• Published 19th Aug 2017
  • 6,432 Views, 201 Comments

Enemy of Mine - Ice Star



A few years after Luna's return it seems that Equestria will finally know an era of peace and appears to be on the verge of a new renaissance. Ponies are happy. Luna is recovering. Celestia is miserable.

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Chapter 7: Husband of Hers, Part 4

Celestia loved the spring, because it was when Canterlot was between the old and the new. The more peaceful bones of the city had not been pushed away fully by winter's end, though all snow and weighty chills had passed. Life and magic were in the air. Many new foals were born in the spring, something that many thousands of years had not altered in ponies. Smiles were crisp and new, and made her own feel encouraged. The little everyday gesture became even easier when everypony else was doing it in abundance, too. As friendly as most ponies were, nopony could deny that winter had a gloom to it that got to nearly everypony at some point.

That was when the pale sights of Canterlot reminded her of memory's many ghosts. Now that the heart of winter had passed, she saw the beautiful in-between, when her city was pushed to live. This was when she thought she could see something nopony else could from more than just the reaches of memory. Between spring and winter, she was reminded of Canterlote.

There were still hints of the old First Equestrian city, and elements from ancient days, even if the stone city was no more than ruins upon which the present Canterlot stood. Ancient Dragonsneeze trees were a remnant of Platinum's time, when dragons challenged a unicorn fortress city that thrived on crystal mines, and Alicorn sisters lived in the distant Everfree, unable to protect the city. Long-forgotten mines and quarries were empty and cold, pressed under two cities. There was the odd construction of a modern street that overlapped with an old one, or somepony who had unearthed a piece of the past in their own backyard.

While none were exactly visible from her high tower balcony, when Celestia stood overlooking the city, she felt she could still see the one great lasting tradition of pre-modern Equestrian culture: the crypts below the city. The classical burial tradition of the unicorns and the earth pony one of the cemeteries were both present in Canterlot, but there were much more ancient crypts that lay abandoned within the mountain.

There were no airship docks in those days, and obviously no airships. Even hot air balloons were farther down the path of time's arrow. The walls of the city were thick, but not as high or grandly constructed as they were now. Those walls had been gray and all-encircling of the much smaller city.

Here in her tower, Celestia thought that there were times when she could still see them, and if the clouds rolled in just right, she was surer of this than she ever liked to be. In those times, the great ballistae and harpago along the walls were numerous and largely exposed.

They saw somewhat frequent use, too. Such violent implements in plain sight were a clear message to the other creatures, like dragons, who sought to threaten the city. Those had been the days when Harmony was reserved only for ponies, and ponies outside of one's own country if they were feeling extremely hospitable. Celestia was a stranger in Canterlote then, who came for court events, parties, and other such things. The widespread notions of empathy, charity, and the modern Equestrian spirit rose from the ashes of First Equestria because of her efforts.

She wasn't usually a mare to watch the sky, but there was something about this evening that called for it. The balcony air was absolutely perfect, and she was all alone. There was an expected trace of loneliness deep in the back of her mind, and yet tonight it was not unwelcome.

The taste of some wine from earlier was still on her tongue, and there was something a bit pleasant about the stagnant feeling of the evening, or perhaps it was only boredom she did not bother to resist. Her horn's light finally died, and the sky bled blue and dark orange.

There was the faintest ache in the back of her head, one that was hardly rare these days. Tonight, she did not mind it so much, knowing that it could have come from a number of things, so who was she to complain? Qilin was asleep at last, so she had more than earned the right to indulge herself just a bit this evening and recall the echo of her days as a rising young visionary.

She sighed a bit, but it came out much more like a yawn. Maybe it was a yawn, too. She was tired, and the air was sweet. She could rarely enjoy any time alone — yes, she was an old mare, but not some doddering little fruitcake who did puzzles, art projects, or some other fruitless and silly thing. Why, she couldn't stand reading for leisure much either, not when she spent most of her day faced with words, words, words. And, if she were to have the company of anypony, they would be real. What good came from sitting about peering at the life of somepony made-up spelled out for you?

She was not like her Faithful Students, who were all studious sorts. If she did not have to burrow herself in a book or study, she would not.

With Philomena in search of snacks and playtime throughout the castle and Dissy off at some lovely-sounding Ponyville party with Fluttershy and her friends, she really had some time to herself she didn't mind. Not when she felt so relaxed. Her white coat was soft from a recent bath, and the smell of various mane products and bath oils. Her mane and tail had slowed their flow considerably because of this. Droplets of water still shone in the pastel streaks, which Celestia had to admit looked a bit faded. A fuzzy, plush robe of yellow and gold clung comfortably to her form.

The pale moon was beginning to rise, and Celestia's mind thought of all the things she might do in the few hours before sleep called to her. She certainly wanted some peppermint tea, and maybe a few treats to go with it, but how to spend her time? She could flip through a few travel magazines with stunning destinations, something she was quite fond of... or maybe pen a few personal letters to keep up with dear friends. Celestia certainly wished to hear from Raven about her new office job and tell her more about how the 'sick days' and late mornings that Sombra seemed apt on taking. Or maybe she would leave that detail — and any detail about the prince — out in order to keep things from stirring up unwanted feelings.

Perhaps she could start a new scrapbook. There were plenty of ideas for new ones: Wonderbolt derbies, Qilin's baby pictures, or lunch visits in Twilight's castle. She was sorely tempted to begin one... as long as she could keep it a secret from Luna. She didn't want to have to come up with any more excuses as to why she hadn't finished the promised scrapbook of the wedding, especially when she knew Luna was still looking forward to it so excitedly. How could she admit she hadn't even started it? Or that she didn't want to when she had promised it to her with a kindly smile?

Celestia yawned and allowed herself to slouch in the open doorway to her balcony. Night claimed the world now, and stars winked from behind the cover of clouds. Each one of them came with the call to sleep.

Eyes already weary, Celestia decided that tea, snacks, and retiring early would be wise.

...

Celestia dreamed in murk and echoes. There were no rare foredreams tonight, only the usual fog of memory that lulled her further into its depths. Thousands of years of life let many ghosts and flashes of places spill into her mind's weary eye. It was here in the wild haze of slumber she found murky faces, murmurs of voices, and all the nonsense from a mind with all its doors flung wide open.

Tonight, she heard the harsh and wordless voice of a wizard, but it was too far away to fear. She tasted a sundae overloaded with distinct toppings and the clear flavor of Prancian vanilla beneath it all. With that came the recollection of a shared laugh and a sweet kiss with a lover long-dead. The burst of feeling was gone just as quickly as she called it as a wave of a different sensation rolled in. She smelled the salty air of the sea somewhere her mind didn't bother to share the location of, and the memory popped into a cascade of white. One lacy gown, its hem stained with mud was snagged in a rope and swung until it dissolved in the maw of darkness.

Her mind shook once, the whole of her dream and sleep-drugged senses shaking with a stab of hollow realization, and the sensation of snow under hooves her dream did not present to her. Dollops of frosty white drizzled onto the pages of a diary with words Celestia could not read, and only face starkly as herself, not as the princess. Only her dream did not even present her with form, she knew only that this diary loomed and she was in front of it because there she felt herself.

The world shook with the laughter of children, hers and Discord's over and over again, and a bubbly warmth that washed out everything else. Her mind quaked with the sensation of an empty belly when the laughs fell away, and Celestia heard them crash like thunder. Cold rain dripped through a coat she could not see, drip-drip-dripping into her blood as she was sure, and the cold grew...

Everything roared into another sight, one more defined and familiar than the others. She felt something start under hooves she did not have, and the world oozed the sensation of serenity and magic. There were swirls of blue as far as the eye could see, and a world made of lights so that you could feel this place of clear divinity.

There, on the bridge of a million magic lights was a pink pegasus. Her lavender eyes are wide with fear that could swallow the world and her slim-legged body. There is what remains of a blue bow in her mane. She wobbles a little, feathers shaking, and her wings are unfolded out of reflex, but Celestia can see her new cutie mark so clearly. Around her neck is a shining gem, the center of a gorgeous amulet that hangs around her neck with a lovely ring of rope burn and bruises. The white dress she wears is delicate less, with a long hem that falls to the stars under her hooves. The hem is muddy.

Celestia can hear the world shaking, but her dream has glued her sights to the little one before her, who she will see for years and years to come. The pink pegasus opens her mouth, and she says:

"Sister, wake up," with the warmth of a yawning grave.

Celestia bolts up with a racing heart and a cold sweat along her neck. Thunder booms and a barrage of rain drums violently outside. Through the glass of the balcony door, Celestia can see the sizable swell of a storm outside. Her thoughts immediately went to how there was no scheduled storm that night, and how this did not look like a wild storm...

...then she looked to the foot of her bed as lightning flashed, and she saw whose words had permeated the end of her dream.

Sitting at the foot of her bed like a grim gargoyle was Luna, her eyes flashing with the lightning. She was perched with her wings ready to flare and leaning towards Celestia with frightful, angry eyes. Her lip was curled slightly, showing the barest glimpse of fangs. Despite her dark shadow, the flash of lightning did more than starkly showcase her silhouette, it showed her mane flashing too.

There was such anger in Luna's eyes, and without her usual eye shadow, the eyes of Celestia's daughter were slit, cat-like, and...

Nightmare Moon.

Celestia stared back at Her, wide-eyed and shivering. "Luna?" she said, voice a thin whisper and all her pleas wrapped into a single name.

She felt so naked in front of this imposing sight, and her forehooves shook even as she clutched her blankets. Her chest shook with quick little breaths and her fickle mind fed her memories of a different dark mare.

Nightmare Moon...

Celestia swallowed clumsily, yearning desperately that she had no face before Her, but the mask she took such care have at all other times. Bare before Her with a hammering heart, she was Celestia and not the princess.

"I should think that you know why I am here," Luna said with the biting cold that held all Her a wave of anger, something so rare from Her, regardless of how passionate and emotional She was. It was Luna who did not reject all aspects of Herself that was a goddess, who dared to keep magic free and close to who She was, too...

Truthfully, Celestia was petrified, and behind her wide eyes, every murmur of insecurity and whisper of fear she did not wish to hear formed a chorus of panic alongside the drumming of the rain. They reminded her of her daughter's beast, of all She could do, and how the mare of whimsy and romanticism could end the world with the anger She hid. Behind the face of a charming, quiet, and playful young mare was a dread goddess who had shattered the world of Celestia before. Luna was a mare beyond Celestia's power, but the dark mantle of Nightmare Moon... that was when such power was apparent in the worst of all ways.

All Celestia could do was search the expression of Luna, the one that burst with fury and disbelief as her own showcased her naked terror. "Luna, I don't—"

"Yes, you do." Luna cut in with her voice dropped to a chilling hiss that reminded Celestia, trembling and pale, of a serpent.

"I-I do?" Celestia stammered in the shadow of Luna's clear and cold fury.

"Tell me about Sombra," Luna said, eyes searching Celestia's face. Her tone had all the compassion of resting a knife upon somepony's jugular vein. "How have things been between you two?"

Oh... Even Celestia's own thoughts came to her in a whisper. I do think I know where this is going now.

"He hasn't been on his best behavior, and I have been trying to fix that. Otherwise, we have been alright, and I feel we are progressing acceptably." She spoke rather quietly, but it was all she could do to keep the full extent of how terrified she was out of her voice.

Celestia reluctantly lifted her gaze to look at Luna's face. She watched as Luna's mane flicked aggressively, almost to the point of thrashing, and how She sucked in a sharp gasp of shock. Only, Celestia could not hear her gasp. A great clap of thunder shook the castle, and Celestia let out a soft, timid whinny that died in the booming crackle of lightning that followed.

They both had to blink in the aftermath of the powerful flash, Luna especially because of the sensitivity of Her eyes when Her night's vision was exposed to such a spectacle. Celestia now knew the cause of the storm, and her stomach felt like she would lose her tea and cookies from earlier. Her only relief was that Qilin's nursery, which was in a different part of the castle, was warded against the sound of such storms, and close to her assigned nurse was only a few doors away. She was also certain that Luna did not want to bring her harm, and hated herself for having any part of her being assured by such a thing.

Luna's face twisted into an expression even angrier than before, but also one of shock. Her eyes overflowed with disbelief above any other emotion in the superstorm of her current mood. "How could you say such a thing...?" Luna whispered, Her own tone shaky.

"Luna," Celestia said, forcing something appropriately motherly and a false calm into her nervous words, "How could I say what?"

She was quickly faced with a snarling expression from Luna, who was quick to expose Her fangs. "HOW DARE YOU LIE!"

Luna's shout rang in Celestia's ears, as did the roar of blood. Thunder rumbled again. "Luna, I—"

"NO! ENOUGH! HOW COULD YOU LIE TO ME?!" Luna's chest heaved and Her mane snapped with each word, while her tail curled around her legs threateningly.

Bottom lip quivering, Celestia nodded quickly, and no longer shook. Instead, she was petrified by the presence and anger of Luna. Her only shield from the wrath of her daughter was how her mane fell into her face because of how severely she lowered her head.

"He told me enough of what has been transpiring between you two."

Sombra did what?!

It took all Celestia's strength to not perk her lowered ears up in shock or to exclaim anything aloud.

He did not strike me as a rat, and what could he possibly gain from admitting to any of this? Sombra wasn't right in any of his actions. Doesn't Luna know of my good intentions, and how they matter more than his behavior? Had I known he was going to do this... I...

"I asked him how you two have been getting along. Celestia, do you know that the first thing Sombra said to me was?"

He no doubt made this look like it was my fault. "N-No, I do not. However, I think it would be wise to mention that what he says about me is bound to be—"

"Before he said anything else, he said to me," Luna interrupted swiftly, "'Luna, I'm sorry.' Do you not see how differently he handled this already?"

Celestia couldn't think of anything to say, and just nervously clutched at the blankets, begging herself for any shred of composure when Luna was chipping further into the heart of things, and would only expose more of what was happening. She nodded mutely, biting her lip, knowing that she appeared before Luna earnestly. That was something that made her just as afraid as her daughter's wrath.

"How could you do this to somepony you know I love above all others? You are treating him very much like how you used to treat me..." Celestia watches Luna swallow. "You said you learned... that you missed me. Celestia, all the things you told me about how you learned too... were those true? Are all your promises fraudulent? Do you even love me as your kin, or am I somehow still a monster to you?"

"No!" Celestia pushed the word out desperately. "I meant everything I said to you, about how I missed you and that we were meant to rule together. Oh, Luna, I meant every last word. I am a changed mare, no matter how much you say ponies cannot change, I swear to you that I have! Please, if you are ever to believe anything, believe that I never want to lose you again and that we are a family."

Please, pick me over Sombra. If you are to speak of frauds, surely you will learn that he is. Any relationship without familial approval is a doomed one... and I don't want to see you go through that. I tried to be independent once, and I threw you away... I... I will never let you go. I won't hurt you. Oh, Luna, I...

We need each other, and we had to learn that the hard way.

"Luna..." Celestia said softly. "Aren't you mad at Sombra too?"

Luna's jaw dropped. "Of course I am! He is not free of consequences in this, but he was honest to me! I still struggle to get any honesty from you, but it always used to be in little things. Never did I think you would abuse my own husband!"

'Abuse' is certainly a very drastic term for what I did, which was to address his poor behavior on multiple occasions. I'm not an abusive mare. I'm not...

There was the distant rumble of thunder, and Luna sighed. Her heartbroken gaze fell heavily upon Celestia, who was beginning to feel so uncomfortable under such a look. She even felt guilty, though she didn't know why. What did she have to feel guilty about?

"I chose you to help me... to be my best mare, to hear be a part of all this..." Luna stopped, floundering for words, clearly overcome with shock.

"'This'?" Celestia pried carefully.

"You know exactly what I speak of! Sombra's princehood, this next chapter of my life... I let you be a part of these things..."

'Let me'? How am I not entitled to be part of your life? Does she truly not understand how helpless she is? How those words hurt me? I am not somepony she can just 'let' into her life. With all her recent instability, does she think she will not be without me? I know my daughter like I know my own mind, and I know that she would wilt without me... she still deserves better.

"...because you are my beloved sister. We don't agree on everything, but I know you're a kind mare. You bore Kindness because you sprinkle it upon everypony rather indiscriminately."

Celestia couldn't meet Luna's eyes. That's hardly a bad thing! Why does she always use that tone for matters of kindness?

...More importantly, does she not realize how long ago it was that either of us was an Element Bearer...? I am kind because it is necessary for everypony... but I am not Kindness. Not anymore.

One thing Celestia knew was that Luna was aware of how Celestia was not the same pony She knew a thousand years ago, even if she didn't quite see it in the same way as Celestia. What Luna did not know was just what a thousand years on her own did to Celestia, and the extent of its toll, and that she really, really was far from in tune with any of her old Elements and had been for a long, long time.

"I thought you would be kind to Sombra, or at the very least you would tolerate the love of my life. How could that be too much to ask from you? Do you realize what you've done instead?"

"Luna," Celestia ventured delicately, "don't you think you're getting carried away?"

"NO, I DO NOT!" Luna screamed, and Celestia watched in horror as hot, angry tears started to fall down Luna's cheeks. "I told you that I would explain to him what his duties as a prince were and help him, as I am good at working with him. You summoned him straight to your office against my orders and you two ended up fighting. You couldn't respect me when I told you that I was going to do something."

There was no response Celestia could think to give.

"You drive him to panic even when I have confided in you that he has panic attacks. You try to tear him apart over the most pointless things. You harass him, degrade him, go out of your way to annoy him, are downright venomous to him, and allow him to work in a harmful environment. He has no chance to properly refute you, is confined to a desk job, and you treat him like filth. He gets so little chance to contribute to anything. I told you that he doesn't speak out when he is treated cruelly because he is used to it! I told you that he will often take abuse because he was in an abusive relationship, and cannot recognize certain limits in others' behavior! You saw fit to torment him because you thought he wouldn't tell me!"

Celestia didn't bother to mask her trembling. She was too busy trying to figure out how Luna was able to make her feel so ashamed.

"He showed me some of the notes you send him. He told me about the things you said to him the Hearth's Warming I proposed, simply because you knew I was out of the room. Your behavior is so poor around him, and you only seek to 'push his buttons', as the saying goes. I know you regard him in such a grossly impersonal way and have no level of patience for him on purpose. Simple beginner's mistakes are unforgivable coming from him. He feels anxious around you, upset by you, and like you will invade his privacy. None of those things are okay! I expected so much better from you, Celestia!" Luna sniffled furiously, and Celestia listened to Luna try and swallow a sob before She went on.

And Celestia watched, stunned at everything, only staring at Luna with speechless sorrow.

"I can see that you've plainly put forth no effort to try and get to know him. Sombra isn't the best at getting to know you, either, but I know that he has at least tried and have attempted to bring this up with you before. You lie to his face, and that is... i-immensely frustrating to have learned. He has been scolded over nothing, simply because you see fit to be nothing short of a petty bitch towards him."

Celestia felt like Luna had hit her with those words. During the dawn of Luna's return, one of the things Celestia had apologized for countless was for how much of a 'bitch' she had been. She was hardly a mare for such crude language, but she had told Luna over and over again that, yes, she had been a colossal bitch.

Admittedly, she used to privately think of herself as one, in her younger days. She hadn't told Luna that, but 'bitch' stung coming from her own daughter, and without her mask, she could not hide how it hurt.

"There is no reason for you to hurt him, and yet, you do. I have told you many times of my love for this stallion, and you know this... and still torment him. What is the root of this? D-Did you really think this wouldn't hurt me? Do you even know how much it does?"

"I'm sorry," Celestia whispered, raw and scared.

"I..." Luna drew a shaking breath, and so many more tears were welling up. She looked like she was having a hard time controlling them, and every bit of her emotion was spilling everywhere Celestia could look. "I don't know if you are telling the truth. All I can really say is that you hurt Sombra, somepony I love, cherish, and strive to protect..."

What could Sombra even need protection from?

"...and that you, my favorite sister and the mare who had faith in reforming Discord when I doubted you, could not offer a w-wonderful stallion a bit of tolerance and safety. You forgave me too, and everything I did was worse than Sombra's misdeeds. He does not feel the least bit at home outside of our wing of the castle. Y-You lied in your speech. Stars, it wasn't even a very good speech, but I thought you were trying. Instead, you were lying. Your actions since then, and even before, make you a liar, Celestia."

Being a liar is not such a bad thing to be, and how is it you can believe what you did was worse than Sombra, a slaughterer? Oh, Luna... I really do wonder about what I'm going to do with you.

"Sister, you keep catering to ponies instead of listening to those you should really trust."

One of Celestia's ears raised with confusion. How can she think those are two different things?

Luna sighed, still plainly irritated. "Sundrop Talismans are not good for Sombra, for one. Part of the reason he can get so sick in the mornings is because of all the light magic. I informed you of Sombra's magic sense, and I am aware that he mentioned a few things about it as well. You are not some lowly, slow-witted magic kindergartner that is oblivious to the obvious correlation of light magic being bad for Sombra. I've done what I can, but the staff hasn't been respectful of me in some time. Ultimately, you've still ignored and enabled Sombra to work in an environment that is physically toxic for him, thus endangering the welfare of my beloved."

Celestia was very quiet, though she had always suspected some of Sombra's 'sick days' came from him not wanting to work. No lowly drifter is enthusiastic about the fact that jobs must be done, and Celestia knew that Sombra was no exception.

"Are you suggesting I forbid the staff from bringing something that they feel keeps them safe?"

"Yes, sister!" Luna said, trying fruitlessly to wipe tear stains from Her muzzle with a foreleg. "They directly endanger Sombra because of his origin and because they possess light magic flows that have bad health effects on him!"

Well, then aren't they doing their job?

"I... I'll look into it."

She noted Luna's betrayed skepticism.

"I promise, Luna. A real Big Sis Promise," she assured her daughter, even if speaking words of sisterhood hurt her. "What is this about the staff, though? How is it that you have not ordered them to stop bringing their trinkets?"

"They do not exactly listen to me," Luna muttered sullenly, eyes still wet and unbelievably teary. "Thus my limited success. You are their perfect princess, and you expect the rest of us who bear the crown to bear the same misconceptions about being down-to-earth, something none of us really is, and how you erroneously slip your notions of public servitude over being a true ruler. Ponies devour this endlessly, sister, but it is a crippling thing. I become odd not because I am, but still, there is something about me that they outcast beyond my choice of a spouse, too."

"W-What, why?" Celestia blinked, bewildered.

Sniffling, Luna looked straight at Celestia, night-touched eyes piercing her with a frightening stare. "Oh, have you not heard? I am no longer 'Celestia's sister'."

Celestia blinked again. What could she possibly mean?

"These ponies do not approve of my partner any more than you do." Lightning streaked across the sky once more, and Celestia shivered. To think that if her magic had developed naturally and unbridled. Would some other aspect of nature be as malleable to her as storms were to Luna?

Then divorce him, Luna. Your family and your nation do not approve, so there is no reason you should have continued your relationship when everything you should value is pointed against it. Sombra has little hope of surviving a divorce court, and I would not expect his funds to survive, either.

"It might've helped if you had my blessing," Celestia pointed out.

Luna's response was a scowl, and a deep boom of thunder came with the moody flick of her tail. "I truly mean no disrespect, sister, but I think that, as a grown mare, I do not need to seek parental blessing from you, and especially not in this day and age. I did not seek Father's blessing, and he has no problem with Sombra. 'Tis, not some required thing."

Celestia was lucky that the next roll of thunder hid her whimper. "...What is it the staff do?"

Luna sobbed loudly before She managed to say anything. "I am not 'Celestia's sister' to these ponies, as I told you. They resurrect some of the foulest words in this language to refer to me now — I am 'Sombra's w-whore' and 'Sombra's slut', a-and other similar things." Luna couldn't hide that She was trembling with small sobs or how She shook with both tears and anger. The sky crackled, roared, and shrieked with chain lightning that caused every window to rattle and the whole room to flash the brightest white.

"I—"

"Of course, you haven't seen anything! They don't say anything in front of you! All of them a sweet, humble little ponies who only wish to be your obedient subjects. You are only their Boss of Bosses and Royal Among Royals, Celestia. Many of them do play favorites, and it is you adore most often, and who the gossipy ones are the best-behaved for. And I? I am the mad sister, the eccentric one, so even if I do not stroll into the throng of the rumor mill, I stumble into its fringes. I hear things, Celestia, and I do not speak of the perverted tales Private This and Lieutenant That has to go in so much detail about. These ponies know I am not widely believed, and they may speak of matters that skirt just below treasonous and criminal speech, particularly when it is I who is near them."

That... That can't be true... can it? Everypony has always been so nice...

Luna judged Celestia's expression coldly. "Printing anything about Sombra, and speaking without care about the latest rumors regarding him maybe treasonous and illegal, and yet ponies are not good at discretion. You hardly discourage such behavior, and there is still a societal stigma, though you do not have to bear it. This does not mean nothing is said."

Before Celestia could even begin to figure out what to say, she watched as Luna's anger transformed. The pounding of rain outside doubled in intensity, though the lightning abated.

Luna now lay crumpled on Celestia's bed, sobbing with abandon. Guilt plagued Celestia, and she knew that though she felt as though she had been smashed to pieces, Luna was so obviously devastated. Between the two of them, it had been Luna who cried easily.

Celestia knew that by Luna's heaving chest that she still wanted to draw on anger, but she had none left. She only looked scared and sounded so wounded... something that physically hurt Celestia to hear. And to think that Luna had this much raw feeling to expend. Now the only thing frightening about her was the depths at which she could feel and how easily she could. Neither of those things was unfamiliar to Celestia, and it was a trait of Luna's she envied and feared almost equally.

These were the sights that broke Celestia, and her own eyes were damp. She lit her horn, not caring that Luna would see her bare emotion with not a single tatter of composure if she so much as looked up. Soft golden light wove its way through Luna's mane, and Celestia's magic teased strands of it in the gentlest, most motherly fashion possible. With careful movements, she moved strands back into place as Luna's sobs continued, slowly lifting away a cascade of dark hair in a gradual effort to reveal as much of Luna's face as she could.

Each gentle touch showed her shadowed, tear-stained cheeks and creases in the blankets where Luna had buried her face.

The gesture between them was an old one. As emotional as Luna was, Celestia knew she was poor at reading what Luna felt, and knowing when she was hurt, but a long time ago she could comfort a sad little filly when she was little more than a child herself.

When all Luna was little and her imagination ran wild, she would pour out an exhausting amount of it upon Celestia. Those were the years that Celestia had not yet learned Luna's chatter only described a fraction of what went on in her mind. Those were the years when Celestia knew she was the light in Luna's world, for Luna was a child, and no matter how brave or odd any child may be, they are never without fear.

There was a time when Luna came to Celestia when she cried, without hesitation. Perhaps that was something innocence had lent her. Then, it had been Celestia who learned all the best ways to do Luna's mane, hug her after bad dreams, cobble together the most adequate of bedtime stories, and bandage all the boo-boos she could see. Celestia knew that even as a filly, Luna hated hearing Celestia say that.

Now, she was a young mare weeping over her marriage, and despite Celestia's best efforts her crying had only lessened rather than ceased.

Celestia's headache had returned as a fuzzy, faint, and weary feeling. Nervous fluttering dominated her chest, and in between the sensations she was only surprised she wasn't shaking.

"Luna...?" Celestia prompted, voice hushed and tone maternal.

"M-Mhm?"

"...I never thought you would be married, and certainly not before me." She moved her forehoof to where one of Luna's forelegs rested, patting it carefully. "This has been incredibly hard on me... I... I'm having a very h-har—" Celestia coughed, the motions of her hoof faltering, "I'm having a hard time adjusting."

Even offering a fraction of the truth to Luna could only be done with great difficulty on Celestia's part. How was it that ponies could bear the weight of their emotions and share them with others? Who was to say that anypony would really understand the other? What enabled them to share them without crushing another under all the burdens they had best keep to themselves?

...Hadn't that worked for her century after century?

"Sister," Luna said, lifting her head. "This is no easier for me."

Celestia reluctantly perked her ears forward just enough to listen to Luna's hoarse post-sobbing voice and look into her daughter's tear-matted face.

She already knew some of Luna's lasting frustrations with ponies, even if she was not quick to voice her deepest frustrations. Celestia knew there were still ponies who saw Luna as frivolous and unneeded. Numerous gossip never reached Celestia, and doubly so when it could be seen as dancing within the distance of treason, but she knew that many an ignorant pony thought Luna useless, for what was she but a dream-diving recluse? They were the sort who even Celestia could say was unbearable (though, never to their faces) for their words and the distress they put Luna through, who heard their words in full.

These were the ponies who would not look to the night sky and realize that it was now a thing of beauty and awe; where Celestia could merely raise the moon quickly and hide the difficulty of such a task, Luna could perfect the night entirely and bring the sky to life. Nearly everypony else in Equestria had noticed the splendor now that the moon's true goddess had returned, and how Celestia's nights were but imitations. They did not think that just because Celestia could raise the moon, she should.

How were they to know that Luna was the one who helped those Celestia knew nothing about, and somehow slipped past the light? Insecure children, yearnings for death, hidden traumas, and nightmarish cases of abuses not fit for the polite ears of society were what Luna dealt with on a daily basis. Yet, she did not break. Somehow it was Luna who was able to unravel all the worst of ponies — domestic distress, incest, assault, predators of foals, and all terrible things — and still see such delight in life. That was always baffling to Celestia, and in ways she would not like to admit, especially considering how Luna did not see life and ponies as mutually exclusive.

How could such ponies grasp that Luna uncovered crimes in dream-walking that would have been lost to time? Though history had been edited, and all Luna's efforts re-credited, it had been Luna who had worked much on the justice system's foundations, though Celestia had draped much of her own alterations over Luna's core contributions. It was Luna who used to bring up the vilest crimes to the old public and shock them in attempts to bring awareness to them and speedily outlaw them with what little power she had then. Silent Luna was the mare who had founded what would be considered the original 'vice squad' of the guard, and aside from its absorption into the main guard, the laws, principles, and basis of this division had remained unchanged in its mission to rid Equestrian streets of ponies most foul.

Luna worked in shadows. She peered into the petrifying darkness. When she said something was not easy for her, it was time for Celestia to worry.

"Whatever do you mean?" Celestia asked quickly, her voice filled with soft, sincere concern.

Luna bit her lip, drew herself up, and rubbed one bare forehoof at her chest. "Well," she croaked, "'tis nothing you need to worry about. I made an enormous commitment, and I am overjoyed with it." There, in the dark, is the ghost of a smile on Luna's face. "I did not use to believe in love like other ponies. Not like you, or Cadance, or anypony. Romance used to be... for everypony else, if I am to spare you rambling. All those things about understanding, cherishing, and respecting somepony at any level exceeding a friendship were fancy of some kind. Any feelings of love, the marriage of true minds... Tia, it all seemed fake, in some way. I never told anypony, but I used to think that maybe there was some sort of fake qualities to Shining and Cady, too. I was lonely..." Luna blinked, looking to Celestia to understand something that hid in the vibrant teal of her eyes and in her tired, far too personal words. "Sometimes it crossed my mind... but solitude was so advantageous and fulfilling."

"And you learned otherwise... because of the magic of love?" Celestia offered, guessing at the conclusion of Luna's thoughts. Privately, she wondered how anypony could ever think to doubt the love of Shining Armor and Cadance, even in their most vile thoughts. She watched as Luna still rubbed nervously at her own coat.

"No, it is still fulfilling... but I'm grateful I found Sombra. Getting to share so many things with him... I..." Something sprang into Luna's mind; her eyes lit up, and she sighed. That pale smile — too real and emotional for Celestia to look at for long — graced her muzzle briefly and boldly before vanishing. "Still, marriage is... I love it, but Tia, if you are to ever consider it—"

She never had.

"—know that it is lovely, but there are so many difficulties, though I know Sombra was the right pony."

The nervous rubbing and the mention of 'difficulties' in a martial context had Celestia at sudden, rapt attention. Her eyes were alert and astonished, and some of the haze from slumber and earlier that night had vanished.

"Difficulties?" Celestia repeated.

Luna's bottom lip quivered, sparks of rapid thoughts struggling to be made into words shining in her eyes. "I-It's nothing like what you think! I—"

Celestia lit her horn quickly and held the scratching foreleg. "If that is so, then why have I been seeing these on you?"

In the light of Celestia's magic, a few faded bruises stood out in the soft light. Celestia could not bear to hold Luna's leg in her own hooves, because then her trembling would be all the more apparent. There was something so bewitching about those bruises that Celestia was unable to look away.

She knew that when these bruises were present, they were like some sort of afterthought against Luna's dark coat alongside the dapples of her cutie mark. They were in rumors too and had to be one of the reason Luna's eyes lit up. Right before a heart-rattling crack of lightning drowned out her whole room like a flash-bang spell, Celestia saw that Luna's eyes were fearful and heard her daughter whimper.

Celestia's heart leaped painfully and the echo of the crackling lightning still stung her ears. She was not entirely sure that her room was still, but she was certain of the sight before her.

Luna had broken down in tears again, and her imposing form had splintered entirely. She had wrenched her foreleg from Celestia's magic, and now only clouds and rain still lasted. Even the relentless wind had lessened its might to make way for the incessant battering of the rain.

"Luna, why didn't you tell me—"

"It's not what you think! I just forget to heal them! You know these are minor bruises!" Luna interrupted so emotionally, teary eyes desperate for her to listen. Instead of the intimidating figure of divinity, now Celestia saw Luna at a level of fear and upset rarely even to her. Even her stance was an unusual level of vulnerability. Celestia thought Luna's position sprawled across her bed sheets was like some pleading pilgrim.

She wanted to defend her obscene union. That had Celestia reaching for thoughts of the mask that was currently beyond her. Heavens knew she needed it.

"In no circumstances should he ever hit you!" Celestia asserted, but her voice deceived her. It came out clogged with anxiousness and trembling.

"I know! Sister, this is an accident, and it always is!"

"At the rate, these marks are appearing, how can they possibly be an accident?!"

"Tia, must I beg for you to listen to m-me? N-None of this is what you think, I swear upon the stars!" Her breathing quickens, and she looks to her leg, at the small bruise upon it with the clear trace of a hoofprint in it. Luna was right about them being minor. Celestia had to squint at them fiercely in the dark. "They are not as frequent as you think, that is all but a cruel rumor. There are some I do not think to heal because of how slight they are, and others I miss... I... I'm sorry."

"That doesn't tell me how you get those."

Celestia saw Luna swallow and rub at her leg's bruises in the dark. "Sometimes, Sombra fights the things he sees in his nightmares. He screams and argues with those who are not there. During them, there are times when he'll lash out. He w-would never do this intentionally. Stars know I can't convince him enough that it isn't his fault."

Celestia blinked, stunned and confused in equal measure. "He has night terrors...?" 'From what?' she left unsaid.

Luna nodded. "Being called to the nightmares of somepony familiar saddens me, yet being called to the nightmares of my husband..." She sniffles. "Tia, do you know what seeing his traumas can feel like? I wish he would let me help him through all of them."

All dread had dissipated from Celestia, but uncertainty and apprehension had not. There was a grim relief that came with the knowledge Sombra did not batter Luna about and all rumors were truly just that. Though, to think of Sombra in such a vulnerable state was unimaginable. Luna had married a basket case unable to deal with his own darkness. What other way was there to put it? He was a dark product's aftermath, a violent sort of vileness, and he brought whatever happened on himself, didn't he?

Heavens know that anything that happened to Sombra now was something that he deserved, for such a struggle was unbelievable. He was a byproduct of dark sorcery, not a victim. Still, she listened because not even Sombra could stop her from caring about her family.

"Can't you find your own way into his dreams? Luna, that sounds quite easily fixed."

"No, things are far more complicated than that. He also has not given me consent to view all his nightmares. I do not all that they contain, only most of them."

Isn't that a good thing? Celestia thought, a concerned furrow spreading across her brow and a hazy ache in her head.

Luna must've read the question right on Celestia's naked face because her withers drooped. "That makes it no better for me. Som tells me nearly everything, and I still think that the real nightmare is when he wakes up, sister. Why else would he wake up unsettled and staring at something that isn't there? I give him enough space, and he spends an hour taking a cold shower and speaking only in pragmatic near-whispers to me. Those are his sick mornings, Celestia. He is not lazy, his mind needs care so that on those mornings we can decide if he is fit for performing his duties."

That was what Sombra did with its 'sick days'? Just what was wrong with it, and what had disturbed it so? She did recall that there were days when she could remember Sombra collecting paperwork late because of those days and that something had been doubly distant behavior-wise, and there had felt like less than silence was exchanged between them.

"Luna," Celestia whispered, "is Sombra ill?"

Luna reached up towards her mane and nervously ran her forehooves through it. "I would use no such words for him, but if you mean what I think you do, aye. He is. His diagnoses are not given out lightly."

Diagnoses? Celestia's ears perked up. "...What does he have?"

Luna's eyes narrowed just a bit, and she rubbed at the tear stains on her cheeks. "They are private... and as I suspected. I wish I had anything new to say about his health, but I am afraid all we received was a confirmation. Some conditions are still being ruled out."

Luna was an insistent mare, and while not disagreeable like Sombra she was not agreeable as Celestia was. She did not react with tolerance to situations where ponies would want her to, and Celestia would see fit to lather something with the stuff. Celestia allowed substandard to pass where it should with smiles, head-pats, and such. Luna was not one to permit mediocrity, whereas Celestia was skeptical of eccentricities past a certain threshold.

Thus Celestia had not fought with her when Luna had proclaimed that she wanted to find a professional to 'help' Sombra. Celestia had not even bothered to remind herself that 'help' is not the word she would use for what Sombra needed, or the obvious issue: trying to get effective treatment for an immortal was an experimental endeavor not guaranteed to work.

(Celestia knew all too well, and of course, Luna did too. She would have given close to anything for Luna to have been able to access help once she had learned of the woe of the Tantabus.)

(How would things have been different then? Would Luna be a normal and socially-adjusted mare? Would she have met Sombra at all...?)

Instead, She had only expressed skepticism that going outside the country discreetly every few months to take Sombra to appointments with royal errands as a cover might be too costly, especially when it came to negotiating with whatever leader was going to have to permit this.

Luna had been disappointed to hear such a thing, and that meant Celestia had to sit through Luna's sharp words regarding the mental health system. Of course, she was right: the Equestrian mental health system would be a bad fit for Sombra. Though, maybe Luna had different reasons for thinking so than Celestia. Her thoughts lingered on what would really be done with him. Upon learning he was a demon, no self-respecting practitioner would let Sombra continue to seek treatment. Whatever professionals Luna took Sombra to when it came to matters of their future foal likely had ties to her private health staff, and would have no need to 'betray' Sombra's nature. To any other who 'treated' him, with Sombra being so clear a threat to society there would be a legal obligation to out him to the guard, especially if he admitted to a crime.

And if they didn't? Aside from how treasonous such a thing was, there would be little that could be done for him if he were kept as a patient. As an immortal, therapy could easily prove ineffective if it was done wrong, and medications could end up with disastrous results given his unique chemistry and magical powers, which were important to factor into any prescription. An individual like Sombra — violent, angry, moody, and so on — would not be given many legitimate dosages either. Even a treasonous practitioner who did not out him would recognize what should be done and prescribe him enough of anything to lower his functionality and put his mind in a fog, lest he act upon his nature as a clear aberration... or worse.

Celestia frowned, mind whirring with the pulse of worry. She remembered how happy Luna had looked when she confided that she found somepony in Germaneigh who was willing to see Sombra and Sombra was willing to interact with. Luna thought the latter was very important, but Celestia did not bother to externally express how she disagreed. She really just hoped that investing in long-distance teleportation to that degree was worth it.

"Will he be dangerous to ponies?" Celestia asked, unable to keep a faint edge of sternness from her tone. How could she when the safety of her subjects might be on the line? Fine, Luna could keep her pet project of a prince and spouse until she was tired of him, but Celestia would not allow any part of it if it hurt those who mattered more.

"Ponies are more likely to be a danger to him than he is to them, especially if it is you and you keep doing what you're doing."

Offended and hurt, Celestia gasped. "Luna!"

Luna scowled, rubbing away the last of her tears. "If you think that I will allow you to do any more of that you are wrong."

Celestia ducked her gaze shamefully and modestly. "I'm sorry."

In response, Luna fidgeted nervously, her own eyes now downcast as she played with her mane. There was something in her eyes that Celestia had seen enough to recognize, or that was what she hoped.

Often, there were times she wished she was mortal. She desired this partly because then she would have some god to pray to who might grant the wish that she might one day be able to understand Luna.

"Luna?" Celestia prompted gently, a hesitant and motherly quality in her voice.

She peered into the light of her horn and the edge of the shadows where Luna had retreated. Luna had flinched at Celestia's voice, still so obviously upset regardless of how obscured she was.

"Is there something else bothering you?"

Silence.

Knowing Luna, that might be some kind of confirmation, but she had no chance to ask.

"Tia, since I have returned you have told me many times how you promise to support me. In all that I am most sure of, devoted to, and love you have not supported me in the slightest. Or..." She turned even further away from Celestia, mane spilling into her face, "...you have lied to me. Do you really intend to support me? Have you actually cared about what matters to me?"

"L-Luna, I..."

"No, don't you 'Luna' me in this! Have you meant anything you've said to me? Do really care about me as a sister?"

I care about you as my daughter and would do anything to not lose you again. How could you think that I didn't care?

"Of course I do! Luna, what has gotten into you?"

Luna whimpered faintly, and that's when Celestia knew that her frantic tone was far more demanding than it should have been and that she had spoken wrong.

"Luna, what are you afraid of?" She lowered her voice even further, reaching out a hoof and wanting Luna to take it.

"Please, tell me."

Now Luna had her wings brought up to her face and was hiding, as she often had when she was young and heard heated arguments. At her youngest, Tia had always rushed to comfort the little one, thinking in her own youthful ignorance that Luna's heart was too big for her body and some other host of poorly cobbled-together notions. When she had grown older and lived under Starswirl's roof, Solara knew Luna was a crybaby...

"Please don't cry again," Celestia said, though she heard no tears.

Slowly, the barrier of dark feathers was peeled away. Layer by layer went away until Celestia could see Luna's face again. Luna winced at Celestia's horn-light and was slouched forward morosely. How was it that their fights always fell into such awful patterns, and Luna was so prone to ending up in Celestia's shadow time after time?

Did Luna feel horrified by this dynamic too? Was she just as scared as Celestia felt herself to be, knowing some worm of doubt was buried in her breast?

"I..."

At the sound of Luna's melodic ears, Celestia's ears were perked and ready to hear every word. "Yes?" she said, whisper-soft and trying to let the tiniest encouraging smile stick on her bare face. How awkward her muzzle felt!

"I-I'm asexual."

"...What?" Had she heard that right? Did she remember to listen? Were her ears clean?

"Asexual," Luna repeated, wincing. The poor baby. This wasn't the reaction Luna wanted, was it? "I... It means I d-don't—"

"Luna, I know what it means. I'm just..."

Asexual? While not anything Celestia was very familiar with, it was impossible not to be aware of, even if it was a minority. She was over three thousand years old, and Celestia had seen nearly everything, for better or worse. This was nothing to bat an eye at in itself.

But Luna? Luna was asexual? Celestia couldn't even say that 'asexual' was the last thing she had guessed Luna was, because she hadn't even considered it in the first place. How could Luna be asexual? What was there that could have given her away? Even the idea of Luna being straight was mind-boggling!

"Is something wrong, sister?" Luna asked fearfully.

"No," Celestia assured her immediately. "Nothing is wrong... I'm just very surprised to hear this."

"Really?" Luna whispered, cocking her head to the side. "Why is that?"

Oh, Celestia thought, noting Luna's expression, she actually expects an answer.

"I... Luna, how long have you known?" Could this be a recent discovery Luna made?

Luna frowned thoughtfully. "I think I might have always known. Spending time at the Unicorn Court made it so apparent to me, even if I did not consider there might be some name for what I felt. I think that was when I really knew."

That's... That's over eleven centuries! "Why didn't you tell me?" Celestia asked hurriedly, lest her flabbergasted thoughts keep rolling.

Luna looked down shyly. The question had quite a few easy answers, and those that they both knew were uncomfortable, but had thankfully been acknowledged before.

"Sister, I never had a reason to disclose something so private to you. Every time I thought I might tell you, or tried to, you never really listened."

"Luna, I'm sorry... So, you are asexual, but...?" Celestia's thoughts felt like fuzz inside her head. This whole subject was a perplexing one, and she found her forehooves getting all wound up in her blankets as she failed to string words together.

"But what, Celestia?" Luna asked, tilting her head to the side.

"...You love stallions?"

Luna flicked an ear. "I love Sombra, and though it is complicated, I can say I feel such affection towards stallions."

Celestia felt her whole form, and even the rippling of her mane sag slightly. "I see... may I ask you something else?"

Luna nodded, shadows playing across her face.

Did Twilight ever stand a chance?

"Do you like mares too?"

Luna's muzzle wrinkled, a perplexed glint in her eyes. "Stallions are immensely preferable to them, but I suppose mares are okay."

"So... when Twilight came calling did you turn away because she was a mare?"

Two blue eyes blinked back at Celestia with astonishment. "Aye, I think that certainly influenced it. I've never felt an iota of attraction for her, and we have frustratingly little to agree about and next to nothing in common. Though, I find it impossible to love somepony who sees me as a history project. I think she looks at the world like one of her little reports for you, or as fuel for some scientific-arcane discovery. Sister, I know you love her so much, but she's never made me feel like anything short of an unwilling social pet project for the studies you've assigned her. Am I truly to feel anything for the plain little student who looks at me like I am supposed to be some sultry temptress, whether she'll admit that she wants that of me or not?"

"Luna, I don't think—"

"No, sister, you do not see. The mare is not as innocent as you think she is. Twilight Sparkle is like a daughter to you, is she not? Aside from her not respecting me, I cannot help but feel ill at her past attempts to date me, for that would be like attempting relations with my own niece had anything ever been mutual between us. She reminds me too much of a child; I simply couldn't hurt somepony like that."

Celestia's heart plummeted in her chest. "Luna, that's rather rude."

Luna frowned disapprovingly in her direction. "It is rude to think that respect should be in the foundations of one's relationship, for one? She is not particularly rude, but that mare has been far from respectful toward me. I will not lie and say that she understands me remotely and my annoyances, or that she has accepted a refusal I have given her."

"You don't think that you owed Twilight the little date that I helped you two have some time ago?"

Luna's displeased expression was all too apparent, despite the darkness. "Sister, I was in a fragile place then and felt guilt-tripped. Disagreeing with you is nigh impossible. As grateful as I am for her enabling our reunion, I do not owe her anything. Thinking that would be unhealthy."

"B-But Luna! What about the Tantabus—" Celestia could not say that name without wanting to throw up, "—when Twilight said such kind things to you about forgiveness and letting go of guilt?"

"Oh sister," Luna said, a touch of frustration buried deep in her tone, "those were the words that I needed to hear at the time, regardless of who told them to me. What mattered not was who looked me in the eye to say such a thing, for Tirek himself could have spoken those words, and what followed would have still been my first step towards forgiving myself."

Dumbfounded, Celestia swallowed the growing lump in her throat and wished that she could bury herself in the guise of a princess again. Her head felt too light without her crown. "...Does Sombra support this?" she asked tentatively, "Your asexual identity?"

Her heartbeat had a nervous tempo to it; what answer could she expect?

Luna exhaled in relief and nodded eagerly. "More than anypony else. I'm not sure I could have adjusted to things so well without him and Cadance."

"He's been supportive of you?"

"In nearly everything, Tia. Stars, that stallion loves me even when I don't love myself."

One of Celestia's ears flicked nervously, and she inwardly chided herself for allowing such a gesture. "What could possibly be the exception to his support?"

Luna gave a sigh so dreary in sound that Celestia nearly flinched hearing it. "I desperately want to be a ruler who is just and active."

Whatever happened to being a ruler that was good and adored? Celestia thought sourly.

"The treatment of ponies grates upon me. I know that to make the world a better place, I must endure them and all their follies. Yet, my mind strays to what this could cost my husband, myself, and my future child. Could I bear to have a family in such brewing toxicity, regardless of the authority I hold over these ponies? They harm my beloved, though he is strong and knows far worse things, and my own subjects could seek to do ill to my child. I am not their mere public servant, I am their princess, and the greatest difference lies between such ranks. They do not hold me here, and if my well-being and that of my family call for it, why should I not cast off this crown and live as I wish? That thought, and so many more like it, have been plaguing my mind and invading my thoughts terribly recently."

"L-Leave!" Celestia sputtered. "Leave Equestria? I...!" Dozens of half-formed protests flooded Celestia's mind and clogged her. She wanted to urge Luna to do no such thing and remind her of every duty that the crown demands. She could not shirk such a thing! How was it that such a thought could have ever entered Luna's mind and not made her feel crippled by guilt? What was this madness, and who could Luna possibly be if she was not a princess of Equestria? Who and what could either of them be if they were not princesses?

Luna's gaze roamed somewhere Celestia's frantic mind could not ascertain. Her hooves were shaking, and her heart trembled with it. Her baby was going to abandon her. If she didn't do something her baby was going to leave...

"I have thought of this and pondered plans. This became more rooted in reality than I would have ever wanted the idea to become, and I have discussed such a thing with Sombra on multiple occasions. He has talked me out of this every single time, Celestia. Sometimes, I wish he didn't. I know he doesn't like it here, and he never does so for his own sake. Curse that clever stallion for coming up with reasons to stay, because he does. I married an intellectual and a stubborn one at that! I suppose this is how I pay for such a thing." Luna laughed so grimly that Celestia's stomach flip-flopped at the sound.

"Luna..." Celestia croaked. "W-Why didn't you say anything?"

"I was going to, but that wasn't going to stop anything. I am not bound to live with my sister in her pretty mountainside city forever and play princess with her. Need I remind you that though I can stand within your shadow easily, I am a grown mare? I'm not sure I should have let him talk me out of things too, not when I found out about what you were doing to him. Knowing that he still tried to get me to stay in Equestria with you when you tormented him is downright abominable."

"Yes," Celestia whispered, throat aching, "I know it is. Are you still going to l-leave me?"

"Stars, Celestia. I will do no such thing, but there are always plans. Can we discuss matters reasonably together and make things better? I know we are... not always the sisters we should be, but you are still my sister, Tia. That means more to me than any kingdom could, and if I can accept your relationship with Discord, you can come to terms with my marriage to Sombra."

One indigo foreleg was stretched in her direction, offering forgiveness and familial love. Nervous sweat droplets gathered under Celestia's mane, towards the base of her neck. Her throat was tight with guilt. Against any shred of composure that lingered in her mind, her face burned with a fraction of the shame that she was starting to feel so overwhelmed with.

Even the pinpricks of thought — nagging whispers with their flurries of worry, self-scorn, and Luna is making this out to be so much worse than it is and overreacting again — were pushed to the shadowy borders of her mind. She felt the involuntary tears welling up in the corners of her eyes begin to trickle down her face.

"Luna, I am so sorry. I will be polite with him—"

"That will not be enough, sister."

"I will be kind to him—"

"Kindness is never enough. Sister, those words are empty."

"Luna, p-please! What is it that I can do?" Her hooves gripped bunches of blankets, and Celestia was surprised to realize that it was she who was shaking and not the world.

There was still rain.

"Listen to me. That is what you can do. What you did was terrible, and I am appalled at what you've done. Sombra did something wrong, too."

"What is it that you want then? Luna, I will do—"

"I want you to try and befriend Sombra. Whether you succeed or fail, I care not. I do want you to really try. That means really getting to know him as Sombra, and not what your idea of him is, or as the prince, you work with. I want you to start taking your noon breaks with him for coffee and lunch. Now that Raven has resigned, I do not think that will be much of a problem. Any miscommunications you have with him can likely be solved with communication. I know I am poor with such a thing, but I know that you aren't."

Celestia looked back to Luna with wide, pleading eyes. "Why must you ask this of me?"

She already felt guilty knowing that some of her actions had contributed to Luna wanting to leave Equestria and negatively impacted what little support she had, as saddening as that source could be.

"I think that the greatest punishment for you would be to be kind to him, and the greatest for him would be to spend time around you."

A chill ran down Celestia's spine. That was quite the punishment, even if she would not admit it. Perhaps Luna already saw it in her eyes.

"Provided you and Sombra are willing to learn anything, this will be no punishment. Celestia, can you agree to try this? Sombra already has, though he is far from pleased."

Together, Celestia and Luna sat in silence. Celestia felt her skin itch peculiarly where Luna let her stern stare fall.

There were many times when Celestia knew that Luna was the young one she expected, ingenuous, quiet, and moody in a way all too typical of a child. Then there were the times when Luna had another face she presented to the world, and to Celestia. Her reserved, often stern, and pervasive asocial state could easily give way to a state both intimidating and striking in her bouts of authoritative behavior.

In the cracks of the latter, Celestia knew that the same extreme frustrations and despair could hide the spirit from which Nightmare Moon had grown.

Celestia could see it, even if she did not ever want to, especially not in the pony who was her closest family.

In over three thousand years, Luna was the one who remained full of surprises. Celestia resented this when the notion marched into the forefront of her mind and squatted there, for every unexpected thing was just proof that in all those years she didn't understand this mare, or that she was understanding her less than she must've at some point. Luna — the mare who proclaimed that she did not change or believe in such a thing while laughing — was more a riddle to Celestia than she could have ever been.

What was she to do? Could she continue to sit so before Luna and be the only one to know her heart was trembling? Was she to remain with the absence of words clogging her throat and offering no helpful answer?

"Of course, I agree," she said. Her pale face still felt naked, so she knew her mask had not returned, but Celestia really wished that those words could at least sound as she had spoken to them. Her body did not seem to recognize them, and her mind knew that they were hers, but why couldn't she really feel like she said them?

Even Luna's look of relief did not ease her the way she wished it would. All she found herself doing was marveling at how light her head was starting to feel as Luna lit her horn with such a subtle glow and managed to fade into the shadows with her light to teleport without even a pop. She was usually unnerved by such gestures of stealth from Luna because being startled was no pleasant surprise, but there were times when she let her attention stray to how Luna wove her magic.

When Celestia was certain Luna lingered not, she realized that the rain's racket was now a gentle pitter-patter... and that she was alone.

Alone.

A sigh jabbed at her throat. Frustrated whispers bubbled up at the edge of her mind and prodded at her focus, and a wave of shame persisted with it.

Whatever happened, she could not lose Luna. That was why she agreed. Following the path of least resistance yielded far fewer consequences and catastrophes. Negotiation won over ambition, and unity over division. If she must apply basic princess lessons to Luna, then so be it.

None of this absolved her of the choice that Celestia knew she would have to make. No matter how dire or varied the situation, she was not ever free of the two-fold path and the absolutes she always had to pick between.

While she was gifted with them being specially clear in her mind, that made no option less wretched in what the outcomes could promise.

Celestia could choose to do the good thing and uphold the eternal and unwavering principles she knew to be higher than herself. All she would have to do would be to go back upon her word and condemn what she knew was wrong, and more similar deeds. She would have her nation's approval, of that she was reasonably certain. Any remaining frustrations could be successfully vented upon Sombra, too, though she found that admission to be vile, no matter how conscious of it she was. Inevitably, she would break Luna's heart, not support her as she should, and be exposing all under her own mask once and for all, if things were to proceed as she anticipated. Only the knowledge that she had the moral high ground could survive.

The thought of that had her stomach quake with gut-wrenching terror. She might as well strip off her own skin and go strolling in the gardens if she wanted to even attempt to replicate even a fraction of how painful the fallout and process of the dutiful option would be.

Or, if she went against everything moral, she could forge a bond with Sombra that would be false to the core, and she had no doubt that there would be insincerity on his side too. This loathsome choice would make Luna happier than anything, preserve all secrets, and... be going along with something completely wrong, that's what she would be doing.

She would be sacrificing something in either option if she knew which to choose in the first place.

Author's Note:

[Revised for print on 4/2/2023-4/2/2023]

Honestly, the most frustrating part of this chapter was trying to figure out what the plural of 'harpax' was. I wasn't able to find one I was certain of, so I took the liberty of substituting an alternate name for the weapon as the plural. Sue me.

Also, Luna is a precious asexual bab who has finally come out to big sis. It only took her like three thousand years, hooray!

Small edits were made before publishing, so the word count doesn't match the one I promised in my blog.