As an ancient alicorn trapped inside a library, Princess Twilight spent many a century dreaming of being rescued from her prison. Now, finding herself in an entirely new Equestria, she realizes she'd never planned for somepony to actually succeed...
It's easy to think about fairytales when you’re an ancient alicorn trapped in a library for centuries on end. It's easy to wonder how one would go about rescuing you, to think and devise and plot about how to free you in a blaze of glory, intrigue, adventure, and romance.
Or, rather, it’s easy until suddenly it happens and you’re forced to ask yourself the one terrifying question you’d yet to consider.
On the northwestern-border of Equestria and The Undiscovered West, at the edge of Luna Bay, rested a small forgotten village by the name of Moon Shine. It did not feature on most maps as there was nothing remarkable about it beyond twenty houses, a run-down shop, a small school, a tiny post-office, and an inn older than all of the villagers combined.
If somepony had asked North Ridge when was the last time he'd stepped into an Equestrian town, the only truly accurate reply would be thirty-two years ago. Though he'd recently shaved his beard, the wrinkles on his face betrayed his age. Many would say that the earth pony was not elderly by any stretch of the imagination, and yet, he felt old.
Thirty-two years of travels had aged his soul.
Nighttime had fallen long ago, and the frigid wind and snow from the northern mountains fell down upon his dirty cloak and the sleeping village. He had hoped to find a settlement in daylight and ask for guidance, but life had taught him hopes were a bit a bushel.
It was odd to be back in Equestria, he thought as he walked the main street, looking for some sign of life. Had things changed? Or were they all the same as when he left? He yearned for familiarity, and yet the idea of nothing having changed was disappointing somehow. No last adventures, no secrets to be discovered.
Finally, he saw some promise in the distance, in the shape of what seemed to be an open establishment, lights shining out the windows. He could not see too clearly through the snowfall, but he'd travelled enough to recognize an inn when he saw one.
As he approached, the inn door swung open and out stumbled a young unicorn stallion. It seemed somepony had drank more than they could handle.
He trotted towards the stallion and waved.
"Excuse me!" he called, straining his voice so as to be heard despite the wind and snow. "Sir!"
The stallion blinked at him, and North's nose crinkled at the stench coming off him. "Huh? You're talking to me?" he asked, studying the older stallion with wary eyes.
"I am, yes!" North replied, finding himself happy to converse with a pony despite the circumstances. He looked around and asked, "Where are we? I've been travelling, and this place isn't on my map." He looked southward, where a shore was visible in the distance. "That is Luna Bay, isn't it?"
The stallion snorted. "Hah! Figures Moon Shine wouldn't be on any map. Nothin' good ever happens in this good-for-nothing place. Sick of it." He coughed once, twice, thrice, and rubbed his runny nose with a hoof. "You should go somewhere else."
North smiled sympathetically. "I suppose drinks don't heal all wounds."
The stallion grimaced. "I didn't go there to heal any wound, old-timer. I went in there for a nice time, and then the prettiest mare I've ever seen tells me to get lost when I asked her to join me, and then the innkeeper throws me out for that!" He stopped and groaned, rubbing his forehead. "Ugh." He looked back at North. "You're not from here. What's your deal?"
"I've been away from Equestria!" North exclaimed, standing up straighter. He was a remarkable traveler, if he said so himself. "And I've just come back after thirty-two years of travels! I'm heading to Canterlot. How is Princess Amore, if I may ask?"
"Deader than my chances with the mare from the pub," the stallion bluntly replied. "And her daughter's gone crazy. Bad time to come back, old-timer."
A pang shot through North's heart. Princess Amore was an older pony when he left Equestria, so it made sense that her child—Princess Denza, she liked to be called?—was now the ruling monarch.
"Crazy, you say?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "She always did seem a bit rebellious, I suppose. What did she do to make you say that?"
"Grab a newspaper, pops. You wouldn't believe me even if I told you," the stallion replied, walking away and rubbing his no doubt throbbing headache. "I just hope Seeking Night wasn't your favorite holiday 'cause we don't need it anymore."
North watched him go. Strange things said by a strange stallion, he thought before walking towards the inn.
A sign swung above the oak door, proclaiming the worn down building as The Moonlit Inn. What a delightful name! With renewed interest, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.
As to be expected from the late hour, the dimly-lit establishment was nearly empty save for a few patrons drinking the night away. He took his cloak off, put it on the nearby rack, and when he turned towards the bar, was surprised to see no innkeeper in sight. He approached the counter and rang the deskbell.
"Give me a minute!" a voice called from inside the kitchen.
"Of course!" he called back.
That done, he turned around to find a spot to sit and, if he was lucky, somepony to share a drink with. A stallion sat by the bar, his face resting against his crossed forelegs, and the snores coming from him quickly crossed him out as a viable option. He looked to the left, saw a couple snuggling their youth away at a booth, and an aching heart forced him to look away. Finally, upon glancing right, he found the ideal candidate.
A unicorn mare sat alone at a table in the corner of the bar, and though he'd long ago stopped caring for love, he could still appreciate her beauty despite the obscuring shadow of her chosen spot. The lights were off around her, and yet she did not seem to be bothered.
The first thing he saw was her well-kept indigo mane which fell over her face, as if hiding her away. His eyes traveled down her pale gray coat, searching for her cutie mark. The sight of it torn away by three jarring scars gave him a start.
Well, well, he thought, it seems I have found the infamous heartbreaker.
He saw no drinks on her table, and though he'd been interested in approaching, he now wondered if it that was a wise decision. The last thing he wanted was for her to assume he had ill intent. It seemed he would be drinking alone that night.
Or he thought he would, until she turned and looked straight at him, and he had the sense she'd known he'd been watching her. They stared at each other silently, both waiting for the other to react, and so did North approach her when she finally smiled at him.
"Hello!' he greeted brightly, nodding his head towards the spot opposite her. "Is this seat taken?"
The mare smiled. "That depends entirely on what you seek to gain from sitting there, sir," she said, voice melodious.
North chuckled. "I can promise you I don't seek what the stallion that just left was looking for," he assured. "I only want to hear a story I've never heard before, and you look like somepony who has interesting stories to tell!"
Her smile grew, apparently pleased by his statement. "You are a flatterer, aren't you? But you're also quite right. I have stories ponies would hardly believe." She tilted her head. "You seem interesting yourself, sir. Please, do sit down."
"I will, but first, a drink! It's been a long day," he said, having noticed the innkeeper’s return. "What will I be bringing you?"
"Nothing, I fear," she replied. "I don't have my bitbag with me at the moment."
North smiled. "You can repay me with a story, then," he said, and again asked, "What will I be bringing you?"
Finally, after a moment's hesitation, she accepted. "Whatever you're having will do."
Though the innkeeper had returned, his attention was hardly on his customers and more on the newspaper floating before him. The younger stallion's words echoed in North's mind, and he found himself trying to catch a glance at the front page, but only succeeded in reading as far as "Princess Cadenza Armor the Tenth's Shocking—"
"Evening," the stallion said, putting the newspaper away and giving North an expectant stare. "What can I get you?"
North hummed, looking upwards and scanning over the menu hanging on the wall. His first drink in Equestria! It had to be a very important and unique drink befitting such a momentous occasion.
"Black coffee, please!" he said, licking his lips. "Make that two of them. One for me and one for my new friend!"
The bartender's brow furrowed slightly, and North saw him glance at the mare for a moment. When she smiled, he replied.
"Black coffee it is," he said, finally. "Anything to eat?"
North hummed again. "A daffodil and daisy sandwich should do."
The bartender nodded and headed off towards the kitchen, giving North time to idle around. His new friend was still at her table, now entertained by examining her forehoof. What an intriguing mare, he thought. There was something about her, like she were trying to hide something away in that dark corner of the bar.
His mind wandered towards the newspaper again, and his curiosity clawed at him. He'd seen the innkeeper stash the newspaper away inside the counter, so… a quick peek at the front page surely wouldn't hurt? He'd once outrun feral lions; he could certainly read a newspaper before the owner came back.
He walked around the counter and spotted the stashed object. He inched towards it, taking a moment to inspect everything else behind the counter, and froze when his eyes met the wastebasket.
Inside it were a dozen or so scrunched up newspaper pages, and though that wasn't an altogether shocking sight, there happened to be a single page that had simply been thrown away rather than crumpled into a ball. It was because of this that he'd caught the word "MISSING" printed at the top in large red letters, and yet it was not that fact that caught his attention, but the photograph printed below it. Blinking, he grabbed the paper and found himself staring at a wrinkled photo of the very same mare still inspecting her hoof at her table.
At that moment, North Ridge learned three important details about his new friend.
One: Her name was Rarity.
Two: She had last been seen several days ago near a place called Dodge Junction which, if memory served, was entirely on the other side of Equestria.
Three: A mere two days ago, Princess Denza had launched a kingdom-wide search for her.
And yet there she sat, admiring her hooficure with unusual interest.
A sound came from the kitchen: hoofsteps drawing closer. North quickly threw away the page and returned to his spot in front of the counter. It had been quite some time since his heart had last beat as fast as it did now. There had only ever been one mare he'd found more fascinating than this Rarity, and that had been his own wife.
"Here you go," the innkeeper said, a tray with a plate and two cups of coffee floating behind him. "Enjoy."
"Th-Thank you!" North sputtered, trotting to the coat hanger and pulling his bitbag out the pocket of his cloak. "How much will that be?"
The bartender again glanced at Rarity before saying, "Don't mind that. It's on the house."
North blinked. "I—Really? Are you sure?"
"Yes," he said. "Just don't upset her, or I'll have to ask you to leave."
"Of course not," North said, bowing his head before taking the tray and walking back to his very interesting table companion.
"Here you are!" he exclaimed after setting down the tray, subsequently sitting across from the mare. "On the house, too! Lucky day for both of us!"
"Glass Drops has been quite kind to me," she replied, levitating the cup from the tray and placing it before her. She then fluttered her eyelashes and added, "Though I do appreciate your intention." She leaned back a bit and tilted her head. "So, Mister…"
"North Ridge," he filled in. "And you?"
"Princess Rarity the First," she replied simply.
North blinked, raising an eyebrow. "Really?" he asked, and so did she giggle.
"No, but you cannot deny me the simple pleasure of making a stranger believe I'm royalty," she replied. Her ears then flickered and her brow furrowed. "Then again," she continued, and she lifted her hoof for a moment as if to grasp the pink broken crystal hanging from her neck, until she stopped and lowered her hoof. "I was hoping to be princess-consort. Or I may yet still be. I'm not quite sure anymore."
Rarity fell silent, staring down at her coffee, lost in thought. What was she thinking, he wondered.
"So, North Ridge," she spoke up, lifting her gaze towards him. "What is your story?"
North grinned. "Miss Rarity, I asked you that first."
"Indeed you did," she replied, "but a lady does not divulge her secrets to just anypony."
"Fair enough," North said, taking a big gulp of his coffee. When he put the cup down, he rubbed a hoof against his muzzle, deep in thought. "I am a traveler, if that tells you anything. I left Equestria as a young stallion to explore the lands beyond the western border, and thirty-two years later, I've finally come back home."
"Well! That is quite the story, if a bit too brief," she said, but the smile she wore clearly showed she was pleased. She leaned in a bit, her ears perked towards him. "Thirty-two years is quite a long time. What brought you back to Equestria?"
He did not hesitate. "My wife, Frost Flower."
Her eyes suddenly sparkled with life. "Really? She sounds lovely," she exclaimed and then giggled. "I can imagine she'd be quite worried if you've been gone for thirty-two years."
His heart twisted a little, and though it was a subject he did not share with others, he felt inspired for once. "Those who are gone do not worry about the living, Miss Rarity," he said carefully, and felt somewhat bad when the sparkles in her eyes vanished. "She was my companion not just in life, but in travel. Sadly, she's gone now."
"Oh. My condolences."
He waved her off with a hoof. "It's all right. As they say, time will heal all wounds."
Again, she seemed lost in thought, staring at her coffee. "You must miss her terribly," she said.
"All the time," he admitted. "I thought it would ease with the years, but it hasn't. I see her everywhere. It's like she's haunting me."
Rarity looked up at him, suddenly amused. "Love makes ghosts of us all, it would seem."
"How about you?" he asked in return. "Do you have somepony you love?"
It was the right question to ask for the intensity of her sudden smile surprised him. The sparkle in her eyes returned, yet something else was there, something sad, he could tell. But that smile. It was not the largest smile he'd seen, yet it was by far one of the most sincere smiles he'd ever gotten from a stranger.
"I do," she replied, sitting up straight. "I do, and I'm embarrassed to think about just how madly in love I am with her. My only consolation is that I'm quite certain she's just as madly in love with me."
A grin pushed itself onto his lips. What a painful yet heartwarming sight. It made him think of his wife, and he wished she were there. He was sure Frost and Rarity would have been fast friends.
"What's her name, if I may ask?"
Without hesitation, and with a smile, she replied, "Twilight Sparkle."
He thought about remarking on what a lovely name that was, but another question drifted into his mind. Those missing posters clung in his memory, and so did the answers he sought, prompting him to carefully ask, "And does she know you're here?"
"If you ask because of the missing posters—yes, I saw you looking at them—then no, she does not know I'm here," she replied. Her eyes softened, and the sadness in them deepened—as if that very fact of keeping secrets from her beloved wounded her.
"Miss Rarity, if I promise to keep your secret, will you tell me the story behind that poster?" he asked, having found an entryway into what promised to be a tale to remember. "I won't be leaving for Canterlot until tomorrow, and it's been some time I've shared an Equestrian coffee with a friend."
She hummed, inspecting him with her gaze. "I won't be leaving for Ponyville until tomorrow night," she said eventually, and with a tilt of her head, agreed. "All right, then. Have you heard of the Myth of the Four Princesses?"
"When I was a foal," he replied. "Once upon a time lived four beautiful princesses who slighted a terrible beast, and as punishment, he trapped three of them throughout the land, doomed to live as spirits while the remaining princess and her descendants were cursed to never find the others."
"And which princess is your favorite?" she asked, and the sudden seriousness in her expression was jarring considering the foalishness of her line of questioning.
"Is that relevant?" he asked.
"Absolutely," she replied.
He chuckled. "Then I would say the answer to be Princess Dusty Scrolls. I don't know what name you know her by, but that was the name for her in my hometown."
She frowned. "Princess Dusty Scrolls? That's the youngest of the princesses! What wonderful taste you have!" She grinned at him for a moment and then hummed thoughtfully. "Hmm… That would mean you're from Tall Tales, are you not?" she ventured, and so did she give a winning smile when he nodded. "I'm from Ponyville! We refer to her as Princess Booky back home, and—yes, yes, I know it's not the most original of names, don't laugh!"
North grinned at her. "And what does Princess Booky have to do with your missing posters, then?"
"Why, everything," she replied, and then leaned in, looking to either side conspiratorially. "I found her," she said completely and utterly seriously. "I found the lost princess, North Ridge!"
He stared at her for quite some time.
"Did you now?" he asked, amused. He didn't know what Rarity was getting at, but he could admit it was entertaining.
"I did! It's true!" she insisted, nodding her head. "I found her inside the Everfree Forest, and she now walks upon Equestria, free of her forsaken library. We've become very close, you know."
"Are you now? I must say I've met and seen all manner of creatures and beings during my travels, but I've yet to befriend an ages-old lost princess," he admitted, delighting in playing her silly game. "You have to tell me, then, what is her real name?"
And again, without hesitation, and with an even broader smile, she replied, "Twilight Sparkle."
North Ridge stared at her for what felt like years. He lifted his cup of coffee and took a lengthy drink before putting it down and looking at her again.
"The very same Twilight Sparkle that you're madly in love with, and who is madly in love with you?"
Her grin widened. "The very same, yes."
"Miss Rarity," he said, leaning forwards, "the conviction with which you say these lies is very impressive."
"Now, North! We're such frightfully good friends, and yet you doubt me?" she asked with mock-offense. "What reason could I possibly have to lie to you about such things?"
He thought about his answer to that for quite some time, staring at her coffee and noting she'd been talking for so long, she had yet to have a single sip.
"To be honest," he finally said, "I can't think of any reason, and more than that, I think I actually want to believe your fantastic tale." He gestured for her to continue. "You found Princess Twilight Sparkle, a spirit of olde, and then you freed her from her prison?"
"Not at all," Rarity replied, and in her voice he detected a great deal of pride. "She freed herself. My beloved escaped her personal Tartarus by fighting the fiercest of her inner demons, and she came out all the stronger for it."
He hummed. "I've learned in my travels that the fiercest of creatures were often forged in the harshest of fires."
"Precisely," she replied. "And my privileged role was simply to light the flame."
North took his cup for the third time, and finished it off in one go. When he put it down again, he examined her with the same curiosity as she had earlier regarded him with.
"You tell interesting stories, Miss Rarity."
She fluttered her eyelashes. "We are all stories in the end, North. I will be a fairytale, just as you will one day. Better make them interesting fairytales, wouldn't you agree?"
"I do! Very much so! That same ideology is what drove me to explore the west!" He licked his lips, wondering how many more cups of coffee would he be drinking that night. "So then, our fairytale princess saved herself from her terrible demons? What happened next?"
Rarity's response was simple. "She fell asleep."
He blinked. "She fell asleep," he repeated. "And what happened next?"
Rarity giggled, raising an eyebrow. "Isn't it obvious?" she asked. "She woke up."
Once upon a time, nestled in a comfy bed and somepony's embrace, an alicorn stirred awake. A yawn escaped her lips, and upon opening her eyes, she saw the night sky beyond the bedroom window, filled with stars and constellations. They were distant and faded, beautiful and clear all at once, and she named each one in her head.
At the back of her mind, she thought the stars in her dreams had never been clearer.
She closed her eyes, a smile blooming on her lips, and it felt like the soft pillow under her head had drained her every thought and worry, lulling her away into a peaceful sleep. Her chest rose and fell with every breath, as it unnecessarily had for a thousand years now, simply out of mere habit.
If one actually stopped and considered the inherent nature of dreams, the one she was currently having was stunningly vivid. She missed having dreams. This was the first she'd had in such a long time, considering that being displaced in time made it impossible to sleep.
Silence reigned for a moment.
In the dead of the night, Princess Twilight Sparkle jerked up to a sitting position, wide-eyed and completely and utterly alert to what now revealed itself to be anything but a dream. Her chest heaved and heaved with every quick breath, and her eyes darted around the unfamiliar room.
Old carved desks, mirrors, bookcases filled not with books but stacks of fabrics, this and more filled the space around her. It all looked familiar, but she was certain she'd never stepped hoof in a room such as this one.
Before she could properly ascertain the situation, she was interrupted by something stirring beneath the covers and a pair of small hooves tugging at her barrel, trying to hug as much of her as they could. She carefully lifted the bedsheets and was surprised to find a familiar silver filly curled up against her, her pale coat now bearing the same ink splotches covering Twilight and the bedsheets.
Sweetie was fast asleep, nuzzling her face against Twilight, and so did Twilight's memories come rushing back. The chaos magic, the barrier breaking, Discord's now seemingly baseless threat, her freedom, the fact that she could breathe now, and…and Rarity in the library, and their kiss, and the heavenly sensation of falling asleep in her forelegs.
For a thousand years, Princess Twilight Sparkle had been trapped in a lost library.
For a thousand years, she had been nothing but a spirit, doomed to wander the same halls, read the same books for centuries and centuries to come.
For a thousand years, she had abandoned all hope to ever be free of her mental and physical prison.
And just like that, she was now free.
And now she realized she was in the room of the one pony who'd gone above and beyond for her, fought dragons, and curses, and timberwolves, and all manner of demons for her.
She quickly looked to the other side of the bed, and to her disappointment, found that no pony save for her and Sweetie Belle occupied it. Though the necklace hanging from her neck glowed a bright pink, a longing sensation now filled her chest, and she realized she needed more than a quick communication spell. The only thing she wanted now was to see Rarity again.
She carefully extracted herself from Sweetie's forelegs, slid off the bed, and then stopped when she felt something—or, rather, somepony—tug at her.
She turned around to find Sweetie Belle looking up at her with sleepy eyes, horn lit up and magic holding onto the alicorn.
"Princess Twilight," Sweetie continued in a mumble, a tiny yawn escaping her lips, "where are you going?"
"I…" Twilight faltered. She didn't actually know where to look for Rarity.
"Are you coming back?" Sweetie continued, and it was obvious she was struggling to keep her eyes open. "You won't leave again…?"
A pang shot through the alicorn's heart. A voice inside whispered a reminder of the pain she'd caused, but she smothered it and instead smiled warmly at the filly. "I'm just going to go find Rarity, okay?"
Sweetie nodded, a tired smile drawing on her lips as she closed her eyes, her magic spell fading out.
Twilight turned around again, trotting towards the closed door and then faltering before it. Her instinct had been to use her magic to turn the doorknob, but she licked her lips and lifted her hoof instead, her breath catching in her throat when it landed firmly on the silver handle. Slowly, she opened the door, her ears twitching at the creaking sound of the door opening wide and revealing a dimly lit hallway.
A delighted giggle left her lips, her heart now pounding against her ribcage.
It was over. It was really, really over.
She stepped out into the hallway, closing the door behind her and trying to decide on where to go. Closed doors were scattered along the length of the walls, and her curiosity drove her to them. The first one was locked, as was the second, and when she made to try the third, distant noises caught her attention.
As she approached, the sounds of hoofsteps drifted up from below. She reached the stairs and walked down, her attention now caught by the framed photographs hung on the wall. The first was a picture of Rarity and her family, and Twilight's eyes lingered on the older ponies. Would they like Twilight? Did they even know about her?
She continued down, and again paused at the next photograph, depicting several excited ponies posing in front of a dark blue building, its walls decorated with crescent moon windows and paintings of stars and constellations. An ornate sign hung atop the door, identifying the place as "Moonlight Lullaby's Dreamland" and below it stood Rarity and Pinkie Pie, both smiling widely.
Whatever that was, it had clearly happened after she'd… she'd…
She swallowed, creeping dark thoughts clawing at her mind, and she pushed on, taking in the sight of a third picture. A smile spread on her lips, observing a photograph of all her friends gathered around Spike, laughing and talking and being together while she was…
She looked away and closed her eyes, a lump forming in her throat. She'd been gone for nearly two years, hadn't she? It was what she'd been told, and it was jarring. She didn't feel like two years had gone by; she felt like she'd argued with Rarity only yesterday, and yet here was the evidence of that rift in time, showcased in memories formed without her.
Home is where the heart is and by that adage, she thought she was home in Rarity's embrace, but now? Only then and there did she realize that home might not be as she remembered it.
And if it wasn't, then what else did she have?
She took a deep breath and opened her eyes, stepping down the stairs and pointedly avoiding looking at the other photographs. She could look at them later, she told herself, ignoring the painful curiosity breathing down her neck.
When she finally reached the last step, her attention was caught by a brightly lit room, a wonderful smell wafting out of it. She walked towards it, drawn in by the smell, and her breath caught at the sight she found.
Rarity sat at the kitchen table, her chin pressed against a hoof, her gaze lost in the distance as her magic idly stirred the cup of tea in front of her. She’s beautiful, was Twilight’s first thought, and at the same time, she found herself intimidated by the mare.
Two years had gone by.
Ponies could change in two years. Nothing was constant in life, after all, and it concerned her to think she knew nothing of the unicorn she was helplessly taken by. Her eyes then landed on the three scars marking Rarity's flank, and so did a sharp pain cross her chest, pushing her back into the hallway.
Rarity was hurt, or rather, had been hurt. Physically and emotionally, and Twilight had been at the root of it all. Hadn't Rarity said as much in the library? That they would fight and argue, not then but eventually, and eventually was now, and… and just the thought of there being an issue between them was enough for her chest to ache.
She took a deep breath. She needed to fix it, whatever the problem was. Actually, technically speaking, there was a long list of things she had to fix, but Rarity was the closest and most important one, so fixing that issue would not only ease her chest pains, but also…
A blush decorated her cheeks.
Maybe then she'd be allowed to return a certain gesture.
She returned to the kitchen, forcing herself inside, and tentatively called out.
Though she did not raise her chin, Rarity shifted her gaze towards the alicorn, and so did Twilight's insecurities creep up as Rarity did and said nothing. She simply stared, her expression focused, no doubt deep in thought. As they looked at each other across the gaping threshold that stood between them, Twilight wished she knew what the other was thinking.
Was she mad? Happy? Regretful? These and more questions posed themselves to the alicorn awkwardly standing by, waiting for Rarity to do, well, something.
Finally, she did.
"Once upon a time," she said, her voice carrying out like a storyteller in front of an audience, a smile blooming on her lips, "there was a mare more beautiful than the sun and moon themselves."
A matching smile pushed itself onto Twilight's lips.
"Oh?" Twilight asked, her smile turning into a smirk, already predicting Rarity's reply. "And she lived in a boutique in Ponyville?"
Rarity fluttered her eyelashes and giggled, like no time had passed and they were back in the library. "Well, she lived in an ancient library, but darling, I'm flattered," she replied, and yet no sooner had she done so, her expression shifted from amused to pensive. She finally lifted her hoof towards Twilight, a silent beckoning motion, and so did Twilight assent. When she reached her, Rarity's hoof pressed against Twilight's cheek and she quietly asked, "How did you sleep?"
"I slept all right, I think," she replied, her eyes focused on Rarity, trying to stop herself from nuzzling into the unicorn's hoof. It was still electric, still fascinating, the mere idea and realization that they could touch now. She then belatedly asked, "And you?"
Rarity's hoof lowered, and she turned her sights to the teacup before her, her hooves wrapping around it. She chuckled. "I slept enough, all things considered." For a moment, her eyes darted back to Twilight. "I woke up several times throughout the night."
Twilight frowned. "That's weird. You always sleep soundly in the library," she noted. Had Rarity's sleeping patterns changed in the past years?
"I do! Or did, at least, but it's..." she drifted off, or cut herself off, more like.
"But?" Twilight pressed, her concern growing.
"But all this excitement is simply keeping my mind awake!" Rarity hastily replied, and Twilight knew that wasn't what she'd meant to say.
Her brow furrowed even more. "Are you sure?" she asked, and yet even as she did so, even after catching Rarity's split-second hesitation and knowing something had not been said, some part of her felt like the words unsaid were not words she wanted to hear.
Rarity smiled again, tilting her head to the side. "I am. Really. In any case, you've enough to worry about without me adding my silly sleeping troubles onto that, hmm?"
There was something wrong with that statement, which was the idea that Twilight would mind solving Rarity's troubles. It bothered her, in fact, that something was even troubling Rarity, but she did not press the issue for now.
"All right," she said, tearing her eyes away from the unicorn and looking around the room, her eyes dancing from object to object.
Some things she recognized as she walked to them, kitchen appliances that she knew from ages past, and others she had absolutely no idea what they were. She approached a white device with a whisk sticking out of it, her eyes drawn to the several buttons built into it.
She then looked up, at the cabinets and drawers, and her eyes landed on a clock, marking the time as half past six in the morning. Again, she thought it unusual for Rarity to be awake at such an hour, and though she again wanted to fix whatever issue plagued Rarity, she relented.
Her eyes continued, as did her steps, and so did she see a little porcelain salt shaker in the shape of… Cadance?
A gasp left her lips, and she levitated the object into the air. "Rarity!" she said, turning around and finding the unicorn had been silently watching her. She trotted towards her, levitating the salt shaker in front of Rarity. "Where's Cadance? And Spike? And Luna?! Can I see them?! Are they here?!"
Despite Twilight's flurry of questions, Rarity remained calm, her eyes following the salt shaker. "I imagine Spike is sleeping near the Everfree Forest. He was very intent on staying awake to greet you, but that dragon needs his twelve-hour nap, it seems! All he does is sleep; it's rather impressive. As for Princess Cadance," she continued, taking the salt shaker and setting it down on the table, "she is in Canterlot Castle! I didn't exactly know when you'd be joining the land of the awoken, so I booked train tickets for tomorrow instead of today."
"We're going to see her?!" Twilight asked, excitedly stamping her hooves against the floor.
"Yes, and afterwards we're going to Princess Luna," Rarity continued. She raised her cup and took a sip of her drink. "I don't think she, the girls, or the Professor took kindly to all of us just up and leaving home without any sort of explanation whatsoever."
There were several things that caught Twilight's attention in that sentence. She had no idea who 'the girls' were, and she assumed 'the Professor' referred to that stallion with absolutely ridiculous theories, but her mind, intent on pain as ever, clung to one word.
Though it had been nearly two years for Rarity, for Twilight it had been only a week since Rarity had returned to the library and she still remembered the way the unicorn had nonchalantly referred to the library as her home, and now…
Now, someplace else was home to her, because Twilight had pushed her away.
Dark thoughts rose in her mind, and the pains in her chest returned, amplified by the mere fact that physical pain had been foreign to her for such a long time. She'd hurt Rarity, one more pony to add to the list of mistakes she'd made, and a groan escaped her lips as she pressed her hoof against her forehead, wishing the intrusive thoughts would go far, far away.
Her actions did not go unnoticed by Rarity, however, and not a moment after she'd rubbed her forehead soothingly did her friend immediately rise up and rush to her.
"Twilight, what's wrong?" she asked urgently, her face marred by a concern Twilight immediately wished to fix.
"Oh, uh..." Though she wanted to, Twilight did not step back, and though she wanted to lie and say all was well, she forced herself to be honest. Hiding her feelings was what had caused such a mess in the first place, after all. "I..." She gulped down, shame burning her. "I was thinking about…" The words 'what I did' caught in her throat. Perhaps she could try to be more honest some other time. "Sorry. Bad thoughts."
Rarity's concern dissipated only slightly.
"I see," she said softly, and for a moment she lifted her hoof as if to touch Twilight, except she faltered and put it down on the floor in a noticeably forced way. "Thoughts can be terrible things, can they not?" Rarity continued, looking down at the floor, again lost in thought.
Twilight stood there, quite unsure of what to do. Well, no, that wasn't entirely correct. She knew she wanted to ask Rarity what was wrong, and if she was mad, but every answer her mind concocted again and again pinned herself as the terrible cause. Oh, it was tempting enough, to step back and run away, make a quick excuse and bury these obvious signs under tons of denial, but…
But she'd been freed under the promise to not run away again, and so she would not.
Or, rather, she could run in a different direction?
Gulping down whatever trepidation plagued her, she stepped forwards and nuzzled Rarity in a comforting gesture, not prodding at what was wrong but at least, well, trying to do something. Hadn't Rarity done that for her endless times before?
Though she did not protest, Rarity visibly held her breath for a moment, and yet Twilight soon realized she didn't actually care when faced with the staggering reality of Rarity being so sosoft, and smelling so, so nice.
The softest pony in Equestria awkwardly cleared her throat, her hoof lifting and pressing against Twilight's chest. "Well, somepony's affectionate today, isn't she?" she asked, amused or surprised, Twilight didn't quite know or care because, oh Princess Celestia, she was so soft.
Twilight giggled at that. "Sorry," she said half-heartedly, and making absolutely no attempts to withdraw as she tried to decipher what scent Rarity was wearing, and how it was possible for her to be so warm to the touch.
Honestly, it demanded a dissertation at least twenty—no, thirty-six—pages long to be entitled "The Impossible Softness of Rarity's Coat: A Practical Study".
When she finally moved away, a somehow nicer surprise presented itself before her in the shape of a rather flustered Rarity, which did little to assuage the grin now plastered over Twilight's face. Just like that kiss, this too had made those thousand years worth something.
Maybe…a second kiss wasn't a bad idea…?
"Rarity?! Princess Twilight?!"
Twilight's musing on a second kiss was swiftly interrupted when Sweetie Belle barged into the kitchen.
"Sweetie Belle?" Rarity asked, moving away from Twilight. "Aren't you up early! It’s not even half past seven."
"Princess Twilight!" the filly exclaimed, ignoring her elder sister, shooting straight for the alicorn, tugging at the Princess's forelegs and blurting out a rapid-fire session of questions, including but not limited to: was she okay, how did she sleep, did she sleep at all, was she hungry, did she breathe, why was she so soft—
"Sweetie Belle, darling, you're not even giving her time to answer!" Rarity interrupted, halting the Q&A session with a loving and magical shut of Sweetie's mouth. "And, now that you’ve decided to wake up, it would do you well to take a bath. I'd rather not have to be scrubbing ink off my floor again."
"But Rarity..." Sweetie whined. "I want to show Princess Twi—"
"You'll show her after you're clean," Rarity interrupted, levitating her little sister out into the hallway. Once her sister was gone, she turned to Twilight and raised an eyebrow. “And you, Princess?
"Oh, uh, right," Twilight said, suddenly embarrassed and aware of just how much dry ink now stained her coat. She looked around, finding a large bowl, perfect for their current need, and levitated it over. She took it in her hooves and marveled for a moment at the fact she could hold it, and then asked, "Where's the well?"
Rarity blinked. "Pardon? The well?"
Twilight nodded. "Yes, the well. You know, where you get underground water from?" she elaborated, admittedly surprised to see Rarity didn't know what a well was. That was basic knowledge. "To fill the tub? Oh! Is your tub wooden or is it made out of marble? Not that I care! I know some of the higher classed ponies care, but marble is of a lower temperature than wood so I'll need to use a different parameter for the heating spell."
Rarity raised her eyebrow. "What do you even—? A wooden tub? Heating spells? Water from a well? Goodness, Twilight, where were you raised? The middle ages?" She paused. "Ah, you were, weren't you?"
"How do ponies in the future bathe, then?" Twilight asked with an embarrassment that only deepened when Rarity giggled in reply.
"Do you remember when you asked me quite some time ago what a shower was?" she said with a smile mixed between delighted and mischievous, trotting past Twilight and out of the kitchen. "Come along! And leave that bowl behind, we won't need it."
Despite her short time discovering it, Twilight found the future—present?—to be absolutely fascinating. The bathroom had been much more modern and efficient than she'd expected, even if Rarity got upset at her for trying to dismantle the 'sink' device and then the 'shower'. Regardless, she’d already read about Equestria’s many modern technologies, mostly through Rarity’s books and magazines, but to see them for herself was another more thrilling thing altogether.
Gathered inside Rarity’s workroom, Twilight watched with riveted interest as Sweetie Belle scribbled on a piece of paper with a fascinating portable quill-and-ink device called a pen. Apparently, even if they couldn’t be refilled, their stored ink pouch could last from a month up to an entire year! And not to mention how much time was saved by foregoing the constant dipping on the quill in ink!
“And anypony can buy these?” the Princess asked, taking the pen and writing her name down on the paper. She’d have assumed that such a useful device could only be purchased by wealthy ponies.
“Yep! You can buy one at Quills and Sofas, but it’s better to buy the boxes with ten of them,” Sweetie instructed. “And they come in different colors, too! I like the blue ones the best.”
Twilight hummed. It wasn’t quite as...comfortable and elegant as her quills, but... “I wouldn’t need ink anymore…”
“No, and Inky Owl would be bereft of his family’s most loyal customer,” a voice said, and Twilight turned around to find Rarity standing under the frame of the door. The unicorn trotted towards them, took a pen and signed her name next to Twilight’s. “And poor Themis and Elara would be out of a job.”
“Come on, Princess Twilight!” Sweetie said, trotting away from the desk and towards the door. “Let’s look at the kitchen next! Scoots and Apple Bloom are coming with Pinkie soon to tell you about our surprise!”
Twilight got up, intent on following Sweetie Belle, but watched instead as Rarity made her way towards a nearby couch and lied down on it, using her hoof to cover a yawn.
“Aren’t you coming?” Twilight asked, hesitantly. As much as she enjoyed Sweetie’s company and enthusiasm, the little filly didn’t know nearly as much as her sister did, and Twilight wasn’t nearly as eager to share her discoveries with her as she was with Rarity.
Rarity smiled. “I would, darling, but I must confess that my lack of sleep is starting to get me, and the kitchen is so very far away,” she replied, sighing theatrically.
“Oh…” Twilight’s ears dropped. “Hmm…”
“Of course,” Rarity continued, sighing somehow more theatrically, “if you really want me to be there, I suppose I could drag mys—eep!” Now floating in mid-air and enveloped in the alicorn’s magic, a scandalized Rarity frowned at her friend. “Tw-Twilight! Put me down!”
“Why? I thought you didn’t want to have to walk to the kitchen,” Twilight replied, turning around and promptly leaving the room. “This way you won’t get tired.”
“I wasn’t actually tired!” Rarity protested. “I was just being a bit drama—! Oh, never mind.”
When they finally reached their destination, Twilight’s attention was immediately drawn to the assortment of objects Sweetie managed to pick in such a short time, some of which she recognized from magazines and her friends’ descriptions.
“Sweetie Belle!” Rarity exclaimed, aghast. “Fluttershy and I spent half the night cleaning, and look at the mess you’ve made!”
Twilight approached the table and licked her lips.
“Oh! This is a blender, isn’t it?” she asked, picking up a large device with a transparent container and floating it up to the now upside-down Rarity. She then turned back to the table and levitated another large object with the whisk sticking out of it. “What’s this?”
“A mixer!” Sweetie replied enthusiastically.
“Oh! Look, Rarity!” Twilight exclaimed, levitating the object up towards Rarity. “A mixer!”
“Yes, darling, so it is!” Rarity replied sweetly, trying to somehow swim her way down through the magic to the surface. “It is also quite expensive, so please put it back down, and then be a dear and do the same with me, won’t you?”
Rather than obey Rarity, Twilight promptly ignored her in favor of examining the other objects, asking questions about each one to Sweetie, and then excitedly repeating said facts to Rarity while ignoring the unicorn’s progressively half-hearted attempts to be put back on the floor.
Eventually, several knocks at the front door interrupted her questioning.
The front door opened in the distance and voices flooded the house. The Cutie Mark Crusaders came first, rushing into the kitchen and nearly toppling Twilight. Moments later, Pinkie Pie, Themis, Elara, and their owlettes arrived, the pink mare also practically throwing herself at the princess.
“Princess Twilight! You're awake!” they exclaimed, coming to a screeching halt in front of the alicorn as the owl family perched themselves atop Rarity.
“Oh, uh, good morning, everypony!” Twilight hesitantly greeted, not having expected such a reception. It warmed her heart, but also gave her a slight headache when they all immediately set off into accosting her with a barrage of questions.
Or, they did until Rarity cleared her throat, and all three pony newcomers looked up towards the floating unicorn.
"What's up?" Scootaloo asked, blinking at the mare.
"Besides you an' half your kitchen," Apple Bloom added.
"Oh, not much! As you can see, Twilight’s inspired me to reach for the stars!” she exclaimed, unaware of the blush that crawled up the alicorn’s cheek in reply. “Or the ceiling, more accurately.”
“Oh! That looks fun!" Pinkie gasped. "Is it fun?! I bet it’s fun! Me next, me next!"
Rarity brushed a hoof through her upside-down mane. “Well, grandeur such as mine is quite a dizzying affair, as I’m sure you can imagine. Though it’s entirely possible that’s due to the blood rushing to my head.” It wasn’t until she threw Twilight a pointed stare that Twilight finally processed the situation.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, putting the unicorn down on the floor next to her. She coughed awkwardly and then turned to Pinkie and the crusaders. "Er… Where were we?"
No sooner had she spoken did the barrage of questions resume, followed by an extremely convoluted recap of the two years she’d been gone as told by the CMC and Pinkie Pie, all at the same time. She, unfortunately, understood nothing of it besides that Pinkie had graduated to the next class with Miss Cheerilee, the Cutie Mark Crusaders had opened up a shop with three baby owls in Hollow Shades, and Themis and Elara had hatched the new Daring Do book.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Twilight blurted out, overwhelmed. “One at a time!”
“If I may," Rarity interrupted, “before we do that, would you like to meet the babies?”
“The babies?” Twilight asked.. “Oh! Oh!” She turned towards Rarity, cooing at the three little baby owls blinking at her from atop the unicorn’s back.
“Come now, darlings,” Rarity said, glancing over her shoulder and levitating the chicklets onto the table.
The three owlettes hooted joyfully, Elara flying over to them and quickly preening their feathers into a presentable state.
“They’re so cute!” the Princess exclaimed, lifting her hoof and gently petting the nearest one. Once again, a pang of guilt shot through her at the knowledge that she’d missed their birth, but once again she forced herself to push past it and turned back to the others. “Have you named them? How old are they?”
“They're two months old! And look!” Rarity said, her horn lighting up, eliciting a unanimous coo from the entire room when the chicklets suddenly sported a bow tie and ribbons. “Aren’t they absolutely precious?” She then cleared her throat and pointed at the gray owlet with white tail feathers and blue bow tie. “Now, this handsome fellow is Metis.” When he hooted in reply, she pointed to the chicklet with a white tummy and red ribbon. “And this beautiful lady is Amalthea.”
Twilight gasped, stamping her hooves against the floor. “Those are celestial bodies! You followed my naming convention!”
Rarity giggled. “Why, Princess, did you expect anything less of me?”
“We named the last one!” Scootaloo exclaimed, rushing to the table where the last owlet, the one with a green ribbon, hooted in reply. “It’s the coolest name ever! Right, Rarity?” Rarity balked. “Ah. Yes. Quite.” She cleared her throat, smiled and pointed towards the unnamed owlet. “Finally,” she said with enthusiasm, “this gorgeous darling is…” She paused and swallowed, hesitant to say what Twilight now assumed to be an interesting name. “…Ginny.”
Twilight blinked. “Ginny.”
Well, that wasn’t as bad as she’d expected.
“Rarity!” Sweetie scolded, frowning at her elder sister.
Rarity smiled awkwardly. “Terribly sorry! Nicknames are so much easier!” She smiled a forced smile, tilting her head to the side. “This gorgeous darling is… Regina!”
“Rarity!” Sweetie exclaimed again. “Come on!”
Rarity’s smile vanished. “Twilight,” she said, tonelessly. “I want you to know that I did not condone their choice.”
Twilight giggled, raising an eyebrow. “All right, then.”
Rarity sighed the longest sigh Twilight had ever heard her sigh. “And finally, this gorgeous darling is Dame—“
“All right, all right!” she whined. “Sir Reginald von Fluffykins The Third, Esquire. There!” She turned her head around with a huff. “Europa was so much nicer for her.”
“Do you like it, Princess Twi?” Apple Bloom asked, completely ignoring the unicorn’s remark. “We gave her a name all fancy like you!"
"I think it's great!" Pinkie added, nodding her head. "And Princess Luna, too! Well, I haven't asked her, but she'll definitely think it's cool when I tell her!"
Twilight lowered her muzzle and nuzzled the three owlettes. "They're all perfect," she said, leaning back and looking to the three fillies with a bright smile. "Though it is incorrect as it would require her to be the third in a generation to be called Reginald von Fluffykins the Third."
Rarity giggled at this. "You haven’t changed at all, have you?" she said, giving Twilight what the alicorn hoped was a fond look.
No, she hadn't changed, but she couldn't help and wonder if she was the only one to have stayed the same. Her unasked question was interrupted, however, by the sound of her stomach gurgling loudly, and for the first time in a thousand years, Princess Twilight remembered what it was like to be hungry.
“Oh! Oh! We have a surprise for that!" Pinkie immediately blurted out, practically rushing out of the room. "We baked you the biggest cake ever! Follow us!"
Before she could do as such, the front door of Rarity's home had already opened and closed, followed closely by the three crusaders chasing after the pink mare.
"Wait, Pinkie! We wanna show her too!"
She heard the door open and close again, and it wasn't until silence reigned in the room that Twilight turned around and found Rarity busy putting her cooking devices back in their proper places.
"Do you need help?" Twilight asked, trotting over and levitating a few things into the air, eager to assist Rarity in her home.
"No, no, that's quite all right, darling," Rarity said, putting a steel device into a cupboard and closing it. She looked around and relieved Twilight of the objects she was holding, putting them on the counter and then sighing. "It would do Sweetie good to put this all back herself later tonight."
Twilight followed Rarity out of the kitchen, excitement flurrying within her. She trotted towards a window and peered out into the streets, seeing ponies going about their normal daily routines. What did it feel like to them? Was this world as mundane and uninteresting as the library had been to her after thousands of years in it?
"I retrieved this from the library yesterday. There's no use in it staying there anymore," Rarity said behind her. "I've washed most of the ink off, though I suppose black marks on a black cloak aren't really too tragic."
Twilight turned around, and her heart twisted at the sight of Rarity's black cloak. Her eyes were involuntarily drawn to the unicorn's scars, and shame burned her at the memories seeping into her mind.
“Look at your cloak! The one you’ve been wearing every day since you came back! Look at it!”
"Why do you care so damn much about my damn cloak?!”
“Because it’s a reminder that you almost died because of me.”
“His revenge was making you come back for me.”
Her head began to hurt, but she pushed the thought away, stored it deep within her consciousness to resolve at some other time.
"O-Oh! Will you be putting it on?" Twilight asked, every syllable coming out of her probably sounding as forced as the smile plastered on her face. "It looks good on you."
Rarity did not look up from the cloak. "Really? It's been some time, but I distinctly remember you were quite fiercely against me wearing it," she said, almost absentmindedly, until she looked up, and no doubt saw Twilight's stricken expression, and must have immediately regretted her words. "B-Because clearly any matter of clothes can't compare to my natural beauty!"
Twilight couldn't bring herself to smile, looking away. "Clearly."
"Twilight, I—" Rarity sighed and stepped forwards, the cloak floating besides her. "I apologize, Twilight. That was uncalled for, but… I suppose coping habits are hard to kill, are they not?" She paused. "… Are you mad?"
Twilight licked her lips. She didn't want to argue, and a little voice inside her whispered and whispered that she was simply reaping what she'd sowed.
"That depends. What do you mean exactly?" she said finally, looking up at Rarity with a smile mustered with every ounce of her willpower, "Am I mad at you, or mad about you?"
And Rarity smiled brilliantly, and what a welcomed sensation it brought forth in the princess. The unicorn giggled, tilting her head and brushing back Twilight's bangs, drawing a pleased hum from the alicorn.
"Both, I hope!" Rarity exclaimed, before frowning and correcting herself. "Well, no, preferably more the latter than the former." She then looked to the cloak and continued, "At any rate, I'm not the one who will be using this. You are."
No sooner said than done, Rarity levitated the cloak over Twilight in a sweeping motion, covering Twilight's back and wings.
"Why do I have to use it?" Twilight asked. As far as she had been told, the custom to wear cloaks was exclusive to Pinkie's town, not modern Ponyville.
"Oh, I simply thought it gave you a mysterious air befitting your quite mythical status," Rarity said, standing right in front of Twilight and fastening the cloak around her neck. "And I do believe that an alicorn trotting around town might arouse suspicions we aren't ready to deal with quite yet."
Rather than reply, Twilight simply nodded, watching and feeling Rarity carefully tying the cloak's strings around her neck. It was still so new, still so electric to feel Rarity's careful touch against her coat; to see the mare so intently focused on her, ears lowered, eyes narrowed; and her necklace glowing brightly against her chest, the irrefutable proof that Twilight's actions had not severed everything.
It felt right. It felt normal. It felt like what Twilight had always imagined life to be like with Rarity back when escaping her library was nothing but an impossible daydream.
"There!" Rarity said with finality, sliding Twilight's necklace under and over the knot.
She patted the necklace in an oddly satisfied gesture, and when she looked up, she and Twilight gazed at each other in silence, her hoof still on Twilight's chest. They stayed there for what seemed an eternity, until she noticed Rarity bite down on her lip, her cheeks turning a shade of red that surely matched Twilight's.
Twilight wanted to lean in.
She wanted to lean in and, for a moment, it seemed like Rarity intended on doing the same.
But instead, she let out a soft nervous laugh and patted Twilight's chest, moving away before Twilight could complain about it.
"Look at you," she said softly, a warm smile spreading on her lips, like all was right for that moment in time, "Princess Twilight Sparkle, free from her curse at last."
"Because of you," Twilight replied immediately.
Rarity shook her head. "Because of you, Twilight," she corrected. Her ears fell almost indistinguishably. Almost. "Not because of me."
Rarity smiled, lifting Twilight's chin. "Now, darling, let us not dwell on the past, and instead focus on the future, hm?"
Before Twilight could say anything, Rarity moved towards the door, lifted her hoof, but rather than open it, she gestured towards the doorknob.
"Shall you do us the honors, Princess?" she asked, fluttering her eyelashes.
Giggling, Twilight stepped forward and took a deep breath to regain some modicum of severity. However, as she lifted her hoof, all attempts at seriousness were shaken by Rarity's infectious giggling and, as she placed said hoof on the doorknob, Rarity proceeded to gasp most theatrically, shattering her exaggerated seriousness into pieces.
"Twilight!" Rarity said, stamping her hooves against the floor. "Look at you! You're touching it!"
"I know, Rarity," Twilight replied, turning to the enthralled unicorn and raising an eyebrow. "Are you going to get excited every time my hoof doesn't go through something?"
"Oh, darling, absolutely," Rarity breathlessly replied, gesturing her hoof in a forwards circle. "Come now! Don't keep me in suspense!"
With one final breath, Twilight twisted the doorknob and pushed the door open, looking into Ponyville's streets and what promised to be a new beginning.
"So, Princess Twilight," Rarity said, bowing her head, "After you?"
A new beginning with some kinks and mistakes to fix, but…
"No," Twilight said, moving aside. "Together."
She couldn't wait for it to start.
"You just stared at her?" North Ridge asked, adjusting his cloak.
She sighed, her eyes fixed in the distance, seeking something and nothing. "I did. She simply stood there, under the frame of the kitchen door like a frightened animal, and all I could do was stare."
She paused, as though she were back in her kitchen and staring at the princess of old, and then she laughed.
"Even now when I think of it… She'd been dead, North. She was as good as dead to me and the world, and suddenly she'd come back to life out of thin air, and all I could think was what happens now, what do I do, until..."
When she faltered, he pressed. "Until…?"
"Until she stepped into the kitchen," she said, "and, even if our future frightened me, for a moment all that mattered was that she was beautiful. She was so beautiful, North… and so alive."