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Distant Shores · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Flash in the Pan
I sit, and I wait.

I arrived at the train station precisely two hours early, because Princess Twilight Sparkle doesn't take unnecessary chances. Just to be extra-safe, I've already pre-checked my luggage. All my books were packed, so I don't have anything to keep me company except for my thoughts. But those are more than enough.

I didn't tell any of my friends about this. It's a very short trip, and they're just a bunch of worrywarts.

Wow. I am way too nervous to relax. My brain is racing at almost three hundred thousand kilometers per second. It's not anxiety, though. It's a good kind of nervous. I feel alive. I feel more excited than I've ever been in my entire life. I sit on the bench and think, rapidly tapping one hoof against the floorboards. My mind buzzes on autopilot, and one thought keeps returning.

Dating is difficult when you're a princess.

Well, I suppose that's not entirely fair. Maybe dating is hard for everypony? I honestly don't know. I have no basis for an estimate other than Rarity's romance novels, and the stories in her collection all seem highly unrealistic. Then again, Daring Do stories always seemed highly unrealistic, and she turned out to be real! So maybe dating makes everypony feel like this. That would be crazy.

I tried my best to study, but I'm not sure it helped. I've read dozens of how-to books on dating, and they all disagree! It's incredibly frustrating. At least it backs up the hypothesis that all these weird feelings I'm having are are somehow normal. Maybe everypony has a unique experience, and I just have to forge my own path. Well, right now I am one-hundred percent ready to blaze a trail. I'm what Rainbow Dash calls "psyched", or maybe "stoked" (I'm not certain what the difference is).

No, I don't know what it's like to go on a normal date. I never dated anypony back when I was just a unicorn. I had no desire for a relationship because I was too busy with other things. Of course, I thought about stallions from time to time. That's normal, right? A young mare has needs, if you know what I mean. But I never thought about any particular stallion, and that's a key difference. In my fantasies it was more like the general "idea" of a stallion. My imagination would create a faceless representation of a coltfriend, some kind of nondescript pony without a name or a personality. It was just there, serving its purpose, and I wasn't even in the picture. I mean, I didn't even have to imagine myself being there when it happened. It was just an idea, free-floating and unattached. That was all I needed. It was simple. It was efficient.

Having a crush on somepony is very different. Now when I close my eyes, I imagine him, and I imagine myself with him. I imagine what it must feel like to be happy together. I imagine being somepony important, somepony who complements his strengths and weaknesses with my own. I imagine sharing my life with him. That feeling—this feeling—is beyond incredible. I can't describe how I feel right now with words or thoughts. If this is love, then love is a realm which lies leagues beyond the land of language. And as much as it surprises me, I'm totally okay with that.

Being a princess complicates things, of course, especially since this is my first time feeling this way about a stallion. I'm a little scared because I'm not even sure if this crush "counts". I mean, technically speaking, my crush formed around his alien doppelganger from another dimension where nopony seems to age.

I guess it sounds a little weird when I stop to think about it.

Weirdness notwithstanding, that dimension had an Applejack just like my Applejack. It had a Pinkie Pie just like mine, and a Rainbow Dash, and a Rarity, and even a Fluttershy.

And this dimension, my dimension, has one of him. It's obvious, isn't it? It's just like how my five best friends and I were fated to be together. Flash Sentry and I are meant for each other. Somehow, I just know. The hooves of fate are shoving us inexorably closer, for reasons nopony can fathom. Maybe I didn't have much time in the alternate dimension to really get to know him, but his double was so sweet to me. I knew it was real the moment I laid eyes on that weird, gangly alien body. And to think Princess Celestia told me love at first sight doesn't exist! I hate to break it to you, Princess Celestia. This little princess is living proof that it does.

Everything would already be perfect, except he lives in another country. I've been warned about this sort of thing. Rarity says she's interested in several Canterlot stallions, but she's never pursued any of them because she wants to keep her business based in Ponyville, so she can be with her friends. Canterlot's not even half as far away as the Crystal Empire is, either. Rarity seems convinced that long-distance relationships never work out. But I don't see a ring on her horn, so what does she know?

To make matters worse, I'm a big celebrity over there. Ponyville knew me before I changed, so ponies here still treat me like a real person. In the Crystal Empire, I'm larger than life. How can I have a normal relationship when I'm a foreign dignitary? What if my fame gets in the way of our time together? What if—

Oh! The train is here. I examine my carry-on saddlebags and pull my cloak tightly around my barrel. I suppose I don't need the cloak just yet, but I want to hide my wings before I arrive. I even have my forelock pulled back with a maneband. Anything that makes me look different will help us avoid notice. That way, Flash Sentry and I can enjoy spending time together in peace, just like a normal couple.

I sit down inside the train and await departure. Couple! That simple, two-syllable word makes me feel giddy inside. I barely notice as the train takes off.

Things would be easier if Flash could visit Ponyville, but it's not in the cards. His job as a royal guard means he's on duty pretty much all the time, and even though he does get vacation time, he has family obligations and I totally respect him for that. I've told him I could pull some strings, but he doesn't want special treatment. So me visiting him is for the best, even if my royalty makes things difficult.

We send scrolls to each other on a weekly basis, so I'm getting to know him really well. Applejack says it's essential to get to know somepony before you date them, although she seems to think the only way you can do it is by spending time in person. Rainbow Dash is even stricter about relationships: she says "always date a friend". I think that's good advice, don't get me wrong, but Applejack and Rainbow Dash just spend all their time hanging out together. I've never seen either one of them with a stallion, so I choose to take their advice with a lick of salt.

The trip to the Crystal Empire will take almost a day, so I plan to sleep on the train. Flash doesn't have much time, so I'm only visiting him for a day and a half. I'm actually spending more time on the train (if you count both ways) than I will be in the Empire itself, which is kind of funny. It probably won't be a comfortable ride since I decided to go economy, but love (is it too early to call it that?) is all about sacrifice. To be honest, that's why I wanted to travel coach. It's a way to show that I can still be a normal pony, and a way to prove to myself that I care enough about him to make this relationship work.

Fluttershy talks about how important it is to show somepony you care about them. I trust her judgment on this sort of thing more than my other friends, so I've spent a lot of time telling her my plans. She was a little concerned about Flash "meeting me halfway", because she seemed to think I was doing all the work. I know I might be going a little overboard. But this relationship isn't just about me, and Flash Sentry has already proven it. When I told him I wanted to come visit, he offered to pay for a hotel room so we could have more privacy than we'd get where he lives (probably at the castle, I haven't asked). Isn't that sweet? Yes. Yes, it is.

I yawn as the train rumbles down the track. I got up early today, and even with these racing thoughts I'm starting to feel tired. I could use a nap. I close my eyes.

Ugh. It's hard to focus because I keep waking up and going back to sleep. It looks like I'm past Canterlot now and headed through the tundra that borders the Empire. The moon rose hours ago. I guess I was totally out of it when we hit Canterlot, but that's why I picked a train that was headed all the way through. Some ponies actually criticize me for being meticulous, but it always pays off to plan ahead. Why leave room for failure?

I'm not getting much "actual" sleep, but I'm still fairly rested. Apparently, if you get hours and hours of almost-sleep, it's almost as good as a few hours of actual-sleep. Somepony in my train car told me that. I'd talk to her some more, but she's resting her eyes again. I wonder if she's dating somepony too.

Okay, I admit it. This long-distance thing is already kind of an ordeal. But the great thing is that it's temporary. Once Flash and I hit things off, he'll be thrilled to move to Ponyville. It would be so much easier if we lived near each other, and that's not "too much too soon" or anything, because it would be true even if we weren't dating, or getting married, or whatever. Ponyville has so much to offer that there's basically no risk. I can easily get him a job if he needs one (not that he will once we're together, of course). I talked to Pinkie about what she thought might be a good job for Flash once he moves to Ponyville, but she said I was crazy! Pinkie Pie, calling me crazy? Well, it turns out Pinkie was just worried it wouldn't work out between us, so moving might be a bad idea. But I don't see how that matters. Ponyville is a great place to live. You don't need to date a princess to move there.

Sometimes it feels like my friends don't understand just how important this is, and it really bothers me. I rest my eyes a little more.


I wake to the cross expression of a train engineer. He asks for my passport.

Wait a moment... here. I pull it out of my saddlebags and show it to him. His eyes open wide in shock.

"I'm sorry, P-P-Princess," he stammers.

I grin. My disguise is working!

"Shh," I whisper, and I wink at him. Winking is fun, and kind of silly. It's so rare I get to do it! But I'm very, very, very excited right now. I'm finally here.

"Of course, Pr—I mean, er, my lady," he nervously nods, blushing. Good, he got the message.

I exit the train and pick up my luggage. I packed light, of course. Just one large suitcase, plus the saddlebags I carried with me on the train. This way it's less obvious I'm a powerful mage, since I only have the one bag to tote around with magic. See? Always plan ahead.

It's bright and sunny out, and... Hmm. Flash Sentry isn't here yet. The train wasn't late (it's precisely noon both by the station clock and my watch), but he might expect me to notify him first in case there was trouble, which is sensible. I had the forethought to bring some scrolls with me, of course. There's a gift shop by the train station, so I decide I'll wait there. But first, I pen a short scroll to my date and send it off.

I enter the gift shop with a cheery smile. Nopony else is in here except the crystal pony behind the counter. She sees me enter, and she scowls in my direction. That's weird.

I have time to kill, so I might as well purchase a souvenir. I want to support local businesses, of course. I grab a crystal keychain that looks kind of interesting. I don't think I'll ever use it, but maybe Spike will eat it. I bring it to the counter.

"I'd like to buy this," I say.


The look I'm getting from this mare is bizarre. I don't know what it is, because I've never seen anything like it. It's definitely unfriendly. Is it... contempt? I thought I knew what contempt looked like, but her face is just unreal. I mean, I grew up in Canterlot, and a lot of ponies there are self-centered and snobbish. But this look on her muzzle is incredibly nasty! Why? Did I do something?

Oh. I think it's because I'm a foreigner. Since I'm hiding the fact that I'm a princess, I must be getting the brunt of her rudeness toward outsiders. Maybe some crystal ponies don't trust unicorns? I mean, we have magic, and if you don't live in a place with many unicorns... But aren't there crystal unicorns, too? For the life of me, I can't remember. It's such a simple and important demographic characteristic, and I can't remember! No, this is all wrong. I should be more prepared for this.

Think, Twilight. When we first came here and liberated the Empire, all the crystal ponies were earth ponies. Weren't they? But during the Games I think there were some pegasi and unicorns, too, because I saw them in the stands. Maybe that was a temporary magic thing? But wasn't there a crystal pegasus guard with Flash Sentry when Princess Cadance came to visit me? Damn. I'm not sure. Oh, this is bad.

No, wait. It doesn't matter. Flash isn't a crystal pony. He's just a normal pegasus born and raised in Canterlot, so none of this is relevant to our relationship. If ponies here treat him like this, that would be awful, but I doubt it. It's probably just this one mare. How unfortunate that she works in customer service, and right here at the train stop. I almost feel sorry for her.

Uh-oh. I totally spaced out there, and she still hasn't said anything. Now the expression on her muzzle looks like she just ate a pile of moldy alfalfa. She's pointing to a sign that has a price on it, and it's in crystal currency. Maybe she's mute? No, I think she's just mean.

I place five bits on the counter. Given my knowledge of the currency exchange, three bits would be more than sufficient, but I'm an emissary from Equestria and it is my duty to be generous.

Oh no. Now she looks even more pissed. I didn't imagine this was possible! I'm starting to feel nervous. It's like she can see right through me. How incredibly ironic, I realize. I successfully suppress a chuckle.

She frowns and pushes my bits back toward me, then points to a counter on the opposite end of the store. It's a currency exchange booth, but nopony is there. I guess I should go there first, though. I take my bits and hold on to the keychain, and walk to the counter.

I stand there for about a minute, and then the crystal pony slowly walks over to the exchange booth. Oh. That's convenient, I guess. She still looks very unhappy. I give her one hundred gold bits, and after staring down at them for a few seconds, she swiftly scoops them into the register and hooves me one-hundred and thirty-four crystal bits. She's taking a cut of about 20% over the exchange rate, which seems a little steep, but I'm not about to complain. I take the money.

We both walk back to the main counter, and I pay with seven crystal bits (the keychain costs four). She takes four of them, then sneers and knocks the other three to the floor. Well then. I guess she doesn't want a tip.

I feel awful for thinking this, but... What a crystal bitch!

Bleah. This is not a good start to my trip. But this jerk is only one pony, and I'm not about to let a single sour apple affect my mood. I'm still thrilled that Flash and I are about to spend the day together. I pick up my bits and keychain, store them in my saddlebags, turn away from NastyPants McMeanieFace, and briskly walk out of the store...

...and headlong into Flash Sentry. Slam.

"Oops," I giggle, as I stand up and dust myself off. "Sorry. We keep doing this. I mean, not you exactly," I say.

"I remember. From all the letters," he says.

Flash has a nice, reserved smile. I'm sure mine is big and goofy, but I'm just so happy to see him. I rear up and hug him, and he chuckles and hugs me for a moment before pushing us apart.

"So, are you ready to see the Empire?" he asks.

"Am I!" I say. "I mean, I am, yes."

"Great. Um, what's with the mane and the cloak, though?" he asks me.

"I wanted to go incognito—"


"Oh, incognito means in disguise or in hiding. So ponies don't stare at us or anything just because I'm a princess," I explain. I do so love the opportunity to define a word.

Flash grabs my cloak and whisks it off without asking, then removes the band from my forelock.

"Don't sweat it, princess. It's fine if ponies want to stare," he says with a smirk.

Incredible! He wants ponies to know who I am, even with all the negative consequences. Now this is loyalty.

Ponies begin staring at us, and I smile. Why shouldn't I? I'm proud to be seen with my coltfriend. Maybe he's not my coltfriend yet, but close enough. I tuck my cloak into a saddlebag as Flash leads me down the street toward the hotel.

"So, I figure after we drop your bags off, we can go eat and then I can show you some stuff," he says. "There's a lot you wouldn't know about unless you've lived here a while."

"Yeah, Ponyville's the same way," I say, which sounds a little dumb.

"I guess most places are," he says. On the way to the hotel, he waves and points to other stallions he knows, probably off-duty guards. They seem really happy for us. Everything is already so perfect. I'm trying not to hyperventilate.

I consider asking him about the crystal mare, but decide against it. I put her out of my mind, right where she belongs.

The restaurant we eat at is friendly and classy: not too upscale, not too hoofestrian. Flash chose it, naturally. We sit at an outdoor table because it's nice outside. Sunset is coming soon.

Our waiter seems nervous.

"I, um, my princess?" he says timidly.

"It's okay," I smile. "Just 'miss' is fine."

"As you wish, miss," he says. "Your order?"

"I'll have a medium garden salad, and a half-glass of this," I say, and point at the wine list. "I'm not very hungry, what with all the butterflies in my stomach," I grin.

"Of course," he says, and then he turns to my date. "And you, sire?"

"I'll take the downs with a blizzard, a bowl of triple mash, and two pelten on the side," he says.

I have no idea what any of that means. It like he's speaking another language.

"Very good, sire," he says. "I'll be right back with your wine, miss."

"What was that all about?" I ask, once the waiter is gone. I'm deeply curious.

"It's just local lingo," says Flash.

"Oh. But he understood my order, right?"

"Of course," he smiles. "Apparently, even when Sombra ruled the place there was some kind of tourism, so they never became totally disconnected from Equestria. I don't know the details, though. Ponies here don't like to talk about it."

I want to pry for more information, but I'd rather not seem too forward. It's fun to leave a little mystery, anyway.

Until this moment, I never knew I could feel happy about missing out on historically accurate details.

Dinner goes by quickly. Flash's order appears to include biscuits and gravy and a couple of sides, and a bowl with starchy products I can't place. My food is simply amazing. Flash Sentry certainly knows his local cuisine.

Flash talks about himself a lot, mostly stories from his job, and he likes to make corny jokes too. Of course, I laugh at all of them. Laughter is the heart and soul of a relationship. He even pokes fun of what I looked like with my bangs pulled back, and he's right, it was pretty silly-looking.

I don't have much to add to the conversation. I just like listening to him, and he likes talking, so it works. Besides, the more I know about his life, the closer I feel us growing together.

Even though I didn't have much to eat, the wine isn't enough to give me a buzz. I was already kind of "buzzing" to begin with, though. Maybe I can't tell.

I insist on taking the check before he has a chance to argue. I am a princess, after all. He's paying for our hotel, and that's chivalrous enough for me.

"Where are we off to now?" I ask as we head down the sidewalk together. The night sky is already up.

"Slow down. You're walking too fast," says Flash. I realize I'm leading him down the street even though I don't know where we're headed.

"Oh! Sorry," I grimace. "I'm just excited." I slow to a trot. That's better.

"I can tell. Well, I have a couple of surprises in store," he says. "For the first one, I thought maybe we could dress up, but the hotel's kind of far. It's casual there, so nude should be fine."

"Oh! Okay," I say. I remember the dress I brought with me. It's pretty plain, because I was certain I'd be in hiding. I guess I haven't prepared for all contingencies, but fortunately everything is working out. "Casual sounds great."

We show up to a place that looks kind of like a store, but there aren't any tables or anything inside. It's really dark and loud music is playing. There's a place in the middle of the main room where beams of light spin across the floor, and a few ponies are dancing there. It looks like fun! There's a bar at one end of the room, and somepony is controlling the music and lights at the other (I think).

"This is called a club," Flash yells at me. It's really hard to hear!

"Wow," I say. "I think Rarity told me about these."

"What?" he yells.

"I've heard of these!" I yell back. "I love dancing!"

"Well, I'm going to dance!" he yells, and walks into the light beams and starts shaking his body. It's incredible how rhythmic he is! It's kind of entrancing to watch. I have no idea how to dance like he does. I'm sure I'm not anywhere near that impressive. But it looks like everypony here is just doing whatever comes natural to them, so I'm not worried.

There's plenty of space on the floor, so Flash can dance without bumping into anypony else, but I feel like I should be out there with him. I'm his date, right? So I enter the dance floor in front of him and I start to shake my legs.

After a minute, it looks like only Flash and I are dancing. I see some looks on other ponies' faces. They seem shocked. I think it's because I'm a princess. My wings are bucking a little, but I'm trying to keep them in. Flash tries to turn around, but I follow him with my body so I can keep facing him. It's only polite, after all.

Minutes pass and I'm still exhilarated. My energy is just boundless, and it's an amazing experience! Flash gets a weird expression on his face, then smiles, and starts copying my dancing. I laugh out loud. I can't hear it, but I'm sure he can see me smile.

Eventually we step out of the lights to catch our breath, and I notice ponies heading back onto the dance area. Some of them are trying to move their legs the way I did. It looks pretty ridiculous, actually. We both get something to drink (non-alcoholic) and step outside.

"This is a lot of fun," I yell, then cover my mouth and drop my voice because it's much easier to hear outside.

"Yeah. There's only one Twilight Sparkle," he chuckles. "Although, just for some dance etiquette, you really shouldn't hog my dance-face that much. That way other ponies can join with us more easily."

"Oh! I'm sorry," I say. "I'm still pretty new to this." I guess I was thinking that the dance would be something just between the two of us, especially when nopony else was on the floor. But he's right, this is a social event, and I suppose it would be better for us to connect with other ponies too.

I really appreciate his honesty. I feel like I can trust him even more now.

"Come on, follow me," Flash says. I start cantering past him, but then I realize I'm doing it again and I slow down to a walk. I'm just so excited! It's hard to learn all of this social stuff at the same time.

We stand at the top of a large hill, looking down on the city below. It's absolutely breathtaking. The lights which line the streets make it look like an enormous snowflake in the night, glimmering in neon hues.

"This is amazing," I say. "I can see everything."

And it really is amazing. This vantage point offers up the big picture of the city, without any of the little details getting in the way. This is the central hub of the Empire. Thousands of years of history lie below us, etched into the city's very design, like a tiny glowing model I can almost reach out and hold in my hooves. Long before Sombra, every street and alleyway had been carefully planned; an actual, planned metropolis, and of this immense size! It's mind-boggling to even try to imagine it. What were the forebearers of the crystal ponies thinking? How could they have known what the Empire would one day become? The amount of organization required, it must have been monu—

"I like it," says Flash, and he smiles. "The Crystal Empire's pretty special."

I nod in agreement. It really is.

"This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing it," I say.

"Yeah, of course," he says.

"Ponyville may not be nearly this shiny, but I think it's pretty special too," I hint. Immediately I realize how stupid I sound.

"Eh, if you say so," he says.

Hmm. I don't get it. Surely he knows I can't move up here, right? Or... could I? No, there's no way. I already have a kingdom of my own, and a castle, and everything. It just wouldn't be practical!

Then I look down at the glowing city below us, and I realize that the big picture is what really matters. I shouldn't be fussing over the details right now. Not this soon in our romance. All that matters is that we're here, together, and we're two young ponies in love.

Dear Celestia, it's so beautiful. We stand in silence, admiring the view together.

Should... should I touch him? We're sidled right up next to each other, but nothing's happening. And the view, this is hooves-down the most romantic place I've ever seen!

It's my move. I have to do this.

I gently put my leg around his withers. He squirms a little bit, though, so I remove it. Damn! Too soon, too soon. Damn. Still, it's so pretty...

"Um, Twilight? Can I ask you something?" he asks me.

"Sure!" I say. I sound excited, but I'm anxious. I mean, 'ask you something' could mean anything. It could mean something wonderful! Or, it could mean something... not-so-wonderful.

"You know a lot about ponies, and like, psychology, and stuff," he says, blushing.

"Uh-huh!" I say. I'm smiling as big as I can, but it's fake. I'm nervous. Ask me already. Ask me ask me ask me, I can't take any more tension. Ask. Ask! ASK!!!

He gives me a half-smile. "Do you ever feel like, I mean you wouldn't ever do it because it's awful, and even saying this feels awful," he says.

Oh no. Celestia no. Don't break up with me. Please, please no. Anything but that. I'm already holding back tears. I don't know why I expect it to happen, I mean it's impossible he would, but...

"Do you ever, like, imagine grabbing something small and helpless, like a bunny or a puppy, and just, crushing it between your hooves? I mean, just because you can, or something?"

OH THANK CELEST— wait. What?

I cough once. "Er, come again?" I say in a shaky voice.

"I mean, feelings like that, just feelings about doing the smashing, and nothing else... I mean, I would never... but the feelings, that's normal, right?" he asks, and blinks a few times in a row. He looks really vulnerable.

I pause for a moment to think, and the words come out of my mouth before I have a chance to filter them.

"Oh. Oh! No, oh my goodness no. No! That's not normal," I say. "No way, no. Not at all."

"...oh," he says, and then he looks down at his hooves. I quickly realize what I've done.

"No no wait! It's okay! It doesn't mean anything bad," I explain. "I just mean, it's a little weird. But everypony is weird! So it's fine."

I'm not lying when I say it. I mean, I don't really know if it means something bad, because I haven't read anything in the literature about it. So by default, it doesn't mean anything at all. It's just, well, weird. That's what "not normal" means, after all, right?

"Oh. Okay. Okay," he says, taking a deep breath.

"Really, I'm weird too," I insist, with another smile. I can't quite tell if this one looks fake.

Flash Sentry nods. "I know. I mean, I just saw you dance," he says.

That catches me off guard, but I decide to store the comment for later analysis. I still need to comfort him. I'm his fillyfriend, so it's my job.

"Flash, I'm flattered you would share something personal like this with me. You know, the fact that those feelings bother you? It means you actually care," I tell him. "It means you have a kind heart."

He looks up to me and nods. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess so. Thanks," he says.

I smile, and this time I know it's genuine. He really does have a kind heart. I can feel it.

"It's pretty late. Let's go to back the hotel," he says, and starts walking down the hill by himself. After spacing out for a moment, I canter downhill to catch up.

We're in the hotel room. It isn't big, but it's clean, and it has a queen-size bed.

Flash is pacing. I feel nervous. But this is why we're here, right? Maybe not to go all the way, but at least to be a little intimate. This is how relationships work these days. I'm okay with this. I am. I really, really am.

I sit on the edge of the bed. He sits next to me.

I smile and look up at him. He seems kind of shy. I lean in for a kiss, and...

"Um, Twilight?" he says.

"Yes, Flash?" I ask.

"I really feel bad for asking this, but, could you, like, brush your teeth first?" he says.

"Oh! No, that's perfectly fine. I'm all about proper hygiene," I insist. I head into the bathroom and begin brushing my teeth.

"You don't, like, smell bad or anything," he explains, speaking loudly so I can hear him from the bed. "It's just, like, the two times I bumped into you, there was a weird smell both times, by coincidence. It wasn't you, I know it, because nopony smells that way—it must have been garbage nearby or something—but it's kind of stuck in my brain and it makes me feel nervous. Sorry."

That's totally fair. It's just a behavioral reaction, far below the conscious threshold. It could happen to anypony. It can be fixed. I rinse my mouth out. I step back into the bedroom, and I see him.

Flash is lying on the bed prone with his legs at his sides. His eyes are shut tightly. I realize now the extent of his generosity... he's willing to give me anything and everything, isn't he?

But something seems wrong as I climb onto the bed next to him. His eyes are closed so tight, and he's shivering. Is he... afraid?

"You can just, y'know, do whatever," he whispers, but it looks like he's wincing.

I reach out and pet his mane. "Flash, it's okay. We don't have to do any of this."

His eyes open partway. "But you came all this way, I mean, it's only fair. I'm fine with it."

I shake my head. "No, this isn't right. I mean, I guess I've never been on a date before so I don't know what is right, but this really can't be it."

"Okay," he says, and crawls under the covers. He looks incredibly relieved.

I turn off the lights and climb into bed with him. He turns away from me. I kiss him on the neck, and he tenses up again.

"Goodnight Flash," I say, and I turn back to back with him.

"Goodnight," he says. He sounds totally relaxed and happy again, thank goodness. We lay there in quiet, except for my sobbing.

It only takes him a few minutes to fall asleep. He snores a little. It takes me about a half-hour to stop crying. It's okay, though. It's not that bad.

Now my tear ducts are empty. I think I can finally rest.

The morning comes and my eyes are dry. We take turns in the shower. My train leaves at ten in the morning. We don't really say anything until we're walking down the street.

"Sorry everything didn't work out," says Flash.

I feel confused, and maybe a little sad.

"I wouldn't say things didn't 'work out', exactly. I mean, it just takes time," I say. I'm sure I sound defensive. I can't help it.

"Oh. Um, what takes time?" asks Flash. He seems confused too.

"The relationship," I say. Something's wrong, though. That horrible sinking feeling of worry is hitting me again. It's the same one from the hilltop. Only now, it's a dozen times worse. Why am I feeling like this? Does my brain know something I don't?

Flash shrugs. "Oh. I don't really know about calling 'us' that," he says.

I abruptly jump in front and turn to face him. I know I'm not holding it together very well, but I have to be sure.

"Pleasedon'tbreakupwithme!" I shout. I probably look pathetic. No, I'm sure I do. I just lack the strength to care.

"What? No, no," he says, looking nervously around. "That's just crazy."

I exhale with relief. Thank goodness.

"We can't 'break up', Twilight. We're not, like, in a relationship, or anything," he says.

I stand there frozen in place, jaw hanging open. My left eye twitches.

"Look, Twilight, this is all you, okay?" he says, and starts walking toward the station again so that I have to follow him. "You just, need some time to sort things out. You'll be fine."

Somehow I bring myself to walk beside him, but I'm stunned. I can't cry right now, but I'm not sure why. I'm not sure what went wrong. I'm not sure what I did. I'm not sure of anything anymore.

"Have a good trip home, okay?" he says, sitting me down on a bench. He waves, smiles a little, and turns around to leave.

I watch him walk into the distance, and I feel completely numb. Everything just happened so fast. I sit there, unable to think anything intelligible for what must be several minutes.

Then I look up at the train schedule, and something else is wrong.

My train doesn't leave at ten. My train leaves at four in the afternoon. Four in the afternoon? How? It's not at ten. There is no train leaving at ten.

This isn't possible. I check my return ticket. Four o'clock. Why did I think it left at ten?

I never make a planning mistake of this magnitude. There can be only one reason for this turn of events.

It's a miracle.

No, no, no. That's completely stupid. We're not an item, we were never an item, and maybe we aren't even meant to be an item. This is nothing. This isn't a miracle, it's just another stupid screw-up on the worst trip of my miserable life.

But where does this leave me? I'll be stuck here for six hours, and I'm barely able to sit down without crying, much less walk back into town. What am I supposed to do, go back into the gift shop? I could barely face that bitch when I was on top of the world!

Oh, this is awful. This is just awful. This must be what "rock-bottom" means. I understand now, and the knowledge feels like acid in my eyes. I didn't want to admit it, I really didn't, but now I must.

This trip has gone much less well than I had originally hoped.

I take a moment to think about everything, all mangled together, like an inseparable blob of experience and tragedy. Maybe there are no such things as miracles. Maybe, somehow, it's my responsibility to learn something from this.

Or, maybe we make our own miracles...

No. I don't want to bother Flash Sentry after everything that's just happened to him. Closure is important, and sending a message to him now would be like ripping off a bandage before the wound has healed.

But then again, if I ever thought of him as a partner, maybe I need to be able to think of him as a friend first. A true friend would bite the bullet and come pick me up anyway. He would shoulder some of the burden. He's not the only one hurting here. I mean, I'm hurting too. It's not just him.

I send the scroll.

"I'm really sorry about this Flash," I say as we walk to his house. This time I keep the cloak wrapped around me.

"It's okay," he says. "It's not your fault. I mean, I guess it is, but you didn't mean it. I just have stuff to do so you'll have to chill at my place while you wait. Then I'll walk you back."

"Thank you so much," I say.

"Hey, Flash!" somepony calls out. A stallion dressed like a royal guard trots up to us.

"Oh. Hey Lance," says Flash.

"Is that her?" 'Lance' says under his breath. I guess my simple disguise wasn't enough after all. Lance tries to maneuver so that Flash is blocking me. He's probably too shy to be introduced to a princess, and that's fine. I have a lot on my mind at the moment anyway.

"Yeah. Her train's delayed, or something. So I'm taking her home for an hour or two," says Flash.

"But you two, last night. Right? Right?" whispers Lance, just barely loud enough that I can hear. I have surprisingly good auditory capabilities.

"Totally, pony," says Flash, and the two high-hoof and grin like Cheshire cats.

Lance smiles and winks at me, then trots off.

"Lance?" I ask.

"Oh, he's just a goof. Forget about it."

Oh well. At some point, my brother and Cadance will figure out I stopped by and didn't say hi to them, but they'll get over it. They already have the perfect relationship, after all.

Flash Sentry's house is large, but it looks a bit messy on the outside. He needs to mow the lawn, and it could use a fresh coat of paint. It isn't a jungle by any means, but it could definitely use a mare's touch.

"Moooom! I have a guest," he shouts as we walk inside.

"Oh! Your mom lives with you?" I ask.

"Yeah, my parents live here," he says. "We get along well though. Dad's on a business trip."

A unicorn mare walks into the living room. She smiles.

"Oh, thank Heavens. A normal unicorn," she says, rolling her eyes.

"Mom, rude. Don't be racist in front of my friends," he scolds. "Can you give us some space?"

"Of course. I'm going out to bingo anyway. I'll be back late, don't wait up," she says, then walks out and shuts the door. She doesn't seem to care about my presence. They must give him a lot of space.

I notice Flash just implied I was his friend. I'm kind of surprised, but I guess it's true. He did come pick me up, after all, and it's not like he was trying to hurt me. He didn't want this to happen. I don't really know what to think, though. I'm still hanging from a very thin emotional thread. What if I start crying again?

Flash walks into his room, and I tentatively follow.

Oh my Stars. What a complete pigsty! There are towels, and clothes, and baskets, and used plates, and toys, or something—and everything is just everywhere. It takes all of my strength to keep myself from organizing things. I want to clean this room with every fiber of my being, and I know it would be so helpful for him. But it might be rude, and I'm really not in the right state of mind for taking chances.

"Sorry it's a real mess, I got a system though," he says. He turns his attention to a chalkboard on the wall. It has what appear to be lyrics about fillies. Not any particular fillies, just fillies and romance in general. I see he has a guitar in here, just like the other Flash.

I'm reminded of Rarity, despite the mess. I guess he's an artist.

"If you can keep quiet, I'm just gonna focus on my work for a bit kay?" he says. He erases some of the words on the board and pauses in thought.

I start crying, and I don't know why. "I'm sorry," I sob.

Flash sighs and hoofs me a box of tissues. "It's okay, don't worry about it. Stuff doesn't always work the way we want it to, you know."

It's good advice, but I'm bawling like a baby. Fortunately, he's able to ignore me enough to work. Under different circumstances, I think I'd be impressed by his ability to tune out distractions.

It's kind of weird, though. Even as I cry and shake, I realize that I'd never have seen this side of him if it weren't for all of the mistakes I'd made along the way. As awful as all of this is, it's still valuable. Now, I know.

After a few minutes, my sobbing is softens a little. There are plenty of tissues so I'm doing okay. My chest still heaves when I try to breathe, though.

Flash turns to me. "Hey, um, Twilight?" he asks.

I sniff and dry my eyes for the three-hundred and fifty-seventh time. I wish I could stop counting. "Y-yeah?"

"You... you wouldn't mind signing this for me, would you?" he says, and hoofs me a picture.

It's a picture of me. It's kind of unflattering, because it was clearly taken from a bad angle by a tourist with a camera, but it's definitely a picture of me. Huh. Flash keeps a picture of me in his room.

"H-how do you want me to sign it?" I choke. It's tricky to talk when you're crying.

"Oh, just your name. Don't personalize it or anything," he says.

I look down at the picture, and I take up a felt-tip pen. I'm too shaken up right now to do it by hoof, but I need to hold the picture steady to sign it telekinetically, so it has to be right under my muzzle. Very carefully, I catch each teardrop with my magic before it has a chance to hit the paper. There are a lot of tears, so they begin to collect into one giant supertear, and then that gets in the way. So, I rearrange my floating eye juice into four equally-divided supertear quadrants at the four corners of my vision. It takes about a minute for me to complete the autograph. Even for me, it's hard to manipulate all of the tears at the same time as I write. It's an amazing feat of magical prowess. I hope he appreciates it.

He takes the perfectly dry autograph from me and smiles. "Thanks," he says, and he tosses it onto a pile of dirty laundry beside his bed.

It takes a few dozen tissues to dispose of the supertears.

It's finally over.

I'm on the train, awaiting my departure back to Ponyville. I'm not crying anymore, but Flash gave me some extra tissues just in case. I want to take a nap, but my mind won't let me. I'm overwhelmed with... with everything.

I don't really know what I'm feeling right now. But it's actually not horrible, because I realize something important through all of this pain I've just endured. Sometimes, life hoofs you terrible experiences, but if you can learn from them, all that awfulness can shape you into a better pony. It can make you stronger. It seems counterintuitive, but I think this is actually the way it works. Like the way tiny stress fractures will make a bone tougher. It just takes time, and a little pain.

I shouldn't be surprised by this revelation. I've been through terrible arguments and disagreements with my closest friends, and I've grown wiser and better from each one of them. Somehow, those bad experiences have made me a better friend. I know I can grow from this, too. I can let it teach me more about who I am, and what I have to offer the world, and why a stallion should be damn grateful to have me as his fillyfriend. I'm worth a lot more than I've been giving myself credit for.

All this terribleness is now a thing in my past. Even though I'm sure other terrible things will happen to me in the future, this tragedy, this particular nightmare, is finally over. The chapter is closed. Tomorrow is another day, and it's a bright one.

I've learned so much from this, and even while my cheeks are puffy and sore, I know I can smile again.

So I smile. It's a big, bright, Pinkie-Pie-sized smile, and it's as genuine as can be.

Our wedding will be so beautiful.
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