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Chapter 1: May 26

Try as she might, Twilight Sparkle could not enjoy herself at her brother’s wedding. While everypony else danced in the star-lit courtyard, she sat alone at one of the reception tables. The laughter of the guests and the thumping of the music’s bass rang hollow in her ears. Her head rested motionlessly on the table’s surface. A half-nibbled apple fritter and an untouched glass of sparkling apple juice stood guard around her.

“Long day, Twily?”

Twilight Sparkle snapped upright, spilling her flute of juice. She plastered as broad a smile onto her face as she could muster. “Shining Armor! Congratulations again!” She hugged him tenderly. “I’m so happy for you and Cadance. In spite of that whole ‘changeling invasion’ business, this whole week has been absolutely wonderful.”

Shining Armor grinned from ear to ear. He looked out to the dance floor and located his wife, who was dancing with a trio of rambunctious fillies. “Thanks, Twily. That means a lot, coming from you.” As Cadance’s gaze met his, the two newlyweds waved giddily to one another. Shining Armor turned back to his sister, and his chest sank. He nuzzled her gently. “Now, come on. Tell your big brother what’s wrong.”

“Wrong?” Her eyes snapped away from her brother. She levitated the barely-touched apple fritter, studying it as though it had become the most fascinating object in the universe. “Nothing’s wrong. Why would you assume that anything’s wrong? I never said something went wrong.”


She sighed. “We can talk about it after your honeymoon. It’s really not that important. Today is the most important day of your life, and it would be incredibly selfish of me to—”

“Hey.” Shining Armor placed a gentle hoof against Twilight Sparkle’s face, turning her to face him. “Twilight, you’re my little sister. Your happiness is just as important to me as my wife’s or my own.” He smirked. “I could never call this the best night of my life if I knew that my little sis was down in the dumps.”

She nuzzled him back. “Thanks, B.B.B.F.F.” She sighed, absentmindedly twirling her empty flute. “I—Where to begin? I guess I should start at the beginning of the week. I had just gotten your wedding announcement. Shining Armor and Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.” She cracked a weak smirk and poked her brother in the ribs. “Don’t think you’re off the hook for that, by the way. I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me in person.”

“I know, I know,” he laughed. “I’m sure you’ll be telling the grandfoals all about it.”

“Anyway. It got me thinking, I guess.” She fidgeted with the hem of her best mare’s dress. “Marriage. Committing your entire life to another pony. Somepony that you hold closer to your heart than anypony else in the world. It’s quite a statement. A statement of love, I mean. And well, the more that—”

“Don’t tell me!” His eyes lit up mischievously. “You confessed to your secret special somepony.”

Twilight Sparkle felt her stomach drop into her back left hoof. “What?! No! Who told you my secret? I don’t have a special somepony! How did you know that I did? I’m far too busy with my studies for that kind of frivolity. You can’t tell another living soul about this!”

Shining Armor’s head tilted back, letting loose a whole-hearted laugh. “Jeez, hold your horses! You can be a real spaz sometimes, you know that?” He gave her a knowing glance. “It’s a wedding, Twily. Pretty much everypony’s thoughts turn to love at these things. Do you have any idea how many new couples I’ve seen here tonight? I feel like that one prince from the old legend—y’know, the one who invented that love potion. But my own sister!” He pulled her into a headlock, scruffing up her mane with a hoof. “The old grey librarian of Ponyville, bitten by the love bug! Never thought I’d see the day.”

Twilight Sparkle playfully shoved against her brother, trying to escape the noogies and laughing in protest. “Okay! Okay! Sheesh. You don’t need to sound that surprised. And stop messing up my mane; it took Rarity over an hour to get it looking like this.”

“So!” He planted his elbows on the table and rested his head on his hooves, doing his best impression of a gossiping schoolfilly. “Who’s the lucky colt or filly who’s stolen my little sister’s heart? Anypony I know?”

Twilight Sparkle suddenly remembered that there was an incredibly fascinating pastry sitting next to her. “Nope! She’s nopony. You’ve never met her. Or heard of her. She lives in Buenos Mares.”

“Okay,” said Shining Armor, rolling his eyes. “We’ll circle back to that one later. How did you do it, then? How’d you confess your feelings to our mystery mare?”

She felt a heavy weight on her chest, as if she were underwater. A hot flush washed over her face. “The only way I knew how.”

Twilight Sparkle paced around her bedroom in circles. The first few bands of the sunrise poked their way through her window, slowly rendering the room’s candles unnecessary. The sunlight illuminated the chaos that was her bedroom. Amid spilled ink and snapped quills, her floor was covered almost entirely by a layer of parchment. Some pages had early drafts—heavily scratched-out, rephrased, and commented upon. Others had outlines, notes, or directions for what to change between the seventeenth and eighteenth drafts. She had even resorted to stringing the pages together with red thread, visually indicating that the paragraph by the foot of her bed was meant to be interjected right after the postulate at the bottom of the staircase—except that the latter had a giant black X through it.

After a few minutes of reorganizing the physical web, she traced the red thread of the document and located its beginning. With a nervous glance to her bedroom door, she quietly read aloud.

“Dear Princess Celestia,

“The document herein is no ordinary friendship report. I consider this report to be a culmination of the last two years of study—a thesis of sorts. As such, I humbly request that you read this letter in private, where you can avoid distractions, interruptions, and so forth.

“My thesis is this: friendship is a magical and wonderful thing, yet contrary to my original assumptions, it is not the strongest force in the universe.

“Per your assignment, I have spent two years in Ponyville studying friendship. I started out small, with a tight-knit group of five close friends. As the years progressed, my circle of friends grew. I became friends with ponies from Canterlot to Appleloosa. I met unusual ponies, newborn foals, a variety of critters, and even a few rivals, all of whom I am now happy to call my friends.”

Twilight Sparkle frowned. There was a hastily written note at the end of this scroll, but she couldn’t tell if it said to resume on page one hundred and ninety six, or page one hundred and eighty five. After some paper shuffling, she found the proper point to resume from.

“But all this time, something confused me. There was a piece of this puzzle that did not fit. There was one pony who felt strangely different. Despite the number of diverse friends that I was making, there was always a unifying, familiar sentiment between all of them. For this particular pony, the sensations were always inexplicably different.

“The pony was you, Princess.

“Please do not misunderstand. I am eternally grateful for your many years of tutelage, and I treasure our relationship. It is simply that I do not believe my feelings for you can be properly described as ‘friendship.’ I want to spend every day surrounded by my friends, but their absence is never quite as painful as when I’ve been separated from you. I enjoy playing with my friends, attending parties, telling jokes, and so on. Around you, these frivolities seem meaningless; I want the few moments we have together to count for so much more.

“With ‘friendship’ ruled out, I thought about alternative categories. Perhaps you were simply a ‘teacher’ or ‘mentor’? This didn’t fit. I’ve learned so much from my friends in Ponyville, yet I’ve never worried that this dual role would jeopardize that friendship. Perhaps you were more like ‘family’? A ‘second mother’? Unequivocally no. My parents and brother mean so much to me, and you mean so much to me. Yet, these feelings are completely dissimilar.

“With you, Princess, every day feels like a warm spring morning—even during wintry months, e.g. December. With you, I feel lighter than air, as if I could fly alongside you—despite my obvious physical limitation of not having wings. With you, I feel as if the whole of Equestria could slowly melt away, until only you and I remain—ignoring the absurdity of us surviving such a high melting point. It was only just recently that I was finally able to comprehend these quandaries, these rationalizations, and even these emotions, and put them into words.”

The words themselves were not present. This was as far as Twilight Sparkle had made it in her thesis after an all-nighter of draft revisions. She knew now, though, that it was perfect. It stated exactly what she wanted to express, and she knew just how to finish it. She magically filtered through the room’s clutter for an undamaged quill, dipped it into her inkwell, and concluded the final draft.

“Q.E.D., I love you.

“Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.”

“A love letter!” laughed Shining Armor. “I shoulda been able to guess that.” He threw his foreleg around his sister and pulled her close. “So, has the mystery mare written back yet?”

Her chest sagged. “No, not yet. She only received it yesterday.”

“She did, did she?” He smirked, scanning the dance floor. “If you know that much, then I’d wager she’s in attendance, visiting from... Buenos Mares, was it? Have you seen her face-to-face, then? What did she say to you?”

You have a lot to think about.

“T-Twily!” He caught Twilight Sparkle as her knees gave way. “Hey! Get ahold of yourself.” He gently propped her up, just like he’d originally found her, with her head resting against the table’s surface. Shining Armor rapidly motioned to a nearby waiter. The waiter, presuming that another guest had partied beyond their capabilities, raced over with a large pitcher of ice water and poured them two tall glasses. Shining Armor floated one of the glasses up to his sister’s lips. “Here, drink up.”

Twilight Sparkle took over the levitation from her brother, chugging down the refreshing water, trying to bury her nausea. A cold, clammy sweat seeped up from her skin, dampening her coat. She wiped the condensation across her face, at once cooling herself down and masking the tears that threatened to burst forth.

Shining Armor cringed. “I’m so sorry, Twilight. I should’ve been able to put two and two together.”

“It’s okay. In truth, I was a foal for getting my hopes up like I did. But suffice it to say,” she said, closing her eyes, “she wasn’t pleased with me.”

You don’t know that! When the Princess said that to you, you had just made a terrible accusation against Cadance. Sure, you turned out to be right in the end, but truth be told, you didn’t have any solid evidence at the time. That’s what she was disappointed over. You shouldn’t read too much into it.

You have a lot to think about.

No. Your first instinct was spot-on. She can be cryptic like that; you should know better by now. That scolding was as much about your love letter as it was about your outburst.

You have a lot to think about. Each replay of the rebuke brought a new type of pain—faintness, difficulty breathing, nausea, chills—most of all, a stabbing pain through her chest. Twilight Sparkle covered her face with her hooves, wishing that her mind would stop torturing itself.

“I’m sorry, kiddo. Sometimes, these things just aren’t meant to be,” Shining Armor said with a hug. “Just give her some time. Tensions will be lower, and the two of you can discuss things like grown-ups.”

“I guess you’re right. I mean, between the invasion and the wedding, we’ve hardly said two words to one another. I mean, the most we’ve spoken today was when... when...”

The newlywed couple waved from the castle balcony, receiving a tumultuous cheer from the thousands of ponies who had traveled to Canterlot to behold the royal wedding. From inside the castle, Twilight Sparkle and her five closest friends watched the procession, riding on the waves of high emotions.

She felt a gentle hoof rest itself upon her back. Turning and looking upward, she stared into the smiling face of her mentor.

This is your victory as much as theirs,” said Princess Celestia. “You persisted in the face of doubt, and your actions led to your being able to bring the real Princess Cadance back to us.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled back. In spite of everything, her brother had married a wonderful mare, and she herself appeared to be back in Princess Celestia’s good graces. Maybe her rejection of my letter isn’t the end of the world, after all. Maybe I can move past all of this.

Princess Celestia closed her eyes, striking a pose which radiated sagely wisdom. She continued, “Learning to trust your instincts is a valuable lesson to learn.” She opened her eyes again, staring straight into her student’s. Twilight Sparkle found herself getting lost in those magenta eyes, floating away on—

“My instincts!” belted Twilight Sparkle. She lifted herself up from the table’s surface, knocking her brother off-balance.

Shining Armor recovered himself. “What? Twily, what are you shouting about?”

“She told me—” Her jaw snapped shut. He was on that balcony. I don’t want him to piece this together. Not just yet. “She told me that there might be a chance after all.”

“Awesome!” Shining Armor playfully nudged her in the ribs. “That’s my little sis. Don’t give up until the fat mare sings. Just promise me one thing?” His jovial smile turned gentler, more sentimental. “Promise you’ll listen to my advice from earlier? Give her some time alone to think. Take things slow.”

She hugged her brother tightly. “Promise, B.B.B.F.F.

Twilight Sparkle felt awful about lying to her brother on his wedding day, but as she rationalized it, advice should be taken with a grain of salt. His heart’s in the right place, but he doesn’t know the Princess like I do. He doesn’t know that the door is open, if only a crack. This might be my only opportunity to change the Princess’s mind. She drew in a deep breath and exhaled it sharply. I have to act tonight!

The guard who was walking alongside her, upon hearing the loud breath, responded in turn with a noisy yawn. “Tell me about it. Your brother’s wedding was great, really, but I can’t wait for my shift to be over.”

She flinched. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean for my audience request to keep everypony up even later.”

“Don’t worry yourself,” he said with a laugh. “Everypony in the royal guard knows how highly Princess Celestia thinks of you. My sarge told me that she approved your request without a moment’s thought.”

She thinks highly of me. Twilight Sparkle felt butterflies threatening to tear their way out of her stomach. Everypony can see it! I can see it! Can she? Can I help her to see it?

The pair of ponies stopped in front of a set of grand double doors. “And here we are. Not like you need much help finding your way around, really,” he chuckled. “I just ask that, out of respect for the Princess, you keep the late hour in mind.”

“Of course,” she said with a polite curtsy. “Thank you for the escort. I shouldn’t be more than a minute.” Once the guard had turned back toward the entrance, she bit her lip. Still, I hope that we can spend more of the night together. Her ears burned. Not like that! She’s the Princess, for pony’s sake. I just want to be with her. Ack, I mean—

She lightly smacked her forehead with a hoof. Focus. Stick to the plan. She drew a deep breath and knocked lightly on the towering wooden door. Did I knock too softly? She probably didn’t hear—

“Enter, please.”

A shiver ran down her spine. Twilight Sparkle gently nudged the door open, entering into Princess Celestia’s private chambers. A roaring fire was ablaze in the room’s central stone fireplace. Circling around the room was an impressive astronomical mural depicting the stars, planets, and naturally the sun. In the back of the room, the balcony doors were open and letting in a cool evening breeze.

Princess Celestia was seated next to a low coffee table. She had removed her royal crown and slippers, instead wearing a violet silken nightgown. A brush magically ran itself along her flowing, luminescent mane, straightening it before bed. “Ah, Twilight,” she said warmly. “How wonderful to see you. Please forgive my appearance. Today has been such a long day, and I assumed that you wouldn’t be offended by the informality.”

Twilight Sparkle stifled a squeal before it could escape her throat, making it sound more like a hiccup instead. She’s comfortable around me! She feels fine letting her guard down and showing me her true self. She felt heat emanating from her cheeks.

Princess Celestia’s mane floated softly against a breeze that only it could feel. With each gentle stroke of her brush, another lock of hair came to rest along her back. As light from the fireplace danced across her mane, she glowed with a warm aurora. “Twilight?”

She quickly made eye contact with the Princess. “Yes! Yes, Your Highness?”

The Princess motioned to a velvet pillow which rested on the ground beside her. “Come. Sit with me.”

Twilight Sparkle walked next to the Princess, moving in a light daze. The majestic alicorn filled her field of vision as she approached. Even her perfume—lilacs, perhaps—was overtaking her consciousness. She bit her tongue, trying to keep her mind rooted in reality.

Princess Celestia set her manebrush on the coffee table and turned to face her guest. “Now, Twilight, what is it that you wanted to discuss?” She smiled down upon her student.

Don’t screw this up. You’ve got one shot! Make it count! “W-Well, Princess,” she said, “I’m glad that everything worked out in the end. We were able to stop Queen Crysalis, and Princess Cadance and my brother’s wedding was incredible.”

The Princess smiled, closing her eyes. “I too am glad. This was quite a series of events, but in the end, it was love—the love of Cadance and Shining Armor—which saved the day. Theirs is a wonderful example for all of Equestria.”

“That’s just it, Your Majesty.” Twilight Sparkle bit her lip. “There’s something that I still don’t understand. Something that has me terribly confused.”

“Oh?” She tilted her head. “And what would that be?”

Twilight Sparkle felt her chest tightening again. Dozens of voices were screaming in her head, each giving rash, conflicting commands. Her heart banged against her rigid chest, threatening to escape and take Princess Celestia for itself, should her body not comply.

A look of concern came over the Princess’s face. She lowered her head, now sitting nearly eye to eye with her star pupil. “What is it, Twilight? Tell me.”

For the first time in her life, Twilight Sparkle didn’t think.

She wasn’t really aware of the kiss until it was over. It wasn’t until she was pulling away that she realized all of the sensations she was feeling. The soft touch of Celestia’s supple lips against her own. The lightly-sweet taste of her saliva. Celestia’s hot breath gliding across her neck. These feelings were nothing like she expected them to be; they were infinitely superior.

Twilight Sparkle pulled her head back and opened her eyes. She looked up at the Princess, trying to gauge her reaction. She saw... nothing. Princess Celestia’s face was stoic, unphased, and unreadable. Twilight Sparkle was at a loss. Do I continue? Stop? I never made a contingency for her standing around like a statue! She said the first thing that popped into her head: “Well?”

Princess Celestia remained silent, causing her to wonder if perhaps the Princess hadn’t heard her. After a moment, she finally replied. “I had hoped that you would have thought better than to act on this, Twilight Sparkle.”

No. No-no-no. She felt as though a vacuum were sucking all of the air out of the room. This can’t be her answer. She’s the only pony I’ve ever adored! “B-But, Princess!”

“I am touched by the sentiment in your thesis and in... your actions. However, you have to have known that we could never share that type of relationship.”

“Known that—” Twilight Sparkle stumbled to her hooves, awkwardly backpedaling off her pillow. “But today at the wedding! You told me to trust my instincts.”

The Princess rose and walked toward Twilight Sparkle, slowly closing the gap between them. “I had expected your instincts to be better founded in reality and maturity. The Twilight I know and care for wouldn’t leap upon such rash actions.”

Her jaw dropped. Rash? I’ve felt this way about her for years, and she’s calling me rash? She tried to speak her objections, but her voice refused to obey.

“My most faithful student, I am the co-ruler of Equestria, and bound by all of my royal duties. I have lived for thousands of years, and will still be here long after you are gone.” Princess Celestia broke eye contact, unfocusing her gaze upon the bookcase next to them; Twilight Sparkle was attuned enough to catch this subtle change. “A courtship between yourself and I would never be tolerated by society.”

Twilight Sparkle glared at the pillows on the floor. “I don’t care about any of that. I care about you, Princess. Who says we need to get everypony’s permission?”

The Princess sighed and unfolded her wings. Under normal circumstances, her magnificent wingspan would have stolen Twilight Sparkle’s breath away, but these were anything but normal circumstances. “My beloved Twilight, please try to understand. I do care deeply about you. You are one of my most prized students. I have felt truly blessed to watch you grow, learn, and develop into the mare you are today. Your studies of friendship have been a true joy to behold, and have even reminded me of a valuable lesson on one or two occasions. It has been a great honor to know you as well as I do.” She stepped up beside Twilight Sparkle and lowered a broad wing across her back. “However, this is the extent of my feelings right now. I do not—and fear that I cannot—reciprocate the kinds of feelings that you feel for me. It would be unfair of me to let you believe otherwise.”

Please, Princess. No. She stared down at her hooves.

Princess Celestia tightened her wing, pulling Twilight Sparkle in close against her body. “Come now, Twilight Sparkle. Let’s not focus on what could have been. You and I share a truly special bond. While it may not be the love that you seek, it is still a bond that is quite strong and magical.” She smiled and gave her a playful wink. “Perhaps you should start by amending your thesis with this new information?”

Twilight Sparkle felt an emotion bubbling up from within her heart. This sensation was unlike anything she had ever felt toward the Princess. It was not love.

She shoved the Princess away from her, breaking apart the wing-hug. “Are you mocking me?”

Princess Celestia’s ears fell flat. “Twilight? What are—”

“Is this your solution?” She flailed her foreleg about, slashing through the air with each sentence. “Here I am, pouring my heart out to you, and this is your clever response? ‘I’m out of your league’? ‘You ought to know better’?”

“Twilight Sparkle! I—”

“Wait, wait! It gets better!” Twilight Sparkle’s dry laugh echoed against the walls of the bedchamber. “‘Congratulations! Your confession has been rejected by Princess Celestia, almighty ruler of Equestria. Your homework for tonight is to write an essay about how getting dumped on your flank has been the greatest thing to ever happen to you!’” She paused for a moment, waiting for a possible reply. None came.

“Let me tell you something, Princess,” she continued, jabbing her own chest for emphasis. “I love you, alright? Not like how some little filly loves ice cream. Real love. I care about you. I yearn for you. I want to devote the rest of my life to you. I don’t care if some stuffy Canterlot bureaucrat doesn’t approve. I don’t care that you’ll always be busy with royal responsibilities. I don’t care if I’ll only be alive for a sliver of your life. I don’t give a flying feather about any of that.” She punctuated her words with a stomp of her hooves. Even on the plush carpeting, each stomp resonated with a bold thump. “All I care about is you, Princess. Just me and you, together. And if I can’t have your love in return, the least you could do is not treat me like some stupid little filly!” Her chest rose and fell with heavy breaths. Her anger had sapped all of her strength.

Twilight Sparkle focused her eyes back onto the target of her tirade. Princess Celestia was silent, and her expression was blank, just as before. Unlike before, however, the Princess’s emotions were not unreadable. Twilight Sparkle felt her stomach clamp down upon itself.

“Is that all, Twilight Sparkle?”

Her hind legs collapsed, causing her to crash rump-first to the ground. Her ears curled up flat against her mane. “Princess, I am so sorry.”

“As am I.” Princess Celestia closed her eyes. “I had seen the signs. I had known the risks. I thought that, in the end, your sense of logic and reason would keep you from acting recklessly.”


“Truly, due to my own inaction, I am perhaps more responsible than you are. I had been too afraid to address the issue head-on. Now that it has reached this stage, it is no longer possible to ignore.”

No-no-no, please, Princess, don’t do this.

Princess Celestia stared into Twilight Sparkle’s eyes. The young student swore she could see a depth of sadness in the old teacher’s eyes. “Please believe me when I say that I never wanted for you to suffer. I naively thought that everything could work itself out. But now I can clearly see how much this is tormenting you.”

She reached a hoof out toward her Princess. “Don’t! Please!” she croaked.

“We must do what is best for you in the long-term, even if it is painful in the short-term.” She turned and slowly stepped her way toward her balcony. “Namely, we should both take a step back from this situation, in order to see things more calmly. We should provide you with an opportunity to let your rationality—one of your most admirable traits—guide you once more. You need to gain perspective, yet your current assignment is preventing just that.”

Twilight Sparkle collapsed to the floor. She covered her ears with her hooves, hoping beyond hope that this could somehow prevent the Princess from speaking.

Princess Celestia did not turn back around to face her. “Twilight Sparkle, effective immediately, for one year’s time, you are no longer my student.”

She looked up from the floor at the Princess who was no longer her mentor. She waited for another emotion to overtake her, but none came. She tried to talk, or scream, or cry, yet nothing worked. She couldn’t make any sounds escape her lips.

“At the end of one year, we shall re-evaluate your condition and decide if resuming your studies is wise. Until that time, you are free to live your life as you see fit.” Her mighty wings folded inward, resting against her soft alabaster coat. “Farewell, Twilight Sparkle.

At last, Twilight Sparkle found a set of muscles which proved to be functional. She rose up to her hooves, turned, and galloped out of the room. The grand double doors flew open with a surge of magic.

Princess Celestia turned at the last possible second, catching one final glimpse of her former prized student before she disappeared through the doorway. Alone in her chamber, she closed her eyes, letting a soft, shaky sigh escape her lips.

Twilight Sparkle sat alone on a park bench. She had only made it a few blocks away from Canterlot Castle before losing the ability to run. She was empty. Her heart was torn asunder. Her mind, normally a whirlwind of plans and analyses, had failed her. Her tear ducts had long since run dry. In a rush, she hopped onto her hooves, leaning over the back of the park bench. After a moment, her stomach too was empty. Shuddering weakly, she wiped her muzzle, leaving a streak of snot, tears, and apple fritter across her foreleg. She curled up onto the bench, too tired to move. The evening air had grown colder; she hugged her tail snugly against her body and closed her eyes. “What should I do?” she quietly asked herself.

“Long day, Twily?”

She snapped her head upright just in time to be gripped in a tight embrace.

“We were so worried about you.”

She pried herself away from the hug and looked up at her brother. “Shining Armor! But how? I watched you leave on your honeymoon.”

Princess Cadance approached her sister-in-law. “Come on, Twilight. Didn’t Shining Armor tell you? We couldn’t run off and enjoy ourselves while our favorite little filly was feeling miserable.”

Shining Armor winked. “Turns out Cadance cared about your situation just as much as I did. When I told her what you told me earlier tonight, she insisted on turning the carriage around and helping you out.” He blanched. “Uh, which, by the way—sorry about telling her your secret like that. Y’know, marriage, and not keeping secrets, and all that.”

Twilight Sparkle didn’t pay heed to her brother’s stammered apology. She turned to Cadance. “But I don’t understand. How did you find me here? How did you know that I...” she said as her eyes dropped to the ground, “that I screwed up?”

Cadance set a hoof gently on her shoulder and smiled. “Oh, just a hunch. Even though Shining Armor said that you had promised to take things slowly, I suspected that you might get carried away and make a move. Knowing Celestia, I can imagine what her answer was, and knowing you, I can imagine how you took the news.”

Twilight Sparkle’s jaw dropped. “How—”

“Wait, what?!” yelled Shining Armor. He stared wide-eyed at Twilight Sparkle. “Sis, you’ve got the hots for Princess Celestia? You never told me that!”

“She didn’t have to.” Princess Cadance smirked. “Love is kinda my thing, remember? I sort of have an eye for this.”

Shining Armor grinned widely. “Wow, my little sister actually put the moves on Princess Celestia. I can’t believe it!” He gently bumped her. “Gotta say, Twily, I’m impressed! That takes some serious guts.” He winked at Cadance. “I guess ‘having a thing for royalty’ runs in the family, huh?”

Princess Cadance gave him a silent, admonishing glare.

He coughed. “Sorry.”

She returned her gaze to Twilight Sparkle. “So you confessed your feelings, but they weren’t reciprocated?” Even though she phrased it as a question, there was a hint of knowledge in her tone.

“Not just that. She told me I was a foal, and punished me.” Twilight Sparkle stared down at Cadence’s hooves. “I’m suspended.”

Shining Armor cringed. “Suspended? Oh no, are you—no, of course you’re not alright. Oh, Twily...” He pulled his little sister close to his chest once more. “You know that we’ll always be here for you, right? Me and Cadance, and Mom and Dad—”

“I know,” she muttered.

“Don’t forget about your friends, the Element-bearers,” said Princess Cadance. “They’ve always cared for you and supported you. They’ll want to help you in your time of need.”

“I know,” she repeated, grinding her hoof against the cobblestone street. “I h-haven’t forgotten them. It’s just—”

“There’s also your life back in Ponyville!” said Shining Armor. “Your dragon assistant, all your friends and neighbors—”

“I know!” Twilight Sparkle stomped her hooves. “They all care about me, and I care about them too. I know.” She sighed and closed her eyes. “But the only reason I went to Ponyville and met any of them in the first place was... because she told me to. Ponyville just has too many memories tied to it now.” She shook her head. “Besides, the feelings that I have for Princess Celestia are—were—truly special. It’s completely different from how I feel about my friends and family.”

Cadance laughed, full-hearted and carefree. “Oh, Twilight. Of course it’s different! But Celestia isn’t the only meaningful pony in your life.”

Twilight Sparkle shook her head rapidly, causing her done-up mane to frizz. “I didn’t mean it like that! My friends are important to me. I love all of them! They’re... they...” She slowly raised a hoof to her mouth.

Cadance drew a gentle smile.

“I love all of my friends,” murmured Twilight Sparkle. She looked at her brother and sister-in-law. “And I love my family.” She frowned. “But, it’s—I don’t—”

“Everypony’s love is different and unique, Twilight. No two ponies feel the exact same way about you. That’s what makes love so special and powerful.” Cadance placed a hoof on Twilight Sparkle’s chin, raising it until they were staring eye-to-eye. “Sometimes, as you just experienced, we wish that one pony could feel a different type of love toward us. Sometimes this is possible; sometimes it isn’t. But even if a pony cannot change the way in which they love you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t currently love you, in their own way.”

With a rush, Twilight Sparkle felt her mind replay the conversation from earlier that night. I do care deeply about you. You are one of my most prized students. I have felt truly blessed to watch you grow, learn, and develop into the mare you are today. “T-That’s what she tried to tell me.” She buried her face into her hooves as the hot sting of tears overtook her eyes. “Oh Celestia, what have I done?”

Princess Cadance cradled her with her forelegs, letting Twilight Sparkle weep into her shoulder. Shining Armor stepped forward and joined them, as the three family members shared a quiet, heartfelt embrace.

After some time, Twilight Sparkle pulled back and wiped a foreleg across her nose. Her eyes remained downward and unfocused. “She was right, wasn’t she? I guess I don’t understand love yet.”

Shining Armor fidgeted, grinding his hoof on the pavement. “It’ll be okay, Twily.”

“That’s why I’ve got to learn.” Life sprang back into Twilight Sparkle’s cheeks. She beamed at her family. “I have so many special ponies in my life. Each relationship truly is unique, and I’ve treasured them, but I don’t truly understand what makes them so important. Not yet.” She looked up at the looming facade of Canterlot Castle. “But I’ll learn. I’ll discover what love truly means to me. And one year from now, I’ll write another thesis.”

“That sounds like a wonderful plan,” said Cadance.

Twilight Sparkle smiled back. “Thank you, both of you.” She playfully pushed against her brother. “Now go; you two need to get back to your honeymoon. And I need to get back to the tower where we’re staying.” She wiped away the last traces of her tears. “After all, my loved ones are waiting for me.”

After wishing them luck and saying goodbye, she parted ways from the newlywed couple. As she trotted down the street toward the place where her friends were sleeping, she risked one more look behind her. Canterlot Castle towered in the distance, glowing under the moonlight. Biting her lip, she turned forward.