Starlight's hooves clicked on the jade-tiled floor as she paced back and forth along the pristine halls of Twilight Sparkle's castle. She was surprised that her hours of anxious pacing hadn't worn a path into the foundation of the crystalline castle by this time. Smells of the holidays wafted out of the kitchen as Twilight assisted Spike with cooking Hearthswarming eve dinner. Twilight's friends, Princess Cadence, Flurry Heart, and Shining Armor were all expected to arrive in an hour and a half. The aromas enticed Starlight to the kitchen but she couldn't seem to pull herself from her hopeless circle. Her tired hooves dragged on in a melancholy march as she looped across the length of the castle's foyer.
She had been stuck in this loop for hours, ignoring the pain in her own hooves and grinding her teeth together at every sound outside. Her heart pounded at every sound of joy that floated from the kitchen and she longed to join her teacher. But, he hooves pulled her on in a circle. She had lost track of time and her mind overflowed with thoughtless worries.
The crash of the door opening almost shocked Starlight out of her stupor, but she continued on her way as the mane six filed in.
"Girls!" Twilight appeared from the kitchen and greeted her friends with hugs.
"Happy hearthswarming eve Twilight!" They all echoed back.
Spike trotted on out and helped them with their things. He took their bags of presents and showed them to the coat hooks. Fluttershy's pale pink mane was plastered to her face with snow and wet air. She pulled off her earmuffs and scarf with two buttery yellow hooves and handed them to a hook. Rarity's pale blue magic swirled her mane back into place as it pulled off her down coat and handmade scarf. Applejack's peachy skin was damp from her lack of coat, so she used her great green scarf to mop it down. Then, Rainbow Dash bolted around the room to dry out her mane and, when she landed, she pulled off four huge snow boots and a pom-pom hat. Starlight smiled at them.
"Are you going to join us, darling?" Rarity inquired in Starlight's direction.
"Oh, no. I'm waiting for my parents to come." She said in a meek voice.
"Well, that's just wonderful!" Rarity said, a twinkling smile spreading across her face.
"Yup, wonderful." Starlight muttered as the mane six left the room, Spike trailing in their wake.
"Hey, Spike!" Starlight called, he turned around. "Will you tell me when dinner is ready?" She asked. The little dragon nodded. "Thanks." She replied, mostly to her own hooves.
What could've been minutes or hours later, Spike called for dinner. As much as Starlight wanted to eat, her hooves wanted to wait. She could hear the joyous cries of friendship coming from the kitchen and didn't want to intrude. Besides, she always ruined everything.
When the sky above Ponyville darkened, and Celestia began to weaken, Starlight was still pacing. Her parents should've been here hours ago. Her mood darkened with the clouds, and her steady hooves began to tremble. Once the sounds of love and laughter floated out of the kitchen, Starlight boldly leaped out of her circle.
Once in the kitchen, she loaded her plate with all sorts of holiday goodies. Then, she made her way back to the grand hall and sat down on the floor to finish off her dinner. As she munched on a little jelly-filled cookie, she wondered where Spike was. Certainly Twilight was spending time with just her friends, right? She shook Spike out of her head and went back to finishing off her goodies.
Once she was done, she trotted back to the kitchen to put her plate away. But there, standing by the towers of cookies and terrines of jam, she saw Rarity. Rarity's blue eyes lit up at the sight of her and she flashed a dazzling smile at Starlight.
"Darling, do come join us!" Rarity said, her grin never faltering. Starlight was growing uncomfortable.
"Oh, um, no Rarity, it's, um, okay." Starlight managed to get out.
"Oh but darling, it's the eve of giving and friendship, do come join us by the fire." Rarity pouted, plucking some fine-looking Linzer cookies from a stack.
"Are ya comin' Rares?" Rainbow Dash's raspy voice crowed from the room where the friends sat. "Applejack's about to tell one of her holiday ghost stories!" The excitement in Dash's voice was obvious, though Starlight could hear Fluttershy's whimpers as she presumably curled up against Rainbow as if to hide from the Apple Blight Ghost.
Rarity rolled her eyes, "ruffians and their horror stories." She said with a groan. "Are you sure you don't want to accompany us?" Rarity asked one more time. Starlight nodded.
Rarity skipped back into the room where ghosts waited. Starlight was just about to make herself some tea when Twilight snuck in. The lilac alicorn's coat glittered in the firelight from the other room as she trotted to Starlight's side.
"You all right?" Twilight asked in a soft voice. Starlight did her best to nod when really, she could feel the tears in her eyes. "You can come and join us anytime you like. We're going to do our gift exchange in a bit, I can call you for that." Twilight added. Starlight, again, nodded.
A little bit downtrodden, Twilight snagged a mug from a shelf with a blast of magenta magic and placed it by Starlight's hoof on the counter. Then, with a smile, she left the kitchen.
Starlight did want to partake in their gift exchange, but she didn't want to ruin it. So, she poured some hot water and left her tea to steep. She wandered the halls of the castle trying to find her room or a closet to hide in. It was then that she heard sobbing. Her ears perked up and she trotted over to a tall jade door across from what she thought to be the library. Strange, it was the closet she liked to sit in when she cried. perhaps it was some mirage of herself, sobbing the night into oblivion.
With a gentle tug of her teal magic, she slipped the door open. A beam of light fell on a hunched figure in the corner. The closet was stacked with familiar things, at least to Starlight, due to her visits. Its wooden shelves were piled high with travel pamphlets. Things that Twilight loved to pour over but didn't want to clog up her perfectly organized library.
She cast her eyes onto the little figure that shook violently with tears. Then, two big green eyes peeked up at her from a pale purple body of scales.
"Spike?" Starlight asked, incredulous at the baby dragon's tear-filled eyes.
Without quite knowing what to do, Starlight stepped into the closet and sat down next to Spike.
"What's wrong?" Starlight asked dumbly. Spike shook his head. "Oh fine then, I'll just, I'll just-" The overwhelming emotion that seemed to possess Spike, was starting to hold her too. Tears welled up and she started to sob silently.
"I was so sure that my parents were going to come. I sent them a letter and they said they would but-" Starlight was starting to feel truly heartbroken. "I just- I just know I ruined something between me and my parents, and I don't want to ruin anypony else's relationships so I-"
"Try to avoid ponies on big holidays?" Starlight was surprised by the clarity and confidence in Spikes' voice. She looked over, nodded, and saw tears in his eyes too.
"I just don't want to ruin anything else." Starlight muttered, heaving out a sigh.
"I just want to know who I am," Spike admitted quietly. "Everyone spends holidays with their family, but Twilight just drags me around to her family. It's not that I don't love them but I just want-"
"Family of your own?" Starlight looked into his sad green eyes and wrapped a hoof around his curled up form. With a tentative smile, he wrapped a scaled arm around her and for a while, the two of them just sat there.
A small beam of light lit up their tear-streaked faces as they sat among the travel pamphlets of a princess. Their hooves, and arms, around each other, sharing the pool of sadness and empathy as they wasted the night away.
Finally, Spike yawned and Starlight giggled a bit.
"How 'bout we get something to eat?" Starlight asked, wiping some last tears from her eyes. Spike nodded.
Starlight trotted through the halls slowly, and, when she reached the kitchen, grabbed two plates with her teal magic. In the other room, she heard Fluttershy shriek and Pinkie Pie giggle as the former burrowed herself into Rainbow'd mane the latter of which wrapped a bolt blue hoof around the meek pegasus. Starlight caught Rarity's inquiring eye for a mere second, and turned away, back to the cookies. Then, she pulled a parcel out of a drawer under the sink, grabbed her tea from the counter, and made her way upstairs.
When she got back, she saw that Spike was still curled up in his own sadness. She placed the plates in front of him and, again, wrapped her hoof around his little shoulder. After a bit, he loosened up and snatched a cookie from the plate nearest him.
"Starlight?" Spike asked.
"Since it's, ya know, Hearthswarming, I have a gift for you." He said his purple melting to red. Starlight smiled.
"I do too." She said softly.
Then, with a bit of magic, he placed the parcel wrapped in brown paper into Spike's hands. He untied the twine and pulled apart the heavy paper. Inside, was a box of a dozen beautiful chocolates. Each in the shape of a different dragon and each filled with different creams and such.
"Do you like the poses I made?" Starlight asked, pointing a hoof towards the ones shaped like dragons with little chocolate swords and dragons holding up little cream filled gems.
"They're amazing!" He said, genuine amazement tinting his voice. Then, she handed Starlight a little box wrapped in shimmery silver paper and tied up with golden ribbon.
Starlight's magic untied the ribbon and pulled off the paper to reveal a box full of little wooden figures. Starlight's mouth hit the tiled floor of the crying closet as she looked them over. Carved delicately out of wood, and some inlaid with gems, were figures of beautiful unicorns from legends. Pegasi with manes that seemed to ripple in the wind and Earth Ponies whose muscles seemed to be perfectly pronounced.
Astounded by the beauty, Starlight shrieked and wrapped both of her hooves around Spike in a huge hug. Spike didn't hesitate to return the favor. With strong little arms, he pulled her closer to him in a loving embrace. With a full yet tentative heart, he kissed her on her soft cheek. At first, Starlight was offended and started to pull back, but then, his sad eyes printed into her brain and she realized something. They both wanted to belong, so why not belong to each other.
The closet was cold, but Spike's tentative kisses were warm. Starlight sunk into his happy little arms and returned the embrace as snow drifted in swirls outside on a hearthswarming eve to remember.