Spike belched, and a scroll coalesced from the green fire he produced. Twilight gave it a puzzled look, then opened it and read.
My Most Faithful Student,
Would it be alright if I dropped by for a visit in the near future?
Twilight finished reading and nearly dropped the letter in shock. She stared at Spike, her eyes wide with panic. “Spike! The princess wants to visit us! Here! Soon!”
Spike made soothing gestures with his hands. “Settle down, Twilight, she probably only wants to make sure everything is alright with you after the mess at the wedding.”
Twilight calmed exactly one fraction. Her eyes continued to twitch, however. “Maybe. But here? Why wouldn’t I go to Canterlot, and not trouble her to make the trip?”
Spike rolled his eyes, careful not to let Twilight see. “Anyway, are you gonna answer her, or what?”
“Oh! Yes, of course. Spike, take a letter.” He raised the quill and parchment he already held. “Oh. You’re certainly on the ball tonight.”
“Dear Princess Celestia,
If it pleases you to visit my humble library instead of allowing me to make the journey to Canterlot, you are, of course, welcome any time.
Your Faithful Student,
Spike sealed and sent the letter in a puff of green flame. An instant later, there was a green flash outside the front door. Both pony and dragon stared at the door in surprise. A moment passed, then a knock sounded at the door. Twilight blinked. “It couldn’t be.” She dashed to the door and flung it open.
Princess Celestia stood on the doorstep of the Ponyville Library, smiling her patiently inscrutable smile. “Hello, Twilight.” Her voice took on an impish tone. “It’s the near future.”
Twilight could only nod. “It . . . it certainly is. Please, come inside, Princess.”
* * *
Minutes later, pony and princess sat across from each other at the library’s kitchen table while Spike bustled around the kitchen, preparing tea and arranging cookies on a tray.
Twilight rested her hooves on the table, then shifted them around a couple of times. “So . . . Princess. Good evening. How are you?”
Celestia smiled at Twilight, that motherly, princessly smile that Twilight had always loved to receive. “Good evening, Twilight. I am well. My recovery has been swift. But I’m more interested in you. How are you, Twilight?”
Twilight froze, her eyes slowly shifting to meet Celestia’s. “Oh, I’m fine, just fine, Princess. Thank you for your concern.”
Celestia nodded. Silence fell, broken only by the quiet clatter of mugs as Spike poured tea. A moment later, he brought the tray of cookies with the two steaming mugs. He placed one in front of Celestia, then the other in front of Twilight, the cookies exactly in the center of the table.
Celestia ruffled his spines with a hoof, smiling fondly at him. “Thank you, Spike. You’re growing up so quickly. The last time I saw you you were only as tall as my knee.”
Spike graciously ignored the fact that he was still only as tall as her knee. He smiled up at her. “Nice of you to notice, Princess. But then, it’s not like you could help noticing, right? I mean, look at me!”
Celestia giggled and gave his spines a final ruffle. “Very true. Spike, if you wouldn’t mind, could Twilight and I have some privacy?”
Spike nodded. “Oh sure, no problem, Princess. Enjoy the tea!” He trotted out of the kitchen and the thumps of his footsteps came through the wall of the kitchen as he went upstairs.
Celestia raised her mug and took a sip, appearing to savor the aroma of the tea. She captured Twilight’s eyes, and tilted her head forward. “Twilight, how are you doing after— after everything?”
Twilight’s gaze slid off of Celestia and down to the mug in front of her. She raised it and slurped her tea gracelessly, staring into the pale liquid as though fascinated.
Celestia blinked, slowly, then raised her mug and sipped again. Silence fell, stretching on for heartbeat after heartbeat. Celestia glanced at Twilight, saw her still pretending at absorption in her mug. “This really is fine tea, isn’t it?”
At the sound of her voice, Twilight jumped, tea sloshing out of her mug. “Oh! Yes, it’s lovely. Just lovely.” Her mouth snapped shut and she raised the mug of tea again, not meeting Celestia’s gaze.
Celestia considered her most faithful student for a long moment, then let her breath out silently. She set her mug down in the way she did when she was about to speak, and Twilight reflexively snapped to attention, looking at her at last. In the instant she had Twilight’s attention, Celestia spoke. “Twilight, please. Talk to me. I care about you, and I know you’re strong, and you’re all the stronger with your friends around you. But I’m worried. Talk to me about what happened at the wedding, Twilight. I want you to be alright.”
Twilight looked down at the table. She moved her hooves restlessly, tracing the whorls and lines of the wood grain. She glanced at Celestia, then away. “I—” She flinched away from her own words. Her expression warred with itself, undecided between anger and sadness.
Finally, she swallowed hard, and set her mug down with a bang. She met Celestia’s gaze, and the Princess rocked back under the force of it. Twilight shook her head, as though denying what she was thinking, and tears came to her eyes. “You didn’t believe me.”
Celestia blinked in confusion, but the confusion lasted only an instant. Then she knew, and her heart sank.
—- TIME LIMIT —-
Twilight glared at her. “You didn’t believe me! ‘My most faithful student’ you call me, ‘my prized pupil,’ and when I tell you the truth, you dismissed it—dismissed me—without a moment’s thought!” The tears welled out, running down her cheeks. Her face crumpled in on itself and she bit back a sob. “How could you? You hurt me, Princess!”
Celestia drooped, neck and wings lowering in guilt. “I did all that, and it is unforgivable. I did not trust you when you needed to be trusted, and all of Canterlot paid a price. But you paid a greater, and that is a debt I will owe you for a lifetime.” Her tears fell onto the table, and Twilight froze, shocked to see her cry. “I am sorry, Twilight. I failed you as a princess, I failed you as a teacher, and I failed you as Celestia. I am so, so sorry.”
Twilight ignored the tears falling from her cheeks as she got down from her chair. At the sound of her hooves on the floor, Celestia opened an eye and looked at her. Twilight walked around the table, and Celestia’s eye followed her, fear and uncertainty in her gaze. Twilight stopped just within arm’s reach of her princess. She sniffled, and sat down on her rump. She opened her arms to Celestia.
Celestia sniffled too, echoing the little unicorn. Then she smiled and laughed, a sound of the relief bubbling out of her. She almost fell into Twilight’s arms, the tiny purple limbs dwarfed by the huge alicorn between them.
Twilight squeezed, and Celestia was hugged completely. Twilight spoke into Celestia’s neck. “I forgive you.”
The princess sniffled again, and wiped the royal nose on a kitchen towel. She hugged Twilight back. “Thank you.”
This was very sweet of you. But it wasn’t Princess Celestia’s fault. I should have been clearer. I should have had more evidence. I was acting out of emotion, out of anger, and as a result Canterlot was nearly lost.
She’ll believe me next time. Because I won’t make that mistake again.