• Published 24th Oct 2012
  • 1,747 Views, 206 Comments

Absolution - BlackRoseRaven

A pony begins a journey to find his parents, lost heroes who vanished years ago.

  • ...

Love Is Love

Chapter Twenty Five: Love Is Love

There was an air of excitement around Ponyville as, a week after Hearts and Hooves Day, Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage held a gathering at their house for their quiet commitment and marriage ceremony. Or at least it was supposed to be quiet: but Sleipnir showed up with a keg of ale and many more guests than the two had expected, and they had ended up with guests milling in the front yard, back yard, and all throughout their townhouse.

Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage were both a little more dressed-up than usual... but only a little. The earth pony had her mane tied back with a gemstone band, and the Pegasus had some of Luna's few pieces of jewelry on and a red rose tucked into her scarlet mane. They both looked awkward with how many ponies had shown up, including some more distant relations of the Apple Family, something that Apple Bloom hadn't quite expected. She knew her family was always there for her, whether they approved of her or not; but she had gone quite a different route than the rest of her farming family had, and she had never quite been sure of what that meant for how willing they'd be to celebrate those differences with her.

Since they no longer really had the room in the townhouse, they ended up moving several tables outside and letting the party naturally spread into one of the yard areas that separated the rows of townhouses. This drew out both neighbors and curious ponies, who wanted to see what the early afternoon party was all about, and to sample the free food and drinks now sitting in the open with little guard. But it was nice, all the same, as curious ponies wandered amidst invited guests, some of them striking up conversation here and there as Pinkie Pie hurried in and out of the kitchen with Aphrodisia, helping put together more food.

Prestige seemed to relax in the atmosphere herself, dressed up a little for the occasion, although Antares had only put on a rumpled, old suit jacket that had once belonged to his father. And he had smiled warmly when Scarlet Sage had slipped through the crowd to approach, the two embracing fiercely before she kissed his cheek and said quietly: “I'm so glad you're here, Antares. Will you... stand up beside me while Celestia does the ceremony? Kind of like my best stallion.”

“I thought Apple Bloom was the guy in your relationship.” Antares said softly, and Scarlet Sage laughed and shoved at him gently, the young stallion laughing as well before he smiled up at her and nodded slowly. “Of course, big sister. You know I'd be glad to.”

“Thank you. That means a world to me. A whole world.” Scarlet Sage leaned forwards, kissing her brother's forehead gently, then she reached up and ruffled his mane as she softened. “I just really wish Mom and Dad were here.”

“One day they'll be back. I promise. We're all working hard to bring them back.” Antares said quietly but firmly, and Scarlet Sage gazed at him before she nodded slowly, smiling a little after a moment. The two gazed at each other as conversation flowed around them from the many milling guests, before Antares smiled as he glanced over at Prestige, gesturing at her silently.

Prestige blushed, and Scarlet tilted her head curiously before the young unicorn mare stepped forwards and swallowed a bit, then said finally: “I... I want to congratulate you, Scarlet Sage, and your... soon to be... wife. This is very... not... I mean, I think... no matter what I think, I mean, I can't help but be impressed by how you and Apple Bloom are so... strong, together.”

“It's not hard for us to be strong, and there's not a world to admire, Prestige.” Scarlet Sage said softly, and the unicorn looked surprised at this response before the Pegasus smiled softly. “We're just two people in love, like anypony else. Nothing different, nothing more admirable or deplorable than that. Especially not when we look around and see all the family and friends gathered here to celebrate and support us: we're just two ponies. That's all.”

Prestige looked down thoughtfully at this, then nodded slowly and hesitantly before Antares smiled softly, saying quietly: “You've always been so modest. And kinda weird.”

“You're one to talk, little brother.” Scarlet Sage smiled at him, then she reached up and nudged him gently. “Ceremony's going to take place just before dinner. I've gotta go make nice for an hour or two more before I get ready. I... I have something for you, too. Just something to finish off your outfit.”

She paused, then smiled amusedly and reached up, adjusting his jacket a bit as the young stallion shifted awkwardly, before she murmured: “You really do remind me of Dad some days, Antares, but... there's a lot of Mom in you, too. I'm glad for it. You make me feel close to them, and you help me keep faith in the fact that... they may still be out there somewhere.”

The young stallion only smiled and bowed his head forwards silently, and then Scarlet Sage smiled softly before she turned and headed quietly back into the crowd of ponies, awkwardly responding to a cheery call of her name from Cowlick. Antares shook his head, then he glanced over at Prestige as she reached up and absently brushed at his shoulder. “You really are a mess. I suppose that's what she meant by you reminding her of your father, wasn't it?”

“Both.” Antares smiled after a moment, shaking his head a little with a quiet laugh. “Neither Mom or Dad were ever... you know, all that neat. They weren't messy but they weren't neat, you know?”

Prestige Luster only gazed at him softly, and Antares smiled before he shifted a little, gazing up towards the sky before his attention was drawn towards Burning Desire and an embarrassed-looking Twilight Sparkle, who was wearing a long dress and chemise in an attempt to cover up her stitching as well as to try and look nice. For the next hour, Antares found himself making conversation with much of the party, glad that for the most part he knew the people here: there were also a group of Nibelung and ponies that were Apple Bloom's friends and coworkers, and some of the clinic staff. It was strange to see people he wasn't as familiar with from around town... but then again, it wasn't like Antares knew any of the neighboring ponies who had come over to help themselves to the free food and drink, either.

But before Antares knew it, Scarlet Sage had slipped through the crowd again and carefully pulled him away, bringing him into the house and up to her room. She smiled softly at him as they managed to get the moment alone, breathing a little hard and looking nervous as Antares studied her, then softened and reached up, touching her shoulder as he reassured quietly: “It's going to be fine, Scarlet. You and Apple Bloom... you have a connection. One that's always been there. And no matter what happened... you always came back to each other, didn't you?”

“We did.” Scarlet murmured softly, glancing down and nodding hesitantly before she sighed a little, her eyes roving up as she smiled a little. “I know. I just... I'm scared, Antares. I don't... there's no going back, this is enormous, and... I know from now on, both of us have to actually be the adults we're supposed to be instead of arguing and then storming off.”

The young stallion nodded, and then Scarlet Sage shook her head quickly, saying softly: “But that's not important. Here, I got this for you.”

Scarlet smiled a little as she turned and picked up a box off the nightstand, then carefully pulled the lid off and held it out on one hoof so that Antares could lean forwards and look down into the container... before he laughed a little, his horn glowing and quietly lifting what looked like a silver pocketwatch free. He gazed over it, smiling wider as he realized it was inscribed with the same symbol as his cutie mark, and he clicked the small button at the top to open it, gazing warmly at the quietly-ticking hands as he murmured: “It's amazing.”

“Turn it around.” Scarlet Sage said softly, and Antares cocked his head curiously, then he did so before he realized that the back could be pulled open as well. He hesitated, then shrugged when the Pegasus gave him an insistent look, popping it open... and his breath caught in his throat at the sight of not the ticking gears and guts of the clock he expected, but instead pictures of his mother and father, inset into the backplate and the swinging panel.

It was like a locket and a pocketwatch in one, and Scarlet Sage said softly: “The pictures can slide in and out, and the whole back can slide off so you can get to the insides of the watch... but well... I thought those ones were the best I had in my collection of Mom and Dad. Red and Pinkamena were working on this for quite a while. You'd never believe what Pinkamena wanted in return, though.”

Antares swallowed thickly, then he quietly closed the open doors of the watch, closing his eyes as he tucked it carefully away into his jacket. It felt like a warm weight, the ticking sounding like a beating heart before he walked quickly forwards and hugged Scarlet Sage fiercely, and she hugged him tightly back, closing her eyes as they sat together in silence for a moment. He didn't have to thank her, as she reached up and slowly stroked the back of his head, murmuring softly: “They're always here with us both, Antares. Mom and Dad... were always there for us.”

Antares only rested against her, breathing softly before they slowly pulled apart, gazing at one another quietly before she smiled quietly, reaching up and taking his face between her hooves silently. “They adopted me, but I never once felt like I wasn't your sister, and you weren't my brother. I was so glad for Mom and Dad when after... so many years, they finally were able to have you... and I was a little worried and jealous, too, but... all the same, they never alienated me or pushed me away. They took care of me.

“Antares, I know that... sometimes it probably seems like I'm not trying hard to work beside you, and find Mom and Dad... but I know that you can, and the best thing I can do to help is to stay back here, and heal you and your friends if you ever get into trouble, and support you from here. Because I have faith in you, that you'll find them...” Scarlet Sage rubbed her hooves down to his shoulders, scarlet eyes gazing quietly into midnight cyan of Antares'. “Because you remind me so much of them. How they would go to any lengths to save friend, family... and anyone who deserved it. They never left anypony behind, and I know you'll never leave anypony behind either. I'm only glad that you're not trying to do this alone, that you don't have to do this alone... and Antares, I'm going to help you every way I can.”

“I know. You do help, Scarlet, you... you really do. You, Celestia and Twilight all took care of me after...” The young stallion glanced down, then he swallowed a little and glanced up, smiling faintly. “And you three were also who... continued to teach me all the lessons that Mom and Dad couldn't, since they weren't... there. I'm the pony I am today because of... you, and Twilight, and Celestia as well as Mom and Dad. You've already helped a world. All I'm doing is... is running the last leg of the marathon.”

Scarlet Sage laughed quietly, shaking her head slowly before she reached up and tapped his horn gently, making him wince a bit. “Just remember we're here for you, then, okay? Now come on. I need my little brother to stand beside me while I share what was supposed to be a quiet, private moment with Apple Bloom out in public. Horses of Heaven am I ever scared something's going to go wrong.”

“Nothing will, Scar. Come on, let's go.” Antares smiled up at her, saying softly: “Just like you've always been there for me, I'm going to be there for you. That's a promise.”

The Pegasus gazed down at him affectionately, nodding slowly, and then the two ponies turned and made their way, side-by-side, out of the room, down the stairs, and back out to the yard. Someone had already taken the initiative and set up a small but pretty trellis, and quickly decorated it with flowers and tapers and a few pretty ornaments, and Scarlet Sage blushed quietly at this sight as she silently made her way through the crowd, a natural hush falling.

Celestia was standing in front of the trellis, and Apple Bloom was there was well, with Applejack smiling warmly beside her. Cowlick was grinning widely near the front of the group with benevolent Ross, and Big Mac had a proud smile on his face. Avalon was perched over her father's broad shoulders, watching warmly and trying to hide how much she was clearly enjoying this.

Twilight was standing with Prestige and Burning Desire, the Lich rubbing at her face a little, all but glowing with maternal adoration. And even Celestia looked proud, gazing affectionately from Scarlet Sage to Apple Bloom as the mares shifted and stood a bit taller, gazed with respect and anxiety and eagerness up at Celestia as the ivory mare said softly: “Congratulations to you both. And now, let me begin the ceremony...

“Friends, family, neighbors... strangers...” Celestia smiled slightly, glancing back and forth through the crowd at the curious faces of ponies who had simply wandered into the party here and there. “Today we are here to celebrate the coming together of two lives... Apple Bloom, and Scarlet Sage. My niece, and the mare she loves.

“I hope you'll join me in wishing them fortune today: and I hope you both know that your parents would have be proud, to see what their daughters have become, to see the strength of your love and commitment.” Celestia continued, and Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage both blushed and lowered their heads as Applejack nodded firmly and Antares gazed up with warmth. “But you do both have family here, family who I can see the joy in... joy I myself feel for you both.

“Now, Apple Bloom... do you take Scarlet Sage as your partner, to love and cherish, to spend your days and nights beside, until death do you part?” Celestia turned her gaze to the earth pony mare, who stood up proudly as she took a slow breath.

“I do.” she replied quietly but firmly, and she smiled softly, reaching a hoof up to silently take Scarlet Sage's, the two gazing at each other with absolute trust, and absolute love.

“And Scarlet Sage... do you take Apple Bloom as your partner, to love and cherish, to spend your days and nights beside, until death do you part?”

“I do.” Scarlet Sage had no hesitation, no fear now, her anxiety falling away like leaves in the wind as she straightened a little, gazing deeply into the eyes of her chosen love, her special mare.

Celestia smiled softly, and she straightened and nodded before saying quietly: “Then I am proud to announce you as partners for life, and it is my honor to be the first to congratulate and welcome your union. Apple Bloom, Scarlet Sage, you may seal your bond with a kiss.”

The two mares gazed radiantly to one another, then leaned forwards, their lips meeting in a soft kiss. Applejack smiled brightly, then began to stomp her hooves, and soon the whole crowd was cheering and applauding the two as their mouths drew apart, Scarlet Sage and Apple Bloom looking happily out over the gathered ponies, both with pleased blushes on their faces as even strangers clapped for the two mares.

The moment Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage stepped away from the trellis, they were swept up by the crowd, congratulated, cheered, complimented, and even thanked: Celestia watched this with a smile, then glanced down in surprise when Applejack suddenly hugged her impulsively, the ivory winged unicorn looking awkwardly down as the goldenrod earth pony glanced up and said softly: “It means a lot that you were willing to do this, Celestia. It means a hell of a lot to me and a hell of a lot to them. I can't begin to thank you enough.”

“All I care about is that they make each other happy, and their love is true... and I see both those things and so much more, Applejack.” Celestia replied softly, glancing up at the two mares as she nodded slowly, and Applejack grunted as she slipped backwards and reached up to adjust her cowboy hat, smiling warmly up at the larger mare.

The crowd around the two newlyweds only thinned slightly when music began to play through the fields, surprising most of the ponies... but Celestia only smiled when she glanced up to see Discombobulation leaning calmly against a set of enormous speakers before he gestured absently at Cowlick, who was running extension cords out with the help of several Nibelung. The mare approached with an entertained look, and the Draconequus glanced down at her, cocking an eyebrow. “Don't give me that look now, Celestia. I only brought the speakers here. This was all Vasquez's fault.”

“Stop calling me that, somehow I know it's code for 'butch.'” Cowlick called irritably, and Discombobulation only smiled with wry amusement over towards the engineer before he glanced down in surprise as Celestia calmly rose a hoof to him.

“Would you like to dance, Bob?” she asked softly, and for a moment the Draconequus looked embarrassed, but then he cleared his throat and nodded awkwardly, and Celestia easily stood up on her rear hooves, leaning her body forwards against his as the Draconequus took her in his arms and closed his eyes at the feeling of her form pressing against his own, one of his limbs wrapping tightly around her as she smiled and dropped her head over his shoulder, saying quietly: “I think we're what each other needs. If only for a little while.”

“A little while to them or a little while for me or a little while for you? Because with all the years you've lived, old Valkyrie, I know that a little while could be quite a long while indeed.” Discombobulation replied mildly, smiling slightly, and Celestia only smiled in response, before the Draconequus said wryly: “But then again, it's useless to hold a person to anything they say while in love, drunk, or running for office. I think you might be all three.”

Celestia only laughed at this however, shaking her head and replying mildly: “If I was drunk, Discombobulation, we wouldn't be dancing right now. We'd be somewhere else, and it would likely end with you in tears. I've been told that... drinking makes me selfish. And rough.”

“We're opposites, I apparently amuse you between annoying you, and I have to admit that you outright terrify me even more often than Scrivener Blooms ever did. It's no wonder we get along so well.” Discombobulation commented, and Celestia smiled warmly up at him as they spun slowly away from the speaker to the rhythm of the gentle music.

Ponies danced through the field, while others sat back and watched, helping themselves to more drinks and food from the table. And in the center of it all, Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage moved slowly together, pressed tightly together, holding onto each other like they were the only two ponies in the world... and at the moment for the two, they were, as their hearts beat in time together and their emotions rolled together, their minds linked by bonds of love and understanding.

It wasn't until evening that things finally began to break up and ponies began to head home: the neighbors and strangers first, but friends and acquaintances began to excuse themselves next. It was a little late to bring out the dinner they'd prepared – not that they had enough to go around anyway, even now – but no one complained: there had been more than enough snacks and treats prepared by Pinkie and others on hoof to tame the worst of their hungers, after all.

A good few ponies stayed to help clean up, even as Rainbow Dash and Avalon took most of the Apple Clan back to find them places to stay out at the farm: in the end, the group ended up in a little gathering inside the townhouse, eating the last of the treats and some of the extra desserts that had been meant to be served after the dinner they had never eaten.

Rustproof and Avalon traded bright smiles as Aphrodisia gazed up adoringly at Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage, as the two mares sat comfortably back together in a loveseat just the right size for them. They were talking warmly with Burning Desire and Twilight Sparkle, as Big Mac relaxed with Soarin' resting beside him and Applejack looked at her younger sibling with warmth glowing in her eyes. Antares and Prestige sat back beside Celestia; outside, Ross and Cowlick were cleaning up the last of the speakers, with the help of Discombobulation.

Then Pinkie Pie bounced happily into the room, several plates balanced over her back that she easily tossed to ponies around the room, somehow managing to serve them out to the right ponies without breaking anything. It made made Ross smile brightly as Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage both winced, then looked relieved at the lack of mess or destruction, as the bright-pink pony said warmly: “Thanks for letting me and Lemon Drop do some of the work today, guys! It meant a lot to help out, since... you know, you didn't ask for any other presents. I mean, you guys didn't actually want presents, right?”

“We just wanted you all here. That was the real present to us.” Scarlet Sage replied softly, and Apple Bloom nodded in agreement. Then she gazed around the room, continuing easily: “Apple Bloom and I were considering taking a little honeymoon out of Ponyville... does anyone have any suggestions for good vacation spots?”

“I know a gorgeous spot where you two pretty mares could spend some time.” Burning Desire said with a grin, and then he winced when Twilight elbowed him firmly, rubbing at his side. “Violet! I didn't say anything yet!”

“You see that right there? That's you admitting that you were about to say something stupid.” Twilight remarked, and the fiery stallion looked stumped by this response before he grumbled and closed his mouth, as the Lich smiled and smoothed out her dress carefully. “I think that's a great idea, though... maybe you could go to the ocean, or visit the western mountains.”

“I was kinda thinking we might head north.” Apple Bloom said after a moment, and Scarlet Sage blushed but nodded a little, Twilight looked surprised, then leaned forwards a bit. Antares cocked his own head curiously, and Apple Bloom smiled lamely before she said finally: “We just... we were thinking about retracing the path of the Starlit Knights. I've never been, after all, and I'd love to see Charger's Crossing, and the far north, even though I hear it's all rather... unfriendly... but I heard that the mountains are beautiful. That they got climbing and hiking ranges out there and well... we thought it'd be good for us both.”

“I'd like... it's not that I want to relive what we went through, but I want to experience that journey again. I want to see what memories come back, and... I think it'll help me remember Mom and Dad a little, too.” Scarlet Sage said quietly, and Twilight and Applejack both softened at this statement as Big Mac nodded slowly and Celestia simply studied the mares with interest, while the other ponies continued to look curious.

But Scarlet Sage fell quiet, and for a little while there was only silence, before Burning Desire complimented the two mares on how natural and beautiful they had been today. It started another chain of conversation, this time sticking to congratulations, compliments, and talk about the near future, until Celestia finally quietly excused herself with a smile when Discombobulation walked in. Shortly after they left, Twilight Sparkle and Burning Desire did as well, and bit-by-bit, other ponies filtered slowly out, until Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage were left with only Antares, Prestige, and Aphrodisia.

Scarlet Sage and Antares were talking with each other warmly, as Apple Bloom leaned back in her seat and gazed adoringly at her beautiful wife and Prestige sat comfortably, slowly relaxing as she gazed around at how... normal everything seemed in the household. Then Aphrodisia cleared her throat loudly and stood up, and all eyes turned to her before she leaned down and firmly yanked Antares to his hooves, the demon saying mildly: “Come on, Nova, that's enough. Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage have to go get dirty in bed now. And you and Prestige should do the same.”

Scarlet Sage cleared her throat as Apple Bloom blushed a bit and glowered, then said sourly: “Apps, if you weren't Pinkamena's daughter and I still didn't know what age to treat you like, I'd be tempted to put you in a world o' hurt right about now.”

“I'm just saying what everypony's thinking.” Aphrodisia complained, and then Antares winced when the demon punched his shoulder. “Come on, let's go. I'll wait outside for you and Prissy. Goodnight Scarlet Sage, goodnight Apple Bloom. Have fun together bumping uglies.”

Antares turned beet red as the demon calmly made her way out, Scarlet Sage groaning and rubbing at her face before Apple Bloom mumbled: “Mine ain't ugly at all.”

“I... think we should go.” Prestige said lamely, and Antares cleared his throat as he waved a little. “Goodbye, Scarlet Sage, Apple Bloom. Thank you for inviting us and including Antares in the ceremony, I... it meant a lot to him.”

“It did mean a lot to me, I... thanks.” Antares half-glared at Prestige as she tugged on him, and she looked embarrassed after a moment before the young stallion turned his gaze back ahead, stepping quickly forwards to trade a short, tight hug with his older sister. “I love you, big sis, and you too Apple Bloom. Be good. And uh... have... fun?”

“I love you too, Antares. And we will.” Scarlet Sage smiled despite her blush as Apple Bloom smiled and sat up a little, raising a hoof to him. Antares smiled a little in return as he cleared his throat, then the young pony turned and followed Prestige out, giving her a flat look again as they headed through the door.

Aphrodisia was at the window, peering through it with a wide grin on her face, and Antares gave the demon a grumpy look as well before he asked flatly: “Can you like, not do that? That's my sister, and Apple Bloom means a lot to me, too. Besides, they're both technically your cousins too, Apps.”

“Oh shush, Nova. I'd gladly have a throw-down with you, do you really think I wouldn't do the same with somepony as pretty as they are too?” Aphrodisia remarked, and Antares turned beet red again as Prestige winced and made a sound of disgust, but the demon only huffed.” Hey. Lust and Wrath. Lots of crazy emotions and no moral guidelines. Besides, I'm a demon, you're handsome, we're both growed-ups.”

“The very fact you used the term 'growed-up' means that somepony here isn't.” Antares commented dryly, and Aphrodisia gave him an amused look as the young stallion smiled a little despite himself. “Okay, okay, maybe I'm just... grouchy. Let's go... Apps, where are you headed?”

“I think I'll walk with you. Can we have a sleepover?” the demon asked curiously, and Prestige looked surprised by the almost-childishness of the demon as Antares smiled softly at the dull-pink pony, then turned his eyes curiously to Prestige. Prestige looked lame, clearly unsure of how serious the demon was or even what she was supposed to say, and Aphrodisia immediately took advantage of this by trilling cheerfully: “Good! I'm gonna run home and get my things and tell Mommy and Daddy!”

With that, Aphrodisia vanished in a burst of black smoke, and Prestige stared after the receding demon before she glared over at Antares, saying flatly: “You can't be serious.”

“What? It's fine, she's my best friend and my cousin, Prestige. And the company is really important to her... she doesn't usually show this side with other ponies, it means she trusts you.” Antares said softly, and Prestige grumbled under her breath, the young stallion wincing a bit before he sighed and said finally: “Just... trust me, it's a good thing, she just wants... it's her way of saying she wants to trust you more. To... be better friends, I think.”

Prestige only shook her head grumpily, and the two unicorns walked quietly through the night together before the young mare dropped her head and muttered: “I wish your family was more normal, Antares. I don't want to imagine what your parents must have been like after all.”

Antares stiffened a little at this, and before he could stop himself, he retorted: “Better than your parents, at least.”

This made Prestige glare up at him sharply, and the young stallion winced as they stood in awkward standoff for a few moments before Prestige finally said sourly: “I think I'm going to go to the library and spend the night there, Antares. Have fun with your delightful cousin.”

The young stallion only stood awkwardly, words escaping him as part of him wanted to be angry, part of him wanted to apologize, and part of him just gaped with confusion and disbelief: this last was what continued to keep a strong hold over the young stallion for a few more moments, before he winced when Aphrodisia came galloping down the streets towards him, the demon smiling brightly as she skidded to a halt, then looked back and forth, a large bag hanging from her side decorated with brightly-dancing ponies and with a sheet and several other odds and ends dangling out of it. “Mommy said I could and... where's Prissy?”

“She's mad at me.” Antares said moodily, and the demon looked at him softly before he grumbled and lowered his head... then blushed a bit when Aphrodisia nuzzled him comfortingly, pushing at her a little. “Apps...”

“Oh shut up, Nova. If she takes me seriously enough to get jealous then she's the one with issues, not you. Besides, you two have been spending like, almost every day and night together since you got together. Everything will be fine by tomorrow.” the demon reassured, and Antares looked up with a surprised smile at her compassionate advice before the Dominia grinned and winked. “Now come on, let's go home and have fun. We can pour some water on Burning Desire, that'll cheer you up.”

Antares only grunted, then he dropped his head forwards and nodded a little as the demon smiled and nudged him lightly. All the same, the stallion still felt a painful twist inside himself, looking in the direction that Prestige had gone and wishing that he was with her.

The next day, Antares came into town looking exhausted: Aphrodisia had kept him up almost the whole night, and even if he didn't sleep much, roughly an hour of napping on and off was short even by his standards. He yawned tiredly as the demon bounced beside him happily, her saddlebag swaying at his side, rambling cheerfully away about this and that as they made their way towards the library.

Antares butted the door open with his head, mumbling a little to himself before he looked tiredly up and smiled awkwardly at Prestige. She didn't look like she had slept the best herself, and the young mare gave him a look that was half-embarrassed, half-apologetic from where she was sitting beside Celestia, cups of tea in front of them both. Discombobulation was standing nearby, sipping calmly at his own mug before he tossed Antares a meditative look, then said mildly: “You need one of those things that Allonym is always drinking. Disgusting as they are. When he has a heart attack let's all point and laugh at him.”

The young stallion only mumbled as he walked towards the table, Aphrodisia bouncing happily alongside him before Prestige awkwardly climbed to her hooves and strode towards Antares. Then she winced when the demon jumped in front of her, leaning forwards and glaring into her eyes as she almost shoved their faces together, Aphrodisia enunciating slowly: “You play nice, or else.”

“Aphrodisia, please don't stir the pot. Every couple has its spats.” Celestia said quietly, then she glanced mildly over at Discombobulation. “Some perhaps more than others, isn't that right?”

“Are you talking about us? Are we a couple now? A couple of what, though?” Discombobulation replied mildly, swirling his mug of whatever he had before he said thoughtfully: “I can think of a couple of things I would like to be. I can think of a couple things I would like to be a part of. But I don't know if I could stand to be half a couple myself. Coupling is for trains.”

“That wasn't your view last night.” Celestia remarked calmly before she sipped at her tea, and Aphrodisia giggled as Antares and Prestige both slowly stared upwards, as Discombobulation turned bright red. “Antares, Prestige, I am glad you're both here, though. I was looking over my schedule for today and it seems this morning I'm going to be meeting with a Miss Rosewood, who is acting as a representative for Caitiff Caprice. Rosewood is your mother, isn't that right, Prestige?”

“Oh good, all the embarrassment in the room just shifted off of me and onto the teenagers who both have issues coping with themselves.” Discombobulation remarked in a relieved voice, and Antares and Prestige both glowered at him before the Draconequus sidled over to Celestia and leaned over her shoulder as the ivory winged unicorn opened a schedule book, remarking seriously: “Well, I suppose it's a happy coincidence then that even if they didn't get your owl, Harry Potter over there still arrived three hours early for his hearing.”

“Twilight had an owl once.” Celestia said mildly, before she smiled when Discombobulation reached over her shoulder and poked something on the page. “Thank you, Bob. Yes, in... about ninety minutes. It doesn't seem like it's anything serious she wants to discuss, so I have the feeling she's really here to visit you, Prestige.”

“I... suppose that may be true.” Prestige mumbled, shifting awkwardly, and Antares softened as he reached up and squeezed her shoulder slowly. And in that single gesture, their silly argument and everything bad from the night before was forgotten and washed away, as the young mare smiled before looking up hesitantly at the winged unicorn and taking a slow breath. “My mother is... my mother is a good pony, but she's also very... she probably has some other reason, not to do with me, to come here... maybe she's trying to impress the Mayor or Caprice was busy or wanted to seem more important or...”

“The Mayor... you mean your father, Grindstone Grasp, correct?” Celestia asked gently, and Prestige shrank at just the name, nodding a little as Antares gazed at her softly. For a moment, Celestia frowned a little, studying the young mare, but after a few moments she tactfully changed the subject, glancing at Antares and asking: “Would you like to have a rest in the back room? I don't have any work for you or your friends today, or for the next few days... things have been quiet recently. Well, apart from some strange weather patterns to the east, but it was only Discord.”

She sat back, then smiled a little over at Discombobulation, saying softly: “I find it... strange, to sit back and so calmly allow a Ginnungagap beast like him run free, causing a little mischief here and there... but then again, now that I'm... seeing clearer these days, I understand that's all it is. A little mischief, that reverts itself over time once he's left the area or that can be fixed with the right push. And besides, it seems like Discord doesn't dare draw too much attention to himself... not with so many demons wandering this Equestria, as well as the Strange Ones and the threat of Cancer...”

She lowered her head, then shook it slowly before glancing over at Discombobulation. “Do you think you could find him someday for me, and take him a message? I want to do what I should have done in the world I came from... I want to try and make peace with him, instead of neutralizing or imprisoning him.”

“I'm sure he'll be delighted to hear that, Celestia.” Discombobulation said dryly, and Celestia gave him a slight smile, tilting her head towards him, but the Draconequus only huffed in response. “Oh, don't give me that look. I'm not jealous in the slightest. I only dislike the thought of being used as a messenger boy to my former slave-master. This isn't Star Wars and there's no double-canon here.”

Celestia only continued to smile, then she turned her eyes to Antares, saying softly: “Go on, and get some rest for a while. Both of you should, as a matter of fact. Prestige, I heard you up most of the night out here.”

The two young unicorns nodded after a moment, and then Aphrodisia sniffed loudly before she turned and headed for the door, calling over her shoulder: “I'm gonna go home too then. Should I bring Daddy by later, Aunt Tia?”

“No, I think I'll come over to Sugar Cube Corners later today myself.” Celestia replied with a smile, and Aphrodisia brightened a little at this, nodding a few times before she waved quickly over her shoulder.

Antares and Prestige both waved back before ascending the stairs, and then Aphrodisia glared at Discombobulation, who sighed before tiredly raising a hand and twiddling his fingers. Then, as Antares and Prestige disappeared up the floor above, the Draconequus turned his eyes to Celestia and said mildly: “You shouldn't encourage teenage pregnancy, Celestia. They're already enough trouble as it is, and you really don't want Prestige to be Lorelei and her child to be Rory, do you?”

“In some of the old baronies in the old days, if Prestige had failed to provide a foal by now, she would have been deemed barren and no stallion would marry her. Her family might have sold her off for slavery or done other nasty things to her. Or she may have become a prostitute or joined a nunnery.” Celestia paused thoughtfully, glancing up at the chaos entity. “It's funny how those coincide, isn't it? If that most-cherished part of a mare's body can't be sowed, then either a mare could sell her body without having to worry about the consequence of a child, or she could use it as a sign that she is to follow the path of the divine, and give up the physical pleasures of the body for a greater power.”

Discombobulation looked for a few long moments at the ivory mare, as she gazed back, and then he reached up and slowly stroked his fingers through her rainbow mane, asking mildly: “If I make out with you now, will you please stop talking and filling my head with all those horrible thoughts and images and horrible history lessons?”

“Yes.” Celestia replied with a smile, and then she leaned up as the Draconequus leaned down, sharing a short, surprisingly-gentle kiss before their mouths parted and Celestia gazed up at him with warmth, murmuring softly: “Innocent as a young colt.”

“Shut up.” Discombobulation mumbled awkwardly, clearing his throat and shifting lamely, and then he sighed and complained: “None of the pieces I was built from are made for... that! I'm put together from pieces of nerds and obsessive-compulsive musicians and bad actors and dramatists who were scared of their mothers and you're not just some gorgeous giant pony, you're a Valkyrie and metallic jazz and jazzy metal and blood and... other things.”

Celestia was only smiling warmly, however, tilting her head towards him as she asked softly: “Discombobulation, did you just refer to me as 'gorgeous?'”

“Do I get a cookie?” The Draconequus asked sourly, and then he winced when Celestia grabbed him and yanked him down, winking at him as he said in a strangled voice: “I'd really much prefer a cookie thank you!”

Upstairs, Prestige and Antares both glanced up at a yelp from the Draconequus, and then the young mare shook her head and smiled a little, glancing quietly over at the glossy-black stallion as she said softly: “I think that your aunt is... enjoying herself a little too much.”

“Aunt Tia's never really... had anyone, though. I think it's good. And Discombobulation wouldn't hang around if he didn't like it. I think.” Antares said finally, and Prestige nodded before the two looked at one-another. For a few moments, there was only quiet as they sat together, before the young stallion began awkwardly: “Look, I'm sorry about last night, and-”

“No, I think... it was both of us last night. I pushed, you pushed back...” Prestige murmured, and then she closed her eyes and smiled a little, shaking her head as she added quietly: “I suppose it just surprises me now and then, when you... get upset. Usually you're so calm, so gentle, but when I...”

“I know. You don't have to say it, I know. There's something... mean inside me.” Antares replied quietly, reaching up and touching his chest, and Prestige laughed quietly as she gazed at him affectionately, earning an awkward look from the young stallion. “What? What?”

Prestige studied him for a few moments, and then she leaned forwards and kissed the side of his neck before resting her head against his shoulder, half-embracing him, and Antares slid his forelegs around her as he gazed down at her softly. “I didn't say it was a bad thing, did I? I simply... I forget sometimes, Antares, that you're not just some softhearted splinter-horn. You have teeth and claws and your horn is as real as mine...”

Antares only smiled a little, rubbing his hooves slowly down her sides as he murmured quietly: “I don't have claws, Prestige... just hooves.”

“That's not what it feels like sometimes.” Prestige replied softly, glancing up with half-lidded eyes, and Antares blushed a bit before she leaned up and kissed him slowly. He gladly kissed her back, their tongues twisting together before their mouths parted, and they smiled at one another before Prestige lowered her eyes and murmured: “But it does make me worry, Antares, about what's going to happen with my mother. Because undoubtedly... she is here to see us. I just don't want to imagine what her business with me might be.”

“Rosewood... Rosewood really does care about you. I saw that when I talked to her myself last time, Prestige.” Antares said quietly, and Prestige shifted with a mumble, the young stallion gazing at her quietly. “Look, either way, we can... we'll deal with it together, right? You and me, we're a team. You're my marefriend, and I'm your coltfriend, and we're... we're together.”

The young ponies smiled at each other, and then embraced; for a little while, they rested, curled comfortably together, each listening the sounds of one another's bodies. Their breathing, almost in perfect time; the rhythm of their hearts, Prestige relaxing more and more with every strong thud of Antares' in his chest; the sound of skin scraping against cloth, and rubbing together as their frames shifted against one-another and the bed.

All too soon, they heard sounds downstairs, like somepony else had entered the library, and the two listened intently as they pressed together. Whoever was here, they were calm and courteous, and while the two ponies could make out that people were speaking, they could only hear dulcet tones and the rumble of words that were too quiet to be made out clearly. Prestige leaned forwards a little more, and Antares winced a bit as he half-rolled a little, whispering awkwardly: “P-Prestige, wait, what are you-”

But Prestige only covered his mouth with a hoof, then Antares winced as she leaned further forwards, putting more pressure on him, and the stallion feeling himself slipping sideways a little bit more before his eyes widened as he realized he couldn't feel the bed under his back anymore. He flailed his forelimbs, trying to throw himself to the side, but the result was Prestige losing balance with a curse and falling forwards on top of him... which sent them both flopping out of the bed to crash down loudly on the floor of the guest room together with a bang that sounded tremendously, horribly loud in the calmness of the library.

Prestige and Antares laid on the floor, the young mare sprawled overtop the prone young stallion as they both stared with wide eyes towards the guest room entrance. For a few moments there was quiet... a short buzz of conversation... and then Celestia's voice called clearly: “Prestige, Antares, would you please come downstairs?”

“Crap.” Antares mumbled, and Prestige grunted something that sounded like an agreement. The two hurriedly picked themselves up, and Prestige quickly reached up and smoothed down her mane before grabbing Antares before he could step past, reaching a hoof up to hurriedly attempt to neaten his messy mane as well as he flailed at her a bit.

He grumbled at her, but she only muttered back at him, the two glaring at each other as Prestige brushed at him hurriedly, then quickly ran forwards before taking a sharp breath and raising her head, her posture going from relaxed to proud and sharp as Antares stared at her. She strode calmly out to the stairs, and Antares followed her almost sheepishly as the young unicorn made her way down the steps and into the library room.

Rosewood was sitting across from Celestia, but the unicorn stood with a warm smile at the sight of her daughter, bowing her head towards her politely. Prestige bowed her head back, and there was happiness in her eyes... but it was tinged with anxiety that bordered on suspicion, as she said softly: “Mother, it's such a surprise to see you here... a pleasant one of course, though... I... I expect you must know the Baroness already, and I know that you've met Antares Mīrus as well, mother, my... my coltfriend.”

Rosewood, to her credit, hid her grimace quite well: Antares only noticed it because he had expected it. For a few moments, there was awkward quiet... but then the prim pink unicorn cleared her throat and bowed her head towards Antares, saying cordially: “It is very nice to see you again, Antares Mīrus, and I was very sincerely hoping that... I would be able to have a word with you and my daughter. It is very important to me, as a mother, to... to get to know those who are having such an impact on my daughter's life. To try and build bridges.”

“It's perfectly alright, Rosewood, you may speak freely here. But if it helps, I made a promise to go and see my brother today... why don't I let the three of you catch up?” Celestia asked courteously, and Rosewood looked surprised as Antares winced and looked almost desperately at the ivory winged unicorn, but Celestia only smiled across at him, saying gently: “Some challenges we have to face alone, Antares.”

Antares winced again, but then he sighed and nodded a little, visibly deflating a bit as Celestia stood up. She bowed her head politely to Rosewood, who quickly dropped her head respectfully in return, and then the winged unicorn calmly made her way around the table and to the door, letting herself out with one last encouraging look over her shoulder to Antares.

Prestige quietly walked forwards to nervously sit at the table, as Antares stood in front of the stairs, wondering moodily if he bolted back up to the room and hid under the bed whether or not Rosewood would come and find him... and then he winced as the pink unicorn glared a little more obviously at him, but managed to keep her tone polite as she asked: “Why don't you take a seat at the table with us, Antares?”

The young black stallion cleared his throat, then he walked forwards and carefully sat down, tapping his hooves nervously against the tabletop as a horrible, painful silence spun out for a few long moments. Rosewood looked at them meditatively, and Prestige shifted in her seat, and Antares tried to look everywhere except at the pink unicorn... except again and again, his eyes kept being drawn back to her. He found himself studying her, her pulled-back silver mane, the strange flaw she had in one eye, the prim posture of her lithe body... all things she shared with Prestige. He looked at her, and she looked back at him before Prestige finally asked quietly: “Why are you here, Mom?”

“To check up on you, Prestige. To make sure things are going well...” Rosewood halted, hesitated... and then sighed, saying softly: “And because you're almost eighteen, and the Mayor has heard a rumor from a noisy little bird that was recently in Canterlot about how well you've been doing in magic school. How you've excelled... how it's almost time for you to come home.”

Prestige flushed at this as Antares looked up sharply, and for a few moments the young mare only breathed hard in and out, not looking up as Rosewood gazed across at her daughter silently. It was tense and painful, and Antares wanted to scream, but knew that right now, he had no place to speak... before finally, Prestige half-rose her head, but kept her eyes low as she whispered: “I don't want to leave, Mom. I don't want to...”

“I know.” Rosewood said softly, sighing quietly as she lowered her head and reached up to slowly rub at her face, before murmuring: “Horses of Heaven, you can be so much like your father sometimes...”

“How?” Prestige asked sharply, looking up and seeming almost hurt by this statement, and Rosewood flinched a little as the young mare almost yelled: “I'm not like him! I don't want to be like him! Yes, I am a pureblooded unicorn and yet... I don't care anymore, I'd throw it all away and be just like the rest of these mudwalkers if I could, if it meant... I get... I got to... I...”

“Enough, Prestige. Enough.” Rosewood said quietly, but for as firm as her voice was, she was gentle too as she rose a hoof, then shook her head slowly and murmured: “It's amazing how things change. Four years ago, I remember how excited you were... how you talked about the future so happily. How much you looked forwards to coming home from the Canterlot Magic Academy once your training there was complete, and arriving not only an adult, but a noble of the highest standing. Able to pick and choose from the suitors that would undoubtedly be eagerly lined up, waiting to meet you... that the Mayor already has set up, in expectation for your return...”

She sighed softly as Prestige trembled a little, the mare looking down and whispering: “Mom, I... please don't make this harder than it already is. I'm... I'm not going back. I'm never going back. I love you, and you've been so good to me, but I'm not going back to the Mayor, because... I can't be part of that world I came from anymore. I... I learned too much. Please don't make me feel any guiltier than I already do, I... I don't want to choose but... it's not just Antares anymore...”

“I see that.” Rosewood looked away silently, and then she sighed softly before raising her front hooves and smashing them against the tabletop. It made the glossy-black young stallion flinch away, but Prestige only continued to look silently at the surface of the furnishing before the pink mare sighed quietly again and asked softly: “Do you think it's going to be worth it, Prestige Luster? Answer me honestly... do you understand what you're giving up for him? Do you realize what this means?”

“I... I do. I do.” Prestige murmured, glancing up and nodding slowly once, and then she lowered her head again and laughed weakly. “At least, I think I do. I'm so confused and scared, Mom, but... I love him, and I don't... Antares and I... we don't want to be apart. And I don't want to go home with all this... everything I've learned and earned, to pretend to be somepony I'm not, just to be some pureblood stallion's... breeding toy and trophy wife.”

Antares nodded slowly at this, managing to look up and across at Rosewood as the pink mare closed her eyes, and for a few moments the silence spiraled out before Prestige looked up and said quietly, trembling a little: “I'm sorry, Mom. I am. I love you and I'm sorry I disappointed you-”

“No, don't say that, because you are not a disappointment.” Rosewood replied forcefully, looking up and pointing at her with one hoof, and Prestige blushed and lowered her head quickly. “You've never been a disappointment, Prestige... and... you've always, always known just what you wanted in life. You remind me of...”

Prestige winced as she looked up, and Rosewood smiled faintly, shaking her head slowly. “I wasn't going to say the Mayor. I see... you really have grown different from him, and that makes me... I can say that makes me proud of you, now. You're your own person, Prestige Luster, and I... I am very glad you're making this decision, even if it means things... your future might not be as bright.”

Rosewood quieted, looking down and sighing softly as she began to trace a hoof moodily over the tabletop, before glaring over at Antares and making him quail a little as she muttered: “You better be worth it, Antares Mīrus. You and this whole nasty little community of mudwalkers.”

“Mom...” Prestige blushed a bit, and Rosewood glanced up before muttering to herself and nodding once. For a moment, there was silence... and then Prestige closed her eyes and whispered: “I'm so sorry about where this puts you... about what it means for you. I hate that I know this will complicate things for you up in the North... that the Mayor shall perhaps lay my faults upon you and... that you will...”

“It's okay, Prestige. I'm your mother... you're my daughter. Mothers are supposed to look after their daughters and I haven't done a good job of that for much of my life. Even if I tried to provide you with everything, I never... I never set a good example for you.” Rosewood shook her head slowly, lowering her head forwards with a soft sigh. “If anything, I suppose I'm glad, Prestige... you're a better pony than I ever was. You deserve a good life, and you're an adult, capable of making your own decisions on what that life should entail. Better decisions than I ever made...”

Antares hesitated, and then the young stallion finally dared to look up as he said quietly: “Rosewood... you sound so regretful. Like you know this is... I mean, if it's okay to ask... why didn't you ever try to escape before? Were you hoping for something like this to happen when you sent Prestige to-”

“Don't presume to know anything, splinter-horn, especially not about me.” Rosewood snapped, but when Prestige looked at her mother imploringly, the pink unicorn sighed and grumbled under her breath before nodding moodily. “Alright, alright, I'll... fine. If you must know, nosy little miscreant, when I was younger I did in fact try to leave the north; it's not that I have any sympathy for slave-hoofs and mudwalkers, but I didn't like the idea of competing over pureblood stallions with all the other mares of my similar... station... and then living a life as nothing more than... an attachment. A pretty, decadent thing on the limb of another pony.”

Antares gazed across at Rosewood softly for a few moments, and then he winced when the older mare glared at him. “Don't give me your sympathies, mudwalker, the rest of your kind certainly didn't. For how much you all claim to be so noble and generous and good, your kind seems to bear grudges for a long time, and loves to take their pain out on those who have had nothing to do with suffering they've never felt. When I lived briefly in Hosston, I had mud thrown at me and my name was slurred by earth ponies and Pegasi and even my fellow unicorns... except they were all mudwalkers, all of them. Earth ponies who had never been under unicorn hoof would call me names, and treated me like garbage, and I had never been above the bourgeois in Silver Hoof! Some even demanded recompense from me... for suffering that I have never caused them, for... pains that my ancestors caused theirs, but what madness possesses these ponies to think our ancestors ever even crossed paths? Your greedy kind, the mudwalkers, are just as entitled as any snobby unicorn noble who thinks they have a right to the world simply because of the blood that flows in their veins.”

Rosewood breathed hard in and out, as Antares leaned back awkwardly, swallowing a little. Prestige seemed a little stunned too, and there was a long, drawn out silence for a few moments before Rosewood finally closed her eyes and slammed her front hooves down against the table again. Antares flinched and Prestige dropped her head, and then the pink unicorn looked up and said moodily: “And yet even now I treat my servants with more dignity than your kind ever treated me, show them more leniency than I was given. So don't give me your sympathy, splinter-horn.”

“Mom...” Prestige said quietly, and Rosewood mumbled but nodded, grumbling something that could also be an apology. For a few moments, there was an awkward silence before the young mare finally looked across at her mother and asked softly: “What do I do?”

“Prestige... you've already made your decision. I... don't want to argue with you about it. I see no point in arguing with you about it. But I am worried...” Rosewood closed her eyes, shaking her head slowly. “These ponies are not always so understanding... and... where will you live? What will you do? And if Antares is the one you've chosen...”

She gave the young stallion a look of distinct distaste, and the glossy-black male shrank a little in his seat, not liking how strangely, deeply intimidated he felt by the pink unicorn. “What are you going to do? Will you be getting married, or will you wait? Most purebloods marry young and quickly, get a dowry and tribute, and conceive foals for both the status and the wealth that the barony showers upon pure-blooded unicorns, as further incentive to try and keep our race pristine. But... you won't be getting any of that if you stay here, nor will you have status. You'll be a traitor to both sides: other traditionalists and purebloods will see you as a betrayer to the culture... and the mudwalkers won't accept you. They'll always look at you as scum... as less than you are, than you deserve to be looked at. They'll treat you with disrespect and intolerance...”

“No, they won't...” Antares said quietly, sitting up before he took a slow breath, reaching out to grasp Prestige's shoulder as he forced himself to meet Rosewood's dangerous eyes. He gazed into them, saw that same flaw she had in her iris; he saw the same things he saw so often in Prestige's eyes, only hidden under anger and self-loathing. “I love your daughter and... I'll do whatever it takes not just to have her in my life, but to make her happy. And we stand together here, as equal ponies, together with other good ponies who accept her, and think highly of her... because of where she's come from and who she's become.”

“I don't need... to be sold off like a pretty thing, and I don't need to rush to have foals just for status and more money and false honor.” Prestige said quietly, bowing her head forwards and blushing a bit as she nodded slowly, then she looked up and swallowed thickly. “I'm not thinking like the Mayor anymore, and... I don't care if I get exiled, or I can never go home, because... because this is my home now. It has been for a long time, longer than I understood myself... but it is. And I don't plan to turn my back on it, or on Antares or... any other pony here. Even the... the ponies who aren't unicorns... they... they perhaps deserve my respect these days now most of all.”

She fell quiet, and there was silence for a few moments before Rosewood nodded slowly, turning her gaze away. For a little while, there was nothing else... and then finally, she looked towards Prestige and said softly: “Alright. Where do you stay, Prestige, at the library here?”

“No... I... I stay with Antares. In his home.” Prestige said awkwardly after a moment, and there was silence between the three before Rosewood sighed tiredly and reached up to rub moodily at her features.

“Wonderful.” Rosewood muttered, and then she shook her head and said finally: “When I return to Silver Hoof I'll... have what I can of yours sent here. Quietly, I hope. And if not quietly, then perhaps under the pretense that you're staying for an extra few months for advance work under the Baroness herself, and have asked for a few additional comforts. But soon enough, the Mayor is going to take an interest. Once he does... there's nothing else I'll really be able to do for you, Prestige. It won't be long before I end up being driven out of Silver Hoof myself.”

“I'm so sorry Mom...” Prestige murmured, looking up quietly, but Rosewood only smiled faintly and shook her head, closing her eyes.

“Don't be, Prestige. Don't be, it's not important. Everything I did, I always did for you... your happiness is what matters most to me.” Rosewood closed her eyes, nodding slowly before she grimaced a little as she looked quietly across at Antares. “Apparently, you are what makes my daughter happy. So... I'll hope all the best for you both.”

There was quiet for a few moments, and then Antares began to open his mouth before he quailed back when Rosewood glared at him. “Shut up, mudwalker. Prestige, how are things going otherwise here? You have friends, you've been excelling in your studies?”

Prestige nodded, smiling a little as she looked up and replied quietly: “I have, Mother, yes. I've been doing very well with my magic, and Miss Twilight is very proud of me. I... I like her being proud of me, and feeling like she's more than a mentor these days, she's a friend.” The young mare hesitated, then looked down and smiled awkwardly. “And I do have friends. This little beautiful village... it's so nice here. It's so pleasant. And the ponies treat each other well, and many of them are so talented. Remarkably so, enviably so.”

She halted, then looked up and asked apprehensively: “Mom, are you sure you're going to be alright? I... I hate thinking how much my choices will affect you...”

“No, don't. Don't.” Rosewood soothed, reaching up a hoof and shaking her head slowly, and then she sighed a little before continuing quietly: “It might not be fair, no, but... it's not like I was never... prepared for this turn of events, Prestige. I think you know by now there's little affection between myself and the Mayor... and... this is for the best. I'm going to continue to live in Silver Hoof for a while, and then once things... start moving, I plan to move to Canterlot. Please keep me up to date on things, though, so I can try and stay ahead of the game.”

Prestige Luster nodded quietly, and Rosewood leaned back, studying Antares for a few more moments before she shook her head slowly and murmured: “What absolute nonsense this has all proven to be. My daughter is going to spend her years with a prince of mudwalkers, and throws away everything she ever tried to be... and yet I can't be sad for it. Oh, Prestige...”

Slowly, Rosewood shook her head again, then closed her eyes and gave a faint smile, resting her face in her hooves. “I remember when I gave birth to you, I was so happy. You had my eyes, and I could tell right away you were going to have my stubbornness and a lot of my worse qualities, too. But you had your father's...”

She stopped, then shook her head and instead smiled, reaching across the table to touch her daughter's face silently. “No, that's not important anymore, because you've grown into your own strong person, your own strong pony. You're going to be free, Prestige, and upset as I am you won't be a noble, you won't have a throne... I'm so glad you'll be free. I love you, my little girl, and you'll always be my little girl, and what's important to me is that you get what you're after in life... and Antares, as long as you take care of my daughter, I'll... overlook how much I don't like you. I just hope that she bears strong foals. Children as talented in magic as she is.”

Prestige only smiled awkwardly at this, blushing and bowing her head forwards silently before she murmured softly: “I know how lucky I was, Mom, since neither you nor the Mayor are very talented at magic. But Antares is... is a good stallion, and I promise to pass everything I can down to my foals. When... when we're ready for that, of course.”

She looked silently over at Antares, and he gazed back, mouth dry, thinking of everything that implied... but it wasn't fear, or anxiety, or anything negative. It was the simple amazement that this beautiful, gorgeous unicorn could already see such a future with him, a future he didn't know he deserved or not.

He stroked slowly down her foreleg, and Prestige smiled softly at him before Rosewood sighed and nodded, then said grudgingly: “But I suppose... I should play the role of responsible and welcoming parent, then. Come, Prestige. I'll buy you and your young stallion lunch, if the mudwalker thinks he can put up with the company of the unwelcome proud-horn.”

Antares smiled awkwardly, saying after a moment: “Rosewood, it's... I don't not like you, honestly. I'm really happy to see how much you care for Prestige, but... you scare me a little. Okay, I guess you actually scare me more than Scutum scares me.”

For a few moments Rosewood looked across at Antares, and then she snorted and muttered: “Well, maybe you have half a brain after all, mudwalker. Keep that in mind and stay respectful, and we'll get along fine.”

“I will.” Antares smiled lamely, and Rosewood studied him for a moment longer before she stood and gestured to the two. Both Antares and Prestige stood as well, the young mare smiling gratefully before Rosewood turned to head to the door, and the young stallion leaned over to mumble to her: “Your mom isn't going to kill me, is she?”

“I think she likes you, honestly.” Prestige said quietly but positively, nodding once... and Antares winced as Rosewood kicked the library door open, shrinking his head a bit as Prestige smiled and hurried after her mother, and the young stallion followed last, wondering morbidly if this meant that in the future Prestige would be even scarier than she already was too.