think if we went, you’d see he’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“I… I don’t know, Twily. I don’t think I can face him again.”

“You won’t be alone this time. I’ll go with you.” Twilight smiled. “We’re kind of a package deal these days.”

Fluttershy smiled a little. “Thanks, Twily. I’ll think about it. But right now, I’d really just like to check on the animals together.”

Twilight nodded. “Of course.” She held open the door and the two mares walked into the snow.

Fluttershy couldn’t sleep. Normally, being next to Twilight put her mind at ease, but for once, she found it wasn’t enough. She’d been lying awake for hours, watching the alicorn roll around restlessly. She clearly wasn’t sleeping well herself, but at least she was asleep.

Most nights when she had problems sleeping, she would lie awake with her insecurities running through her mind, or she’d have nightmares that prevented her from sleeping for long. But while she had plenty of her own problems weighing her down as well, it was actually someone else’s that were keeping her awake for a change.

There was something she had to do. Something that had been on her mind for weeks, ever since she first started writing to Sunset Shimmer. She knew she should have said something already, but she had let her fears get the best of her.

But in a way, that made her as bad as him, so she slowly got out of bed. It was one thing to let her worries keep her from doing things she knew would help herself, but she couldn’t keep letting someone else suffer just because she was too afraid to say something.

She grabbed the journal and carried it into the study, careful as she went to not wake Twilight. Flipping it open to the first blank page, she ignored her racing heart to write ‘Sunset, it’s Fluttershy. I know it’s really late and you have work tomorrow, but if you can, please write me back. It’s important.’

She set down the quill and waited. If Sunset didn’t write back what would she do? Should she say what was on her mind anyway? She didn’t have to worry long however, as Sunset wrote back within a few minutes.

‘What’s up?’

Fluttershy felt a pang of guilt. A message that short meant Sunset was asleep and had been woken up by the book’s vibrations. ‘Sorry to wake you, but does the Fluttershy in your world live with somepony named Stormy Skies?’

‘No, she lives with her dad. Or is that his name?’

Fluttershy felt her knees go weak at the thought of somepony living with him. She knew the other Fluttershy wouldn’t want her to tell Sunset about this, but she also knew she needed help. ‘Please, do whatever you can to get her away from him. Maybe she could move in with Rainbow or something, anything, just not him.’

‘Okay, I’m officially awake now. I’ll do what I can, but what’s going on? What’s so bad about him?’

Fluttershy glanced towards the other room where Twilight was sleeping. She needed Sunset to understand why this was so important. She was terrified of Twilight seeing this, but she needed to write it anyway. If she didn’t, if she just let somepony live with somepony like him… ‘I’ll explain everything. But is there some way to make sure Twilight doesn’t see? I know I need to tell her too, and I will, but I don’t want her to find out like this.’

‘I don’t think Twilight would read it if you just asked her not to, but if you really want to be sure you can tear out the page. And I promise I won’t say anything to her about it.’

Fluttershy closed her eyes tightly for a moment. With a deep breath, she opened them and began writing. ‘Well, when I was a teenager, my mom died…’

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