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Behind Closed Doors · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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In late autumn, the dawn comes up slowly, stretchingly, a cat curling awake before rising to its paws in search of milk. Celestia on her balcony wears that same feline smile as her horn shimmers and glows, and at exactly the agreed-upon time, the graying blackness begins deepening to blue. The first bright curve of the sun's crown inches over the lovely and familiar hills to the east of Canterlot—

And that, judging by the flicker of her ears, is when she notices the two spots also rising, but these from within the walls of the city that's stirring to life down the slope before her. One of the spots seems to glow with all the light of the oncoming day while the other holds the last bit of darkness from the withdrawing night. They don't distract her from her duty, of course—the sun continues steadily upward—but I imagine that they attract a sliver of her attention the way any new occurrence would during this, her age-old ritual.

That they're balloons should be obvious from the strings trailing after them and the drifting dance they perform among the thermals swirling from the awakening chimneys below. A white balloon and a black one, she must surely see by now, they have freed themselves or have been freed from their earthly restraints to wander in leisurely flight through the early morning sky.

The mystery of the spots solved, she no doubt prepares to focus the fullness of her attention back to the job at hoof. But that is the very instant when the balloons shift in directions contradictory to the prevailing breeze. They swoop toward one another, in fact, meet just at the top of the sun's disk relative to a viewer standing upon Celestia's balcony, and twirl about in most unballoonlike fashion. Their strings clasp and intertwine, tying themselves into a dainty knot, and the two balloons, now embracing as it were, proceed onward in natural progression, their pace ever so slightly faster than that of the dawn burgeoning into glorious radiance behind them.

Sunny's tiny gasp is very music to my ears, and it takes all my strength not to burst into my own twirling dance there at her side. Her gaze doesn't stray from the morning's vista, but she leans, touching her shoulder to mine. Together we stand, the transfer of universal power briefly connecting our inner selves as night gives way to day. "Thank you, Starry," she mutters.

I sleep untroubled till the afternoon begins its precipitous tumble toward evening. Alas, the sudden rush of the Day Staff to wrap things up at this time of the year always seems a bit harried to me. My countenance, however, is serenity itself, and I rather think I have a calming effect as I glide from station to station. At least my smiles and nods engender smiles and nods in return from both my Night Staff and their daytime counterparts as salutations, briefings, and farewells are exchanged.

Our ponies are so wonderfully adaptable! A mere five years since my return, and the palace in Canterlot runs with a light-hearted smoothness I find entirely captivating. Egalitarianism Sunny calls it, a word both chewy and crunchy, and while I may miss some of the things about our old castle, this modern age has much to recommend it.

Taking flight from the forecourt where tourists snap photos of both me and the changing of the mortal guard, I make my way airborne to my balcony, there to await Celestia's arrival. It's become our custom that the currently ruling diarch brings the mantle of command to the diarch-in-waiting as a symbol of power freely surrendered. Sunny arrives exactly on time, of course, and she updates me on the state of Equestria since last we met. I make note of what events concern her and share my thoughts on a few matters, and then the sun is descending into the hills west of Canterlot.

For all my love of words, I know of none to describe this moment. Assuming the weight of the world is my go-to phrase, but it has an ominous quality to it that the experience almost entirely lacks. I slide into our shared power as into a comfortable garment and embrace both the puzzles it brings me to solve and the joys it brings me to share. Eyes on the east, I touch the moon with a loving caress that causes its crown to peak grinningly into the darkening sky—

And flex my nostrils at a sudden scent. Sweet but not perfumey, light but not ephemeral, it makes me think of breakfast and dinner both, of long, lazy days and warm, brilliant nights. It draws a sliver of my attention downward to the gardens spread below my balcony and to a plant I've not seen there before, a shrub tucked into a space between two jacaranda trees.

Its leaves show a green edging toward black as evening's shadows gather around it. Half its flowers, golden-yellow, are drawing their petals closed, tucking themselves away for the night. The shrub's other flowers, however, silver-gray, are concurrently stirring themselves to life, petals opening to greet the rising moon. And the exquisite, mingled aroma of the blossoms both awakening and retiring makes me gasp in wonder and delight.

Pulling the night entirely into place and setting the stars to shine, I turn to my sister, see the love of the moment reflected on her face—

And realize that this means war.

Pinkie Pie blinks for a distressingly long time at the word I've written across the chalkboard in my personal workroom, the white-washed, cylindrical space entirely empty save for the two of us, the board, and its accoutrements. I'm on the verge of simply telling her what it means when a smile enlightens not just her face but her whole body. "Oh, I get it! You wrote 'Fanatics,' but you put a 'u' where the first 'a' should be! So it's 'Funatics' instead!" She begins hopping in place, and I can think of nothing less than an arrow quivering against a drawn-back bowstring, eager for its unleashing. "Are we gonna have some fanatic fun, Princess? Are we, are we, are we?"

Almost, I regret the necessity of this meeting. But one thing my life with Celestia has taught me is that overwhelming force brought swiftly to bear is the only viable option when engaging with her. "In truth, Pinkie Pie, I had also thought the word might be considered as 'Lunatics' with the initial 'L' replaced by an 'F.' For I've long considered 'foo' to be the most whimsical of syllables."

"'Foo-na-tics.'" Coming to a halt, Pinkie cocks her head. "Or 'Fun-at-tics.'" She rolls her eyes in one direction, then in the other before focusing back on me. "So which is it?"

"Both." I underline the word with the chalk I have suspended in the glow of my horn. "Simultaneously."

"Ooooo." She begins hopping and quivering again. "A word like that makes me see cream pies flying everywhere! Whoopee cushions stacked to the sky! Seltzer bottles by the gross! Itching powder in bulk! Phony flowers squirting like fountains into the—"

"Nay, good Pinkie, nay!" This, I'd felt since dispatching my chariot to Ponyville immediately after Celestia and I had had supper and she had repaired to her chambers for the night, would prove the most difficult part of this entire operation: explaining things to Pinkie Pie.

"I know," I say as gently as I can, "that your forte in the cosmos of Laughter is the prank, and you have taught me well in its ways. But surely you have a familiarity with the gentle, more heartwarming sort of humor as well? The sweet laughter shared between sisters as they express their affections for one another?" I slash the chalk across the chalkboard once again. "For that is the meaning I wish to express by means of this portmanteau word! Before this upcoming dawn, we must show ourselves worthy of this title and make my sister smile in loving recognition at the display we create! We must reach into our very depths, Pinkie Pie, and bring forth a concept so brimming with fun and frolic that the sky itself will crack with joy to behold it!"

Pinkie blinks, then shrugs. "We can do that instead, I guess." Stepping forward, she snatches the chalk from the blue folds of my magic with her teeth. "Something intellectual," she says around it, and drawing a lumpy shape on the chalkboard, she writes the word 'brain' underneath it. "But with genuine feeling, too." She draws a cartoon heart and labels it appropriately. "Something that says, 'Hi, Celestia! It's me, Luna! I love you! Let's always be friends!'" She reaches into the tangle of her mane, pulls out a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, perches them on her snout, then looks at me over the top of them. "That the general idea?"

A chill shivers along my spine. "Oh, yes, Pinkie! Yes, indeed!"

She rolls the chalk from one side of her mouth to the other. "I'm thinking two balloons, one white, one black."

Now I start blinking. "That...that was my thought exactly. And indeed, it went marvelously this morning."

Her eyes go wide. "Wow! Looks like I did teach you well!" She turns back to the chalkboard, writes the number one, draws a balloon, then scratches a quick check mark beside it. "We're already on to Phase Two!" She writes the number two followed by a five-pointed star. "It needs to be personal from you, so what'd be better than the stars? They're, like, totally your thing, right?"

"They are." My mind races. "But they have appointed courses! I can't simply—!"

"Now, now, now." Pinkie raises a front hoof. "There may be a can't in cantankerous and cantaloupe, but we aren't those things, neither one of us." She taps her hoof against her star drawing. "Besides, it's on the big board now, Missy, and you can't just erase something once it goes on the big board!"

I quirk an eyebrow at her. "Can't?"

Grinning, she leans sideways at an angle slightly steeper than gravity should allow. "Don't mind if I do!"

The laugh coughs out of me with a creak like a rusty gate, and certain parts of my brain begin regretting this meeting more than ever. But the rest of me tells those parts to stop being such sourpusses, and I rub my chin. "Perhaps comets or asteroids rather than stars: they're a good deal smaller and more easily maneuvered."

"Two of them." She draws a second star next to the first. "You probably don't want them crashing together in a huge, cosmic explosion or anything." She looks back over her shoulder. "Unless you do want that 'cause that'd pretty much be the coolest thing ever!"

Touching my chin again, I pretend to think about it. "No explosions," I say at last, and her disappointment is nearly tangible in the confines of my workroom. "We'll make it meteors, one flying down from the north-east, the other coming up from the south-east." I wrap my magic around another piece of chalk, pull it from the box on the counter, and make a small 'x' between her stars. "I'll arrange their paths so that they skim through the atmosphere rather than plunge into it, and they'll cross just above the rising sun when seen from Celestia's balcony before they head back into the depths of space."

"Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!" She doesn't produce a bell or anything; she merely shouts the word 'ding' five times at the top of her substantial voice. "We have a winner!"

"Very well!" Spreading my front hooves, I consult the universal power flowing over, around, and through me. "If I begin now and focus intently for the rest of the night, I should be able to bring two appropriate chunks of rock into position." I nod to Pinkie; she's chewing, and while I notice that her piece of chalk is gone, I refuse to think about it. "I would be honored if you'd accept the palace's hospitality for the night, Pinkie Pie. You've done me an invaluable service."

"Can I play in the kitchen?" she asks, her eyes lighting up.

"Will you maintain a mere minimum of mayhem?"

"Only 'cause it's alliterative!"

"Then go!" I stomp a hoof. "But let nothing of what transpired here this evening leave this chamber! We are the Foonatics, and 'foo' shall ever be our watchword!"

"We're Fun-at-tics," Pinkie says. "Though we can have fun in places other than attics if we really want to."

"We do!" I unseal the door and push it open. "And we shall!"

As I'd suspected, the gravimetric calculations indeed take me the rest of the night, but I still manage to keep an eye on the business of Equestria. And while a few more fillies and colts perhaps find themselves enjoying dreams full of mathematics, well, that sort of thing's all for their future good, isn't it?

All that really matters is that I have everything set when I fold my wings and land upon Sunny's balcony in the pre-dawn darkness. She's there, of course, as radiant as always, and her gasp when the meteors streak in, cross over the rising sun, and zoom away makes every bit of the effort worthwhile.

I shift the balance to her, we nuzzle and have breakfast, I sleep the sleep of the just all day, and that evening—

That evening as I slip the moon into the sky, two birds begin chirping in sweet, melodious counterpoint from the new bush between the jacaranda trees below my balcony: a thrush bidding the day good-bye and a nightingale welcoming in the night. The sliver of attention I offer the perfect display of harmony shows me a butter-yellow pegasus directing the music, and my heart overflowing with love for my sister, I know exactly what I have to do next.

Twilight Sparkle blinks at my chalkboard. "Wait. How do you pronounce it again?"

With a sigh, Pinkie pushes her glasses further up her nose. "Both ways at once!"

I shake my head. "Truthfully, Twilight, we haven't time for semantics. We have but until dawn to create the perfect gift to show my sister how important she is to me. You were Celestia's student, so you should know—"

"Cake," Twilight says, her wings ruffling with her shrug. "You can't go wrong giving her cake."

"Mmmm..." Pinkie's whole face curves into a smile. "And the kitchen here is just the dreamiest. So...many...spatulas..."

Clearing my throat, I attempt to steer my co-conspirators back to a place that might be within shouting distance of the point. "Cake is, of course, always an option, but I just— I want to— I should somehow be able to show her—" My throat runs dry, and I try to find the words to explain the turmoil in my chest. After several sputtering seconds, however, all I can say is, "She's Celestia."

"I hear you." Twilight nods. "Talk about the mare who has everything! I mean—" Her gaze darts around the nearly empty room. "This doesn't leave these walls, but for her birthday every year, I still make these little drawings to give her the same way I have since I was a foal."

"Drawings?" Pinkie grins. "I didn't know you did any art stuff, Twilight!"

"Only for her." The plaintive note in her voice is so very, very familiar, it makes me swallow. "They're just silly little cartoons and not very good, but, well, they're about the only thing nopony else can give her."

More silence settles over us, but Pinkie breaks it quickly: chalk squeaking between her teeth, she puts a check mark next to the number two on the board. "Time for Phase Three, then." She writes the number three, and after it sketches a fairly good likeness of my profile with the label 'Luna' below it. "Be her sister, Princess. 'Cause you're the only pony who can."

And as much as I want to grab hold of that simple and inarguable fact, sink my teeth into it and never let it go, I can't. Because I know the truth. "That...that's not good enough." Which is half the truth and as much of it as I was planning to speak out loud mere seconds ago. But suddenly, here in this room with these ponies, half the truth isn't enough. "I'm not good enough," I finish, my gaze fixed firmly on the floor.

Another instant of silence, then wings and hooves are embracing me, Twilight's voice in my right ear—"That's not true, Luna! Not true at all!"—and Pinkie's in my left—"It's the lyingest lie any pony ever made up!"

I don't know what startles me the most: the physical contact or the vehemence behind their words. My inability to choose between freezing and fleeing becomes itself a choice, but sitting there with the two of them warm and solid around me, I can at least choke out: "It was only due to you and your friends that I didn't complete my descent into utter degradation! Only because of you that I could finally see what I'd become and beg my sister's forgiveness!" Tightness clenches my throat, but I won't let it stop me. "Don't you see? When you gave me my life back, I gave it to her! And she...she returned it to me with her love! How can I...how can I ever repay her?"

That's when I lose the fight, lose the power of speech, lose the ability to see through the water welling up between my eyelids. Twilight and Pinkie never slacken their grips, never pull away from my face pressed to their shoulders, and after a time, I'm able to draw a full breath again. "Ah," is the first semi-intelligible sound to emerge from my mouth, but I follow it quickly with, "I could've used the two of you a thousand-odd years ago. The history of Equestria would likely have turned out a good deal differently." I pull back far enough to see their faces but not so far that they'll have to let me go.

Twilight's eyes are full of concern, but her smile is genuine enough. "You're all right now?" she asks.

"She is," Pinkie answers. She waves a hoof toward the chalkboard. "Phase Three's up on the big board, Missy, and you know better'n anypony that it's the only real option. So the question is: are you ready?"

"Very nearly." With a sigh, I activate my horn to push the workroom door open and pull a box of facial tissues in from the lavatory. "We'll need to contact Spike and your other Ponyville friends first to see if they're available for breakfast in the morning. Although I believe Fluttershy may already be here in the palace..."

Judicious inquiries not only turn up Fluttershy tucked away in a guest bedroom with two of her avian companions, but we also find Rainbow Dash in the room next door. "I got a note from Princess Celestia," she tells us all in my parlor once we've convened there. "She said she wasn't sure, but she thought she might need a Double Rainboom going off just after sunset tomorrow."

For the briefest of instants, I'm tempted to ask Rainbow if she'd mind performing her stunt at dawn, but I let it go. As I was the only party involved in the war of the past few days, I can just as unilaterally declare a cease-fire.

Twilight volunteers to bear the breakfast invitations to Spike, Applejack, and Rarity, and I'm interested to see that her long-range teleportation skills have definitely improved during her tenure as a princess: she returns intact with smiles and positive acknowledgements. Pinkie sets to work assembling what she refers to as "one epically gigantic cinnamon streusel 'cause it's a cake you eat for breakfast!" And I send the others to bed with the warning that I shall be waking them a great deal earlier than they might like.

Performing my duties that night both in the waking world and the dreaming brings me a lightness I've not felt in quite some time—millennia, perhaps. The weight of the world balances exactly between my wings, and dispensing law, justice, and mercy with a stern but cheerful hope, I find that that those who come under my purview are somehow taking that hope, amplifying it, and reflecting it back at me. And as much as I have always loved administering my realm, on this particular night, my every deed seems to resonate across Equestria more strongly than ever.

I'm in fact quite invigorated as I set into the last hour before dawn. I check on Pinkie, putting the final touches on a veritable rain barrel of a coffee cake with so buttery and magnificent an aroma, it's all I can do to drag myself away to awaken the others. Twilight pops into the spaces between space almost immediately to fetch the three members of our party still in Ponyville, and once Pinkie has sworn them all in as Funatics, I leave them discussing how the word should be pronounced and head for Sunny's balcony.

She's waiting there, of course, and the semi-startled look on her face makes me think she senses the change in me. "All's well, sister?" she asks.

"More than usual," I answer. I give her my report on how Equestria has fared during the night, and she replies with her usual thoughtful responses. We then turn to the east, and I nudge her with an elbow. "Fear not," I say, beginning the process of sloughing off the weight of the world. "No stunts this morning."

"Oh?" She gives me a sideways glance and grin. "Then the war is over?"

The phrase too clever by half, I've always thought, was coined specifically with my sister in mind. "Your victory breakfast awaits you within," I tell her, "along with the Princess of Friendship and our other friends from Ponyville. We don't see them enough, so I invited them to visit this morning." I can't stop a sigh. "I shan't say they're a gift since, like everything else in this world, they aren't mine to give you." We're standing side by side watching the sun come up, so I can't really meet her gaze. "But still, Sunny, I...I love you, and I hope we'll always be friends."

"I agree with every word." She leans into me, and the warmth of her touch loosens the last knots in my midsection. "Except for that one part."

"Oh?" The mantle of universal power shifts from my shoulders, and I'm once again left both fuller and emptier. "And which part is that?"

"The part where you say you don't have a gift to give me." Turning, Sunny bathes me in the radiance of her complete attention. "This whole half of the year, Starry, from the summer solstice to the first day of winter." Her smile is sweeter than any songbirds' melody, than the fragrance of any dozen flowers. "The way you let me have a few more seconds of sleep every morning? That's the most wonderful of all possible gifts." Stepping forward, she bends her neck to embrace mine. "And to have my sister with me again, now and forever," she mutters. "I don't mind that at all, either."

I can't help chuckling into her shoulder. "Glad to be of service," I tell her. "Now, our friends have a breakfast cake with your name on it awaiting you in the—"

Wheeling away, she leaps from the balcony. "I hope you made two!" she calls back, flapping with all her considerable might toward the dining room.

Blinking, I laugh and leap after her.
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