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Behind Closed Doors · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Extreme Princess Tension (E.P.T.)
During the day, the doors were always open at Rich’s Bargain Barn as ponies passed in and out in a constant whirl of activity. Ponies from all over the whole Ponyville valley dropped in to shop and pick up critically needed goods, including this week’s sales on carrot sharpeners and rutabaga peelers. But at night, even despite the new Open 24 Hours For Your Convenience policy, the doors remained closed, and only the strange and unexpected happened in the shadowed aisles.

Or at least that was the opinion held by Amethyst Star, or Sparkler to her friends. It took a lot of bits to start a jewelry store, but one bit at a time, she was closing in on her goal. Sparkler’s Sparkles had quite a ring to it, particularly if she could talk Equestria’s newest princess into letting her use the logo of a totally generic tourmaline star symbol that just happened to match the one on her Royal flanks. With that goal in mind, Sparkler had applied for the night shift at the Barn in the hopes of raising a few more bits for her destination of fame, glory, and a lifetime of selling precious sparkly gems in expensive settings.

She should have been suspicious when Filthy Rich had hired her the moment she dropped off her application, but she learned quickly. The first night she had worked, she found out the only reason Mister Rich kept the store open at night was because his spoiled daughter had once needed a box of cough drops in the middle of the night. Once the sun went down and the vast majority of the staff had gone home (less one junior checker), the store was empty and the doors remained closed, which meant nopony, nowhere, noplace except for Coat Check the night stocker, who normally completed his task and departed around midnight.

On the second night, she brought her Geology books to the cash register station, and spent the dark and quiet hours until dawn exploring the mysteries of geodes and concretions. Over the next few nights, it turned into quite a win-win relationship. With few distractions such as her darling little sister trying to ‘help’ with her studies, she finally made good progress on her mail-order classes in Advanced Geomorphic Structures and Thaumaturgical Mineral Interactions. On the rare occasion when a sleepy customer came in, she could happily trot along with them to find any emergency cold medications or plumbing fittings they needed, check them out, and return to her studies refreshed and renewed. She even got to spend some precious time with Ponyville’s newest (and only) princess, who had a tendency to come stumbling in during the middle of her own late-night study session after discovering a shortage of coffee or paper during a critical bit of midnight research. Sometimes after picking up her purchase, she even stayed to look over Sparkler’s work and exchange spell tips. Despite her occasional scatterbrained moments, Twilight (as she preferred to be called) was a limitless genius in the field of magical endeavors, and could comprehend at a glance even the most complicated mineral metamorphical spell that would confound Sparkler for days.

Fortunately for Sparkler’s ego, Twilight was totally clueless when it came to other complicated and intricate problems, such as young stallions. It was a sure sign of at least an hour’s worth of study break when a rather rumpled princess would shuffle through the doors, as had just happened tonight.

It was almost two hours before the start of the morning shift when the doors to the store gave their cheery little jingle, and at the sound of the bell, Sparkler looked up from her studying to regard a troubled purple alicorn stopped only part-way through the entrance doors. Twilight Sparkle paused, glanced in both directions as if stuck, and swallowed before speaking.

“Sorry!” Twilight blurted out, vanishing out into the darkness as the door closed behind her.

Sparkler shrugged, taking her bookmark back out of the book where she had automatically stuck it in a Pavlovian reflex to the bell. The reaction bothered her sometimes, and particularly since her little sister had discovered that she could get her big sis to react in that fashion.

It wouldn’t be so bad if Dinky hadn’t brought the rest of her little school friends by to show what happens when she rings a bell. At least they all got good grades in that section of their history test.

The bell jingled again, and Sparkler looked up, only to see the door slowly close again. This time she sat the books to one side and got up, moving to the door as quietly as possible so when it swung open yet one more time, Twilight Sparkle yelped in surprise at the sight of Sparkler grinning at her from just a hoof’s length away.

“Stallion trouble, Twilight?”

“No!” yelped Twilight in a panic-driven flurry of feathers. “How did you know!” She whirled in place, looking at the silhouette of the library tree in the distance. “Did Spike tell you? No, wait a minute. He couldn't have told you because I haven’t told him and I don’t even know for sure yet. Which I don’t. Know, that is. No.”

“So…” started Sparkler. “You’re just here for some late-night shopping?”

Twilight Sparkle grinned, a fake and insincere twisting of the facial muscles that seemed driven by panic and raw nerves instead of anything pleasurable. “Shopping!” she blurted out, her magic yanking a wire cart out of the collection and floating it in front of her. “Midnight shopping!” she added, quite unnecessarily while pushing into the store and vanishing down one of the aisles at a dead run.

Smile. Nod. Ask Spike for the details later.

For a moment, Sparkler considered trying to track down the nervous alicorn inside the store, which would not have been difficult considering the clattering and muttering that followed her path. More intelligent brain cells vetoed the idea, pointing out that there was only one way out of the store without setting off the fire alarms or teleporting, and that since she was buying things, Princess Twilight Sparkle most certainly would also be paying for them before trotting out the doors.

She slipped her school books under the counter to eliminate a potential evasion path in the anticipated upcoming conversation, and plotted out a few possible introductory phrases while waiting. It took a while, but one of the first lessons she had learned from her magic teacher was patience. Attempting to cut a gemstone without properly setting down and considering all of the ways things could go wrong was just begging for a disaster, and trying to stop an alicorn on a mission would be like putting a ten thousand caret fire ruby on the floor and throwing a rock at it.

Actually, come to think of it, her teacher was scheduled to return to Ponyville in a few days. If anypony knew what was twisting Twilight’s tail into a knot, it was him. Even discounting Twilight’s somewhat odd behavior, there was certainly something weird going on in Ponyville. Well, weirder than normal. Mom had been flying letters almost nonstop between Ponyville and Wheaton over the last week, and Pinkie Pie seemed to be stocking up for a siege. Even Dinky and the rest of her teacher’s young magic class had been roped into security for what was called ‘Operation Important Announcement’ over at Gustav’s Restaurant in a few days, which seemed to be—

A mental hammerblow like a thunderbolt nailed Sparkler’s hooves to the checkout lane’s floor. It had been months since she had helped her teacher pick out the perfect engagement ring, way back before Twilight had grown wings and even before Princess Mia Amore Cadenza’s wedding! No wonder she had not heard anything about an engagement yet. Only a complete blithering idiot would have waited this long before proposing. Or allowed herself to wait this long.

Maybe those two do deserve each other.

It was completely silent in the store now, and Sparkler frantically revised her planned conversational starters. Somehow, asking “Has your coltfriend given you that engagement ring yet?” did not really seem like a good idea for anypony in a few mile radius, particularly if the answer was “No.”

Then again, in order to have a conversation with Twilight, it would require both of them to be present in the same spot. The rattle and clatter of fast-moving alicorn in the store had died down to complete silence, which was a bad sign, but Sparkler looked around until she spotted a small bit of purple in the pharmacy section. There was just the tiniest tip of her tail sticking out from behind a display of boxes, twitching in short motions much like the beating of a nervous heart, and after considering just what product Twilight was looking at, Sparkler decided it would be best to give her a little more time to make her decision.

After waiting a respectable amount of time, and then waiting yet another respectable amount of time, and finally just counting down ten minutes of painful silence, Sparkler quietly walked over to where Twilight Sparkle was regarding the boxes.

“Twilight? Can I help you?”

“Um… Yes. I need to make a decision.” All of the panic-prone alicorn flurry was gone now, replaced by a sharp tension in the bookish librarian that even made the air around her seem to twang with tight nerves. The pupils of her eyes had expanded out into huge limpid pools of darkness, quite different than the pinpoints of panic that Sparkler had expected, and her breathing had slowed to the deliberate in-and-out of the benevolently tranquil or forcefully tranquilized. Two boxes floated off the display in Twilight’s violet magic and were placed on a nearby table with all the care and caution of transporting fine crystal.

“This is a very important decision. The most important one I’ve ever faced in all of my years since I was the Princess’ student. I would ask my friends, but I don’t think any of them has the experience to help with this kind of decision except for Pinkie Pie, and she’s probably making breakfast muffins at Sugarcube Corner. I can’t be wrong this time. I’m a princess now, and the decisions I make can affect hundreds, if not thousands of other ponies. But I can do this. I can make this decision.”

There was a long pregnant pause as Twilight breathed in and out, and Sparkler reconsidered her decision on a secondary profession.

One purple hoof pointed. “This one says results in just one minute.” The purple hoof trembled as it pointed to a second box. “This one says ninety-nine percent accurate.”

“Actually,” said Sparkler with a little closer examination of the boxes, “they’re both under a minute and just as accurate, they just each print different sections in larger print.”

There was a second long, pregnant pause.

“Should I buy both?” asked Twilight Sparkle in a somewhat distant voice. “I mean… Just to be sure.”

Sparkler was saved from having to respond by the solid whump of a fast-moving body hitting the front door of the store, followed by a familiar, “Whoops. My bad.” The gentle tinkle of the door bell followed, as well as her mother calling out, “Sorry, Sparkler! The door was closed.”

“Back here, mom!” she called back, feeling a wave of relief sweep over her as her mother hurried up with a warm hug and a paper bag filled with a home-cooked breakfast for her late-working daughter. This actually was a decision more in line with Ditzy’s experiences in motherhood and parenting, and Sparkler was more than happy to pass it on.

“Mom, can you help Twilight with picking out one of these—” Sparkler paused, trying not to laugh, because it really was not the kind of thing you were supposed to laugh about, particularly when a friend was asking, and doubly-so when that friend had both wings and a horn.

“That’s easy,” said Ditzy, picking up one of the boxes. “This one.”

“Oh,” said Twilight, lifting the box out of Ditzy’s hooves with her magic and examining it closely. “Does it have a higher accuracy rate, or a different alchemical process?”

“No, it’s pink. If you want a filly, you want a pink one.”

While Twilight absorbed that bit of experienced motherly advice, Ditzy kissed her daughter on the cheek and trotted back out of the door on the way to her mail delivery job. Sparkler thought for a moment about how easily her mother had taken to raising a powerful little unicorn filly by herself, and mentally multiplied the difficulty that Twilight was potentially facing, even with help.

And she’s going to need all the help she can get.

Sparkler put on a friendly smile and eyed the collection of miscellaneous items Twilight had thrown in her basket in her panic-driven flight through the store. “Would you like me to put those back after you check out?”

Twilight stood staring off into the distance for a while. “Yes. Please.”

Once the young alicorn princess had gotten her purchase — carefully wrapped in a brown paper bag and taped closed so it would not inadvertently open on the way back to her library home — she turned for the door, vanishing outside into the darkness with a cheerful jingle of the bell again.

It took a while for Sparkler to find where all of the inadvertent items went and return them to the proper shelves, but as she settled back down at the cash register with her geology books, she could not help but look at the front door of the store and smile.

Looks like that ring is going to get put to good use after all.

Much later, as Sparkler was deep in the chapter on forced geological crystal formation through magical intervention and had almost put the recent events out of her mind, there was a quiet thump at the store’s front door.

At first, she thought it was just the morning breeze, but the thump repeated.

Opening the door revealed a Princess Twilight Sparkle standing in the soft glow of pre-dawn as the early morning traffic of Ponyville began to quietly stir in the distance. She looked even more stressed than before, with ill-preened feathers sticking up from her wings and dark bags under her eyes.

“Can I help you, Twilight?” asked Sparkler.

“Yes. No. Actually…Here.” Twilight pushed a large bag of bits over to Sparkler before the entire display of boxes from before glowed with her magic and assembled at the panicked princess’ side. She hesitated, shifting from one hoof to another and acting as if she were on the threshold of more informative words, then darted out the store doorway and galloped at full speed in the direction of her distant library, the boxes trailing along in her wake.

Sparkler just stood there and watched, following Twilight’s rapid progress through town until she vanished into the library with an explosive slam of the door that could even be heard at this distance. Ponyville had always been a small town in the middle of large changes, and it looked like another dramatic change was on its way in a few months. From princesses to manifestations of pure chaos, parasprites and giant space-bears, Twilight Sparkle had been at the center of them all, and strange as it seemed, the small town had always turned out the better for it. Now something else brand new to Equestria was taking place, and Sparkler actually found herself looking forward to it. News like this could not be kept secret as Twilight had thought her relationship could be hidden.

Whatever had happened behind the closed doors of the library was about to spill out all over town, and Equestria would never be the same again.
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