Several minutes later, Fluttershy and Luna exited the pet store. Luna had vanished midway through their purchase and returned with saddlebags to carry their items, along with more than enough bits to make their purchase. The princess glanced up at her head, where a certain black kitten was nested in her mane, currently gnawing lightly at her horn.
"This is a mistake. Why am I doing this?" Luna asked.
"I think he'd look good with a ribbon, don't you?"
"Oh yes he should have a blue ribbon, but sky blue, it'll go with his silver darn it stop making me do that." Luna glared at Fluttershy. Instead of smiling like she would've expected her sister to do, Fluttershy looked hurt.
"It's fine." Luna said quickly. She felt the kitten shift, settling down. She felt slightly ridiculous, but oddly enough didn't care.
"I could help you with animal care, I mean, if you want..."
"We'll... see. I think we bought enough pet supplies for at least a couple years."
Fluttershy smiled. "I'm sure you'll take great care of him."
"I've never owned a pet before." Luna admitted, her mind turning to contemplation of her spur-of-the-moment purchase. "It's silly, but maybe if I had... even if an animal can't understand how hard I worked..."
"They can appreciate you." Fluttershy finished for her. Luna began to nod before remembering the kitten on her. She looked back to the street.
"Let's continue on before I buy Nova a sister."
Flutershy giggled again, but when Luna turned to her she clammed up.
"S-sorry Princess Luna." she mumbled. Luna blinked.
"Are... are you worried about... what, insulting me?"
Fluttershy nodded with a squeak. Luna frowned.
"Is it because you fear me?" She tried to keep the edge out of her voice.
"Well, um, I'm s-scared of insulting Princess Celestia too. I don't want to hurt anypony."
"I see, alright. Um... thank you." Luna turned back to the task at hoof. She and Fluttershy window shopped a little more after that, Luna forgetting her intended rigor in the thrill of discovery. That thrill didn't stop her from giving a yawn as they looked at a store specializing in ottomans and paint brushes. She saw Fluttershy glance at, but say nothing to, her.
"I was barely asleep when Celestia insisted we get up. I know I wanted as much time as possible to study Canterlot, but I'll see nothing if I'm half asleep." she explained. "And precisely how do these markets cross in the slightest?"
"Um, I guess you come in for a paintbrush and realize you don't own an ottoman? We, we can take a break if-"
"No, no, I'm fine. Now, what's next?" Luna moved on to the adjacent shop. "Ah, now this is what I'm after."
"W-would you like a new dress, princess?" Fluttershy asked, seeing the clothing shop in front of Luna.
"No no. You see, fashion has changed more than almost anything else, and it's something I've found disappointingly little mention of in the library. Let's take a closer look." Luna entered the store, Fluttershy just behind.
The store was fairly empty, and Luna and Fluttershy were immediately set upon by a dapper brown earth pony with an ascot.
"H-Hello Princess Luna! It is an honor." the earth pony went into a shallow bow. Luna smiled. He hardly looked afraid of her at all.
"Good day to you." she said cordially. "I hope you don't mind, I was hoping to take a look around."
"Here? Oh, I mean, of course, you honor my humble store. Go right ahead, go right ahead." he stammered. Luna's smile faded a little, but she nodded and turned away. She ran her eyes across the racks, noting patterns, hemlines, the selection of dresses versus saddles and other garments, and so on.
"Oh, Rarity would love this." Fluttershy cooed over wide brimmed hat. Luna took a closer look.
"I've never liked hats." she said. "No pony ever accounts for my horn." she glanced up as if to see the offending cranial protrusion.
"Well, um..." Fluttershy kicked at the ground. "I-It is a very large horn. I don't think I've ever seen one like it."
"It...It's not intimidating, is it?"
"Well, a little."
Luna sighed. Then, with a smirk, "You should see my sister's."
Fluttershy held a hoof to her mouth as she suppressed a giggle. Luna brightened at the sight of it. She had made another pony laugh! And not like Fluttershy's nervous giggles of before, which Luna had taken as confirmation of her foalishness. Perhaps things would be more successful than she had hoped. With this thought in mind, Luna returned to her study of the store, something quickly catching her eye.
"Oh Earth and Sky what do we have here?" she turned to a wall of hooks from which hung packaged socks, all in sets of four of course. She was soon standing before a very pink pair with her sister's visage embroidered on them.
"Feel free to try on absolutely anything." the earth pony said from elsewhere in the store. Luna had already levitated the packaged set off their hook for a better look, and upon hearing the storekeeper's offer she began to open it up. Fluttershy watched on, silent, as Luna carefully fit two of the socks over her forelegs.
"Yes." Luna said with a giddy smile, the socks making it just above her knees. "Celly would die if she saw me in these." she laughed, stomping her hooves. When she heard Fluttershy laugh she came back to earth. A pink blush spread across the princess's face.
"Ahem, I mean... please don't mention this to her. Any of this." she lowered her head. "And please pretend I didn't call her Celly right now."
Fluttershy's face fell into a look of near panic. "W-why?" she squeaked. "I-I mean, yes, sorry Princess." she bowed. Luna swallowed. Minutes ago she had managed to make this other pony light up at her words, and yet fear still lurked under Fluttershy's bright smile. A part of Luna admonished herself, however; it was no fault of Fluttershy's - Luna had caused that. And if she wanted to hear Fluttershy's laugh again - and she did, she realized - it was up to her.
"Please, don't fear me. I didn't mean that." she lowered her voice, though currently the shopkeep was doing his best to attend to a couple other customers, and at the same time doing a fair job at occupying those who would likely otherwise be gawking even more than they were now. "Just because I'm a few hundred years her junior, Celestia thinks I'm a child. And now I'm prancing around in socks... I really would rather this stay between you and I. Please?" she tried to pick her words with care, like her sister always had, but Luna's strengths and flaws alike came from her emotionality. It could lead her to violent rage in some cases, or in this case, it could make what was meant to come across as a simple, if personal explanation sound instead like a desperate plea. Yet it made Fluttershy get up, and even glance towards Luna.
"...They're very nice socks." she eventually mumbled. Luna realized she was blushing. It wasn't even a compliment directed at her! That was what she told herself, but those words carried weight beyond what the princess felt they should have.
"I guess so..." Luna replied. She cleared her throat, trying to remember her place and her goals. "I suppose I will have to rely on first-hoof experience if I'm to get any accurate results, so a bit of testing is in order, don't you think? I wonder if they come in purple..." she turned back to the rack. She found set after set she just had to try on, usually only trying on the ones for her forelegs. Fluttershy was convinced more and more to offer her opinions, and Luna was delighted to find the mare quite fashionable, perfect for what she wanted to achieve. At one point Luna considered moving on to other pieces of clothing - maybe she should avoid hats for the sake of the sleeping kitten on her head, she figured, but there were plenty of options. She looked over to ask Fluttershy's opinion, and caught the pegasus staring up at the wall of socks. She followed the pegasus's gaze up towards a set of green knee-socks with a leaf print over them. Luna felt guilt wash over her. It was a familiar feeling, nearly ever-present since her return, but this current emotion added something new. An acknowledgement of what should have been done, rather than a simple sadness over what had happened.
"Would you like to try on any?" Luna asked tentatively "I didn't mean to make a one-pony show of it." Her words made Fluttershy jump, pause, and bow her head.
"Oh, I don't know, I mean, it's fine, and I wouldn't want to be any trouble..."
"No trouble, come on. You are my research assistant after all." Luna insisted, bringing down the pack of socks. She brought them in front of Fluttershy, who paused, letting her mane fall in front of her face.
"Please?" Luna asked, wanting to prove her consideration of the other pony. Fluttershy still hesitated, but then took the socks from the princess. Luna tried to hide her elation. A moment later and Fluttershy sat down awkwardly, four green socks around her hooves. Luna looked her over, and Fluttershy began to relax, obviously enjoying the sight of her socks, and Luna had to admit that after spending almost her entire life bare of any clothing, the snug fabric was unlike anything else, quite different even from the occasional dress or saddle she had put on. It was quite enjoyable, reminding her of wrapping herself up in a blanket as a filly after a long night. This feeling was at least partially mutual, that much was clear. Only one thing came to mind in light of all of this.
"Scientifically, I'm relatively certain socks make everything better." Luna said with a grin. She now had one a striped purple-and-white set that reached to her shoulders and thighs respectively. She held up a hoof at Fluttershy, who responded with a small smile. This one was different, and Luna realized it was because for the first time, Fluttershy was making eye contact. Luna hadn't realized what large, open eyes her research assistant had.
"I don't normally wear much..." Fluttershy told her. "I guess I can't wear them over my horseshoes, but I spend so much time in the forest..."
"Shoes?" Luna blinked, realizing she had been staring. "Hmm, no, I have an idea. Come, let's actually make a purchase or two..." she took her socks off, and waited for Fluttershy to do the same. She slipped everything back into their packages and approached the register, several sets in tow. The shop keep was almost apologetic of the price, but took Luna's bits all the same.
"I can't interest you in a dress, my lady? A scarf?" he asked as he rung them up.
"I shall be sure to visit you in the future." Luna brushed him off politely. She allowed him to place her purchases in a bag, and when she levitated the bag her horn let off a small purple flash. She turned to Fluttershy with a look of self-satisfaction.
"Stain repellent, water repellent, tear-proof... stronger than an iron shoe. Perfect for any occasion." she said. Fluttershy's eyes went wide.
"You can do that?" she asked quietly. Luna held her head high.
"Of course." she said, heading for the door.
"Thank you." Fluttershy replied. Luna realized the guilt from before had more than just left; it had been replaced by a warm comfort that extended beyond any mere sock.
"A-aren't you going to put them on?" Fluttershy asked from behind, making Luna stop.
"I just thought the point was... I'm sorry."
"Well, I mean, it'd be silly; a single pony going around in nothing but socks."
"I, I could... with you..." Fluttershy mumbled. Luna paused. A strange offer, yet...
"Really?" she asked. Fluttershy nodded, so with a small grin, Luna opened the bag.
Moments later, a certain two mares turned heads as they trotted down the street. They had smiles on their faces, one had a cat asleep on her head, and they both wore nothing but socks. The yellow pegasus had spring green socks up to her knees, and the blue alicorn had purple high socks with a little silver moon over each hoof. It was probably the alicorn princess who drew the most attention, not the socks, but she seemed to ignore it, her head held high and looking almost unaware of the world around her.
"Socks make everything better." Luna asserted once more, looking over Fluttershy. The pegasus nodded enthusiastically. Luna finally noticed the eyes on them.
"Hmm. Funny, I was determined to win back their respect. Well, win it at all really. I don't think this is helping."
"I, I respect you..."
"You... you're saying what I want to hear, but thank you for trying."
"But... I do."
Luna hesitated, and wouldn't look at Fluttershy. "You do?" she finally asked quietly, glancing at the pegasus out of the corner of her eye. Fluttershy's gaze wasn't one of fear, she realized. It was a subtle difference, but Luna realized that the other pony was very worried. From the looks of things, she was worried about Luna.
"I don't think I could ever go shopping with Princess Celestia. She's so nice, but... ummm...." Fluttershy stared at the ground in front of them. Luna nodded, but in truth she was more confused than ever, her mind trying to fill in the rest of Fluttershy's sentence. But what? Celestia was the perfect one, the all-loved ruler with her fears and woes in check.
A high pitched yawn interrupted Luna's morose musings. On her head she felt Nova stir, and the kitten mewled a moment later.
"I think he's hungry." Fluttershy said. "He's been very peaceful."
"I have that effect on creatures. It is most ponies' lunch time, is it not?"
"A-about." Fluttershy agreed. Luna looked around and found a grouping of tables set up on a small patio. She headed straight towards it, or more accurately towards the establishment the patio was part of. Her entrance widened the eyes of the host waiting at his podium, a pale gray unicorn with a slicked black mane.
"P-princess?! Ahem, Princess Luna!" the host quickly bowed at their entrance. His startled shout served to alert the rest of the sparsely populated cafe. Luna wished the eyes on her weren't all so full of fear, and her wish was granted as several were overcome with confusion. Realizing its source, Luna hid a small smile.
"We, we are hardly prepared for a royal visit, I apologize profusely-"
"At ease, at ease. I wouldn't have expected you to be, now would I? I need just a simple meal for my friend and I."
"Y-yes, of course princess, right this way princess." The host turned, grabbing a couple of menus as he did. That was when Nova decided to mewl again. The host did a double take.
"Yes?" Luna asked, very carefully trying to keep a straight face. She could feel Nova gnawing on her horn again.
"N-nothing, princess." he turned slightly and led them out to the patio.
"M-may I start you out with something to drink?"
"An iced tea, if you have it. Oh, and a teacup of milk." Luna said, daring the waiter to say something. He played the game well, and just nodded.
"Very well, right away." he turned to Fluttershy, who had opened her menu already.
"Oh, eep, um, iced tea sounds lovely thank you." she said. The host nodded and walked off. Luna began to snicker.
"Oh, I am so glad I bought Nova after all. Celestia would kill me if she saw me pulling rank like that!" she lowered this kitten on to the table telekinetically. He stayed quite still as Luna stroked him. She turned her grin to Fluttershy, but the pegasus was staring at the table, an unusual expression on her face. It was like she was far away, only cursory attention given to the world around her. She probably wasn't even aware of the table in front of her.
"Fluttershy?" Luna could see she wasn't all gone at least, as the sound of her own name woke the pegasus up.
"Oh, I'm sorry. W-what were you saying?"
Luna frowned. "Is something wrong? It was just a small joke, really. Besides, Nova's too interested in my horn to cause trouble. I wonder if he's teething."
"I... it's not that. Princess Luna, am I, am I your friend?"
"Huh? Oh." Luna realized she had referred to Fluttershy as such just moments ago. "I meant it casually, really..." she saw Fluttershy's wings tighten against her sides, "But!" she rushed to say, "But, I've never had a day quite like this. I would gladly call you my friend. If, if you would let me, that is."
"I'd be happy to call you my friend." Fluttershy said with a smile, for once not stumbling over her words at all. Luna smiled back at her. Those words alleviated some burden she hadn't even realized she was carrying. It felt easier to hold herself upright, and her wings loosened from their own tight folds against her sides, where they had remained plastered almost since her return. The moment was interrupted by a swipe at her forehead.
"Ow! Nova... alright, I suppose you've been a good kitty. Just a little more." she brought the kitten down off her head and onto the table, giving him a slight nudge, to which Nova responded by gnawing on Luna's sock.
"There's a good kitty. Did you see the waiter's face, Fluttershy?" she grinned, but Fluttershy's smile back wasn't enthusiastic, and she shifted where she sat. Luna stopped grinning and rubbed her nose briefly with her free hoof.
"I suppose he's only doing his job." she admitted, the whole thing suddenly not seeming as funny as she had thought.
"I'm sorry, I'm not very good at, um, 'pranks'. You should talk to Rainbow Dash." Fluttershy apologized.
"Well it wasn't really.... hmm? Rainbow Dash? She'd be that rainbow-maned pegasus, wouldn't she? Ahh, literalism..."
Fluttershy blinked at her, but after a moment gave a nod, never breaking eye contact. Luna appreciated it. "She loves that kind of thing. I think you'd get along well with her."
"Really?" Luna's eagerness betrayed her. "And what of the others? Say, oh....Twilight or somepony."
"Well, Twilight's very serious and-"
"I can be serious!" Luna spoke too quickly. Fluttershy jumped a little, and Luna felt her cheeks redden.
"I mean...I'm a scientist." she stared at her hooves, having almost forgotten she still wore her socks. She gave a weak smile at the sight of them. "I am." she insisted quietly.
"I believe you." Fluttershy said quietly. Luna glanced up at the table. Nova had spotted some mote of dust in the light and was batting at it. He leaned too far and tumbled forward. Luna couldn't help but guffaw as the kitten fell on his face, though she immediately felt bad for the poor thing. Fluttershy chuckled and helped the kitten right itself, giving the cat a good petting while she was at it.
"Today has been a day for new friends all around, I suppose." Luna replied. "And all I had to do was go out during my sister's day instead of during my hard worked nights..." The bitterness in her voice made her cringe inwardly. She saw Fluttershy flinch as well.
"Forget I said anything." Luna replied, reaching up to pet Nova. There was barely fur for two hooves, and Fluttershy accidentally brushed Luna's. Sock against sock, and Luna found herself wondering whose would be softer. It was interesting how Luna's socks matched her before the idea could get any further, a different pony from before came by with their drinks, and with a start Luna realized she hadn't even touched her menu.