• Published 30th Dec 2011
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Composure - Varanus



What could be revealed when the mask called composure slips? Twilight and Celestia romance

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Chapter 2 - Confrontation

Composure

by Varanus

A MLP:FiM fanfiction.

~{C}~

Chapter 2 - Confrontation

~{C}~

Emerging from the haze of sleep, Celestia blearily opened her eyes. Yawning, she lifted her head from her pillow before tensing up. ‘Where am I?

“Princess Celestia? Are you awake?” a blessedly familiar voice asked hesitantly. The princess looked in the direction of the voice to see her student, Twilight Sparkle, standing at the doorway, giving her a concerned look.

“T-Twilight, where –?” Celestia began, before flinching as a headache unexpectedly throbbed beneath her skull.

Twilight noticed the flinch immediately. “Ah, right! Hold on a second, Princess!” Her horn glowed and a small bag of water floated into the air. She concentrated and the water froze instantly. One last push of magic crushed the ice into slush, contained within the waterproof bag. Pleased, she levitated the bag over to Celestia, resting it on her forehead.

Relief from the throbbing pain came instantly in cooling waves. The princess sighed blissfully. “Oh, that is much better...”

“I thought it would be,” said Twilight, smiling and trotting over to Celestia’s bedside. She hopped up slightly, resting her forehooves on the rail of the hospital bed, and fixed her mentor with a concerned look. “So, how do you feel? Are you still disorientated?”

Celestia pulled her mind away from basking in the ice bag’s soothing coolness. She cast her mind back, piecing together what had happened. ‘I’m in a hospital... I woke up here yesterday, didn’t I? And... and I thought that...’ “I remember waking up here, and finding you, yes,” she nodded, and smiled apologetically. “Nothing before that, I’m afraid. How long was I asleep?”

“Most of the night, which is good,” said Twilight. “Best way to cure a concussion is to just sleep it off. I was worried you were going to wake up disorientated after an hour like earlier.”

“I was only asleep an hour last time?” Celestia asked, surprised.

The unicorn shook her head. “Not even.” Her eyes glanced at a clock on the wall as she figured out the timeframe. “Let’s see, sunset was at seven, then y-you...” Pausing, she swallowed a lump in her throat. Celestia said nothing, letting the unicorn silently push past the memory. “I teleported us to the hospital then. You, Spike and I. You actually got up after about five minutes and asked for a place to rest, so they took you to a bed, but you only slept for about forty minutes before, well...” She chuckled ruefully. “It’s stupid, because logically I knew you were probably disorientated, but after I teleported us here, it was like you didn’t even see me. I thought you h-hated-”

Celestia didn’t even give her student a chance to finish the thought. “Twilight, I woke up battered and disorientated, and the first thing I did was seek you out.” She placed a hoof over Twilight’s. “You needn’t fear that my love is conditional.”

Twilight smiled widely, though something sad was glimmering at the back of her eyes. “I know. Logically, I do know, I’ve just been... I’ve b-been a bit of a wreck since the accident. You really scared me for a second, and you were acting so off afterwards...” She pulled her hooves from the bed and trotted over to her saddlebags. They opened magically and a hefty medical tome floated from it. “I mean, the book says that irritability is one of the symptoms of a concussion, so that explains that, aha...”

Celestia frowned, concerned. “I didn’t say something harsh, did I? If I did, I apologise.”

“Why, is there something you’re not telling me?” Twilight said, laughing a little nervously. Celestia wasn’t sure how much of it was meant as a joke. Her laughter limply petered out regardless as she rested the book back into her saddlebag. “Don’t worry about it. You didn’t do anything wrong, except for trying to raise the sun even when the castle medics told you to rest. Nothing worth remembering...”

Celestia nodded, resting her head back down onto the pillow, being careful not to dislodge the icepack resting behind her horn. Shutting her eyes, she focused on that coolness and eased her breathing in order to soothe her mind, entering a state of peace. It was an old piece of unicorn meditation that she could call up at any moment, so well-versed she was in using it. Taking care to simply bask in its warmth rather than reach out and grasp it, she searched for her connection to the sun. To her immense relief, it greeted her like an old friend.

“It is... three in the morning?” Celestia hazarded a guess based on the sun’s position on the other side of the globe. She saw a clock on the wall which read two-thirty, causing her to frown. ‘This headache must be putting me off,’ she grumbled internally. She paused, and suddenly felt foolish. ‘Why didn’t I just check the clock in the first place...?

She heard Twilight mumble something. “Okay, I definitely think I screwed things up here...”

Celestia looked over from her hospital bed, seeing her student peeking out of the small window, tugging the binds aside with her magic. “Why do you say that?” she asked.

Twilight let the blinds snap back in place. “There’s a crowd of reporters outside the hospital. I’m guessing news spread fast that you were hospitalized, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t panicked and teleported you here in the first place.”

“I for one find it commendable you acted so quickly to aid a loved one,” the princess said with a soft smile.

Twilight blushed and scuffed at the floor sheepishly. “Still, I should have known to trust the castle’s medical staff.” The lavender mare dropped her head slightly. “Magic needs a cool head, I could have made things worse when I teleported...”

“Then that’s the next lesson you should learn.” Celestia suddenly had to stifle a yawn. She was still so tired! “But you can’t blame yourself for this, Twilight,” she continued after a moment. “When something happens to the royalty, things become sensationalised. When something involves an alicorn, things become escalated." She paused once more, deep in thought. “If word has gotten out, we should be candid and reassure the populace. Can you see which reporters are there?”

“I don’t know one reporter from another, Princess,” the unicorn said, glancing back through the blinds.

“Well, do you spot an Earth pony with a blonde mane –” Celestia began, before pausing as a thought struck her. ‘Light?’ she asked silently. A wave of warmth spread over her like a blanket and she smiled. “Twilight, come here, I want to show you something.

She trotted towards her bed once again, looking curious as to why Celestia was smiling so secretively. “What is it?”

“Well...” Celestia began. “Yesterday, I discovered something. We’ve known for a long time the magical properties of sunlight, yes?”

Twilight nodded. “Light is the source of magic, because it feeds all life,” she said, as if reciting from a textbook. She probably was, Celestia mused. “It soaks into Equestria’s soil and saturates the land with magical power, which all ponies tap into in different ways. For Unicorns, sunlight is a boon to all magic, particularly growing, transformation and transmigration magic, while moonlight is subtle and lends itself towards illusional, emotional and dream magic.”

“Precisely, Twilight,” her mentor said with a nod, pleased and a little amused by the unicorn’s thorough answer. “The sun is the root of magic, but the moon’s closer proximity allows it to affect the tides of mysticism in subtle ways, much like it affects the tides of the ocean each day.” She tapped her hoof to her chin in thought. “In fact, I suspect a renaissance of dream and illusion magic is approaching now that Luna has returned to her duties.” She chuckled and shook her head. “But that’s neither here nor there. Observe.”

The wall lit up as a circle of light fell against it. “Princess, no magic!” Twilight said sternly.

Celestia grinned. “I’m not doing anything.” Turning to the patch of light on the wall, she politely asked, “Could you show me what the crowd outside looks like?”

The light quickly shifted to an image of a small crowd of reporters milling around just outside the hospital. She recognised a few, such as the Earth pony she had asked of earlier, a grey Earth pony mare with a blue-tinted mane, and a white pegasus with a rose mane and a scroll as a cutie mark. “Dime Dozen, Snazzy Scoop... and somepony from the Equestria Daily,” Celestia remarked. “My, word has spread.”

Twilight was more interested in the projection itself rather than the ponies it displayed. “Is this some sort of scrying spell?” She glanced at Celestia’s horn, confused. “B-but you’re not using magic, so how are you doing this?”

“I’m not!” the princess replied playfully. “Last night, when I woke up and discovered I was cut off from the sun, I became somewhat desperate. So, with the same powers I’ve used every day to move the sun, I reached out and asked the light I had shepherded to Equestria for help... and it answered.”

“Sentient light?” an awestruck Twilight asked.

Celestia thought about it. “Hmm... no, I wouldn’t quite say sentient. But it has memory, certainly. It remembered me and helped me find you. Now, it seems to recognise my voice...”

The lavender unicorn raised an eyebrow. “And you just discovered it yesterday?”

“I never had cause to discover it before yesterday,” Celestia admitted, smiling at her student warmly. “Wonders never cease, it seems.”

The moment was broken by a knock on the door, which opened without waiting for a reply. Both mares were a little surprised to see Spike poke his head in, since they had been expecting a much taller doctor or guard pony. “Oh hey, Princess, you’re up!” he grinned, and then glanced back out the door. “Uh, there’s one of the Palace Guards here for ya. He’s been here a while now.”

Celestia nodded. “Alright, could you be a dear and send him in for me?” she asked politely. She glanced over to the wall projection, willing it to vanish.

The baby dragon grinned, not noticing the light blip out. “Sure thing!”

Celestia adjusted herself in her bed, settling just as the gold-clad guard walked into the hospital room, followed by a silver-clad Night Guard. “Your Majesty? It’s good to see you awake and well. Are you up to moving?” the palace guard asked.

“I believe so, Captain Steel Wing,” the princess smiled, recognising her trustworthy guard.

Steel Wing nodded. “Princess Luna will be relieved. We’ve arranged a chariot to bring you back to the castle.”

“In the middle of the night?” Twilight frowned.

“It’s best if we keep this incident relatively quiet, to avoid alarming the populace,” the Palace Guard replied. The Night Guard rolled her eyes but said nothing.

“Excuse me, officer,” Celestia addressed the silver-clad unicorn, having caught her expression. “What is your name?”

The guard started, nervous. “Oh! Officer Bright Shield, your majesty! I apologise for...”

“Expressing an opinion?” Celestia said wryly. Bright Shield bit her lip, sheepish at the princess’ knowing look as she continued. “So then, Officer Bright Shield. I would like to hear you voice that opinion. It is clearly a powerful one.”

Bright Shield glanced nervously at the princess, then, surprisingly, at Twilight. It took the lavender mare a second before she realised the guard was looking to her for some sort of affirmation. Did she think the princess was playing a game here? Since when did Twilight become some sort of royal liaison? Feeling somewhat strange at the thought, the lavender mare nodded encouragingly.

“Well, Princess,” Bright Shield began carefully. “Word has already gotten out. Not many were in the hospital foyer when you and Miss Sparkle appeared, but there were enough. Now, the Night Guard has remained vigilant and tight-lipped about everything, but paparazzi have shown up regardless. I strongly recommend having a few words with the ones out there, unless you want the front page on every newspaper in Equestria to be speculating how long it will be until the horn rot sets in completely or how soon it will be before the dragon ninjas that attacked you will wait before striking Luna as well.” Pausing, the Night Guard mare caught the Palace Guard’s sceptical look. “Hey, don’t look at me like that. Those are actually the going theories.”

“It would be best to reassure the populace then.” Celestia nodded in understanding. “Still, although my injuries weren’t very severe I’ve been having concentration problems, so something tells me an interview wouldn’t be wise...”

“Not to mention we still don’t know how the experiment went wrong...” Twilight mentioned.

The princess cleared her throat, coming to a decision. “Steel Wing, bring the chariot out in front of the hospital so the ponies can see me as I leave. Bright Shield, please announce that I won’t be taking questions or making any statements.” She smiled, amused. “Instead, tell them that we’ll be having a press conference at a more reasonable hour.”

Both guards snapped a salute and exited the room. Once the door closed, the princess began to rise from the bed, pushing the covers off and gingerly stepping off. Twilight stood ready to catch her should her legs fail, but mercifully Celestia found she was able to stand steadily. She took a few experimental steps forward, her hooves gently clicking on the floor as she moved.

“Don’t push yourself too hard...” Twilight warned in a worried tone.

Celestia smiled. “I need to do this, at least,” she explained, walking carefully towards a chair where her regalia were neatly stacked. “I’ve given the ponies a scare; they need to see me walk out of this hospital under my own power.”

The unicorn frowned. “And how are you going to hide your burn? It’s not exactly inconspicuous.”

Celestia glanced at her side once more and regarded the jagged strips of bare skin with a note of sadness. She could tell the burn had already started to heal, but it was such a shame to see her coat in such a state. She wasn’t a vain being, but nopony could deny she had pride... but more than that, how could she let her ponies see such an obvious crack in the icon they placed so much faith in?

The solution to the problem was obvious, of course. “Oh, I have an idea or two...” Celestia answered Twilight playfully. Seeing her questioning look, the princess leaned conspiratorially towards her student. “Would you like to know one of the greatest benefits I have as Princess of Equestria?”

She had to struggle to keep herself from giggling when Twilight’s eyes went wide with wonder. “It would be an honour, Princess!” the lavender mare gushed.

Celestia smiled sweetly. “I find the greatest benefit is the privilege of having the most powerful and talented unicorn in the history of Equestria as my personal protégé.”

Twilight’s brows furrowed, and Celestia could practically hear her about to ask ‘who?’ before comprehension dawned across her features. “O-oh,” she muttered, failing to suppress a wide, bashful smile at the praise.

Celestia smiled teasingly and lifted her wing so Twilight could better see the burn. “Why, I daresay it would be well within her abilities to hide a blemish such as this, don’t you think?”

The unicorn’s expression shifted, and by the look of her eyes, Celestia knew Twilight had seen the unspoken challenge laid down in front of her. “Well...” the unicorn said thoughtfully, examining the jagged patch of red skin closely. “If it doesn’t have to stand to close scrutiny, then maybe I...” She paused, internally debating something, before glancing back up at her mentor. “I-I think I have an idea, but the illusion will be more convincing if I can layer more than just one sense onto it.” She hesitated, giving her mentor a quick glance, before tenderly nuzzling the white coat of her shoulder.

Celestia was a bit surprised by the not-unwelcome show of affection, but as the unicorn’s horn lit with magic it dawned on her what her student was attempting. Twilight inhaled deeply, and her horn surged with the magical light. A glittering aura spread over Celestia, little motes of light that quickly began to dance over her battered body. Twilight then exhaled, and the spell surged into the princess, enveloping her completely.

Celestia closed her eyes for a moment as the spell washed over her, opening her eyes just as Twilight did the same. “How do I look?” the princess asked teasingly. Twilight only gaped, her expression a mix of wide-eyed wonder and silent horror. Now feeling genuinely nervous about the spell’s results, Celestia glanced around for a nonexistent mirror before instead reaching out for the light. ‘If it’s not too trivial, may I...’ She didn’t even get a chance to finish the thought as her image appeared on the adjacent wall.

For a moment, she too was stunned, but then her eyes lit up with joy. “Oh... oh, Twilight... this is marvellous...”

~{C}~

Outside the hospital, the reporters refused to budge, much to Officer Bright Shield’s frustration. The grey mare recited her announcement for the umpteenth time through gritted teeth, that neigh, there would be no interviews, and neigh, the princess was not going to leave a comment. Her eye twitched as Dime Dozen began to needle her for details, and as loyal as she was to the princesses, she knew that the sooner Celestia hopped on her chariot and went home, the better.

Her relief was nearly palpable, then, when she heard clinking of the Palace Guard’s armour as they marched through the hospital doors. Ignoring the reporters’ excited chatter, she turned with the rest of her Night Guard colleagues to pay respect to their ruler’s presence – and promptly found her jaw, like theirs, hanging limp in awe.

The word had been used to describe her many times before, but never was the word more appropriate than this moment. Celestia was radiant. Her coat was pristine and white as a dove, soft and bright as if emitting a subtle glow. Her wings were open, wide and welcoming without a single feather so much as crooked, let alone singed. Her gait was slow and easy, and her head was held high and proud, smiling softly at her assembled subjects as her dawn-hued mane billowed majestically in the ethereal breeze. Like a dream, she crossed the short distance to the chariot and stepped lightly aboard, followed practically unseen by a lavender unicorn carrying a baby dragon on her back.

Princess Celestia gave the crowd a wave as the chariot lurched forward. Flanked by the Palace Guardsmen and lead by Captain Steel Wing, they soared into the night sky. In the wake of her absence, the trance Celestia’s vision-like appearance had set over the crowd slowly faded. There was a moment of stunned silence before the reporters collectively groaned – they had failed to take so much as a single photograph.

Bright Shield chuckled. ‘Well played, Your Majesty.’

~{C}~

Canterlot under the clear night sky was a wonder to behold, even more so after Luna’s return to her duties.

Twilight, however, found her hooves to be of far more interest.

A Perception Projection spell? Of all things, you cast a Perception Projection spell?!’ She groaned, refusing to look up lest the princess see the blush blazing across her features. ‘What exactly were you thinking when you cast a spell that makes others perceive what you perceive?!

It was a simple spell that did exactly what its name implied – it projected the spellcaster’s perception of an object or pony onto the object or pony itself. It was a parlour trick, taught to young unicorns everywhere as a thought exercise. Imagine that the blue ball is green, that sort of thing. It was simple to pull off, but hard to make look realistic, for obvious reasons – both powerful imagination, attention to detail and familiarity with the subject were needed.

Being Princess Celestia’s most faithful student, Twilight was obviously very familiar with the alicorn in question. It should have been elementary for her to just brush against her to familiarize herself with the texture of her mentor’s coat, and to simply layer the illusion over the burn.

Instead, Twilight wasn’t sure what had happened. She had brushed her muzzle against Celestia’s shoulder...

... feeling the rustle of her soft, pristine pelt, smelling of spiced soap and sandalwood, over strong, supple muscle, radiating a gentle power, a bastion of warmth and sleepy bliss...

... and the spell had slipped from her horn like a song, an ode to the princess, the mare she...

Twilight didn’t like the direction her thoughts were leading her. She really, really did not like it.

Because she already knew the only possible outcome.

I thought I left this behind me,’ she scolded herself, schooling her expression in an effort to prevent the princess beside her from catching wind of her stormy emotions. ‘But to be proven wrong by my own illusion... stupid. When other unicorns’ spells go wrong they fail horribly. But noooo, for me they go wrong by working even better than I ever needed... or wanted.’

~{C}~

In contrast to Twilight, Celestia could barely contain her mirth. ‘Oh, I really shouldn’t have done that...’ she thought guiltily, her hoof pressing against her mouth to smother an onset of giggles. It had been a sneaky trick, but in her defence she hadn’t exactly planned it, she had merely taken advantage of Twilight’s magnificent illusion and played it to its maximum potential. ‘Then again, I don’t plan most things I do,’ she reminded herself, still grinning. She had learned long ago that the best way to rule was to observe all possible variables in a situation and then to simply guide those myriad factors into the outcome she desired. When somepony – namely, herself – tried to directly control everything, things got... messy, for lack of a better word.

No, it is best to encourage mutual trust and loyalty in one’s subjects, so that everypony can live a prosperous life.’ Celestia finished her thought with a satisfied smile, before pausing. ‘Wait, what was I thinking about...?’ For the life of her she couldn’t remember how her train of thought had derailed into leadership philosophy. ‘This concussion is... very frustrating,’ she groaned internally. As she probed her mind, her eyes wandered to her student, whose eyes were fixed firmly on her own hooves.

“Are you afraid of heights?” Celestia asked playfully. “Don’t worry, if you fall, I’ll catch you.”

“You’re in no condition to fly and you know it, Princess,” Twilight reminded her, not playing along with the game. “Those feathers are just an illusion...”

Ah, right! The illusion!’ Her memory jogged, Celestia’s grin widened. “And what an illusion it is!” she said, admiring her pristine wings. ‘You know what? My wings are so pretty.’ In her opinion, since it was also complimenting her student’s skills, it was alright to indulge in a moment of vanity. “Spike, your verdict?”

“Lookin’ great, Princess,” the baby dragon agreed. “Twilight really outdid herself on this one!” The unicorn only shrank further down, studying the floor of the chariot with as much zeal as she would a brand new encyclopaedia.

“Are you embarrassed?” Celestia teased her student, dusting her wing along Twilight’s side. The lavender unicorn jolted in shock at the touch, and the princess found herself having to suppress another bout of giggles. “My, tonight you’re as jumpy as you are modest.”

Twilight bit her lip. “S-sorry, I just didn’t expect you to parade in front of everypony like that,” she explained.

“They expected a cripple. Best to defy prediction, I find,” Celestia said sagely, before once again admiring the shimmer of the illusion across her coat. “But really, Twilight, you’ve outdone yourself here. Elegant yet complex... is it an Inner Bloom spell?” She thought about it a moment, before dismissing the guess. “No, it’s only skin deep... a Duplicated Image from my coat, weaved with a Radiance spell? No, no, it only appears to radiate light, it’s all in my mind... hmm, not my mind per say... my, this is tough...”

As she continued to rattle off guesses as to the nature of the illusion, her student slowly lifted her head in disbelief. Unseen, her face was painted a mix of expressions, as if her heart was being painfully torn between relief and disappointment. “I’m not telling,” she said softly, looking straight ahead. If Celestia hadn’t been standing right beside her she might not have caught it.

“Pardon?” the princess asked.

“I’m not going to tell you about the spell,” the lavender mare said a little louder. “But maybe you’ll figure it out, eventually.”

Celestia frowned slightly. Not out of disappointment, but concern – it wasn’t like Twilight to act so down. On the unicorn’s back, Spike leaned forward. “Twilight?” he asked, worried about her tone. “Are you alright?”

She glanced back at him and gave him a reassuring smile. “I’m pretty tired, and the wind is hurting my eyes a little.” Sure enough, the young dragon could see a faint dampness around them.

The chariot began to descend over the lights of Canterlot, and Celestia looked up from her student to see the familiar sight of her castle below. “You’ve had a long day,” she said, enveloping both Twilight and Spike in a feathery embrace. Raising her head, she caught Captain Steel Wing’s attention. “Captain, despite my rest at the hospital I am still quite exhausted. Is there any pressing issue I must attend to upon my return?”

“Not at all,” the Pegasus guard replied, keeping up with the chariot easily. “I believe Princess Luna is attending court, so will I send for her when we arrive?”

Celestia smiled. “Please do. Although, would it be too much trouble to drop us off directly at my tower?”

“No trouble at all, your Majesty,” Steel Wings nodded, accelerating to the front and directing the movement of the chariot towards the tower in question. The castle loomed before them, and quick as a sparrow the Pegasus charioteers weaved through the golden towers and domes of building before alighting atop the bridge that joined the tallest tower, Celestia’s private quarters, to the rest of the castle.

Celestia, caught on a giddy whim, jumped playfully off the chariot. Her wings shot open to slow her decent, though it was shaky – her wings really were just for show at the moment. She landed before the tower doors, wobbling slightly as she fought for balance. Finding purchase on the rough marble, she turned back to the guardsmen - and stifled a bout of laughter when she saw the identical aghast expressions painted on everypony’s faces, including Steel Wing and Twilight. Her student in particular looked like she wanted to put her right back into the hospital, which Celestia could only think of as adorably hilarious. ‘If anypony asks, I can blame the head wound.’ In a heartbeat her mischievous smile shifted smoothly into a genuinely appreciative one. “Thank you so much for your concern and dedication, gentlecolts,” she thanked her guards.

As her student hopped down from the chariot with Spike in tow, Steel Wing gave her a cautious look, being the only pony besides Twilight to catch the princess’ playful, and thus for him troublesome, expression. “Will you require an escort?” he asked, eying her as she swayed slightly from side to side.

“I have one,” she replied, extending a wing to frame Twilight. “But thank you, all of you. You are all a credit to the crown.” She gave them a grateful bow, and the guards responded with a deep bow of their own. Rising, she smiled. “That will be all for tonight on my part, take care.”

The captain nodded and, together with the charioteers, took off into the night sky, heading for the castle barracks. Celestia smiled at her student. “Could you get the door?” Twilight glanced at the tower door – the heavy, double-height, foot-thick stone door. Smiling back, she nodded. Her horn glowing, she opened it with ease.

“I’m guessing I’m going to be relying on you quite a bit for the next few days,” Celestia said appreciatively to the lavender mare. To that, Twilight only smiled shyly.

~{C}~

As they walked through the tower towards her chambers, Celestia and Twilight chatted lightly, with Spike silently trying to stay awake. The princess was pleased to note she had successfully drawn her protégé from the shell she had fallen under on the chariot ride, and chalked it up to stress and fatigue. It had been a trying day for all of them, after all.

“I can’t believe how tired I am,” Celestia chuckled as she and Twilight walked past the final set of guards stationed outside the hall leading to her chambers. They snapped a salute, and she made a point of giving them an appreciative smile. “Thank you sirs.”

The two stallions stood a little prouder at the acknowledgement.

Twilight gave them a smile too as they passed, before glancing up with a wry smile at her mentor. “You’re tired? Princess, you just woke up barely twenty minutes ago!”

“I am an invalid, I am allowed to be however tired I wish in however much amount I please,” Celestia said in a mock-haughty tone, turning her nose into the air. “And as Princess, I decree that it is bedtime. I can’t wait to get back to sleep...”

Twilight suddenly let out a surprised yelp. Celestia gave her a half-concerned, half-amused look, which was returned with a sheepish smile on the part of the unicorn. She glanced onto her back where Spike was slumped, snoozing soundly. “I guess he couldn’t wait either. The day finally caught up with him, I suppose,” Twilight chuckled affectionately.

“Has he been up all this time?” Celestia asked.

“Well, he was worried about you,” Twilight replied. “And... and about me too. He’s been really great today.”

Celestia smiled at the sleeping dragon, touched by his concern. “You’d best get him to bed.”

Twilight nodded, turning. “I’ll just go get him settled in my room, then I’ll be back up, okay?”

“Your room?” the alicorn frowned, confused. “In the castle?”

Twilight paused, unsure of how to reply. “Um, yes, I-?”

“Sorry, right, you’ve been here a whole day,” Celestia sighed, rubbing her temple with a hoof. “Head injury. Amnesia. It seems it really does get the best of us.”

“You forgot that you forgot?” Twilight giggled teasingly.

Celestia chuckled, rolling her eyes. “Alright, alright, make fun of the invalid. I can see I’ve taught you well. You go on and tuck Spike in. I’ll be inside.”

Her student nodded and turned, quickly trotting back out towards the castle proper. Celestia watched her go until she turned a corner and disappeared from sight. Smiling to herself, she pushed the doors to her chambers open and strode inside.

Unbidden, the doors clicked shut behind her, too quickly and surely to merely be the wind. Somepony had closed it magically.

She wasn’t alone.

“Who’s there?” Celestia called into the shadows. Her horn glowed in preparation for a spell, but it fizzled as her migraine surged forward, unforgiving. Wincing, she paused and forced her panic to subside, just as the moon emerged from behind a cloud, letting light spill into her chambers.

Her sister was resting on her bed. Celestia released a relieved breath, before the memories of her nightmares rose within her mind, taunting her, warning her. Her mouth was suddenly very dry, but she forced her relentless panic back down once more. She had no reason to fear her sister. No reason at all.

Luna’s dark expression said otherwise, however. She rose and stepped down off the bed, fixing Celestia with her expressionless gaze. Her teal eyes scanned the white alicorn’s form, narrowing at Celestia’s pristine appearance. With a starlit glow of magic, Luna swept her sister’s radiant illusion aside like mist, revealing the true extent of her injuries.

Even though it was a mere mirage, without Twilight’s illusion Celestia suddenly felt very, very exposed. She opened her mouth to speak, but was silenced by a shake of her sister’s head. “You have your orders,” Luna said in a low voice.

Celestia’s eyes widened fearfully. “Orders?”

From the shadows, a dozen uniformed ponies emerged. The princess of the sun stiffened at the sight of them, their expressions solemn, the tools of their trade ready, and their purpose clear.

Like a wave crashing down on the rocks of the pier, the doctors descended upon Celestia.

The startled alicorn had to suppress a very inelegant squawk as she was surrounded on all fronts by the tapping, prodding, investigating ponyel. “Luna, what is –” She flinched as the cold head of a stethoscope was pressed against her. “What is all –” She winced as three doctors prodded her burnt side experimentally. “Did you gather the entire medical staff to –” Her head was jerked to the side as one of the doctors snatched an ear for examination. “I just got back from a hospital, why –” She paused, disturbed slightly as a flash of magic briefly darkened her body but illuminated her skeleton. “Luna, isn’t Court still –” She saw the thermometer float in front of her, and she gave the doctor before her a flat look. “My temperature? Really? I have a head injury, not a virus.”

Luna spoke for the doctor. “Celestia, I have ordered them to give you a thorough check-up, and that includes taking your temperature. Now, we can do it the easy way...” Luna’s gaze moved pointedly onto her sister’s flank. “Or we can do this the hard way.”

Faced with those options, Celestia instantly snatched the thermometer into her mouth and fixed her sister with an indignant glower. Luna paid it no mind, instead turning to the head of the medical team, an aged, grey-maned stallion. “Doctor Ramheart?” the moon princess asked. “Your diagnosis?”

The old Earth pony rifled through the notes the medical team had made before, nodding. “It seems her little excursion hasn’t had a negative effect on her. She simply needs bed rest and somepony to monitor her.”

“And her burn?”

Ramheart cleared his throat loudly, and one of the medical unicorns levitated over an opaque glass jar. “This salve should quicken healing and prevent a potential scar. Simply work it into the skin by hoof or, preferably, with a bit of magic.”

Luna nodded. “Excellent, thank you for taking the time to do this,” she said appreciatively, picking up the jar of salve with her own magic. “You are dismissed, go get some sleep.”

The ponies nodded and filed out of the room, save for old Ramheart. “She still needs to be monitored,” he reminded Luna.

She nodded. “I have somepony in mind. If anything comes up I’ll seek your counsel.” The aged doctor grumbled in acquiescence and followed his staff out.

With a push of magic the door clicked softly shut, and Luna turned to face her sister. The glass jar of burn salve floated beside her. “On the bed, sister. Let me see that burn.”

Celestia scowled slightly. The doctors had done nothing but make her headache worse, but rather than kick up a foalish fuss she simply trotted obediently to the bed and lied down on her relatively good side. “That was a mean prank, Luna.”

“I disagree,” her sister replied flatly, drawing some of the salve out of the jar. It was a pale beige goop that strangely seemed to melt into the aura of Luna’s levitation spell, becoming a dark grey cloud that the younger alicorn pressed against Celestia’s side. The sun princess jumped slightly, worsening her headache – the cloud was freezing, and left tingles like pins and needles wherever it passed.

“That’s cold!” Celestia protested.

Hush,” Luna half-hissed.

It was petulant, she knew, but Celestia couldn’t help it. She was stressed, tired, her good mood had been ruined, and so she began to sulk. “That check-up was far too fast to come to any real diagnosis,” the princess grumbled, her migraine pulsing angrily. “As a prank, I suppose getting me to ‘take my medicine’ is all well and good, but what were you thinking when you got the staff involved?”

The salve jar landed forcefully on the side table with a solid thud as the moon princess’ hackles rose. “Well, maybe I was worried about you, have you considered that!?” Luna snapped, the dam holding back her emotions fracturing. “Did you consider that when you sauntered back in here like a cat full of cream? D-did you consider that maybe you weren’t the only one having a bad day!?”

The darker alicorn stood quickly from the bed. Celestia’s eyes were wide as she watched her sister storm a few paces away. “L-Luna?”

Her sister wheeled around and fixed her with a baleful gaze. Her eyes softened as she took in Celestia’s injuries, but hardened once again when she focused on her lost expression. “Sunset... what were you thinking, Celestia?” she said, her voice hoarse.

“I-I don’t know,” confessed the elder sister.

Luna groaned, shaking her head. “Oh don’t even –!”

“Genuinely, Luna, I don’t know!” Celestia insisted. “I can’t remember anything about today after you left for the court this morning! I just woke up in the hospital...” Celestia shut her eyes tightly, forcing back the rising emotions from the memory. ‘And I was in such a good mood too...’ she sighed, and fluttered her wings weakly. “I woke up like this, and I had no idea what happened. Twilight has assured me it’s not unusual to suffer amnesia like this.”

“Is that right? Well, if she read it in a book it might be reliable...” Luna said beneath her breath, releasing an annoyed huff.

Celestia took offense on her student’s behalf, but let it go, knowing it was her sister’s anger talking for her. “Luna? Luna, speak to me.”

“Sister, I...” Luna began haltingly, before sighing, frustrated. She began again, the anger gone from her tone. “I’m upset with Twilight, a little bit, for panicking and snatching you away before I could help.” She chuckled, resigned. “I think you’ve rubbed off on her in that respect, only Twilight seems to favour taking matters into her own hooves immediately, as opposed you and your... machinations.”

Celestia said nothing to that – if anypony had earned the right to speak about her so harshly, it was Luna.

“But I’ll admit, not all of my grievances with your student are entirely deserved,” Luna confessed. “I... I know I can’t use her as a scapegoat for my frustrations, it’s just...” A pained look flashed briefly across her face. “Celestia, when Twilight vanished with you, the guards burst in. You had been screaming in pain, after all, you gave both Twilight and I an awful scare.” Luna’s gaze was somewhere far away and troubled, sending a rush of guilt through Celestia’s heart as the younger sister continued. “The guards did their duty and followed orders, but I could see it in their eyes, there was a definite... suspicion. Especially since it was dusk, and night had fallen. And then some of the nobles got wind of the situation during Court as we were trying to locate where Twilight had disappeared to. There were... allegations.”

Celestia’s blood went cold. “Who?” she asked gravely, a thousand years of authority in the tone.

Luna fixed her sister with an equally solemn expression. “What would you do if I told you, sister? Make them change their opinions? Are you prepared to cross that line? It all begins with the best of intentions, believe me.” The midnight-blue alicorn shook her head. “It was the murmurs of frightened foals, nothing more. Nothing more.”

Celestia’s face remained grave for a moment longer, before a throb of her familiar headache forced her to let the matter drop. “At least tell me our ‘nephew’ Blueblood didn’t add to the fuss,” she sighed.

“Actually, he seemed to be on my side,” Luna said, earning a surprised look from her sister. “Well, the side of least resistance, I suppose,” she clarified, sighing. “Still, the ‘these matters are not befitting of a royal, shall we not simply have a late tea’ angle was better than the rest of them quietly implying that I-I was...”

“Come here,” Celestia said softly, leaning forward to nuzzle her sister comfortingly.

Luna jumped back from the contact, and Celestia felt a sliver of her heart break. “Y-you don’t get to ‘make it better’, sister, not tonight,” the midnight-blue mare said, fixing her sister with a watery glare. “I told you, I told you I could handle the sun for the day, but you just...” She flicked a wing in a deliberately haughty gesture. “Just batted me away like a foal. Just like old times.”

“L-Luna, I-I-”

“And then you made your wounds even worse, made Twilight panic and all the little ponies in the castle begin to fear the dawn would never arrive,” Luna pressed on, stomping her hoof. “O-once again, the night became something to fear, because. You. Wouldn’t. Listen!

Celestia rose in a blur of white and wrapped her wings and forelegs around her sister in a tight, desperate embrace. “I’m sorry, Luna, I am so, so sorry!”

Luna batted her wings ineffectually against her sister, trying to pull away. “Liar!” she yelled, her composure crumbling. “Y-you don’t even remember what for!”

“It doesn’t matter,” the sun princess whispered. “You’re in pain, and it’s my fault. Please, please forgive me.”

The last vestiges of her emotional dam broke, and Luna burst into tears, sobbing into her sister’s coat. Celestia shed a few tears of remorse as well in sympathy as they held each other, sinking to the floor.

As upset as she was, Luna quickly got a hold of herself, wiping her tears away with a foreleg. “I... I’m sorry for shouting at you,” she said quietly. “It’s not... I should have insisted that I lower the sun. Y-you weren’t yourself...”

“That’s the second time I’ve heard that,” Celestia sighed, resting her head in her sister’s vibrant blue mane. “I’m beginning to dread hearing about it.”

“Who told you about this?” the moon princess asked. “Twilight?” Celestia nodded absently, murmuring in assent. Luna just chuckled, amused by something, before sighing mournfully into her sister’s coat. “Everypony... everypony thought I had become N-Nightmare Moon again... maybe it’s too soon to hope they would have forgotten. Sometimes I wonder if you’re the only one who wholeheartedly trusts me, but tonight you...”

“I trust you Luna, never doubt that,” Celestia swore, firm yet comforting. “Please, let me make this up to you. I acted like a foal today, I wasn’t myself and I cannot begin to express the remorse I feel for hurting you.” ‘For suspecting you, my darling sister,’ her mind whispered. ‘For being afraid of you when all you ever wanted was to be loved.’ “Whatever it is you need or desire, tell me and I will make it so.”

“Do you mean that?” Luna asked quietly.

“Yes,” the sun princess replied, resolute. “I can’t make it better tonight, but I can make it right.”

The sisters were silent for a moment longer, remaining in their tight embrace. Finally, the younger spoke. “Give me the sun.”

Celestia had expected this – what else could her sister possibly ask of her, after all? Regardless, she still stiffened involuntarily at the request. “Alright,” she nodded carefully. “What will you do with it?”

“The same as you do,” Luna replied. “Raise it in the morn, set it in the eve. I would do so publicly, every day in Canterlot’s central square, so that all might see me usher in both dawn and dusk, so our ponies might see the night as sister of the day, just as fair, just as faithful.”

“And how long will you continue to guide it? Indefinitely?”

Luna balked. “Oh, no, I couldn’t, I...”

“How long, Luna?” Celestia pressed the question softly. “How long do you need?”

Luna’s face was hesitant, as if she was considering rescinding her request. “I suppose until you’re finished your convalescence? Perhaps a bit longer?”

“I see...” Celestia said in a measured voice. “How about until the solstice?”

Luna pulled away from her sister to give her a surprised look. “That long? The Winter Moon Celebration is still months off; are you sure?”

Celestia smiled. “I was actually talking about the Summer Sun Celebration.”

The younger alicorn shot straight up to her feet in shock, staring wide-eyed at Celestia. “No, I can’t! Not for that long, I physically can’t!” she said in a panicked voice, shaking her head rapidly. “The nights are getting longer now, so the sun’s burden will lighten as time goes on, b-but I can’t, I’m not strong enough to...” She paused, and sighed despondently. “Besides, that’s your day, not mine.”

“You deserve more days,” Celestia insisted. “And nights, for that matter.”

“No,” Luna said firmly. “Until the Winter Solstice I’ll guide the sun, and no longer. I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it for any longer, it wouldn’t be right even if I could...” She caught herself and sighed again, this time frustrated, giving her sister a weak glare. “And now I’m apologising, when nothing is my fault. Did you intend this?”

Celestia’s face fell, sadness welling up inside her from her sister’s suspicions. “Sister, we can either guess and second guess each other until we both spiral into madness, or we can trust one another. That’s our fate,” she said softly.

“Is that a yes or no?” Luna asked half-heartedly.

“It’s an I love you,” Celestia replied, bringing a hoof to her sister’s cheek.

Luna bit her lip and screwed her eyelids tightly shut. “Okay...” she said, her voice small. “Okay. I love you too, sister.” She drew a sharp breath and opened her eyes, locking her gaze with her sister’s. “You need to rest. I’ll be back here for sunrise in a few hours, alright?”

“Alright,” Celestia nodded. “Good night, Luna, I’ll see you in the morning.” She nudged her sister and smiled. “Your morning.”

Sharing her a small smile of her own, Luna made her way towards the door. “Sleep well, Celestia.”

As the door shut behind the midnight-blue alicorn, the sun princess let out a long, weary sigh. Her nightmare fears and her worthless paranoia told her this was a mistake, that this was where Luna’s betrayal began, this moment of weakness was the sowing of the seeds... and Celestia did her best to ignore it. Trust or madness, those words weren’t solely for Luna’s benefit. “Sleep well?” she asked the empty room. “I hope to, Luna, I do...”

~{C}~

Having quickly put Spike to bed, Twilight made her way back to Celestia’s tower with a brisk trot.

Oh, who am I kidding, it’s a canter,’ the lavender mare sighed internally. She rushed out a familiar archway and found herself in the cool night air once more, traversing the marble and gold bridge the chariot had left them on earlier.

Her hoofsteps slowed when she saw a familiar face emerge from the tower doors. Princess Luna’s expression betrayed a note of surprise upon seeing the unicorn, but it was quickly schooled into a mask of solemn authority.

“Twilight Sparkle,” she said, approaching her.

Twilight shrank under her gaze; beyond their first technical ‘meeting’, she had never known Luna to be so intimidating. “Princess, I-”

“Celestia needs somepony to monitor her and make sure she doesn’t use magic,” Luna stated, interrupting the unicorn. “Now, obviously, it’s been a long time since she’s been unwell and if she’s going to act anything like she did in the past then I wouldn’t wish that nightmare onto Discord, let alone a member of staff. Fortunately, you’ve already nominated yourself.”

“Huh?” Twilight cocked her head, confused. She got the distinct impression she was being punished, but with something she was more than willing to do regardless. At first glance it was redundant but, of course, Luna was Celestia’s sister in more than just blood. There was gravity to her words that implied something bigger at play, yet close to heart.

“Twilight. You’re not the only pony who cares about Celestia,” Luna said evenly, walking past the unicorn. Twilight sensed it wasn’t a change of subject. “I appreciate you acting so quickly to help her, but don’t...” The moon princess swallowed a lump in her throat. “Don’t steal her from me,” she said in a low whisper. “You, at least, have your friends in Ponyville. She is all I have.”

At that, Twilight quickly turned, full of concern for the midnight-blue alicorn. “Princess-?” she began, but stopped when she only saw an empty bridge.

Luna had teleported away, vanishing into the night and depriving Twilight of the chance to help the princess. The irony was lost to the unicorn, so she pushed her concerns away to deal with in the morning and chose instead to trot into the tower where the alicorn she knew she could help waited.

~{C}~

As Twilight pushed the doors to Celestia’s chamber open, she saw the princess sitting before the window of the balcony. Her burnt side was facing away from the unicorn and without the blemish she appeared to glow under the moonlight. The unicorn’s voice hitched in her throat, and the alicorn’s head turned quickly at the noise, relaxing once she saw who it was.

“Oh, Twilight, you’re back,” she said, moving towards her. The glow faded as she stepped out of the light, but Twilight didn’t care. She had noticed something that made her gut wrench.

“Princess, were you crying?” Sure enough, damp streaks running down the white pelt of her face shone in the dim light.

“Hmm? Oh! I... yes.” Celestia bit her lip almost bashfully, as if she had been caught preparing a prank. “A little bit, yes. The day is just... it’s catching up on me. I just...” She paused, unable to quite find the right words. “It’s strange. I don’t know. It’s strange to hear from you and Luna what happened today, it’s strange to see both of you hurt, and I can’t find the one responsible because she is me. It’s strange. A-and I can’t even get undressed, since my magic hurts to use.” Her hoof tapped at the torc encircling her neck, the rest of her regalia piled up on the bedside table. Twilight noticed that without the gilt shoes, Celestia’s hoof was a pure, stark white. She knew that already, but it was such a rare sight it caught her off-guard every time.

“Let me get that for you,” Twilight offered. Celestia smiled weakly and trotted over to the bed, resting on it. After a moment of deliberation, Twilight followed. Silently, she reached out with her magic and unhooked the torc, floating it to rest nearby. “Do you need anything before you go to sleep, Princess?”

Celestia settled into her bed, her head sinking into her lush pillows. “I...”

Twilight leaned forward to hear her next words, but they never came. Celestia seemed lost.

“I’m letting Luna handle both day and night until the solstice,” the alicorn said suddenly. “To make it up to her for... everything.”

Twilight blinked, surprised. “Wow, that’s... that’s big.”

“Yes...” Celestia agreed, her voice still lost. “I hope it’s enough.”

There was another uncertain silence, which was once again broken suddenly by the princess’ anxious voice. “Twilight, stay a little longer, please...” she said, placing a hoof on her student’s. “I don’t want to wake up and be afraid for you again...”

“You were afraid for me?” Twilight asked, touched. “Silly... you were the one with the injuries...”

Celestia smiled weakly. “Which is why I was worried. Can you imagine what the same thing would have done to anypony else?”

Twilight’s eyes became haunted. “Yes...”

Celestia jolted up. “Oh heavens, don’t tell me that-!”

“Nopony else was hurt, Princess, really,” the unicorn quickly reassured her. Celestia visibly sagged with relief, sinking back into her pillow as Twilight tried to find the words to explain. “It’s just...” The unicorn paused, and sighed with a chuckle. “I’ll show you in the morning,” Twilight promised. “But long story short, you need a new magical science laboratory.”

“I’ll name it after you,” Celestia said, unperturbed. “Just please stay here.”

Nodding silently, Twilight knelt down to rest beside her. For the longest time they simply shared each other’s gaze, violet eyes locked with magenta in a quiet reassurance of each other’s presence that they both sorely needed.

After an indiscernible amount of time passed, Celestia seemed ready to speak. “When I woke up, I believed some very foalish things...” she confessed, her expression troubled. “But when you’re hurt and frightened and confused, it becomes less and less foalish and more and more frightening the more you dwell on it. I didn’t know how I got hurt. I thought the castle had been attacked, and I was afraid... because you were supposed to be visiting. I couldn’t bear the thought that you were...” She suddenly cut herself off, breaking their shared gaze. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be dropping this on you...” she whispered in apology.

Twilight’s heart stirred, refusing to be silenced. She felt like she was running on embers. If she slowed down to think she would be burned horribly, so... so instead, she took a risk. She channelled Pinkie, and Applejack, and Rarity, and she danced upon the embers. She let her long-abandoned feelings for her mentor dance, if only for a moment.

“I’m here for you, Celestia.” Twilight felt a strange thrill speaking directly to the princess without titles. But this moment was too open, too vulnerable, too intimate to let anything remind either mare of the distance in caste between them.

“Thank you...” Celestia murmured, looking back into Twilight’s eyes. “Can you please stay a little longer? Until the morning?” The unicorn’s heart danced triumphantly. “I’m afraid I’ll wake up disorientated again,” Celestia admitted, fretting the sheets with a bare white hoof. “I don’t want to... to feel fear like that if I can help it. That isn’t selfish to ask of you, is it?”

“No, of course not,” Twilight replied honestly. “Why would it be?”

“Because of Spike,” the princess said. “He shouldn’t have to wake up alone because of me.”

Twilight paused. Truthfully, she hadn’t been expecting a legitimate argument against what she saw as a rhetorical question. “Oh... well... well, don’t worry. You’ll wake up at dawn anyway, won’t you?” Celestia nodded, and Twilight grinned. “Then there’s no problem! I’ll be back before he’s even close to waking up. And even if he does wake up, he knows the castle, so he’ll be fine.” Her eyes softened. “Right now, you need me.”

Celestia considered this, and chuckled ruefully. “A baby dragon can be better trusted to wake unsupervised than an ageless alicorn. Heavens, I feel useless.”

“Don’t...” Twilight said sadly, stroking her dawn-hued mane in an attempt to comfort her.

Somehow, it seemed to work. The princess smiled as her eyelids grew heavy as she began to fall into sleep’s embrace. “This is nice...” she murmured. “Thank you for staying...”

A few replies flashed through Twilight’s mind. ‘You’re welcome’. ‘Always’. ‘I love you’.

What she settled on surprised her. “How long has it been since somepony did this for you?”

Celestia’s ear flicked, at first the only sign that she registered the question, before her lips parted. “An eternity...” she breathed, and faded asleep.

Twilight remained stock still, for fear moving might break some sort of spell. She watched Celestia sleep for several long moments, hypnotised by her mane that still gently billowed from intangible solar winds.

You can do this. It’s just like a sleepover,’ Twilight told herself. ‘Applejack and Rarity shared a bed when we had a sleepover, right? This is the same thing.’ Momentarily satisfied with her personal white lie, she lifted the duvet over herself and Celestia, covering them both. She turned and put her back to Celestia before going to sleep – she couldn’t maintain any illusions about her feelings beyond her pithy rationalization, not when looking at the sleeping face of her mentor.

It was a large bed, but Twilight knew the only place on it she could sleep was at Celestia’s side. Her heart still danced, and she prayed she wouldn’t stumble. She almost didn’t survive last time.

~{C}~

Though her eyes did not open, Celestia was awoken by Twilight’s warm weight slightly pressing into her. She remained silent; both of body and mind, drifting in the haze between dream and reality as she idly felt her student settle down for the night.

She listened to the rise and fall of the unicorn’s breath, building into a peaceful pattern of deep sleep. She smiled as she smelled an almost heady must laced with something... lavender and jasmine, no doubt Twilight’s soap.

As she slipped into a peaceful slumber, Celestia curled a little closer to her beloved student. It felt right.

~{C}~

Composure, Chapter 2, end

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