After the Princess left, Twilight was determined to get to studying. She wasn't too clear on how she was going to go about retrieving her books - maybe another teleport was in order. Twilight was just getting ready when a knock on the door interrupted her concentration. She groaned, knowing she had to answer it before Luna was disturbed.
"Wha- Oh, Spike!" Twilight was surprised to find her assistant crossly tapping his foot outside the door. He came in without her invitation.
"Where were you, Twi?" he asked, clearly indignant. "You were gone for hours! Do you know how hard it is to keep a straight face when you're lying to the Princess of Equestria?"
"One of." Twilight corrected. "And sadly, yes. I'm sorry Spike." gears turned in her head. She couldn't have spent more than an hour and a half searching for books, probably less. Yet Spike was right - it was already well into the afternoon, several hours having passed from when she began her venture. Twilight wondered just what happened in that in between space she had discovered.
"I'll worry about that later." Twilight said with a shake of her head. Spike gave her a strange look.
"I've got studying to do..."
"I only found a few books." she was already at Luna's desk.
"I think I should start with-"
"Twi! Light!" Spike shouted, hopping onto her desk. Twilight blinked. Spike gave her a flat look and held up a hand mirror.
"Spike this is hardly time for- oh." Twilight saw herself in the mirror. The bags under her eyes were darker than Luna's coat. Her hair was ragged and her eyes bloodshot. Her stomach took this moment to remind her of last she had eaten. Twilight groaned.
"I don't have time to be tired!" she complained. The realization had been enough, however, and her body already felt like it was shutting down. She forced her eyes to stay open but could feel the strain.
"Twilight, you can't help anyone like this. How much magic have you cast today?"
"Just..." Twilight groaned. Her eyelids were winning the battle.
"Come on, Twi, go to bed."
"Can't...just....need to...." Twilight fell where she stood, her legs giving out. She had just enough thought left in her head to tuck in her legs comfortably. Then she was sound asleep. Spike facepalmed.
"I'll get you a pillow." he said to his comatose employer.
"She's so peaceful." came into the edge of Twilight's awareness.
"Trust me, this is the only time you get that." a more sarcastic voice tickled Twilight's mind. Who?
"Has she been out long?"
"A few hours. She'll be up and running in no time."
"What? That doesn't seem healthy."
"Trust me, when Twilight dedicates herself to something, she does not stop. You should have seen her trying to stop the whole Nightmare Moon thing."
"...what drives her now, then?"
"To be honest, Princess." the voice dropped lower. "As far as I can figure it - you."
Twilight drifted back asleep. When she woke up, really woke up this time, it was dark. She lifted herself off the floor with a small groan. She found a pillow for where her head had been, but the floor had still been quite a stiff mattress. Twilight closed her eyes, squeezed them shut until any afterimage faded from her sight. She could feel another's magic.
"Princess Luna?" she opened her eyes. She could see nothing yet in the darkness, but she felt she knew where to look.
"Ah? Twilight, you're awake." Luna was beside her at the desk.
"Oh no! It's late! I'm already late-"
"Twilight, Twilight, please." Luna calmed her. Her horn gave off a blue glow, and the curtains drew back. The orange of sunset spilled into the room, casting long shadows but illuminating the two ponies. Orange didn't look good against her, a voice in Twilight's head said. She looked much better under the night. Twilight was much too distracted to notice this voice, however.
"Princess, I'm so sorry..."
Luna shook her head. "I've told you, an empty title." she smiled weakly. "Here, you should eat." with another glow of her horn, she lifted something off of the desk. It was a bowl of soup, which she placed before Twilight's hooves.
Twilight paused, but her stomach told her to take it or suffer the consequences. She obeyed.
"I ate what I could. Your assistant is quite the darling - when I awoke this afternoon I couldn't find five minutes when he wasn't making sure I was as best I could be."
Twilight secretly swore to herself that when all this was over, she would spend every bit in her stipend to buy Spike the biggest pile of rubies she could find. She glanced around for him and found him curled up on Luna's bed. She gave a sigh of relief and turned her attention back to Luna.
Something was wrong - that thought immediately imprinted itself on Twilight's mind. Well of course something was wrong, Luna was sick. But no, as Twilight looked at her, something just didn't seem right about the princess. Words she had thought silenced bounced around her head.
'Look what happened last time...'
"Twilight?" Luna asked, tilting her head. "Please don't say you're sick."
Twilight shook her head. "I'm sorry, P- oh, uh...what should I call you?"
Luna laughed, getting even closer to Twilight and sitting opposite her. "Luna, of course. If anyone has the right..."
Twilight bit her lip, not sure she could go through with such a request. But looking up at Luna, Twilight could see her waiting expectantly, eagerly. She wanted Twilight to call her by her name. She needed this. Twilight's concerns crumbled away.
"Thank you, Luna." she said, bowing her head. She didn't catch the brief lighting up of Luna's face before the moon princess caught herself. When Twilight raised her head, she was met by a cautious smile.
"Spike has told me of how hard you've been working." she told Twilight. Now why did that sound familiar? Twilight pushed the odd thought aside and continued to listen. "So I simply cannot detain you like I did so selfishly last night. I shall go to raise the moon, and then we'll discuss getting you back on a normal sleeping schedule."
"Please, I wouldn't have- the moon!" Twilight's mind snapped into full gear. "Pr- Luna, please, Princess Celestia wanted me to speak with you about..." she saw Luna close her eyes. She was almost ready to cry, it was clear.
"Sister doesn't think I can do it, does she?" she asked. Twilight's words died on her tongue, leaving her mouth full of bitter ash. She hung her head.
"Twilight, please, understand me. The night is all I have. I am no Princess, title or no. I do not run our trade, or direct our policies, or guide our people as Celly does so well. I do not even serve the function of so many noble clerks and pages, tending to and cultivating this nation. I must do this. For Equestria and for myself. I am such a selfish foal..." Luna had indeed begun crying, not sobbing or heaving but letting her tears roll down her cheeks.
"I..." Twilight couldn't find the words. Did she betray Celestia's trust once more? Prove herself incapable of aiding the Princess, who had mentored her from her time as a filly, on a matter so close to her heart? Or did she betray Luna, who despite all the reasons she had to the contrary, suddenly seem to matter so much more?
Still, she could not find words for this situation. She was at a complete lost. Or, well, most of her was. One little voice inside her made it quite clear what she should do. Her sense of propriety and respect tried to stifle it, aided by her insecurities and fears, but her compassion, quiet as it was, would not be silenced.
"Everyone needs to be shown some kindness." Fluttershy told her. And that didn't just mean smiles and being near. When she really needed it, Twilight had to be here for her. In truth, she wanted to. So, for once in her life, Twilight Sparkle paid attention to her heart over her head. She stood up and got on her back hooves, freeing her front legs to wrap Luna in a hug. Twilight brought her head over Luna's shoulder and with eyes closed tight held on to the young goddess.
For a while Luna just cried on her shoulder, her breath ragged, almost pained. Twilight felt her shift, and just as she took this as a sign to let go she found Luna's own arms around her. She felt herself tighten her hug, not by much but making sure Luna was against her. The two ponies held onto each other. For comfort, for support, for a myriad of reasons both apparent to them and not.
"Thank you Twilight Sparkle." Luna's voice was so close to her ear, so surprisingly welcome. Awkwardly, they began to work their way out the hug. Both ponies kept stopping and waiting on the other to loosen or move, wanting to make absolute sure they couldn't hold on a moment longer. Yet both also knew they couldn't simply stay there.
"Luna, I, I'm afraid what will happen if you try and raise the moon." Twilight said. Her words were honest, Celestia's request not even entering her mind. Luna nodded in defeat.
"I understand. Perhaps, then...a compromise?"
"Huh?" Twilight couldn't imagine how one could compromise such a thing as lifting the moon. An unexpected new moon, perhaps?
"I want you to help me raise the moon." Luna said, looking bashful.
"O-oh.....oh!" It hit Twilight what Luna was saying, why even now the Princess looked away from Twilight, glancing back from the corner of her eye. She refused to go to her own sister with this, but was willing to trust Twilight to help. Her one pride...and she wanted her, Twilight, as part of it. Twilight blushed. It was similar to that time she had helped Applejack out after the silly pony had tried to do a team's worth of harvesting in a week - only this was more as if Applejack had allowed her and only her to help, and if she had always successfully done the work on her own before. Luna may not have had Applejack's stubborn pride, but it still could not be easy. Another point of difference was that Applejack hadn't asked her to do the work of gods....
"I, what could I do?" Twilight asked. Luna smiled.
"I felt your presence last night. You could follow my spell, couldn't you? Without a word of instruction you were able to follow along with what I was doing, and even reach the leylines of the sky. There is great power in you, Twilight, alongside great wisdom."
Her praise made Twilight really turn red this time. "I, I'm not that great. I've never...I wouldn't even know....what if I screwed up?"
"You won't. Trust me. I do not need much from you, but between the two of us we can do this. I was surprised, for only the rarest of ponies can even attempt celestial magic. But I knew that you were a rare pony." The smile on Luna's face was strangely happy for her weary state. She stood up and began to walk towards the door.
"What else am I to do?" she asked, opening the door. She looked over her shoulder at Twilight. "Please say yes."
Twilight took a breath, gave a moment's thought, and nodded with a sharp exhale. She got up and gave Luna a quick grin. Luna's eyes lit up, and she exited the door. She waited for Twilight to draw abreast of her.
"Thank you, you don't know how glad you have made me."
"It is my honor, Luna." Twilight said. And so as not to sound so formal, she added, "and I mean that."
"You are too kind. Come, the twilight is fading." Luna giggled. "Ah, and the Twilight comes to help usher in the night. I wonder sometimes if there isn't as much in a name as there is in a cutie mark? It certainly seems that way at times, does it not?"
Twilight found herself smiling, suddenly happier. "I guess it does. And I guess in a way I even have the cutie mark to match the situation. I wonder, I've always figured my talent is magic, but..." she looked to the mark on her flank with content. Luna nodded.
"What night is complete without stars? Ah, my cutie mark..." she looked back as well briefly, but then a worried frown closed up her face. "...I guess it was a long time ago."
"I...can't remember." Luna shook her head. "So much from back then is foggy. I know I had a life back then, but it is all just a dream. They tell me I am over a thousand years old, yet of those thousand years only a handful were my own. To be honest, while Celly has aged with grace, I feel your elder by a mere hoofful of years, and most certainly your junior by wisdom."
"I'm so sorry to hear that." Twilight said in earnest. "And thank you, but you do yourself a disservice. I've already learned a lot from you, Luna."
"Oh yes. Equestria will definitely benefit from your insight - Princess Celestia does a great job of course, but she's only one pony."
"Hmm." Luna looked up, and Twilight realized they were closing in on the same balcony as yesterday. Twilight swallowed hard. Was she seriously going to try this? Did she have the gall, the hubris? Imagine what her friends would say. Even they would think her boastful if she mentioned helping raise the moon. She remembered the incident with 'The Great and Powerful' Trixie. Her friends had taught her she could take pride in her abilities, but over-assuming one's greatness only led to a terrible fall. Not just Trixie had taught her that, she thought, but the ponies who had taken her on - Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and notable for her particularly pompous manner and hard fall - Rarity.
"It's not about that." Imaginary Rarity told Twilight, a hint of disgust in her voice. "You have a gift, my dear! Vision! And you need to share this gift! Come now, art requires sacrifice, and so does friendship." and with a clever wink, Imaginary Rarity was gone. Twilight nodded, steeling herself. Luna walked out onto the balcony and sat down. Still unsure what she was getting herself in to, Twilight followed and sat down beside her. Luna fidgeted like a nervous filly.
"There isn't the time to instruct you." she said. "I'm sorry..."
"Then, what can I do?" Twilight asked, perplexed. Luna looked surprised.
"Celly said it was uncommon these days, but...do you know the direct way to share magic?"
"Direct way?" Twilight's question was enough of an answer. Luna took a couple of breaths, trying to calm herself. She shifted around to Twilight, prompting the young unicorn to do likewise. Luna wouldn't look her in the eye.
"Do you trust me, Twilight Sparkle?" she asked. Twilight wasn't expecting the question. Did she? The words from the day before were still fresh in her mind. And something seemed off about the princess, even now. Something magically was wrong with her. What if Nightmare Moon was a literal poison to her? And what if that poison was taking hold? For the second time today and in her life, Twilight acted on impulse.
"Luna? Look at me." it was neither command nor request. Bashful, Luna's eyes darted upwards briefly, her gaze refusing to stay for long. Then, with a hard swallow of her own, she brought her eyes up to meet Twilight's. Twilight had her answer.
"Fully." she said, staring into Luna's eyes. Mournful, tears lingering, and so full of hope - Luna's eyes told her soul sincerely. Twilight didn't know how she knew, or if she really knew, but there was no argument inside of her when she looked into Luna's eyes.
"Lean forward." Luna whispered. Twilight did so, unsure but willing to follow. Luna leaned forward as well, head tilted. Twilight tilted her head more in return, and their horns met. A hot shiver ran down Twilight's spine at the unexpected sensation of the Princess' horn against her own.
"All it takes...is a spark." Luna murmured, eyes closed. Twilight felt something happen on her horn. Her eyes closed as the world began to swim. She could feel magic, magic that wasn't hers yet didn't feel not-hers either. Her world began to fade. The sensation was somewhat familiar to the limbo she had discovered when teleporting, only a smaller world, with landmarks and some sort of space. Twilight began to feel her world out, casting her mind around. She came across black chains of sorrow that warded some deep inner sanctum. Worry and loathing began to surround her like a miasma. In the distance, a feeble flicker of light gave her direction. It was the smallest bundle of hope, so fragile and ethereal. Cautious, unaware of what she was doing, Twilight instinctively reached out to it...
"Ahhh-ha!" In the real world, Luna's cheeks burned hot red as her heart surged with hope and elation. Twilight's mere touch caused the fire to surge forth. It was not wild, but neither was it weak any more. Twilight wasn't aware what she was doing, but she began to feel good as the miasma burned out like a fog at midday. Out of nowhere, she realized another presence. The presence dragged her away from the fire she had cultivated, which stayed strong now without her care. Twilight could make out things about the presence, which seemed to also be the same thing as the place she was in now, if that made any sense. It was like the world she was in had taken an avatar. Slowly Twilight came to her senses, realizing Luna's consciousness spoke to her on a level more pure than thought. She followed it away from the chains and hope, into something that Twilight visually likened to be a scarred plain, empty and cracked. Yet a warm sky was the roof to this plain, and the entire thing imparted on Twilight a sense of acceptance. It was here that Luna's self began to teach Twilight. She learned of the leylines that crossed the earth, sky, and heavens. Of the magic all around them and inside every creature, every pony and besides. Of the magics of moon and star, and their surprising links not just to heavens but to the sky and earth. Of magical flow and current, the push and pull of energy. Entire concepts were imparted on her at once, and were suddenly as natural as had they been her own. Her own mind was hard at work processing all this, and filling in the gaps. She could feel Luna's surprise as Twilight realized the connection between the elements of harmony and the leylines, along with such things as how to draw magical energy from a source without damaging it. Twilight felt like she spent days under Luna's tutelage, examining in full the intricacy of the night sky and its centerpiece, along with its relationship to Equestria's brightest and most special star. She could tell when it came to an end, and Luna believed her to be ready. Twilight expected the link to end, but instead she felt Luna direct her attention elsewhere. Luna was herself part of the night sky, or it was a part of her. Twilight could touch the darkness and mold it, she could feel the distant heat of the stars. The magical ocean of the sky made itself clear to her, along with its underlying currents. She knew what to do. They would need to bolster this leyline here while drawing from three others, urge the stars to move and stifle the near-caustic energy of light that hovered at the edge of the sea of night.
The moon began to rise, though Twilight was not fully aware of it. The sky she had always seen was just two dimensions, and a limited two dimensions at that, of the sky that was. She didn't know where the moon's progress was, she only knew she was causing things to stir and shift. Not everything had to be so precise, she knew, and Luna encouraged her to dip her hoof in the waters, as it were. Twilight took a moment to swirl one dead patch of night, and then convinced some stars to part with a bit of their light, adding stardust to the mixture. She checked back to the moon and kept its path straight, damming smaller outlets of the stream of magic it rode. She could feel Luna as well, working both moon and star, and the two seemed to work perfectly around each other. Luna had to tell her when it was time. They were done. The magic was strong; the moon would ride it until daybreak with ease, when they would have to quiet the stars and let in the light. Twilight knew the spell would end soon. She reached out to Luna, wanting to give her thanks and support. She touched Luna at her core being. Suddenly she was flooded with thought and emotion. Fear, depression, mental exhaustion. Hope, pride, a timid joy. Faded memories of a time that didn't exist, and a cautious look to what the future may bring. And one pure, passionate emotion dominated all else.
"Ahh!" Luna wrenched her head away, breaking the spell with force. Twilight gasped and found her front legs buckling, bringing her down onto the ground. Her world swam and her head seemed too full of thoughts for her to get a word in edgewise. She found herself gasping and sweating more than any other time in her life. She forced herself back into a sitting position, woozy but beginning to come back to reality. She found her eyes blurry when she opened them and had to rub both before she was able to find Luna in front of her. Luna was also panting, her head down, a furiously red blush across her face. Twilight's heart dropped like a rock. She was aware of what she had done. She crouched back down, prostrating herself.
"I'm, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to..."
"I...I know..." Luna replied, still panting. "T-Twilight. Th-that's not why...I, I could feel yours too you know."
"Your soul. Th-that's what you did. I linked our minds, b-but you linked our souls. You were as laid bare for me as I was for you."
Twilight turned as red as the princess when she heard this. She couldn't say anything. She felt empty, numb of even emotion. After several moments of silence, the princess stopped panting and spoke again.
"You're wrong." she whispered. Twilight glanced up, finding Luna shaking her head.
"How can you...?" Luna's mouth worked for the words to come, but they refused. "You're wrong to feel that way. Not about me. You're wrong about me. How can you think so much about me?"
Twilight's mind was still numb. She heard the princess's words, but was afraid to listen to them. Afraid of what they meant, both to Luna and to her. Afraid that any emotion she felt would be too strong to ignore. So she didn't feel any emotion of hers. Instead, she remembered the feeling the princess had had. The one stronger than all else.
"You don't believe that." Twilight responded, her voice a croak. "You can't."
"I'm not worth it. After all I did."
"You didn't do it." Twilight argued. Against her will, she began to feel a rush of emotions, all at once. The dams broke, and she was swamped with confusion, anger (mostly at herself), worry, compassion and just plain passion.
"I felt that darkness. It was...frightening. But you've managed it, and you still have hope. You're stronger than you think." she didn't expect the aggression in her voice. It was born of desire, a desire to see Luna realize how precious she was. Luna refused, shaking her head.
"Don't. I'm sorry. I never should have...I was in the wrong. Forgive me."
"I've fallen in love with you."
Sobbing, Luna threw herself at Twilight, wrapping her arms around Twilight's neck and clinging to her. Twilight held onto her and got Luna's head positioned underneath her chin.
"Don't say you're not worth it, because you are." Twilight told her. "Don't say you've failed, because you've done so much. You're not weak. I learned not so long ago that in order to be strong, you have to stand together. I will be by your side, I promise."
Luna stayed still, but tears no longer flowed from her eyes. She shuddered and rubbed her cheek against Twilight's neck.
"I think...I'm in love with you, Twilight Sparkle."
"I know." Twilight said softly. "And I love you too, Luna."
"How?" Luna asked. "We barely know one another."
"I think we know each other better now." Twilight pointed out. "And to be honest, I don't care. You're smart and serious, but you're better at being playful then me. You're so strong and knowledgeable, but so kind. And..." Twilight's voice faltered a little at this point, "I've, I've never felt this about another mare, but, well, you're so beautiful to me."
Luna got off of Twilight, rubbing her tear-stained cheeks. She gave a small smile. "Another mare? I've never felt this for any pony at all. It was the least of the surprises after all this."
"Well, no, that does come as a bit of a shock." Luna admitted, making Twilight giggle. Luna was surprised, but quickly looked pleased with herself. Her gaze drifted towards the balcony, and she shifted to better look out at the sky. Twilight followed her gaze, and saw the full moon hanging low in the sky.
"We did it." Twilight realized aloud. She head a shift, and suddenly felt a pressure against her side. She realized Luna was leaning against her. They were both overly warm and sweaty, absolutely exhausted - and there was no better feeling in the world.
"You did so much. It was amazing" Luna said, reverence in her voice. Rather than blushing at the compliment, Twilight just smiled.
"I had a great teacher, after all." she responded. Luna giggled. That noise made Twilight's heart quiver. She knew then that she would carry the moon on a harness the whole length of the night sky just to hear that noise. She tilted her head, finding it fit perfectly on the taller pony's shoulder. Luna rested her head over Twilight's. Twilight thought to their horns. They would have to do that again, sometime. She had so much to share with Luna.
"Whatever you say," Luna began "you've been so strong for me. I promise, it is my turn to be strong for you. I shall not let this illness keep me. We will find a way to overcome it."
Those words struck mortal blows to Twilight's contentment. She could still feel something wrong with her new love, but she had literally seen the moon goddess' heart and mind laid bare. The darkness in her heart was often bleak instead of comforting, but it held no malice. It was the dark heart of a troubled pony, not an evil one, to be settled, not struck down. No poison crippled her, at least not of her own doing. Which left only Twilight's worst fears of today possible. Someone was trying to do in Princess Luna. And that someone was succeeding.
"It's silly, isn't it?" Luna asked, bringing Twilight's attention out of such bleak thoughts. "My own work, yet like everyone else I can't help but to find it romantic."
"I have always loved the moon and stars." Twilight told her, trying to put aside her fears. "I saw them often while studying, and whenever there was a meteor shower I never missed it. I guess it's not that surprising, this."
"What?" Luna asked with a laugh. "You fell in love with me because of the moon?"
"Maybe I did." Twilight admitted. "I fell in love with the artist after admiring her work for so long. Maybe it wasn't your hoof in the night sky, but Princess Celestia was only preserving what you had done."
"I spy someone else's hoof in my night sky." Luna said, pointing up to the right of the moon. Twilight looked up and found a glimmering whirl of sparkling stars in the night sky. Milky stardust really gave it the appearance of a swirl of water in a river. Twilight couldn't believe it. She had put that there.
"You have a true gift." Luna told her. "Though I shouldn't be so surprised. You should have seen my first attempts with the stars."
"I'm sure they were just beautiful."
"Oh, so ponies say. They're being nice."
"You mean, they're still up there? But the night sky changes every night."
"For the most part. The constellations, Twilight." Luna pointed across the sky. "My baby art. Look at that, ursa minor - what was I thinking! I was so proud of them as a filly I kept them up every night. By the time I grew tired of them, ponykind was so used to them that I felt obligated to keep them up. And then she didn't touch them for a thousand years - I've seen entire legends built around them. Ahh, I'll always have to live with that embarrassing display."
Twilight laughed. "I can only imagine you as a filly. I think it's adorable."
Luna was silent, and when she still hadn't said anything after a couple minutes Twilight shifted enough to look at her. She found Luna's eyes closed, fresh tears on her cheeks.
"I, I can't handle it." she smiled. "I can't remember ever feeling this way. It's enough to make me forget how weary I am. I'm sorry."
Twilight nuzzled against Luna's neck, moved by her. "I understand. And you are still weary. Maybe we should get inside before it gets too cold."
Luna nodded and opened a wing, wrapping it around Twilight's back. Her down was softer than the clouds Twilight had walked on in Cloudsdale. She hadn't forgotten Luna's state. She would get to studying intensely the night, and promised herself not to leave Luna's side until the moon was back below the horizon. For now however, if she wanted to help Luna, she needed to be here. To be frank, there wasn't anywhere she'd rather be. Her mind wandered. What exactly would this mean? She loved Luna - that is, Princess Luna, goddess of the moon, co-ruler of Equestria. Even if Luna eschewed the title, she wouldn't do so to her duties, and was working to get more involved in ruling at that. Was it proper for a Princess to even have such a relationship? She had never heard of anyone by Princess's Celestia side. And especially someone like her, Twilight! Another mare, and one barely old enough not to be called a filly. Let along things like her lack of noble birth. Would they even be able to see each other, all that somehow solved? Twilight couldn't imagining abandoning her friends, but neither could she leave Luna.
"Twilight? Are you ready?" Luna asked. Twilight squeezed her eyes shut, wanting to focus and capture this moment. In case.
"Yeah. Let's go." she replied, getting up as Luna took her wing away. It was time to get to work