Behold the splendorous wonder that is Celestia. The centuries bring new generations of her little ponies, each like emissaries bringing exotic gifts, striving to outdo those that came before. There are artists that weep sweet tears knowing hers to be a grace no colours could ever capture in canvas. There are lovers that yearn long years knowing that her smile alone could torment them with sweet sorrow knowing it can never be. Of Celestia’s every aspect and regard poets have poemified prolifically, because that is just the sort of thing they are wont to do.
Behold the slightly less splendorous wonder that is Celestia at this particular moment. Her ears are drooping. Her eyes are puffy and red. She is lurking in a fortress of pillowy solitude.
Many ponies see Celestia, albeit from afar. From the crowds and the streets, looking up at her majesty. Some ponies see her closer. Those privileged with talent, virtue or with enough wealth to buy prosthetic talents and prosthetic virtues that very nearly pass for the real thing, these ponies see her smile, hear her laughter, feel her eminent presence.
Exceedingly few ponies see her blow her nose with a sound like a goose in mating season.
A few near-misses of scrunched up tissue paper laid on the marble by the crackling fire. The latest scrunched up calamity was on target and it tumbled through the air to land neatly amongst the glowing embers. It shrivelled and blackened and caught fire after only a brief resistance from the Royal Boogers, then was blessedly reduced to ash.
The other tissues lifted themselves into the air and dove headlong into the flames with a telltale purple sheen. “I brought tea,” Twilight Sparkle said cheerfully.
The Princess pushed herself upright through the mound of pillows, many spilling from her upper slopes. She’d stolen as many as she could find, blankets too, and so far wasn’t letting the servants take a single one of them back much to their distraught protest. Celestia croaked with a voice like a blunt sawblade, “Thank you.”
She took the proffered cup in her hooves. Celestia sniffed, though anything that sounds like tree sap being forcibly drawn up through two straws has no right to get away with a word like ‘sniffed’. “It looks...lovely.”
It was not the colour of healthy tea.
Then Celestia sneezed. The room flashed with a sunburst of light that was quick to fade.
The light was pretty, the goobers were dreadful, and would have been worse had not a purple-glowing wad of tissues latched onto Celestia’s face at the last possible second. She flung it with scorn to the bustling little flames and groaned. It left Celestia light-headed, quite literally as well, and this Celestia did not wish to dwell on.
“Twilight?” she coaxed. “You can lower the sneeze guard now. Good reflexes, I might add.” The sparkling little fortress of purple lights dissolved away, revealing a rather embarrassed Twilight Sparkle, glancing shyly down to a hoof that pawed the floor.
Celestia’s brow furrowed with thought as she pulled something from her tea, fishing inexpertly for it with the tip of her golden shod hoof. “What’s this?”
Nothing perked up Twilight like hearing question she knew the answer to. “Clove!” she answered happily. “There’s also a squeeze of lemon, a bit of ginger, a hint of cinnamon, a touch of willow, a trace of garlic, a smidgen of caijun pepper, some-”
“Some boiled water, too?”
“Oh, uh, of course! Couldn’t be tea otherwise, right?” Twilight wiggled a jig, or possibly jiggled a wig. Twilight blinked and stopped her little dance. “Kind of the fundamental ingredient. Other than, you know, tea.”
For a moment there, Celestial forgot all about nagging aches and stuffy airways and smiled. Five, fifteen, fifty: Twilight could have been any age. It wouldn’t matter, she’d always be like this inside. Not even wings could change that, though they did add a new level of class to Twilight’s inability to dance. None of that mattered. Her spirit was that of the eternal student, and ten minutes alone with Celestia brought out the youngest alicorn’s inner child. It always had. Twilight couldn’t help it, and Celestia could but never really wanted to.
Celestia eyed her ‘tea’ warily, full well knowing what implications the new apostrophes brought. She sipped it on good faith and not much else.
This could be said of the brew: Celestia could taste it. Considering she hadn’t been able to taste anything for two days, that alone was something. And she could taste it powerfully so, and that wasn’t even the strongest sensation. The fumes - and they were fumes - hit Celestia’s Royal Sinuses like an archaeological dig team which has just discovered all the joys of high explosive and none of the inhibitions of common sense. A millenium of carefully measured expressions and self control prevailed over the urge to make a face.
But only just.
“Well,” Celestia wheezed as the concoction ran riotously down her throat. “This is...that is to say, it’s...” Celestia held the cup away from her immediate breathing space and waved the air clear with the other hoof. She blinked her watering eyes, regarded Twilight’s earnest smile and gave up. “It’s very thoughtful of you to make me this.” She sighed. She didn’t doubt that this stuff would be good in beating a cold, because she couldn’t imagine much of anything surviving the whole cup.
Medicine shouldn’t be like this: a small fresh mug of weaponized healthiness.
She very delicately set the ‘tea’ on a nearby countertop. A horribly liquid sensation made itself known in Celestia’s nose. Nopony should have to make the choice between nose chaffing and nose blowing, yet that precisely was what the eldest alicorn faced. Celestia instinctively hunched.
She fumbled with growing urgency. Cardboard made for a fleeting hope, but there was no savior in good papery softness to be found there.
Twilight nudged and sidled her way atop the fortress of fluffy pillows. “Celestia, is everything alright? It’s just...”
Oh No... Twilight was talking, but Celestia wasn’t hearing any of it. Her attention was turned inward to a small and distant sensation quickly growing. It was barely there, but she could feel it, like a tidal wave coming from the horizon. A big one. Twilight Sparkle’s earlier good reflexes had used every last tissue. A dire oversight. “Twilight Sparkle, for the love of all that is good in Equestria get me another box of tissues this instant!”
“Er, right! You can count on me!” Twilight tried to bolt, learned surprisingly late in life that pillows aren’t at all easy to run on, struggled free from the heap and ran, even her wings flapping in the spirit of urgency.
With terrible, tortuous slowness, the first drip dribbled from Celestia’s nose.
Celestia battled wills with her own body. The drip. It tickled. It crept down her upper lip like a calving glacier; slow and unstoppable and dreaming of toppling hapless ships.
Celestia tried to pull away, but she couldn’t, because naturally it came with her. Very gingerly and with a whinge and a great deal of regret, she rubbed the spot with her hoof. Shuddering, Celestia wiped said hoof on a random pillow. If it wasn’t her least favoured pillow, now it would be. She tossed it to the far corner of the room and hunched down with her misery.
Another drip dripped to take its place. Celestia wanted to cry. Political intrigue, roving changelings, Equestria’s administration, these things she could accept as part and parcel of her status. Treacherous sinuses were another matter entirely.
The compulsion to sneeze contorted Celestia’s features. Her mouth was caught between opening and closing as the about-to-sneeze played merry hell with her composure. Her breathing was shallow and erratic, her eyes streamed stinging tears.
“Just sneeze already,” she said on the off chance her nasal passages were listening. It tickled to think, it itched to speak. “I give in.”
This was no girly ‘achoo’ that was coming, oh no. Not this one. This was a big one. The big one, she could feel it. The clean sweep. Where one airway looked to the other and decided that Everything Must Go. A sneeze with mass. A sneeze with force. A sneeze with purest, blinding sunlight.
A scrunchy-faced limbo, that’s what this was. “What are you waiting for? I give in!” Celestia urged, and now she was throwing her will behind the urge to sneeze. Better to get it over with than this purgatory of waiting for it. And yet, for all her considerable powers, Celestia was helpless to find even that small mercy.
In the waiting-to-sneeze purgatory she would remain.
Two corridors away, Twilight barged through a castle servant and didn’t even slow down. “Thawwe!” she cried through a mouthful of cardboard. Twilight skidded around a corner, her hooves scrambled for traction, her wings flapped wildly and bounced off walls only to accelerate her down the next passageway. “Aah hoohin, Printheth!”
Every breath was cardboard, every heartbeat was panic. Hope and fear raced neck and neck with Twilight Sparkle as she rounded the last corner, bodily ricocheting off the wall.
She spat the box into her hoof as she leapt, her wings sending her flying forwards. Leapt, that was, headlong towards a Celestia full of misery and shock.
Several things happened at once, all of them subsumed by a blinding flash of purest sunlight.
Twilight Sparkle exited the teleport on the far side of Celestia and immediately froze up. Only after a critical second of self-evaluation did she breathe.
“Thank you, Twilight.” Celestia tugged a great many tissues free with no ceremony whatsoever, and with even less ceremony than that wiped her face and blew her nose. Sniffing and sighing and groaning, she slumped back into her pillows.
“Half the castle must have seen that,” Celestia croaked. The stuffiness was gone from her voice, at least. Neither pony wanted to think of where it had gone. “I’m sure I hear them laughing.”
Twilight ferried a few more pieces of wood into the fire with magic. Her ears flicked around. “I don’t,” she began, before catching the wry smile. It proved infectious, and Twilight smiled too.
“Here, finish the tea. It’s good for you.” Twilight nudged her way through pillows to her once-upon-a-teacher’s side, where she folded her legs up and laid at her ease, next to Celestia. “I know,” she murmured, “I know it tastes terrible. You don’t have to pretend, I tried some earlier.”
Celestia looked from her former student to the mug. Cloves and other bits floated maliciously. She took a daring swig of the heady mix. Her eyes streamed with fresh tears for a passing moment. Celestia wheezed a ragged breath and struggled for words. “That it does. But the taste doesn’t cover up the important things.”
“Thoughtfulness. Caring. A very fine teleport.”
Twilight giggled and her wings shifted. “That was a bit of a close call, wasn’t it? And that was a trick I never thought I’d be using again. Definitely not with you.”
Celestia chuckled. “I only hope I’d be as decisive in the same situation.”
The air turned quiet and thoughtful. “It’s strange,” Twilight said. “I would of thought you’d tell me it’s alright to go and that you’re fine. Not that I want to leave you, I mean. Not that. Just that it would be the sort of thing I’m used to you saying. I keep thinking we’re going to have to argue about that sooner or later.”
Celestia nodded. “You are right to presume that. That is something I’ve said often enough, in the past. And I would be fine, that part is true. But I think I would prefer to be better than fine just now. Equestria can go an afternoon without us.” A white wing pulled Twilight gently closer. “I’m happy for you to stay and keep me company, Twilight. That alone makes me feel better than any ten things in this cup you care to name.”
There was surprise there in Twilight’s eyes, but not an unpleasant one. She ruffled her wings and leaned on Celestia and closed her eyes with a content smile. “Thank you,” she said dreamily. “I didn’t want to go.”
“Thank you more,” said Celestia as another laden tissue lit up in the hearth, “for wanting to stay.”
And there, with nagging aches, runny nose, sore throat, a concoction of potent flavours never meant to be used together, with puffiness and red, watery eyes and a chaffed nose, with all that Celestia felt splendidly, wonderously blessed.
She smiled as she beheld Twilight Sparkle. Then Celestia sneezed like the coming of dawn.