By Celestia's Name

by SleeplessBrony

First published

The friends get together over s'mores, but Twilight gets a bit miffed over certain idioms.

Twilight Sparkle decides to share the magic of s'mores and slumber parties with all five of her friends . However, no night can be perfect as Twilight quickly becomes disturbed at the language displayed by her friends. Can she keep her mouth shut, or will she bite off more than she can chew?

Super-secret super-entry for THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLECOLTS.

Chapter 1

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“Sweet CELESTIA that’s good!”

Twilight Sparkle stopped mid-sentence, turning her head to the source of those words.

“Oh my fmmmgggnnn GOD,” Rainbow Dash mumbled through all the chewed-up chocolate and marshmallows in her mouth.

“Oh my GODDESS,” Pinkie said, proudly displaying the contents of her mouth and spraying graham cracker crumbs all over Dash.

Twilight stared at the two of them, her brain not quite able to deal with this. It wasn’t so bad, actually, as long as they didn’t actually say her name -

“Celestia’s FLANKS!” Dash yelled, scarfing down more s'mores.

Twilight cringed and shut her eyes momentarily. It was nothing, it was alright, nothing she hadn’t heard before from all kinds of ponies. They were just words, and words...

“Mmm,” Rarity said, daintily nibbling at a s’more floating in a cloud of blue light. “Celestia herself couldn’t conjure up a finer delicacy.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide, her ears twitching and burning. Rarity too?

She tried to calm down - this was Ponyville, she had lived there for years now, maybe things weren’t always like they were back ho - back in Canterlot, but they were still good, great even, and this is how normal ponies talked sometimes.

But her friends?

“...Twilight?” Fluttershy said.

“Oh?” Twilight turned away, trying to ignore further exclamations from the other end of the room. “I’m really sorry, Fluttershy, what were we talking about?”

“By the sun on Celestia’s RUMP!” Pinkie yelled, cramming s’mores into her mouth. Fluttershy mouthed something silently, something Twilight tried and failed to hear.

No, wait - that new novel that just came out. That’s what they were talking about.

“You really thought it was her best so far?” Twilight asked.

Fluttershy’s eyes lit up, and her whole posture changed, like it did sometimes when she was excited enough to forget to be her usual self. She went on a long ramble about how much she had just absolutely loved the book.

Twilight hardly heard a word of it.

“Man!” Rainbow Dash growled. “Princess’ pastern. I could eat, like, a million of these.”

“I could eat TWO million,” Pinkie said. “I could eat more of these than Celestia herself!”

Twilight winced. No, no, it was fine, everypony knew the Princess had a bit of a sweet tooth. Harmless.

“I could eat more than both the dang Princess’ put together,” Applejack said, picking her marshmallow stick clean.

Dang? Dang?!

Twilight willed herself not to turn and look. She had decided to share the fun of slumber parties with all her friends together, and if that meant she learned new things about them, well... it worked out fine last time, didn’t it?

“...Celestia’s gaskin!”

Fine, just fine. Fluttershy was certainly saying some interesting things. Nope, not listening to Rainbow Dash at all.

“Son of Celestia!”

Or Pinkie Pie.

“Celestia’s wingboners!”

Okay, no, she couldn’t do it.

“Girls!” Twilight stood up, summoning all her trusty reserves of bossy indignation. “Can you please not talk like that?”

Her four friends, gathered around a large table in the library, stared blankly at her.

“...Celestia’s hornboner?” Pinkie offered.

“Inappropriate.” Twilight glared, then glanced up at her own horn, crossing her eyes. “And not even technically possible.”

“What about us earth ponies?” Pinkie put a hoof to her chin. “Earth boner?”

“It’s just ‘boner’, you weirdo,” Applejack said.

“Don’t you mean apple boner?” Dash said with a grin.

“I’ll boner your apple,” Applejack growled.

“Eww!” Rarity groaned, huffily tossing her mane and looking away.

“Yeah, I can’t decide if that sounds hot or not,” Rainbow Dash said.

“Hot like Celestia’s apple-horn-earth-boner?” Pinkie wondered aloud.

“Pinkie!” Twilight yelped. “Stop that! All of you, stop it!”

Again, they stared at her. Pinkie blinked a few times.

“Jeez, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said. “We’re not even really cussing.”

“Ponies say things like that all the time. I know it’s a bit rude,” Rarity said.

“It’s very rude,” Twilight deadpanned.

“...Yes, well,” Rarity hedged, fumbling with her hooves for a moment. Then she turned to the rest of the table. “She’s right, you should all be ashamed.”

“Oh, come off it. I hear you curse out Celestia every time something gets in your mane,” Applejack said. Rarity shot back her usual glare.

“Does it really bug you? Seriously?” Rainbow Dash asked Twilight.

“Really?” Twilight loaded her eyebrows with maximum withering sarcasm. “You’re really asking if it bothers me when you take her name in vain?”

“Whoa, whoa,” Applejack said. “Take her name in vain? Never figured you for uh... y’know, that kind of pony.”

“Well I don’t pray to her or anything, but still,” Twilight said.

“I used to! My family back on the farm used to thank Celestia before every meal!” Pinkie said. “And when they woke up, and went to bed, and when they stopped to take a break, or found a really nice big rock...”

Twilight stared at Pinkie for a full second while her rambling lost steam, feeling like she’d been blown over by it. “But you still talk like that?”

“Sure!” Pinkie grinned.

“But you know her! You’ve met her! You all know her!” Twilight said.

Her friends glanced around uncomfortably at each other.

“I dunno, it’s just an old habit, I guess,” Applejack tried. “Wasn’t always a friend o’ the Princess, right?”

“I don’t think any of us are particularly religious,” Rarity added. “You know there are ponies out there who -”

“I know, I know,” Twilight brought a hoof to her forehead, loathe to even think about the various... extremists out there.

“What, you don’t like them?” Rainbow Dash asked. “I thought you were like, big into Celestia. My uncle is one of those church nuts and the Princess is all he ever talks about. Like you.”

“They’ve got it all wrong!” Twilight snapped.

Again, everyone pulled back a little on their hooves, staring at Twilight. When they weren’t casting nervous glances at each other.

“My dad does it,” Fluttershy said.

“Huh?” Twilight turned to the pony next to her, momentarily forgetting about the rest of the room.

“My dad says things like that all the time. Just like this,” Fluttershy said, staring off at nothing. Then she gathered herself up, looking like she was about to unleash the dreaded stare. “By Celestia’s MANE.”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. It was a quiet curse - quiet and subdued, despite the scary depth of feeling Fluttershy managed to put into it. And it was so damnably cute at the same time.

“Hee hee! Fluttershy, that was great!” Pinkie dove forward, leaning on her front hooves. “By Celestia’s MANE!” she repeated, doing an uncanny imitation of Fluttershy.

“Stop it!” Twilight said again. “Pinkie, please!”

“I don’t get it,” Rainbow Dash said. “What’s the big deal? Doesn’t Celestia know that everypony says stuff like that?”

“Well, she -” Twilight began, before she realized that she had no idea if Celestia knew. Or what she would think of it. She must know. Wouldn’t she know? She changed tacks, avoiding the obvious questions. “How would you like it if ponies used your name like that?”

“Ha!” Applejack guffawed loudly. “You mean like... aw Rainbow Dash, I stubbed my hoof again!”

“Yes!” Pinkie threw her hooves up in the air, then faked like she was pounding her hooves in anger. “Rainbow Dash it!

Rainbow Dash chuckled, her eyes lighting up. “No, no, do it like Celestia! Like... uh...”

“By the colors of Dash’s mane!” Rarity said suddenly. “Ooh, I quite like that, actually.”

“Yeah, like that!” Dash flapped her wings a few times, clearly enjoying this. “You gotta use my whole name, though. Rainbows? Kinda my thing.”

“Dashit!” Pinkie pounded a hoof on the floor, still mock-glaring. “Dashit! Dashit! Heehee!”

Twilight groaned loudly, rolling her eyes in that way that she hoped communicated how close she was to giving up on these stupid ponies she called her friends.

“Hey,” Applejack said to her. “Listen, you’re right. It ain’t any kind of proper way to talk.” She looked around at the other ponies at the table with her, pausing to give Dash a quick glare. “We can all cool it with the Celestia stuff around Twilight, right?”

A chorus of happy agreement broke out. They all looked to Twilight, smiling and nodding. It was infuriating.

“You shouldn’t say it at all!” Twilight fumed. “The Princess deserves your respect whether I’m listening or not!”

“Absolutely - so sorry, Twilight.” Rarity nodded far too enthusiastically.

“I mean, aside from being my friend and mentor, my teacher even...” Twilight went on.

“No, no, we get it.” Rainbow Dash held up her hooves in surrender.

“She’s your PRINCESS. The wonderful, kind, benevolent ruler of Equestria,” Twilight continued, with far too much momentum to stop. “She raises the sun, for pony’s sake! She looks out for all of us, all the time, and -”

Applejack snorted loudly, rolling her eyes.

Twilight froze, then slowly turned to the orange mare. “...Excuse me?”

“Huh? Oh.” Applejack looked Twilight right in the eye. “Come on, Twi, she ain’t all that.”

What?!” Twilight was quivering, feeling herself gripped with unfamiliar levels of outrage. A small part of her remembered to be thankful that Spike was downstairs, asleep, nowhere near capable of seeing her like this.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s the Princess and she’s done right by all of us,” Applejack said, seemingly unaware of Twilight. “But she ain’t, like, perfect. She isn’t always around.”

“She... she... y - you...!” Twilight spluttered, a stranger to the feeling of blind, blubbering anger.

“Okay, okay!” Pinkie Pie jumped between them, all smiles and sunshine. “Everypony calm down, Applejack is very sorry and we can just...”

“What? No I ain’t. Sorry for what?” Applejack cut in.

“You’re not sorry?” Twilight balked, her mouth hanging open after the last word.

“Twilight, she didn’t mean it,” Rarity offered.

“Yeah I did!” Applejack declined.

Twilight growled absent-mindedly, now just more shocked than anything else. Her friends, save Applejack, all looked terrified that she might burst into flames at any moment.

“I’m just sayin’.” Applejack sat back on her rump, giving her forearms freedom to gesture. “Yeah, she’s the Princess. Yeah, she’s goddess of the sun, and that’s great. Helps me grow my apples.”

And then she stopped. Twilight stared, waiting, a pot edging closer and closer to boiling.

“...But?” Twilight spat out.

Applejack’s eyes narrowed the tiniest bit. “She ain’t always been there for me.”

Everypony else in the room tensed up, sucking in a careful breath. Even Pinkie Pie. Twilight failed to notice.

Instead, Twilight racked her brain, flipping through her carefully organized file system of memories. Nothing relevant came up - astonishment was definitely overtaking reflexive, indignant anger at this point.

What are you talking about?” Twilight said.

Strangely enough, Rarity jumped between them. “You know, girls, perhaps it’s time to break out some of those games you were telling us about, Twilight? Or that cider you brought, Applejack? Maybe move downstairs?”

“Movin’ sounds just fine.” Applejack stood up, scowling. “Think I need some air, actually.”

“Yeah, air!” Pinkie beamed. “Maybe we should open up all the... windows...” the pink pony trailed off as Applejack stomped her way out the nearest door, closing it quietly behind her.

Nopony had the presence of mind to mention the fact that the door only led out onto the balcony.

“...What was that?” Twilight said without a trace of caution. Her friends immediately looked in different directions, in perfect unison.

“Was it something I said?” Twilight tried again.

“Look, there are only, like, two things that ever really get AJ riled up,” Rainbow Dash said. “Like, real pissed off. Not even funny, like really for reals mad. And you just kinda stumbled onto one of them.”

“What’s the other one?” Pinkie asked.

“Talking smack about her apples,” Dash said instantly.

“Ooooooohhhhhhh,” Pinkie nodded slowly.

“She’s not mad,” Fluttershy said.

Everypony turned to her - whenever the group really got going, nothing could bring them to a screeching halt like Fluttershy speaking up.

“She’s not angry,” Fluttershy said, to nopony in particular. “Just sad.”

“Okay, what is going on here?” Twilight said. “This is bizarre. I’ve never heard her say anything like this before.”

But that wasn’t strictly true, she realized.

“Dear Princess Celestia,”

Twilight almost spit out her mouthful of cider. What? Here? Now?

“I wanted to share my thoughts with you.”

Applejack was in the center of them, a ring of friends getting hilariously close to falling-down drunk, enjoying the spoils of a hard-earned victory. They all ceased their giggling and carousing, focused entirely on Applejack. She cleared her throat, sitting up for what would no doubt be a grand pronouncement on the nature of friendship.

“I didn’t learn anything!”

“Pfffffffft!” Twilight spat cider all over Pinkie, who giggled even more uncontrollably.

“I was right all along!” Applejack yelled, hoisting a cup of cider high.

Twilight dropped her cup and covered her mouth with her hooves, swaying a bit. She’d been trying to document this in her head - field notes on inebriation, first trial. It was proving surprisingly difficult, though. And for some weird reason she was giggling now, too.

“Yeah! Oh man, best - letter - ever!” Rainbow Dash yelled.

“Write it, Spike!” Applejack said, leaning with a dangerous glint in her eyes.

“Oh my gosh no you can NOT,” Twilight said, still giggling.

“Done!” Spike crowed, holding up parchment and quill as proof.

“What what what oh my gosh.” Twilight could feel her cheeks and ears burning - they couldn’t send THAT to the Princess, not ever in a million years.

“Send it, Spike!” Applejack said. There was more writing on the parchment - there’s another few missing minutes, Twilight thought, adding them to her mental log in a haze of cider.

“Wait wait girls wait oh my GOSH.” Twilight tried to walk towards Spike and found herself leaning against Fluttershy instead, somehow. She heard, rather than saw, a gout of green fire and then her friends laughing and gasping in shock even harder.

“You actually SENT it?” Rarity said, trying very, very hard to hide her blush and general unladylike buzz. “Spike you... why you naughty little dragon!”

“Spike? Whatabout AJ?” Rainbow Dash slurred. “Balls, girl. BALLS. Big apple BALLS.”

“Well somepony had to say it!” Applejack said, grinning in ill-thought-out triumph. “We don’t always need some frou-frou Canterlot...” she said the next word like she would put on a lacy dress, “...PRINCESS comin’ down to show us what’s what. Not us apple ponies.”

Twilight just gasped loudly, sucking in air forever, her mouth stuck in a wide-open guilty smile.

“That’ll show ‘er,” Applejack said, shakily accepting hoof bumps from Pinkie and Rainbow Dash. “I got my friends, and... and I got my friends.”

Twilight froze, her eyes meeting Applejack’s even as the other mare was still trailing off into semi-surly mumbles. She stood there, wobbling unevenly, knowing distantly somehow that she should be angry, that Applejack had done something wrong.

But she didn’t really feel that at all.

Applejack seemed to realize that Twilight was staring at her. Her muttering turned into a sure, proud smile, something hard and strong and tempered and inappropriate yes but so fearless and...

Tinged with a bit of something heartbreaking. In the eyes. Those sharp, breathtaking emerald eyes, crystal clear through all other drunken haze.

Twilight snapped back to the present. Okay, so there was some precedent there. She tried to think it over and ignore the other bit of that memory, of the realization that with intoxication came some... curiously affectionate feelings for her friends. Occasionally. Sometimes.

Alright, maybe every time. Further experimentation was necessary to determine a trend. But that was a problem for later dissection. For now, another mystery needed solving.

Twilight stood up and, without so much as a glance at her other friends, trotted out to the balcony.

“Twilight, wait!” she barely heard Rarity say as the door clicked shut behind her.

She let out an instinctive sigh of relief - it was cool and crisp outside, the air just a bit sharp with the first traces of autumn. The sky above was cloudless, shining bright with thousands of stars.

She didn’t see Applejack at first - there was no orange mare stomping in circles, snorting and muttering under her breath. Twilight’s eyes adjusted quickly, and saw instead just a pony sitting quietly, staring up at the sky.

Applejack turned her head and gave Twilight a cursory glance before turning back to the sky. “Hey,” she said.

“Hey.” Twilight crept up next to her, settling down on the weathered wooden planks. They both sat silently for a few seconds, staring up at the stars. Twilight could feel her hooves tensed, pressing against the wood beneath her.

“Pretty out tonight,” Applejack said suddenly.

“It is.” Twilight saw the stars finally, forgetting for the moment the topic at hand. “It always is.”

“Listen...” Applejack said, not looking over. “I’m sorry. You probably got the wrong idea, from what I was sayin’ in there.”

“No, I’m sorry,” Twilight rushed to say. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I just don’t understand.”

“I didn’t think you would.”

Twilight feels nothing of her previous anger - in her mind, curiosity always wins out.

“I don’t really like talkin’ about it,” Applejack said, glumly resting her chin on her hooves.

Scratch that. Her friends always win out. “We don’t have to,” Twilight said.

“Naw...” Applejack stubbornly shook her head, looking like she was forcing herself. “Naw, we should.”

Applejack kept staring up. Twilight sat and waited, willing herself not to push any harder.

“You’ve known her for a long time, haven’t you?” Applejack turned and sat up, finally acting like another pony was present. “I mean, bein’ her student and all. Livin’ in Canterlot.”

“Correct,” Twilight said.

“Right, so... I mean, it’s different fer you. Y’know, us little ponies, out here in the sticks?” Applejack pushed her hat back a little on her head, a practiced complement to her words. “I mean, we know she’s the Princess and all but she ain’t there for our day-to-day. I never even seen the Princess ‘til you moved here.”

“So when ponies say things like... I dunno, the Princess provides. Celestia, benevolent Celestia, mother to us all,” Applejack recited her half-remembered prayers mockingly. “Always there to warm our way...”

“And catch us when we fall,” Twilight finished, also just a bit mockingly.

“Right. And... you know, I fall sometimes. Hell, my family... we been through some hard times more than often. It ain’t easy runnin’ a farm.”

Twilight raced through her thoughts, keen to unravel the mystery without having to be told. When had anything really bad happened to Applejack? She couldn’t really be mad at Celestia over a bad harvest. She did always seem awfully worried about money, though - making enough to provide for her family...

Twilight stared straight ahead at nothing.

Her family. Her family.

Oh.

“Is this about your parents?” Twilight blurted out.

Applejack halted, looking like she was choking on something. “Uh... er... yeah, I guess.”

“Oh my gosh, Applejack... I’m so, so, sorry I -”

“No, no, it’s alright.” Applejack’s voice was strangely quiet. Calm. “You didn’t know, and it’s not like I talk about this.”

Twilight looked down at her own hooves, suddenly lost in one of those awful, awkward chasms. She said the first thing that came to mind, to fill the silence.

“What happened?”

Twilight winced the moment she said it, almost as much as Applejack.

“Well, they’re dead,” Applejack said, looking a little annoyed. Twilight braced herself, wondering how she let certain thoughts get out of her mouth sometimes. She tried to apologize with just her face, and Applejack seemed to accept, settling back into stoic sadness.

“I saw it. Was right there. Saw the whole thing,” Applejack said, not moving a muscle.

Twilight started to reach a hoof out to her, but it lost momentum halfway. Applejack looked almost offended.

“I mean, what was I expectin’, right?” Applejack said, dark laughter in her voice. “Princess Celestia herself to show up to the funeral? Tell me how sorry she was? Bring ‘em back?”

“Even if she had known...” Twilight started to say.

“No, I know. I know,” Applejack said with a sage shake of her head. “I used to be mad about it. It’s silly, though. You can pray to her, or you can curse her name, but that doesn’t make ‘em any less dead.”

Twilight wanted to hide - she had no words for this. There wasn’t any place to hide, though, and the sudden impulse to cuddle up next to her forlorn friend didn’t count.

The door opened behind them. They both turned to see Rarity, of all ponies, joining them on the balcony. She and Applejack traded a look that said hours of words, in a language Twilight couldn’t speak.

“I assume you two are talking about... them?” Rarity said carefully.

Applejack snorted quietly and looked away.

Undaunted, Rarity walked up and placed herself next to Applejack, settling down on the opposite side from Twilight.

“My apologies, Applejack. One of us should have informed Twilight about this,” Rarity said.

Applejack scowled. “Yeah, no, I want you guys gabbin’ about it behind my back.”

Rarity flinched, but not because of Applejack’s grousing. Not to Twilight’s eye. She’d known Rarity long enough to see one of these rare moments before - when Rarity was wrestling with her own thoughts, and showing it.

“Applejack,” she began, making up for whatever was bothering her with formal airs. “I hope you don’t mind if I take this opportunity to tell you something.”

Twilight and Applejack stared at her, each cocking one eyebrow.

“Well I know you hate to talk about it!” Rarity said in defense. “I’ve wanted to say this for quite some time now, and I never thought it would come up. And as long as we’re here...”

Applejack sighed loudly, scowling down at her hooves. “Spit it out.”

Rarity declined to do so. Right away, anyway. She looked around, full of real uncertainty, so much that it made Twilight a little uncomfortable.

“Right.” Rarity took a deep breath, steeling herself up. “Twilight, I apologize if none of this makes sense to you. I had intended this for only Applejack - no offense to any of the rest of you, but you all moved to Ponyville later. None of you were there.”

“You were there?” Twilight said.

“She meant at the funeral,” Applejack said, still glaring, now pointing her discomfort at the railing.

“...Do you want me to leave?” Twilight asked.

“Naw...” Applejack shook her head. “Let’s just get this over with. Whatever it is.”

Rarity narrowed her eyes, just for a split-second. “Anyway. Yes, Twilight, I was there. At the funeral.”

“...All of Ponyville was,” Applejack muttered.

“Yes, and...” Rarity chewed her lip for a moment. “Well, this probably goes without saying, but Applejack and I weren’t exactly close at the time. Of course, I knew her - we were classmates. Only classmates.”

Applejack chuckled wearily. “Y’know... I remember that bein’ one of the good thoughts I had. You know... after. When I dropped out.”

Twilight mouthed the words silently. Dropped out?

“At least I won’t have to listen to that lil’ Miss Prissyflanks Rarity anymore,” Applejack said. “Feels darn-right mean to say it now.”

“Yes, well,” Rarity couldn’t hide the guild on her face. “That makes two of us.”

If Rarity was looking for a way to stop Applejack interrupting her, she could not have found a better one with magic, science, or all her considerable talents of fashion. The floor was clear.

“I remember the funeral,” Rarity began. “I remember my parents - so stern and unsmiling. They were never like that. And they wanted me to do all these strange things - they wanted me to carry in the flowers, me to greet your family, me to... oh, and they made me wear a black dress. Ugh!”

Rarity shook her head dramatically. Twilight and Applejack were unphased.

“Can you imagine?” Rarity went on. “Me, in a drab, black dress. I whined and moaned and groaned the whole way there - I was at your parents funeral, for Cel - er, for pony’s sake, and all I could think to do was complain about my dress.”

Rarity paused, looking far away. “They sat me down and they told me to... well, they wanted me to talk to you. To tell you how sorry I was.”

Applejack had transformed during the last few seconds - she was listening to Rarity, calm and patient, hanging on every word.

“And all I could think, the whole time, was, ‘Why do I have to say I’m sorry? I didn’t do anything.’”

Twilight gritted her teeth, waiting for the inevitable fallout of Applejack’s wrath. Instead?

“But you said it,” Applejack said quietly.

“I did.” Rarity lifted her nose just a bit into the air. “I did... but I didn’t really mean it.”

“Rarity!” Twilight gasped.

“Hey, hey,” Applejack waved her down. “It’s alright, I get it. Rarity and I... we weren’t exactly friends back then.”

“Oh no,” Rarity nodded. “We were very, very far from being friends, in fact.”

“But you said it all the same,” Applejack nodded. “And I appreciate it.”

“You shouldn’t,” Rarity said, sinking back into another thoughtful pause. “I was such an obnoxious brat.”

“Was?” Applejack smiled cheekily.

Rarity rolled her eyes.

“Hey now, relax,” Applejack said. “I get it. I think... I think most folks just said it. They wanted to mean it, you know? They tried. Damn hard when you don’t really understand.”

“I didn’t,” Rarity jumped in. “I have no idea. I still don’t.”

She paused again. Twilight resisted the urge to squirm on her hooves - she felt like she was intruding, witnessing something private. Something she wanted to see, naturally, but wrong somehow.

“Well?” Applejack said. “That’s it? Everypony knows we used to butt heads like nobody’s business.”

“Used to?” Rarity smiled cheekily. “Sorry,” she said before Applejack could react. “No, that’s not what I came out here to say.”

“I came out here because... well, because things are different now. Between us.” She stopped to give Applejack a warm look. “I know you now, really know you. I am proud to call you my friend.”

Tears welled up in Rarity’s eyes - Twilight mistook them for tears of pride - and she put a hoof on Applejack’s shoulder. Applejack gave her a weak little smile.

“Maybe I’ll never really understand. About this,” Rarity said. “But I mean it this time.”

She looked Applejack right in the eye, her deep blue eyes shining, on the edge of spilling over.

“I’m sorry, Applejack. I am so, so sorry.”

Applejack’s chin quivered, and she turned away from Rarity, hiding in plain view of Twilight. She sniffed, just once, holding her little smile.

“That... huh,” she said, clearing her throat. She wiped at her nose with one hoof. “That means a lot to me, Rarity, it really does.”

And then Rarity hugged her. It wasn’t long before Applejack hugged her back - not even a stoic earth pony could hold up long against that.

Twilight was busy silently debating whether or not she should just sneak back inside when Applejack pulled her over and made the hug a group thing.

“C’mon, you,” Applejack said. “Look at me, all on your case before. Sweet Lil’ Twilight. ‘Course yer gonna be mad if somepony talks bad about the Princess.”

“Ugh, can you believe us?” Rarity scoffed. “It will never happen again, Twilight, I swear.”

Twilight smirked. That was that, then. Subject changed, effectively if not subtly.

“Whaddya say we head back inside and dig into some more o’ those s’mores?” Applejack said, leaving the hug as suddenly as it began.

“Sounds marvelous,” Rarity followed, throwing her mane as she rose most stylishly. “Coming, Twilight?”

Twilight glanced around for something. Anything. Anything at all to... telescope!

“I’ll be right in, it looks like this thing is just a little out of alignment.” She dove to the telescope mounted on the balcony’s railing, fiddling with various nods along its side.

Rarity and Applejack shook their heads, smiling all the while. They went on ahead, and in just a few moments the door was closed and Twilight was alone on the dark balcony.

She carefully twisted the knobs on her telescope back where they had been, setting it right again. She threw one last cautious look at the door. It was closed. Alone.

She looked up at the branches of the tree above her.

“It’s rude to eavesdrop, you know,” she said.

The leaves rustled, and a dark-blue alicorn floated down out of them, perching just above the library’s door.

“Is it?” Luna said. “You modern ponies. So much to learn after a thousand years gone.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. She had decided, more and more, to not let Luna get away with jokes like that, but it wasn’t important just now.

“What are you doing here?” Twilight said. “I told you I was busy tonight.”

“Mmm,” Luna smiled down at her, in a predatory way that sent some interesting thrills up Twilight’s spine. “Perhaps I was just lonely.”

“Perhaps you should listen when I tell you things,” Twilight said, trying to cover for the heat growing on her cheeks.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to sneak in later?” Luna said. “After they’re all asleep? I can be quite silent, you know.”

Twilight could feel a full-blown blush now, imagining against her better judgement how exactly such an arrangement could go down. She wasn’t sure how quiet she herself could be under those circumstances.

“Or perhaps they could join in?” Luna said, her eyes lighting up. “What better way to finally tell them about us?”

“Luna!” Twilight said, imagining against her will some of those arrangements, as well. She immediately shook it off and glared up at the Night Goddess, getting ready to scold her.

“I apologize. It was not my intention to eavesdrop,” Luna said, derailing Twilight completely. “Quite interesting, though.”

“Interesting?” Twilight said.

“I would never have expected Applejack, of all ponies, to have something against my sister,” Luna explained.

“I know!” Twilight forgot herself momentarily, excited to have someone to explain these feelings to. “She’s just so... I mean, she’s Applejack. I had no idea.” Twilight put a hoof to her chin, pondering. “Do you really think she does have something against Celestia?”

“No,” Luna said right away. “Grief is a heavy burden. One that can weigh a pony down into strange shapes. But it sounds as if she has learned to bear it.”

“She seems so happy all the time,” Twilight said, more to herself than Luna. “You know, busy, but happy. Carefree.”

“How would you prefer she act?”

Twilight nodded, finally feeling like she had a handle on these new developments. She looked down, peeking through the small window on the balcony’s door, trying to get a glimpse of her friends inside, laughing and smiling and enjoying each other’s company.

Then something else occurred to her.

“Wait, were you really up there all night just -?” She looked up as she said it, but Luna was gone.

Twilight snorted quietly. She was getting used to that, but that didn’t mean she particularly liked it. Or particularly liked the idea of Luna stopping by even when she knew Twilight had plans, too enraptured by a certain lavender unicorn to stay away even for a night.

Okay, maybe she liked it a little.

Smiling and shaking her head, she went back inside to her friends.