Twilight grunted. She shuffled, turning over in bed. After a few moments she opened her eyes. Warm sunlight streamed through the windows; through them, she could hear the quiet sounds of ponies going about their day. She smiled, stretching, and got up. Whoops, she'd stayed up too late last night reading again, hadn't she? She couldn't help it! She had been sorting the shelves and stumbled upon a very interesting-looking book about the geological structure of the mountains surrounding Ponyville. Of course she'd had to start reading it, and then she hadn't been able to stop! She'd only gone to bed at all because after a while Owlowicious started hooting at her until she left... Oh well. Still, it was her day off today, so she was able to wake up whenever her wanted.
She ambled down the stairs, mind hazy. Where had she left the book? She still had so much more to read...
“Hey, Twilight!” Spike greeted her downstairs. “You're up late!”
Twilight smiled. “Good morning! Sorry, I got caught up in this really interesting book...”
Spike shook his head. “Yeah, yeah. I guessed that already.”
“Heh, I guess I'm just predictable, then!” Twilight said with a chuckle.
“Well, I'm gonna head out, is that okay?”
“Where are you going?” Twilight turned, spotting where she had left her book last night. Aha!
“Just to Pipsqueak's house.”
“When will you be back home?”
“Actually, we were gonna make it a sleepover. Dinky's coming, too!”
Twilight opened the book, quickly finding her place. “Sounds fun! I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then!”
The door shut and Twilight sighed in relief. She loved Spike with all her heart, but there was just something so luxurious about having the house all to herself! It was just so quiet... perfect for reading!
And now... She grinned, staring down at the heading for the next section she had to read. Now she had a whole few hours all by herself and a wonderful new book to read! Could it get any better?
“Hey, Twilight!” A loud voice exploded next to Twilight's ear and a second later Pinkie Pie was standing there.
“Wha- how did you-”
“Sorry to just barge in, Twi, but there's just soooo much going on right now that I had to tell you about! I'm so so psyched for Hearts and Hooves Day coming up, aren't you?! We're cooking all sorts of things for the occasion – chocolates and cakes and chocolate cakes and cookies and chocolate cookie cakes and eclairs and cookie eclairs and-”
“But Hearts and Hooves day is still weeks away. Not that I'm complaining, but I didn't think you-”
Pinkie Pie rolled her eyes. “Well, duhhh! But you've gotta plan ahead for these things! I thought you of all ponies would understand that, Twi!” she said and laughed.
Twilight frowned. “Well, that's great, Pinkie, but I'm a little busy-”
There was a loud crashing sound. Spinning around, Twilight watched as Rainbow Dash thumped heavily against the wall and slid to the ground.
“Hey, Twilight,” she said with a cough, expression innocent.
“What? Rainbow, what are you doing here?”
“Oh! Oh! Is this about Hearts and Hooves Day? Ahhh, I'm just soooo excited for it, aren't you, Dashie?!”
“What? Why would I be going to Twilight for Valentines' day?” Rainbow Dash asked scornfully.
Twilight tried not to be annoyed. “You know, for someone who's so good at flying you seem to crash through my windows an awful lot...”
“Hey, I am the best damn flier in Equestria! And I totally meant to do that!” At Twilight's disbelieving look, she insisted, “Totally!”
“Then what was it, Dashie?”
“Well...” Rainbow Dash puffed out her chest. “I only just came up with the best stunt flying trick ever! See, all I need is for someone to hold up half a dozen rings or so, and then I'll fly through them in this really cool way! It'll be the most awesome of all awesome things ever!”
“And what's that got to do with me?”
“Well, I need you to magic the rings up, of course.”
Twilight's eye twitched. “What about Fluttershy?”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Her? No way! She would get scared and just drop them instantly! She's just not cut out for these kinds of stunts, Twilight.”
There was a loud knock on the door and then the sound of a slam. “Twilight?” came a certain familiar accent. “I think I might be needin' your help.”
Twilight's smile was becoming very strained. “With what, exactly?”
“Well, since Apple season's over, the Apple family's been helpin' out the Carrots with their animals and such. Problem is, one of 'em's come down with somethin' nasty and we don't know what. I tried askin' Fluttershy, but I can't find her anywhere.”
“Well, there are plenty of books on animal care around.”
“You think I can read those? They're all fancy-schmancy technical stuff, not proper Equestrian like we speak! I need you to at least translate for us!”
Rainbow Dash flew over. “Uh, that's great and all, but can it wait? I need Twilight to help me with a stunt.”
“A stunt?” Applejack stared at her. “Rainbow, we're talking about animals here! Way more important than flying!”
“More important than flying...?” Rainbow Dash glared down at her, crossing her forelegs.
“Actually, I need her help too! There's just so much we need to get baking before Hearts and Hooves Day and we need all the help we can get!” Pinkie Pie added, oblivious to the tension in the room.
“Twilight darling?” Rarity trotted through the door, head held high as though to disguise the unusual messiness of her mane. “Could you spare a minute for me, please?”
“No, she cain't, because she's busy helping me!” Applejack said immediately.
“No, she's helping me!” Rainbow Dash countered.
“And me!” added Pinkie Pie.
“No I'm not!” Twilight finally yelled, throwing her hooves into the air. “I haven't promised to help anyone! And you know? I actually can't! I'm very busy!”
“Busy with what?” Rainbow said suspiciously.
“Busy with... this book!” She held it up with magic for everyone to see. “I need to...take it to someone! Right now!”
“Then you can help us when you get back?” Applejack asked.
“Yes! No! Maybe! Urgh, I'll see then, okay?” With that, Twilight trotted over to the door, closing it on her way out.
Out in the fresh air, she sighed. Maybe she shouldn't have done that. Most of the time she was completely willing to help her friends out. But they had been together all week, and even last Sunday as well, and, well... it was a little tiring. She loved hanging out with her friends. She was happier in Ponyville than she'd ever been in Canterlot. But it wasn't like she had transformed into some totally sociable pony in the meantime. Even over a year after moving she was still used to her personal time, and she couldn't stand to give it up.
Still...where on earth was she going to go now? She couldn't go back until she'd stayed out for a while at least... Although, she thought as she looked around her, maybe getting outdoors for a bit wasn't such a bad idea? She did have a tendency to get cooped up in the library for long periods of time...
But where would she go? She realised that, probably because she was just thinking about her friends, her hooves were taking her to Fluttershy's. Twilight shrugged – there were a lot of pretty places around there, and she was sure to find somewhere nice and quiet to read her book. She probably wouldn't even see Fluttershy – hadn't Applejack said she wasn't able to find her?
She shivered with the cold and cast a quick heating spell over herself. It was the middle of winter and snow covered all of Equestria. It had been very pretty at first, but as Hearth's Warming Day passed and the new year began it just felt more and more like an irritating, cold annoyance. And yet out here, the weather was crisp and cool in a pleasant way. The blanket of snow that drowned everything seemed to dim the entire town, washing its colour and dampening its sound. But it also made the occasional brightness of an evergreen tree or a shop sign all the more eyecatching, the sounds of her hooves crunching like something special.
The further she walked, the truer this became. Soon it was as though the entire world had dissolved around her, replaced by a small place of snowflakes and leaves. It felt...well, it felt cosy.
She drew closer to Fluttershy's house and deliberately stopped, choosing a nondescript path away from it. It took her up a nearby hill, tall enough to make her work up a sweat but not so difficult it hurt. Reaching the top, she saw a small area of grass that was shadowed by large and thick enough trees that it was mostly snow-free. Turning to her left, she was gifted with a beautiful view of the grasslands and hills surrounding Ponyville, bordered by distant mountains. And, at the other end of the grove, lay a very familiar pony.
“Fluttershy, hello there!”
Fluttershy literally jumped to her feet, spinning around with a squeal. “Oh...oh, it's just you, Twilight,” she said quietly, still staring at her friend.
Twilight winced. “Sorry! I didn't see you there at first...”
“I didn't mean to startle you.” Twilight's brain pinged at her. “Especially after you told me you didn't like to be startled. Or was that surprised?”
Twilight walked over, her book at her side. “A couple of months ago, when we were holding the surprise party for Applejack? You said you didn't like to be startled. Or surprised. I can't remember which.”
“Oh, yes, I remember that.” Finally Fluttershy seemed to relax, smiling a little. “Yes, it was being startled... Oh! But you didn't startle me, I was just...”
“It's fine. I didn't mean to bother you. I could go, if you wanted...?”
Fluttershy shook her head emphatically. “No, of course not! I always enjoy spending time with you, Twilight!”
Twilight felt a pang of guilt. Was she being mean for abandoning her friends? “Me, too! So, um...” She looked around. “What were you doing?”
“Just looking at the animals. It's good to observe them in their natural habitat to make sure they're happy.”
“That sounds nice,” Twilight agreed quite honestly.
“It is,” Fluttershy said, and lay down again, settling onto the grass. It might have been cold, but the boots, sweater, and trousers she was wearing undoubtedly helped. “Were you going to read that?”
Twilight used her magic to hold out the book for her to see before lying down herself. “Yeah! I just found it the other day – it's all about the geological structure of the mountains bordering Ponyville! I haven't been able to put it down!”
Fluttershy's eyes were wide. “Oh my, that sounds so very smart!”
Twilight chuckled. “I don't really think so! As long as you know the basics, it's not really that difficult.”
Fluttershy nodded in interest, then turned away to watch a small brown bird in a nearby tree. Feeling the conversation had ended, Twilight opened her book, unable to hold back a smile at finally getting to read.
After a little while, she blinked, eyes refocusing. How long has she been reading? Fluttershy was still at her side, calm as ever. Twilight shifted into a more comfortable position, relaxing. When Fluttershy had first suggested she stay, Twilight had to admit she'd mostly agreed out of guilt. But this... just lying here together, enjoying their passions in their own way, comfortable even without talking... well, it was really nice.
Relationships were difficult. Sometimes she just felt that she was constantly being expected to react a certain way, or to be funny enough, or kind enough, or thoughtful enough. But here it was like none of those things mattered. If they wanted to talk they would. If not, well, they wouldn't force themselves.
It was really, really nice. With a smile, Twilight returned to her book.
Twilight read the final line and slumped forward, resting her head on her book. She'd finally finished it! And now all she could think about was whether the library had any more books on the subject, or maybe something about volcanoes in particular, she'd read a mention of them at one point that obviously wasn't elaborated upon as Equestria possessed no active volcanoes but the lack of detail had only intrigued her further...
She opened her eyes and looked over at Fluttershy; instantly she jumped. It was already getting dark! “What time is it?”
Fluttershy looked over. “Um, I'm not sure, but the sun set a little while ago, so...”
Twilight looked at her for a moment then had to laugh. “Wow, I really lost track of time, didn't I?”
“You did seem very focused...” Fluttershy said with a small smile.
“Heh, yeah...” Twilight looked up, eyes following the icicles dangling from the leaves, at the way frost clung to a fern. “But this was really nice!”
“Yes, it is very beautiful here. I like to go every now and then.”
“Not just this place. Just...being here with you, just the two of us.” Twilight turned back to Fluttershy, who had started to blush.
“Oh, r-really? I think so, too! It was a very enjoyable afternoon...”
“It really was!” Twilight stood up, shaking herself and casting another heating spell. She really had to remember to bring a coat next time. “I should go now, but I'd love to do this again? Even make it into a regular thing?”
Fluttershy smiles, wide and beautiful. “That would be wonderful! I-I mean, if you want to...”
“Of course! So every Sunday at... what time did I get here?”
Fluttershy thought. “Around three, I think?”
Twilight winced. How late had she slept in? “Okay, every Sunday at three. I'm looking forward to it.”
Fluttershy got up as well. “Me, too!”
They walked down the path together in silence, waving goodbye as they parted ways. Twilight almost trotted the whole way home, feeling revitalised in a way she hadn't for a long time.
As soon as she got home (after putting the book back away in its proper place, of course), she called out for Owlowicious.
“Tell Applejack I'll be ready to help her whenever she can come over.” The owl having nodded and left, Twilight walked around the shelves, taking a few books down and over to her desk.
She opened the first one – Marvellous Mammalian Medicines – and with a purposeful grin, she began to read.
Twilight smiled to herself, a thick brown book at her side. A week had passed – another strange, exciting, terrifying week – and once more she found herself travelling to her and Fluttershy's meeting place. And this time she was prepared: she had a sweater, a hat, boots, a skirt, a book (one that she was less than halfway finished of course, as it wouldn't do at all to run out of things to read only an hour or two in), a blanket, and a little basket of food. After all, if they were going to spend all afternoon together again, it only made sense to have something to eat.
As she walked she smiled at ponies passing by, looking over the town. It was surprisingly pleasant just to walk like this, taking note of all the different parts of Ponyville she didn't normally see. The last time she had travelled in this direction she had been in a hurry, or too busy thinking about her book to pay attention. And while she was always going to be the sort of pony to be lost in thoughts at any given time, she quite liked being able to look around herself every now and then.
Once more she travelled the winding path towards the grotto, and this time as she approached she was careful to step loudly so Fluttershy would hear her coming. Sure enough, as she walked between the trees the yellow pony turned and smiled at her, her pink hair framing her face.
“Hello!” Twilight held the basket to Fluttershy. “I thought it might be more comfortable if we sat on a blanket this time? This way we won't get our clothes wet.”
Fluttershy blinked, then her eyes widened. “Oh, uh, yes, that does sound like a good idea! I wonder why I never thought of it before... I guess that's what you're good at, though – coming up with ideas!”
Twilight tossed her head, moving the blanket down onto the ground so Fluttershy could move onto it. “Thank you.” Really, she'd only thought of it because she had been busy planning this year's Winter Wrap Up. Sure, it was still over a month to go, but it never hurt to be prepared! “I also thought we might be hungry, so I brought some food!”
Fluttershy's expression when she looked into the basket was so earnestly delighted that Twilight blushed a little. It was so strange for Fluttershy to be so open, and yet she seemed to smile pretty often during their times together.
“Oooh, daisy and clover rolls...my favourite!”
“Is it? I'll have to remember that!” Twilight settled onto the rug; as it was small, she lay down only a small distance away from Fluttershy. “It's nothing fancy or anything, just what I could make myself. Which...really isn't very much.”
Fluttershy took a roll out and placed it onto the rug in front of her, taking a delicate bite. Swallowing, she turned to Twilight. “No, it's very good!”
“Thank you!” Was it just her or was she saying that a lot? Well, Fluttershy was very complimentary...
“What are you reading this time?”
“It's all about this one famous unicorn back from a long time ago – Vividhorn the Glorious. She came up with a really advanced system for classifying branches of magic based on whether they create, destroy, or mannipulate matter. Of course, it's changed a lot since then, but at the time it was a major breakthrough.”
“Sounds very interesting,” Fluttershy said, and Twilight instinctively hastened to defend her choice of reading before she realised that Fluttershy was totally serious.
“Oh, uh...” she stumbled, unexpecting this response. “Uh, thanks.” Geez, why had she said that? Fluttershy hadn't even complimented her this time!
Fluttershy didn't seem to notice, however, and had bitten off another piece of her roll, watching a little black bird in front of them.
“What bird's that?” Twilight asked on a whim.
“That's an Appleloosan Sparrow. Probably about a year old, by the state of her feathers. It's unusual to see them out at this time of the year – I wonder if something's wrong?”
“Wow...” Twilight stared at her until Fluttershy blinked and looked her way. “You can tell that much just looking at it?”
Fluttershy shifted uncomfortably. “W-well, yes... but, it's just because that's my special talent, it's not really anything unusual...”
“Well, it's something I can't do, that's for sure. How do you know it's that kind of bird and not another?”
“Well, the shape of his head is too wide for it to be a Tufted Sparrow, and you wouldn't find that tuft of gray on a Trilling Swallow, and the wings are entirely too long for it to be an Equestrian Blackwing, and you definitely wouldn't find any finches at this time of the year – they would be hibernating right now until Spring.” It was as though Fluttershy's entire presence had changed – her voice was louder, stronger, her expression determined and impassioned. It was fascinating.
“What about that bird?”
“That's a White Swallow. You can tell because of the notes it sings – see, right there? They're very distinctive. The colouring of the feathers could potentially belong to a Fillydelphia Swallow, but the tune couldn't be anything else.”
“And that one?”
For some time they continued, Twilight pointing out animals and birds and Fluttershy giving all the information she knew about them. After a little while Fluttershy didn't even bother to wait anymore, describing and categorising every fauna she could see. Twilight has happy to sit back, amazement growing. Of course, she'd always known that special talents came with special knowledge, but to see it put into practice, and so effortlessly, and by Fluttershy of all people... Well, it was giving her a certain tingle that she only ever got for one reason: a thirst for learning.
She looked down at the book, suddenly remembering the most important problem of venturing outside of her library: she didn't have all of her books at hoof at any given moment. All of a sudden, she was profoundly regretting that she didn't think to bring a book on birds and animals in Ponyville.
“Oh, I-I'm sorry, I must have been boring you, going on like that...” Fluttershy trailed off, apparently noticing Twilight's shift in focus.
“Not at all! In fact, I found it really interesting!” She smiled. “I've never really studied up all that hard on my animals, but you're really making me think I should!”
“N-no, I don't really...um.”
“I'm serious. It's one thing to have a special talent, and it's another to be quite so devoted to developing it and utilising it to learn more about the world. I think that's really admirable.”
“Oh, uh, no, I,” Fluttershy mumbled, face growing dangerously pink. “I-I'm not a smart pony like you, Twilight, I, I just, look after animals, and, um...”
Twilight shook her head. “I know about a lot of different things, sure. But you probably know more about animals than I do on any one subject. Having the drive to pursue just one path in particular above all others is a really good quality.” Twilight felt a soft pain to her chest – most of the time she loved where she was, and wouldn't give up her life for the world, but every now and then she wondered whether she was hurting her prospects by studying too broadly and shallowly. Would Vividhorn have managed to change the way unicorns thought about magic altogether if she'd spent every other night looking up weather patterns or ancient philosophy or traditional rose-gardening techniques?
“U-um, maybe, but!” Fluttershy looked a strange combination of worried and determined, her beautiful blue eyes flashing. “I, I think, being able to enjoy so many different things, and finding so many different things fun and entertaining, and, being willing to try them out and learn about them, well, I think that's very admirable, too!”
Twilight almost flinched, looking at Fluttershy with new eyes. “You...really think so?”
Fluttershy nodded firmly, her face close. “Yes. I, well... I'm not very good at that. Mostly I just, just stay with my animals, and do that all the time. But you're learning about things from all over the world, different places at times and people and... It sort of feels like, you could choose any of those things to learn about and do and you'd be happy, you know? Whereas with me...I don't know if I could be happy if I couldn't look after animals.”
“But you can. So that's a good thing, right? You're doing the one thing that would make you the happiest of every possibility in the world.”
“I – I guess.” Fluttershy seemed to shrink into herself again, pink hair covering her face. Twilight opened her mouth to respond, but Fluttershy turned away, and she realised how exhausting such an emotional conversation must have been for the shy pony. She smiled, feeling a surge of affection.
Well, it might not be the book she wanted to read at the moment, but any book was better than none, Twilight thought firmly, opening her book to her last page and beginning to read once more.
Twilight frowned, carefully slicing the bread roll in front of her as neatly as possible. Just a little bit more...
“Hey, Twilight,” Spike called; Twilight paused, breathing a sigh of relief that she didn't lose her grip on the knife. “Wanna go watch a play together? They're holding this great one over at the town hall and it looks like so much fun!”
“Sorry, Spike, but I have to meet up with Fluttershy again.” She finished cutting and held the roll up, satisfied to see that it had been cut completely evenly. Perfect!
“Again? Didn't you meet up last Sunday as well?”
“Yeah, we've been doing it for a few weeks, now. It's kind of a regular thing.” Twilight opened the bag of clover and began to lay the pieces onto the bottom half of the roll. How much should she add? It had to be just right...
“Really...?” Spike asked, then sauntered over with a smirk. “Someone's spending a lot of time with Fluttershy lately...”
Twilight glanced over. “Yeah. It's pretty nice to hang out with just the two of us, actually!”
“Is it, now?”
“Yeah!” The clover done, Twilight began on the daisies, choosing only the fullest flowers she coud find.
Spike whistled and Twilight looked over again. “What is it?”
“Nothing, nothing...” He held his hands behind his back, turning away. “Twilight and Fluttershy, sitting in a tree...”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “It's not like that, Spike. We're just friends!”
“Suuure, Twi, suuuuuure...”
“Seriously!” Whoops – was that too many daisies? She picked off a flower, pursing her lips. “It's just that...well, I love my friends, but they're really energetic, you know? Sometimes it's just really nice to sit down with Fluttershy and just... read, or think.”
“You could do that at home.”
“Yeah...or I could do it with her.” Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Why do you think it's so weird that I would want to spend time with her? I'm not that bad, am I? And she's actually a really interesting pony, and so smart!”
“Well, yeah, but everypony knows that! She was a model, after all!”
Finished with the roll, Twilight placed it into her basket and wandered over to find where she kept the jam.
“I'm just sayin'. 'Cause, you know, Hearts and Hooves is coming up this week...”
Twilight paused. “It is, isn't it?” But she shook her head. That wasn't relevant to her. Was it?
Spike patted her leg, head held high. “You just think about it. And if you ever need to go to someone with a bit more experience for advice, well, I'm right here!”
“Experience?” Twilight said dryly, smothering a grin.
“Yeah! Well, okay, nothing that much has happened yet, but it's getting there! When it comes to seduction, I have it down! Soon, Rarity will be putty in my claws!”
“I'll keep that in mind...” Still, as Spike walked away, Twilight paused. Did she like Fluttershy like that? No way – Spike was just projecting. There was nothing weird about having a friend she liked to go out on picnics with every week, was there...?
Twilight paused, half-way through applying apple jam to another piece of bread. It was totally impossible, of course, but she wouldn't be a scientist unless she did her research. Just so she could say for sure, which she would. After all, since she already knew what she'd find out, there was no reason to be worried, right?
Once she was finished with the food, Twilight gathered up as many books on friendship and romance as she could and set out.
This time, by the time Twilight arrived at the grove, she felt restless and relieved. The surroundings were pretty, but they were so much prettier there that she had felt quite impatient. As soon as she saw Fluttershy's smiling face all of this melted away from her and all she could do was greet her and set out the blanket again.
“I tried some more new stuff. I've been reading up on cooking to make them good.”
“That sounds wonderful! It really isn't necessary, though, if it's a bother...”
“Of course not! Didn't you say a couple of weeks ago that it was good I could enjoy different things?” Twilight teased, and was rewarded with a blush.
“I suppose so...”
“I didn't get to read much, though – I'm still reading up about animals as well.”
“Really?” There it was again – that brightness in her eyes Fluttershy only ever seemed to get when talking about animals. Twilight wished absently that she could manage to put it there herself.
“Yeah, it's really interesting! Of course, I still don't know nearly as much as you, but it's a start!”
“So what are you reading this time?” Fluttershy asked before taking a bite out of a cookie.
“Oh, uh, this?” Twilight's mind whirled, searching for a response. “Oh, it's, uh, just more cooking stuff, really. Pretty technical.” She quickly opened the book so Fluttershy couldn't see the title and pushed it out of the way.
“Oh, okay,” Fluttershy said seriously, and Twilight felt guilty for lying to her. Why had she said that, anyway? Why not just tell her the truth?
Fluttershy took another bite of her cookie, her sweater brushing up against Twilight's as she moved; was it just Twilight, or were they lying closer together this time? “My, this is very good!”
“Thank you! I just followed the recipe, though... Actually, I got it from Pinkie Pie, so you should probably thank her!”
Conversation drifted off and Twilight returned to her book, eating as she did. It really was quite technical – just the way Twilight liked it, of course. It did make it a little more difficult to apply to herself, though.
And the conclusions she was reaching were confusing. The book confirmed what Twilight already suspected - that romance was a physical process in the brain that was under heavy study at the moment, and that while ponies didn't understand everything yet, they knew enough to make some conclusions. Common physiological responses included an increase in adrenaline with all that implied (increased respiration and heart rate, dryness of the mouth), a sense of euphoria comparable with that experienced by aid of drugs when around that pony, and many others. Which all made perfect sense – the science was, as far as Twilight was concerned, was sound. However, she'd always been a little uncertain about psychology, and this was not helping, as the conclusions it was reaching about Twilight were entirely wrong.
Yes, Twilight was feeling happier around Fluttershy, but she felt that with all her friends. And yes, she maybe felt happier with Fluttershy than the others, but maybe that was just because she needed someone like Fluttershy right now, or because Fluttershy was her best friend. And it was totally wrong about the adrenaline bit – being with Fluttershy made her feel really calm and content! Yeah, there had been that time today when she was feeling full of energy, and she might tend to feel revitalised when they parted, but that was totally different.
Twilight looked up. It didn't make sense. Probably the book was just talking about ponies in general and Twilight was just different. Or maybe it failed to account for certain important factors, like the fact that Twilight and Fluttershy were already friends.
She looked over at Fluttershy and realised all of a sudden that Fluttershy had a book out as well.
“What are you reading?”
Fluttershy jumped, turning. Her eyes were very wide and blue from this angle. “Oh! Um... it's nothing.”
Twilight leaned closer to read the words, feeling Fluttershy's long mane against her. It smelled beautiful and floral and natural. But the book was about...magic?
Twilight pulled away to look at Fluttershy questioning; Fluttershy blushed.
“Ah, um, I, I just thought that, since you bothered to learn all about my special talent, maybe I should learn about yours, but, I didn't really know what questions to ask, so...”
Warmth flowed through Twilight and for a few moments she just sat there and stared at Fluttershy. From this close, she could see her so clearly, could really look at her properly the way you never really see your friends. She possessed all the traits that were seen as conventionally attractive in ponies – large eyes, long hair, long eyelashes, a clear, shiny coat. She used to be a model. She was beautiful.
“I...thank you,” Twilight said finally, quietly.
Fluttershy was blushing. She looked back down at her book, hoof tracing a circle on the rug. “U-um...er...um...”
“Sorry,” Twilight said, let out a breath that was part laugh and part – relief? “Just...that's really nice of you. Especially – I mean, thanks.”
Fluttershy let out a quiet squeak.
Twilight breathed in deeply, then out. Back to the book then. Back to the book.
When it came time to leave, Twilight packed up quickly, leaving almost angrily. This book was of no help at all! She trotted home as quickly as she was able and as soon as she returned she put the book back into its place and took out a dozen more.
She was going to get to the bottom of this if it killed her.
Twilight stood up. Immediately her leg muscles seized and she eased them with a wince. She had read everything in her library that she thought might help her. Books on romance, books on friendship, books on the working of the brain in general. It all pointed to one conclusion.
She seriously needed some advice.
“Hello, darling!” Rarity tossed her head to gesture her in, eyes never leaving the saddle she was working on furiously.
“Uh, hey, Rarity.” Twilight shuffled in, trying and failing to act aloof. Luckily, Rarity was too distracted to notice. “So, you're busy?”
“Quite,” Rarity said tersely, biting her tongue as she finished off a piece of ribbon. That done, she glanced up quickly. “But I always have time for you, my dear.”
“That's great, great...” Twilight looked around, taking in all the different dresses and accessories in the room, a noticeable theme of pink and hearts among them. “Getting ready for Hearts and Hooves Day?”
“I'm very sorry, Twilight, I'd love to help you with whatever you need me for, but I really am terribly busy right now and haven't the time to beat around the bush. Precisely what did you need?”
Disappointed, Twilight sighed. “I wanted... some advice.”
“Of course. What about?”
“Well...” Twilight coughed, still trying to think of the right way to word it. “I kinda... might like somepony, but I'm not really sure. I mean, I don't think so, but my books-”
“You have a crush on somepony?” Rarity's head popped up in an instant, delight clear.
“Maybe. Probably not, actually! In fact, I think this entire visit might have been a bad idea, so I'll just go now and-”
“No, no, no! Darling, darling! There's no need to rush!” Rarity abandoned her saddle, practically prancing over to Twilight. “Romance is very important – requires a delicate touch! I can see why you'd go to me for advice first, of course...”
“Aren't you too busy?”
“Never for you, Twilight. And never for love.” Rarity gave her a significant look. “So – colt or filly?”
Twilight pursed her lips. “I – does it matter?”
“Of course – it makes all the difference in the world! The strategies required could not be more contrasting.”
“Well...” Twilight cast around but saw no way out of it. “...filly.”
“Really? Anyone I know?” Twilight glared at her but Rarity merely bat her eyelashes innocently.
Rarity sighed. “Well, all right. Well, if you want my opinion over whether you like her, it seems to me that you wouldn't have come at all if you had any real doubts.”
“But my books-”
“Can't be trusted, I know. This is love, not some cold scientific claptrap. But if you really disagreed I'm sure you'd be writing some kind of thesis at the moment about how they all got it wrong, not going around asking me to tell you.”
“But...” Twilight frowned. “It can't be true.”
“Love works in mysterious ways.”
Twilight looked at the floor. “So... if it is true – and I still don't think it is – then...what should I do?”
“Ah, now that is the important question.” Rarity tapped her hoof to her snout. “But if you want the basic overview, Hearts and Hooves is less than a week away and we simply can't ignore that convenient twist of fate. As long as it's passionate and heartfelt it will do.”
“Passionate? Like, something really big and dramatic?”
“Precisely! The size of the spectacle shows how much you care, how far you're willing to go for them!”
“I don't know...” Big and dramatic didn't really sound like the sort of things Fluttershy would appreciate. “I'm not sure she's the type of pony to really like that sort of thing.”
Rarity was rubbing her mouth again, brow furrowed. Twilight instantly back-tracked – had she figured it out?! “But okay! That's very good advice, that's exactly what I wanted, so I guess I'll be leaving now – I'll leave you to your work!”
Twilight stumbled backwards, ready to canter off. However, before she could leave, Rarity stopped her.
“Wait just one moment.” Twilight turned; Rarity was scrutinising the dresses around her. Finally she picked one – a dusky lavender colour with a simple but pretty lace trim. “It always helps to dress properly, no? And this is just right for you – beautiful, but understated. And it brings out your beautiful coat.”
Twilight took the dress hesitantly. She didn't always like Rarity's designs, but she had to admit that she knew her customers. It really did seem lovely.
She smiled. “Thank you. I'll wear it.”
Rarity's smile was almost unsettlingly knowing. “Any time.”
Twilight held the bag to her side with magic, frowning as she left the shop. That had been...helpful. Still, Twilight really wasn't sure what she wanted to do yet. Which meant...
“Howdy, Twi! What brings you round?”
“Hey, Applejack! What are you doing?”
“Oh, we were just workin' on some applesauce with some of the left over apples from last season. Nothin' fancy, just somethin' to keep the money coming in.” She perked up. “Would you like to help?”
Twilight paused, very tempted to take up the offer. But no! Stalling was for people afraid of the truth. Twilight was a scientist! “Sorry, but I don't think I can. I just came by to...er, ask for some advice.”
“Well, shucks. Sure, Twi, what's on your mind?”
“Well...” Twilight traced a circle in the ground with her hoof. What had she said to Rarity? “It's just, um... there's somepony I think I might like, only I'm not really sure about it? I'm not very good at this sorta thing...”
“And you think I am?”
“Yeah! You're always so down to earth and mature... and you're my friend. So I'd really appreciate any help you could offer.”
Applejack frowned, leaning against the machine beside her. “Thanks for that, but I'm still not sure I could be of any help.”
“Anything is better than nothing.”
“Well...” Applejack stared into space. “I think at its heart, romance is pretty simple. You either like 'em, or you don't. And maybe sometimes you like somepony and they're not the right one for you, but everypony has somepony out there for 'em. So I think that if you're askin' yourself, do I like them? I think that means you prob'ly do.”
Twilight deflated. “That's what Rarity said, too...”
“Really?” Applejack asked incredulously, and Twilight had to giggle. Applejack smiled as well, leaning forward. “So who is this pony that's caught your eye?”
“Er, nopony!” Twilight shook her head, blushing. “I mean – well, obviously somepony, but – I think I'd rather...keep that to myself. For now.”
Applejack nodded sagely. “Fair enough.”
“So, what do you think I should do?”
“Hay if I know,” Applejack said with a shrug. “Just treat 'em like a gentlepony, as far as I can see. Flowers, chocolates... Speaking of which, isn't Hearts and Hooves comin' up?”
“Yeah, in five days.” Was it weird that she had memorised that? It was probably weird.
“Then what're you waiting for? Seems like a perfect opportunity.”
“You know, I still haven't worked out if I actually like her or not,” Twilight attempted.
Applejack smiled. “Sure you haven't.” She straightened. “Well, I'd better get back to my work, so unless you're planning to help me out...”
“That'll be fine,” Twilight said, excusing herself.
Damn, another pony thought she liked Fluttershy. How could everyone in Ponyville be so mistaken? But there was another pony she could talk to, and she had to agree with her, right?
“Hey, Twi.” Rainbow Dash lazed back on her cloud, calling down to the unicorn over her shoulder.
“Hey, Rainbow. What are-” Twilight stopped herself, shaking her head. This was getting silly. “I wanted some advice.”
“Sure! I'm always ready to hand out my indispensable nuggets of wisdom to help the unfortunate and less awesome. Whaddaya need?”
“It's just that I might kinda like somepony, and I'm not sure how to tell if I do?”
“Just try it. If you wanna make out, you like 'em. If not, you don't.”
Twilight frowned. “There's a bit more to liking somepony than just kissing.”
“Then just try going out with them!” Rainbow Dash said with a frustrated sigh, as though Twilight were the stubborn one here. “Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, but at least you tried, and it'll probably be a hell of a lot more fun than just standing here thinking about it.”
“And maybe it'll ruin our friendship, which is something I'm really not prepared to do!”
“Friendship?” Rainbow Dash perked up, turning over to look at Twilight.
“I mean...” Twilight blushed. “I don't want to hurt... them. And this could make things really awkward, and I don't want that.”
“Things will only be awkward if you make them awkward.”
“Trust me. They'd be awkward.”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Look, Twi, and I'm talking as your friend here, but you're always doing this – overthinking things, trying to plan things out perfectly before you even think of doing anything, tryin' to find your answers in books. For once in your life, just do it!”
“But I don't even know if I want to do it!”
“You'll find out if you try, won't you?”
Twilight pursed her lips. “So...say I do decide to... go out with them. How would I even go about it?”
“What do you mean?” Rainbow Dash asked, genuinely confused.
“Huh? I just meant... how would I... ask?”
Rainbow Dash stared at her. Slowly, she said, “you go up to them and you say, 'hey, let's go out some time.'”
“What? I can't do that!” Twilight said immediately, shocked at the very thought.
“And why the hay not?”
“Well...it's...it's just too sudden, too -”
“Confident? Yeah, 'cause ponies hate that.”
Actually, they do – it's called arrogance... Twilight shook her head. “I...I don't know, Rainbow.”
“Come on, I've seen you do scarier stuff before, Twi. What about that big bear thingie?”
“The Ursa Minor? But that was totally different!”
“Well, that was magic – I know that! This is...” Twilight sighed.
Rainbow Dash laid down on her cloud, looking at Twilight closely. “Look, just get it over with quickly, like a band-aid. It'll save you a lot of stress in the long run.”
“...maybe you're right.” Twilight bit her lip. “Thanks, Rainbow.”
“Anytime,” Rainbow Dash said with a wink.
Well, that had gone...surprisingly well. Twilight left feeling pretty good about herself.
...at least, until she realised that Rainbow Dash had also just encouraged her to ask Fluttershy out.
Twilight groaned. There was only one pony left she had to talk to and she doubted it'd help, but she at least had to know somepony was on her side...
“Hey, Twilight! How are you going?” Pinkie Pie suddenly lunged in Twilight's direction and she jumped out of the way quickly; having grabbed some sort of spoon, Pinkie began stirring furiously at the mixture in a bowl.
“Wow, you guys are busy, aren't you?” Twilight murmured, her last word cut off by a loud ding and Pinkie Pie kicking at the oven door beside her.
“Yep yep yep! Got looooots of orders to fill for Hearts and Hooves Day! It's especially busy this year since the Cakes have little Pumpkin and Pound to take care of as well, so I'm doing my best to help out wherever it's needed!”
“That's very responsible,” Twilight said, actually rather impressed. Somehow, Pinkie Pie always managed to exceed her expectations.
“Of course! It is my middle name, after all! Besides -” Pinkie Pie poured the batter into a tray and then shoved it into the oven, taking the other one out in one smooth motion. “Ow ow ow!” She dropped the tray onto the counter, grabbing a spatula in her mouth and moving the cookies onto another plate. “Mmph mm mmph-mph mn!”
“I'll...take your word for it.” Twilight coughed. “So, uh, I wondered if I could ask you about something?”
“Sure! What do you need? If you wanna place an order, you'd normally have to wait for aaaaages since we've got a long waiting list, but if it's you, I can afford to get you something or other!”
“It's not about that.” Twilight waved her hoof. “It's actually, um, more like advice.”
“Ooooooh!” Pinkie Pie abandoned the cake she was frosting to sling an arm around Twilight's neck. “Oooh, is that what you want? Well, go ahead, and auntie Pinkie will tell you eeeeverything she knows!”
“...uh huh.” Twilight raised an eyebrow. Pinkie blinked back innocently. “Well...I kinda like somepony. Maybe! And I'm not sure how to tell?”
“Hmmm...” Pinkie Pie frowned, rubbing a hoof at her chin. “You mean Fluttershy?”
“Wh-what?!” Twilight stumbled back in shock. “How did you-”
Pinkie Pie rolled her eyes. “It was simple, silly! You two are always hanging around together lately! It's sooooo cute! I think you two would be perfect together!”
“So, you wanna know how to ask her out, huh? Hmmm... well, obviously you have to do something for Hearts and Hooves Day! But what? There are all sorts of ways to celebrate – chocolates, of course, and flowers, and parties, and jewellery, and other presents, and romantic picnics, and songs, and-”
“I get the picture.”
“But if it's Fluttershy, I know just the thing!” Pinkie Pie dashed off, rummaging in her pantry. When she emerged, she was carrying a bag with what seemed to be some brownies inside. “This!”
“Brownies? Why brownies?”
“Well, for starters, Fluttershy loves brownies! She orders them from us pretty often! But the brownies aren't really the important thing here, and I can't believe I'm saying that!” Pinkie Pie laughed. “What you really need is to just get together like you usually do and have fun together like normal. Only in a date sort of way! And then tell her you like her, and hopefully it'll work out!”
“But what if it doesn't?”
Pinkie Pie frowned, then smiled again. “I'm sure it will. She totally likes you, Twilight, I promise! But even if it doesn't...” She shrugged. “Fluttershy's the nicest pony in the world. She won't hold it against you!”
“I...” Twilight stopped, thinking about what Pinkie Pie was saying. “That...actually makes a lot of sense, Pinkie. And I can't believe I'm saying that.”
Pinkie Pie laughed again, nudging the bag forward. “Here – take it! On the house! Always for you, Twi – and for young lovers!” With that she spun around, just in time to take a cake out of another oven and ice it alongside the other she was working on.
Twilight took the bag, holding it with the bag with Rarity's dress in it. Any day where Pinkie Pie made sense was a strange day to be living in. But...well, she had. And so had Rainbow Dash, and Applejack, and Rarity.
Twilight sighed. “Oh, horseapples...”
Twilight blinked, rubbing her eyes at the sudden light.
Spike was standing in the doorway. Twilight looked down – she had fallen asleep over her books again. She sighed in defeat, resting her head on the top one, just below a paragraph that seemed to describe in perfect detail exactly what was going on in her brain right now, all summarized under the infuriatingly simple heading 'Infatuation'.
“I think I like Fluttershy,” she mumbled.
Spike walked over, nodding his head sympathetically. “Yyep, looks like it.”
Twilight groaned. “What am I supposed to do, Spike? She's my friend! I asked everypony and their advice was so good but... it's so hard.”
“That it is.” Spike hopped up onto the desk beside her.
“It's just... how do you actually say it? Just go up to her and go all 'hey, Fluttershy, I really kinda sorta like you as more than a friend'?”
“I'm hearing you.”
“And, like, what if she refuses? It'd be so awkward, and...” Twilight looked down at her book. “What if she doesn't like me like that...? That'd make me...really sad.”
Finally Twilight turned. “Huh?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Come on. Like you're the only one who's ever gotten a crush on somepony before.”
Twilight opened her mouth and closed it. “I'm sorry, I completely forgot!”
“Nah, don't worry about it. Love tends to mess with you like that.”
“So...” Twilight shifted, looking at Spike more clearly. “How do you deal with it? What are you going to do about Rarity? Are you ever going to tell her?”
Spike fiddled with his claws, locking them together. “Hey, can I tell you something in private? Like, don't tell anyone.”
“Of course,” Twilight said immediately. It wasn't as though Spike had a great track record with reasonable secrets.
Spike let out a breath. “I...already told her. Kinda.”
Twilight blinked, then sat straight up. “What – really? When? I never even knew!”
“After that time I got really big and...dragony. I don't remember much, but after I transformed back... well, I started to say it, anyway. And she... she just stopped me, and smiled at me.”
Twilight's jaw dropped. “Seriously? But...what's happened since then?”
Spike shrugged. “Nothing.”
“But...” Twilight shook her head. “What did it mean, then? Yes or no?”
“No idea.” Spike shook his head. “But she didn't reject me outright, right? So I figure I've still got a chance! And even if not... well. Just being friends with her is enough.”
Twilight paused. “That's...really mature of you, Spike.”
Spike grinned. “Well, duh. It's me, after all!”
Twilight smiled. “It sure is. And thanks. I still don't really know what I'm going to do at all... but, well. I guess I ought at least to try?”
“That's the spirit!” Spike hopped down, looking around. “Uh, what time did you get to sleep last night...?”
“Shouldn't the library be open by now?” Spike wondered, scratching her neck.
Twilight squealed. “Oh no! What time is it?! Euuurgh, how could I let this happen?! No no no, please don't tell Princess Celestia about this, she'll be so disappointed in me...”
Spike waved his paw. “Psh, don't worry. You can mess up every now and then.”
Twilight rushed around putting her books in order, frowning in despair. “And I still have so many more books to read before Hearts and Hooves Day...”
Spike raised a finger but then lowered it again. He shrugged. “Close enough...”
Twilight has hyperventilating.
“What do I do, what do I do?! Spike, is this okay? Wait – when was I supposed to do that again?” She fumbled for her notes, dropping them in her haste. “Ack! Oh no – now I need to put those in order again!”
“You're doing fine, Twilight,” Spike said, rolling his eyes from the corner.
“No, I'm not fine! There's so much I need to do, so many possibilities I haven't planned for yet – okay, so, if this happens I read the notes in this pocket, but if she says that then I read these ones, and-”
“It doesn't need to go perfectly.”
“Yes it does! If I mess it up, it'll – it'll just be awkward, and she'll laugh at me, and she'll realise how awful I really am, and-”
“Fluttershy?” Spike said incredulously, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, okay, maybe not, but – what if I say the wrong thing and offend her accidentally?”
“I doubt she'd blame you.”
“No, she wouldn't! But she'd be upset and sad and – I don't want that to happen.”
Spike walked forward, placing a comforting hand on Twilight's shoulder. “You'll do fine. Now just go already!”
“I can't go! I-”
“It's already two o'clock.”
“Eek!” Twilight squeaked, before hurriedly grabbing up her bags with her magic and shoving the notes into her pockets – she'd put them back into order on the way. Without another word she cantered out of her house, travelling as fast as she was able to their meeting place.
Her heartbeat thumped. Why was she doing this? How was she doing this? This was so, so stupid, oh Celestia...
But she had it all planned out. A few days ago she had sent a message to Fluttershy asking her to meet her a couple of days early. She hadn't specified that it was Hearts and Hooves Day and Fluttershy hadn't brought it up either, and that thought send waves of both relief and worry through her – what if Fluttershy didn't realise? What if she did?
She was wearing the dress Rarity had given to her. She had a bunch of flowers, as Applejack had suggested. She had Pinkie Pie's brownies. And, if she was able, she was going to do her best to just go for it, just as Rainbow Dash had told her.
And if it all failed? Well...being friends would be enough.
Finally she got there and pushed through the bushes – only to nearly jump out of her skin when she saw that Fluttershy was already there.
Both ponies screamed.
“Oh, sorry, I didn't realise you'd be here already, haha, sorry, you just, um, scared me a little,” Twilight babbled, trying in vain to catch her breath.
Fluttershy mouthed something unintelligible. She seemed to have lost all powers of audible speech entirely.
“So! Um... you're here!”
Fluttershy nodded, head turned to the ground, pink hair covering her face. Now that Twilight was looking, Fluttershy was wearing a dress as well – it was a pretty pale blue, whispy thing that made her eyes seem even bigger if possible. In fact – was she wearing mascara?
Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Fluttershy did know it was Hearts and Hooves Day!
“Well, that's great, so I guess we've met now, and I'll just-” Wait, what the hay was she saying?! “I mean... I'll just...stay here a little longer.” Twilight looked around, only having the vaguest idea what she was even talking about. Was she supposed to get the rug out now? She itched to read her notes, even as she remembered that there was nothing on there that accounted for a situation in which she arrived and Fluttershy was already there.
“Oh...um... me, me too...” Fluttershy murmured, so quietly Twilight could barely hear her.
“Good! So we're both here! Just as we promised: both here. Together. I mean, um, just the two of us, I meant to say, which is to say that we're both here!” Twilight took the blanket and spread it on the ground more in an attempt to stop herself from talking more than anything else.
“I have flowers! And brownies!”
“Oh!” Fluttershy went very pink. “I, um, thank you, but, I have flowers...” she drifted off.
“You already have some?” Twilight's heart did a weird flip flop. “Um, oh, did somepony else give you some? N-never mind then, ah, this was pretty silly anyway...”
“N-no,” Fluttershy squeaked, head falling even lower. “I...I mean...f-for you...”
Twilight wished her head was stop moving because it was making it very difficult to think and that was pretty terrifying! “You...wait. You have flowers...for me?”
Fluttershy nodded, blush growing even stronger. “And, um...b-blueberry tarts.”
Blueberries? Twilight licked her lips unconsciously at the thought – they were her favourite! And...
Her eyes narrowed. Just wait a minute, here...
“Fluttershy...” Twilight stepped forwards hesitantly, eyes wide. Could it...
Fluttershy shuffled backwards, head almost to the ground. She was actually shaking. Twilight half-expected her to fall over onto her back and bleat at any moment.
“TWILIGHT I REALLY LIKE YOU WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO OUT SOME TIME.”
“S-sorry! I don't know what came over me...” Fluttershy looked up at Twilight only for an instant before turning away again. “I-I...”
“No, Fluttershy...” Twilight stepped forward again. Everything felt so surreal – where before her mind had been going a mile a minute, now it felt perfectly blank.
“I-it's just – I asked the others, a-and they told me what to do, and told me you had asked for advice about another pony for Hearts and Hooves Day, and Pinkie Pie said y-you liked me, and then you wanted to meet me today, s-so I thought maybe, I was the pony you liked, but I guess I was wrong, I sh-shouldn't have assumed-”
“Fluttershy!” Twilight cried, making the other pony jump. Twilight leaned in close, seeing the beautiful pony's wide, tear-filled blue eyes close up. “I...I like you, too.”
Fluttershy blinked up at her, lip wobbling. “You...you do...?”
Twilight smiled, feeling very warm. “Yeah,” she whispered. “I really like you. Um, a lot.”
“O-oh...” Fluttershy visibly swallowed, smiling shakily. “Y-y-yaaay?”
Slowly, Twilight's smile morphed into a full on grin and she narrowly managed to avoid jumping up and down in victory. “Yes yay. Very yay. Very, very yay.” Hesitantly, she leaned forward, brushing her cheek against Fluttershy's. Fluttershy hiccuped, tensing at the feeling but then relaxing, and slowly pressing her cheek to Twilight's as well. Twilight breathed in – there it was, that wonderful, earthy scent that was Fluttershy. It was beautiful. All of her was beautiful.
Eventually, they drew back. “So, I guess it's time we celebrated Hearts and Hooves day, right?”
Fluttershy was smiling so much it looked as though her cheeks hurt. “Yes,” she said.