Tears in the Snow

by Wintergreen Diaries

First published

Twilight sees a vision after casting a spell to see the future and ends up saving a mysterious colt.

Magic is supposed to be controlled, released when the caster wants it to be and in the form dictated by the spell. To Twilight's glee, she succeeds in creating a spell to see a short distance into the future after many hours of research. The test doesn't exactly go as planned, but it works just in time to save a stallion's life. As she tries to reach out to a pony who she finds has nearly given up on life, she finds to her surprise, wonder, and concern that not all facets of magic are explainable, nor the workings of the heart - especially one that has been broken.

First story in my series. Currently undergoing a massive edit, as there were a lot of errors. Chapters 1-16 completed on the edit thus far. The endings are slightly un-canon, and that will be fixed by the edit, but until I get that up, take comfort in the fact that the shift has no bearing on the rest in the series, which currently follows the alternate path. Chapters 21-24 will likely be edited the most, as they were, admittedly, kind of rushed.

Oh, on a side note, I wrote this whole thing releasing a chapter a day as a personal challenge. Not my best piece, but the one that started them all. Ending one is blatant gary stu, I'll say it now. Art by askheroichamburger of DeviantArt


Chapter 1: Premonition

Night had fallen over the Everfree forest, and the dense foliage blocked most of the moonlight. Trudging through the dark was a lone stallion, completely oblivious to the howls that seemed to come from everywhere around him. With each step, a small puff of snow appeared, quickly dissolving and soaking into the thirsty forest floor. His head hung low, the overwhelming burden of continuing to live becoming increasingly more difficult to justify. He came to a small clearing and looked into the sky, pondering for what reason he even continued to move forward. It was then that he noticed the howls were becoming more frequent, and the telltale rustling in the bushes told him that his worries would soon be over.

“I suppose, then, that you’re all hungry.” The first of the timber wolves stepped out of the foliage, snarling between howls to the rest of the pack. I’ve been walking for days, but I can’t say why. If there is hope, I can no longer feel it. So how can I justify fighting back? To these wolves, I’m a life giving meal. At the very least, my death could give another life, if only for a time. “Perhaps,” he started, looking out at the circle of wolves surrounding him, “this is for the best.” But if that’s what I really believe, then why is there still the urge to fight... “How much longer must I continue to cling to this life when it holds nothing for me?” he suddenly shouted, causing the wolves to temporarily halt their slow advance. “Tell me, Luna, now that you again control the stars; where is my guidance?” Whether a small glimmer of hope or just survival instinct, the stallion closed his eyes and heightened his senses, preparing to give the wolves a fight they wouldn’t soon forget.

"Twilight, are you still awake? You're gonna be a wreck tomorrow if you don't get some sleep!" Spike chided Twilight, stooping to collect the books scattered in a semi-circle around her. She placed a hoof firmly on the large, weathered tome she was currently reading, and looked up at him.

"I know Spike, I know! But I'm so close to completing my newest spell! Just a little more time. Why don't you go ahead to bed? I promise I will get some rest soon." Her pleading eyes got the better of Spike, who muttered something about not waking her should she oversleep. She levitated a scroll and pen over to her and reviewed the day's checklist, marking off the second to last entry which read, "Stay up late studying." She giggled softly, returning to her studies. The lights went out upstairs, leaving the lantern by her side as the only source of light in the house.

Her mind raced to string together the fragments of knowledge she had absorbed over the last few days. While seeing the future had always been considered to be trickery and hocus-pocus nonsense, she had recently begun to wonder if it might actually possible. "After all," she thought to herself, "if the sun and moon are moved by magic, surely a small glimpse into the future is possible, right?" Her mind, having reached its limit, told her it was time to call it a night. She stood up and stretched her limbs, now numb from laying on the floor for the last five hours. Twilight winced as the blood rushed to her deprived legs, causing a sensation akin to being pricked with a hundred needles.

As tired as she was, Twilight was eager to put her notes to use. She looked down at the last entry on her checklist - "Test Premonition spell for completion." She cleared her mind of any distractions, and began to focus her magical energies into her horn. The pieces of knowledge began to align in her mind, and her entire body began to glow a soft, purple hue. Her magic reached its peak, and she released the spell. Her vision went blurry, shrouded by a purple haze. Slowly, her sight returned to normal, but she was hardly excited. Nothing had happened. She sighed, staring mournfully at her nearly complete checklist. With great hesitation she brought out a quill dipped in red ink and circled the final entry. "Oh Circle of Incompletion, how I despise you," she muttered to herself, scowling at the paper to make sure it understood. She sighed again; none of the other checklists had understood either. With the dreaded deed done, she blew out the lantern and went to bed, making a mental note to add the last entry to the coming day's checklist.

Twilight's peaceful slumber was suddenly jarred as a scene began to flood her mind. Her view was racing over Ponyville, beginning at her house and heading into the Everfree forest. She could hear howling and growling from what had to be an unusually large number of wolves. She could feel her fear rising as she seemed to draw straight towards it. A terrible scene began to unfold, but she was powerless to stop it.

A single stallion stood surrounded by no fewer than ten wolves, arranged in a circle around him. His coat was a deep cerulean blue, with a pure white mane accented by a single streak of teal that ran all the way through to his tail, with two matching teal bands around his forelegs. He stood stock still in the center, making no attempt to flee. In fact, as Twilight neared, she could see he had his eyes closed. The circle tightened. Closer... Closer... A wolf leapt from behind, only to receive two hooves to the face. The others took the cue, and one after the other began to rush in for the kill.

Twilight wanted to look away, but her vision sat fixed. Her horror quickly turned to fascination as his horn began to glow a brilliant blue, and after a few seconds a solid wall of ice had encircled him. The unlucky four that had leaped were met with quick and sudden stop, their unconscious bodies dropping to the ground. As quickly as it had appeared, the ice evaporated. The stallion used their surprise to run outside the circle and turn, leaving the remaining six in front. Two more charged. The stallion stomped each foreleg once, two pillars of ice shooting forth and impaling the wolves, blinking as a few drops of blood splashed his face.

He quickly reached to wipe it off, and this signaled the final wolves to attack. He closed his eyes and let the magic build, waiting till they were nearly on top of him. A long, sharp blade of ice encased his horn, and with one mighty arc he dispatched the remaining wolves. The stallion dropped to his knees, exhausted from using so much magic. Twilight's relief was short lived; at the edge of the forest, a single wolf came creeping forward. Twilight screamed in her mind, but he couldn't hear. It crouched low, preparing to strike while the stallion lay inert, his breathing labored. He didn't seem to notice as the wolf sprang into the air, teeth bared.

Twilight woke up screaming, causing a very concerned and very tired Spike to come rushing down the stairs. He tripped half way down, rolling down the stairs before landing painfully at the foot of Twilight's bed. He ignored the pain, his focus entirely on his friend, who was breathing heavily and on the verge of tears.

"Twilight, what is it? Did you have a nightmare?" Spike asked, staring up at her. Twilight grabbed him with her forelegs and held him close.

"Spike, it was awful. There was a stallion fighting wolves in the Everfree Forest. He used too much magic and collapsed. Then the last wolf, it..." she squeezed Spike closer, unable to finish the sentence. Spike was at a loss as to how to respond. He decided it best to just hold her until she calmed down, which took a few minutes. She sniffed and wiped her muzzle with a hoof, releasing Spike who sat down beside her. "It was so real, like I was actually there, but I wasn't able to move, I wasn't able to shout... All I could do is watch." Then it hit her. The spell. Maybe what she had just seen was a vision? Without a word she threw back the covers and galloped down the stairs and out the door. She heard Spike calling after her, scrambling to keep up.

"Twilight, wait up! Where are you going this late at night? Don't tell me you're going to Everfree, it's too dangerous!" he shouted, calling from the doorway.

"Spike, I don't have time to explain all the details, but I think what I saw was a glimpse of the near future. Just wait here until I get back, ok?" She didn't wait for his answer, gathering her energy and teleporting to the entrance of the forest. She paused for just a moment, staring into foreboding mass of trees and undergrowth. Even with the moon out, the forest was nearly pitch black. After casting an elementary illumination spell, her horn began emitting a bright purple light, repelling the shadows that shrouded the forest. Swallowing her fear, she plunged in at a full gallop. She couldn't recall the exact location from the vision, but a growing sense of urgency propelled her forward.

A chilling chorus of howls sounded from somewhere a good distance to her left. The vision flashed in her mind briefly as she recalled the circle of wolves just before they attacked. Not wasting a second, she made a beeline towards the source of her rising fear. She stopped suddenly as a blue flash lit up the trees in the distance. Her heart pounded in her ears, blood rushing from her sudden physical exertion. The first use of magic: the wall. "I don't have much time..." she said between breaths, her chest heaving. She plunged onward and saw a second, smaller flash. She squinted her eyes as she focused every muscle in her body into pumping speed into her legs. She saw a third flash just ahead of her. "C'mon legs, don't fail me now!" she encouraged her limbs; she knew she couldn't keep it up much longer.

As she burst into the clearing, time seemed to stop. There, laying on the ground, was the blue stallion from her vision. The wolf was in mid air, its razor sharp teeth shining faintly in the moonlight. The scent of the warm blood that was spread around the grass invaded her nostrils. Then time started to flow. Twilight, in an act of pure desperation, teleported herself between the wolf and the blue unicorn. Her sudden appearance caused the wolf to yelp with surprise, crashing into her. She fell back against the stallion, who didn't budge an inch. The angered wolf got back on its paws and slowly circled the pair. Twilight followed its movements, staying between the stallion and the wolf.

Suddenly the fatigue of both magic use and unprecedented physical activity caught up with her, causing her muscles to cramp and bringing her to her knees. The wolf quickly seized the opportunity to strike, jumping low, aiming for Twilight's throat. In a last ditch effort, she focused her magical energy and released it right before the wolf made contact. The unfortunate wolf was teleported behind her but was still traveling the same speed until a rather large tree trunk stopped the motion with dull thud. Its body fell to the ground, twitching slightly, then lay still.

Twilight turned and looked at the blue form behind her. His mane was matted, soaked with blood, mud and sweat. His breathing had normalized, but it seemed he was unconscious. Not surprising, after fighting for his life. Those spells he had used looked like they would be excessively draining to a unicorn’s magic reserves, even just the few times he had used them. Twilight knew that they couldn't stay, but she could barely move, let alone carry another pony.

“Why would you come out here in the dead of night? It’s just plain stupid...” Twilight whispered, staring down at the stallion. Her eyes suddenly met his as he peered up through half lidded eyes.

“Death... wouldn’t be so bad.” She took a step back as he struggled upright, his legs shaking violently as he took a few steps before falling to the ground. “I have nothing left. No home, no friends... and no hope. Tell me, mare, if these things were stripped away, how would you feel?”

“Well, I... I don’t...”

I’m sorry. You don’t deserve this, whoever you are. I’m only spreading my pain to others, just like what’s been done to me. No, I won’t continue the cycle! I won’t become like one that... “Please, forgive me. Just leave me before you get hurt.”

“Are you crazy? I’m not going to just leave somepony who needs my help!”

“Give your help to somepony with a will to live!” he suddenly shouted, struggling once more to his hooves. “Why... why are you wasting your effort on me? How can you possibly expect me to hope after searching for so long?” Twilight couldn’t wrap her mind around somepony feeling so lost, so dejected that they wanted to die. Even at her worst, when her friends abandoned her during Discord’s reign of terror, she had never wished for it to end, not like this. She refused to believe it. “And why... why can’t I just give up? It’d be so much easier...” His legs buckled, and he didn’t rise again, the involuntary and steady loss of magic sapping his strength, slowly leading him to unconsciousness. The last thing on his vision was the lavender mare looking down at him with concern. He tried to speak but couldn’t find the strength, and a darkness clouded his sight as everything went black.

Twilight sat down beside the stallion, placing a gentle hoof on his back and yanking it back as it burned from the sudden decrease in temperature.

“Magic is supposed to be purposeful, controlled. Something that only happens when you want it to, and how you want it to. But this,” she whispered, watching as small tufts of snow appeared from a faint glow around the unicorn’s horn, “isn’t something he could possibly be controlling. What’s happened to you?” The temperature around her was dropping as the snow became more intense, and if something wasn’t done soon, his body would likely destroy itself. Bowing her head, she began releasing a generous portion of magic from her horn, bathing the forest in a bright lavender glow. Manipulating the spell, she raised the temperature around to around ninety degrees. After several minutes, she touched his side again, only to find that it was still freezing cold, even though the air temperature had improved significantly. There was only one thing that she could think of, one last option that could possibly save his life; a direct transfer of magic.

Stooping down, she rolled him onto his back and stood over him, too anxious over his declining health to note how awkward the situation would have been at any other time. “Listen. I may not know your name, but I will not stand by and let you give up on life. If nothing else, I can be your friend, and show you that there is yet reason to live.” With that, she lowered her head and touched her horn to his, and was immediately bombarded with an overwhelming sorrow. She snapped her head back, her heart pounding against her chest as the fear faded as quickly as it had come. “You’re not going to beat me that easily.” She established the connection once more, bracing herself as she was again flooded with emotions that weren’t her own, like being tossed into a stormy sea.

Gritting her teeth, she ignored the invasion and began to pour her magic into his horn, wrapping it in her own aura. It took much longer than she had expected it would, and she was breathing heavily as she broke the connection, falling atop the stallion’s chest and finding that, while still quite cold, his body temperature had risen significantly, and the release of magic had slowed to a trickle. “You really are... a pain in the flank, mister.” A rustle in the bushes snapped her back to reality, but she was already on the verge of collapse. “Nothing else for it, guess you’re coming home with me,” she muttered, summoning her magic and casting a teleportation spell, though not with nearly enough intensity as she had intended, and she landed in a heap atop the still slumbering stallion just outside the forest edge. It had been a very long time since she had exhausted so much magic so quickly, and her eyelids drooped lower and lower as her limbs relaxed, letting sloth claim victory over consciousness. Hopefully morning would bring some answers.

“So, this is to be my end.” The blue stallion stared at the snow rising all around him, burying him up to his neck. The biting cold had long since sapped the energy from limbs, which housed no feeling save a slight burning sensation as the freeze became complete. He closed his eyes and waited for the snow to rise higher, past his head and towards the sky, entombing him in a land of purity and emptiness. A sudden flash bid him raise his tired head upwards, as the sky flooded with a lavender hue that repelled the clouds and lessened the storm while melting some of the snow, freeing his forelegs. “What... what is this?” The sky returned to its usual threatening gray, but the snowfall had all but stopped. As he became able to move again, he reached a hoof to his chest as a soothing warmth suffused his limbs. He stared in disbelief as a small tendril of blue flame sparked to life, flickering in the slight breeze but not fading. “I see. So this is why I couldn’t give up just yet... I still... have one last glimmer of hope.”


Chapter 2: Cerulean

Cerulean slowly, painfully, opened his eyes, finding himself staring into the face of a beautiful lavender mare. She lay atop his chest, each breath causing a gentle breeze against his face. He closed his eyes, expecting to wake up any moment, but after a few seconds passed and he opened them again, the mare was still snoring contentedly upon her makeshift blue pillow. Scanning his surroundings, careful not to wake this peacefully slumbering mare, he found himself a good distance from the edge of the forest, though still a few minutes trot from the nearest buildings of the town. He could feel the blood rushing to his cheeks as he tried to recall what had happened to lead to such a change of scenery. Last thing he could remember was passing out amongst the bodies of the wolves that had tried to do him in.

No, that can’t be right, there must be more. Come on, think! Wolves... the mare... came. Oh yeah, then I yelled at her for trying to help. It was strange, but somehow, that chance encounter had sparked something inside. “I don’t know why you’d try to help somepony like me, even after yelling at you the way I did. But, since you’ve given me a second shot at life, I’ll try. If nothing else, I keep going,” he whispered, involuntarily bringing his hooves around her and holding her close. She was pleasantly warm, and a soft sigh escaped her lips as she snuggled closer in her sleep. Cerulean knew that, should the mare awake, she would likely spook, but there was a comfort in having her near, so he allowed a few minutes of silent indulgence. He placed his hooves around the shoulders of the purple unicorn as and was preparing to ease her onto the ground when a voice rang out, blasting his ears.

"What in tarnation are you doin' to Twilight?" he leaned his head back and found himself looking into the angry green eyes of a fast approaching orange earth pony, her mane kept in a loose ponytail. Cerulean quickly, but gently, removed himself from the unicorn and cleared his throat to make his defense, getting out only four words before two hooves made connection with his chest.

"It's not what it..." after which he momentarily experienced the exhilaration of flying, and then the not so exhilarating experience of lying breathless, flat on his back. He lay there dazed, trying to coach air into his uncooperative lungs. When he could breathe, he looked up to see the earth pony gently trying to wake her friend while glaring in his direction. Twilight awoke with a moan, rubbing her eyes and looking around, her brain not quite capable of making sense of the situation.

"Huh? Applejack? What am I doing out here?" she said.

"That varmint was takin' advantage of you, Twi. Stay back; he'll soon learn a lesson he ain't ever gonna fergit!" Applejack said, vehemence dripping from her voice.

"I wasn't... taking advantage... of anypony!" Cerulean gasped, chest still aching from the bucking.

"Likely story. Ah come out her fer a mornin' stroll and find you with my friend on top of you and..." She stopped here, noticing the blood in his mane. Her cheeks flushed as she looked at him and then at Twilight, neither of whom seemed to understand the implications. "You didn't..." her voice dropped to a growl, her teeth grinding. Cerulean cocked his head for a moment, and then his eyes grew wide as the realization of the accusation hit him full force.

"Oh no, nonono I didn't! I don't know what's going on, but it definitely isn't that!" he said, frantically waving his fore hooves. He could tell she wasn't buying it. He turned a pleading glance to the still groggy lavender mare. "C'mon, you gotta help me out here! Tell the lady I didn't... you know..." he said, cheeks still flushed a bright pink. Twilight, still waking up, promptly chose the worst possible response Cerulean could imagine.

"Who are you again? I never caught your name."

"Dear Celestia, you didn't even find out his name first? Twi, I'm ashamed o' you!" Applejack said, recoiling in disgust. Cerulean slapped a hoof to his face, letting it slowly slide down. Twilight stared at the two before the previous night's events started to flood her mind.

"Oh my goodness, are you alright?" she said, rushing to Cerulean's side and looking up at him. "You're not hurt, are you?" He shook his head and shot a glance at Applejack, who had resumed her icy glare.

"Not from the wolves, no, though I'm pretty sure this bruise will take some time to heal," he motioned ruefully to his chest. His blue coat did a great job of hiding it for the most part, but two large sections were taking a deeper, violet hue. Twilight touched it softly, causing him to wince.

"As much as it screams 'Poke here,' I'd rather you didn't," Cerulean said as he gently brushed her hoof away, not so much for the pain but for appearance's sake. "I’m... sorry, for last night. You didn’t deserve the way I spoke to you, and I am grateful to be alive. Although, your efforts may have been in vain if we don’t find a way to calm that mare down," he muttered, glancing back at Applejack. Twilight blinked once, twice, and suddenly understood his position.

"Applejack, this stallion," she said, pausing to look at him.

"Cerulean. Cerulean Snowgleam," he said quickly.

"He didn't do anything to me. He was attacked by wolves in the forest last night. I made it in time to stop the last wolf from attacking him after he spent his magic. Unfortunately, something I can’t explain was happening to him. His magic was draining, and I had to... transfer a vast majority of my own to him so that he didn’t die. After that, I was too exhausted to focus my magic properly, so my teleportation spell cut out half way." Applejack's expression turned from icy loathing to apprehension as she digested this new information.

"Is that the truth, Twilight? 'Cause if I find out otherwise later, it's gonna mean a whole lot of trouble for both of ya." Applejack's face was serious; it was clear she meant every word.

"I promise, it's the truth." Twilight said with a smile. Applejack allowed herself a slight grin.

"Pinkie Promise?"

"Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye," Twilight said, letting out a small giggle with the final motion. Applejack nodded her approval then approached Cerulean.

"Ah reckon ah owe you an apology." she said, scuffing the ground with a hoof. He shook his head before responding, his voice a good deal gentler than she expected.

"Not at all. If I had thought someone had done something like that to one of my friends, I'd likely do more than buck 'em in the chest. At least, if I had friends to defend." Twilight walked over upon hearing this statement.

"What do you mean, 'if I had friends?' Surely you have somepony who misses you somewhere?" Cerulean's eyes were downcast.

"Perhaps that's true..." he said quietly. "But it will be better for them in the long run with me gone. However," he said, smiling again, "I came here with no purpose, but now, I’m hoping for a fresh start. If I can find a few good friends, I'll count myself a lucky pony." Their curiosity about his enigmatic statements were momentarily forgotten as they both smiled and hugged him at once.

"Well now you have two friends, isn't that right Applejack?" Twilight declared.

"Sure is, sugarcube. Sorry for bucking ya, Cerulean. My name's Applejack." she said, releasing him from the embrace and stepping back. To her relief he let out a laugh, shaking his head vigorously.

"Cerulean Snowgleam. I’ll do my best not to land myself in any more situations like that, though thinking about it, it's actually pretty funny," he said, a mischievous grin playing at the corners of his mouth. Applejack chuckled, nodding in agreement. Twilight was still in the dark as to why Applejack had been so upset in the first place. "You explain it," he said, blushing slightly. Applejack began to whisper into her ear, Twilight's facing growing progressively brighter shades of red as she listened. Cerulean unsuccessfully tried to stifle his laughter, causing Twilight further embarrassment. He gave her a few moments to gather her composure before continuing.

"I hate to impose, but I'm kind of a wreck at the moment. Is there anyplace a pony can go to get cleaned up?"

"There's a spa and grooming salon near the center of town. If you'd like, I can take you," Twilight replied, trying not to make eye contact. Cerulean nodded readily, though inside, he was filled with worry. Almost everypony that had ever tried to get close to him, especially mares, ended up with broken hearts. As grateful as he was for their honest display of platonic affection, if they ended up hurt in the end, it wouldn’t be worth his momentary happiness. He couldn’t convince himself he was worth that kind of effort, so he crammed down his trepidation and donned a smile.

"I think that would be best, especially if everypony here is as protective as your friend, there," he said, shooting Applejack a wink. "I do look pretty dreadful." Applejack shot him a mock glare before tipping her hat to both of them.

"I gotta get back to the farm; plenty o' work to be done. You two take care now," she said, returning the wink, causing an awkward moment of silence between Cerulean and Twilight, each looking purposefully away from the other. Her laughter trailed off as she quickly disappeared over the landscape, heading back to Sweet Apple Acres. Snow gave a small cough, covering his mouth and looking back at Twilight.

"So then, shall we?"

"Yes, let's," she agreed, examining his messy and dirt stained mane. His condition would definitely beg questions, though likely not cause everypony to jump to the worst case scenario as Applejack had done. Chancing a glance at Cerulean, he appeared to have shifted back to how he was before, his somber expression devoid of mirth. “So...” He blinked once before turning towards her, breaking into a smile and waiting for her to continue. Where do I even begin? I have about a million questions, but some things I can’t just ask, as much as the curiosity is driving me crazy. “I’ve never seen ice magic like that before. Where’d you learn it?”

“It was self taught. I’ve always had a strong affinity for snow, even though I hate the cold.”

“Really? How does that work?”

“It’s complicated, to say the least. If it revolves around ice, and I can imagine it, then I can find a way to weave a spell for it. Judging by that look you’re giving me, I’d say you’re fairly skeptical. Magic is specific, and spells are exact. They do what they’re described to do, so being able to just conjure whatever is in my head shouldn’t be possible.” Twilight moved from skeptical to intrigued, as the stallion clearly had a solid grasp on the concept of magic, or at least the basics.

“Would mind if I put your skills to the test?”

“Not at all, what would you like to see?”

“Let’s start with something simple. Make some snow.” Twilight watched as the stallion’s horn began to glow a soft blue before her vision went white and her limbs cold. Popping her head out of the pile, she gave him a mock glare and jumped out, shaking the excess from her back. “Ok, Mr. Snowgleam, turn it into a snow mare.”

“As you wish.” At his behest, the snow wrapped itself into a perfect likeness of Twilight. “Anything else?”

“A castle!” Twilight was filled with a giddy, foal-like excitement at watching the stallion flex his prowess, her scholastic mind stimulated by the thought of studying a new field of magic. Cerulean, on his part, was complying not out of debt, or even to impress the admittedly charming mare that was eagerly awaiting his next spell, but simply for a singular desire of acceptance.

“All right then, princess,” he chuckled, turning away and bracing himself as he gathered his magic and poured it into his horn. A large circle of snow formed on the ground in front of him, and, starting from the ground up, a sculpted fortress began to rise. Cerulean could feel his magic levels plummet, but he pushed on, making it perhaps shorter than intended but still determined to finish. As the structure was completed he dropped to his knees, breathing heavily and panting for breath. “I hope... it’s satisfactory?” Twilight was truly impressed, but her fascination didn’t last long as she noticed the condition it had put Cerulean in.

“Take it easy. You used up nearly all your magic yesterday, remember?” she said, trotting over and sitting beside him. “I really thought you were going to die.”

“I’m surprised I didn’t. It was you that saved me, wasn’t it? How did you do it?”

“I... had to transfer some of my magic directly to you through my horn,” she murmured, looking away and blushing at the memory. For a unicorn, magic is just as important as blood and oxygen, so for her to give of herself in such a way...

“Thank you. Seems you’ve saved me twice in a single night, once from wolves and once from myself.”

“I was meaning to ask you about that. If magic only works when and where you want it to, then how... were you using magic when you were unconscious?” His grin slowly faded and he fell silent, staring at the ground and trying to regulate his breathing.

“That’s not something I want to talk about. I’m sorry.”

“But... if there’s a way to use magic while you’re asleep, then there’s all kinds of possibilities that I hadn’t even imagined! I could...”

“It doesn’t work like that,” he interjected. “It’s not... something that’s controlled. It’s not planned. And it definitely isn’t something I would wish on another pony.”

“But that...”

“Goes against the basic principles of magic, I know.” Cerulean was torn. He knew the answers to her unspoken inquiries, but he was terrified to answer. Everypony that had ever made some claim of friendship has eventually left, one after another, and this... this one is sweet. If there was any way to prolong this momentary happiness, I’ll do it. But that face... Ugh, how long am I really going to be able to forestall the inevitable? I can’t win against that. “I’m sorry, I know you’re curious, but... don’t pry into that.”

“Fine.” Wow, why did I sound so angry? “I’m sorry. I just get really wound up when it comes to magic. I’ve been studying it my entire life almost, and seeing something new kind of stoked the fires. It’s clear you have a reason for whatever you’re hiding, and I will do my best to leave it alone. At least, until I’m driven crazy and force it out of you with a charm spell, anyways, but that’s a ways off, I think,” she snickered, thankful that a smile soon returned to the stallion’s face.

“A charm spell, huh? That doesn’t sound so bad.” Cerulean, having skipped over the mental note that had been posted and re-posted countless times in his mind, again taught himself that thinking before you speak is a trait that, while not common in stallions, can be and must be learned. Otherwise, red faced shenanigans are guaranteed to ensue, and so they did as he realized the implications in his words. “I’m sorry, I meant your magic feels good!” he offered, recalling the sudden comfort he had felt during his nightmare that he was now convinced had something to with Twilight’s transference of magic. “Ok, um... I’m an idiot, let’s just stick with that and drop the conversation,” he sighed, covering his face with a hoof. Why the hay am I getting so worked up? Am I already under the effect of some spell?

Twilight, on her part, was having a difficult time containing her laughter at the flustered stallion. Then it dawned on her that there was no reason to control it, and she promptly flopped down on the ground, laughing hysterically and drawing even more eyes to the dirty pair in the middle of the road.

“As skilled as you seem to be with magic, your tongue could use some work.” Cerulean simply stared at her while her brain caught up to process the statement just a few seconds too late, causing her to blush violently and continue their trip, standing upright and resuming an easy trot. Cerulean controlled his speech and mind, not knowing what kind of temperament the mare had or how she’d respond to such teasing. But then, how would he know his limits if he never tested them?

Twilight would never have said so, but she was quite eager to see how the mystery stallion cleaned up. She looked up from her thoughts to see Snow looking at her out of the corner of his eye, a grin slowly forming.

"Whatcha thinkin' about?" Twilight didn't like the idea of another pony being able to read her thoughts so readily, and how the hay was she supposed to respond? Somehow “I was thinking about how alluring you might be without being covered in blood and grit” didn’t quite strike her as the proper response.

"Come on, I’m tired of being dirty," she called out over her shoulder as she broke into a gallop, mostly to put some distance between herself and the blue stallion who was making her mind and heart do funny things.

Talk of the Town

Chapter 3: Talk of the Town

When a mare runs away from somepony, it can mean several things. In this case, given that her last words were spoken in a slightly flustered tone, Cerulean couldn’t help but wonder if it were infatuation. He immediately chided himself for such thoughts, given that they had known each other for an hour’s time at the most, while at the same time being strangely open to the idea. Romance was something he pushed away, being something he wanted more than anything, but knowing at the same time that he would only bring disaster to anypony who tried to get close to him. But as Twilight cordially greeted the townsfolk along the way, most of whom acknowledged them with a wave of the hoof, he had a hard time disregarding the slight burning sensation in his chest. A good deal of the ponies they passed saw fit to stare at the odd pair, whispering as they stole concerned glances their way.

"I'll apologize now for tarnishing your reputation," Cerulean said with a slight smile. Twilight shook her head and returned the smile.

"Don't worry about it. It's not everyday somepony new comes parading through the town, covered in blood and dirt." she said coolly.

"Well, you're not exactly in top condition yourself," he retorted, motioning to her mane. The thought of her physical appearance hadn't even crossed her mind, not being something she paid a terrible amount of detail to. However, upon examining her mane and coat, she found herself very much in the same position as him, coated with grime and generally looking like that one pony who, as far as most were concerned, had never bathed in his life.

"Not the best way to make a first impression, is it?" she laughed lightly, suddenly self conscious about her appearance.

"Nah, you made a great first impression! Though waking up to you on top of me, while a pleasant surprise, is moving a tad fast, don't you think?" he said, laughing as she nervously looked around to see if anyone had heard.

"Would you keep it down? Being seen in this condition is bad enough, we don't need to fuel the fires. I didn't mean try to ruin my reputation," she huffed, glaring at him. He nodded, dropping silent for a moment.

"...Which fires?" he whispered in her ear. Sensing her reaction, he quickly galloped ahead, narrowly dodging a swipe from her hoof. He turned around, grinning ear to ear like a schoolcolt that had just aced his test. Twilight found it hard to stay frustrated with him, sighing and walking ahead passed him. Dang it, I made her angry already? I was just trying to play around... He chanced a glance in her direction, trying to assess the damage but unable to translate the now neutral facial expression she wore. The thought of her simply walking away crossed his mind, and he stopped in his tracks as the muscles in his chest contracted, causing a sharp pain accompanied by a consuming fear. It was unlike anything Cerulean had ever experienced, and he expelled the thought with all haste, scrambling to catch up as the pain slowly faded.

"We're here," Twilight's voice snapped Cerulean out of his thoughts. He turned to face her, regarding her with a look of concern.

"Twilight, I apologize if I upset you. I know I can be a... well, a pain sometimes. I don’t really know you that well yet, so I may cross a line here and there, but I really do appreciate your offer of friendship. I'm sorry for teasing you," Cerulean offered, hanging his head slightly. Any lingering resentment that may have been present melted away as she felt the sincerity in his words.

"Don't worry about it, I wasn't really that upset. Besides, I reserve the right to tease you just as much," she said, an evil grin stretching ear to ear. They shared a laugh before entering the spa amidst gasps of shock. It was a good thing Rarity wasn’t present or Twilight was sure she’d be given the third degree for her utterly disgraceful appearance. "Girls, this is Cerulean Snowgleam. He's had a rough night of it, so give him the full treatment." The attendants looked at each other, unease clearly written on their faces. Cerulean took a step forward, cleared his throat, and adopted the voice of a true gentlecolt.

"Please, forgive me for my dreadful appearance," he said, bowing low and speaking softly. "I would be most honored if you show me to a bath. I will not ask you for anything more." His soothing words had their intended effect, and the employees relaxed a bit.

"Of course, sir. Right this way, please," Aloe replied, collecting herself and motioning down the hall. He nodded and started to follow.

“What about you, Twilight? You’re in desperate need of some assistance as well,” Lotus chimed in, trotting over.

“No thanks, perhaps another time. I’ll shower at home,” she replied with an apologetic smile, at which point Lotus followed her sister, eager to undertake such a lofty project as cleaning up the messiest customer they’d had in months, even if it did mean an extra thorough cleaning of the spa was on the immediate horizon. "Cerulean? I'll be back in an hour, ok? I have some errands to run," Twilight called after him.

“What, you’re not going to have a bath yourself?” he asked, not having heard her conversation with Lotus. Seeing an easy opportunity to try and learn something more about teasing, which according to Rarity could be an incredibly useful tool, she thought for a moment before adopting a coy smile.

“I’m perfectly capable of grooming myself, thank you. And besides, I haven’t known you long enough for that yet.” Rather than becoming flustered as she expected, he gave her a vexingly cheerful look and responded without batting an eye.

"But of course, milady," he said with a grin, offering a small bow. Twilight stamped her hooves on the tile floor, causing a reverberating clacking noise to echo through the salon.

"I am not your lady!" she shouted, her voice causing a second echo. She turned and stormed out the door, Cerulean's laughter still ringing in her ears.

“So, is Twilight your fillyfriend?” Aloe asked, leading him into a back room where a waiting spa tempted him to forego manners and dive in.

“What? No, I just met her this morning! Or last night, actually.”

“Oh, really? I would have guessed you had been dating awhile, the way you two were looking at each other,” Lotus continued, giggling at the stallion’s consternation. “Where did you two meet?”

“Um... that dangerous forest on the outskirts of town.” At this point, the twins began speaking very quickly, alternating back and forth as they belted out fragments of thought that together barely managed to make sense.

“The Everfree Forest?”

“That place is dangerous!”

“Yes, dangerous, and scary!”

“Very scary!” They both paused and looked at each other before returning their gaze back to Cerulean and mirroring each other’s words.

“Why would you go there?”

“True, it’s not the ideal place to meet somepony,” he muttered, drawing close to the bath. “Thank you both for your hospitality, even if this is what you do for a living.”

“Our pleasure!” they replied in unison, cantering out of the room. The spa felt amazing, and worked wonders on the tension in his muscles as he scrubbed himself off, ducking under the water and blowing bubbles like a little colt. Taking a bath was one of life’s simple joys that he hadn’t had the chance to experience in a long, long time. Resurfacing, he leaned back with a contented sigh, letting his worries drift away, at least until he wiped his eyes and found that Aloe and Lotus were back inside the room, leaving him feeling very awkward and very exposed.

“Um... can I... help you?”

“Help us? We’re here to help you!”

“That’s right, help you get clean because you’re dirty!”

“We can fix that!” To say Cerulean was uncomfortable with the proceeding was an understatement, and despite his protest he was forcibly cleaned, shampooed, conditioned and rinsed from mane to hoof, all save certain more delicate areas that not even the spa sisters dare go, regardless of the fact that it crossed their minds more than once. As he toweled himself off, he made for the door but was instantly blocked by Aloe and Lotus.

“Not so fast.”

“Yeah, what’s the rush? There’s still more to do.”

“Much more! Come, right this way.”

“Um, I don’t really need...” Cerulean started before the two turned and gave him the saddest faces he had seen since the last time a foal was bereaved of its candy. “Ok, ok, fine. Twilight did say the full treatment. What all does that...”

“Horn filing!”

“Hooficure!” they giggled a moment before responding together, which no longer came as a surprise, seeing as how they ended most conversations that way.

“A massage!” What’s this, the stallion’s horn is glowing? “We can fix that, too.”

"Honestly, that little... He just... Grrr!" she growled, stomping her way back to the library. In truth, she wasn't actually angry with him, it was more the effect his words had on her heart that was bothering her. She just felt... comfortable around him, something she rarely experienced with other stallions. She'd been afraid to show certain aspects of herself even to her closest friends, recalling the whole ordeal with Trixie. But with Cerulean, she felt like she could be anypony and he'd still accept her with with no reservations. She fell deeper into thought before a frantic shout snapped out of her daze as Spike came dashing to meet her.

"Twilight, where have you been? I've been looking all over for you! After you disappeared, I waited and waited but you never came back!" he cried, throwing his arms around her. Twilight put a comforting hoof around him and drew him close.

"Oh Spike, I'm sorry I worried you. A lot has happened," she cooed, adopting a reassuring tone. She proceeded to explain how she couldn't wait to test her new spell, and then she had a vision and had to act quickly. Spike listened, fascinated, as she described what transpired in the forest and the following morning, though he couldn’t quite understand why Applejack was so upset. "Don't worry yourself about that," she muttered, looking away.

"Twilight? Why are you blushing?" Spike asked, examining her face intently.

"I'm not blushing!" Twilight argued, resuming her trip back to her house.

"Twilight, you're totally blushing." Spike pressed, his grin being the only thing saving him from a harsh reprimand. Twilight sighed and ignored him. "All right, if you don't wanna talk about the juicy bits, I understand."

"Rrrrrrgh, what's gotten into everypony?" she said, rearing and holding her head in both hooves. She then broke into a run, leaving Spike in the dust. She arrived at the library with fifty minutes left before she had to be back at Ponyville Spa & Massage. She took a moment to examine herself, mentally recoiling. The dirt that had caked onto her coat had turned again to fresh mud from her sweat, making her feel sticky and gross. Her mane and tail were much the same, with clumps stuck together and hairs sticking out at crazy angles. She made straight for the shower, set the output to max, and let all the stress, dirt and sweat wash away in a blissful cascade of warmth.

“Applejack? Is somethin’ wrong?” She turned to see Big Macintosh trotting over, and she gratefully took a break from bucking the trees, slumping to a sitting position and leaning the matured sapling.

“Ah wouldn’t say somethin’s wrong, exactly. Ah found Twilight with some stallion this mornin’ in a right awkward position, an’ ahm just worried ‘bout her bein’ near ‘im.”

“Not all stallions are evil, Applejack. You ain’t got no right suspectin’ somepony you just met.” He was right, of course, but she still couldn’t shake that image of Twilight laying on top of Cerulean from her head. Even if she had agreed to call him friend, she wasn’t ready to accept him fully so easily.

“Ah’ll do mah best t’ give him a chance, but ahm goin’ t’ be watchin’ him closely. Ain’t nopony gonna lay a hoof on my friends.”

“Nnnope. That’s all ah can ask, Applejack. Now, back t’ work, this orchard won’t harvest itself.”

It was rare that Twilight indulged long showers, but she decided to make an exception, exiting a full thirty minutes later. She felt recharged and rejuvenated, at least until her stomach made a cavernous growl, reminding her that she hadn't eaten since dinner the night before. Descending to the first floor, she rooted through the refrigerator, not seeing anything particularly interesting and settling with an apple. She nibbled on it thoughtfully while perusing one of the books she had left on the table the last time she ate, careful not to let the juices drip onto the pages.

Upon finishing, and realizing that Cerulean was likely as hungry as she was, Twilight grabbed her saddle bag from upstairs and loaded three apples into one of the side pouches. Looking at the clock and seeing she had a little bit of spare, she decided to pick up a box of cupcakes from Sugarcube Corner. Grabbing some bits and stowing them separate from the apples, she returned to the main floor where Spike was busy cleaning up the mass of books that were perpetually re-scattered every day.

"Spike, I'm going out for a bit. It's a nice day out, so when you finish with the books you can take the rest of the day off." She levitated her brush over, spent no more than a few minutes on mane and tail combined, then trotted out the door.

"Wow, thanks Twilight! Have fun today!" Spike called after her, grateful for the much needed break. To called her obsessed would be putting it lightly, and she’d been burning the midnight oil both literally and figuratively as of late. As such, his cleaning duties had shifted from manageable to downright exhausting, and he eagerly went about his chores in the hopes of being able to catch some time with Rarity, or maybe the Cutie Mark Crusaders if she was too busy being beautiful.

Whatever tension the spa had removed had been re-instilled by what was, perhaps, the most traumatizing spa visit one could imagine. Being forcibly bathed by two cute mares? Tolerable. Getting a hooficure? Not as bad as would be expected. The massage? Divine, though the two sisters were rather disappointed that they weren’t the ones to do it. But he put his pony pedicured hoof down at the horn filing, after both ponies sidled up beside him and went to work.

“You know, sometimes you can be a real pain,” he muttered, glaring at his still faintly glowing horn. Not having any idea of where Twilight lived, he decided move just far enough to be out of sight lest the infamous spa sisters catch sight of him and drag him back to complete his “treatment.”

Twilight was making great time until she made it into the town centre, where she was mobbed by curious ponies wondering about the newcomer. Unable to focus on any one question, she looked for an opportunity to run, but seeing none, she teleported out of the circle and dashed towards Sugarcube Corner, disregarding the soreness in her legs from the previous evening’s foray into Everfree Forest. She barreled through the door, the crowd hot on her heals, and swiftly locked it, leaned it against it, and slid into a sitting position as hoofbeats sent reverberations through her body. Regaining her breath, she walked up to the counter and rang the bell. Mrs. Cake appeared, giving Twilight a warm smile.

"Hello Twilight! What can I do for you today?" she asked sweetly, before she noticed the throng of ponies crowded outside. "Oh dear, I could have sworn I unlocked that door," she said hurrying over. Her mission was hindered as a wild eyed Twilight teleported in front of her, barring her progress.

"No! Don't open the door, Mrs. Cake. They're after me!" Twilight begged. Mrs. Cake just stared at her.

"You're not making any sense, Twilight. And that's odd for you." Twilight shook her head, ignoring the comment as the crowd outside grew larger.

"Please Mrs. Cake, I just need some cupcakes, then you can open the door." Twilight's pleading eyes won Mrs. Cake over, who walked back to the register and rang up the purchase. Twilight set the bits on the counter and turned to face the crowd, still gathered outside the shop. Focusing her magic, she teleported outside to the back of shop, expecting to escape the crowd but instead found herself in the middle of a much smaller group, though still very much surrounded.

"Over here, she's over here!" a voice shouted, causing a miniature stampede as they rushed up to her, bombarding her with their inquiries, assumptions, and accusations. Twilight's mind was again filled with countless voices and questions and, unable to take it any longer, her patience snapped.

"His name's Cerulean, I don't know where he's from, and he's not my coltfriend!" she shouted, her voice silencing the crowds as they stared at her, mouths slightly agape.

"Well now... That's an interesting way to introduce me." Twilight's eyes grew wide with disbelief as a handsome cerulean stallion made his way towards her, a warming smile gracing his muzzle. The crowds parted down the middle to make way for his entrance, speaking in hushed whispers. His mane flowed down to the base of his neck, perfectly combed and free of any traces of dirt or blood. His white hair perfectly accented his snowflake Cutie Mark, both seeming to shine in the sunlight. And his eyes... Those shimmering, teal eyes. Cerulean had never really considered himself that much of an eye catcher, but he couldn’t discount the wonder with which the mare beheld him, nor could he deny his own. For all the walls he had built around his heart, this mare sure could circumvent them easily enough. It was frightening. It was exhilarating.

"Could this really be the same pony I saw in the forest?" she whispered to herself as he cantered over and stopped just short of her, meeting her gaze. Time seemed to freeze as everything melted away until they were the only ones present. He suddenly chuckled, shattering the moment as he put a hoof on her nose.

"You're late," he whispered into her ear, leaning in close. Twilight blushed softly as his warm breath brushed her face, temporarily scrambling her thought processes. Saying nothing, she retrieved her bag which had fallen off in the commotion and lifted out a simple white box and set it down in front of him. She then used her magic to remove the lid and levitate a cupcake up to him which he gratefully accepted, Twilight's purple aura blending with a deep cerulean momentarily before being overtaken by blue. It was a simple act, but Twilight couldn’t have understood just how much it had meant to him. He looked beyond what others saw as her delivering a tasty snack to one taking the effort to show him kindness that he didn’t ask for, that he didn’t feel he deserved. "Thank you... Truly, thank you."

His reaction to her cupcake was vastly different than she had been expecting. While she set her silent chiding of herself for not spending more time on her appearance aside, she couldn’t figure out why her offering had coaxed tears to the corners of his eyes. It was like he wasn’t used to being shown simple kindness of any kind.

“It’s just a cupcake...” Cerulean let out a soft snort, smiling at the statement.

“Yes, it is, but no, it’s not.”

“Now you’re just trying to be confusing. You’re good at that, by the way.”

“I suppose so,” he replied, bringing the cupcake to eye level and staring at it. It looked and smelled delicious, no doubt the best there were in town. He prepared to take a bite when a sudden, sharp gasp turned everypony’s head to a single pink mare staring at Cerulean’s tear-filled eyes with a look of abject horror, as if his imminent consumption of the treat were some heinous crime.


Chapter 4: Prelude

"Huh, that's strange. I don't recall there being a parade today, so why is everypony dashing around Ponyville?" Pinkie Pie wondered aloud. "They better not be planning a party, not unless they invite me!" With that, she bounced after them in no real hurry, humming to herself and enjoying the warmth of the sun. A short while later, she spotted a crowd gathered around Sugarcube Corner, the uproar drawing her close. Jumping to catch a glimpse over the other ponies, she spied Twilight inside having a conversation with Mrs. Cake. "What's all the fuss about?" she thought to herself. "There's nothing that exciting about candy, except, well it's candy! So I guess that is a big deal! Still, I've never seen everypony go this crazy over candy."

She watched as Twilight received a white box from Mrs. Cake before teleporting out of the store. "Cupcakes..." Pinkie Pie said, narrowing her eyes and putting a hoof to her mouth. "I should have known!" She got ready to walk away when a loud commotion seemed to come suddenly from behind Sugarcube Corner. She stealthily made her way around the building only to find Twilight surrounded, with a strange blue stallion standing in front of her, cupcake held reverently in his hoof. “Awww, she’s giving him a cupcake! He must be really... wait, why does he look so sad? It can’t be, is it... broken?!?” Pinkie's rather loud gasp rang out over the crowd, causing every head to turn and look at her.

The mystery of the defective cupcake begged immediate investigation, and with a mind-blowing burst of speed she inserted herself between Twilight and Cerulean, looking intently at his face. "You must be new here, because I know everypony in Ponyville and I mean everypony but I don't know you so you must be new!" she squealed delightedly, temporarily distracted by the joyous occasion. Her delight quickly turned to concern as she noticed the moisture in the colt's eyes, the cupcake still perched atop his hoof and ready for consumption. Pinkie snatched it away and stared hard at it with one eye, her face the very model of seriousness. "Oh no, it’s just like I thought; you have a broken cupcake!" she wailed, then promptly stuffed it in her mouth. Running to the box she grabbed another cupcake and shoved it into the stallion's mouth without a moment's hesitation. "Cupcakes are supposed to make you happy, not sad! See? Wasn’t that one way better?"

Cerulean drew a complete blank, his mind robbed of the capacity to do anything other than sit and stare at the hyperactive pink mare in front of him. The frosting smeared all over his muzzle from the forced entry of the cupcake was ignored in the face of her boundless enthusiasm, a trait normally limited to ponies under the effects of less than legal substances. Twilight, now fully recovered from the seriousness of the cupcake transfer, was visibly trembling from trying to contain her merriment. She hadn't understood what had got him so choked up, but that was in the far recesses of her mind for the moment.

It's not even noon yet, how much sugar has this mare had?!? I find it hard to believe that anypony could ever maintain this kind of energy output for any extended duration of time. It’s astonishing, perplexing, and really, really disorienting.

"I know, since you're new and don't know anypony, we should throw you a welcome party!" Pinkie said, bouncing up and down with anticipation. Not waiting for a response, she hopped back to Sugarcube Corner to make preparations, humming happily and oblivious to the host of eyes that watched her go, every bit as confused as the frosting slathered stallion. Cerulean prepared to speak, clearing his throat once and opening his mouth, when Pinkie's face suddenly appeared in front of his. Took a step or two back, wondering if whatever this mare had was contagious. "I almost forgot to ask, what's your name mister?"

"Uh..." came his inarticulate response, mind crashing back down from its partially recovered state.

"Uh? That's a strange name. Are you sure it's not something normal like Steve? You look like a Steve," she pondered aloud, an utter lack of comprehension compounding Cerulean's addled mind further. Pinkie turned to look at Twilight who was now rolling on the ground, tears streaming from her eyes as her body convulsed with laughter. "What do you think, Twilight? Doesn't he look like a Steve?" Twilight stopped and took a few deep breaths, trying to regain control of herself, just long enough to answer the question.

"His name... Is Cerulean... Cerulean Snowgleam!" she managed before returning to her comfortable spot in the dirt, kissing restraint goodbye as her mirth flowed to her heart’s content.

"Awww, I was so close too!" Pinkie Pie pouted, turning back to him. "Anyways, it will be at 7:00 at the barn. I'm sure Twilight can show you the way, so see you then!" With that, she sped back to Sugarcube Corner to gather supplies and make preparations. Cerulean's eyes followed her exit, his mouth still agape from his speech which was interrupted before it began. He shook his head vigorously, then regarded the now breathless Twilight with a questioning look.

"What... just happened? Is she always like that?" Twilight nodded, grinning widely as she weezed, her lungs slowly resuming an even pace.

"Yeah, all the time. That's Pinkie Pie for you," she responded as her breathing frantically attempting to normalize. Twilight turned address the crowd which, while slightly shocked from Pinkie's antics, were once again staring at Cerulean and herself. "I know you're all curious about Snowgleam here, but why don't you save the questions for the party?"

"Actually," Cerulean started, "I think I can clear things up now." He took a few steps closer and stood beside Twilight. "I was attacked by wolves in the Everfree Forest last night." There was a collective cry of surprise from the crowd, which he let die down before continuing. "I was fighting for my life, and some of their blood got on me during the course of the battle. I ran out of magic before I could fend them all off, and Twilight here saved my life." The ponies began stomping their hooves in applause, congratulating Twilight. She waved a hoof to acknowledge them, and they again drew silent. "I'm sorry if I frightened anypony this morning, I know I must have been quite a frightful sight. I promise to do my best not to be a burden to anypony here, if you will have me."

"Any friend of Twilight's is a friend of ours." a voice said, all the ponies around murmured their agreement. Cerulean bowed low.

"Thank you friends... I have never felt as welcome anywhere else as I do here this day. Thank you," his soft voice was choked with emotion. Twilight put a hoof on his shoulder, causing him to flinch but not draw away. His eyes seemed vacant, open but clearly not focused on the ground where they were pointed.

It’s true, they don’t really know anything about me, so of course they would accept me. But I have to wonder how long that will last... I won’t be able to hide things forever. And yet... I want to at least try one more time to find acceptance. To find somewhere I can call home.

"Come on now, none of that," Twilight said gently, She then proceeded to swipe some of the frosting from his muzzle and licked it from her hoof. "You sure are a messy eater. You won't win any hearts like that." To her relief, Cerulean let out a mighty laugh, wiping his face with a hoof, cleaning it off and relishing the sugary confection, then returned his attention to Twilight. He eyed the crowd starting to thin, and held his silence. This made Twilight nervous, unsure of just what he was thinking. "What's with that look," she ventured, scuffing at the dirt with her hoof and glancing away. Cerulean waited another moment till the rest of the ponies had gone about their business, then asked,

"So, which heart am I trying to win again?" She pushed his face away playfully, chuckling nervously and trying not to think about the fact that, yet again, her cheeks saw fit to rise in temperature.

"Certainly not this one. You're much too brutish for this mare." This caused him to pause and examine himself. While his muscles were well defined, he was by no account overly brawny.

"If I am classified as 'brutish' in your book, what does he fall under?" Cerulean said, motioning to Big Macintosh who was making his way through town square. Twilight shot him a mischievous look.

"Gentlecoltly," she said calmly, beginning to trot down the main road towards the library. Cerulean watched Big Mac for a moment before muttering "Harsh," under his breath and pursuing.

The afternoon passed uneventfully. Twilight showed Cerulean around town, though there wasn't a whole lot to show as Ponyville was quite small compared to other pony cities, so they ended up returning to Twilight's house to pass time until the party. As they approached the library, Twilight grew nervous. "I know it's not very glamorous, but there it is," she said, motioning to the library. Cerulean read the sign outside.

"You live in a library?" he questioned, curious if he had understood her. Twilight swallowed hard before nodding, cursing herself for being so nervous. She attempted to cover her self-consciousness with confidence, but instead it just came out as cross.

"Is that a problem?" she responded forcefully, her voice firm as she became defensive. Cerulean shook his head.

"Are you really that concerned with what I think?" he asked, causing Twilight to stop in her tracks. She had never been concerned with what other ponies thought, going about her studies and ignoring the general flow of society, choosing learning over things like popularity and trendiness. But he was right that she was concerned, and it bothered her even more that it was obvious to him.

"Am I really that transparent?" she muttered softly. Cerulean chuckled, continuing to walk a ways before turning to look at her.

"Maybe, maybe not. I'm just fairly good at gauging ponies." He waited for Twilight to catch up before continuing. "Twilight, you don't have to worry about what I think. Just be yourself, it's who you're meant to be," he said softly. Twilight flashed him a grateful smile, her worries considerably eased by the kindness in his voice. Even though she had only met Cerulean that morning, it felt like he had been her friend for a long time. Her good graces were short lived, however, as she entered the library to find books still strewn about, Spike apparently selecting only to hear the "have a day off" bit.

"Spike, you had to pick today to slack off didn't you," she groaned, using magic to clear the books she had been studying for her premonition spell to one side. Twilight then looked at the couch, covered in no fewer than twenty thick tomes, all balanced precariously on the cushiony surface. She levitated off mound off the couch and onto the floor, the stack losing balance and tipping over as she released them from her magic. She winced at the crash, turning to apologize when her breath caught. Cerulean hadn't even noticed, himself being entranced in one of her advanced magic books. "You... like reading?" she said, barely able to contain her excitement at the prospect.

"Well, I haven't read a book in a long time," chuckled, turning to her with a rueful grin. "The truth is I've been homeless for the last four years." He closed his eyes, deep in thought. He, on his part, really didn't want to go into his past. It was something he tried never to think about. But if she asked, he resolved he was answer most any question she had; she had saved his life, after all. Snow opened his eyes to find Twilight laying beside him. "I used to read a lot, back when I was going to the Canterlot Magic Academy." Cerulean winced as Twilight shrieked, jumping upright and thrusting her face close to his.

"You went to the Canterlot Magic Academy? That's so amazing! What was it like? What kind of magic did you study?" Cerulean's brain took a few moment to process the rapid stream of words that assailed his ears.

"Yes I did, yes it was, it was exhausting and fun, and every kind," he said with a grin. "I've always enjoyed magic, and for the year and a half I was there, I made some of the best memories I have." Twilight pulled away a bit and sat down in front of him.

"A year and a half? I thought it was four years to get a degree," she said quizzically. She immediately regretted it, as she watched Cerulean's smile fade away, his eyes distant and downcast.

"It is." His voice was quiet and laden with regret.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean..." Twilight started, falling silent as he raised a hoof.

"It's all right, don't worry about it." Twilight could tell his smile was forced, but she thought better of pointing this out, remembering how he had pleaded with her not to pry. It was already threatening to drive her crazy, so rather than stoop to charm magic so soon, she instead diverted attention to the now forgotten volume laying between them.

“So... you understand what you’re reading? Let me see,” she said, scooting closer. He had, by chance, picked up the tome she had last used with researching to complete her premonition spell, a couple of pages of her notes stuck in the book to mark a pertinent section. Cerulean perked up at the change of subject, relieved that no further prodding had occured. She would, for better or worse, likely find out sooner rather than later. "This book is quite interesting, but these notes are even more intriguing. I don't understand all of it, but it seems to be a collection of theories on telling the future?" Twilight nodded, eager to have somepony to talk to about her magic, since such advanced works were well beyond the comprehension of any of her friends.

"I have been working on creating a spell that lets me see a short distance into the future. More to prove it can be done than anything else. Or rather, that it can be done by somepony other than Starswirl the Bearded. He came up with many amazing spells, but I don’t want to simply copy them. I’d rather do the research myself and create my own."

"That's incredible, you must be extremely talented to attempt such a thing. Have you had any success with it?" he asked, leaning forward eagerly.

"You mean with seeing the future? Well, yes and no. The spell worked, just not like I had intended." Noting the look of confusion, she explained that the night she attempted to cast it she had a dream about him being in the forest. He sat wide eyed, her description matching perfectly what had happened.

"I'd say your spell worked quite well. Everything happened exactly as you described," Cerulean said, shaking his head and regarding her with admiration. "I am truly impressed, Twilight. Still though, you meant for the spell to take effect right away, correct?" Twilight nodded, waiting a moment to answer while she relished the praise. Ego or not, it was nice to have somepony who could appreciate her magic at a deeper level than, “Oh, hey, that was nifty!”

"It's usefulness, as it is right now, would be quite limited, since it only takes effect when I sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I'm glad it worked in the first place. It proves that it's even possible, for one. Plus, it made it so I could save you." Cerulean had momentarily lost track of the conversation, choosing to admire the mare rather than the feat. Her eyes seemed to shine as she spoke of her beloved magic, her cute smile etching itself into his mind. "Cerulean?" Twilight's voice snapped him back to reality. "Are you alright?"

"Uh huh," he mumbled, speaking through a yawn as he stood up and stretched. "You should keep working at that spell. Who knows, it might come in handy again some day." Twilight shook her head.

"I do want to perfect it, but I'm not so sure I want to use it often. I'd rather let the future decide itself." Cerulean saw the wisdom in her words, the gift of foresight like a two-edged sword. If it were possible to see the future, it would be potentially possible to avert disasters. At the same time, it would be just as possible that it could cause them equally as easily. Twilight walked a short distance away and closed her eyes. She recalled the spell she had cast the night before and, making a few mental tweaks, gathered the required magic and cast it. She blinked as her vision was obscured by a purple haze that slowly faded.

"Did it work?" Cerulean walked up beside her, regarding her with curiosity.

"Nope, at least not right away like I had intended. However, the first time I used it, the vision didn't come for several hours, so I won't know the outcome for sure until some time has passed." At the mention of time she looked up at the clock. There was still an hour or so before they needed to leave for the party. Twilight suddenly realized just how exhausted from the previous night she was. "I don't mean to be a poor host, but I'm quite tired from my foray into the forest," a grin playing at her lips as she spoke in a formal tone. "I am going to lay down for a nap. Feel free to use my couch to rest. Or, if you're hungry, you may grab something to eat from the fridge."

"Tis a most gracious offer, thank you Twilight," Cerulean said, bowing low. Twilight rolled her eyes and proceeded up the stairs, waving him off. Cerulean sat on the floor, mulling over everything that had happened. He placed a hoof to his chest, allowing the feeling that had been slowly rising from within to have free reign for a bit so he could examine it more fully. Unfortunately, it wasn’t something he had ever felt before, nor something he could adequately describe. What he did know is that he desired the warmth that it brought, and the strength that came with it.

"I've never felt so welcome as I do here, in this town. I've found in the course of a single day more than I have held in my hooves for four years, saved from the brink of death. And that mare," he whispered, peering up towards the second floor. "Maybe she can release me from my perpetual winter."


Chapter 5: Ponypile!

Twilight had just fallen asleep when an image began to form in her mind's eye. "Another vision?" She watched as her sight carved a path from her house to Sweet Apple Acres. It dropped low to the ground and entered into a lit barn, filled with her friends from Ponyville. "This must be the party. Strange though, why is everpony so quiet?," she thought. And that's when she saw herself lying on the floor towards the back, Cerulean on top of her, their lips almost touching. The crowd of ponies were staring straight at them, and she noticed shortly thereafter that Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy were all present, their faces flushed with embarrassment. Well, mostly just Fluttershy. Her friends met the situation each with their own thoughts on the subject, though Applejack stood out the most; she looked ready give Cerulean a beat down.

Twilight woke with a gasp, her head spinning from sitting up so quickly. "Is he really that type of pony? I just don't buy it," she muttered, her mind whirling from the revelation. She could neither deny what she saw nor the fact that the last vision she had had came true exactly as she saw it. “Ok, calm down, Twilight. You don’t know what happened just before, there must be a reason. A sound, logical reason why he would be... be on top of...” Ok, listen up, heart. You need to stop beating so fast. That is unnacceptable, as nothing like that is going to happen, got it?

Noting the telltale glow of her horn, she attempted to bury such thoughts in the back of her mind before looking at the clock, giving a start as she realized they’d have to leave soon in order to avoid falling under the dreaded category of “tardy.” Punctuality was important to Twilight, so, even though she didn't feel like moving in the slightest, she dragged herself out of bed, fixed her hair, and went downstairs, thankful that her horn had resumed its usual appearance by the time she made it to the first floor.

The blue stallion was asleep on the couch, facing away from her. Twilight blushed as she approached, the sight of him causing the vision to resume the loop it had been playing on and making her approach somewhat more embarrassing than she cared to consider. Berating her overactive imagination, she prepared to wake him when she noticed he was shivering. Not just a momentary shiver like when a chilly wind blows through the room, but a consistent shiver of somepony who is desperately trying to get warm. She placed a hoof on his shoulder and quickly pulled it away, her state moving from flustered to anxious; he was as cold as ice. It was then that she noticed a thin layer of ice on the couch where he was sleeping, and she realized his magic was draining out just like it had been that night in the forest.

Cerulean sat motionless in the midst of a raging blizzard. Even for him, who had a passion for the snow, this eternal storm had chilled him to the bone, a tiny flame of hope the only warmth he had left. He held it to his chest, sheltering it from wind and sleet. Nearly his whole body had already been numbed. This was the world he lived in when night came, always cold, always alone. A sudden burst of light caused his hooded eyes to open. The tiny blue flame suddenly flared purple, growing ever so slightly. A single tear rolled down his cheek, disbelief overtaken by unbridled joy in a joyless wasteland, and he lifted his eyes to the gray skies as a familiar voice beckoned him from the land of dreams.

"Cerulean? Cerulean, are you ok?" He looked over his shoulder slowly, gaining his bearings and seeing a concerned Twilight anxiously waiting for an answer, her hoof resting gently on his shoulder. He looked away again, his voice betraying him and removing any hope of his words sounding believable.

"I'm fine." Twilight waited a few seconds, hoping he'd continue. When it became apparent he had no intention of elaborating, she tugged gently, rolling him over so he was forced to look her in the eyes.

"No, you're not," she pressed. Cerulean was about to protest when she reached down and gently wiped a tear from his face. He sat up slowly, leaning against the couch and staring down at his hooves.

Everypony I’ve told since that day has turned away. And this... I don’t want to lose whatever it is that I’m starting to find here. I want... to believe that she can accept me, but I’ve lost so much... He lifted his eyes to meet hers, silently waging his war before taking a leap of faith, choosing hope over fear. "If I tell you, you have to promise not to run," he said quietly, the fear causing his voice to waver. Twilight was taken aback by the statement, but given the delicacy of the situation she knew she needed to respond without hesitation.

"I promise. I would never abandon a friend." she said confidently. He searched her face, and she matched his gaze while he dug down deep to find the courage to speak, remaining quiet for a time before continuing.

"Remember how I said I have been homeless these last four years?" Twilight nodded slowly, recalling the words. "Something... happened to me four years ago." He stopped, swallowing hard. Twilight was eager to hear but forced patience, waiting for him to continue. "Part of me died, Twilight." The weight of his words shocked her. The way he said the word "died" left no doubt in her mind that he wasn't using the term lightly. He motioned to his flank, where the snowflake cutie mark was. "This is only half of my cutie mark. The other half... disappeared that night. Half of what made me myself just... vanished."

Twilight's mind was reeling from the information. Never, in all her studies had she read of such a thing happening. Cerulean's head hung low, his head again bowed as the burden of his past that he dutifully buried came upon him once more. "Ever since, I've had recurring nightmares. My magic flows of its own accord, as you can see,” he murmured, tracing a lazy path through some of the fast melting snow. Twilight couldn’t begin to think of a way to approach the situation. What could she possibly say to comfort somepony that, if what he said was true, had lost half of their heart? Remembering how he had perked up when talking about magic, she diverted the conversation in that direction.

“I know you probably don’t want to answer this, but how does that even work?” He gave her an incredulous look and a questioning stare. “I’m sorry, I... don’t really know what to say. I wasn’t trying to pry, and I wasn’t ignoring what you said.” She felt like she were on the verge of tears, helpless to render assistance to the stallion sitting beside her. Such brokenness wasn’t something she had seen since she had caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror after Discord had turned her friends away.

“Twilight, rules of magic theory aside, would you agree that magic comes from within?” Cerulean said, answer her question with a question.

“Of course, that’s basic unicorn physiology. Our bodies generate magic, which is then focused and released through the horn with the appropriate spell.” Cerulean nodded, attempting to put into words what simply came naturally to him.

“Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve used magic without stopping to think? No focus at all, just pure instinct.”

“Well, yeah, most every unicorn does at some point, but that’s just the subconscious finding the appropriate spell before your mind can recognize it.”

“That’s what they taught at the academy, too. Oh, the arguments I got in with my professors...” Cerulean muttered with a weak laugh, not looking the slightest bit amused. “I would offer you this to think about; if magic comes from within, then perhaps it can be weaved with the heart, not the mind.” It was a breach of the commonly accepted norms, but then, it was also magic. There were many things that couldn’t be explained fully, and thus rather than scoff at what many would consider a ludicrous notion, Twilight mulled it over in her head. She temporarily shoved her spirit of scientific inquiry aside to give the stallion her full attention as he continued.

“I can never seem to escape my past." The memories of his friends systematically abandoning him brought tears to his eyes, causing them to clench shut. "That night, in the forest, I had nearly given up on life. For four years I've searched, trying to find a way to resurrect the side of me that has died, to no avail. But then you..." he continued, lifting his head, forcing his eyes open long enough to make look her in the face. "You pulled me back from the brink, Twilight. And I will always be in your debt for that." Cerulean flinched as Twilight's hooves encircled him, drawing him close in a warm embrace. Twilight said nothing as his body began to shake, silent tears streaming onto her shoulders and tracing a path down her back.

"You'll have to try a lot harder than that to scare me away, you know," she said softly, stroking his mane, eliciting a small laugh that sounded more like a cough than anything else. Eventually the tides dried and he pulled away, wiping his face.

"You have no idea how many ponies have walked away because of what I've just told you," he worried, not able to meet Twilight's caring gaze.

"Silly, I'm not just anypony. I'm the great and powerful Twilight Sparkle!" she declared, striking a pose. Cerulean fell off the couch, laughing at the ridiculous display.

"I saw her show in Manehatten two years ago. She was all flash and no talent. I kinda felt bad for her," he gasped out between breaths, recalling the memory with glee.

"She came here and challenged me. I ended up having to calm and Ursa Minor because of her boasting. Nearly destroyed Ponyville, so I wouldn't exactly call it 'humorous,'" Twilight said with a snort. She casually glanced at the clock and realized it was already fifteen minutes passed seven. "Oh no, we're late!" She said, jumping with a start and racing to the door. Cerulean scrambled to follow her, and the two ran towards Sweet Apple Acres.

Arrival at the barn saw it dark, with no lights and no sign of anypony. Cerulean stared at it in confusion as they approached.

"What kind of party lasts less than fifteen minutes? Are you sure this is the right place, Twilight?" he questioned, peering into the darkness. She nodded once, a slight smile playing at the corners as they walked inside, whereupon Cerulean's vision exploded. The lights shot on and streamers and balloons suddenly flew around the room, a miniature maelstrom of rainbow colored fun.

"Surprise!" a myriad of voices shouted, each face beaming at the newcomer's shock. Pinkie Pie popped up in front of Cerulean, speaking much too fast for him to process before dashing over to the record player and turning on the music. Bewildered, he turned to Twilight.

“I may have only been here for a day, but something tells me it will take some time for me to master her dialect. In the meantime, perhaps you could be my translator?”

"Um... I got 'welcome,' 'Cerulean,' 'punch,' and 'dance,'" Twilight responded, shaking her head. "Come, I want you to meet my dearest friends." He nodded and followed her over to the refreshments table where Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash and Applejack were chatting. "Hey guys, I want you to give a big welcome to Cerulean Snowgleam."

"How do you do?" Rarity said, walking over. "My name is Rarity. My, you have a beautiful mane!" With this she proceeded to examine it in detail, feeling the consistency and running her hoof through it. Cerulean stood stock still, confused as to how to react the mare's invasion of his personal space. Satisfied with her assessment she stepped back.

"The pleasure is mine, Miss Rarity," he said, composing himself and bowing his head slightly. Rarity looked over at Twilight, gave her a wink and whispered "I approve," before cantering off to mingle with the guests.

"Rarity, it isn't like that!" Twilight called after her. Rarity either didn't hear or ignored the statement, leaving Twilight in a huff.

"Oh ho, look at the proper pony!" Rainbow Dash said, trotting up to Cerulean with a smirk. "I'm Rainbow Dash, fastest flier in Ponyville!" She offered a hoof, which Cerulean shook heartily.

"Nice to meetcha. We should race sometime, flying at high speeds is exhilarating," he replied with knowing smile. Rainbow Dash cocked her head, confusion turning quickly to mirth.

"Um... You do realize you don't have any wings, right?" she giggled, pointing at Cerulean's back to prove her point.

"I guess you're just too scared, then," he said with a shrug, nonchalantly staring at his hoof. Cerulean could tell that, boastful as she may be, her confidence was backed with the skill to perform. In truth he didn't know why he was pushing for a contest he couldn't hope to win, as losing wouldn't exactly impress anypony. But if he could win, maybe he could endear himself to the ponies of the town, or at least impress them enough that they wouldn’t leave him alone. Rainbow Dash, never one to turn down a challenge, promptly flew above the festivities and addressed the crowd.

"Attention everypony! The new guy, Cerulean, has challenged me to a race. It's gonna go down tomorrow, starting at the edge of Everfree and ending at City Hall." A murmur arose, the general consensus being that the wingless unicorn was sure to lose. Rainbow Dash landed in front of Cerulean who met her challenging gaze. "No hard feelings when you lose, all right?" Dash said with a wink.

"None at all, I look forward to it," he replied, nodding. Having adequately defended her pride, Rainbow Dash proceeded to stuff her face with cupcakes, turning back to the table. Applejack tipped her hat to Cerulean before turning to Fluttershy, who was hiding behind her long pink mane.

"C'mon now Shy, don't be rude t' the guest o' the party," she said, gently nudging her forward. Her greeting came out as a soft squeak which, while cute and dainty, offered little by way of communication. Cerulean could tell she was uncomfortable, and Twilight looked over as he scrutinized the mare, trying to figure out something to say.

"Try talking about animals, she really likes them," Twilight's voice whispered into his ear.

"You like animals, Miss?" Another soft squeak. Cerulean took a step closer and noticed Fluttershy flinch, her frame shaking slightly. She looked away, too frightened to look at the blue stallion in front of her. Suddenly, a small statuette of a bunny made of ice formed in front of her. She gasped and snatched it up, eyes shining as she admired the inherent cuteness of the sculpted bunny and her nervousness put to flight by the adorable likeness to one of her favorite animals.

"Oh wow, it looks so real! It even has whiskers and everything! Look at it's cute little tail..." she trailed off, enraptured. She turned to look at Cerulean, suddenly unafraid. "I'm Fluttershy. Nice to meet you, Mr. Snowgleam," she said, her delicate voice barely audible over the music and background noise. Cerulean's horn glowed briefly as he bent down and tapped the sculpture with his horn.

"It won't stay solid forever, but that should at least let it make it through the night without melting," he reassured, flashing her a smile. Fluttershy hugged it to her chest, nodding her thanks. Applejack was about to speak when a pink blur rushed to the refreshment table, devoured an entire cake in two bites, and then proceeded to begin dancing madly around the room. Pinkie Pie, in the throes of sugary bliss, remained unaware that her flailing limbs were causing no small amount of discomfort among the other guests, spilling punch and various treats to the ground. A particularly potent kick sent two ponies flying into the air; one falling on the record player, one bowling into Twilight, knocking her off balance and sending her tumbling into Cerulean.

They rolled over half way, Cerulean landing on top with his face dangerously close to Twilight's lips. They stared at each other for a moment, both blushing, unable to look away. Cerulean could feel her warm breath on his face, a sensation he found most enthralling, with Twilight in much the same position as the memory of her premonition came back. A suddenly booming laughter shook the rafters as Rainbow Dash fell a short distance to the ground, rolling in the hay that broke her fall as tears streamed from her eyes. Rarity had her face covered by her hoof, a slight smile playing at her lips. Fluttershy's eyes were wide, her face bright pink, both hooves held to her mouth. Applejack just glared, teeth making an unpleasant grinding noise as Cerulean yet again showed, in her mind, his true colors.

Pinkie Pie, no longer dancing on account of the notable silence, made her way through the crowd to see what everypony was staring at. Upon seeing Cerulean and Twilight, still in a daze from the tumble, Pinkie Pie gave a gleeful squeal. "Oh, oh I know this game! C'mon everypony, PONYPILE!" she screamed, flinging herself upon the two hapless ponies. The resulting crash reverberated the walls more than the music had that night.


Chapter 6: Warmth

Eventually, somepony fixed the music and the festivities resumed. Applejack was in a sour mood for the rest of the night, shooting angry glances at Cerulean and muttering under her breath. Twilight and Cerulean did their best to dispel any confusion over the incident, though a few of the more chatty ponies continued to spread rumors about Twilight's passionate new coltfriend. The rest of the party was nothing short of awkward for the two ponies, both putting a little distance between themselves and pointedly avoiding each other for the sake of appearances. Cerulean could all but feel the animosity being directed at him from a certain vexed earth pony that had yet again caught him at one of his more suggestive moments, unintentional or not, and it maintained steady levels until things began to wind down.

The party came to an end around eleven. Cerulean, feeling guilty for once again putting a stain on Twilight's reputation, offered to walk her home. She hesitated, watching the last few ponies leave before nodding once and beginning the short journey. Cerulean wanted to say something to break the uneasy silence, but couldn't think of anything. Even though it wasn't any fault of theirs, he still felt personally responsible and wanted to fix it.

"Twilight?" he started, voice faltering. She turned and looked at him. "I'm sorry. That's twice now I've ended up putting you in a situation that wasn't what it appeared." Cerulean turned his head away, awaiting a response. He raised his head as the face of a giggling purple mare appeared in front of his.

"That's why you're so quiet?" she laughed, smiling. Cerulean stopped as the moonlight lit up her eyes. Mesmerized by the sight, he said nothing and simply stared at her, the highlights in her mane seeming almost luminescent, emitting an almost ethereal glow. "Hello? Anypony in there?" Her face was now only an inch or two away, and he was forced to confront his feelings for what they were, as the assurance of the thought extracted itself from the tangled mess of emotions dwelling within.

"You're beautiful," Cerulean whispered. Twilight drew back, mouth slightly agape, have braced herself for sarcastic teasing rather than a statement of honest attraction. Cerulean shook his head in an attempt to break the spell she was weaving on his heart, and coughed nervously. Why in Celestia's name did I say that? The only possible reaction to something like that after only knowing a pony for a day would be to frighten them away. Way to go, me. He sighed, slammed a hoof to his forehead, then looked up at Twilight to notice that she was staring intently at him. His stomach churned, the sudden nausea causing him to flinch as he braced himself for whatever came next.

Twilight, unaware of his discomfort, was just as enraptured as he had been a moment before. His brilliant white mane was shining as bright as the moon, as if the stars had funneled all of their light into this one stallion. And his eyes... She felt like she would never tire of looking at them as they shone a dazzling aquamarine. Twilight made a mental note to personally thank Luna for causing such a magnificent scene to unfold. "I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable." Cerulean's voice snapped her back to reality. Twilight immediately noted the anxiety in his face and scarmbled to find something reassuring to say, struggling to tame the amorous thoughts that swirled around her mind.

"Don't be," Twilight said softly, walking over and lifting his head so they were looking eye to eye. "I've never been told I'm beautiful before, so it was a little... shocking to hear, is all." Cerulean's eyes grew wide.

“What is this great travesty I hear? I mean, I’ve noticed that there are a disproportionate number of females to males in this town, but never?”

"Honestly, I've never really concerned myself with romance or fashion," Twilight said with a rueful smile. "But that was really nice to hear. Thank you, Cerulean." She didn't look the least bit perturbed by his words, unless you can call beaming ear to ear upset. Cerulean breathed a sigh of relief, and returned the grin.

"I'm glad I didn't frighten you."

"Didn't I say something before about it taking more than that to scare me away?" she said teasingly. Twilight immediately regretted it, as Ceruleans smile faded into a vacant expression that clearly indicated his mind was no longer on the present.

"As somepony who has been utterly abandoned before, you'll forgive me for worrying," he whispered, closing his eyes and turning away. He half opened his eyes as Twilight's fore-hoof wrapped around his neck, drawing him close. To his relief she didn't ask what he meant, choosing instead to hold him in silence. Cerulean closed his eyes as they began to moisten, determined not to cry, when that unexplainable sensation rose once more in his chest. He could feel a warmth emanating from the mare who held him, not just on a physical level, but something else.

"You know," Twilight started, "you've only been here for a day. But I still consider you a close friend. I don't know what's gone on in your past, and when you're ready, we can talk about it. But even if that never happens, I will try my best to show you the magic of true friendship." Her words seemed to pierce through all the carefully erected barriers around his heart. He returned her embrace and said nothing, knowing he was likely break down if he tried.

Applejack, who had been secretly trailing them at a distance, stepped out from behind some bushes and made her way towards the pair, who instantly extricated themselves from each other and began to think of a way to explain the situation.

"I reckon I owe you another apology, Cerulean," she said, scuffing the ground with a hoof, temporarily derailing both ponies thoughts. After the initial shock wore off, Cerulean cleared his throat and sniffed.

"Only thing you're guilty of is worrying about a friend Well, that and eavesdropping. And stalking, if those leaves in your hair came from the scrub over yonder." Applejack gave lopsided smile before continuing.

"Ah haven't really been fair t' ya. It's clear to me there's more to this than I was seein'," she chuckled. "An’ yes, ah am worried about you an' Twi. Ah've been a touch overprotective, ah will admit." She stopped a moment, deep in thought. "In truth, ah find it hard to trust colts at all, an' when it comes to my friends bein' involved it gets even worse." She fixed Cerulean with a stern look, who did his best to meet her gaze without flinching. "I'll be straight with ya, ah still don't trust you, Cerulean. Ah know what happened at the party was likely an accident, but ah can't help bein’ skeptical, 'specially with Twilight involved. So promise me that you ain't gonna do something I'll 'ave t' make you regret."

"Well, we didn't exactly meet under ideal conditions," Cerulean laughed nervously. Applejack's eyes remained fixed on his as he spoke, judging the truthfulness behind the words. "In fact, I don't think it possibly could have been a worse introduction. I give you my word that I won't... do anything to Twilight. And I will do my best to act in a way that will ease your concerns. I wouldn't want to lose you as a friend, either." As far as Applejack could tell, his somber words held no deceit. She stared a moment longer before sighing, allowing herself a slight smile. Perhaps he would stay at two strikes, and for his safety, she hoped he would.

"Much obliged." Applejack tipped her hat and turned to leave. "You take care Cerulean, Twilight. See ya later!" She cantered off, leaving Twilight and Cerulean alone once more as she receded into the veil of night

"She's very faithful, isn't she..." Cerulean mumbled, more to himself than anypony else. Twilight heard, and nodded.

"She can be extremely stubborn sometimes, but she's always there for her friends when they need her," Twilight replied. Her expression then became indignant. "I can't believe she was following us! Honestly, that mare... can’t even trust me to be with a stallion for a day." She ceased fuming as Cerulean placed a hoof on her shoulder, reminding her to recall Applejack's first memory of him. Twilight sighed, resuming their walk. It was only a few minutes before they were at the door to her house. A note was hastily stuck to the door, hanging at a crazy angle, which read,


Spending the night at Rarity's, see you in the morning!

- Spike"

"Well, I guess this is where we part ways," Cerulean said, a hint of reluctance in his words.

"Where are you going to stay?" Twilight asked, slightly concerned. Cerulean shrugged.

"I don't really have a place to stay, but as I mentioned, I've been homeless a while now; I'm sure I'll find somewhere quiet to sleep." Twilight waited for him to laugh, but it appeared he was being serious. Cerulean gave start as his body was suddenly enshrouded with a purple aura which lifted him from the ground, through the front door, and into the main room. He was about to protest, but the look that Twilight greeted him with screamed "How could you even suggest that?" as she stood over him.

"There is no way I'm letting you sleep on the streets." Her no-nonsense tone made it very clear that resistance was futile, and he should simply accept her hospitality. Twilight saw the reluctance in Cerulean's eyes, and grew exasperated with the hesitant pony. "Stop... worrying!"

"Am I really that transparent?" he replied, managing a smile. Twilight returned the expression and adopted a softer tone.

"Honestly," she said winking, "it's not like you're my coltfriend."

“You’d... even consider that?” Dear Celestia, where’d that come from? Calling her beautiful the first day we’re together isn’t bad enough, I clearly feel the need to dig myself deeper. That’s just... that blush is too cute.

“What? Well, what I meant was... um... I don’t want you worrying about what my friends think.” Apologizing at this point would only draw more attention to an uncomfortable topic of conversations, so Cerulean caved and sat down on the couch. It wasn't very large, not even enough space to stretch out fully, but it was comfortable enough. Truth be told, he wasn't worried so much about her friends, but his magic causing trouble. Twilight had made it clear that argument would be about as effective as cutting diamonds with a cheese grater, so he made himself comfortable and returned his gaze to his generous host.

"Thank you for your hospitality, most honourable Twilight," he proclaimed in a regal voice, waving a hoof in a wide arc leading to a bow. Twilight stifled her laugh, pretending instead to ignore him. He watched her disappear upstairs, not sure what has happening until he saw a bed lowered down by magic into the center of the room. He couldn't remember the last time he had had the luxury of sleeping in a bed, and Twilight couldn’t help but chuckle a bit as he regarded the simple gift with awe.

"You can sleep here. My bed is upstairs, so this will dispel any suspicions of... that kind of thing," she said, not making eye contact. The corners of Cerulean's mouth slowly curled into an evil grin, sliding off the couch and standing a hoof length away.

"You're blushing."

"I am not!" Twilight refuted, attempting to hide her face further.

"It's rather adorable, you shouldn't try to hide it," he whispered as he snuck up beside her. Twilight was torn between smacking him playfully or thanking him for the compliment. In the end she did neither, muttering "Good night," and quickly trotting upstairs. "Twilight?" She turned and looked back, Cerulean standing at the base of the stairs. His ears drooped, and he hung his head low. "I'm sorry if I upset you."

"...You didn't." With that, she flashed Cerulean a brief smile before disappearing from view. Twilight climbed into bed but sleep was the farthest thing from her mind. Her heart was swirling with dormant emotions she didn't know existed, seemingly pulling her a million directions at once. Her stomach felt like it had been filled with butterflies that were racing a derby with no final lap. On one hoof, Cerulean's kind words caused a wellspring of joy and happiness, on the other hand they frightened and confused her. She pulled the pillow over her head and tried to empty her mind, with little success. Cerulean stood at the base of the steps for a long while, pondering the situation.

I'm never this forward. Hay, I normally can't even small talk well, so why... Suddenly thoughts of Twilight flooded his mind. Her smile, her hair, the way she walked, even her scent bombarded his senses. Ok ok, I know why, but... Cerulean had felt attraction before, as there were plenty of pretty mares at the university. This was different. There was something he couldn't place, some force that just seemed to draw him to her. He silently chided himself for thinking such things. "After all, it's only been a day," he said softly, earnestly hoping his mind would take the hint. He didn't want to have his hopes dashed again, or more importantly, hurt the mare that had already given him more than he would ever ask for. Heaving a sigh, he climbed into bed and immediately thanked Twilight in his mind for forcing him to stay, though it likely wouldn't last the night. He doubted even a cloud could be as soft as the bed in which he lay, and he was soon fast asleep.

The endless expanse of snow stretched as far as the eye could see. Cerulean shivered as the storm raged all around him, his body coated with snow, coat scratched from the relentless torrent of sleet. He shivered violently, unable to even think of controlling the tremors that wracked his body. Cerulean peered into the white void, never seeing anything but an endless sea of white, a tiny tendril of blue flame still clutched to his chest.

After thirty minutes of trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep, Twilight groaned and sat up. She quietly walked down the steps, glancing at Cerulean as he slept, not noticing the thin layer of ice and snow that had formed around him. She grabbed a glass with her magic and filled the cup some water from a pitcher on the table. She took a large swig, draining half the contents, giving a small gasp as she resumed breathing before raising the glass to finish. A sudden moan from the main room caused her to freeze with the glass halfway to her lips, listening intently. Another sound came, like a gasp of pain, and she immediately feared the worst.

Setting the cup down, she cautiously made her way towards Cerulean and stopped, listening again. Cerulean let out a whimper as he shivered violently. Twilight approached and noticed a layer of snow surrounding him. She brushed away as much as she could without waking him and waited. As if to confirm her fears, he gave another shudder and, as he did so, his horn glowed faintly, causing a flurry of snow and chilling wind to swirl around him. She placed a hoof on his shoulder and shuddered, his skin was as again as cold as the ice itself.

Little droplets of sweat that had formed on his brow, frozen by his below normal body temperature while his eyes were screwed shut as if in great pain. Twilight shook him lightly in an attempt to wake him, but he moaned and curled into the foetal position.

"Cerulean? Cerulean, please wake up," she pleaded, her voice not seeming to reach him. Her mind scrambled to come up with a solution. In an act of desperation, she cast the still incomplete premonition spell, again with no immediate result. As soon as her vision returned to normal, she ran to the kitchen and filled a bowl with hot water while checking the cupboards for a wash cloth. She quickly returned and placed warm rag upon his head, only to watch it drain of warmth and freeze. Shaking off her shock, she ran upstairs and grabbed all the spare blankets she had and piled them atop Cerulean. She waited for a time, each minute feeling like an hour as she hoped to see an improvement, but after ten minutes and no sign of any change, she became frantic.

Her mind raced until coming to rest on the only solution she could find. She brushed away the newly formed snow and pulled back the blankets, sidling in behind Cerulean. She gave a sharp gasp as his ice cold flesh made contact with hers, causing her to shiver violently. Slowly, she wrapped him in her arms and drew him close, burying her muzzle into his mane. Her body shook in unison with his as they shivered, snow gently lighting on her legs and neck. A single snowflake touched her cheek, slowly melting and running down her chin. "I'm not going to let you suffer alone," she whispered, pulling him closer. He may have been abandoned in the past, but Twilight wasn’t going to add her name to the list. If his magic really was born of the heart, then the pain that he must bare to cause a reaction like this... was beyond her ability to fathom.

Cerulean's eyes opened wide as he was suddenly coated in purple flames. He stared at the blue flame in his hoof. It began to grow, slowly coaxed to life by the warmth of the flames swirling around his body. The tempest continued to rage, but the flames repelled the snow and wind. Life coursed through his body. He stopped shivering as the fire flooded him from the inside out, melting the snow he was partially buried under. He clutched his hoof to his heart, allowing the comforting blaze to slowly breathe life into his frozen limbs.

Twilight felt warmth return to Cerulean's body as the shivers subsided, his moans quieting into soft snores. "Thank Celestia," she whispered, levitating the mass of blankets off and replaced them, choosing a few of the least frozen ones. She attempted to adjust her position, and as she moved she felt Cerulean press himself against her. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere, Cerulean. Just rest.” She smiled warmly and drew him close once more, quickly falling into a contented slumber.

The Race

Chapter 7: The Race

Twilight found herself looking at the edge of Everfree forest. A crowd of ponies had gathered and were chatting excitedly. A starting line had been drawn, and she saw Rainbow Dash and Cerulean lined up behind it, each taking their position. The announcer started the countdown. Twilight watched with anticipation as Cerulean's horn began to glow, his whole body soon wrapped in blue light. Three... Two... One... and then there was a sound akin to an explosion as every pony was bowled over, and Twilight's vision went white.

Sunlight had begun to filter through the windows, filling the room with light. Twilight, refusing to move from the comfort of the warm bed, buried her face deeper into a most fantastic feather blanket and squeezed her pillow tightly, which had somehow overnight gained the characteristics of a heater as well. She was slightly surprised to hear said pillow respond with a grunt, which she saw fit to let slide due to the comfort that it provided. The pillow proceeded to amaze her further by rolling over, and she lessened her grasp and stared sleepily into Cerulean’s eyes, who was just as confused. He looked into her bleary eyes, then to her hooves still wrapped around his chest.

Most ponies run from my nightmares, but this mare actually confronted them. How long has she been here? It must have been terribly cold, but... wait, where is the snow? I’m normally half buried by morning. Was this... was that warmth from her? "...Twilight?" he started, faltering. The sudden realization that her feather blanket was no feather blanket, but was in fact his mane caused no small alarm on her part. In her haste to extract herself from him, she found herself painfully upside down on the floor, her hind legs poking up over the edge of the bed. "Twi, are you ok?" Cerulean said, poking his head out and staring down at her.

"What does it look like?" she moaned, massaging her head with both hooves. Cerulean climbed down from the bed and sat behind her, lifting her head and using his magic to generate a soft pile of snow. He gingerly laid her head back down, a soft sigh escaping her lips as the cool snow soothed the inflammation at the base of her skull. She cracked an eye open to find Cerulean gazing down at her, which she wouldn’t have minded were it not for that slightly offsetting grin he wore. "What are you looking at?"

"I wonder," he muttered. Twilight was about to ask just what he was wondering about when she felt his hoof begin to furiously rub her ribs. She burst into a fit of giggles, feebly trying to pry his hooves away. The torment was short lived, though the laughter continued well after he withdrew his hoof. He adopted a studious expression, nodding once before sticking his face close and giving her a devilish grin. "My hypothesis was quite correct; you're ticklish." Twilight jumped to her feet and backed away, trying to glare at him but failing miserably.

"Don't even think about it, Snowgleam!" He made a dash forward only to have a rather large tome inexplicably fall on his head. He rubbed the point of impact for a moment before generating a small pile of snow atop his head to soothe the rising lump, preparing to make a second attempt. To his dismay, the entire shelf emptied itself at once, burying him under a pile of dust and books. "I said not to think about it, silly." Cerulean clawed his way to the top of the pile, gasping for air and choking on the dust.

"That's fighting dirty," he said with a grin, scattering the books as he stood up, shaking out his coat.

"All is fair in love and war," Twilight quipped, brushing past him and into the kitchen.

"Oh, is that what this is?" Cerulean winced as he heard a glass break on the floor.

"D-don't be s-stupid!" Twilight stammered.

"You wear pink well, it becomes you," Cerulean said, motioning her rosy cheeks with a hoof as she stuck her head out. Replying with an exasperated groan, Twilight returned to clean up the mess in the kitchen. Cerulean examined his coat to find his fur was still damp from the snow, and the dust had formed blotches of gray mud all over his body. "I'm kind of a mess now, thanks to a certain somepony’s breach of the rules of tickle warfare. Would it be alright if I took a shower?" he called into the kitchen. Another crash.

Twilight's mind temporarily took a hiatus from rationality and drifted into the realm of dreams. Cerulean emerged from the shower, clouds of steam billowing up behind him as he slowly strode towards her, his alluring teal eyes fixed solely upon her. Twilight traced the droplets of water as they ran down his tone, muscular...

"Ahhhhhhhhhhh!" Twilight suddenly screamed, causing Cerulean to come rushing to investigate. His presence merely compounded the hallucinations, which continued despite Twilight's best efforts to stop them. Her cheeks were well passed pink, a deep crimson overtaking most of her face, which was now covered by her hooves.

"Uh..." he started to speak, but Twilight shooed him away as the Cerulean in her mind bid her join him for some steamy fun.

"It's upstairs, just go!" Cerulean, seeing the color of her face, put two and two together and left without a word, beaming as he ascended the stairs. He found the shower easily enough, and the warming cascade soon emptied his mind. Twilight, her heart rate nearly back to normal, was nervously trying to reconstruct the broken glasses that she had dropped. A short dose of magic and the cups were good as new, which she filled with water. She then pulled out two plates and set an apple, carrot, and stalk of celery on each. Satisfied things were ready, she set out to begin organizing the main room, which by now was an absolute disaster.

Twilight soon became engrossed in a tome she had forgotten about, the cleaning abandoned for the sake of knowledge. She lay on her stomach, hind legs kicking up and down as she absorbed all the book had to offer. She didn't hear Cerulean descend the stairs and walk up behind her, now clean and well groomed. He silently leaned over her shoulder and read along with her. It seemed to be detailing the intricacies of a spell made by an ancient unicorn, powerful enough to move mountains.

"This spell sounds quite interesting," he mumbled to himself. Twilight nodded, too entranced to be surprised at her friend's sudden return. Twilight began to explain at length the concept and theories regarding the spell, her love of knowledge in clear display. Cerulean listened quietly, asking the occasional question and grinning as Twilight seemed to come alive, making dramatic motions to illustrate her points and jumping from theory to theory without pause. Twilight stopped as she noticed his grin and drew silent.

"I'm sorry, you probably didn't need to know any of that. It's just so easy to get carried away. Nobody else here really knows a lot about magic, so..." she sighed, shooting him an apologetic glance. Cerulean's expression grew gentle.

"I recall telling you," he said quietly, "to just be yourself. You should never betray that, not for anypony." Twilight could tell from his face that he was speaking from experience. "Besides, I was kind of an egghead myself, for a while," he continued, smiling. "I studied at Canterlot Magic Academy, remember? I got my cutie mark because of magic and a love for the snow, or at least what’s left of it. So don't feel afraid to geek out on me, ok?" Twilight hesitated a moment before launching into a lecture on the finer points of the many adventures of Daring Do as a test. Having read most of the series himself, he made a point of completing any quotations she attempted to make, eliciting squeals of glee each time he did so, and making a mental note of the ones he didn't recognize. While he had been homeless, he shelved his studies on magic for the the most part, but occasionally visited libraries to read the thrilling adventure tales as an escape from everything his life had become. It wasn't long before the time for the race drew near, and with some reluctance he bid the library farewell, turning his mind to the task at hoof.

There was a great crowd of ponies already gathered by the time Cerulean and Twilight made it to fringe of the forest. They were still discussing Daring Do when Rainbow Dash overheard and swooped in.

"Twilight, I just finished 'Daring Do and the Gryphon's Goblet!’ It was beyond awesome!" she exclaimed, eyes shining with admiration as she recalled her fictional hero's exploits. Rainbow Dash's jaw dropped as Cerulean proceeded to quote the closing paragraph, line for line.

"One of my favorites of the series, read it more times than I can count," he said, grinning at her. Rainbow Dash regarded Twilight with a coy smile.

"You nabbed yourself a fellow egghead, didn’t ya?" she said, laughing.

"You do realize you fall in that category as well, right?" Twilight replied, her tone flat. Rainbow Dash immediately covered Twilight's mouth with a hoof.

"Shhhh, don't blow my cover! I'm sorry, all right?" Twilight smirked as Rainbow Dash removed her hoof slowly to make sure Twilight didn't try to say anything more on the subject.

"Attention, may I have your attention please! Will the contestants please make their way to the starting line!" The announcer's voice boomed over the megaphone.

"Looks like it's time for the fun to begin!" Rainbow Dash said, excitedly stretching her wings. Cerulean turned to follow when Twilight stopped him. She briefly explained her dream, asking if he had any idea what it would mean, or what could cause the explosion. Cerulean sat in thought for a moment, then gave her a nod.

"I'm glad you mentioned something. My take off will likely be pretty violent, so I will ask to start a good distance away from anypony," he said, his face serious. Twilight asked what he meant, to which he mouthed the words "You'll see," and made his way towards the announcer to explain his request. The announcer agreed, and a separate starting line a good twenty feet from everypony was drawn. Rainbow Dash, already enthusiastically trotting in place at the starting line, called out to Cerulean as he passed.

"You ready to get smoked, Snowgleam?" she said, grinning widely and spreading her wings. Cerulean whispered something in her ear as he passed, leaving an indignant Rainbow Dash glaring after him. "I'm not an egghead," she muttered, scoring the ground with a hoof. Rarity, Spike, and Fluttershy called out support from the sidelines as passed by, and he acknowledged them with a nod. Cerulean made it to the starting position and closed his eyes, clearing his mind. The spell which he was about to attempt had only worked once, and drained an incredible amount of magic. The slightest distraction could be catastrophic, not just for him but for everypony nearby, as it mixed a spell he had crafted for flight with a spell made to create a shockwave.

Cerulean regulated his breathing, barely hearing the announcer explain the rules, which were simple to begin with; first one to town hall wins, no tricks or playing dirty. His entire body began to glow, radiating a brilliant blue light.

"3!" came to voice of the announcer. He focused the magic in his mind, tightening it. "2!" A drop of sweat ran down his muzzle, as the magic evenly distributed itself, converging into two foci just above his shoulders. "1!" He snapped his eyes open, completing the transformation. A cry of surprise and awe sounded from the crowd as enormous blue skeletal wings formed on his back in a shower of snow. He drew them full spread, waiting for the final mark. "Go!" With one massive flap of his wings, there was a concussive blast akin to thunder, and Cerulean was gone from sight. The crowd watched with gaping mouths, unaware of the snow that had sprayed in a forty foot radius of where Cerulean had been standing just a second before.

Rainbow Dash had been fast enough starting to escape the blast, but to her dismay she saw Cerulean leading her by a good amount, even given that he was flying at a forty five degree angle. She gritted her teeth and pushed harder, determined not to be dethroned by a newcomer, and a unicorn at that! She didn't know where those wings had come from, but she wasn't gonna just lay down and let him win. Cerulean, unbeknownst to her, had almost reached his limit, each flap of the mighty wings draining a little more feeling from his limbs. It was only two days ago that his body had nearly been emptied of magic entirely, and most of the magic he had was borrowed.

"If I can just... Get a little higher..." he said through gritted teeth, straining to keep his limbs from hanging loosely at his sides. "Closer... Closer!.." And then, with nearly no strength left, he gave one last flap, curling the wings to his side and dive bombing straight towards the finish line, barely visible from his height. The world began to rush by as he steadily picked up speed. A rainbow streak below was making a good effort catching up to him, but he allowed himself a weary smile at the distance she would have to close to win.

“Ah have t’ admit, what that unicorn’s doin’ with magic is impressive,” Applejack murmured, watching Cerulean soar toward where she and Pinkie Pie were waiting at the finish line.

“I know! I never expected Cerulean to be able to fly like that, and to beat Rainbow Dash too!”

“He ain’t won yet, Pinkie. Rainbow won’t let go o’ victory that easily.” A lavender flash behind her caused her to turn away momentarily as she nodded to Twilight, who had teleported to the city hall for a front row seat to the finish. “Twilight, your friend sure knows how t’ show off.”

“Applejack, why do you sound so... I don’t know, agitated? Is everything ok?”

“Ah just hope he knows what he’s doin’. Ah don’t... Pinkie, is that what I think it is?” Applejack inquired, pointing towards the mare’s tail which was quivering violently.

“Twitcha twitch, twitcha twitch!”

A searing pain lanced through Cerulean’s horn as his vision began to fade to black, having drained his magic reserves in a woeful miscalculation of his abilities. He tried to re-focus his magic but another wave of pain caused him to cry out, holding both hooves to his head. His wings shattered, leaving him hurtling headlong towards the ground below, his inner castigation being the final thoughts before losing consciousness. I really am an idiot, to think that I could pull something like this off so soon after that night... But, I just... I just wanted to prove myself, Twilight. But now, I’ll never have that chance.

Rainbow Dash chanced a glance at her opponent and watched in horror, her competitive spirit being overwritten by one overwhelming conclusion; that unicorn was going to kill himself. The speed he was pulling and the angle of his descent would make it impossible to stop in time unless he started slowing his dive in the next few seconds, even with wings that large. Rainbow Dash was debating what to she could do when she saw his wings burst, the sunlight refracting and shooting rainbows in all directions as the shards of ice caught the sunlight. Without hesitation, she put on a burst of speed, pushing to her limits in an attempt to get ahead of him. It was no good; even at the speed of sound, he had made it too far ahead to catch up.

Twilight had teleported to the finish line, eager to see who would win. As the last rainbows danced off the remnants of Cerulean's wings and faded from sight, an overwhelming, consuming fear gripped Twilight. She couldn't think of anything that could help; all her spells were being repelled by her terror. All the memories from the last two days flashed before her in a moment, and her mind went blank as she yelled out his name.

"Ceruleaaan!" Her magic started flowing wildly, coating her in a dancing lavender aura. Applejack was about to place a hoof on her shoulder to calm her down when she disappeared, her hoof falling through the air and dropping to her side. Applejack snapped her head back as her worst fears were confirmed; a tiny purple dot had joined the fast closing blue speck in the sky.

"That girl is gonna git herself killed!" Applejack whispered to herself, backing slowly. She looked at the other ponies gathered around who sat stunned. "C'mon y'all, clear out! They're headed this way! Pinkie Pie, where n' tarnation is yer trampoline?" Applejack turned to Pinkie Pie, who up to this point had been gaping open mouthed, not breathing. Still not breaking eye contact with the pair, she pulled out an oversized trampoline seemingly out of thin air, slamming it to the ground. "Pinkie, snap out o' it an’ help me aim this thing!" Applejack said, taking a side. Pinkie shook her head vigorously and grabbed the other side, together moving it towards the assumed point of impact.

Cerulean found himself falling, the raging blizzard whipping him violently. He clenched the blue flame to his chest as he saw the ground come into view below. A single tear ran down his face and accepted his fate as the world unraveled around him, the sky turning crimson. He felt an intense heat and opened his eyes to see his body wrapped in a purple inferno. Everything froze as a voice penetrated through his subconscious and into the nightmare.

"Cerulean, wake up!" Cerulean snapped his eyes open. He was hurtling at a terrifying speed towards the ground, wrapped in Twilight's arms as they fell headlong. Twilight looked up into his face in time to see him mouth the words "Thank you," before he closed his eyes. I can’t let this mare die, not after giving me life. I was foolish, I was desperate, and I could accept death as a punishment for that. But now, it’s not just me who is going to suffer.

"Twilight, please lend me your strength," he whispered, touching his horn to hers. Twilight squeezed tighter poured out as much magic as she could into his horn, covering them in a shimmering light that was constantly shifting between purple and blue. There was a blinding flash as they were encased in a sphere of ice, the continued flow of magic reinforcing it again and again. Cerulean held Twilight close, and for a moment, it seemed like everything was going to be all right. There was a deafening crash as they hit the ground, and every building in Ponyville trembled from the reverberations of the impact.


Chapter 8: Promises

Consciousness slowly returned to Twilight due to the muffled shouts echoing all around her. She refused to move due to the biting cold that had numbed the tips of her limbs, and she screwed her eyes closed as the nausea inducing headache kicked in. Whatever she was laying on was ice cold, and while uncomfortable for most of her body, it was soothing for her head.

Then the memories came back, and she opened her eyes to find herself lying on top of Cerulean. She opened her eyes and slowly, painfully stood upright before gasping in shock as she beheld the stallions dire condition. There were traces of blood along his back where the bottom layer of ice had shattered and dug deep. The amount of blood he had lost was minimal, due to the low temperature freezing the wound shut shortly after being opened, but the most worrisome fact was that the air had remained as cold as it had. Just as she feared, his horn was glowing softly as his regret manifested into reality.

“Cerulean, why... why would you try something so foolish?” The shouting outside caused her to look up, noticing that they were still trapped within a large half-sphere of ice. She could make out the forms of ponies all around, bucking the ice and making nary a dent. Walking over, she placed her horn to the wall, attempting to analyze the structure of the spell only to find there wasn’t one. “This... this is what you were talking about, isn’t it, Cerulean? But, how do I take it down then?” If he can do it, so can I. I’m the Element of Magic, and I’m not going sit here and do nothing. He needs a doctor, I have to help... Touching her horn again to the structure, she closed her eyes and began gathering magic in her horn, her mind filled not with her theories and spells, but a singular desire to escape their icy tomb. Flooding the ice with her magic, it began to crack, lavender fractures racing through and finally shattering, letting the in the sunlight.

“Twi, are you ok?” Applejack yelled, jumping in and wrapping the tired mare in her hooves. “Ah thought we lost ya, Twilight. Ahm glad yer safe.”

“Thank you, Applejack, but Cerulean...”

“Is a damned fool,” she growled, stepping back and eyeing the stallion with contempt. “Look at what he did, Twilight.” Twilight raised her eyes and looked around, but she wished she could deny it. Discounting the sea of angry glares being directed at Cerulean, the impact had seemingly caused tremors on par with an earthquake, as shattered windows and broken supports were among a few of the damages on clear display around Ponyville. “Ah want him gone, Twilight. Ponyville has no need for a stallion like that.”

“Applejack, he’s hurt, he needs a doctor! He wasn’t trying to do this, you have to know that!”

“If you weren’t a good friend t’ me I’d give you an earful, defendin’ him like that. You ‘aven’t even known him a week. Fine, go ahead and take him to the clinic, but if he don’t have a good reason fer his actions, ah want ‘im gone. An’ if you don’t comply, ah’ll buck him out myself.” Applejack’s sentiments were shared by nearly every other pony around, and as she turned and walked away, so did everypony else, save Pinkie Pie who walked over and sat next to Twilight.

“I don’t want him gone, Twilight. He seems like a nice pony.”

“Thanks, Pinkie. He is, he just... somethings going on with him, I just don’t know what. I want to help, but until he let’s me in there’s nothing I can do.”

“Silly, that’s not true. You’re being his friend! Friendship is, like, the greatest thing ever! At least, greatest thing that can’t be eaten. Speaking of which, I’m famished! I’m going to grab some cupcakes, would you like me to bring you some?”

“Sorry, Pinkie, I’ll have to pass. I don’t think I could stomach anything.”

“Twilight, you better hurry, that looks really bad,” Pinkie urged, suddenly serious. Twilight followed the direction of her hoof over to Cerulean’s back, where the sudden rise in temperature was allowing the blood to flow once more. Without a thought she grabbed Cerulean and teleported into the lobby of the clinic, whereupon Nurse Redheart immediately called for assistance, rushing Cerulean to an empty bed and bandaging his wounds. Doctor Stable came in midway during the process, monitoring his vitals and hooking him up to various machines.

“Is he going to be ok?”

“Twilight, I can’t really say. Thanks to your prompt arrival, he hasn’t lost very much blood, but his pulse is incredibly low. His heart could give out at any minute, unless his condition improves.” A brief flash from his horn caused his heart to skip a beat, and an agonizing three seconds passed before the next beep came from the monitor. Twilight was already tired, whatever spell he had used consumed much of her magic, but she refused to walk away and just hope for the best. Even if nopony else could see it, she knew that there must be a reason for him to be like this, and she wasn’t letting him leave the world without knowing; those kinds of unanswered questions were the worst.

So, without another word on the matter, she climbed up onto the bed next to him, wrapped her hooves around him, and held him close. Ignoring the burning sensation as her already slightly frostbitten limbs cried out against the sudden rush of cold, she gently touched her horn to his and began to transfer some of her magic, slowly and evenly.

“Twilight, whatever you’re doing is helping. His heart rate is improving.” She allowed a small sigh of relief but said nothing, continuing to bequeath a trickle of life-giving magic over to Cerulean. Within a few minutes, his body temperature began to rise to normal levels, and as the last of the cold left she canceled the flow and lay exhausted by his side.

“Twilight, you’re really going out on a limb for him.” She turned wearily at Spike’s voice, who had at some point entered the room.

“Yes, Spike. Friendship isn’t just about when times are fun, but being there for other ponies when things are hard, too. And this stallion hasn’t had anypony to be there for him for a long time, so regardless of what others may feel, I’m not going to cast him away just because things are hard.”

“You know, a lot of ponies in Ponyville just want him gone. I mean, have you seen the town?” Twilight nodded, turning back to Cerulean.

“I’m not blind to what’s happened, Spike. I’m not happy with him either, but I know there’s a reason behind all of this.”

“If you say so. Everypony is pitching in to help with the repairs, and I bet you could help things along with your organization and magic.” Twilight knew she should, but she didn’t want to leave Cerulean alone. With as much enmity as there was surrounding him, the last thing he need was to wake from a near death experience to a world full of angry ponies. But she had done what she could, and even while she was drained emotionally and magically, she could at least help with the organization.

“You’re right, Spike, I’ll be right out,” she replied, giving Cerulean one more squeeze. “Hang in there, Cerulean. We’ll get through this.” Unfortunately, when she returned that evening, Cerulean hadn’t woken up. Nor the next morning. Worry and fear seemed to grow with each passing hour, and by the third day, Twilight was too sick to leave the house, not having eaten so much as an apple in the last forty-eight hours. All she could do was hope for his recovery, her studies forgotten in the face of her singular desire to see Cerulean well. Even to Twilight, the importance seemed irregularly high, but she couldn’t deny it. She wouldn’t deny it.

Cerulean awoke to a rhythmic beeping noise off to his right. He blinked a few times through bleary eyes, not able to see anything but a blur. He feebly raised a leaden hoof and rubbed his eyes, causing the dull throb in the back of his head to intensify. As his vision cleared, a quick scan of the surroundings revealed it to be a hospital room. His whole body felt drained of every last bit of energy, though that didn't surprise him; he had pushed himself far past his limit with his foolish bravado.

Was I really that desperate to win their approval? To impress Twilight and her friends? He examined his body, finding bandages around his chest and forelegs. I can hardly believe how moronic I was. I bet Twilight’s going to be furious. Wait, Twilight! The thought struck him like a thunderbolt, and suddenly all he could think about was if she was safe. He looked over at the machinery next to him and found the "Page Nurse" button, hitting it several times before waiting anxiously for someone to approach. He was about to hit it again when nurse Redheart entered the room, and he fired off his inquiry before she even had a chance to close the door. "Where's Twilight, is she hurt?"

"Calm down, she's fine. She was actually the pony that brought you here, and she didn’t have any injuries that required our assistance, though she did have help in healing you. You scared everypony half to death with that little stunt. I hear it took several earth ponies a full hour just to fill in the crater you left." Cerulean hung his head, too ashamed to speak in his own defense.

"I'm just glad she's safe..." he whispered, hooves held to his face. "Was everypony else all right?"

"Fortunately, there were no other injuries save your own. What you did was reckless, and there are quite a few ponies that want you out of Ponyville after that. However..." she said, sitting down beside the bed, "there is a certain mare by the name of Twilight that has been here every day to check on you since." She saw the confusion on his face, and shook her head. "Cerulean, you've been unconscious for three days."

"Three days?" He stared blankly, mouth agape and failing to fill his lungs with oxygen. Cerulean had heard every word, but he couldn't believe it. He forced his breathing to return to normal, trying to get his bearings and fight the torrent of self-hatred which seemed to be flooding every inch of his soul. Nurse Redheart remained silently seated by the bed, awaiting further questions. After a time and with great hesitation, Cerulean voiced his request. "Can... Can you ask Twilight to come talk to me? I need to apologize to her, and to everypony else, too." Redheart nodded, leaving him alone again. He tried to think about what he would say, what he could do to fix the situation, but everything came up blank. The stress of the situation began to catch up with him, combining with his pounding headache to produce a powerful narcotic-like effect, and he was soon asleep.

Twilight sat on her bed, gazing off in the distance at nothing in particular. A plate of food lay untouched at the foot of her bed. It was like part of her had been paralyzed, leaving her numb to everything around her. She didn't stir when she heard the knocking on the door below, and Spike wordlessly rose and answered. Twilight heard a few voices but she was too removed from reality to pick out who they belonged too. She glanced up as her friends ascended the steps.

"Twilight?" Applejack spoke softly. No response. "Twilight, he's awake." Twilight's head snapped up. "Nurse Redheart asked me to tell you, but ah thought maybe we should all go an’ see how he's doing."

"Yeah, he's got a lot of explaining to do!" Rainbow Dash chimed in. "I mean, that stunt he pulled was awesome but crazy even by my standards! What has he thinking?"

"That he certainly does," Applejack agreed, making no attempt to hide her anger. Twilight rose weakly from her bed, but Applejack gently pushed her back down onto the bed. “Not so fast, Twi. You ain’t goin’ anywhere until you ‘ave some food in your stomach.” She nodded and began eating automatically, ignoring her stomach’s cries of protest and finishing the plate. After downing a cup of water from Pinkie Pie, she stood once more, her legs shaking slightly as she descended to the floor, nearly falling to the ground. Rainbow Dash and Applejack moved in to help support her, and they slowly made their way to the clinic. Nurse Redheart fussed over Twilight's condition a bit before leading them to Cerulean's room. They entered quietly, everypony but Rainbow Dash noting that he was now asleep.

"Cerulean, what were you thinking?" she thundered, causing him to groan and sit up.

"Rainbow Dash!" Twilight turned, her face pained. Rainbow Dash landed and muttered an apology, drawing small circles on the floor with a hoof.

"No Twi, Rainbow Dash is right," Applejack countered, stepping in between the two and feeling no need to restrain herself now that Cerulean was awake anyways. Twilight cringed at the unbridled fury in her voice, stepping back. "Cerulean, you have a load o' explainin' to do. What could possibly 'ave made you do something so downright foolhardy? Are you that much of a show off, or are ya just plain stupid? You could have killed somepony, Cerulean! Nearly did, ah barely managed to get Pinkie and myself away in time. And do you have any idea how much the repairs are gonna cost the town? What 'ave you got to say fer yerself?" As bad as Cerulean's headache was, Applejack's thundering voice caused more pain than just the physical, his spirit crushed under an avalanche of accusations he couldn't hope to deny.

"I was afraid," Cerulean whispered, so quietly it could barely be heard. "I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I could pull off something amazing and win the admiration of the ponies of this town, then I would never have to worry about being abandoned again. That I..." There was a deafening smack as Twilight punched him full force in the face. Her friends all gasped, never having seen her take such violent action towards anypony. As much as Applejack had wanted to be the one to give him a sound beating, seeing him in such a pitiful state made her feel at least slightly bad for him. Cerulean was too shocked to pull his head back from where it had moved to from the blow.

"Did you really think the favor of others is as important as your own life? As their lives?" Twilight screamed, tears of frustration forming in her eyes. "How could you think we'd abandon you after we all threw you a party? After we talked about magic and Daring Do?" she lowered her voice as twin rivulets coursed down her cheeks. "After I held you in my arms to keep you from freezing in the night..." All traces of anger in her voice had left, leaving only sadness. Cerulean wanted to say something, anything, but couldn't find the words to express the tumult of emotions roiling inside his heart.

"You told me... You told me that you should never be ashamed of who you are, isn't that what you said?" Twilight leaned over and wrapped him in a tight embrace, whispering into his ear, "Who you are now is who we're trying to accept, not anypony else." Cerulean slowly put his hooves around her, returning the embrace. "Promise me... Promise me you'll never needlessly endanger yourself like that ever again."

"And promise you won't doing anything so dang foolish again. You're lucky nopony got hurt, cause I don't think I could forgive ya if they had," Applejack demanded. "As it is, it's gonna take time. An' not just for me, either. If it weren’t for Twilight, ah’d kick your sorry flank out o’ town myself."

"I promise, to both of you, that nothing like this will happen again. I'm sorry..." he managed before the last of his strength to fight the tears broke, releasing a small cascade.

"You better be," Applejack muttered before she spun around and briskly left the room.

"Perhaps it would be best if we left them alone for a bit, " Rarity said, looking at the others. They nodded, quietly excusing themselves. Twilight and Cerulean said nothing as they held each other, crying softly for several minutes. Eventually, the tides began to dry, and Cerulean pulled away so he could look Twilight in the eyes before speaking.

"I'm sorry, Twilight..." Cerulean whispered as he fought to regain his composure. "Up until now all you'd seen of me is the cheery, fun loving side. I was afraid to let you see the true condition of my heart." Twilight buried her face in his mane.

"You're wrong." Her response caught him off guard, but he said nothing. "You’ve shown plenty of signs that you’re suffering. The way you suddenly go from happy to sad at a moments notice, it speaks volumes, Cerulean. At night you... you shiver violently, and your magic flows out on it's own. It freezes everything around you..." Cerulean nodded.

"That's why I've slept outside for the last four years," he remarked, his hollow voice completely stripped of emotion. Twilight nodded once before continuing.

"I knew there had to be something going on deeper on the inside, but I didn't feel like it was my place to pry, even though I desperately wanted to know. You were cold as ice, Cerulean. It scared me, and I tried everything I could think of to help but nothing worked... So I climbed into your bed and held you, once at the library and once here at the hospital." Cerulean pulled away, regarding her with newfound awe. "It was piercingly cold at first, but you gradually began to warm again."

She knew about me, about my nightmares, but she didn’t run... she stay with me. So was that... the warmth that I felt? Maybe she can know the truth, then. No, she has to know. Fear rose up to quell the decision, but it was put to flight under the overwhelming magnitude of the conviction that flooded his whole being.

"Twilight, there's something I need to show you. I'm terrified of what you'll think of me afterwards, but you deserve to know... what caused me to become who I am now." Twilight cupped his face in her hooves, adopting the most confident look she could muster given the circumstances.

"Cerulean, don't be afraid. Nothing you could show me would ever..." She was stopped short as he put a hoof to her mouth, his pleading glance bidding her be silent. Twilight could see fear rising in his eyes; whatever he was about to show her, he was utterly terrified of how she would respond.

"Close your eyes," he whispered, leaning close. Twilight obeyed, and gave a shudder as his skin brushed hers; it was quickly dropping in temperature as if he were having another nightmare. She felt his horn touch hers, and everything went black.


Chapter 9: Flashback

"Lemon Chiffon! Lemon, wait up!" Cerulean called, waving to the yellow colt a few pony lengths ahead of him. He was extremely tall and lanky, with freckles and neatly trimmed dark blue mane and tail. His cutie mark was a chef hat, as he had a knack for being able to whip up tasty food from next to nothing. Cerulean was pretty sure that by simply gracing an apple with his presence he could make it taste better.

"Well hurry it up, then!" Lemon responded, grinning. He looked down at Cerulean, nearly a full neck length shorter. They had been childhood friends that were separated when Lemon's parents had moved in the 2nd grade, but ended up being classmates at Manehatten High. It was there that they agreed to enroll together at the Canterlot Magic Academy. Cerulean was going for a master's in magic theory, whereas Lemon just liked to cook, his course lineup nearly entirely made up of cooking classes. He pursued some fashion classes as more of a hobby, which Cerulean gave him grief about to no end.

"What are you up to this afternoon? My next class was canceled so I'm pretty much open the rest of the day. I was thinking we could go into town for a bit." Cerulean said as they strolled through the grounds towards the colt's dorms. Lemon shook his head.

"Nah, I still have two classes left today, won't be out until around four," he apologized.

"Too busy making dresses to hang with your roomy? I see how it is," Cerulean replied with a smirk. Lemon playfully smacked his shoulder, laughing as Cerulean nearly fell over.

"Yeah, I got a really cute pink one planned just for you. I really think it'll bring out your eyes." Cerulean smacked him back.

"Yeah yeah, you know me so well."

"Oh, very well," Lemon said, dropping his voice suggestively. Cerulean made a face before responding.

"Go on, get out of here. Stitch me something pretty, Dazzle McSparklepants." Cerulean quickly galloped out of attack range as his friend grew livid at the nickname, shouting something Cerulean couldn't hear across the quad. It was a beautiful sunny day, though his enjoyment of it was marred as he heard one of his classmates call out to him from down the hall.

“Hey, Snowgleam! Kill anypony with your forbidden magic yet?”

“No, but I’m thinking about it, Levinbolt!” he shouted back, shaking his head. That pony didn’t know the meaning behind the word discretion, or common decency for that matter. Cerulean was well aware that his hobby was less than socially acceptable, but that moron had promptly spread it to anypony who would listen the moment he had found out. Why he saw fit to make it his life’s mission to be a thorn in Cerulean’s side was unknown, just that he did a dang good job of it.

After ten more minutes of walking Cerulean reached the colt's dorms and made his way to his room. It was a small space, especially when shared by two people. Hay, just the bedding alone took up nearly sixty percent of the floor space. Cerulean flopped onto his bed, levitating an apple to his mouth as he pondered what to do with his unexpected free time. He didn't particularly feel like studying at the moment, which was a rarity for him. Magic was a passion of his, so school was often times more fun than it was gruelling, but he couldn’t find the motivation within to go practice.

He glanced down at his cutie mark, a snowflake with dual swords behind it forming a coat of arms, and thought back to when he got it. It was a memory he held onto dearly, an event that taught him to always defend his friends and never betray himself. A snow wolf had been threatening one of his friends, and without thinking he jumped between them and attacked it with ice magic. The superficially injured wolf took the hint and backed off, not having it's pack to back it. The sense of pride he felt at that moment, and any other time he stood up for his friends, became his driving force in life, and ever since he never abandoned a friend in need, or compromised his values.

It was such a nice spring day outside he couldn't stand to be inside. Finishing his reminisce and the apple, he wiped his mouth and made for town. Canterlot was much more refined than the sprawling metropolis of Manehatten, and never ceased to amaze Cerulean. Sure, the ponies had no sense of humor and were far too posh to pay any attention to him, but that suited Cerulean just fine. Spying a second-hand book store, he entered the quaint little building and began to peruse the rows of tomes stacked high, giving a courteous nod to the owner as he entered. It lacked absolutely any kind of organization, but it was still fun to browse, and he was in no particular hurry.

Cerulean turned a curious eye towards the doorway as the little bell affixed to the door rang, signaling the entrance of another. Poking his head around the corner he saw a lavender mare with violet and magenta highlights running mane to tail. She was quite pretty, though her mane was rather unkempt, hairs sticking out at crazy angles. Cerulean quietly made his way closer so he could hear what she was talking about.

"So, do you have it? Is it in yet?" the mare asked excitedly, leaning over the counter and looking intently at the unicorn behind the desk, her anticipation almost palpable. The brown unicorn adjusted the spectacles on his muzzle, a slight grin playing at the corners of his mouth.

"Now, which one was it then? I can't quite seem to recall..."

"Daring Do! Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone!" the purple unicorn squealed, bouncing up and down. Cerulean could no longer keep quiet at the name of the long awaited release, the author being one of his favorites.

"What? That's even available? I thought it wasn't out for at least another month!" Cerulean said, excitedly approaching the counter. The owner shook his head sadly.

"Not technically, no, but I know the author personally and Twilight here has been one of my most faithful shoppers, so I pulled some strings and got her an unofficial copy," he explained, giving a rueful smile to the now crestfallen Cerulean. He turned his head and watched the unicorn leave, excitedly running through the streets and bumping into everypony in her haste to return to wherever she lived.

"She's cute, isn't she?" the owner said, eyeing Cerulean as he watched her depart. "She's the princess's star pupil, that one. You're setting your sights pretty high. 'Atta colt," he grinned roguishly, laughing at Cerulean's bewildered state. "I'll tell you what, I'll see if I can get one more copy in for you, be about a week but it's better than waiting a month, yes?"

"Really? Thank you so much, Mr...?" Cerulean faltered, never having asked the store owner's name before.

"Francis Lingua, at your service," he said with a dramatic bow.

"I'm Cerulean Snowgleam. Before I go, you don't happen to have any old tomes on the applications of offensive magic, do you?" He thought intently for a moment, then left the desk and began to trot towards the back of the store. He selected an extremely worn gray tome and handed it to Cerulean. Cerulean, seeing his furrowed brow, realized that the owner was likely wondering just what he was going to be doing with such knowledge. "It's not what you'd think, actually," Cerulean said, motioning to his cutie mark. "I just want to be able to defend anypony in danger, that's all." Francis gave him a nod, returning to the desk. Cerulean scanned the first few pages and, satisfied with the contents, proceeded to pay Francis, thanking him again for the early copy of Daring Do.

Cerulean gave a short cry of surprise upon exiting the shop, nearly colliding a yellow mare who had thrust her face far too close to his. "Bangles, what are you doing here? Don't you have classes?" he said, taking a few steps back to retain his personal space from the mare with a devilish grin pasted on her face. True to her name, she had no fewer than eight emerald bangles around her legs at all times. Cerulean had never bothered to count, but he guessed there were probably more. Her mane was a similar shade of green, accenting her red eyes even more, and her hair was cut short in the back, getting longer as it moved towards the front. There was a bow tied to the end of her tail, and her overall fashion sense was far from anypony else in Canterlot. Ponies generally tried to avoid her as she was known to be quite manipulative and impulsive on top of being the headmaster's daughter, but Cerulean's ever-present desire to help anypony had led them to be friends. Sort of...

"Looking for you, of course! You are my favorite, after all," she said, brushing against his flank. Cerulean ignored it and began to trot away.

"I'm going to enjoy my time out, with or without your consent Bangles," he said as flatly as possible, as anything less would be promptly ignored. It didn't have the desired effect, as she quickly caught up with him and began to trot alongside him.

"You're no fun. All you ever do is read and study! You should try some new things," her ever present grin causing significantly more unease in Cerulean than it normally did.

"Yeah? Like what?" She suddenly jumped in front of him, causing him to stop.

"Promise to play a game with me later." Cerulean blinked twice.

"A game? What kind of game?" Bangles giggled and leaned in close.

"Promise me," she yelled. Cerulean's temper was quickly rising, his patience stretched thin with her overbearing nature and the ringing in his ears.

"Fine, I promise, what do you want to play?" he shouted, causing several other ponies to turn and look at them with disdainful glares.

"Meet me in at the campus garden at nine. If you're late, you'll be sorry. Don't forget, you promised!" she said, cantering away. Cerulean shook his head, a growing sense of unease settling on his heart. Nine was curfew, and the punishment for breaking it could range from petty to excruciating, depending on the situation. He sighed deeply, trying to clear his thoughts. The whole exchange had eliminated any desire to continue shopping, so with nothing left to do Cerulean began the journey back to his dorm. Upon arrival he threw himself on the bed and wondered just what kind of trouble he had gotten himself into.

"Another hour until dinner, huh," Cerulean muttered, pouring himself some water and levitating it to his place on the bed. He was exceptionally hungry, having forgotten to eat lunch, and eagerly awaited Lemon's return, wondering what new recipe was gonna be served that night. With nothing else to do, he pulled the gray tome from his bag and began to read. It felt like a few moments later when Lemon walked through the door, tossing his bag carelessly to the floor and throwing himself onto the bed. Cerulean glanced curiously at the clock, about to ask why he was back so early when he realized an hour and a half had already gone by. A growl from his stomach confirmed the passage of time.

"Hmmm, I suppose that's my cue. No rest for the weary I see," Lemon said with a groan, walking into the kitchen and rifling through the cupboards. Cerulean would have offered to help but Lemon was very particular about how things were done in the kitchen, so he went back to his reading. While Equestria may be at peace with its neighbors, there were still plenty of natural predators, and it was for that reason that Cerulean studied offensive magic. It was generally frowned upon, some people even being put on watch lists for checking out certain books from the Canterlot Academy Library. He had read through most all of them.

"Hey Cerulean, come get it while it's hot!" Cerulean reluctantly put the book down and made his way to the table. The scent of fresh baked bread and freshly sliced vegetables wafted into his nostrils, his hunger coming back full force. Dinner consisted of a simple salad and fresh baked honey oat bread, signalling just how exhausted Lemon must have been. It was nonetheless delicious, the bread's crust was baked to perfection, yielding a most pleasant crunch with each bite while not being too firm, and the dressing was clearly an invention of Lemon's design, it's taste hinting at a combination of lemon, raspberry and ginger. The two friends bantered back and forth about classes and magic, mares and mishaps. At the mention of Bangles, Cerulean fell silent as his previously forgotten apprehensions came back full force. Lemon noticed, as Cerulean wasn't even trying to hide his consternation. "What's up, Snow? Something happen between you and her?"

"She made me promise to play some game with her at nine tonight in the gardens." Lemon's curiosity quickly turned to concern as he rested his head on a hoof.

"Why in Celestia's name did you agree to something like that?" Lemon said, not looking up.

"I didn't know where or when, she just made me promise! She was really pushy..." Cerulean's voice trailed off as Lemon shook his head, his face serious.

"That girl is trouble, you know that. I also know you don't go back on your word, so promise me this. Promise me you won't do anything... stupid." The emphasis on the last word made Cerulean cringe as he nodded his agreement.

"I promise. Trust me, that's the last thing on my mind." This seemed to satisfy Lemon, and dinner resumed in silence. Cerulean cleared the table with his magic and they went about their studies, occasionally asking each other questions. As nine o'clock drew near, the unease had grown nauseatingly strong. As Cerulean turned to leave, he stopped briefly at the door as he heard Lemon call after him.

"Be careful." Cerulean stood inside the doorway, not turning to face him.

"I will." Cerulean made his way to the roof and peered out over the dark campus grounds. He could vaguely make out the gardens, neatly trimmed hedges forming a labyrinth of sorts, with all kinds of exotic fauna arranged within. There was a beautifully sculpted fountain in a shape of the school's founder in the center. Setting his sights on the fountain, Cerulean gathered his magic energies, sprouting two small wings made of ice from his back, just enough to glide there. His blue coat would blend well with the early evening sky, lessening the chances of getting caught. Besides, the school accepted only unicorns, so it wouldn't occur to the security ponies to look up.

Cerulean glided gracefully over the maze of bushes and came to a rest in front of the fountain, his wings melting and falling to the ground like dew. He was secretly envious of the pegasi and the freedom to fly whenever they wished. It took a great amount of magical power for him to fly even a short distance, though he had been practicing the spell for quite some time. The soft jingle of bangles clinking together woke him from his revery as the form of a yellow mare came around the corner.

"So, are you ready to play a game?" she said, her smooth voice causing Cerulean to shiver.

"Let's just get this over with. What are we going to do?" he fumed, fast losing patience as the fear churned in his stomach. She leaned in close, furthering his unease.

"Each other," she murmured, her alluring tone nearly causing his nausea to boil up and out.

"Not on your life," Cerulean responded without hesitation, his voice cold. He turned to leave but stopped dead, stunned by her words.

"If you leave right now, I'll tell everypony you forced yourself on me. Your days as a student here will be over." Cerulean slowly turned. It took all his effort to contain his rage, his whole body shaking violently.

"There are some things more important to me than my enrollment here, and that is one of them. Do what you will," he gritted out, his mind recalling some of the more painful spells he had perused earlier.

"And what about Lemon? I hear he barely managed to make it in. His parents aren't doing well, and their health rides on his obtaining a proper job, is that right?" Bangles sneered, taking a step towards Cerulean. She gasped as an icicle materialized from the ground and stopped at the tip of her throat.

"If you even think about doing something to Lemon..." he growled between clenched teeth, his fury reaching critical limits and sending a red haze over his vision.

"Then lay with me. Or I guarantee that he won't make it another day here as a student." Cerulean's mind whirled; no matter what he chose, he'd be betraying someone, and either way he would be betraying himself by breaking promises, and worse. He couldn't find a solution, no matter how hard he tried. His mind filled with memories of how happy Lemon had been to be accepted, how hard he had studied so he could pass the entrance tests, how he stayed awake day and night studying, right up to the day of the test. "You have ten seconds to decide."

"If somepony has to suffer..." Cerulean said slowly, painfully, "I'm not going to let it be my friends." Bangles trotted over and planted her mouth to his, testing his words. Cerulean's mind slowly shut itself down, his emotions fading as his body took over. He didn't notice the burning sensation in his flank, as the two swords flashed blue before slowly disappearing.


Chapter 10: Home

The last remnants of the memory disappeared from her sight and Twilight once again found herself sitting next to Cerulean in the clinic. He was staring ashen faced at the bed, the burden of using so much magic combined with the trauma of reliving the experience had drained him of any desire to move. His body was drenched in an icy dew just like when he slept, and Twilight's mind was reeling from what she had been shown. During the vision she could feel the anger, the sadness, the absolute hopelessness and betrayal that he had felt in those final moments.

"I was expelled the next day," Cerulean spoke in a strained voice. "I never got to see Lemon before I left, wasn't even allowed to grab my belongings. Bangles told the principal that I had forced myself on her, and I was jailed shortly after."

"She did what?" Twilight yelled, stamping a hoof angrily. Cerulean winced as it made connection with his leg. Twilight immediately apologized, and he continued.

"I was found not guilty, as she dropped the charges halfway through the proceedings, but the trial stripped me of my schooling, my friends... even my parents told me I wasn't welcome anymore. I had nowhere to go, and nopony to go to. So, I left Canterlot, and wandered from town to town, accepting odd jobs where I could and learning to make ends meet. For the first year though, I had to sleep outside of city limits." Twilight cocked her head to the side, not following the implication. "My nightmares caused miniature blizzards. It's not something I can control, it’s simply my heart trying to cope with what’s inside. I did some... stupid things, those first few weeks after. I'm pretty pathetic, aren't I..." Cerulean's voice was now a pained whisper.

"You're wrong again, you foalish colt," Twilight said as she sat down atop his middle, her tone soft. He looked up at her with confused, hopeful eyes. "Even if it was the wrong choice, you put the wellbeing of your friends before yourself, and that is quite noble. However... There are some lines that should never be crossed..." she said ruefully. Cerulean dropped his gaze, all too aware of the fact. "I don't think any lesser of you as a pony. If I were in your position, I probably would have done the same for my friends. The fact that you can still smile and laugh after all this tells me you're not dead inside." Cerulean snapped his head up, staring at her intently.

"Do you mean that?" Twilight nodded, smiling. "So... you accept me as I am... even knowing my past?"

Finally, he’s starting to get it. Took him long enough. Still, it makes me happy that he knows, now... Twilight stretched out, laying atop his chest and nuzzling her head into his shoulder while wrapping her arms around his neck. The warmth of her body seemed to fill him from the inside out, and caused his cheeks to flush slightly. "I do." Never before had two words held so much meaning for Cerulean, and he felt as though the piece of him that had died had returned to life.

No, that isn't quite right. It's more like it's being replaced by something else. Something better. He wrapped his hooves around Twilight and held her, feeling more content then than he had ever dared to hope was possible. Cerulean began stroking her mane, amazed at how perfectly smooth it felt, like pure silk. Twilight sighed softly and snuggled closer, unwilling to try and ignore the acceleration of her heartbeat. They lay like that for a long time, and though they spoke no words, a sense of mutual understanding pervaded their hearts. Twilight raised her head and looked into Cerulean's eyes, which she again discovered to be nothing short of captivating. "You have beautiful eyes." she whispered. Cerulean's blush grew a shade deeper.

"They're not even in the same league as yours, they truly honor your name, Miss Sparkle," Cerulean beamed. Twilight giggled, shaking her head.

"Such flattery will get you nowhere, Mr. Snowgleam," she retorted, pinning his hooves at his side with her own and fixing him with a mischievous grin.

"If this is nowhere, then there's no place I'd rather be." The sincerity of his voice caused a strange sensation in the pit of her stomach as her body seemed to suddenly catch fire, so strong was the surge of warmth that swept over her. She found air to be a scarce commodity, and she noticed that she was shaking as she leaned closer to Cerulean's muzzle. She closed her eyes, and Cerulean did the same. Closer... Closer... Then they both jumped as Nurse Redheart walked through the door, dropping the medical charts she was carrying to the floor as her jaw made a break for the floor.

Cerulean stayed at the hospital that night to continue recovering, though he was glad to hear he should be able to leave in the morning. Having eaten her first real meal in three days, Twilight crawled into the bed she had been letting Cerulean use and let a deep sleep take her as she clutched a few strands of his teal hair to her chest. The calming of scent of his mane filled her senses, gently lulling her to the land of dreams - dreams she was glad nopony but her could see, as the things that occurred when Cerulean came to mind were more than slightly shameful even by most ponies standards. When she awoke late the next morning she gave a deep stretch, feeling extremely refreshed. The house felt strangely empty without Cerulean, and she was glad he was coming back.

"I'm glad to see you finally got some sleep, Twilight. You really needed it. You've gotten rather behind on your studies, ya know," Spike said walking over and climbing onto the bed, motioning to a week's worth of checklists that had collected a fair amount of dust. Twilight gave him a tight squeeze, knowing just how much she had been making him, and everypony else, worry since Cerulean came into her life. She held him a moment, smiling.

"That's not true, Spike. I've just been studying... something new." Spike looked up, curious, when he noticed the dreamy look in Twilight's eyes. Suddenly, what everypony else knew from the start dawned on Spike. Twilight saw the comprehension kick in and laughed briefly, then lowered her voice.

"Can you keep a secret?" she whispered. Spike nodded vigorously and leaned in closer. "I have a crush... on Cerulean." Spike gasped and nearly fell off the bed.

"Well, duh, everypony knows that!" Pinkie Pie said cheerily as ever, popping her head over the side of the bed, causing a very surprised Twilight to tumble to the floor.

"Pinkie? H-how did you get in here?" Twilight stammered, scrambling to her hooves.

"Third story window," Pinkie replied with a grin, leaving Twilight to ponder just how it was that she escaped the laws of physics so easily. They turned as knock sounded at the door, and as Twilight opened the door via magic, her friends filed in.

"How are you feeling, Twilight? You looked really tired yesterday, I hope you slept well," Fluttershy said.

"She looks a whole lot better today. Must be because she slept in Cerulean's bed!" Rainbow Dash's comment caused Twilight to fiddle with her hooves a little, trying not to think about the faint heat that rose to her face on account of the vivid recollections of her dreams.

"We're glad to see you're alright, Twilight. You've 'ad a rough time of it since Cerulean came 'round." Applejack said softly, hoping her words wouldn't be taken offensively. Twilight simply nodded, then motioned them closer and wrapped them in a group hug.

"Thank you, everypony, for always being there for me. I know things have been pretty crazy with me recently, but I want you all to know that I truly appreciate your friendship, even if it didn't seem like it," she said, recalling her behavior the last couple of days. "You're the best friends a mare could have." She sniffed, trying to stifle the tears that were beginning to rise to her eyes.

"Cerulean's presence sure has made you weepy, Twilight," Rainbow Dash teased, reaching over and wiping her eyes. "What happened to the calm, rational egghead that I knew?"

"She's falling in love, of course," Rarity said dreamily, eyes shining.

"Rarity!" Twilight chided, her facial features their usual lavender hue in exchange for a soft pink.

"Well, is she right? Is our little Twilight finally growing up?" Rainbow Dash pressed.

"Oh, oh, I know this one! She's totally mmmhmhmff!" Pinkie was mid-sentence when Twilight bodily tackled her and covered her muzzle.

"Pinkie, I was telling Spike a secret! Secret!" she yelled.

"Since when do you keep secrets from us, sugarcube?" Applejack prodded, a devious smile forming on her lips.

"Well, I..." Twilight stammered, too embarrassed to speak further.

"C'mon, out with it!" Rainbow Dash said, tackling Twilight and pinning her to the floor. Her friends gathered and aided in pinning her limbs, all save Fluttershy who sat nervously to the side watching the scene unfold. Rainbow Dash spread her wings and motioned to Fluttershy, who with great reluctance walked over and sat on Twilight's chest.

"What are you..." she started, then burst out laughing as Fluttershy began to gently stroke Twilight's ribs with her wings. Twilight was utterly helpless against the onslaught, and took several moments to gain enough composure to beg for mercy.

"No, please! Stop, I'll do anything!" Twilight yelled between gasps of air as her body quaked with laughter.

"I'm sorry, but you have to tell us the secret, Twilight," Fluttershy cooed sweetly, wings poised near Twilight's ribs, ready to begin again at a moment's notice. Spike stood idly by, smiling and offering no help whatsoever.

"Ok fine, you win, you win! I think I'm falling in love with Cerulean!" Twilight yelled, admitting defeat. Rarity squealed loudly, Fluttershy covered her mouth with both hooves, Rainbow Dash snickered, and Applejack heaved a massive sigh. Pinkie, on her part, was astonished that she had revealed her secret so easily. Without a word she then bolted upstairs and jumped out the third story window, leaving her friends exchanging confused looks.

"Twilight, you've known this colt scarcely a week, how can you say that you love him already?" Applejack inquired. "Love takes time, Twi. You may like him and that's all fine an' dandy, but there's no way you can say it's love. Not yet." Twilight's response was far more rational than Applejack was expecting.

"I know, Applejack. It's far too soon for me to be making such ridiculous assertions." she muttered, dropping her gaze. "But... I know that I care for him deeply, and while the feelings I have when I am around him are new and even a bit frightening, I want to explore them. I think he's worth the risk." Applejack relented, unable to refute the determination in her words.

Cerulean, having been released that morning, was making his way to Twilight's house when he heard a commotion coming from inside. Curious, he trotted to the door and pressed his ear against it. It sounded like Twilight and her friends were fighting over something inside. He closed his eyes, hoping it wasn't about him; he couldn't stand the thought of causing the ponies in this calm town any more trouble than he already had. His eyes opened halfway as he heard Twilight's laughter coming from inside. It was a beautiful sound.

"Ok fine, you win! I think I'm falling in love with Cerulean!" Cerulean's jaw dropped. Had he heard that right? He rested his head against the door, listening to Applejack's rebuttal and nodding. His momentary gloom turned again to joy as Twilight made her declaration.

"Twilight... I don’t know if I can say whether I’m in love with you or not, but I... I’ve never felt such a comforting warmth the way I do with you. Maybe I am in love," he whispered. "But am I... am I really worth..."

"You should tell that to Twilight, not the door!" Pinkie Pie's sudden voice from behind him caused him to jump, letting out a yell. Cerulean wasn't sure he'd ever get used to this mare, her uncanny ability to pop in at the most random times could be quite vexing. Upon hearing the shout, Twilight and her friends walked over to see what was going on and, opening the door, they found Pinkie Pie pushing Cerulean towards them. "Twilight, Cerulean has something to tell you," she sang cheerily.

"Pinkie Pie!" Cerulean said, half-heartedly glaring at the bouncing bundle of energy.

"Cerulean, what is it? Is something wrong?" Twilight stared intently at him, but grew similarly nervous as she saw color rise to his cheeks.

"Twilight, I..." He stopped. Pinkie's eyes narrowed, her mouth curling into an extremely disconcerting grin.

"We we have another secret keeper. Assume positions!" Pinkie cried, tackling him and pinning his right fore leg. Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Rarity each took a limb, pinning him down. Cerulean made no motion to struggle, knowing it would be useless, though having four mares on him at once caused his mind to wander. He shook his head violently to try and erase the bizarre thoughts that assailed him, having little success with both thought control and keeping his horn from glowing. Twilight walked over and sat on his chest, causing him to turn bright red, his already overreacting mind moving to even farther fetched limits. He could feel his heart beating wildly, each beat sending a pulse throughout his body.

"I'll give you one chance. What secret is Pinkie Pie talking about, hmmm?" Twilight said sweetly, leaning close to his face. He caught a whiff of her mane and turned his head away, losing the fight to restrain his mind as the comforting scent pushed his hallucinations over the edge. "Ok, if that's how you're going to be, then I guess I have no choice." Cerulean opened his mouth to respond, but what came out were not words but uncontrollable laughter. He lay helpless as she furiously tickled him, tears streaming from his eyes as he was subjected to the cruelest of tortures.

After a full minute, Twilight gave him a brief rest, his face nearly matching her coat due to oxygen deprivation. "So, are you ready to talk?" In truth, he was ready from the start, but he was rather enjoying himself. Countless ponies had tried to tickle him, but it had never garnered any kind of reaction, and he hadn't laughed like this in years.

"What... is that... all you've got?" Cerulean managed, grinning ear to ear. Twilight redoubled her efforts, not noticing her friends had let go and backed away, leaving just the two of them. Cerulean made no attempt to escape though he squirmed as his body convulsed of its own accord. Finally Twilight withdrew her hooves, resting them on his shoulders. Cerulean lay there recovering, their eyes locked. "Twilight?"

"Yes?" Twilight replied, leaning forward and eager to hear what he had to say.

"I heard what you said, and... I feel the same way." Twilight's eyes slowly closed as she leaned in deep, gently pressing her lips to his. As sparks shot through Cerulean's spine and his heart rate pulled triple time, he raised his arms and pulled her close. Every insecurity, fear, and apprehension melted away as the blizzard inside was repelled by the flame being kindled within. For the first time in four years, he felt like he had found a home.

A home that was in shambles due to his idiocy, he realized as she pulled away and rational thought again became a possibility. Twilight stood up and helped him to his feet, a little more than slightly embarrassed as she realized she had kissed him in broad daylight where anypony on the road could see. Cerulean took a moment to let his brain reboot, making a point of not staring at the lavender glow emanating from the mare’s horn. When he had sufficiently calmed down, he then looked at each pony in turn, making sure to make eye contact before speaking.

"I know... That my presence in this town has brought nothing but trouble and concern." Applejack muttered something he couldn't hear under her breath. "I truly am sorry for the worry and hurt that I've caused, not just to Twilight, or you her friends, but to all of Ponyville. I know I have no right to make any kind of request, but I want to fix what I've broken. I want this town to be my home, and it's community my family. I'll do everything I can to help with the repairs around town, but after what's happened I seriously doubt they will welcome me with open arms without somepony interceding. So, can you find it within yourselves to give me another chance? A chance to set things right." Twilight's friends cheered with the exception of Applejack, who fixed him in a piercing stare. He met the gaze, his mind set to take whatever the mare dealt him. If this was truly to be a home for him, he’d go to any length to make things right.

Ah can’t believe Twilight and everypony else can fergive ‘im, just like that. Well, I ain’t convinced he belongs here. This is a nice town, with lots of nice mares, and we don’t need some brain dead stallion t’ come in ‘ere and buck everythin’ up. If it weren’t for Twilight... fine, one chance, and one chance only. That’s all he’s gettin’ from me. "All right then Cerulean, let's put those words t’ the test. Meet me on my farm tomorrow morning at sunrise, and be ready t' work yer flank off."

"Thank you, Applejack." Applejack couldn't overlook the honesty and conviction in his voice. She knew he meant every word, but it was going to take more than that to convince her, and her orchard would be the proving grounds.

Trial by Orchard

Chapter 11: Trial by Orchard

Cerulean had always counted himself a morning pony, but waking up when it was still dark out was torturous when he hadn't done it for several years. The urge to return to sleep flared strongly within, and was only worsened by the fact that Twilight had cuddled up to him at some point during the night. He carefully withdrew from her grasp, face still flushed from the prolonged contact with the world's best heater, and made his way to the bathroom. After staggering up the steps and into the shower, he half-heartedly attempted to adjust the temperature, still groggily blinking the weariness from his eyes. He walked into the cascade and gave a yelp of surprise as he quickly realized that he had chosen the wrong temperature dial. After a few moments of frantic scrambling to re-adjust, the water soon warmed and he continued his shower in peace.

After grabbing an apple to eat on the way and a small canteen of water, he made straight for Sweet Apple Acres. The stars were still shining merrily, though the first rays of sunlight had already crept over the horizon, softening the darkness of the night sky. He made it to the barn with a few minutes to spare, so he climbed onto a few bales of hay to watch the sunrise. A wave of nostalgia washed over him as he recalled sitting atop the clock tower at the univerity, watching the days first and last rays nearly every day. His thoughts drifted back to Lemon and Francis, and the lavender mare that...

He fell back as the realization hit him, tumbling off the bales and onto the ground below. The bales, irate from having their rest disturbed, proceeded to teach the rambunctious stallion a lesson, burying him under three or four good sized bundles. He could almost ignore the crushing weight as his mind was preoccupied on one startling thought; it was Twilight he saw in the bookshop! The bales were tossed effortlessly off as Applejack towered over him, his view of her approach having been obscured by the masses of hay.

"Makin' a mess already, I see." Her tone was devoid of any friendliness, and though Cerulean very much expected it, it was still hard to confront. He said nothing, knowing that any apology would be lost on deaf ears; this was a test, and he was already losing points.

"All right, let's get started," he replied, mustering as much courage as he could. Applejack snorted, motioning him to grab a wagon and follow her into the fields. Cerulean fixed the harness to himself and pursued, pleasantly surprised by how easy the cart rolled behind him. As they neared a region of trees that had yet to be harvested, Applejack removed her cart and began placing buckets in a circle around the base of a couple of the trees. Cerulean watched, impressed as a single good buck sent nearly every apple in the tree raining down into the buckets.

"Your turn, Cerulean. Get to it, these apples won't 'arvest themselves." Cerulean nodded and began arranging the buckets as he had seen her do. Satisfied that all was ready, he gave the base of the tree a tremendous buck, causing a shower of apples just as Applejack's had. He allowed himself a slight grin. "Well, what are you waitin' for? Load them apples into yer cart and move t’ the next tree." His grin quickly faded and he silently obeyed. He continued the routine until the cart was filled, at which point he found Applejack leaning against her own filled cart, observing.

"How long have you..." he started.

"A while." she stated flatly, cutting him off. Fixing herself in the cart's harness, she began to haul the load of apples to the cellar, motioning Cerulean to follow. His cart, however, had grown considerably heavier, and he had to strain to get it moving. Once it had some momentum he managed all right, and returned to the orchard after depositing the fruity cargo in the cellar with the rest of its brethren.

The sun had nearly reached its zenith before Applejack called a halt. She had to admit to herself, with great reluctance, that Cerulean was making an honest effort. He offered no complaints, asked questions only when necessary, and attended his work diligently without taking any breaks. Still, she wasn't convinced yet that he was fully committed; the day was only half over, and the second half is always worse.

Cerulean gratefully lay his back against the nearest tree, closing his eyes and enjoying the feeling of no longer being on his hooves. His back legs were throbbing from bucking, which felt all the world like kicking a wall, and the muscles in his back were tightening into knots that would make any young coltscout gawk. After an all too short reprieve, he could feel his limbs beginning to lock up, so he stood up again and cantered around the cart, trying to keep active. Applejack approached with some apple turnovers and cheese, which he eagerly accepted. She gave him a curt nod, and they both ate in silence.

This is quite possibly the most grueling exercise I’ve endured in quite some time, perhaps in my entire life. And it’s all for a mare I hardly know. But... I can’t say that bothers me. No, I really just want to get to know her more. She’s already saved my life twice, and even beyond that, she gives me hope. So I guess that’s...

"What do you want from Twilight?" Applejack's sudden question caught him off guard. He finished the bite of cheese he had been chewing for a while and drew silent, unsure of what she meant. The fact is he didn't really know what it was that drew him to Twilight, but responding with "I don't know" would be equivocal to shooting himself in the hoof. Applejack's intense green eyes seemed to be peering into his soul, and he somehow knew anything less than the whole truth would mean the failure of his test.

"I want to be whole again. And I think Twilight is the only one who can make that happen." Applejack blinked once, then resumed her stare. "This is going to sound crazy, but this isn't my whole cutie mark. I lost half of it four years ago." Cerulean sighed as Applejack's facial expression made it painfully clear that she didn't believe a word he had said. He trotted over and tapped her forehead with his horn, a brief image of when he got his cutie mark flashing in her mind. She shook her head and then examined his flank. Sure enough, the swords were gone without a trace.

"What in tarnation could possibly make somepony lose their cutie mark?" she muttered, turning back to Cerulean with an incredulous expression.

“If... you’d really like to know, I’ll show you.”

Ah know ah don’t trust this colt, but that look in his eyes... Whatever is on his mind right now must be right painful. An’ that ain’t somethin’ t’ lie about. “All right, Cerulean. Show me what’s got you all messed up in the head.” Ah could have said that nicer...

Cerulean closed his eyes as the memories began to bubble to the surface. He again pressed his horn gently onto her head, showing her through his own eyes what had torn his heart asunder. As the scene with Bangles unfolded, Applejack gasped and stepped back, breaking the connection and ending the feelings of resentment and sadness that had flooded through her a moment before.

"It may not be possible to reclaim what was lost that night..." Cerulean said slowly. "But if there's a chance I can find acceptance within the heart of another, and for me to truly be able to accept them in return, then I'm not letting go of that hope without a fight." Without a further word on the matter, Cerulean resumed gathering apples. Applejack watched him closely as she went about her work with newfound interest.

Ah hate t’ admit it, but this stallion ain’t gonna quit. An’ by the look o’ it, he’s been through more than me. Ah always thought ah had it rough, but that... that shouldn’t happen to anypony, not ever. And yet, here he is, optimistic an’ determined. Ah may not like ‘im, but ah sure can respect his determination an’ honesty. Yer somethin’ else, Cerulean.

At around two he started to slow down, the trees taking several bucks to yield their abundance and causing him to grimace with each kick. The cart had grown exponentially heavier, and it took a moment or two of straining just to get it to move. Even carrying the smaller buckets became quite a task, but never once did Applejack see him use his magic to ease the burden.

"Applejack, is that the pony that nearly destroyed city 'all?" Applebloom called out, walking over to where her sister was working and glancing at Cerulean with curious eyes. "He looks plumb tuckered out. He's gonna hurt 'imself if he keeps goin'!"

"You're probably right, Applebloom. But he and I made a wager, and I reckon he ain't 'bout to quit now." Applejack paused and watched as Cerulean painfully struggled to move the fully laden cart, muscles stretching taught and bulging as he forced every last bit of energy out of his already over-worked limbs. "He's got something to fight for," she murmured more to herself than to her sister. Applebloom offered to help him out, and stalked off in a huff when her sister forbade it.

Cerulean whimpered quietly as he bucked the tree for a third time, the stubborn giant finally yielding it's red treasures with great reluctance. Every buck sent sharp pains lancing through his legs and into his spine, and his head was playing an upbeat drum solo inside his temples. He glanced down at his hooves, where a fertile orchard of splinters had inexplicably decided to grow. As thoughts of Twilight filled his mind, he smiled through the pain, continuing to the next tree, and the next. Twilight... the pain I feel right now is... nothing. Nothing, when compared to the despair of hopelessness that you pulled me from. This... is a thank you far too small. Let my body be broken, that my heart may live. You’re worth this.

As the sun cast its final rays and bathed the orchard in a soft pink light, Cerulean's body gave out and he fell unconscious to the ground. The laden cart behind him continued its momentum, slowly rolling over his left forehoof before coming to a rest on the other side. Applejack rushed over, removed him from the harness, and slung his still form over her shoulders. She brought him inside and laid him in her bed, not wanting to have to deal with the other members of her rather large family bombarding him with questions should he be laid in one of the many spare beds around the house.

Grabbing his left hoof she felt it gingerly to see if the cart had broken it. Fortunately it had not, but there was a deep bruise around the entire hoof, and he had probably pulled nearly every muscle in his body. It took a full thirty minutes just to get all of the splinters out of his hooves, not counting the deeper ones that required digging with a needle. Upon finishing, Applejack sat staring at him for a while, remembering just how cold she had been towards Cerulean from the start. If she could transfer his pain to herself for even a moment, she would have, as each labored breath reminded her that she was the one who had put him in this condition.

Ah never expected... somepony could ever be this determined. Ah thought for sure he’d quit, that he’d choose comfort over Twilight, but ah... couldn’t have been more wrong. "I'm sorry, Cerulean. It seems you're not the devious colt I expected you'd be," she whispered, wondering if he could hear. She stood with a sigh and found Applebloom waiting outside the door. "Applebloom, I've got a job for you. Now I know it's gettin' dark out but I need you to make straight for Twilight's house and tell her that Cerulean won't be making it back tonight because he worked himself too hard. And tell her..." she hesitated. "Tell her that I've accepted him as a friend, with no reservations."

"You got it, sis!" she yelled over her shoulder, happy to have the privilege of being out so late on her own and not being punished for eavesdropping for the umpteenth time. Applejack made her way outside and sat atop the barn, laying back and looking at the stars. Twilight was gonna be furious when she saw the condition Cerulean was in, and she didn't having any satisfactory excuse to offer in her defense. Her worries were doubled when she realized that Cerulean had agreed to this challenge the day he was released from the hospital. He must have been in pain from the start, be he still said nothing and did as he was told.

"Applejack?" a deep voice called out from the ground.

"What is it, Big Macintosh? Did Cerulean wake up?" she responded, dreading the idea of having to face him so soon.

"Eeeyup." She sighed and hopped down from the roof and quickly made her way to her room. Upon entering she found Cerulean feebly attempting to pick up a glass of water from the nightstand by her bed, but lacking the strength to hold the glass it tumbled to the floor, where he stared at it thirstily before attempting to magic a few drops to his mouth. Applejack returned shortly with a new glass and gently lifted it to Cerulean's mouth and gave him a small drink, for which he sighed deeply and lay back with a groan.

"Did my flank fall off yet?" he inquired, grinning wearily and looking at Applejack through half lidded eyes.

"Yes sugarcube, ah’m pretty sure it did, which means ya passed. Ah sure am glad we weren't holding a contest in bein’ stubborn, ‘cause you'd 'ave won that too." Her tone was much softer than Cerulean was expecting it to be, and it was nearly as relieving as his inactivity. "I'm sorry for being so hard on ya, but I know now fer sure that you're not just taking advantage of Twilight's caring nature; nopony would do what you ‘ave today fer somethin’ so shallow. That mare may be sharp as a tac in all manner o' things, but relationships ain't one of 'em." Cerulean chuckled at this, nodding once before grimacing in pain at the seemingly simple action. "Sit tight, Cerulean, I'll be right back."

Twilight had grown slightly concerned that Cerulean hadn’t returned by sundown, but as she lay in his bed with a stack of books just a hoof length away, she had quickly lost track of time as she became entrenched in her studies. So it was that she looked up with surprise when somepony knocked on her door, setting down the book and coming alive as she remember that who she was expecting. Spike was upstairs, so she let the giddy excitement build a little before whipping open the door with a grin.

“Took you long en... oh, hi Applebloom. What are you doing here?”

“Mah sister sent me t’ tell you that Cerulean tuckered ‘imself out workin’ on the farm, an’ he won’t be comin’ home tonight.”

“Is he alright?”

“Ah think so, but he really worked ‘imself hard, even Applejack said so.” That was good, then. She could handle missing him for a night if it meant that he and Applejack would make up. She just hoped that he would sleep well enough and not have any nightmares, partly for his sake and partly because she didn’t like the idea of anypony else being in bed with him.

“Thanks for letting me know, Applebloom. Would you like to come in?”

“Sorry, Twilight, mah sister gave me special permission t’ come here an’ ah don’t wanna abuse it by stayin’ later than ah need to. Ah wouldn’t mind some water, though.” Twilight promptly fulfilled the request, and after downing the glass, the little filly took off into the night. Twilight closed the door gently, staring at it for a moment before returning to the guest bed that she was becoming more and more accustomed to sleeping in. Or rather, it was the tentative owner of the bed that she desired, and without it, the simple piece of furniture felt incomplete.

Before coming to Ponyville, I didn’t even know how much I wanted friends. I didn’t pay other ponies any attention, being content to spend my time with my books. But all it took was a taste of friendship, and I knew it was a missing piece of my life. And now, even though things are crazy... I feel like I’m finding out something else has been missing, too. This isn’t anything like the relationships I’ve read about in books; it’s frightening, because I don’t know how I’m supposed to act, what it’s supposed to be like... It’s painful because I care, and I know he’s suffered. But... I also know it’s real. Applejack, you said that it couldn’t be love so soon, but I... “I think you’re wrong.”

Applejack returned a short while later carrying a first aid kit. Cerulean raised a curious eye as she rifled through it and took out a smaller box, from which she pulled out what looked like large bandages. "Tis an old earth pony remedy fer sore muscles, works wonders." she mentioned as she began applying them to the key stress points on his body. The strips seemed to burn like fire when applied, but then turned soothingly cool after a time. She then wrapped his hooves with disinfectant bandages to stave off infection from the countless splinters that had pierced his skin.

When she was done Cerulean examined himself, allowing a small laugh; nearly seventy percent of his body had been covered in bandages. "You're gonna 'ave to take it easy fer awhile, so just rest for now. Ah'll see you in the morning, Cerulean." He offered no argument and allowed his senses a much needed vacation from consciousness, slipping into a deep slumber. Since one’s powers of observation and touch are both obscured by sleep, Cerulean was completely unaware of the obvious inner battle going on in Applejack’s mind.

Scent of Apples

Chapter 12: Scent of Apples

Regaining consciousness can invoke a variety of emotions. For example, if somepony has a date with their special somepony later in the day, the excitement of what the future holds causes the morning experience to be one filled with hope and promise. Or if one has a test later that hasn't been studied for, panic will prompt a swift retreat into the false security of the warm blankets, and perhaps further procrastination. If, however, a pony awakens to two simultaneous and conflicting factors of equally gargantuan magnitudes, it causes utter brain chaos and the powers of rational thought are revoked. Such was Cerulean upon waking in the morning.

The first thing that he noticed was that every inch of his body was screaming language he would never dare to use extremely loudly, making sure he knew just how badly it ached. The second was a pair of orange hooves wrapped around his middle, and the sound of gentle snoring coming from a muzzle that was resting gently against his neck. It wasn't that it was unpleasant, or even that he minded, but that it was so completely unfathomable that Applejack had had that much of a change of heart that he had to wonder if he was still asleep. As he rolled over and was rewarded with a chorus of profanity from his limbs, he quickly came to the conclusion that he was very much awake. And Applejack was in his bed.

"What the buck..." he whispered, grateful that his change of position hadn't woken the sleeping mare next to him. He snickered quietly as he noted how unthreatening she seemed in sleep, and immediately chided himself knowing that when she did wake, things were going to get crazy. Whether due to his exhaustion or simply not thinking clearly, he decided it would be funny if he wore her hat, which currently resided on the night stand by the bed. He levitated it over, and as he donned the purloined headpiece he noticed that he was surrounded by the smell of apples. It was a sweet, tantalizing smell which encouraged no small amount of growling from his stomach, having overlooked dinner in his ridiculous feat of bullheaded determination the day prior.

Applejack stirred at the noise, groaning and pulling herself closer to Cerulean who was growing quite worried as the seconds stretched into minutes. The sensation of her lips brushing his neck as she nuzzled him caused his breath to catch, and for the sake of his overactive imagination and his very sanity, he decided to face the storm and wake her up. Tact would have been advisable, but he chose instead to go for maximum shock value. After all, if you know somepony is gonna freak, might as well make it big, right? He shook her gently and she slowly opened her eyes. After heaving a tremendous yawn she drew back a little and regarded Cerulean with absolute confusion, the hat on his head being adequate in her groggy state to pass him off as a complete stranger.

"Hey there, little missy. I 'ope you remember last night, 'cause I sure don't." Cerulean quipped, faking a southern drawl. While he had intended the statement to be a subtle approach to asking "Why are you in bed with me," it registered in Applejack's mind as something very different. Cerulean found himself abruptly shoved from the bed, the force of all four legs sending him not to the floor but into the wall. The wall rejected his proposed friendship, though the floor then met his face with open arms, and he lay paralyzed in agony as a fuming Applejack stood on the bed, ranting.

"What 'n tarnation are ya doin' in my bed, varmint? So help me Celestia, I'll skin ya alive if ya come near me!" she shouted, waking the entire house. Applebloom came bursting through the door, first looking to the thoroughly disgruntled Cerulean laying in a heap, and then to her sister whose face was nothing short of terrifying.

"Applejack, why are ya shoutin' at Cerulean like that? You said he could use yer bed yesterday." she asked, honestly confused as to her sister's strange behavior.

"Cerulean? What're you talkin' about?" she snapped, glaring at her sister and pointing an accusing hoof at the would-be invader. Cerulean removed Applejacks hat and looked up at her, grinning as he managed to coax small amounts of air into his lungs.

"Been a while... since I've felt... that kick of yours," he gasped, his feeble laughter turning quickly into a coughing fit. Applejack rubbed her eyes and took a second look, comprehension of the fact that she had just bucked an incapacitated pony full force causing her mood to swing around one hundred eighty degrees.

"Oh goodness, Cerulean, I'm so sorry!" she said, rushing to his side and helping him back to bed.

"Sis, you're actin' funny." Applebloom stated matter-of-factly, taking a few steps towards the pair as her sister fussed over his bandages. She was quickly waved away, and the door slamming in her face told her that her opinions were no longer welcome. Applejack listened as a steady stream of muttering receded down the hallway and out of earshot.

"Sorry 'bout that Cerulean, I'm not used to wakin' up to anypony else bein' in my bed," she explained, returning to his side. "How are ya feelin'?"

Well, let’s see now... Me, a unicorn with a startling average physique, took on a job doing intense physical labor for hours on end without using my magic to help. "Do I even need to answer that?" he retorted, shooting her a wry smile. He magicked Applejack's hat over and plopped it on his head once more, the scent of apples again causing no small amount of groaning from his stomach. Applejack left and returned a short while later with a tray of mouth watering apple confections and a glass of fresh squeezed apple juice, a small amount of pulp still swirling in the cup. Cerulean lost no time demolishing two apples, an apple fritter and a good portion of a large apple crumble. Having taught himself not to eat past his limit regardless of how good the food was, he begrudgingly set the treats aside, silently chastising his stomach for it's fairly limited capacity.

As he was eating, Applejack had begun removing the bandages she had placed on him the night before, their chemicals long since exhausted. He blushed lightly as she removed the ones on his chest and flanks, hoping she didn't notice.

"What are you thinkin' about, Cerulean," she questioned, fixing him with her deep emerald eyes. She had noticed.

Somehow, I don’t think telling the pony that only yesterday was convinced I was after one of her best friends for less than noble reasons would take kindly to being told how nice it felt when she was touching my flanks. "Am I right to assume that 'nothing' is not an acceptable answer?" he responded hesitantly. Applejack shook her head firmly. "Ok then... Why were you in bed with me?" At this point Applejack matched Cerulean's blush and turned away from the grinning stallion that lay in front of her. Even the simplest of answers can become a convoluted mish-mash when emotions are involved, and Applejack's unintelligible stammering proved this to a tee. This amused Cerulean to no end, his attempts to suppress his giggling largely unsuccessful which only compounded Applejack's already flustered state.

"I couldn't sleep last night so I came back here, and I still couldn't sleep cause a certain somepony was hoggin' the bed, so I had to get close so I could fall asleep proper, ya hear? Nothin' more!" she managed to get out, her voice unusually subdued. Cerulean picked up on a hesitancy placed in the last two words, and stared at her hard. She shifted uncomfortably from hoof to hoof under his penetrating gaze. "All right, fine! I wanted to know what it was like to sleep with somepony, ok?" Cerulean wasn't sure how to respond. How could she go from cold shoulder to cuddly in less than twenty four hours?

"Oh, uh... ok? So..." he faltered, unsure of where to steer the conversation. He must have been feeling very bold that morning, perhaps due to his victory the night before, but he felt like testing the waters, her limits, and perhaps his own mortality. "How was it?" Applejack's shock propelled her off the back of the bed, tumbling to the floor causing Cerulean's bed to reverberate under the impact. She quickly stood up, preparing to make a defense when Cerulean's horn glowed briefly, causing a small pile of snow to fall onto her head and soothe the burn. She gave a small, surprisingly delicate sigh before remembering Cerulean's inquiry and again becoming flustered.

"What kind of question is that, Cerulean? Honestly, some ponies have no common decency..." she muttered, avoiding eye contact. It was... different, in a good way. Ah liked it a whole lot more than ah care t’ admit, so hopefully he don’t ask.

"Are you still wary of me?" She faced him again, his face serious and full of concern. She walked over and sat by the bed. She drew silent in deep thought for a while, pondering the seemingly simple question as her mind seemed to be running a million different directions at once.

"No, I'm not Cerulean. You've earned my complete trust, first colt to have it in a long time," she finally responded, offering a weak smile. She bowed her head and gently rested a hoof over the bruise the cart wheel had made, stroking it lightly. Cerulean was fine with that, until he felt another pony join him on the bed and place two hooves against his shoulders. He opened his eyes to see a rosy cheeked Applejack sitting off to his side, who began to gently massage his aching limbs. It was painful at first, but grew quite relaxing. At least for his shoulders. His heart had the opposite reaction, which decided that his face needed about twenty percent more blood pumped into it than it had already.

"Don't get the wrong idea here, I've been overworked a time or two mahself, and a good massage will do wonders fer the pain. It's my fault you're like this anyhow, so it's the least I can do." Cerulean nodded slowly, not making eye contact. He closed his eyes but shortly after snapped them back open, as the image that came to his mind would have made even the loosest of ponies cringe, deciding it would be better for him if he focused intently on the nightstand. "Cerulean?" Applejack's voice drew his eyes once more to hers. "What was it like, kissin' Twilight?"

What the... why in Equestria would she be asking something like that? As Cerulean's mind scrambled to find a way to describe the torrent of emotion that boiled within at the meer memory of the event, Applejack's hooves slowly slid from his shoulders and onto his chest, resuming their gentle, though firm, circular motions.

"Well... It's rather hard to describe," Cerulean managed, immobilized as his muscles relaxed from her skillful hoof strokes. "The kiss itself was gentle, but what happens inside feels kind of like somepony stoked a fire inside your chest and then struck you with lightning. The world fades away and a strange tingling tickles your stomach. It's... Amazing, really." Applejack said nothing and shifted slightly, pulling the blankets back and shifting her hooves to his back legs. He flinched slightly as her warm skin made contact with his flank before moving to his upper thigh. He tried not to think about how good it felt, and not just on his muscles. His horn, however, radiated a soft blue light as Applejack gave him more stimulation than Twilight had dared thus far.

"I've never kissed anypony before," she mentioned casually, though her voice carried a tinge of regret. "I've no fascination with mares, and since colts 'ave always frightened me, it didn't leave a whole lot of opportunity fer romance t' bloom." For the first time since he had met her, Cerulean saw Applejack looking frail, and it scared him deeply.

Applejack, if my mind weren’t so consumed with Twilight, I would have seen past your facade. You’re... really lonely, aren’t you. I wish I could help... He reached up and gently placed a hoof on top of hers. "Don't worry, Applejack. Your time will come." he said softly, hoping his words would help calm her down. They did, though not nearly the way he had expected, as she finished the massage and stood over him on the bed.

"I wanna know what it feels like," she whispered, voice wavering as she leaned a little closer. Cerulean didn't have the strength, ability, or will to move as she leaned even closer, her mouth just inches from his own. She hovered a moment, looking into his eyes and forcing him to confront a most startling realization; when she wasn't causing him massive physical agony and impaling him with her withering gaze, she was actually very cute. As the thought danced through his head like Pinkie on a sugar high, Applejack made the final push and brought her lips to meet his, both of them blushing deeply. A familiar but yet slightly different sensation from the one he had experienced with Twilight's kiss burned within his chest, and the faint taste of apples graced his senses.
I didn’t really think... that one night alone would feel so strange. I guess I should have expected it, given how it felt when he was in the hospital, but I just thought that was because he was hurt. Am I just overreacting? Are my emotions playing tricks on me? Would I even be able to tell the difference? This is all so new to me... All I know is that I don’t like waking up alone anymore. Twilight cracked open her eyes and placed a hoof over where Cerulean would have been asleep. “Cerulean, you dolt... I just want you here.” She sat up, took a few moments to stabilize her mind and ascended to the second story to shower.

She turned on the flow, giving a few moments for the temperature to rise to an appropriate level before realizing that she would be in need of a new mirror, as her current one was clearly lying. For one, there was simply no way she could have bed mane that bad. Secondly, there were tear stains on her cheeks. I know I was tossing and turning a lot last night, but I... did I really miss him that much? She placed a hoof over the reflection of her cheek, wishing she could feel the warmth from a certain blue stallion that was quickly becoming more ingrained into her heart than she dared to guess. It was terrifying.

Turning away, she allowed her mind a hiatus from such thoughts and simply enjoyed her shower for the basic pleasure that it was. Upon drying herself, she returned to the mirror, wiping away the steam with a towel and grabbing her brush to begin righting her the disaster that was her mane. Now, her hair was naturally straight, so it didn’t take too long, but Spike began to wonder just what was prompting her to take so long.

“Uh, Twilight? You never spend that much time on your hair. Don’t you have someplace to be?”

“Yes, Spike. And that’s exactly why,” she said softly, smiling as she looked at herself in the mirror. What she saw was a simple, plain, unicorn librarian unworthy of a second look. But, to him... “I’m beautiful,” she whispered. Spike followed her as she trotted downstairs, curious as to why she was beaming but happy to see her joyful after how depressed she had been when Cerulean was hospitalized. “Spike, gather up the books on this list so I can read them when I return.” Spike accepted the parchment and watched as she made for the door.

“Twilight, does he really make you that happy?” She paused, giving it some thought before turning back to her favorite dragon.

“Yes, Spike. He does.”

“Even though he’s reckless, dangerous, and not that bright?” To his relief, Twilight chuckled at his assessment, regarding the confused dragon with faint amusement.

“I can’t deny the reckless and dangerous parts, but he’s teachable. He’ll learn. After all, who better to teach him than me? I mean, I’m like the smartest unicorn in Ponyville!”

“Yeah, that’s why you charmed half the town with Miss Smartypants. You know, maybe you two are good for each other, though I fear for the town if you ever get married.”

“S-Spike, what are you... I wasn’t even...”

“Twilight, you totally were.”

So what if I was? It’s my mind, I’m allowed to think whatever I want! “Just make sure you get those books,” she muttered, closing the door and breaking into a gallop. The thought of seeing him filled her with energy, and as she made it to the front door, she made sure her mane was still in order and knocked on the door. Her unspoken inquiry for entrance was answer a short time later by none other than her messenger from the previous evening. "Thanks for letting me know Cerulean wouldn't be home last night, Applebloom. I'd have been very worried if you hadn't come to me."

"Sure thing, Twilight. I'm sure Applejack wouldn't want you frettin' over nothin,'" she replied happily, leading Twilight to her sister's room. Twilight waved to the various members of the Apple family milling about, tending to various chores and preparing for a day in the orchard.

"It didn’t sound like nothing last night. How could he have not been able to at least walk home? Did he get injured?" Applebloom shook her head as they ascended the steps and stopped short as Applejack's room came into view, clearly marked by her Cutie Mark being carved into the woodwork.

"My sister was right cruel yesterday. She made Cerulean work sunup to sundown in the orchard, until he finally passed out. I offered to 'elp 'im, but she told me not to." Twilight gritted her teeth as a variety of unclean words infiltrated her usually tame vocabulary. It was also then that her mind comprehended that they were indeed not heading towards the spare beds, but to Applejack's room, leading a host of unpleasantries to float through her mind. Had they not been otherwise engaged, Applejack and Cerulean surely would have heard the heavy hoofsteps leading up to the door, which swung open quite loudly.

The gears in Twilight's brain ground to a halt as she beheld the lip-locked pair, both seemingly oblivious to her presence. Her eyes shot from Applejack, then to Cerulean who was still wearing her hat, to the water that was still spilled on the ground, to their cheeks, and then to nothing in particular at all. A rather steamy scene began to play through her mind in fast forward, her internal temperature rising to keep up with the fast paced action that danced before her eyes. The sound of something bursting into flames made Cerulean wonder if he was simply delirious, but Applejack seemed to hear it as well and pulled back, looking over her shoulder.

"Oh dear Celestia, have mercy on us all," Applejack muttered, swallowing hard. Cerulean was met with the most frightening sight, and he had no means of escape. There in the doorway stood Twilight, her coat white hot and bathed in deep crimson and orange flames.

The Rift

Chapter 13: The Rift

When your primary love interest suddenly appears to find your lips locked on those of another, three distinct options come to mind. One may choose to flee the scene, hoping that time and distance apart will allow the anger to dissipate to a point that rational discussion is possible. Another viable course of action would be to throw yourself at their mercy, begging for forgiveness. The third, and admittedly most risky course of action, would be to try to alleviate the situation with humor. Should the attempt at levity fail, the results would be none too pretty.

Cerulean, ever the optimist and unable to even consider running as an option, wracked his brain for something to say that would extinguish the flames that seemed to have replaced Twilight's mane. He didn't feel much like groveling as he didn't regret what had just happened, considering the moment he had just shared with Applejack to be of great importance not just for himself, but for Applejack as well. Applejack had receded from her place atop his chest and was now sitting on the floor, not daring to make eye contact with either of them and trying desperately not to think about how her cheeks were likely the same temperature as Twilight's mane.

"Gee Twilight that's... an interesting spell?" Cerulean said hesitantly, not entirely sure what to make of her condition.

"This... isn't... a... spell!" she gritted out through clenched teeth. After a night spent alone, longing just for you to be near, I come in and find you kissing one of my best friends? And one that I thought for sure you’d never... Cerulean, while fairly good at being able to read others, was prone to temporary lapses in judgement, normally at the worst possible times.

"So... your turn next?"

Big Mac had just finished attaching the wagon's harness to himself and was starting towards the fields when a very distraught Applebloom approached at full speed.

"Big Mac! If somepony suddenly explodes into flames an' changes color, what does it mean? Are they mad? Should we call a doctor?" He was about to respond when an explosion blew away a good portion of the roof.

"Eeeyup," he nodded sagely before setting the wagon aside and fetching a pail of water.

Cerulean quickly withdrew his welcoming hooves as a column of flame blasted through the roof, sending pieces of smoldering debris everywhere. Cerulean's expression turned grim as he realized that if something wasn't done soon, the whole house was going to burn.

"Twilight, get a hold of yourself! Look at what you're doing!" he pleaded to no avail.

"How can you expect me to calm down after I find you ki... ki... Grraaaaa!" she howled, sending out even stronger flames, lighting the area underneath her hooves. Cerulean could tell she was beyond reasoning, and attempted to generate a pile of snow atop her to cool her down. The result was a billowing cloud of steam, her rage too great for simple snow to quench. As desperation sank in he used his magic to launch himself bodily onto Twilight. The flames seared his body, and he cried out in pain as he slammed his hoof into Twilight's chest, sealing her in a thick layer of ice and extinguishing the flames around. He waited a couple of seconds for her to color to return to normal before tapping the ice lightly, causing the frost to shatter and allowing her to breathe once more.

Cerulean's vision began to blur as he suddenly found himself looking at the ceiling, before a dark cloud obscured his sight completely. He fought to retain consciousness as every fiber of his being screamed in agony, a good portion of his body now badly burned on top of his overall muscle fatigue. He could vaguely hear voices but they were completely indecipherable to his ears.

"Applejack, what possible reason could you have for doing that?" Twilight asked, barely managing to keep her voice level.

"I can explain, Twi, but there are more important things to worry about right now. Cerulean's in bad shape, and we need to tend t' those burns," she shouted as she rushed over to where Cerulean lay. Twilight cast a glance at Cerulean and blanched, horrified. The strain he had put on his muscles already delicate condition had turned into deep bruising over much of his body, and there were large stretches of his coat that had been seared black by her immolating anger. The area around his hooves were inflamed deep red as minor infections from the splinters flared.

"Cerulean, I'm sorry, I didn't mean..." she said softly, gingerly placing a hoof on his chest. It caused just enough pain to send him over the edge, and he struggled to roll to one side as his stomach emptied itself of half its contents. He began quaking uncontrollably, and forced out the only words he could think of.

I should have stopped her, I know it was wrong to let her kiss me like that. I just... wanted to help her, too. I’m sorry, Twilight. The fault is mine, and I can bare this punishment. So, please... "Twilight... please don't be angry... with Applejack." His mind forcibly shut itself down as the trauma became too much for his nerves to handle. Twilight's eyes filled with tears as he went limp, his feeble breathing and constant shiver the only signs that he was still alive. Applejack lay a hoof on Twilight's shoulder and drew her close.

"I'm sure you have questions, and I'm really sure you're mad, but let's set that aside and take care o' Cerulean first, ok Twilight?" She nodded, and together they lifted him into the bed. Twilight cleaned up the remnants of Cerulean's meal while Applejack searched through the first aid kit for burn cream.

"Nothing could be worth this kind of abuse. What did you do to him, Applejack?" Twilight pondered, glancing back at him. Applejack walked over and handed Twilight a jar of ointment as she finished cleaning up, and together they began treating his burns.

"I'm not sure if I've ever told ya, but I'm frightened of colts." Twilight stopped long enough to fix her with a quizzical stare, though Applejack paid it no heed and continued. "Remember how I mentioned awhile back that I went to Manehatten when I was a filly to visit my uncle an' aunt?" Twilight vaguely recalled something to that effect, it was shortly before she received her cutie mark. "On my way back to the train station to head home I was... stopped by some colt in an alley. I knew better than t' talk to strangers so I tried to walk right past. He..." she faltered, stopping her application of the cream and staring at her hooves. "He covered my mouth an' started t' drag me away. I managed to get out a single scream before he gagged me." Applejack rubbed her moist eyes, careful not to get any ointment in them. "I've never been so frightened in m' life, Twilight. Fortunately, somepony heard my scream, and the moment he was spotted he took off runnin'. I can't tell ya how relieved I was when I arrived in Ponyville. But ever since that time..."

What a horrible thing to happen to a child, no wonder she was so apprehensive of Cerulean. "Applejack, why didn't you tell any of your friends about this?" Applejack glanced Twilight, whose face conveyed a mix of compassion for her situation and frustration for being left in the dark.

"It's not something you'd jus' bring up on a whim, now is it?" Applejack responded, slightly annoyed. Twilight had to admit that it wasn't really the best topic of conversation. "Anyhow, that's why I was convinced that Cerulean was just takin' advantage of yer good nature, but did he ever prove me wrong," she said pausing to smile. "He worked from sunup to sundown with me in the orchard, pushing his body far beyond its limits and never once resorting to magic. By the last hour, I could see he was sufferin' somethin' awful, but he never once complained, never stopped. An' you know why, Twilight? It was all for you."

"For me..? But, you two were... I don't understand," she stammered.

"When I saw you two kiss, I felt somethin' strange inside o' myself. Romance is somethin' I've steered clear of, but seeing the passion you two shared... Twilight, I wanted to feel what it was like. Cerulean is the only colt that I've ever come to truly accept, his stubbornness an’ dedication yesterday bein' exactly what I needed t' see. I can't explain it Twi, but I think I'm startin' t’ warm to him too. I wasn't plannin' this, honest."

Twilight watched as Applejack's shoulders started to shake as she awaited her fury. Her mind unraveled as Applejack's words lanced through the stitches of her assumptions. How could she possibly have doubted Cerulean so easily? And why didn't she see any of this before? Shame churned the rising nausea in her stomach. For the first time in her life, Twilight saw tears fall from Applejack's eyes, and any remnants of her anger were put to flight as the strongest pony she knew began to weep softly. "I didn't mean for nopony to get hurt... I'm not trying to take 'im away from ya Twilight, I just... Wanted to feel a fraction of what he feels for you." Applejack opened her eyes half way as Twilight's arms encircled her, squeezing gently.

"Shhh, it's all right Applejack. It's gonna be all right," Twilight murmured, holding her close. Applejack hesitated a moment before giving in, burying her face into Twilight's neck, who shivered slightly as a tear traced a path down her back. They sat there a long time, unaware that Applebloom was watching wide eyed from the door, seeing a side of her sister that she'd never imagined existed; weakness. Applebloom added her own tears to the mix as she threw her arms around her sister, not understanding the situation but offering what comfort she could. Upon realizing that her sister was watching, Applejack immediately fought to stem the tides.

"Hush now, Applebloom. Everything's all right, y'hear? No need fer that," she smiled, sniffing a little. "Now, be a good little filly and grab us some tissues." Applebloom nodded once and sped off. "I sure hope you can deal with that one, Twi. He's gonna be a handful, if this last week is gonna be the norm," she said, turning back to Twilight. Twilight's feeble laugh sounded hollow, and Cerulean's brutalized body gave her every reason to forsake any ideas of mirth.

“I know he should probably be taken to the clinic, but this is all my fault... I want to take care of him personally, so could I borrow some of that ointment?”

“Sure thing, Twi. I'll 'elp you get him back to your place, but he probably shouldn't be moved fer a while, so come back later this evenin', all right?” She nodded and was about to return home when she noticed the gaping hole in the roof. She spent the next hour helping repair it, accelerating the process considerably with her magic while her mind was working furiously to find a way to show Cerulean just how truly sorry she was.

Her studies were the farthest thing from her mind, and as evening finally came, she entered Applejack's room to find Cerulean was still sleeping, his shallow breaths seeming to echo in the silence. Applejack drew up beside her and placed a hoof on her shoulder briefly before approaching Cerulean on the right. Twilight followed and they gently eased him onto their backs. He groaned softly but didn't awaken, and they made the trip back to the library in silence. Spike opened the door and stepped aside, gasping as he saw the burns all over Cerulean's frame. Twilight lifted him into bed with her magic, drawing the blankets up to his chin and sitting beside him.

I can’t... possibly hold what he’s done against him. I felt betrayed when I saw him kissing another mare, and he couldn’t have known, but I... have always thought Applejack was prettier than me. I’ve never felt such jealousy in my life, but this... I didn’t want this to happen. “He's going to hate me when he wakes up, isn't he...” she whispered as she hung her head, fighting back tears.

“I haven't known Cerulean very long, Twi. But I think it'll take more 'n that to break 'is love fer you.” Twilight snapped her head up at the words, fixing Applejack with hopeful eyes. “Twilight, he's only got one mare on his mind, an' that's you. Nopony would go through what he has fer a simple crush. Remember that.” She tipped her hat and left, leaving Twilight alone to her thoughts.

“Cerulean... is this... longing for acceptance, for assurance... is this what you felt, that day when you nearly died? I hit you for being so stupid, but now... I can’t help but feel I’ve gone and done something very much the same.”

When Cerulean finally did awaken the next day, Twilight tried to greet him cheerfully but the guilt weighed heavily on her soul, making it difficult to even look at him. Every burn and bruise were a reminder to a fact she desperately wanted to forget but couldn't; it was her fault he was in this condition. He spoke very little, choosing to use write his responses with magic rather than speak.

“I’m sorry, Cerulean.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Twilight stared at the words for a moment before shaking her head in disbelief.

“How can you tell me not to worry about it? Look at yourself! Every burn... everything, is all my fault.”

“You were pretty hot, Twi. Though, I must say, I prefer avoiding conflagration as thanks for a hug.”

How can he be joking at a time like this? I deserve his punishment, not his sympathy...

“Twilight...” Just the sound of his voice, laden with pain, was enough to move her to tears. But what followed after... “You’re... worth this... to me.”

Cerulean spent the next week recovering, largely unable to move without lancing pains shooting through his body. The physical pain was merely a distraction as the distance between Twilight and himself grew gradually greater. She may have thought she was acting normal, but Cerulean could see the signs that something was very wrong.

I have to wonder... if she’s still upset about what happened with me and Applejack. I’ve said I’m sorry, but she denies that the kiss is what’s bothering her. I can see the vacant look in her eyes, hear the hesitancy in her replies... With the amount of time she spends away from me, upstairs reading her books... What else could it be? Where he once had the strength to put his fears to flight with the confidence in his bond with Twilight, doubt had crept in and was slowly but surely sinking its claws into his heart. He closed his eyes, hoping to find some solace in sleep.

Upstairs, Twilight was dutifully plowing through as many relationship advice books as she could get her hooves on, as she had since the first day she had brought Cerulean back. None of her friends had special somepony’s, and she was too ashamed of what had happened to try to ask. I never... want to endanger Cerulean again like I did at Sweet Apple Acres. I don’t know anything about relationships, but if I can just learn... how to act, what to say... Then maybe I can repay him for the pain I’ve caused. Until then, Cerulean, please be patient with me. I’m scared of messing things up. She glanced at the gift that Rarity had made at her request, sitting on top of her dresser. It was a mere trinket, in her mind, compared to the chasm she had to bridge, but she hoped that it would bring at least a small happiness to the stallion a floor below.

Cerulean watched in terror as the sky around him turned blood red, tainting the snow that whipped all around him. The ground at the edges of his vision cracked and fell away, devoured by an encroaching black miasma. Cerulean whirled around to run but found himself trapped on all sides. He closed his eyes as the shadows reached up to take him, holding the withering blue spark above his head. Cerulean grimaced as the invaders clawed their way up his chest, reaching for the flame held aloft.

"Awww, are we having fun yet?" The voice echoed all around him. Even after four years, there was no mistaking it. Cerulean fell to the ground and covered his ears, screaming for it to stop. "Don't worry, I'm sure we'll play together again soon."

Twilight heard Cerulean wake with a shout and came racing down from her room to find a massive pile of snow surrounding Cerulean's bed. A quick gland and she knew it must have been a terrible nightmare, as there were at least three inches down where none had been just fifteen minutes earlier. She approached quietly, clutching a small box to her chest.

Rationality fled from Cerulean as fear and rage consumed his mind. He sat bolt upright, thoughts of his failure dancing before his eyes as Bangle's words echoed in his mind. In his wrath, he could feel the magic brimming inside, preparing him for battle when something descended gently upon his shoulder. He swung his hoof wildly, making connection with something soft and summoning a blade of ice around his other hoof as he brought it around for a follow through, stopping just short of Twilight's neck. Cerulean's unbridled hatred etched itself into Twilight's mind, as her absolute terror etched itself into his. His hoof had connected solidly with her cheek, which was already starting to change color, and the realization of his error came full force as she back away from him. The ice around his hoof shattered as gut wrenching guilt conquered his anger.

"I just wanted... to say I'm sorry..." she whispered. Cerulean stretched out his arm, but she flinched and backed further away, cowering. I... I know I deserved that, but I... I can't...

"Twilight, I didn't mean to..." he started, but she dashed outside before he could finish, tears flowing unchecked and the treasure in her hooves cast aside. Ignoring the cries of protest from his limbs, he ran outside to give chase but she quickly teleported away, leaving no trace to follow. Desperate, he summoned his wings and began flying low, searching the town. He didn't stop until the last of his magic drained and he fell to the ground, chest heaving. Somehow, even then he knew she was gone, no longer in Ponyville. The door to her heart had closed, and he was left on the outside. As that final thought drained the will power from his limbs, he closed his eyes and wished for the end, his soft cries fading unheard into the starry sky.

Driving the Nails Deeper

Chapter 14: Driving the Nails Deeper

As the suns first rays lit the sky, a strange chill was in the air of Ponyville. A startled cry from one of the residents caused the few ponies that were awake that early to gather around a monolithic pillar of ice protruding from the ground. Inside was an unconscious Cerulean, suspended in the center and completely inert. Some of the ponies backed away immediately, frightened that they may suffer a similar fate should he awaken. Most discussed what it could mean in hushed whispers.

Rainbow Dash had awoken far earlier than she would have liked, and after half an hour of unsuccessfully attempting to fall back asleep she decided to go for a flight to wake herself up. While the sensation of the wind in her wings and mane were usually adequate to rouse her, the unusual nip in the air finished the job properly, bidding her fly a little faster to generate more body heat. As she made a pass over Ponyville, she saw the reflection of sunlight glinting off the crystalline structure and made straight for it, her looming weather duties momentarily forgotten. Landing a short distance from Cerulean's frosty cage, she approached cautiously, calling out to him.

"Cerulean? Hey, Cerulean!" No movement. "Cerulean, wake up, you're scaring everypony!" she said, raising her voice. "Cerulean, Twilight's gonna freak if she sees you like this! C'mon, wake up!" she shouted, desperately pounding on the structure with her hooves. He stirred and opened his eyes, blinking a few times. He glanced briefly at Rainbow Dash before shattering the ice and landing on his hooves, which immediately buckled from the numbness. He lay motionless, ignoring the burning sensation as life tried to seep back into his limbs. "Cerulean, what's gotten into you? Did you and Twilight have a fight?"

"She gone, Rainbow. She left last night." His hollow voice carried no emotion, only information. He rose shakily to his hooves, wincing with each step as Rainbow hovered alongside him.

"Gone? What do you mean gone? Like, left Ponyville?" Cerulean nodded slowly. "Then why are you still here?" The question was fair; after all, if someone wounded one of your best friends, it's only natural they'd be upset.

"Do you want me gone too?" he asked, completely serious. He braced himself for the affirmation that never came.

"Why would I want that? You make life pretty interesting around here."

Wait, what? Did I even hear that right? He stopped again and fixed her with a quizzical stare. "So, you call nearly destroying half the town and tugging the heartstrings of two of your best friends 'interesting?'"

"Well, gee, it sounds pretty bad when you say it that way, doesn't it?" she replied with a laugh. "The reason I asked why you're still here is because if Twilight ran off, then it's safe to assume you'd rush to get her back." Cerulean sighed, knowing Rainbow Dash didn't have a clue as to what had happened the night before.

"I looked for her all night, but I couldn't find her. I don't know where else she'd be if she's not in Ponyville. And besides..." he choked on his words, remembering the look on her face before she left. Her eyes conveyed more pain and betrayal than Cerulean dared to admit, and he knew he was the cause. "She wouldn't want to see me anyway, not after I..."

"Tell me what happened," she commanded, landing in front of him and rolling her eyes. Cerulean was rightfully annoyed with her flippant manner, but summarized the last week into a few minutes of speech. Rainbow Dash sat for a moment before responding, voice full of confidence. "She's in Canterlot." Cerulean simply stared at her.

"How can you know that?" he inquired, trying not to let his hope flare but failing to restrain it. If he could find her, then maybe...

"As the Element of Loyalty, I believe it's in her best interest that both of you make up, so I'm willing to help you out a bit," she said, seeming to ignore his unimportant inquiry. "You weren't just gonna let her go, were you?" Cerulean remained silent. He wanted nothing more than to apologize and set things right, but he couldn't shake the expression on her face after he had struck her, the fear in her eyes as she backed away. It was if it had been branded onto his mind, and he didn't know if he thought he even could have another chance. "Listen, from everything I've heard about you, you don't go halfway. I'm not gonna lie, you screwed up. Big. Huge. Monumentally..."

"I got the picture, Dash, thank you," Cerulean interrupted, shooting her an irate glare which she shrugged off.

"And that's why you get to go fix it!" she proclaimed, grinning ear to ear. Cerulean knew she was right. "She's likely staying at the royal castle. All you have to do is figure out a way to find her and say, 'Sorry for spitting on your kindness and smacking you in the face.'" He cringed inwardly at her blunt approach to things, but couldn't deny the truth to her words. His determination had been withering as despair took it's toll, but the will to fight began to creep back into his heart.

"Wait, hold up... Did you say the royal palace? As in the royal palace? Home of Princess Celestia?" he inquired as the words suddenly registered."

"Uh, as if there's any other royal palace? Twilight is the princess' star pupil, you didn't know that?" Cerulean shook his head in disbelief, staring at the ground. "I'll take that as a 'no.'" He imagined what kinds of things she might be telling the princess about him at that very moment. Come to think of it, when he first seen her at the bookshop, Francis had mentioned that, hadn't he? "Snap out of it!" Rainbow's voice yanked him back to reality. "Listen, I don't know what's in store for you over in Canterlot, but you've shown everypony here that when you put your mind to something, you make it happen. Even when it's gonna hurt, you pull through it. Is she still worth the pain to you?" He sat stunned by the weight of the words for a moment.

"Every second." Even if they could never fully repair their relationship, the time they shared was worth every burn he now bore, every moment of agony in the orchard. "I'd do it all again in a heartbeat." Rainbow Dash nodded her approval then took flight, shooting into the sky with blinding speed before being lost from sight. He sat waiting, unsure what to do when she swiftly returned, handing him a small pouch.

"All right then, here's money for a ticket to the next train. It should be boarding in about fifteen minutes so you better get a move on." Without hesitation he grabbed the bag and broke into a run towards the library. Rainbow Dash darted after him, urgently indicating that the train station was in the opposite direction. Cerulean said nothing and summoned his wings, cutting through the sky and arriving at the library to find Spike sitting on the couch, a small box sitting in his lap. There was no warmth in the young dragon’s gaze, only anger that his friend had been driven away by the stallion walking towards him..

"Twilight wanted you to have this. I sure don't think you deserve it, but take it," he said as he thrust the box at Cerulean, looking away. Rainbow Dash wandered over as Cerulean accepted the box and opened it. Inside was a silver necklace set with a heart made of shining amethyst. A card was inside the box, which read, "For the one who's given me so much, my heart given in return." There were no words to describe the depth of gratitude he felt at that moment, and the flames of hope flared strongly within as he clutched the box to his chest, a few tears seeping out onto the floor. This couldn't be how it ended. This wouldn't be how it ended. He affixed the gift around his neck, and Rainbow Dash grinned as she saw the life return to Cerulean's features, his being radiating new found hope and the will to overcome any obstacle that may await him in Canterlot.

There was a spray of snow as he took off towards the Carousel Boutique, Rainbow Dash in hot pursuit. Rarity glared at him irately as he made a rather abrupt entrance, slamming open the door and completely ruining her creative flow as she designed her latest masterpiece.

"Honestly, there are better ways to enter a place of business, Cerulean." She then noticed the necklace around his neck and squealed excitedly. "Oh, she gave it to you sooner than I expected! You must be thrilled, did you..." she stopped, his expression telling her something was definitely wrong. He slowly approached and bowed himself to the ground.

"I have nothing to offer you, but I would ask of you one thing - is there any way you can make something like this set with a sapphire? I know you're not a jeweler, but... Please, I'm begging you!" Rarity smiled knowingly and rummaged through a chest before returning with a box the same size as the one that his necklace had come in, depositing it in front of him. Inside was a necklace identical to his, but set with a deep blue jewel. She didn’t look like the type to practice divining or clairvoyance, and even Twilight was having difficulty with predicting the future, so he was rightly confused by her display of intuition. "How did you?.." It didn't matter, he didn't have much time. "Rarity, thank you. I will find a way to repay your generosity, somehow," he called out as he took flight, making it to the station as the last boarding call was made.

He settled into his seat and looked out the window as the scenery started to fly by, his mind solely focused on one mare, and one task. Twilight... you’ve reached out time and time again on my behalf, and now it’s time for me to do the same. I can’t let things go like this, and I’ll do anything it takes to show you I’m sorry. Don’t give up on me, Twilight. Because I’m not... going to give up on you.

The train ride was only a few hours long, but it felt like much shorter to Cerulean as he recalled all the memories he had from Canterlot, both good and bad. He hoped against hope that four years was enough for people to have forgotten his face from the trial, because if they hadn't then even getting directions would be difficult, let alone gaining entrance to the castle grounds. As the train pulled to a stop and he stepped off, the familiar scene caused him to freeze. The buildings, the roads, the signs; nothing had changed. He wandered in a daze, reliving his college days and reveling in the nostalgia that bubbled up within his chest.

"What are you doing back in Canterlot?" a voice called out, shattering his dreamy stares and causing him to cautiously turn around. It was one of his old classmates from the university, but his face conveyed nothing but disdain. Cerulean said nothing, unsure of how to respond to the blatant animosity. He had expected he might run into this, but this soon?

"There's something I have to do, and then I'll be leaving," he said, forcing himself to remain calm. He couldn't well afford to be jailed just because he throttled somepony, no matter how badly they deserved it.

"Oh really? What's the poor little filly's name, huh? You sick freak, you're not welcome here." Cerulean attempted to walk passed when the colt stuck out a hoof, barring his path and challenging him with narrowed eyes. Cerulean swiftly flipped the colt onto his back and froze his hooves together before allowing himself a slight grin.

"You really haven't learned much, have you Levinbolt? Just stay out of my way like a good little foal, hmmm?" Cerulean ignored the stream of curses behind his back and continued trotting towards the palace. He could hear the murmur of hushed whispers as he passed through the streets, the inhabitants clearly not having forgotten his alleged offense. He held his head high, ignoring the jibes that the braver ponies were hurling, fixing his eyes on his destination that glowed radiantly in the distance.

"Twilight? Twilight Sparkle, it is you! Haven't seen you around here in quite some time!" Francis exclaimed, looking up from the tome he was reading behind the counter. She slowly nodded, saying nothing and heading towards the back corner of the shop. Francis frowned and followed her, studying her facial expression as she perused the volumes on the shelf. "It doesn't take much to see you're upset about something. You're sleep deprivation is clearly evident by the unsightly bags under your eyes. They're not befitting of your beautiful face." Twilight cringed at the word "beautiful," recalling when Cerulean had called her that after his welcome party, and how much joy it had filled her with.

"Now I'm not one to pry, but if you'd like somepony to talk to, I'm here, ok?" He turned to walk away when Twilight stopped him. She began to explain, but as soon as she mentioned Cerulean's name Francis let loose a mighty laugh. "Wait, Cerulean? Cerulean Snowgleam? Hahaha, that dog, he really did go after the mare of his dreams!" Twilight cocked her head as confusion derailed her train of thought.

"Francis, what the hay are you talking about?" her unusually irate tone causing Francis to immediately quiet down.

"You really don't remember, do you?" he replied, shaking his head. "Remember when I got you that copy of the first Daring Do early, now how long ago was that... Four years ago?" she nodded. "Cerulean was the other unicorn at the counter. He watched you leave, and I could swear even then he was lovestruck. He'd never really talked to me, seemed like a shy colt, but there was a definite longing in the way he looked after you as you dashed off." Twilight's eyes began to water as memories of him began to flood her mind. Everything cascaded down at once as she thought about how he must have felt, running away like she had. But the hatred in his eyes... Could she ever fix what she'd broken?

As hard as he tried, Cerulean couldn't tune out the growing chatter of all the ponies around him. Every whisper was a reminder of the atrocities of the past, every item thrown at him a declaration of misdirected animosity. He wanted to scream out the truth, but he knew that nopony would believe it. Seeing book shop he used to frequent when he was going to the university, he decided to take a quick breather in the relative safety it offered, hoping Francis was there. The "Open" sign on the door gave him hope for a momentary reprieve as he made straight for it.

"Everypony shut up and leave him alone!" a voice rang out, causing him to whirl around. Before he could even see the owner of the voice, a pair of pale green hooves wrapped around his neck, drawing him into a massive hug. The mare's magenta mane was cut short, neatly styled and matching the color of her eyes. A chocolate bar with three heart shaped indentations graced her flank, and she held him close the way she had so many years ago.

Francis returned tissues in hoof and listened as Twilight relayed all that had happened. He focused intently, and as she finished the tale her tears dried and she looked at him with expectant eyes.

"Twilight, I don't know Cerulean like you do. But based on what you told me, I don't think he was trying to hit you like that. He just doesn't seem the type to display anger with violence. I won't tell you what to do, but you should probably at least try to talk to him. Besides," he paused, giving her a wink, "if he looks anything like he did then, he's rather fetching, don't you think?" Twilight tried not to think about how strange that sounded coming from him, but nodded her agreement as she allowed herself a small chuckle. He was right on both accounts. As she resolved to go back to Ponyville in the morning and talk to Cerulean, she made her purchase and bid Francis farewell, thanking him for the advice. Twilight beamed with the anticipation of getting to see Cerulean again, and then stopped dead in her tracks as her heart shattered like glass.

"Amora?" Cerulean was rooted in place, shocked to see his ex-fillyfriend from highschool after nearly six years apart. Time froze and the world went silent as he watched Twilight walk out of the book shop. The book she was carrying dropped to the ground, forgotten as their eyes connected. Her smile faded as she saw the mare nuzzling his neck, rubbing against the necklace that she had planned to give him the night she ran away. Any hope she had of repairing their relationship was snuffed out; he had found another to take her place. The wounds she had caused him ran too deep.

"Twilight, wait!" Cerulean cried, but it was too late. With a flash she disappeared, leaving a single tear drop on the cobblestone street. Cerulean body began to tremble as he was overcome by frustration, surrounded by the growing shouts of hatred from the ponies all around and a mare full of unwanted affection, her hooves still wrapped around his trembling shoulders.

Soul Song

Chapter 15: Soul Song

Oblivious. There was simply no way that Amora could have possibly known just what kind of trouble she had caused.

"Who was that, Cerulean?" Amora questioned, hooves still wrapped around Cerulean's trembling form. He shoved her hooves away and she backed off, genuinely terrified of the expression he now wore.

"Why now..." She opened her mouth to speak but drew further back as the floodgates of his anger opened. "Why, Amora? Why did you have to find me now, of all times? I told you it's over, and nothing you could ever do is going to change that!" he shouted, knowing all too well exactly how it must have looked to Twilight, made worse by the fact that he was still wearing her gift. He stamped a hoof in frustration, grabbing the book Twilight had dropped and running off before Amora could respond. Time was running out. He knew he had to fix things, and quickly, or things may never be repaired between him and Twilight. As he drew near the palace gates the guards barred his entry, dismissing his obvious agitation.

"Halt! Authorized guests only passed this point." A burly unicorn guard with a dark coat shoved him back a few steps, preparing for trouble.

"I know Twilight Sparkle is staying here. Please, I need to speak with her, it's urgent!" The other guard noted the desperation in his voice with a grunt, and entered the palace for a short time before returning.

"Twilight is not accepting visitors right now. Move along," he commanded, narrowing his eyes as if daring Cerulean to try and proceed. He gave a cry of shock as Cerulean summoned his wings and jumped over them, rushing towards the castle doors. When they slammed in his face, he brought his hooves down hard, bashing through them with a column of ice and racing inside. Frantically scanning the interior, he knew he would never make it to Twilight's room; there were just too many corridors to search. Instead he dashed straight forward, evading guards when possible and freezing those that got in his way, heading towards the audience chambers.

If I can just make it to Celestia, then maybe I have a chance. If Twilight’s her student, then she should listen to her teacher. It shouldn’t be too much... A sudden impact from behind caused him to fall to the ground, and as he struggled to stand another blow landed on his back, forcing him to his knees. He feebly reached out a hoof towards the doors that seemed so close, before a final blow to his skull rendered him unconscious, the world around him quickly fading to black.

Celestia stood with a start as the doors to the banquet hall slammed open and four members of the royal guard approached, dragging something behind them. Cerulean's still form was dumped unceremoniously to the floor in front of her amidst cries of shock and disgust from the dinner guests.

"Who is this?" she asked, her usually calm tone slightly shaken as she noted the burn scars and bruising to his body. The guards had shackled his legs and placed a magic sealing device around his horn to prevent any attempts to escape his bonds.

"I don't know, your majesty. He was stopped at the gates but broke into the castle, wounding several guards and heading towards the audience chambers. We assume he was trying to get to you. He was also carrying these," the guard reported, setting down the small wooden box and the book Twilight had dropped then standing at attention, awaiting orders. Celestia examined Cerulean's cutie mark and instantly knew who he was, recalling Twilight's retelling of their story from the day before. She sat in thought for a moment, then a soft glow emitted from her horn, rousing Cerulean. The urgency returned and he attempted to stand, though the nausea-inducing throbbing from the concussive blow from the guards seemed to have invited a rather rambunctious migraine to take residence within his cranium. Upon seeing he was standing before Celestia, he immediately dropped to his knees and bowed his head, closing his eyes as his vision swirled.

"What is your name?" she asked, her regal voice frightening Cerulean a good deal more than he expected it would. He forced his thoughts onto Twilight and drew courage from the memories and hope for restoration.

"Cerulean Snowgleam, your highness."

"I believe the guards made it quite clear that Twilight wasn't accepting visitors, and yet you still broke into my palace and attacked my guards. Do you deny this?" He shook his head.

"I do not. And I will accept any punishment given, but I would like to make one request of you before I am taken away."

"And what might that be?"

"Please let me speak to Twilight. After that, I will..." but he stopped as Celestia's firm reply cut him short.

"No. You may not." He looked at the ground, gritting his teeth.

"It can't end... not like this," he whispered. Celestia said nothing. "If... If I can't see her, then could you at least give her that box and book?" He breathed a sigh of relief as Celestia nodded, lifting the articles to one her guards and instructing him to take them to Twilight's quarters. "Thank you for your kindness, Princess. I will accept my punishment now."

"As you have plead guilty to breaking and entering, and also to assault, you shall be jailed in the castle dungeons until an official trial date is set." He nodded silently and offered no resistance, marching silently between the guards and looking straight ahead. There were no traces of regret in his eyes, only determination. "Don't give up, Cerulean," Celestia murmured, walking back to her seat and looking out the window towards Twilight's room.

Twilight didn't stir as the guard's solid knocking broke the silence, her tear stained pillow hiding her face. The guard approached slowly, and set the book and box down on the table.

"A trespasser broke into the castle a few minutes ago, and his only request was that you receive these items." She made no motion to move, and the guard left quietly. After a few minutes she raised her head and stared at the box, thinking something was wrong with her vision; it looked exactly like the one she had given Cerulean. The book was now of little interest to her, her studies being the farthest thing from her mind. Curiosity eventually overcame her and she slowly approached the table, stopping next to it and continuing to stare at the container that had once housed her gift. Had Cerulean really sent her the empty box just out of spite?

In a fit of rage she hurled it against the wall, and as she watched it burst open she saw something glint in the light as it flew through the air. The metallic ring echoed throughout the chamber as the article landed on the stone floor, the sound lingering in her ears. She cantered over to find a necklace that matched the one she had given Cerulean, only the gemstone was a beautiful sapphire nearly matching the color of his coat.

Her mind reeled as she struggled to understand what could possibly be going on in his mind, sending her a gift like that after meeting up with whoever that green mare was. As she turned back towards the broken box she noticed a slip of paper on the ground. Her hooves trembled as she slowly brought it to her eyes.

"To the mare that has given me more than she could ever know, I give all that I am. Thank you, Twilight."

Twilight jumped as the door creaked open and Celestia entered. The princess approached and read the contents of the letter over her shoulder, a slight smile playing on her lips.

"Princess, what do I do? I'm so confused, I just don't know what to believe anymore," Twilight asked, too emotionally drained to even try to think.

"I think that he at least deserves a chance to explain himself. But not tonight, you both need some time to rest and think about your actions," Celestia said gently, wrapping Twilight in a warm embrace. Twilight gave no fight, collapsing against her as she gave in to the overwhelming urge to escape the present. Celestia gently lifted her into bed and tucked in the covers, closing the door quietly and heading towards her chambers. It was only early evening, but Twilight needed all the rest she could get, and drifted off into a deep sleep.

While Celestia may have adapted to various changes over the last one thousand years, the dungeons were largely unused, and thus hadn't been modernized in any way. Cerulean hung from the wall, each forehoof shackled with just enough slack that he could still breath if he relaxed his muscles. It was still quite difficult, and since his body was recovering from the events a week prior the position wasn't just uncomfortable, it was excruciatingly painful. He made no sound, and the guard assigned to watch him regarded him with great curiosity.

"You sure don't seem like a criminal." Cerulean smiled, glancing at the cell door.

"I try my best," he said weakly, hardly able to talk in his strained position.

"So if you're such an upstanding citizen, why the hay did you break into the castle?"

"I had to make a point." The guard scoffed loudly, clearly thinking Cerulean was nothing more than a crazy pony that happened to lose it. "If everything you held dear to you walked away, and you knew where to find it, wouldn't you be willing to risk imprisonment to win it back?" The guard shook his head.

"What could possibly be so important?" The guard watched in awe as an enormous grin stretched across Ceruleans muzzle. He struggled to raise his head and look the guard in the eyes.

"Twilight Sparkle." The guard burst out laughing.

"You strange little foal, she's way out of your league," he said with a smirk. To his surprise Cerulean laughed for a moment too before it degenerated into coughing.

"You're definitely right on that point. There's no way I deserve another chance, but I had to try. I still haven't given up hope, not yet."

"As well you shouldn't, Cerulean." The guard yelped and backed away from the door, bowing low as Princess Celestia approached. The door swung open and she entered the tiny room, standing face to face with Cerulean for a moment before her horn filled the room with a pale light. The shackles popped open and he slumped to the floor, groaning as blood again flowed evenly to his limbs. "You will see Twilight tomorrow. Be thinking about what you're going to say, as she will be the one to decide your fate." With that, Celestia deposited some water and bread on the floor, along with a few blankets and a pillow before exiting the cell, returning to the surface.

The guard stared at Cerulean in silence as he gleaned what sustenance he could from the stale bread, relishing the water as it soothed his parched throat. He set a small amount aside for the morning and laid out the blankets which offered surprising comfort from the stone floor. The guard tensed for a break out as he removed the horn limiter, but after five minutes of nothing, he relaxed and resumed his stalwart defense of the cell.

Staring at the ceiling did little to help, and Cerulean’s mind raced to find a way to right the growing pile of errors that had created the rift between himself and Twilight. Regardless of whether or not most of it was a misunderstanding, the pain he had caused her was real, and reparations had to be made.

“If I could just find a way to tell her what’s in my heart... without saying something stupid or sarcastic, then maybe I could... wait, that’s it!” The spell was something he treasured, but rarely used. It brought back painful memories of a time when things were happy, but it was his best shot. It would be difficult, but maybe it would be enough to at least earn forgiveness for everything that was weighed against him. Twilight... I’ll find a way. A way to fix all of this, a way to undo the hurt... a way to tell you that I love you.

Twilight awoke calmly, feeling refreshed and amazed that she had managed to stay asleep for so long. It was morning the following day, meaning she probably got a good twelve hours of sleep at least. Heaving a mighty yawn she sat up, feeling confident it would be a good day of studying in peace. At least, until she saw the necklace laying on the table, and the memories came rushing back to torment her once more.

That first day, when he woke up after I let my jealousy take control, he seemed so adamant that everything was alright. But, with each passing day, it just felt like he was drifting further away. Should I have done something different? I read all those books so I could find a way to fix things, but I... must have taken too long. If that were true, then why... why is he here now? How can I ever say I’m sorry? And that mare... I just don’t know what to think about anything! She slammed her hoof to her face a good deal harder than she meant to and winced as her head throbbed for a few seconds, after which she walked to the bathroom and showered. It served as a good distraction, if only for a short time, and as she dried herself and exited the room she steeled herself for the fated reunion.

“Cerulean? Let’s go, it’s time.” He slowly stood, waiting patiently as the guards replaced his shackles and magic limiter. He marched in silence between the guards as he was led into a large audience chamber, with the princess seated in the center. There were ponies lined on either side, eyeing him with disdain and whispering quietly to one another. His heart flooded with excitement and regret as Twilight entered the room, taking her seat beside Princess Celestia and avoiding eye contact.

Cerulean's countenance fell as he noticed she wasn't wearing the necklace. The only thing she had brought with her was the book she had dropped which she set on the lectern in front of her. He sought to quell the fear and doubt that threatened to suffocate him as he desperately fought to keep his plan in mind. As the last of the ponies filed in, Celestia tapped her hoof a few times and silence descended.

"You are all here as witnesses. Twilight Sparkle alone shall be the one to judge this pony's fate, the punishment being as strict or lax as she sees fit." Celestia then nodded to Cerulean, and all eyes turned to him. "You may speak."

Cerulean, please, just give me one sign that you still care for me. I don’t want things to end like this. I don’t want you punished... I just want you back.

"Before I make my defense, I would like to ask that the magic seal be removed from my horn, as well as my shackles. If I make any attempt to escape or behave in any way that could be seen as violent, my life will be forfeit," he stated without hesitation, looking straight at Twilight who was visibly shaken by his words. She looked to Princess Celestia who gave her a slight nod, and Twilight motioned to the guards. They removed the seal and shackles and backed away slowly, ready to strike should he try anything.

Cerulean attempted to generate his magic, satisfied that it built at normal speeds. He closed his eyes, intense focus stamped on his face as he created a circle of snow around himself in preparation for his plan. However, as he recalled a spell from his past, he could feel that the strain of the spell was going to be too much were he to attempt to use it simultaneously with his snow. The room grew silent as a somber melody arose, the gentle notes resembling that of a piano and emanating from his horn. He slowly lifted his voice to match it, singing softly.

"I wandered through life,
cold and alone.
Never finding a place
that I could call home.

You gave me hope,
a will and a way,
to fight the fear inside
each and every day.

But what did you receive
but a portion of my pain?
I could never hope to escape my past
or wipe away the stain...

So I reached out my hoof,
to a shelter from the storm,
and with a touch I tore it down
consumed by hate and scorn.

I'm sorry that I hurt you,
I know I made you cry...
You know that I would understand
If you wanted me to die?

So if that's your desire,
then to the grave I'll go.
But before I leave this world,
there’s one thing you should know..."

"Twilight..." he whispered, looking her in the eyes briefly before throwing this head back and crying out his final words to the heavens, clinging to the necklace he wore about his neck.

"You're worth this,
every scar and every pain -
Wiped away
every time I see your smiling face.

I wouldn't trade a single second,
of the time I spent with you.
Please, just one more chance,
and I know we'll make it through!

I don't want to lose it all,
the heart that I call home.
Please, can you forgive me,
because I... don't want to be...

The final notes faded, and the only sound that remained was Cerulean's quiet weeping as he sat alone shedding tears in the snow. Twilight cracked open the book and looked down at the necklace that she had wedged inside. She took it out and fastened it around her neck before slowly approaching, her hooves making a quiet crunching on the powdery snow. She wrapped her arms around him gently, pulling his head to her heart as his tears trickled down her chest. Her own tears fell unnoticed onto his mane, as her words washed away the sorrow in a cleansing cascade of hope.

"Cerulean... You're worth every tear."

To a Glorious Future

Chapter 16: To a Glorious Future

Cerulean slowly lifted his head and looked up at Twilight, her words still lingering in his ears. The warmth of her touch filled him from within, and at that moment he knew beyond a doubt that there was nopony else he would rather be with, nopony else he would give his most guarded treasure. Twilight opened her eyes and smiled down at the one she had given her heart to, and gently pressed a hoof to the amethyst around his neck. Cerulean in turn placed his hoof on the sapphire, and they leaned into a passionate kiss, oblivious to the host of eyes that were watching from all sides. As they pulled away and Cerulean tried to speak, Twilight covered his mouth with a hoof.

"Not here," she said gently, then turned to address the host of ponies who were silently observing. "I have reached a verdict." Cerulean felt a pang of fear as her voice hardened and her face turned serious. "As he is guilty not only of breaking into the castle and assaulting the guards, but also causing me great grief..." Cerulean hung his head, awaiting judgement. "He shall be sentenced to become my assistant in the research of the magic of friendship, until all the scars of his past have healed." Cerulean's fear turned to laughter as he tackled Twilight, squeezing her neck tightly in unrestrained joy. The room erupted as everypony's cheers shook the foundations of the castle. Princess Celestia approached, beaming as her student found the answer to all the questions she had posed when she came to her two nights back, teary eyed and exhausted from teleporting all the way to Canterlot.

"Congratulations, Cerulean. Very well done. It looks like I will be receiving letters from you in the future as well."

"Letters, Princess Celestia?" he asked, returning the smile but still very much confused.

"I'll explain on the way," Twilight said as she grabbed Cerulean's hoof and led him back to her room. "For the last two years, I have been studying the magic of friendship in Ponyville, and every time I learn something new, I write the princess a letter detailing what I've learned. Now that you're my assistant, that means you get to do the same," she explained with a grin.

"Judging by my performance thus far, I'd say I have a lot to learn," he chuckled ruefully, shooting her an apologetic smile. Twilight shook her head as they entered the room that she had used back when she lived in Canterlot.

"No Cerulean, you've proved again and again the depth of your devotion... I'm afraid it's me that needs to learn." Cerulean was about to protest when she held up a hoof. "Cerulean... I'm sorry for running off the way I did. When you... When you hit me, it was because you were angry about working so hard only to have me explode, wasn't it..." she said, casting her eyes to the floor.

"What? Twilight, you couldn't be more wrong," Cerulean replied emphatically, his sudden increase in volume causing Twilight to take a step back.

"Then why?.."

"Twilight, you saw the snow around, didn't you?" he asked. Twilight nodded and noted the pained look on his face as he recalled how he had struck her. She placed her hoof on his shoulder as he continued. "I had just awoken from a terrible nightmare, probably the worst I've had. I heard Bangles' voice say she was coming for me, and the fear and anger I felt didn't end when I came to. I didn't even realize it was you until I had..." he stopped, not wanting to say it. He looked into her eyes, making sure she heard every word. "Twilight, no amount of physical pain you could cause me would ever outweigh the peace you give my heart. And I would be burned a thousand times over if that's what it takes to be with you. You're worth the pain, every second."

Twilight's mind reeled as her heart soared. All this time she had thought that he was angry at her for putting him in so much pain, and yet he wasn't the slightest bit bothered by any of it. "I thought that after what happened with Applejack you couldn't forgive me, and then when I scared you off I thought I had lost you for good. Just as I started to hope again, Amora came out of nowhere right as you came out of the book shop..."

"Amora, is that her name? Who is she?" Twilight asked calmly, genuinely curious.

"She's my ex-fillyfriend from back in highschool. She was way more into me than I was with her, and she didn't take me ending it very well. I was so relieved when I moved, you have no idea."

"I can't believe how wrong all my assumptions were... If I had just taken the time to talk to you, then maybe we could have avoided all this," she said, turning away. She shivered as Cerulean gently kissed the back of her neck, the sensation sending sparks shooting through her spine and again waking the butterflies that had lay dormant within for the last week.

"Perhaps that would make a good first letter," Cerulean said with a grin. "I'm just glad that you could forgive me, Twilight." He laid his head on her back as thoughts of life without her flooded his mind with anxiety. The worries melted away as he was again wrapped in her arms, the fire within blazing merrily as she hugged him tightly, their necklaces clinking together quietly. They stood there a long while, until a knock on the door interrupted their peace and Celestia walked in. Cerulean bowed low and then looked up with shock as Twilight skipped over and embraced the princess like an old friend.

"Celestia, thank you for making me see Cerulean. I don't want to think about what would have happened if we hadn't spoken." Celestia smiled down at Twilight's beaming face as she stepped away.

"You're quite welcome, my dear student. And now that you have a new assistant, I look forward to many letters of your experiences, both together and with the rest of your friends." Twilight's face flushed slightly at the term "together," fantasizing about the prospect. Celestia noticed and cast a glance at Cerulean.

"Twilight?" he started, watching as she slowly turned to face him.

"...Yes?" she said hesitantly, her nerves faltering as anticipation built like storm waters against a dam.

"Will you be my fillyfriend?" The dam broke, and Twilight attacked him in sheer elation, disrupting his neural synapses with an immensely satisfying smooch. A cough from Celestia disrupted the moment, and Twilight pulled away as they both blushed deeply. Celestia noted their horns, amused that they were so easily aroused, and regarded them both with warm affection and a touch of teasing.

"I look forward to reading about your... exploits," she murmured with a coy smile, leaving the two embarrassed ponies awkwardly glancing anywhere but at each other. The door closed, and after a time Cerulean gave a short cough to get Twilight’s attention. She looked at him expectantly, and his words filled her with anticipation.

"Twilight? Let's go home." She nodded, grabbed the book and together they began the journey to the train station. Twilight's fierce glare silenced any would-be verbal assailants, and they made it in time to board the Ponyville Express. As they prepared to board, Cerulean saw Amora sitting on a bench at the station, no doubt waiting for the next train to Manehatten. Her vacant stare spoke volumes to Cerulean; she wasn't just upset with what had happened yesterday, but the way things had ended between her and Cerulean as a whole. Twilight noticed the sadness with which Cerulean regarded Amora, understanding it wasn't a look of longing but of regret that she had been hurt.

"Talk to her," Twilight whispered as she nudged him forward.

"Do I have to?" Cerulean complained, shooting her an imploring look that soon withered under her gaze. With a sigh he approached, Amora not noticing him until he was right in front of her. She looked at him briefly before averting her eyes. "Amora? I'm sorry." She said nothing, continuing to stare at the ground. "I know it was wrong of me to move away without saying anything, without warning... I knew you would be upset, and I guess I just didn't want to have to see you cry. But in the long run, the path I chose was likely far worse. I'll understand if you don't forgive me, but know that I truly am sorry. I hope you find the one you're looking for." He gave her a short but firm embrace before returning to Twilight's side.

Amora watched Cerulean board the train. She had desperately hoped that he would take her back one day, but as she saw the way he acted with Twilight, she knew it wasn't to be. That special spark that was missing between them was proudly on display as Twilight bust up laughing, falling down the boarding steps in a heap of giggles at something Cerulean had said. As much as it hurt to let go, she smiled through misty eyes as she silently wished him well. Nopony took any notice of a hooded figure that watched the scene unfold, her deep emerald eyes locked cerulean stallion that helped the lavender mare to her hooves and led her into the train car.

Riding a train with a companion is infinitely better than riding by oneself. Cerulean would say this proves doubly true when said companion is an overly, though enjoyably, cuddly fillyfriend that had a newfound taste for his lips. As she pulled away and leaned contentedly into his chest, he glanced across at the book set on the opposite bench. Levitating it in front of him, he read the cover aloud, much to Twilight’s consternation and extreme embarrassment.

“‘101 Ways to Please a Stallion: A Mare’s Guide to the Male Heart?’”

“When you were in bed, I spent most of my time reading relationship counseling books to try and make up for my somewhat lacking knowledge in the dating arena. I looked and looked, but I couldn’t find anything that was even close to our situation. When I saw this, I thought... that maybe I should just find ways to make you happy instead. I mean, you’re complicated, Cerulean.”

“That I am. Well then, let’s take a look.” After a couple of pages of silent reading, Twilight opted to read aloud, seeing that Cerulean’s reading speed wasn’t anywhere close to where her’s was. This was fine, and Cerulean closed his eyes and absorbed not the contents of the book, but exultation in Twilight’s voice. It was a time of peace after an admittedly rocky start, and they both savored each other’s presence, comfort and affection. Cerulean cracked open an eye as Twilight faltered.

“Maybe... we should just, um... skip this chapter.” She attempted to turn the page when Cerulean put his hoof down, grinning and blushing at the same time as he read the title.

“‘Horns, Wings, and other Fun Things.’” He looked at Twilight who was again displaying that disconcertingly adorable blush. “Let’s... save that one for silent reading, shall we?”

As they stepped off the train, Twilight inhaled deeply as the sweet scent of Ponyville graced her senses. They bantered back and forth as they walked, several ponies shooting them curious glances, recognizing that the two who had gone separate ways just a few days ago were now chatting like lifelong friends. They arrived at the library around two in the afternoon, and Spike was less than thrilled that Cerulean had returned, demanding that he sleep outside for at least a month. He relented after much persuasion from Twilight, and even with his loathing for the blue stallion that would again be staying in the library, he couldn't deny the delight that seemed to radiate from her every action now that Cerulean was back.

“Maybe this won’t be so bad after all, Twilight.” A grin was just starting to form as he watched them tease and laugh with each other, until they both indulged a rather heartfelt kiss. Spike inserted himself solidly between the two and shot Cerulean a murderous glare.

"Spike, me and Twilight are a couple now. It's not like I was kissing one of her other friends like Rarity, ok?" Cerulean reassured him with a grin. The very thought of the event caused smoke to shoot from Spike's nostrils, Cerulean's words having crossed a boundary he didn't know existed. Cerulean bolted away as the first flames shot from Spike’s mouth, and it quickly became apparent that the baby dragon was indeed very seriously trying to torch him. Twilight tried unsuccessfully to simultaneously contain her laughter and calm Spike down, inserting chiding remarks between snorts of derision. She collapsed on the floor, tears of mirth flowing at Cerulean's error, knowing he had no idea that Spike was very much in love with the one pony he happened to mentioned by name. Several minutes and small fires later, Spike stomped out the door amidst a steady stream of mumbling, Twilight catching a few words she would never approve of anypony using, much less a baby dragon.

Ever the studious unicorn, Twilight was eager to return to her research, but at Cerulean's urging she decided to wait until the next day to delve in so that they could spend some time together. The news of their courtship became the talk of Ponyville, spreading quickly throughout the town. This was largely due to a particularly loud-mouthed cyan pegasus. Many a pony stopped to congratulate them as they walked through the town, and they both gratefully accepted the warm reception. Twilight noticed Cerulean's countenance fall as he surveyed the still ongoing repairs.

"Why don't you offer to help?" she urged, knowing Cerulean enough to see he was kicking himself internally.

"I seriously doubt anypony would want help from the one who destroyed the town in the first place," he replied. Twilight thought for a moment then noticed one of the ponies that was repairing one of the buildings was carrying a megaphone which she promptly "borrowed" without permission.

"Hey everypony!" she yelled, causing everypony to stop and stare. Cerulean shifted uncomfortably at the unwanted attention. "Cerulean wants to help fix the town. I know some of you may be somewhat hesitant to accept him, but I would like to ask you all to think about how many times you have been given a second chance, and the way it felt. He will be available to help starting tomorrow." She magicked the megaphone back to it's owner who gave her a winning smile before resuming his shouting at the other construction ponies. “There, now you have no more room to sulk.”

“Thank you, it was getting old anyways. I’ve had about enough of that after the last few days.”
Spike wasn't home when they returned just after sundown. Cerulean followed Twilight into the kitchen and began examining the cupboards to see what she had on hand. They were surprisingly well stocked, though most of the items hadn't been touched since they were purchased. Recalling some of the things he had learned from Lemon Chiffon, he began mentally creating a menu for the evening, stopping Twilight just as she raised a carrot to her mouth.

"Nope, nothing so simple tonight. Go on, shoo, dinner will be ready in a bit," he chuckled as he pushed her out. She struggled half heartedly before a smack to her flank caused her to yelp, galloping a short distance in surprise. He shot her a mischievous grin before returning inside, where he immediately chided himself for his hoof’s behavior. Any residual annoyance that Twilight may have felt at having her personal boundaries transgressed was soon gone as mouth watering scents swirled around, making the usually simple act of focusing on the book she was reading extremely difficult.

Whatever he is cooking is going to be well worth his momentary breach of etiquette. Besides, I wouldn’t... mind another. Oh my gosh, did I really just think that? No, no, no, I can’t give in that easily. Still, some of the things in that last chapter... Her inner discourse was interrupted as her stallion’s call signaled the end of reading time, fortunately keeping her mind from wandering further.

"Twilight? It's ready." She eagerly entered the kitchen and stopped short, her breath catching as she took in the sight. There were two places set at the table, all of the plates and dishes made of the clearest ice that was indistinguishable from the most flawless of crystal. In the center of the table was a single candle in a holder made of the same enchanted ice. It was as ornate as anything that would be found in the royal palace save a heart that formed near the top. The pale candle light danced as she slowly sat down at one end of the table, and her amazement grew greater still as she noticed that the plates and utensils weren't the slightest bit cold to the touch.

The meal, while simple in appearance, tasted every bit as grand as it smelled. She watched in amazement as he set the table with fresh bread, a fully loaded salad, baked apples and a small cake with a message. "To a glorious future with the one I love," read the inscription, written with red icing in skillful, flowing letters. The bread was sweetened with honey and a smattering of spices Twilight couldn't identify, but it smelled extremely festive. Thanks to a recipe of Lemon's own design, the already top notch salad was elevated to gourmet status on account of the vinaigrette Cerulean had whipped up to accompany it.

The whole scene struck Twilight as ethereal, like something out of a fairytale, and she couldn't help but stare starstruck at the blue stallion who stood by her side. He softly kissed her cheek before taking his seat across the table, motioning for her to eat. A loud growl from her stomach helped her mind once again resume its regular duties, and she dug in eagerly, a growing warmth burning within her chest as she glanced at Cerulean.

"To a glorious future... with the one I love," she whispered to herself, gazing at Cerulean through shining eyes. "I can hardly wait."

“You seem somewhat shaken up after having seen him again.” The mare disregarded the voice and closed the door behind her, avoiding eye contact with her father and making straight for her room, where she removed her cloak and lay on the bed. Her vision of the ceiling was soon obscured as a black earth pony with blood red hair stood over her. “You should have said something to him. Honestly, isn’t it just infuriating? That stupid stallion acting like he doesn’t have a care in the world, prancing around with that filly like he could actually find love.”

“Spikeflail, be quiet,” Bangles whispered, pleading with her other half. She knew that the pony speaking into her ear wasn’t physically there, but she was very real. And she was more malicious than Bangles had ever known. She had allowed Spikeflail control to counteract her extreme shyness and fear of other ponies, but after what she had done to Cerulean...

“Oh ho, defensive of the stallion? Awww, does my little Bangles want her Cerulean back? I can arrange that, I’m sure.”

“No, just leave him alone. You’ve hurt him enough, just... just let me sleep.”

“Yes, sleep, just close your eyes, Bangles. I will take care of everything.”

The Anti-Checklist

Chapter 17: The Anti-checklist

Cerulean gently eased his eyes open, blinking as the first rays of Celestia's morn filtered through the window, lighting the dust motes as they danced happily through the air. Closing his eyes, he snuggled closer to the lavender mare asleep beside him, drawing her close while being careful not to wake her. He sat in silent reflection that, if there was ever an afterlife, this was how he would spend it. A small sneeze broke him from his revery, spraying his hoof and causing a drowsy Twilight to turn and face him.

"Good morning~" Cerulean sang softly, smiling. Twilight groaned and buried her face in his chest. Of the things at which she was exceptionally talented, being coherent the morning right after a three day emotional roller coaster didn't quite make the list. "Forecast today is sunny with light showers, with a twenty percent chance of grumpiness," he declared in an official voice, wiping his wet hoof on the blankets. Cerulean yelped as he was shoved out of her bed, finding the floor to be his new cuddle buddy. He lay sprawled face down for a moment, before adding "Ok, make that one hundred twenty percent," in a quiet voice, for which he was rewarded with a two pillows to the back of the head.

Deciding it was better for his health and the rest of the day to ease up on the teasing, Cerulean went downstairs and began to prepare breakfast. He found some flour and began mixing up some pancake batter after dicing up a fresh apple and setting it to the side. "I really want this morning to be special, and I've kinda blown it so far... What can I do to make it up to her?" he wondered aloud.

"Strawberries." Cerulean turned to find Spike giving him a serious look, arms folded across his chest. "She like strawberries, so if you're trying to apologize make something with strawberries."

"Thanks for the tip, Spike," he responded gratefully, for which he recieved a grunt as Spike excused himself. Cerulean's smile persisted as he watched the dragon set about organizing various things around the library, though it was nearly perfect already due to Spike's care while they were patching things up in Canterlot. He turned to the fridge only to find strawberries to be one of the few things that weren't present. Cerulean quietly excused himself from the house and, summoning his wings, made straight for the market stalls which were just beginning to open. Princess Celestia had graciously given him a bag of bits to get him started in Ponyville, and these strawberries were definitely of the utmost importance.

Twilight's senses came alive as her nostrils were suddenly tempted by a most tantalizing aroma. She took a deep draft of the delightful smell and sat up, blinking a few times to clear her vision. She let out a small gasp as she noticed the room was bathed in rainbow light. Looking at the window she noticed a thin layer of ice, just enough to cause the refraction necessary for the brilliant display. To her left she noticed a small bed table with the delicious breakfast still warm and a hand drawn card. There were pancakes with diced strawberries over the top and lightly frosted with powdered sugar, apple slices and a glass of orange juice.

Reaching passed the food she grabbed the card and brought it closer. The drawings were terrible, something even a two year old foal could outdo, but it seemed to be a depiction of the scene in front of her, including her waking up. A heart framed the words "I'm sorry for waking you, hope breakfast tastes good!" Twilight smiled and gently pressed the card to her lips where Cerulean had drawn himself, beaming.

"That's not fair, I make you breakfast and the paper gets the kiss?" Cerulean pouted as he ascended the steps. Twilight giggled and motioned him to come closer. He shook his head and trotted over to the pillows still on the ground where he had been unceremoniously evicted from the comfort of the bed and flopped himself facedown upon the floor.

"Uh... What are you doing?" Twilight inquired, utterly confused.

"Well seeing as how you're so friendly with that papyrus, I figured I'd just get to know the floor a bit better," he muttered sullenly.

"Hmmm, that's actually not a bad idea, you two will probably be seeing a lot of each other," Twilight mused. Cerulean cringed a little, not sure if she was joking or not. As he was searching his mind for a way to resurrect the situation he felt himself bodily lifted and floating through the air. Twilight gently set him down on the bed and gave him a heartfelt kiss. "Thank you for the card, Cerulean. Don't worry, you're forgiven," she proclaimed with a grin. She again noticed the smell of the pancakes, encouraging a cavernous rumble from her stomach. Cerulean motioned to the food with a dramatic flourish, and she dug in eagerly.

The library seemed strangely roomy, likely due to the fact that every tome was in it's proper place for once and the spare bed had been returned to it's usual spot. Spike had done a tremendous job cleaning while they were away, though he left shortly after their kiss, leaving a brief note saying he was going to go help Rarity with something. Cerulean regarded Twilight's dejected face with a confused grin.

"Twilight, what's with that face? Your house is clean for once."

"I know, that's the problem! Do you know how far behind I am on my studies thanks to you? I mean, just look at all these unused scrolls! Every single one should be a completed checklist!" she ranted, grabbing various tomes from the shelves and creating a small pile in front of her before levitating the parchment and quill over to her side. Cerulean waited for her to laugh at her own joke, but as she began furiously scribbling out a rough checklist for the rest of the day it became all too apparent that she was dead serious.

"This doesn't bode well," he muttered, Twilight fortunately not having heard the remark. Cerulean never planned anything, doing everything on a whim and not caring about the details as long as everything got done. It was going to be great "fun" adjusting to living with someone who scripted every part of every day. He read over her shoulder, shaking slightly as he attempted to contain his amusement at the contents.

"Checklist Start:
[ ] study magic: 2 hours
[ ] practice magic: 2 hours
[ ] eat lunch: 0.1 hours
[ ] study magic: 2.9 hours
[ ] practice magic: 2 hours
[ ] double check checklist
[ ] eat dinner: 0.5 hours
[ ] study magic: 2.5 hours
[ ] practice magic: 1 hour
[ ] leisure reading: 1 hour
[ ] put off going to bed: 1 hour
[ ] await Spike's return: 0.5 hours
[ ] triple check checklist"

As she finished, Twilight noticed Cerulean was scribbling on one of her other parchments. She was eager to start in on the book she had bought in Canterlot but curiosity got the better of her and as she watched him she squealed with delight; he was writing a checklist! Her fascination was short lived as she started reading the contents, some of which apparently were set in direct contradiction of her own.

"Anti-checklist Start:
[X] wake up: 0.0000003 hours
[X] get kicked out of bed: 0.5 seconds
[X] make amazing breakfast: 0.5 hours
[X] score a kiss: not long enough
[ ] help Twilight with studies: 1 hour
[ ] search around town for a job: 3 hours
[ ] make Twilight eat a reasonable meal: 1 hour
[ ] distract Twilight from studies: 1 hour
[ ] get kicked out and go for a flight: 1 hour
[ ] reconcile and score some more kisses: 0.25 hours
[ ] help Twilight with studies: 1.75 hours
[ ] make something tasty: 1 hour
[ ] leisure reading: 2 hours
[ ] night flight: 1 hour
[ ] read Twilight's diary while she's distracted: 1 hour
[ ] cuddle time: 1.5 hours"

"Just what do you mean by 'Anti-checklist?'" she prodded, jabbing him painfully in the ribs. "And there is no way you're reading my diary. Touch that and you're a dead stallion."

"It's just a little safeguard for my sanity, nothing more," Cerulean quipped, grinning ear to ear. He ignored her obvious displeasure and set about perusing the tomes she had collected on the floor. She joined him with a sigh and was soon too involved in her studies to be worry about his complete disrespect for the venerable checklist.

"Weren't you going to go look for a job? It's been an hour," Twilight said in a drab tone, not bothering to look up from her book as the clock's chime signaled the turn of the hour.

"Are you that eager to get rid of me? And here I was thinking I had been a good little colt," his cheery though sarcastic response eliciting no response from Twilight. With a sigh he stood, unsure of if she was just being difficult or if he really had offended her with his checklist joke. He walked to the door, noting that she didn't even glance at him, and then cantered back to where she lay, thoroughly engrossed in a tome detailing some advanced magical theorum on bending time. Her concentration was broken as he gently kissed the tip of her horn before continuing out the door and towards the center of town. As the door closed Twilight stood and looked over his checklist, begrudgingly admitting that he had some good ideas which she added to her own checklist - after the studying, of course.

Cerulean wandered through the town, not sure where to begin looking. Most of the stalls that lined the market place wouldn't require any kind of assistance, and there weren't many larger shops that he could try asking. Rarity ran the Carousel Boutique, but Cerulean had no talent for fashion, and something told him his input wouldn't be considered helpful anyways. Spying Sugarcube Corner he decided that baking would make the most sense since he had picked up quite a bit of knowledge on the subject from Lemon back in his schooling days. As he was making his way there he was stopped by a pony asking for his help rebuilding their roof, which he gladly obliged.

After two hours of moving planks and nailing shingles the job was finished, and Cerulean waved goodbye as he continued on to Sugarcube Corner. The shop was bustling with ponies stopping in for a bit of lunch, and Mr. and Mrs. Cake were busy behind the register, calling out orders to the back which seemed to appear nearly instantaneously. The front display case was nearly empty, but due to the incredible speed at which the treats were being produced the veritable mob of ponies had disappeared in about fifteen minutes, treats in hoof.

"Oh Cerulean! What brings you here today?" Mrs. Cake called out happily and walked towards him.

"Well, I was gonna ask if you needed any help but apparently you have a great team in the back already." Cerulean chuckled.

"Team? Oh, that's just Pinkie Pie. She sure is speedy when it comes to baking." Cerulean stared at Mrs. Cake in complete disbelief that a single scatterbrained mare like Pinkie could turn out delicious treats at such an alarming rate.

"Do you mind if I watch her bake for a while? I might learn a thing or two." Mrs. Cake nodded and Cerulean excused himself to the main kitchen, where he watched in awe as Pinkie simultaneously baked bread, mixed up a batch of cup cakes, laid out cookies to bake, and removed several pies from an oven, all in the space of sixty seconds. She continued her breakneck pace until the display case in the front was again filled with the tantalizing aromas of all manner of sweets, from cake to hard candy. Seemingly reaching an end, she bounced over to a stunned Cerulean and thrust her face close.

"Hey there, Cerulean! How are you today?" Cerulean caught a strong whif of cotton candy and took a step back.

"How do you do that?" he said slowly. He had watched Lemon during some of his advanced classes and not even the course instructor could have performed at near the speed Pinkie had, even with the aid of unicorn magic.

"What, baking? It's easy! All you have to do is take a cup of flour, add it to the mix~," she began to sing before Cerulean cut her off.

"I know about the ingredients but... how... the speed?" he stammered. She folded her arms and turned away, pointing her muzzle into the air. "Uh, you ok?"

"You interrupted my song," she said flatly.

"Ok, ok, you can sing. I'll listen." Cerulean caved, sitting down in front of her.

"No!" She turned away from Cerulean, and while part of him wanted to return to the realm of ponies that actually made sense, he really did want to understand how she could possibly turn out so many delicious treats so quickly. Spying an unused mixing bowl, he used his magic to set it on the counter, grabbing a small bag of flour as he did so and measuring out a cup.

"All you have to do is take a cup of flour, add it to the mix~," he sang, following the instructions of the song before casting an imploring eye towards Pinkie.

"Then you take a little something sweet not sour, a bit of salt just a pinch~!" she responded enthusiastically, immediately perking up at the thought of singing while baking. Cerulean struggled to keep pace with the song, adding ingredients and mixing it for just a few seconds before Pinkie slapped the mix into a cupcake tray and threw it in the oven. After just a few minutes she pulled out the tray to reveal twelve perfectly baked cupcakes, as if by magic. Several repetitions and a few hours later, he gave up trying to understand how her methods could consistently produce impossible results.

"I don't... how did..." Cerulean muttered, staring at the treats in disbelief. He examined Pinkie's forehead thoroughly for a horn, but with no such luck he came to the same conclusion that everypony else who ever knew Pinkie came to; this mare exists outside the realm of feasibility and physics. His thoughts were suddenly disrupted as Pinkie zipped out of the room, returning a short while later wheeling in a blue cannon with pink rimmed wheels. "Is that a..?"

"Frosting cannon!" she yelled, smacking the fuse without warning. Cerulean's vision went white as he flew a short time in the air before finding himself bodily glued to the wall in a thick, sticky cream. He felt something warm and wet brush over his eyes, and as he blinked away the remnants of the frosting he found himself staring into Pinkie's wild eyes, an enormous grin plastered to her face as she licked her lips. As she continued to "clean" his face, his thought processes crashed completely as he noticed that the trays of cupcakes sitting on the counter were pristinely and evenly frosted.

After she had removed much of the frosting on his face the sticky substance caved to his weight, and he fell on top of her as gravity beckoned him towards the floor. He immediately stood up and made all haste to exit the shop, calling out his "thanks" over his shoulder as he left. Pinkie, oblivious both to the fact that he hadn't exactly enjoyed the bath nor being stuck to the wall, contented herself with lapping up the remaining frosting with gusto, not wanting a single drop of the sugary treat to go to waste. Besides, the secret ingredient she put in her cotton candy every morning was in there, and it wasn't the type of thing you'd just callously wipe up with a wash cloth, after all!

Twilight's growling stomach and Cerulean's blatant disregard for even his own list had set her in a foul mood, and she regarded the frantic banging on the door with great irritation. She had skipped her meal thinking that Cerulean was going to make her something tasty, and now two hours later he comes waltzing back to disrupt her studies? If it weren't for the fact the the door made so much noise, she would have just let him sit outside for the next hour or two. She threw open the door and stared wide eyed at the still frosted Cerulean, only a small portion of his face being even somewhat clean. The ridiculousness of his position replaced her frustration with rib splitting laughter, and she quickly found herself on the floor and unable to stand.

"I wish to utter profanities of the vilest persuasion," he gritted out through clenched teeth. His serious face was too much for Twilight, who was now gasping for air, and she waved a hoof as if to fend him away. He was forced to admit the humor in his situation, and Twilight's laughter worked wonders on his mood, and he too was soon joining in the mirth. Twilight noticed his mischevious grin to late, and she struggled for but a moment before he pounced on her, coating her in the now quite dirty frosting. She squealed and tried to push him away, her lack of oxygen depriving her hooves of the force to adequately defend herself, and she was soon every bit as dirty as he was.

After a time he pulled away to let her recover. She stood shakily and walked around the house, beckoning him to follow. As he rounded the corner he was met with a steady stream of icy water, Twilight laughing maniacally as she hosed him down. He immediately ran inside and locked the door, ignoring Twilight's calls as he trotted miserably to the shower, shivering as he went and dripping frosting residue everywhere. Twilight stopped to taste test the frosting from a somewhat clean area of her chest, blinking in surprise at how delightful it tasted. It was better than any she had tasted before, and she helped herself to a good amount of the cleaner patches on her coat until she realized just how unclean it was to do so. Shaking her head a few times, she continued shouting until she heard the sound of running water, at which point she knew that she was stuck outside. Unless...

The warmth returned to his limbs as the steaming cascape caressed his sticky features. A good deal of the frosting had made it into his mouth when the cannon was fired, and he had to admit that it was quite delicious. Cerulean's train of thought was interrupted as his vision exploded with rainbows, and he soon found himself quite fascinated with the vibrant colors radiating from the simple white shower curtain. He leaned towards it's magnificent presence before finding himself inexplicably on the ceiling, staring at the rainbow factory that seemed to burst from the window in the cat's mouth.

Twilight snickered gleefully as she snuck up to the bathroom and threw open the door, having teleported inside with nary a sound. Not having thought the action through in the slightest, she turned an extremely bright shade of crimson as she beheld a dripping wet Cerulean laying on the floor, waving all four legs in the air as if swimming. The bizarre action overpowered the embarrassment enough that she slowly approached, trying to get her heart rate within normal limits.

"Cerulean? Are you ok?" she asked sheepishly, averting her eyes.

"I lookit rainbow box, in town place?" Cerulean mumbled, turning his head slightly and staring in Twilight's general direction. "Applejack baked the hammer cakes!" Twilight's returned the stare, attempting to decipher the cryptic message before she suddenly made the connection.

"Oh no... No no no please no!" The frosting. Pinkie's "special" ingredient. And she had eaten some. She ran out to the main floor of the library and curled into a ball, waiting for her sanity to be forcibly removed. She didn't have long to wait.

Bake Sale

Chapter 18: Bake Sale

"Applebloom, you did a great job making this stall!" Scootaloo exclaimed as she admired the simple structure, with Sweetie Belle nodding excitedly in agreement. Applebloom blushed a bit as she began setting out the various apple treats her sister had generously helped her bake the night before. She hadn't really made it per se, but the beaten up structure looked better than it had the day it was crafted due largely to Applebloom's touch. A new coat of paint, some glitter, and a new sign rendered it the perfect fundraising tool, and it wasn't long before hungry ponies were buying the famous Apple family cooking.

Too many ponies, in fact. Or rather, too little product, their supply nearly exhausted after the noon rush. They had made good headway on their collection to take a trip to Cloudsdale, but they were still a fair ways off and they only had a few treats left.

"Applebloom, can't you just whip up some more treats somehow? Your sister made it look really easy." Sweetie Belle asked.

"Oh no, you wouldn't want t' eat anythin' I bake," she responded, shaking her head vigorously as she remembered Pinkie's cupcake lessons. "That's it! We should ask Mr. and Mrs. Cake to donate some treats t' our cause!" Applebloom declared excitedly. "Scootaloo, get over to Sugarcube Corner and ask 'em fer some snacks t' sell!" Scootaloo offered a quick salute before jumping on her scooter and taking off like a rocket. As she rode she saw a strange pony tear passed her, coated in a thick white goop that was getting quite dirty with all the dust he was kicking up.

"Huh, must be related to Mr. Jelly," she muttered, shaking her head as she rode. Arriving at Sugarcube Corner she threw open the door and walked inside. "Mr. Cake? Mrs. Cake? Are you home?" she called out. Hearing no response she walked over to the counter and was about to ring the bell when a very hyper Pinkie Pie popped her head up over the register, grinning ear to ear.

"Hey there, Scootaloo! Whatcha need?"

"The Cutie Mark Crusaders are holding a bake sale to try and raise money to visit Cloudsdale for a day, but we ran out of things to sell. We were hoping that you could donate some treats," Scootaloo responded enthusiastically, eyes shining.

"That's perfect, I have just the thing! Wait here a sec," she said, dashing into the kitchen and swiftly returning with several boxes of cupcakes. "Me and Cerulean made these earlier when I was teaching him how to bake. Strange that he didn't take any with him when he left, I wonder why? I mean, what kind of pony turns down free cupcakes?" she pondered aloud, her face the very model of seriousness.

"Wow, thanks Pinkie Pie! This is perfect!" Scootaloo exclaimed, beaming at the delicious confections. She returned to her friends with her head held high, cupcakes in tow. As soon as they put them on display ponies started lining up, Sugarcube Corner's famous treats being known to encourage hunger in even the fullest of stomachs. With that final push they sold all but the last box, which they were preparing to divide amongst themselves when they heard a piercing shriek.

They turned to see Bon Bon, one of their first customers for the cupcakes, frantically running in tight circles before colliding with the immobile structure that was her house, falling in a heap. Lyra turned to help her but lost her balance and fell face down on the ground. She then began to scoop large amounts of grit into her mouth, herself under the impression that she was enjoying her favorite frozen yogurt. One by one they noticed all the ponies that they had sold cupcakes to cast asside their rationality and begin displaying the bizarrest of behaviors.

"Uh... Somethin's wrong. Why's everypony goin' loopy?" Applebloom asked, a rising fear churning her stomach.

"Could it have been the cupcakes? The only ones acting strange are the ones who ate them." Sweetie Belle offered as she observed the chaos.

"What about Mr. Jelly? He's not acting any different." Applebloom and Sweetie Belle both stared at Scootaloo. "Oh... Right," she said grinning nervously.

"C'mon, we better git t' Sugarcube Corner and figure out what's goin' on!" Applebloom shouted, beckoning the other two towards the scooter. They arrived to find Pinkie frantically trying to entertain Carrot Cake and Pound Cake, to no avail. The two foals immediately grinned as the three fillies entered, tripping and falling in a heap in their haste to make it to Pinkie. Stoked that she had succeeded in making the foals laugh, she then noticed the twitching pile of limbs and was about to join the ponypile when Applebloom broke free. "Pinkie Pie! Did you put anythin' special in those cupcakes o' yers?"

"Nopey dopey!"

"Are you sure?" Scootaloo questioned, fixing her with a serious look. Pinkie Pie shook her head vigorously, hurt that her honesty had been called into question.

"What about the frosting?" Sweetie Belle asked.

"Well... I did add a teensy weensy bit of something extra to the frosting. Why, did you try the cupcakes? They're super good, right?" Pinkie Pie responded, too proud of her confectionary prowess to notice the horrified looks on the foal's faces.

"Pinkie, they're makin' everypony go crazy! What 'n tarnation did ya put in the frosting?" Applebloom pressed, her sense of dread growing worse. Pinkie cantered up to her room and returned with a jar full of a strange substance that seemed to constantly be shifting between light and dark shades of gray.

"De-colored... Rainbow?" Sweetie Belle read aloud, turning as Scootaloo gasped and covered her mouth.

"Pinkie, do you have any idea what that can do to a pony?" Scootaloo yelled, causing Pinkie to stare at her with an utter lack of comprehension.

"I use about a cup every morning in my cotton candy, so I assume it makes ponies happy? It's super sweet." To prove her point, she dipped a hoof in and licked it clean, smacking her lips happily.

"Somehow, I'm not surprised," Scootaloo muttered under her breath, turning to face the other two more sane ponies in attendance. "My mother warned me about this stuff, said she'd tan my flank real good if I ever got near it."

"Isn't there somethin' we can do to fix it?" Applebloom's hopes fell as Scootaloo shook her head.

"I've heard it will just wear off in time, but we..." she stopped as she heard an explosion outside, and all three gathered around the window to see a building go up in flames. "We don't have any time!" she squeaked.

"Twilight! I bet she'll know how to fix this!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed, her friends nodding their agreement before jetting out the door. Pinkie sat staring at the flames, wondering whether or not she should grab some marshmallows. As they arrived at the library they noticed a couple of things simultaneously. First, there was a steady stream of water coming from under the front door, which was unfortunately locked. Second, Twilight's voice sounded very different from normal, and most of what they could make out sounded like utter nonsense. Lastly, when she wasn't speaking, she was giggling, which for some reason greatly disturbed the trio. Running around to the side of the building they found an open window to the kitchen, and with some effort made it inside relatively painlessly.

"Ugh, gross!" Scootaloo exclaimed, being the first to make it into the main room.

"What is..." Sweetie Belle started before stopping dead in her tracks beside Scootaloo. Applebloom soon found herself similarly petrified as they beheld a thoroughly disgruntled Twilight who was quite happily lip-locked with a blue bound tome with white trim, convinced it was Cerulean giving her a lesson on the finer points of tongue dexterity. When she did pull away she began whispering mushy pet names to the book, gently stroking it with great affection. "How is this possible? They didn't eat the cupcakes!" Sweetie Belle yelled in frustration, stomping her hooves.

"Look, Sweetie Belle!" Applebloom pointed towards Twilight's chest where a good amount of dirty icing still remained, though some had washed away as she rolled in the water that had thoroughly drenched the floor. "It was the frostin' that did it, not the cupcakes, remember?"

"Now what are we gonna do?" Scootaloo groaned, sitting down with a splash. "And what's with all this water?" Applebloom raced upstairs and saw the door to the bathroom cracked open.

"It's comin' from the shower, Twilight musta been tryin' to get clean when she lost 'er marbles. I'll turn it off." As she entered she beheld Cerulean, somehow having made it back into the shower, busily grooming his tail with great fascination, and her cheeks soon matched the ribbon atop her head. She closed her eyes and dashed towards the lever in the center, pawing around a bit before making the connection and shutting off the flow. She cracked an eye open just long enough to get her bearings then bolted out the door, trying to get the image out of her head.

"Why are you blushing, Applebloom?" Scootaloo asked, cocking her head to the side.

"N-no reason!" Applebloom yelled, shivering. "Anyhow, w-what are we gonna do? Twilight can't help us, an' I'm plumb outta ideas."

"Wait, Pinkie Pie said that de-colored rainbow tastes sweet, right? So..." Sweetie Belle said, perking up.

"Yeah, but how does that help?" Scootaloo interjected.

"So maybe if we feed the ponies something that's the opposite of sweet, it'll shock them back to normal!"

"Sweetie Belle, that's genius!" Scootaloo beamed. "C'mon, time to get some lemons!" They let themselves out the front door and made for town. The pony at the fruit stand was too busy swimming in his personal bath of chocolate fondue to notice the three fillies relieving him of a large basket of lemons. They cautiously approached Lyra, who had ceased eating dirt and was now gnawing hungrily on the side of Bon Bon's house. Applebloom peeled a lemon and jammed it into Lyra's mouth before darting back to her friends. They watched as she chewed thoughtfully on the lemon, seeds and all, before swallowing and licking her lips a few times. She then returned to her newfound chew toy. "Any other ideas?"

"...Somethin' spicy?" Applebloom offered. Sweetie Belle gave her a quick nod, and after a short search she returned with a bottle of Fillydelphia Inferno Sauce. With the help of her friends, they managed to hold Lyra down long enough to feed her the whole bottle. They took a step back as her face flushed red and beads of sweat appeared on her brow. She let out a massive howl before smashing face into Bon Bon's house, falling next to the still unconscious pony and leaving a round hole where her horn had made impact. "Uh... I guess it worked?" Applebloom said hesitantly.

"Well, if we want to give everypony a concussion, sure!" Scootaloo retorted, growing increasingly annoyed with the whole mess. This had "massive lecture" written all over it, and Scootaloo wanted no part in that. She snapped her head up as a rainbow streaked across the sky, coordinating with the few lucid pegasi around to move a large cloud over the merrily blazing building. "That's it! Rainbow Dash can probably help! Come on!" Scootaloo called over her shoulder as she hopped on her scooter, pushing her wings extra hard just in case Rainbow Dash happened to look her way. They arrived just in time to see the cloud yield a massive downpour of rain, putting out the flames before they could spread any further. "Hey, Rainbow Dash! We need your help!"

"Yeah, you and every other pony! What the hay is going on around here?" she asked. As they started to explain, her jaw dropped at the mention of de-colored rainbow. "Seriously? Even a tiny drop of that stuff can make you trip for nearly half an hour, how much did these ponies take? And how did you get your hands on the stuff?"

"Pinkie Pie put it in the frosting that she used on the cupcakes she gave us, an' then we sold 'em to everypony," Applebloom said miserably, her eyes downcast. The three friends stared in disbelief as Rainbow Dash burst out laughing, lowering herself slowly to the ground.

"Of course it would be Pinkie, that makes perfect sense. And I bet she seemed fine, right?" They nodded in unison as Rainbow Dash struggled to regulate her breathing. "Ok girls, I'll help ya out. Wait right here." Scootaloo watched in admiration as Rainbow Dash streaked out of sight, heading towards Sugarcube Corner. The other two miserably took note of ponies eating rocks, chasing their own shadows, and staggering around in a wobbly state of bliss. Rainbow Dash returned quickly, proudly holding up a jar that shimmered a myriad of colors in the sunlight.

"Is that..."

"Yes, Sweetie Belle. Pure extract of rainbow. Seems Pinkie puts it on her chips, says it tastes spicy," Rainbow Dash replied happily. "All you have to do is give a few drops of this to everypony that ate the cupcakes, and they should return to normal after a few minutes. Now is there anything else?"

"Well, Twilight and Cerulean got the worst of it, maybe you could fly some over to 'em?" Applebloom offered. The sides of Rainbow's mouth curled into a devious grin as she thought about someone as studious as Twilight under the effects of the potent substance, commonly used exclusively by teenage delinquents.

"Sure thing, I'll get right on it," she said before filling a smaller jar with some of the rainbow and disappearing into the horizon. The Cutie Mark Crusaders got right to work, and after about two hours managed to give the rainbow extract to most everypony that had eaten the cupcakes, though a few had run out of town and would have to let their bodies deal with it the normal way. The little fillies found great amusement in the way a pony's face would light all the different colors of the rainbow before their minds were forcibly pulled back to reality, most of them galloping for the nearest source of water to try and ease the conflagration on their tongues. Lyra, however, immediately made for the clinic upon waking, her stomach failing to digest rainbows, lemons, inferno sauce and copious quantities of dirt at the same time.

Rainbow Dash entered Twilight's house to find her still very much enamored with her blue book, clutching it to her chest and sighing contentedly. Rainbow Dash ladled a spoonful of the extract into her mouth and sat back to enjoy the show.

"Ahhh, it burns, it burns!" Twilight cried as she regained her senses, clawing at her tongue in an attempt to unsuccessfully ease the pain. Seeing the moisture on the ground she began desperately sucking on the floor boards, ignoring the grit and relishing every drop of the water that slowly restored balance to her singed taste buds. Having drank her fill she became aware of Rainbow Dash's earsplitting shrieks of jubilation, tears streaming from her eyes. Rainbow, however, didn't notice until too late that Twilight had found the jar on floor and, realizing what must have happened, proceeded to dump a generous amount into Rainbow's open mouth. Her tears no longer due to mirth, Rainbow bolted outside and crammed the hose into her mouth.

Twilight allowed herself a slight grin as Rainbow returned, dripping wet and all signs of happiness drained from her features. The sight reminded her of Cerulean when she had sprayed him, prompting her to grab the jar and race upstairs to the bathroom. Cerulean lay motionless on the floor, his eyes wide and mouth cracked open, letting out a small stream of drool which had formed a small pool beside him. Twilight found this to be both hilarious and slightly pathetic, and with care she spooned a small amount of rainbow into his mouth. He lay inert a few moments before hopping to his feet and frantically scanning the room for a valid source of hydration. Rainbow Dash entered in time to see Cerulean frantically sucking on the shower nozzle, and her cheery countenance returned once more, sharing in Twilight's good natured giggles as Cerulean drank his weight in water.

Princess Celestia was enjoying an evening cup of tea when a message from Twilight appeared in front of her. Her excitement quickly turned to confusion as she read the cryptic message.

"Dear Princess Celestia,


Your Faithful Student,

Twilight Sparkle"

As Celestia was contemplating what the message could be trying to imply, another message in the form of a white box appeared before her. The front read "To Princess Celestia from Cerulean Snowgleam." Inside were a dozen cupcakes, evenly coated with a delicious smelling white frosting. She looked at the letter, and then at the cupcakes. She laughed softly to herself, wondering what would cause Twilight to be so worried about the innocent looking treats.

"Luna? Cerulean sent us some snacks, would you like some?" she asked, levitating the box over to her sister.

"Why certainly, they look most delicious," Luna replied happily, demolishing half the box before sending it back to Celestia. Seeing no immediate effect on Luna, Celestia finished the box and resumed sipping her tea, enjoying the peaceful evening to it's fullest.

We Are Not Amused

Chapter 19: We Are Not Amused

The sun had just begun to set as Rainbow Dash made her exit from the library, having exhausted herself poking fun at Twilight and Cerulean. She took great pleasure in recounting Twilight's steamy experience with her novel of choice, much to her chagrin and Cerulean's great amusement. Twilight quickly reminded him of the puddle of drool in which he was discovered, though it failed to silence his roaring laughter. Twilight's frustration was only compounded by the mess the water had made, ruining most of the books she had been studying that day. As her anger approached combustion status, Rainbow Dash decided it was likely best she call it a day.

She wandered aimlessly through the town, not having any particular destination in mind. The ponies had mostly recovered from the cupcakes and were closing their stalls for the evening. The Cutie Mark Crusaders were celebrating their fundraiser's success, merrily clapping along with Sweetie Belle as she sang. Scootaloo noticed her idol and waved frantically. Rainbow Dash approached with a grin, never above a proper stroking of her ego.

"Hey Rainbow Dash! Thanks for you help earlier, we would have been in big trouble if you didn't come along," Scootaloo exclaimed eagerly, beaming up at her.

"No problem, Scootaloo. Glad I could help," she replied coolly.

"How did you know 'bout how t' fix the de-colored rainbow?" Applebloom asked innocently, causing Rainbow Dash face to change from smug to nervous very quickly.

"No reason, something any pegasus would know, I'm sure," she mumbled guiltily, recalling some of the less proud moments of her early teen years. She then noticed that there was one more cupcake box by the stall. "Are those the dreaded cupcakes?" They all nodded. "I better take those off your hooves before someone sees you with them and you get in big trouble. Don't worry, I'll make sure their properly disposed of. Oh, and I'll also take the rest of the rainbow extract too." The fillies offered no objections, and Rainbow Dash grabbed the items and flew away at a leisurely pace, wondering who to prank. "Hmmm, Rarity could be fun," she cackled, imagining what the queen of fashion might design while under the influence of a cupcake or two. Not bothering to consider other options she made straight for Carousel Boutique, giggling as she went.

Rainbow Dash had just landed when Spike exited the shop, humming happily after another day with the beautiful Miss Rarity. Rainbow Dash had a flash of inspiration and landed in front of Spike, noting that he was carrying a parcel from the stationary supply shop. Her internal "Mischief-o-meter" set a record high, breaking it's confines and extending towards infinity. "Hey Spike, you know how you send Twilight's letters do Princess Celestia? How fast do they get there?" she asked, hoping he wouldn't sense the intention of the statement.

"Pretty fast, only takes a few minutes I think. Why?" he replied, slightly apprehensive and regarding her with suspicious eyes.

"And can you only send letters, or can you send other objects as well?" Rainbow Dash pressed, barely able to contain her excitement.

"Uh, Twilight's never had me send anything else but I'm pretty sure I could do small objects. Again, why?" he prodded, growing more suspicious as each seconds passed.

"Are those parchments you're carrying? And quills?"

"Rainbow Dash, what are you planning?" Spike demanded, tapping his foot impatiently.

"I need to send a gift to Princess Celestia is all, Spike. Could I borrow some paper so I could write her a quick letter?" Spike heaved a sigh, causing a small burst of flame as he did so. All that build up over a letter? Rainbow Dash ignored his irate muttering as he opened the package and offered her a quill and scroll. "Can you write it, Spike? Pleeeeeease?" she begged.

"Ok fine, just tell me what to write!" he shouted, his good mood rapidly deteriorating. As Rainbow Dash began dictating his mind wandered, his hands automatically performing their assigned duty. Rainbow's voice stopped sooner than he expected, and he signed the letter with the usual and sent it away. "There, happy?"

"Two more things, they go with the letter. Here, this first," she said, desperately fighting to keep a straight face and holding out the box of cupcakes. "Write 'To Princess Celestia, from Cerulean Snowgleam' on the box, if you could." Spike was beyond caring about why she was sending the package in Cerulean's name, and he didn't particularly mind since if anyone got in trouble it would be Cerulean. He was Twilight's number one assistant, and he was more than slightly upset at suddenly having a rival. He signed the box as instructed and sent it. Rainbow Dash then handed him the jar of rainbows.

"Send that one to the captain of Princess Celestia's royal guard, please. That's the last thing, I promise." With one final puff of his dragon breath, the jar was away to the castle.

"Happy now?" he asked, voice dripping with sarcasm. To his surprise Rainbow Dash fell to the ground, her coat quickly becoming coated in dust as she rolled, her sides aching from the excessive mirth she had experienced that day.

"Oh yes, Spike. I'm very happy, thanks for the help!" she said between breaths before unsteadily taking off. Spike noticed her swerving as she failed to contain herself, nearly flying into a building before gaining some altitude and disappearing into the darkening sky. Spike shook his head and repacked the supplies, glad if anypony asked he could honestly say he had no idea what had just transpired.

Back at the library Twilight sat staring miserably at the lower floor. Everything was soaked, and all the books on the lower shelves had suffered prolonged water exposure, their pages wrinkling and ink running to the point of being unreadable. The smell of whatever Cerulean was cooking wasn't even strong enough to draw her attention, as the thought of how many of the books that were destroyed hadn't been read yet terrorized her scholastic nature.

"Twilight? Dinner is ready," Cerulean called from the kitchen, and she forced herself upright and entered. The food, as usual, was amazing. This, however, was a minor detail, a silver lining on the dark and stormy rain cloud that was her day.

"You know what the worst part is," she said quietly, causing Cerulean to cast a concerned eye on the dejected mare. "My checklist got ruined too." Cerulean knew that letting even the slightest hint of his amusement at the statement slip would result in a swift eviction and possibly spontaneous immolation, and thus he focused intently on his bread, tearing off a huge mouthful. It gave him time to calm himself, and try to appreciate Twilight's position a little. She looked like she was close to tears, and that wasn't anything to laugh about. At the same time, he was rather at a loss as to how to comfort someone over a deceased checklist.

"I'm sorry, Twilight. Tell you what, I will make sure tomorrow is better, you'll see. I'll write out a checklist even, a serious one. But you don't get to see it until tomorrow, ok? I want it to be a surprise." To his relief, Twilight perked up considerably at this, and accelerated her rate of consumption to normal standards. They finished eating in silence, and together tidied up the kitchen before returning to the main room. Cerulean glanced over at Twilight whose countenance had again fallen before letting out a small sigh. He was about to speak when Spike entered and stood staring at the mess.

"What... But... How did?.." he stuttered, having no idea what had gone on in Ponyville that day. As Cerulean recounted the tale, Spike listened with a growing sense of dread. That box he had sent... "Oh, this is bad. This is really really bad," he mumbled to himself.

"Huh, what was that Spike?" Twilight inquired, not having caught any of what he said.

"Nothing!" he shouted, not meaning to raise his voice but too anxious to control it. "I'm gonna start cleaning up this mess!" With that he quickly went about his work, drying things out and stacking the damaged books off to the side, seperating them into the salvagable and the lost causes. Twilight, too disheartened by the growing stack of books that were to be tossed out, failed to notice Spike's suspicious behavior.

"Twilight, come," Cerulean said suddenly, beckoning towards the door.

"Cerulean, I don't really feel much like doing anything right now," she complained half heartedly but still followed him out of the house. "Besides, it's night time. What could we possibly do at this hour?" Cerulean said nothing, leading her into the main street before turning towards her with a knowing grin.

"Twilight, do you trust me?"

"Yes Cerulean, I do, but..." she started.

"Climb on my back." Twilight's face flushed and he immediately realized her interpretation of the statement, and quickly waved his hoof in the air. "No, not like that! I meant, just... ugh, come here." She approached and he stood on his hind legs, motioning her to do the same. She wrapped her arms around his waist, and she found herself firmly locked within his hooves warm embrace. "Close your eyes... And hold on tight," he said gently. She obeyed, squeezing even tighter. Moments later she found herself airborne as Cerulean took flight, cutting through the night.

The stars were many and bright, and Twilight watched in awe as the all rushed by. The moon lit up Cerulean's wings, each flap releasing a cloud of shimmering snow, and soon all her many worries that had accumulated that day were erased as she beheld the glory of the night sky and the stallion she held in her arms. Cerulean evened out and flew looking up at the sky, Twilight perched atop his chest staring awestruck around her as she relished the wind blowing through her mane. Cerulean's chest was filled with a warmth he had only dreamed as he beheld the most beautiful mare in all of Equestria, who had generously allowed him the pleasure of each passing moment. He blushed as her brilliant eyes met his own but refused to look away, and they slowly brought their lips together, their cheeks and hearts burning as one. At length she withdrew, and he made for a nearby cloud and they both cast the cloud walking spell as they landed. Cerulean beckoned her over, and Twilight snuggled close to him, resting her head on his chest and wrapping her hooves around him gently as he did the same. The world faded away until that night belonged only to them, and only for them.

The captain of the royal guard gave a start as the jar of rainbow extract appeared before him, barely grabbing it with his magic before it dropped to the ground. Not having ever recieved something via dragon magic, he stared at it dumbfounded before passing it to one of the other guards to stow away in his quarters. He resumed his stalwart defense of Princess Celestia's chambers, looking straight ahead. The night had been peaceful, and thus remained for the next hour. A sudden crash caused him to jump, coming from just inside the door.

"Princess Celestia, is everything all right?" he asked, recieving only a giggle for an answer. He turned around and resumed his vanguard. A short time later a consistent thumping noise started, and his worry overcame his worry for the Princess's privacy. He cracked the door open to find both Celestia and Luna hopping circles around the room, merrily singing whatever words happened to come to mind. Thinking they were in no immediate danger he closed the doors, mortified that somepony might see. "Corporal, you're dismissed for the evening," he said firmly as the guard he had handed the jar to approached.

"You sure Captain?" A crash sounded from within and he raised an eyebrow.

"Do I need to repeat myself?" the captain barked, and the corporal gave him a quick salute before disappearing, knowing strict penalties awaited him should he attempt to pry further. The captain sighed, turning back to the doors. The room had gone silent. Worried for his ruler's safety he again entered, his dark cheeks unable to hide his blushing as the two sisters appeared to be leaning into a deep kiss. "Celestia! Luna! What in Equestria has gotten into you two?" he bellowed, not meaning any disrespect but too thoroughly disturbed to keep his voice calm.

"Oh dear, shomepony found ush~" Celestia sang, her speech extremely slurred by the effects of the de-colored rainbow.

"Hey, he's kinda cute, doncha think sis?" Luna said, the usual regality in her voice completely gone.

"Oh yesh, indeed. Come, join ush," Celestia said, eyeing the shaking captain. He bolted out of the room and slammed the doors, heart pounding in his ears as he sought to keep a clear thought process.

"Guards!" he shouted, causing four unicorns to come running and stand to attention. "Go get the Corporal and tell him to bring me the jar I gave him, NOW!" he shouted, and the four scrambled to obey. The doors swung open just long enough for Luna to grab the captain before slamming them shut again. He found himself on his back, looking directly into Luna's deep eyes, her cheeks slightly flushed and a coy smile playing at her lips. While the captain couldn't deny he had fantasized about exactly such a happening, the actual event playing out was much more terrifying than it was exhilerating. His mind was soon filled with other thoughts as Luna smothered him in kisses, causing Celestia to feel quite left out. That is, until the corporal barged in and stood petrified, jaw agape.

Princess Celestia took this as an open invitation, and tackled the hapless guard to the ground. The captain managed to break free long enough to grab the jar before he was levitated back to his former position. It took all his concentration to open the jar with his magic while attempting to ignore Luna's incredibly soft lips that were locked quite firmly with his. She pulled away momentarily and he siezed his chance, jumping atop her so he could administer the antidote.

"Hey now, not so rough," Luna tittered, stroking the captain's muzzle. He quickly poured a generous amount into her mouth as she raised her head for another make out session. He was thrown clear as Luna came to her senses, draining half of the teapot in a single swig and coughing violently. The captain pried Celestia off of the paralyzed corporal who was quaking violently, convinced that his life had officially just been ended. He poured the remainder into Celestia's mouth as she tried to convince the captain to join her in the fun, causing her to howl as her mouth suddenly burst into flames. She promptly swiped the tea pot, chugging the rest before Luna could take a second drought.

"WHAT HAST THOU DONE TO US?" Luna bellowed at the unfortunate guards as they cowered, fearing for their lives. Luna whirled as Celestia laughed quietly to herself, eyeing the guards with great amusement and blushing deeply. "Hast thou no shame dear sister? You realize we... we were..."

"Oh yes, I'm quite aware. Thank you Captain, Corporal, you are dismissed. Oh, and do keep quiet about this little incident, all right?" she replied calmly, waving them off. The nodded once and hastily made their exit, commanding the four guards that had been waiting outside to take over their post for the time being. They then made straight for the barracks, themselves in desperate need of a strong drink. "Now then Luna, it seems we have be pranked rather mightily. I didn't think Cerulean was the type, but I have been proven quite wrong."

"Cerulean hast done this? The stallion whom Twilight is courting? I'll have his head for this!" she raged, stomping around the room.

"Come now, Luna. Can't you admit it was at least slightly amusing?" Celestia said with a wink.

"Amusing? I do not call frivolous foreplay 'amusing!'" she shouted, throwing open the window and tearing across the skies towards Ponyville.

"Oh dear. I suppose I should warn them," she said, standing with a sigh. Levitating a parchment over she scribbled out a quick warning and sent it away before retiring to her bed. Spike was furiously drying the floors when he exhaled the message.

"To my Faithful Student Twilight,

Cerulean's little ruse did not sit well with my sister who is currently on her way to pay you a visit.
Please find a way to alleviate her fury, lest Cerulean come to harm.

Princess Celestia"

As comprehension dawned on Spike the door was broken from it's hinges as Luna stormed in.

"Where is the knave? I demand to know, where is Cerulean?" she said, making no attempt to hide her fury.

"I don't know, he and Twilight left an hour or so ago!" Spike replied quickly, covering his face and curling into a ball.

"What a perfect end to a crazy day," Cerulean whispered with a contented sigh, kissing Twilight softly on the tip of her muzzle. He laughed quietly as she wrinkled her nose and nuzzled him in return. Twilight had fallen asleep in Cerulean's comforting embrace as he gently stroked her mane, and her soft snores were as calming to him as the quiet of the night. He snuggled deeper into the cloud and closed his eyes, enjoying a fleeting moment of serenity. The tranquility of the moment was suddenly shattered as Luna's voice boomed from below, her royal Canterlot dialect sounding all the world like she was standing right beside them.


Winter Comes Early

Chapter 20: Winter Comes Early

Twilight's eyes snapped open at the voice, knowing in an instant exactly who it belonged to. She chanced a glance over the edge of the cloud and withdrew as she spied Princess Luna frantically scanning the the skies and land, her fury giving off strange magic waves as her body glowed a deep blue. Cerulean noted this as well, and cast an imploring glance at Twilight.

"I have no idea who that is, but something tells me she's not here for a friendly chat," he worried aloud. Twilight shook her head, sensing just how dire a position he was in.

"That's Princess Luna, Cerulean. Celestia's sister. Come on, we better get down there and see what's wrong." With a groan he summoned his wings and descended swiftly with Twilight held close, hoping to glean some confidence from her during their short trip to the surface. Luna was instantly upon him, thrusting her face to his leaving nary a hairsbreadth between them.

"GIVE US ONE GOOD REASON TO LET YOU LIVE, WASTREL!" she bellowed, her volume nearly deafening Cerulean on the spot. He dropped to the ground, covering both ears. He waited until the ringing in his head had died down before making his defense.

"Firstly, I have no idea what's going on, your highness. Secondly, we've never met. What exactly am I being charged of?" he inquired, slowly withdrawing his hooves from his ears and attempting to stand.

"Luna, what's wrong? What did he do?" Twilight drew close and set a hoof on Luna's shoulder, who was visibly shaking under the strain of containing her anger. Spike poked his head out of the where the front door had been to watch from the relative safety of the library.

"Cerulean, did you or did you not send my sister a box of cupcakes. Cupcakes that were made with some kind of foul drug?" At the mention of cupcakes Twilight and Cerulean exchanged worried glances which Luna interpreted to mean they were both in on it. "Twilight, you too? I never would have thought he would corrupt you so! Hast thou any idea what kind of trouble thine prank hath wrought? Why I... I..!" she stammered, a notable flush rising to her cheeks.

"Princess, I assure you neither I nor Cerulean had any part in that," Twilight asserted confidently, Cerulean nodding vigorously beside her.

"Then how wouldst thou explain this, Twilight Sparkle?" she snapped, holding up the now empty cupcake box, Cerulean's supposed signature clearly displayed. Cerulean stared at it dumbfounded, speechless as Twilight slowly turned, giving him the evil eye.

"Cerulean, is there something I should know about?" she said, narrowing her eyes into a piercing stare.

"No, there isn't, I didn't do that! Look, I can prove it." he shouted, generating an icicle and scribbling furiously in the dirt. His writing looked nothing like the writing on the box. Twilight suddenly realized she recognized the writing and shot a withering glare at Spike. He turned to retreat but found himself face to face with a very angry Twilight, her teleportation working much more quickly than his legs and landing him directly in front of her.

"Spike, this is your writing. What did you do?" she said slowly, making sure he understood just how much trouble he was in if he lied.

"Rainbow Dash stopped me on the way over here and asked me to send a few items to Princess Celestia. She was really pushy, and I didn't really pay attention to what she had me write in the letter 'cause I just wanted to go home. I didn't know what was in the box, honest!" he said firmly, crossing his arms. "As much as I'd love to see Cerulean suffer a bit," he muttered under his breath. Twilight heard the statement but ignored it, heaving an exasperated sigh as she turned back to Luna.

"So Rainbow Dash is the true culprit then?" Luna inquired, her voice surprisingly calm.

"It sure seems that way," Twilight said, knowing exactly how much of a prankster she was.

"SHE SHALL PAY FOR HER TREACHERY!" Luna suddenly howled as her voice regressed to her royal Canterlot voice, causing everypony to grimace as she took flight towards Cloudsdale. Twilight watched her for a brief moment before heading back inside and flopping into bed, the fatigue of everything that had happened that day finally catching up to her; she didn't even bother chiding Spike further for his part in the ordeal. Cerulean followed and tucked her in, planting a kiss on her cheek before heading back downstairs. Spike was getting ready for bed as well, too shaken by being on trial before a furious Luna to feel much like cleaning, and it wasn't long before the only light left was the small lantern by Cerulean's side as he sat in the center of the main room.

The first thing he attended was the front door, the damages not being very severe and easily fixed with magic. Finishing quickly he pulled out a parchment and began planning the following day. What would be a good first date? He didn't really have any money and he wasn't very familiar with Ponyville yet. It seemed like a simple town with little by way of attractions, so what could he do? He tapped his hoof on the desk, releasing a bit of magic that formed a small puff of snow. He stared at it intently, an idea beginning to grow in his mind.

With care he crafted the perfect checklist, and set it aside as he began making preparations. The first thing he wanted to take care of was cataloging all of the books that had become too waterlogged to be of use. When he finished the list he wrote a short message at the bottom and sealed it before setting it, along with most of his remaining money, next to Spike's bed so he'd see it when he awoke. After adding an additional note instructing Spike to send it to the listed address when he awoke, Cerulean then set about finishing the cleaning, the perspiration from the evaporating moisture having reached into every nook and cranny. He stopped as he heard Luna's voice echo quite clearly through the night, shaking his head and truly feeling sorry for Rainbow Dash.

Twilight awoke at Luna's shout, disturbed that Cerulean wasn't beside her. As she approached the stairs she found him quietly cleaning, humming softly to himself as he smiled. Even though it was a simple action, she knew that it was for her alone that he remained awake, even though he was likely every bit as drained as she was. And yet, it made her feel inadequate, like she wasn't doing nearly enough to compensate for his kindness. Cerulean gave a start as he felt Twilight's arms wrap around his chest, holding him tightly.

"I thought you were asleep," he said gently, setting down the towel.

"Why?" she whispered. Cerulean slowly turned to face her. "Why are you so..?" Cerulean put his hoof to her mouth, his adoring smile only making her feel worse. When she thought back to everything that had happened between them, he had done infinitely more for her than she had for him. Her eyes filled with tears as she traced a hoof over the burn scars she had given him as her shoulders began to shake, feeling as blessed as she did unworthy of such devotion. The tears began to fall as he sang softly, caressing her mane with a hoof and drawing her close.

"You're worth this,
every scar and every pain -
Wiped away
every time I see your smiling face.
You gave me all I've wanted,
A heart to call my own,
A shelter from the raging storm,
A place I don't feel so alone."

The last notes lingered in the air and he held her as she tried to comprehend his words. "Twilight, I act this way because it's not nearly enough..." he said quietly, himself close to losing the fight to bar the floodgates. "I can't find the words to express the depth of what you've given me, but someday... someday I'll find a way." He squeezed tighter, closing his eyes as the tears seeped out anyways. "But, until then you'll just have to deal with my less clear ways."

"Like cleaning?" Twilight asked, trying to smile.

"Yes Twilight, like cleaning," he replied, both sharing a weak laugh. "Now get some rest, I've got big plans for tomorrow. I'll be up in a bit, all right?" he said, releasing her and motioned towards the stairs. Spike, who had also awoken from Luna's shout, had watched the scene unfold. He waited for Twilight to climb back into bed before creeping downstairs and staring at Cerulean as he finished up. Cerulean noticed Spike and slowly approached. "Spike? Look, I know..."

"I'm sorry." Spike interjected, causing Cerulean to cock his head to one side. "I know I haven't really been giving you a chance, and it's not fair to you. I just..."

"You were worried about being ignored, or replaced." Spike's mouth opened a little at this, Cerulean being spot on in his assessment. Cerulean shook his head, continuing. "Spike, I know since I came here things have been chaotic at best, disasterous at worst. But I'm not here to take Twilight away from you. I don't want to come between anypony and their friends, I just... I'd like to make some of my own." Cerulean grinned as Spike wrapped his arms around a leg, hugging it tightly before dashing back upstairs. Cerulean abandoned the cleaning, realizing it would take far longer than it would be worth, and set about prepping dinner for the following evening. Having finished some thirty minutes later, he ascended the steps and sidled in behind Twilight, drawing her close and quickly drifting off to sleep, his mind filled with thoughts of his plan for the following day.

Waking an hour before dawn, Cerulean eased himself out of bed and into the shower. It would at least two hours before Spike or Twilight awoke, which he hoped would be enough time to put his plan into action. Drying himself and stepping outside he summoned his wings and made for Cloudsdale, making good time and lighting on the steps to Rainbow Dash's cloud home. He knocked a few times, and he heard a groan and some shuffling before a thoroughly disgruntled Rainbow Dash greeted him with a mumble. The dark bags under her eyes showed that she clearly hadn't gotten much sleep after her little run in with Princess Luna, and she looked like she was in no condition to help.

"Whaddaya want, Cerulean? Leave me to be miserable in peace, I beg you," she implored, the dejection in her voice causing Cerulean to cringe. Any other day he would have complied, but he was determined to follow through with his scheme. He explained the situation to Rainbow Dash who eyed him curiously. "Snow? But it's still a month until winter."

"Rainbow Dash, please? You're the best flier in Ponyville, and you're likely the only one who can help me get this ready in time." Cerulean noticed the hesitation and as badly as he wanted to point out that he nearly lost his head on account of her prank, manipulation was something he tried to steer clear of. She finally caved, and stretched her wings experimentally before taking flight and gathering a large mass of clouds over Ponyville. Cerulean began applying his own magic to the mix after Rainbow Dash had finished, and then they proceed to hop cloud to cloud, causing showers of white powder to fall, floating gently down to the ground.

Twilight awoke with a shiver, her hooves seeking Cerulean's warmth but failing to find it. She slowly opened her eyes and found her bed empty, much to her dismay. Opening her closet she pulled out her favorite pair of magenta and violet striped socks, slipping them on and wandering towards the window. Her breath caught as she saw the snow falling all around the house, a good two inches already blanketing the ground. She dashed downstairs and threw open the door, staring in wonder at Cerulean who was standing a field of roses, carved from the ice all around the house. As his eyes locked on Twilight his face began to flush, not from the cold but the overwhelming adorableness of the way Twilight looked in socks.

"Cerulean, did you..?" she started to speak as she approached, but was unable to finish the sentence as she took in the beautiful scene. Cerulean was similarly speechless, though the beauty he beheld wasn't that of his own creation. Winter was always his favorite time of year, and Twilight's mode of dress only cemented the fact. Shaking his head and attempting to repel his growing obsession, he bowed low.

"Welcome to our first date, Twilight. Complete with checklist," he declared, pulling the scroll from where it had been buried in the snow, beaming ear to ear. Twilight was filled with anticipation as she read the contents.

"First Date Checklist:
[X] make it snow
[X] craft field of roses
[ ] make sure Spike sent the letter
[ ] make a snow pony
[ ] snow ball fight
[ ] make ice cream together
[ ] gather friends and share the ice cream
[ ] have fun! (even if that means studying)
[ ] surprise package
[ ] dinner reservations"

"Well done Cerulean, it seems you've learned some respect," Twilight giggled, turning back to him. Spike wandered outside in a daze, walking towards Cerulean as he waved.

"Spike, did you send the things like I asked?" Cerulean inquired. Spike nodded once, alternately staring at the sky and the field of roses that surrounded the library. Cerulean checked off the item from the list before turning to Twilight. "Well then, shall we?" he said with a flourish, motioning to the expanse of white powder stretching out before them. As Twilight nodded, Cerulean gave a short whistle and suddenly sunlight broke through the clouds as Rainbow Dash dispatched them with speed and grace. The light set the whole scene aglow, the snow remaining cool and intact due to Cerulean having imbued the clouds with his magic before the first flake started to fall.

"Can I go home now?" Rainbow Dash whined, flopping down wearily in the snow.

"Not just yet. Can you go tell Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie to meet us here around twelve? Then you may sleep. Oh, and you're invited too." Cerulean replied, shooting her a sympathetic glance before she wordlessly took flight, heading towards the center of town.

"She must have had a rough night," Twilight said sagely, watching her go. Her mind soon returned to happier places as she romped through the snow with Cerulean, and one by one they proceeded down the list. Cerulean's snow pony looked like no pony at all, but rather a malformed lump of pudding that was desperately making an attempt at sentience. He compensated by creating a perfect statue of himself with magic, and when Twilight called him out for cheating he simply flashed her a smile... and made a statue of her kissing his likeness.

This in turn began the snowball fight, though Twilight was hopelessly outmatched under the onslaught of Cerulean's skill at the game. After burying her for the third time he eased up a bit, not wanting the battle to be entirely one sided. Spike lent her his aid, and Cerulean allowed himself to be overwhelmed by the duo. The ice cream was a huge success, though Twilight enjoyed the process of making it much more than the treat itself. Rainbow Dash didn't partake, herself choosing instead to try to catch up on the lost hours of sleep. Cerulean thoroughly enjoyed feeling actively involved with her friends, even if Pinkie Pie did try to "clean" his face the moment Twilight mashed her cone into it, his comment just prior clearly being deemed as unnecessary. The day passed much more quickly than Cerulean would have liked, and the sun was beginning to set as they came to the last two items on the list.

"I was really hoping that he could get it here today..." he muttered with a sigh as he gazed off into the distance towards Canterlot.

"You could just tell me what it was, you know," Twilight said eagerly. Her anticipation had been building all day, and it was almost too much to bear. She frowned as Cerulean shook his head stubbornly.

"No, you'll just have to wait. However, I think dinner shall help ease your mind away from the subject," he asserted confidently, ignoring her pouting and beckoning her to follow.

"I've been meaning to ask, what do you mean by 'reservations?' There aren't really any high class restaurants around here." Cerulean offered only a grin as an explanation and continued walking until they had moved a good distance away from town, the merry noises of the townsfolk enjoying the strange weather barely audible. They stopped at the outer edges of the where snow had fallen, a plane of white stretching back towards town.

"Close your eyes. And don't open them until I say!" Cerulean instructed, and she reluctantly obeyed. When Cerulean was convinced she was no longer looking, he braced himself and gathered his magic, fashioning a small castle out of ice. It had a single room with a table set for two, and a final dash of magic enchanted the structure so it wouldn't melt for several hours. "All right, you can open your eyes Twilight." Twilight's breath caught in her throat as she stared at the magnificent sculpture, the architecture very much reminiscent of the royal castle. The sun's rays caused it to gleam, sending dancing lights all around the meadow. "I prepared the meal up to the final stages last night, so just wait here for me a moment, all right?" Twilight nodded slowly, too amazed to speak.

Cerulean returned not ten minutes later, food in tow and beaming proudly. He had pulled out all the stops, and the spread was fantastic. However, the food wasn't what Twilight would remember for the years to follow but the love she felt from every action he took that day, a day he had crafted solely for her enjoyment. As they reveled in each other's company, the sun dipped below the horizon and Twilight vowed to herself that she would find some way to do the same for him - a way to thank him for filling her heart with immeasurable gratitude.

* * * * *

Night had fallen over Canterlot as Bangles walked the streets, her cloak hiding her face. She made no attempt to stave off the loathing she felt at seeing Cerulean again, and ponies gave her wide berth, her hatred sending off waves of magic. She had been convinced he had long since passed, but somehow he had managed to ward off the hex she had placed on him four years ago, or at least keep it from activating. She moved a few of her jade bracelets aside to reveal a number of archaic letters, proof that the spell had yet to take effect. Her father wasn't home from the academy yet, and she entered his private study to begin her search for the combination to the safe in the library, which had been used as a store house for forbidden tomes for centuries.

"There you are," she cooed sweetly as she picked up the report detailing how to open it safely and without setting off the alarm. "Oh Cerulean, it will be so fun to play with you again. We'll see each other soon, I'm sure."


Chapter 21: Accursed

For once Cerulean fell asleep before Twilight, his excessive use of magic that day combined with waking early led to him turning in rather early, and as she finished the last of her reading she blew out the light and snuggled into bed behind him. She glanced over as her hoof made contact with one of the teal leg bands he always wore, something she never really paid much attention to. She stroked them gently and gave a start as her mind was suddenly bombarded with negative emotions, the foremost of which was an overwhelming desire to scream.

She withdrew her hoof in shock, staring at Cerulean who had fortunately not woken from her sudden movement. His breathing was normal and there was no snow around, so she couldn't have been sensing a nightmare of some kind. But if not a nightmare, then what? She touched it a second time and was again filled with the darkest of thoughts. She withdrew her hoof and stood, a rising fear flooding her senses. She attempted to encircle the band with magic but immediately stopped, a searing pain shooting through her skull as the hatred came in much stronger. Twilight swallowed hard, debating whether she should wake Cerulean or not. Summoning her courage, she simultaneously grabbed both leg bands and yanked hard.

Bangles gasped as the runes on her leg lit up, dropping the files and stepping back. The corners of her mouth curled into a grin as she closed her eyes and poured the full weight of her malice into the runes, transfering her thoughts and intentions to Cerulean.

"Writhe... You shall always be alone, abandoned and forsaken. There is no escape."

Cerulean screamed in agony as a massive blizzard exploded from his horn, throwing Twilight against the railing and nearly sending her plummeting to the main floor. A black mist began seeping from his legs and swirling around within the snow that swept the room.

"Cerulean, wake up! Please, wake up!" she pleaded desperately, but her voice could barely be heard over the howling gale.

"Twilight, what is this? What's going on?" Spike shouted, terrified as the frost began to expand. Twilight teleported Spike to herself and ran him outside. As she turned to return she stopped short, the raging ice already having made it to the doorway. Spike jumped in front of her as she tried to enter. "Twilight, there's no way you can make it through that storm!"

"I have to try, Spike! This is my fault, I can't just let him suffer alone," she screamed, knocking Spike aside and dashing inside. The second story had already frozen solid in an ever expanding wall of ice, with Cerulean at it's center. His body quaked as it was wracked with pain, every nerve ending seeming to be ripped out as the shadows continued to flow from his legs. As the darkness wrapped around her, Twilight could feel the hatred flooding through her mind, threatening to drive her mad as she pressed forward. She summoned her magic to create a barrier, but it took all her effort not to be overwhelmed. "Cerulean, make it stop! Please, wake up!" she shouted, pounding against the wall of ice that was steadily creeping down the stairs.

"Twilight, get out of there! You're going to die if you stay!" Spikes voice pierced through the mist, and Twilight grabbed a parchment and quill before dashing out of the house. She grabbed Spike and continued to run before turning and watching in horror as the whole house was consumed, forming a solid pillar of ice. It stretched towards the sky, at least a good thirty or forty feet into the air before slowing to a stop, the high winds still whipping around the epicenter.

Princess Celestia woke with a start as her horn recieved the incoming message. All formality had been abondoned as the whole scroll was dominated by a single word.


She immediately recognized Twilight's writing and threw open the windows, making straight for Ponyville without hesitation. Even in her most desperate of times, Twilight always signed her letters. For her to not could only mean that she was truly in dire straights. Celestia pushed her wings harder, not wanting to waste even the smallest fraction of time. It took her only a few minutes but it felt like hours, and as the town came into view her fears were confirmed by the presence of the monolithic icicle jutting out of the ground. Twilght threw herself at the princess as she landed, too terrified to speak. She wrapped a hoof around her and stared at the shadows that swirled around.

"Spike, what has happened here?" she asked, forcing herself to remain calm.

"I don't know, I woke up when I heard Cerulean scream. Then snow started flying around the room and Twilight and I hightailed it out of there. Please, Celestia, you gotta help him!" Spike begged. Celestia said nothing and approached the storm, sticking a single hoof into it and wincing as pure darkness flooded her mind.

"This magic has been forbidden for centuries. Somepony is crossing a line that should never be crossed, and it isn't Cerulean." She turned to face Twilight, who was making an extreme effort to calm down, focus, and remain rational.

"Forbidden magic, Celestia?"

"Yes, Twilight. This is a curse, and a strong one at that. And I would guess that it's been building intensity for years, judging by the strength of the reaction." Spike took a step away from Twilight, her expression turning murderous as her teeth ground together.

"Bangles..." she whispered to herself as the anger began to control her, her thoughts darkening just like the shadows that had ensnared Cerulean.

"Twilight!" Celestia bellowed, tearing her back to reality. "Do not let hatred breed in your heart, lest you share a similar fate." Twilight hung her head, completely beside herself with worry and helplessness. Celestia's expression softened as she wrapped Twilight in her arms once more. "All is not lost, there is yet hope. However, even my powers alone will not be enough to break the spell. I will return with Luna. Meanwhile, go and gather your friends. The Elements of Harmony will be necessary to save Cerulean." Twilight nodded weakly, barely feeling the strength to stand. "And Twilight, do not attempt to enter that house." With that, Celestia took flight towards Canterlot.

"Hang on, Cerulean. Don't give in," Twilight said softly before taking off towards Sweet Apple Acres, channeling her anger into determination and forcing her legs to move. Applejack was sound asleep when her door slammed open, causing her to tumble to the floor. She would have complained but a single glance at Twilight told her something was very wrong. "Applejack, I need your help. Please, help me gather the rest of our friends, we need the Elements of Harmony to save Cerulean and..."

"Well what are we waiting on? Let's git goin' Twi!" she said, bolting out the door before stopping briefly. "I don't need all the details, but if our friend is in trouble then we're gonna help 'im. I'll tell Fluttershy to get Rainbow Dash, you head t' town an' get Rarity and Pinkie Pie. Where should we meet?"

"The library, you... you won't be able to miss it." Applejack ignored the enigmatic answer and made for Fluttershy's cottage while Twilight teleported into town and gathered Laughter and Generosity. As they made their way to the library they found the other elements staring at the blizzard, their confusion and anxiety clearly displayed.

"Twilight, what's going on? Is Cerulean doing this?" Rainbow Dash asked, pointing a shaking hoof at the pillar.

"He's been put under a curse, a forbidden magic." There was a unified gasp at the statement, the friends looking at one another.

"What kind of mean meanie would do something like that to Cerulean? That doesn't make sense," Pinkie Pie pondered aloud. Applejack's gaze darkened as she and Twilight exchanged knowing glances. Celestia and Luna landed a short distance away from them and approached.

"Thank you for coming, everypony. Luna and myself will combine our magic to create an opening in the storm. You all must get as close as possible and use the Elements of Harmony. That should be strong enough to temporarily dispel the curse."

"Temporarily?" Twilight repeated in disbelief. "There's magic that is stronger than the Elements of Harmony?" Celestia and Luna exchanged worried glances before speaking.

"Twilight, I am familiar with this particular spell. Conditions are set by the caster, and once they are broken it causes a terrible pain that eventually destroys the mind. Cerulean must have found a way to keep it from activating, but something disrupted it. Hast thou any idea what it could be?"

"I removed his leg bands, but how would that?.." she stopped. "It doesn't matter, we need to help him. Please Celestia, Luna..." she turned around. "My friends... please, help me save Cerulean."

"Sugarcube, you couldn't stop me if ya tried. C'mon, princesses, let's git this show on the road!" Applejack exclaimed, her friends raising a loud cheer. Luna and Celestia approached the gale and crossed horns, emitting a bright light that pierced into the storm and melted a path into the ice. The mane six entered, sticking close so as to not be tainted by the dense black mist that filled the library. The path in the ice only made it to the base of the stairs, where they stopped and looked towards the second story. The six elements began to shine as their magic energy combined, shooting forth a brilliant rainbow. As the beam hit the ice it filled the library, banishing the darkness and evaporating the ice.

Cerulean fell to the floor in a heap, his shallow breaths barely making a sound. The other elements gathered around as Twilight ran up the stairs and held him in her arms, staring at his forelegs which were coated with blood. Twilight levitated a towl out of the bathroom and began to wipe it away to reveal the true nature of the curse. Where his leg bands had once been there were words carved into his flesh, and traces of scar tissue could clearly be seen. Blood slowly seeped from the words, one leg reading "Forsaken" and the other "Abandoned." Twilight had no time to indulge her growing hatred for Bangles as Cerulean came to, coughing weakly and whimpering from the lancing pain shooting through his legs.

"Cerulean, I'm so sorry... I didn't mean for this to happen," she whispered, hanging her head in shame.

"Four years..." Cerulean said weakly. "For four years I kept the curse at bay by never letting anypony gaze upon the scars, nor letting them know of their existence. And just like that, you..." Twilight reached her hoof towards his face when he caught her hoof firmly in his own. "What gave you the right? Why, Twilight?" he demanded, using what little strength he had left to flood his voice with anger. His vision wavered for a moment before fading to black as he mercifully lost consciousness. Twilight sat stricken, his words cutting deeply into her heart. She had no excuse. She sensed the danger and ignored it anyways.

"I'm sorry, Cerulean... I..." she choked out before losing her ability to speak, tears falling onto Cerulean's face and running slowly down his muzzle before dripping to the floor. Celestia approached and lifted Cerulean onto her back.

"Twilight, I am going to take him back to Canterlot. The curse yet remains, and I will do everything in my power to set him free. In the mean time, please try to find a way to apologize." Luna followed Celestia out, and Twilight's gathered around and silently offered their sympathy, holding their friend and wishing for an end to the sadness. One by one they filed out until Applejack alone was left with Twilight.

"Applejack?" Twilight said hesitantly, causing her to turn.

"What is it, Twi?"

"Could you..." she stopped. "Could you stay with me tonight?" she whispered, too exhausted to cry any further. "I don't want to be alone." Applejack wrapped her in a warm embrace as her soothing words eased Twilight's burden, if only by a small amount.

"Of course, Twilight. C'mon, you need t' get some rest." Twilight feebily crawled into bed, and Applejack climbed in beside her, holding her tightly. She was relieved to hear Twilight's quiet snores shortly after. Applejack couldn't really understand everything that had happened that night, but she was glad that it was her Twilight had asked to stay. They hadn't really spoken much since she had kissed Cerulean, even when they gathered for ice cream just hours before, and she took Twilight's request to mean that she was indeed forgiven. She closed her eyes and wished for Cerulean's swift recovery, as much for Twilight as for herself.

The princesses returned to their rooms and shut the drapes after barring the door. The guards had been instructed not to interfere, regardless of what they heard. The captain cringed as he heard blood curdling screams coming from behind him, closing his mind and trying not to think about what could be causing the mournful howls. It took a four hours to dispel the curse, and Cerulean's body slowly lowered to the floor as they finished. Opening the door she beckoned the captain inside, who quietly obeyed, trying not to gaze at the crimson puddle in the center of the room.

"Captain, please take this stallion to Twilight's old room, and post somepony inside the room at all times so we will know when he awakes. And please, clean his wounds." He nodded, lifting Cerulean onto his back and making straight for Twilight's old bed where he deposited him and posted a guard as instructed. The guard set about washing the blood away that coated his legs, shaking his head as he wondered what had happened though not daring to ask questions.

Sleep, or at least restful sleep, fled from Twilight that night, and she felt anything but refreshed when she awoke the next morning. Applejack lay beside her, still fast asleep, and Twilight quietly arose and wandered downstairs. She quickly drafted a letter to Princess Celestia asking how Cerulean was doing before nudging Spike into wakefulness just long enough to send it. He was just about to fall asleep again when he exhaled the message which Twilight grabbed immediately. Hope crept back into her heart as she read the message.

"To my Faithful Student Twilight,

Cerulean is going to live. The process to remove the curse took quite some time and was extremely painful for him, but was fortunately successful. As of now he has not awoken since losing consciousness after the procedure, but I think it would do him good to see you. Please come to Canterlot as soon as you are able.

Your Teacher,

Princess Celestia"

Twilight knew exactly what she needed to do. Applejack watched her silently as she prepared to leave, grabbing her journal and socks and stuffing them into a saddlebag, along with some quills and parchment. As much as Applejack would have liked to go, she knew that this was something for the two of them to work out themselves.

"Twilight?" She stopped packing at the sound of Applejack's voice. "Bring Cerulean back. Don't let 'im run, no matter how hard he may fight ya. That colt needs friends, especially now."

"Don't worry, Applejack. Even if I have to hogtie him, he's coming back," she asserted, steeling her will. As she opened the door to leave she stared in shock at a rather large box that had been deposted just outside, an envelope attached to the side.


Sorry I couldn't get these to you the day of your little excursion, it was a rather large order after all. You sure know how to win a mare's heart, giving her a mass of dusty books. Only one mare I know of that would possibly enjoy such a thing, and she's much too good for you. Oh well, best of luck!

Francis Lingua"

The box was too large to fit through the door, so she opened it there. Inside were new copies of every single book that had been destroyed by the shower water, and even the ones that had been deemed to be of acceptable condition after. So this was the surprise package he mentioned... Truly, she would have been ecstatic on any other occasion, but the gesture only fueled her desire to repair things between them.

"Spike! Come move these inside, I've got to go to Canterlot! I'll try to be back by tomorrow afternoon!" Taking a quick trip to Carousel Boutique, she threw herself at Rarity's mercy. It was a thoroughly unnecessary act as Rarity readily fulfilled Twilight's request, and she stuffed the gift into her bag and made straight for the station. She arrived in Canterlot around noon, and made a short detour to give Francis her regards.

"Twilight! I'm glad you came, actually. There was something I meant to stick in the package but it completely slipped my mind," he said as cheery as ever. "Speaking of, how did you like your little gift?"

"Firstly Francis, it wasn't little. And I've got to admit, nothing yanks my heart strings like a couple dozen books," she replied, flashing a smile. He chuckled and continued rummaging around behind the desk.

"Ah, here it is. Give this to Cerulean, I think it will make his day." He handed Twilight the unofficial copy of "Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone" that Cerulean had never received.

"He never came back for it?" Francis shook his head sadly.

"He couldn't even walk through town after the trial four years ago, so he left shortly after being released. Didn't even say goodbye to his friend, it must have torn him apart inside." A sudden inspiration struck Twilight.

"Francis, do you know where Lemon Chiffon is now? Is he still here in Canterlot?" Francis smiled as he sensed her intentions, nodding his approval.

"He's just down the way at that fancy restaurant on the corner, now what was it called?" Twilight stuffed the manuscript in her bag, yelling her thanks over her shoulder. She knew the place, having eaten there a time or two. She burst through the door, causing all the upper class ponies to stare at her disdainfully as she tore into the kitchen. Lemon was difficult to miss, as he towered over everypony else. That, and he had the trademark hat of the head chef to match his cutie mark. He was constantly moving around the kitchen, making sure everything continued smoothly and the quality was unrivaled. The staff all turned and looked at Twilight with surprise as she marched straight up to him.

"Lemon? Lemon Chiffon?" The kitchen staff began whispering and grinning as he beheld the mare with utter confusion.

"Uh... yes, I am. Have we met, miss?.." he said, raising an eyebrow. Twilight had to crane her neck just to make eye contact.

"No, my name is Twilight Sparkle. Lemon, I don't have time to explain but Cerulean's been..."

"Cerulean? You've seen him?" Lemon interjected, cutting her off. Twilight couldn't tell if it was anger or desperation she heard in his voice.

"Yes, Lemon. And he's in bad shape. I'd really like you to come with me to the castle to see him." Lemon's mind reeled at the prospect of seeing his friend again after all this time. As a torrent of emotions both good and bad flooded Lemon's mind, he called over his assistant and plopped his hat onto his head.

"Hold the kitchen for a day, and don't make me look bad!" He turned to Twilight, who regarded him with eager eyes. To her surprise he bowed low to her. "Please Twilight, I beg you. Take me to Cerulean."

Healing the Scars

// Author's Note: This chapter contains shipping. I apologize if it offends anypony, but it's less about the shipping and more about the emotions behind the actions.

Chapter 22: Healing the Scars

Twilight and Lemon galloped straight to the royal castle, making it there around three in the afternoon. They slowed to a walk as they made it to the courtyard, and after asking around they discovered Cerulean was being kept in her old room. The guard outside the door lifted a hoof as they approached, himself staring at Lemon who was even taller than him.

"I'm sorry, Twilight. No visitors until he wakes up, Princess Celestia's orders," he said firmly.

"I see..." She thought for a moment then turned to Lemon. "I'm sorry for dragging you over here just to be turned away at the door."

"Don't be. To even have a chance to see him again, it was worth the trip. I've already left work for the day, so I will stay here until he awakes. He's got a lot of explaining to do," Lemon replied. Twilight led Lemon to a guest room and they sat in silence, each with their own thoughts. Twilight pulled out the parchment and sat staring at the blank page, trying to think of a way to apologize. She ended up drawing a picture not much better than Cerulean's card had been, and then shoved the scroll back into her bag, resigning herself to wait.

It was early evening when Cerulean awoke. He made no effort to move, as his limbs were leaden and a dull ache traced through his legs every time the muscles contracted. After a time he opened his eyes and looked around. Judging by the decor, he surmised he was inside the royal castle. With great effort he hoisted himself into a sitting position, noting the bloody towel that the guard had left on the table and the bandages around his legs. The guard saw his movement and immediately left the room to inform Celestia that he was awake.

Cerulean retreated inwards, mulling over what he had said to Twilight. He regretted his words but at the same time it felt like she had broken his trust somehow, anxiety rising in his chest as he pondered what to do about it. He wanted to apologize every bit as badly as he wanted to be apologized to, his mind repeating circular arguments without end. Celestia's entrance broke him from the cycle as he glanced away, not wanting to make eye contact.

"Cerulean, I am glad to see you are awake. How do you feel?" she said gently, stopping by the side of the bed.

"Confused. Hurt. The confusion is worse," he muttered. Celestia listened quietly as he attempted to put his emotions into words, but try as he may he couldn't quite seem to find a satifying way to say what he wanted to say.

"Tell me the conditions of the curse," Celestia commanded, changing the subject.

"I wasn't allowed to show anypony the markings, or tell anypony of them. And the closer I got to other ponies, the more pain the spell would store for it's eventual activation, multiplying in intensity. It's little wonder that it had the reaction it did, after meeting Twilight..." he said quietly, his vacant eyes staring into the distance. "I imbued those leg bands I always wore with magic daily, to keep the curse at bay. But then... Twilight removed them. No warning, no reasoning, I just awoke to complete agony. I... I could hear Bangles voice..."

"So, you're hurt not only by the physical pain it caused, but also the anger you displayed. Yet you also hold her responsible for taking matters into her own hooves without your permission which justifies your anger, is that correct?" Cerulean nodded, the summary as good as any. Celestia turned and walked to the door. "Before your anger grows any deeper, take a look at your legs, you may find cause to thank her. She's been waiting for you, I will tell her that you are awake." With that she left the room. Cerulean slowly unwrapped the bandages, and his eyes grew wide as he regarded his legs with complete disbelief. The words that had formed the curse had disappeared, the only trace of their existence being a few small patches of dried blood. The confusion and anger drifted away, leaving only sadness that he had raged against the one who had finally freed him of his curse. As his mental beating of himself reached full swing Twilight entered, approaching slowly and setting the saddlebag down beside the bed.

"Twilight, I just want to..." he started before drawing silent as she raised a hoof in the air.

"Cerulean, I'm sorry. I sensed the danger, but I ignored it. I wish I could tell you why, but I really don't know myself. It just felt like something I had to do." Cerulean looked into her eyes, seeing the sincerity mingled with regret. "I don't know if you can forgive me, but I have some things I'd like to share with you." Cerulean watched with curiosity as she pulled out a loosely bound manuscript with no title and handed it to him.

"Uh... And this is?" he questioned, looking at the volume and then at her. She motioned him to read and his eyes grew wide as he realized it was the copy of Daring Do he had never been able to retrieve. "But how did you?.." his voice trailed off as she pulled out her diary and handed it to him. "Twilight, you don't need to..."

"I looked upon something that was not for my eyes, so it's only fair you do the same. Just read it," she demanded, and he promptly obeyed. Twilight tried not to let his growing laughter get to her as he read the rather lengthy portions she had written discussing the finer points of his overall attractiveness in the more recent entries. After a short time he set it down and looked at Twilight. "Cerulean, can you forgive me?"

"Twilight, there's nothing to forgive. Look," he said, holding out his arms, free of the markings that had bound him for years. "Twilight, I would still be cursed if it weren't for you stepping in. It's true, I was very angry that you had done so without my permission..." Twilight dropped her gaze, looking at the floor. "But if you hadn't, the past would have continued to haunt me. Yet again, I am in your debt. The better question is can you forgive me?" Twilight climbed onto the bed and gently lowered herself onto his chest, touching her horn to his. He felt not just forgiveness but an overwhelming sense of thanksgiving as well. He stroked her cheek and felt a new emotion flare, and an incredibly stimulating one at that. His eyes opened to see Twilight gazing down at him, and he flushed as Twilight pressed herself against him, kissing him fervently as she locked him in her arms.

"Am I correct to assume that I may enter now?" They both whipped their heads towards the door as Lemon entered, rolling his eyes and blushing slightly at their display of affection. Cerulean's vocabulary left a quick "on hiatus" note and bailed, leaving his mouth open but extremely ineffectual for anything other than basic life support functions.

"L... L... Lemon?!?" he stammered as his friend towered over them. Twilight extricated herself and got off the bed, standing on the other side.

"I thought you might like to see him. Consider this another piece of my apology," she said with a grin. The two stared at each other for a long time. The stare was broken as Lemon suddenly whipped his hoof around and punched Cerulean full in the face. Twilight immediately jumped between them, her horn glowing dangerously and teeth bared. She relented as Cerulean placed a hoof on her shoulder.

"Twilight, it's ok. I deserved that." She shot Lemon one more glare before retreating to Cerulean's side on the bed, and it was then that she noticed Lemon's eyes had filled with tears. He stooped low and wrapped Cerulean in his lanky arms.

"Don't ever run like that again. I mean it, Cerulean, I'll beat you good if you do. I didn't know if you had just left or been murdered by an angry crowd or anything, you just disappeared. Do you have any idea how worried I was?" Cerulean hung his head returned the motion. "You better have a good explanation." Cerulean pulled away and cupped Lemon's face in his hooves, causing him to quickly yank away. "Look, I know you probably missed me too, but I don't swing that way. Besides, I believe your lady would be a bit peeved if we tried to recreate the moment you just shared together."

"Dude, seriously? Do I look the type?" Cerulean responded, dropping back to his old mode of speech much to Twilight's amusement.

"...Do I need to answer that?" Lemon laughed, grinning widely.

"Dazzle, your face. Here. Now," Cerulean commanded in mock anger. Lemon complied, and mirth drained from his face as Cerulean relayed his memories of the events just after the trial through his horn. After a time he pulled away, and Lemon's eyes blazed with frustration.

"Is everypony in this blasted town completely out of their minds? Since when does 'not guilty' mean 'make their lives miserable forever after?'"

"Lemon, let it go. It is what it is, and besides," Cerulean said, placing his hoof over Twilight's, "It led to me finding something wonderful." Lemon watched as they gazed starstruck into each other's eyes.

"Oh gag. Hello you two, third presence here. Stoppit, you're freakin' me out." Cerulean and Twilight both shot Lemon mischevious grins and then leaned into a deep kiss. "All right, that's it, I'm out of here." As he made for the door he dropped to a bow as Celestia swept into the room, Luna in tow. Lemon raised his head in time to see Celestia wrap both Cerulean and Twilight in a fond embrace, overjoyed that they had patched things up so easily. "Wait, you know the princesses personally?"

"And what of it? Who might you be?" Luna said, turning and staring him down.

"Celestia, Luna, this is my good friend Lemon Chiffon. He's probably the only pony who didn't turn his back on me after the trial," Cerulean replied in his stead. Celestia approached, staring at him for a moment before breaking into a smile.

"I see. Welcome, Lemon Chiffon. It seems Cerulean owes you a deep debt of gratitude. You are welcome to stay for the night, if you so wish."

"T-thank you, Princess," he stuttered, never having actually seen either princess up close. Twilight waved cheerily as they left, before turning back to Cerulean. Lemon watched in silence as the bantered back and forth, a smile slowly forminguntil they kissed again at which point it turned to a mock frown of disgust. "Ewww, stop that, it's so gross!" he wailed dramatically, faking dry heaves.

"Awww, I think he feels left out. C'mere you, give Cerulean some sugar," Cerulean replied as he dropped his voice suggestively low. Having forgotten the weak condition of his limbs, Cerulean attempted to jump at him but fell splayed on the floor, groaning.

"No thanks, you don't look like you'd be much fun right now," Lemon said casually, waving him off. The moon soon rose in the sky as the three friends passed the night catching up, swapping stories and poking fun at each other. As the clock struck twelve Twilight rose and led Lemon to one of the guest rooms.

"Lemon, thank you for coming. It was good to see him laugh like that." Lemon turned to Twilight, his face serious.

"Twilight, I don't know if you know it but you're already far more important to him than I ever was, or will be." Twilight's shocked expression told him that she was quite oblivious to the subtle signs that Lemon had easily seen. "Twilight, he would give his life for you without hesitation. Even after all these years, even with only a partial cutie mark, I can see that clear as day. You've awakened something in him, changed him for the better. So really, I should be thanking you. Thank you for saving him, Twilight." With that, he retreated inside the guest room and closed the door. Twilight pondered his words as she returned to find Cerulean chuckling quietly to himself as he continued to read her diary.

"Even though he was laying drugged on the floor, I couldn't help but trace the water drops that ran down his body. I had the sudden urge to lap them up, but as I realized that I too had eaten the frosting, I decided it best to lose my sanity elsewhere. Still, it might have been fun to stay there; who knows what might have happened?" Cerulean read aloud, causing her blush deeply. "What kind of things did you have in mind?" She said nothing and left the room. Cerulean sighed, assuming that he had crossed a line with his recitation, and with a groan dragged himself off the bed and entered the shower, thinking the warm water would help relax his muscles. The pain was mostly due to magical strain, so it had gotten much better as the day dragged on. As the warm water caressed his features, he closed his eyes and let his mind drift away with the steam.

Twilight had in fact left to try to get her mind under control, his teasing and the memory of the event having stimulated the more active parts of her imagination. When she returned to the room she immediately noticed the sound of the shower running, and the color again rose to her face as she imagined what it would be like to join him. How would he react? Would it be all right? As her mind returned from pondering these things she found herself standing in front of the door to the bathroom, her heart racing and hooves trembling as she opened the door. Was she really walking towards him, or was this a vivid hallucination? Cerulean was on his hind legs letting the water flow through his mane when she slid away the door and climbed inside, firmly wrapping her forelegs around his waist.

"...Twilight?" he questioned, his softly flushed cheeks deepening a couple of shades as he observed the lavender arms around his middle. "What are you?.." He turned around and she looked up at him, her breathing rapid and trembling.

"I..." she started, looking away as the reality of where she was and what she was doing descended. She could have run, and part of her wanted to. Truth be told, she was scared of being rejected for her bold advance. But she was already there, so she closed her eyes and took the plunge as she felt Cerulean gently stroke her face, turning it back towards himself. "Everything I am, I give to you," she whispered, pressing him against the wall and kissing him passionately. Her fear flared as he stood motionless for just a moment, until she felt herself wrapped in his embrace, pulling her close. One hoof remained on his chest while her other traced a path down his side, coming to a rest upon his cutie mark. He mirrored the motion, a trill of excitement coursing through them both as their body temperatures rose above the soothing cascade.

The shower water was shut off after a time, and Twilight pressed Cerulean towards the bed. She giggled quietly as she shoved him onto the soft mattress and jumped atop him, laying across his chest and gazing into his brilliant teal eyes. "You have a great flank," she said softly, before realizing that her mind had complemented the wrong body part, herself meaning to speak of his eyes. Cerulean stared at her in confusion for a moment before laughing uproariously, causing Twilight to look away, unable to blush any more deeply than she already was.

"Beat me to it, Twilight," he murmured, stroking her wet mane and watching as the water dripped down her muzzle and onto the bed.

"Please tell me you weren't actually going to say that," she asked, bopping him lightly on the nose as she sat up.

"Well, I've been thinking it plenty, but there's actually something else I wanted to say," Cerulean said with a smile, sitting up so he could make even eye contact.

"Oh? And what might that be, Mr. Snowgleam?"

"Twilight... I love you, with all that I am." Twilight's breathing stopped, the words penetrating into her heart as he said them to her for the first time. The stallion before her became her entire world in a moment, and she was overcome by the magnitude of her desire for him, and only him.

"Cerulean, I... I love you too." He gently placed his hoof on the sapphire heart around her neck, pressing gently as she lay back. He stood over her and hesitated, until her hooves slowly rose, one behind his head and one behind his back, drawing him near as they both gave themselves to each other fully, two hearts burning as one.

The blizzard disappeared as Cerulean was cloaked in a massive lavender inferno. The internal chaos melted away as the flames devoured the miles of snow that stretched in all directions, revealing a flower strewn meadow. He watched in awe as beams of light shot from the ground, sporadic at first but increasing in number until he was in the center of a column of soft, violet light. He raised his eyes to the sky to see that it was shaped like a heart, cast upon the single cloud that resided in the sky. He closed his eyes as the peace he had sought for so long descended like a flood, wiping away every sorrow he'd ever known.

Twilight awoke to Cerulean's joyous cries ringing in her ears as he pranced around the room. While it was a much more pleasant way to wake than, for example, being tickled or doused in icy water, it still wasn't what she had expected after their first romantic night together.

"Cerulean, what is it?" she yawned, rubbing her eyes with a hoof. He turned to her, tears streaming down his face as he proudly displayed his flank. Twilight slowly brought her hooves to her mouth as she stared in disbelief. Behind his snowflake cutie mark had appeared a second, a lavender heart the same color as her coat.

Codex of Strife

Chapter 23: Codex of Strife

Twilight was every bit as thunderstruck as Cerulean, though it manifested in different ways. Cerulean pranced around like a foal that had been strapped to a chair for an hour while fed copious quantities of sugar then suddenly released, and Twilight's neural synapses fired several thousand messages at once like a game of telephone gone terribly awry. Eventually the message to speak made it to her mouth, though it was fragmented due to an incredibly rough journey.

"I don't... but... how did?.." Cerulean jumped onto the bed, grinning ear to ear as he revealed the nature of the change.

"Twilight, remember how I said that I lost my cutie mark because a part of me died?" She nodded but still didn't understand the implications. "Twilight, you've replaced the deadened part of my heart with a piece of your own... My heart is complete again." She couldn't understand the full weight of his words, but they filled her with joy nonetheless as she joined him in dancing around the room. They had just leaned into a kiss when Lemon walked in, having heard the commotion from down the hall.

"Ugh, again? Really? Can't you keep it under control long enough not to blind somepony?" he muttered, covering his face and averting his eyes. Cerulean's body radiated with mischief as he approached his defenseless friend and tackeled him to the ground, pinning his limbs to the floor.

"Twilight, I think somepony is feeling left out. Whatever shall we do?"

"We? You're on your own there, he's not my type," she replied, a coy smile playing at her lips.

"Really? Oh well, more for me." With that, Cerulean leaned in and stopped just short before he was bucked from his perch, laughing as he hit the floor.

"What the hay, Cerulean? What's gotten into you?" Cerulean continued giggling and simply rolled over so Lemon could see his cutie mark. "Wait, what the... How is that even possible? First you lose your cutie mark, then you gain a new one? Are you even a real pony?"

"I don't know how it's possible, but I'm whole again, Lemon." Lemon smiled, casting aside his sarcasm and placing his hoof on Cerulean's wrist.

"I'm glad you're back, Cerulean. Still, how did this happen?" Cerulean sat up and looked at Twilight, who looked at him, and then they both turned away, blushing deeply. "Dear Celestia, really?" Lemon joined the blushing, taking a step back. "Just how long have you known each other?" Neither responded, knowing that the answer would invariably translate into "much too short a time." "You know what, never mind, I don't want to know. Congratulations, Cerulean. Name it after anypony but me."

Both Cerulean's and Twilight's ears shot straight up at the statement, the thought of that particular aspect never having crossed their minds. It wasn't that either minded the thought, but it was a very unexpected revelation that such a thing could quite possibly occur. Lemon was forced to chuckle at the two as they shifted nervously. He was searching his mind for something clever to say when Celestia walked into the room to check on Cerulean. She looked from face to face, noting the blushing all around and the fact that Cerulean and Twilight were purposefully looking away from each other.

"...A threesome? In my castle? For shame, Twilight."

"Wha... Celestia, no!" Twilight screamed, horrified. Celestia gave a hearty laugh as the other two ponies responded in a similar fashion, astounded that the princess had even suggested such a thing.

"You couldn't pay me enough to be anywhere near that colt while he's..." Lemon muttered, desperately trying to rid his mind of the notion and shuddering.

"Calm down everypony, it was just a joke. I know Twilight only has room in her heart for one, and it looks like that position has been filled," she said as she examined Cerulean's flank. She had her suspicions as to the deeper meaning behind the cutie mark's appearance, but said nothing. Time would tell if it would result in laughter or tears. "I'm sure your friends in Ponyville are worried about you Cerulean. You too, Twilight. You should both try to make it back today, and get some rest. Something tells me you didn't get much the last two nights," she said with a chuckle before leaving the three embarrassed ponies to themselves.

"Well, if you can keep your hooves and lips to yourselves, why don't you stop by my restaurant for a bite to eat? I'll pay," he said after coughing softly to clear his throat.

"Hmmm, I guess I can make it for an hour or two," Cerulean teased, casting a fond eye on Twilight.

"Do you have anything to wear? It's kind of upscale, the type of place you always hated Cerulean." Cerulean shook his head as Twilight walked over to her saddlebag and pulled out a white scarf with deep blue tastles to match his coat, perfectly accenting his mane. Printed along the length were snowflakes, nearly identical to his cutie mark.

"Here, Rarity made this for you before I left to come here. It's not nearly flashy enough, but it's something at least," Twilight said, wrapping it around his neck. He was about to ask what she was going to wear when she whipped out his favorite violet and magenta socks and began to put them on. Cerulean's eyes followed each one as she pulled them on, Twilight purposefully taking longer than necessary and glancing at Cerulean out of the corner of her eye. Lemon groaned and made for the door.

"Come on, lovebirds. Breakfast awaits." With that they left for the restaurant. It was fortunately fairly empty so they were able to eat in relative peace, only catching a few snide remarks for their choice of dress. Lemon's cooking was top notch, though Twilight still preferred Cerulean's personal touch, the fancy dishes and silverware not ranking anywhere near the crystalline articles he produced for special occasions. As they made their exit Lemon saw them to the door.

"Take care, Cerulean. It was great to see you again. You better come visit from time to time."

"Same to you, Lemon. The couch back at the library is always open," he said with a laugh, shrugging off the playful blow Lemon landed to his shoulder.

"What the!.." Cerulean whirled around as Bangles stood in the street, her emerald hair visible as she threw back her hood and pointed a shaking hoof at Cerulean. "You, you're... You're still alive? But how?" Cerulean grinned mischievously, savoring her confusion as he proudly trotted over and stood just inches from her face.

"You have no power over me anymore. Find somepony else to torment, because I no longer acknowledge you." With that, he cantered off with Twilight, laughing happily and making sure his cutie mark was clearly evident, as were his bare forelegs; he even waved as they left. Bangles was unable to comprehend how such a thing was even possible, but everypony around backed away as her confusion turned to undiluted hatred. She made straight for the Canterlot Magic Academy library, the combination to the vault already memorized. As she arrived she smacked the fire alarm, causing a school wide mad scramble to vacate the buildings. When her curse had activated she thought she would never need to bother breaking in, but it seems he wouldn't just lay down and die.

"Well Cerulean, I can help with that," she gritted through clenched teeth as the automatic sprinkler system kicked in, drenching her coat as she descened the steps to the safe. She used her magic to spin the lock, opening the first door, then punched in the twenty digit code on the second door. The air tight room opened, and the smell of centuries of unuse rendered a distinctly stale scent to the wind that gushed from the room. Glancing to and fro, she stopped in front of a large black tome. "The Codex of Strife..."

As she broke the seal on the book, shadows leapt from the pages and lifted her off the ground. "Codex of Strife, reveal to me your secrets!" The shadows wrapped around her limbs and branded a rune into each leg. "Hatred, malice, despair, and darkness. All these shall be mine to give freely," she cackled, her crazed laughter echoing from the chamber. The guards in charge of watching the safe arrived much too late from helping with the evacuation, and as they attempted to apprehend Bangles shadows shot from the ground, forming blades and mortally wounding the two. As she stepped over their bodies she ran towards a window and jumped out, dark wings spreading out as she took flight, making for Ponyville. She flew at a leisurely pace, in no real hurry as she allowed the Codex full access to her darkest intentions. Besides, if she ended things too quickly it wouldn't be very much fun.

Cerulean and Twilight were relieved to get home, and Spike was delighted to see both of them in good spirits.

"Cerulean, you're not gonna explode like that again, are you?" Cerulean laughed and tried not to take offense at the statement.

"No, I'm all better now. The princesses and Twilight helped fix what was broken, so I should be fine from now on." Spike stared at him for a moment before begrudgingly accepting the statement.

"Twilight, how would you feel about a party?" he suggested hopefully.

"That sounds wonderful, actually. We have plenty of reason to celebrate."

"All right then, I shall enlist the help of the local party pony so we can get this thing done right."

"Make sure she leaves her de-colored rainbow at home, all right?" Twilight called after him as he spread his wings and took flight into the evening sky. Pinkie Pie was thrilled at the prospect of throwing a party for any reason, not even listening to his explanation as she packed her party cannon, several dozen balloons and more streamers than could possibly be necessary into a small brown suitcase. Cerulean eyed it cautiously, the sides not even bulging despite the fact that she had crammed an entire cannon inside.

Leaving Pinkie Pie to gather the rest of the ponies on the ground, he set out towards Cloudsdale to find Rainbow Dash. She was still in a slump after her meeting with Luna and refused to attend, so Cerulean decided to take matters into his own hooves. He froze her up to her neck and carried her outside amidst much protest, then tossed her over the edge. Cerulean spread his wings and laughed maniacally, catching up and falling at the same pace.

"Cerulean, have you lost your mind?" Rainbow screamed as they both hurtled towards the ground.

"Hmmm, well that depends too much on personal opinion to answer," he said with a shrug. "However, you're no longer thinking about how depressed you were, correct?"

"You're right, I'm too busy thinking about how I'm going to die!" she hollered, struggling to get her wings free.

"Rainbow, you should leave the drama to Rarity; she's better at it," he said as he tapped the ice, releasing her from her chilly bonds. She quickly spread her wings and pulled up before they hit the ground.

"Cerulean, you're every bit as crazy as Pinkie Pie," she huffed, sighing as she caved and flew towards the library.

"Perhaps," he replied as he flew alongside her. "Hey Dash, race you?"

"You're on, Snowgleam!" not wasting a second and darting ahead. Cerulean grinned and gave chase, cutting through the night with a burst of snow. Twilight and her friends jumped as Rainbow Dash and Cerulean tumbled through the door, landing in a mess of limbs and snow. "Wow Cerulean, you're pretty fast! Not nearly as fast as me though," she said with a laugh, extracting herself from Cerulean and trotting over towards the other ponies.

"Pinkie, would you like the honor of beginning the party?" Twilight asked, barely finishing the sentence before Pinkie opened her suitcase, balloons bursting forth and floating about the room as she mashed the button atop her party cannon. Cerulean and the rest of his friends raised a loud cheer and started the music as he tried not to think about how a table, complete with baked goods and punch bowl, could possibly have come from the comparatively tiny opening of the cannon. Logic took a back seat as streamers and confetti rained down all around them, mysteriously missing the table full of tasty treats. They danced and laughed the night away, enjoying good times with good friends.

As midnight approached the party started to wind down, and one by one their friends retired until only Twilight and Cerulean remained awake, Spike having fallen asleep nearly an hour prior. Working together the room was restored to some semblence of tidiness, which was good enough considering how strenuous the last forty eight hours had been. Cerulean was about to head upstairs when he found Twilight's notes on the premonition spell she had been working on.

"Twilight, is this... The formula for your future reading spell?" She approached, skimming the page and nodding. Cerulean studied it for a moment before closing his eyes and trying it himself. He vision was cloaked in blue just like his magic's aura, but then returned to normal.

"Haze, and then nothing, right?" Twilight said with a rueful grin. "It's still not perfect, though I have an idea on how to improve it. That's a job for another day though. Come on, let's get to bed."

"Oh, gladly," Cerulean replied, heaving a massive yawn and following her up the stairs. He drew the covers back, letting her climb in first before he followed, laying flat on his back as Twilight rested her head on his chest. Within minutes she had fallen asleep, and he slowly felt himself fade from consciousness as Twilight's quiet snores drifted through his mind. Finally, an end to all the chaos.

Bangles stood at the edge of Everfree Forest, gazing at Ponyville. Specifically, she sat staring at the library in the distance, barely visible in the dim moonlight. She slowly held out a hoof and sparks of magic shot forth as she ripped a tremendous chunk from the earth, levitating it into the air above her head. She grasped the Codex to her chest with her other hoof, pouring her loathing into it as shadows swirled around her body.

"Don't die too quickly, Cerulean. I don't like short play dates."

Cerulean wandered happily through the meadows of his mind, the sky a brilliant lavender and the flowers in full bloom. Finding a stream he stooped and drank of the water, letting the cool liquid slowly run down his throat. On a whim he threw himself in, splashing happily and generally acting like a total foal. He stared at his reflection for a moment before everything around him disappeared, leaving him standing in an inky black abyss. Slowly, an image grew larger until he could see that he was looking at the library from the sky. He couldn't change the image, only watch as the scene moved of it's own accord. The light of the moon was suddenly obscured, and he watch in horror as a boulder came hurtling through the air and ripped through the second story where they were sleeping. Cerulean tried to cry out but no sound came, and he watched helplessly as the building groaned for a moment then collapsed inward upon itself.

As his mind wrenched itself from the nightmare, he somehow knew that it wasn't just a dream. He didn't know how long he had before it happened, but he wasn't going to take chances. He grabbed Spike with his magic and yanked him to the bed from the third floor, causing both Spike and Twilight to wake with a start.

"Cerulean, what's?.." Twilight started before he threw himself on top of her, pressing his horn to hers and generating as much magic as he could. Twilight gasped as they were encased in an expanding sphere of ice, leaving just enough room for the three of them. She tried to adjust her position but his frantic voice froze her in place.

"Twilight, don't move!" She closed her eyes, terrified as the seconds creeped past in silence. A tremendous crash sounded as they something massive crashed into the ice, creating a large crater but the barrier fortunately holding. Cerulean doubled his efforts the roof caved in on top of them, Twilight's cry of fear ringing in his ears. As silence fell again, Cerulean slammed a hoof into the ice, causing it to shatter and throwing the debris that had collected atop it to the air. "Twilight, Spike, are you all right?" Twilight nodded shakily, Spike having passed out when the boulder made contact.

"Cerulean, what's going on?" Tears of anger crept into Cerulean's eyes saw the fear in Twilight's, and he realized that there was only one explanation.

"Oh my, now isn't this touching. The gallant stallion defending his mare, how trite." Cerulean slowly turned to face the familiar voice, his teal eyes locking onto Bangles'. "You know, I don't like it when ponies steal my toys," she said calmly, casting a glance at Twilight who had shaken off her fear and now stood by Cerulean's side.

"I was never yours to lose, Bangles." Cerulean said defiantly, fear fleeing in the face of his rising fury. This had to end. He wouldn't stand for others to suffer on his account anymore. "Twilight, take Spike and find somewhere safe. Go!" The urgency in his voice compelled her to comply, though she resolved to return once Spike was safe. As her hoof falls receded into the night, Cerulean summoned his wings and coated his horn with a thick blade of ice. Bangles smirked and summoned a host of shadows from the ground around her. "Bangles... This ends tonight!"

The Seventh Element

Chapter 24: The Seventh Element

Every muscle in Cerulean's body tensed as he prepared to strike. Bangles yawned and regarded him with utter disinterest, though she secretly found his visceral rage to be quite... stimulating. She began to giggle, her cheeks flushing slightly and only angering Cerulean further.

"Yes, just like that. Oh, how I've missed those eyes of yours, Cerulean." With a howl he charged, and she threw out her hoof, sending a host of shadows towards him. All the years spent studying the art of fighting flooded through his mind as he cut a swathe through the darkness, swinging his horn in skillful arcs and dispatching the shadows without taking a scratch. He took the skies and lunged towards Bangles, who narrowly dodged the initial strike. As Cerulean circled she opened the Codex and began to chant.

"Howl, mourn and weep for the miseries which are coming upon you." The runes around her legs began to glow red and a massive black claw burst from the ground, grabbing Cerulean and hurling him through the skies. His wings helped break his fall as he landed in the forest, and he shrugged off the pain and stood, repairing his wings and dodging to the side just in time to evade a large rock that landed where he had been standing not moments before. "Yes, let your anger burn. Let me feast on your hatred!"

His mind was suddenly clouded by darkness as he felt his anger forcibly ripped from his chest, the runes around Bangle's legs glowing brightly. He fought to calm himself, and slowly the pain eased and he could again breathe normally as he pushed the malice from his mind.

"I will not fall to your tricks, Bangles. You're not worth giving in to the anger."

"Oh? Such confidence, it doesn't suit a hollow ragdoll such as yourself." With that she summoned a sickle to her hooves and charged him. He parried deftly, deflecting her flurry of blows that seemed to require no effort on her end. As she raised her weapon he stomped a foot, winding her with a blunted column of ice and charging to where she lay. He leapt into the air, slamming a hoof into the ground where she had been a second earlier, freezing a small patch of the earth. Instinct kicked in and he raised a wall of ice around him, hearing it shatter a split second later as Bangles attacked him from behind. He flew into the air to gain his bearings and gave a cry of shock as Bangles appeared in front of him. "Too slow," she whispered as she jammed a hoof to his chest. "The darkness consumed the land, and none could stand before it." A dark wave launched him to the ground, the force leaving him lying in a small crater.

Twilight's frantic knocking roused a very grumpy Rarity as she groggily answered the door, face still smeared in foul smelling cosmetic cream. She gasped as Twilight barged in, setting Spike down on a stretch of fabric before bolting back outside.

"Twilight, what's going on?" Rarity called after her.

"Bangles tried to kill me and Cerulean, and I'm returning to help him fight. Rarity, gather the Elements of Harmony, and once you are all together come to the library. We will hold her off until you arrive."

"Twilight, I don't understa..."

"Rarity, there's no time! You need to go now!" Twilight shouted before teleporting away, covering half the distance and running the rest of the way. Rarity allowed herself a brief moment to sulk before heading to Sugarcube Corner to grab Pinkie Pie. Pinkie Pie immediately grabbed her flying contraption and made for Cloudsdale while Rarity ran to Sweet Apple Acres, where Applejack joined her as they made for Fluttershy's cottage. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie met them there and together they made for the library, hoping to Celestia that they wouldn't be too late.

Celestia paced back and forth in her room as Luna looked out the window towards Ponyville. They could both quite clearly sense the intensity of the battle being waged, but they also knew that they would be powerless to interfer. While they may have been able to contain the Codex for a time, there was only one pony that could banish it completely. They could only wait, and hope that the seventh element was born in time.

Cerulean's chest heaved from exertion. He glanced down at himself, noting that he was now covered in wounds. Every time he'd get close to Bangles she would chant something from the book that stopped him short. He stood still for a moment trying to form a strategy as he watched the shadows multiply, spawning from the ground at Bangles' beckoning.

"Oh, is that all? I recall you were once full of vigor." Bangles voice threatened to overcome him as he strove to control his rage, knowing that it would only dull his senses and feed into her powers. He closed his eyes, desperately flipping through the pages of his mind, trying to find a spell that would give him the upper hoof. "You're beginning to bore me."

"Bangles, I have a question for you." She narrowed her eyes and regarded Cerulean with a scowl. "What is the point of all this? You got what you wanted, why can't you just leave me alone?" To his surprise Bangles began to laugh quietly, her volume slowly building until it echoed through the night.

"Why, is that all you wish to know? Well firstly, you didn't play the game fairly. Oh yes, you may have given me your body, but you kept your heart locked away. I wanted all of it."

"For what purpose?" Cerulean fired back.

"You just seemed so... pure. I couldn't stand it, being looked upon with pity like I'm some kind of broken toy. So, I stripped away the purity but you still didn't give in. If I can't have your heart, then I have no use for you." Cerulean shook his head, unable to comprehend her delusional line of thought. Talk would get him nowhere, and he closed his eyes, extending his wings and drawing them back full stretch. With one powerful thrust he shot forward, sharpening the edges of his wings and slicing through the shadows. Bangles cried out in shock as he slashed at her neck, grazing her and causing a small trickle of blood. Not stopping to give her a chance, he swung his head again to follow through but not fast enough to finish it as she launched into the air, propelled by a dark mist. "Oh my, it seems we have an intruder. No need to worry, it'll just be the two of us soon."

Time slowed as he turned to see Twilight approaching, horn glowing as she prepared to enter the fight. Bangles slowly raised a hoof, extending it full stretch and opening the Codex. Her runes began to glow, and Cerulean raced towards Twilight as Bangles uttered a single word.

"...Disappear." A dark hole appeared in the sky directly above Twilight, causing her to stop in her tracks as Cerulean flapped his wings and shot towards her. A rain of blades poured forth, and Twilight stared as they fell, paralyzed. Suddenly her vision spun as she was thrown to the ground, and something warm and wet coated her body. Cerulean stood over her, transfixed by no fewer than ten of the blades and bleeding heavily. He tottered for a moment before falling to the ground. His lungs and heart pierced, he tried desperately to focus his eyes as Twilight cradled him. He couldn't hear her words, and he feebly tapped the his hoof in the blood pooling all around, his horn glowing briefly for a moment before fading. An overwhelming sense of fatigue came over him, and he closed his eyes, thankful for the time he had been blessed with in the world. As Twilight sobbed, she looked down and saw that he had frozen the blood to form words.

"I think I finally found a way to repay my debt."

"No... It can't be..." Tears filled Celestia's eyes as the last of Cerulean's magic energy faded from the world. "This can't be right, it's not supposed to happen like this!" Luna placed a hoof on her shoulder. "Do not give up hope, dear sister. There may yet be a way through this." Celestia nodded, forcing herself to calm down and placing all her hopes upon Fate, their final defense against the rampaging manifestation of Strife.

Cerulean sat in silence as the meadow he had enjoyed for such a short period of time withered and died. The flowers petals curled and fell as the stream evaporated, leaving him in a barren wasteland. He took no notice as the ground beneath him started to crack, and soon he was falling deep into a black abyss. Placing his hoof to his neck, he clung to the necklace Twilight had given him, ignoring his surroundings and focusing on his memories as they tried to slip away.

"To you, Cerulean Snowgleam, I pose a question." The voice came from deep within the darkness, and Cerulean found himself no longer falling. He could see an alicorn approaching, his coat was jet black; he would have been incredibly difficult to see were it not for the fact that his mane was white like his own, minus the teal streak. His wings were massive, each feather tinged with white at the ends. As a whole he was much larger than Cerulean, and his cutie mark was a set of scales. "Honesty, loyalty, generosity, laughter, kindness, and magic. These form the Elements of Harmony. So tell me, which of these is the greatest element?" Cerulean said nothing, pondering the question.

"I do not know if this will change your answer, but come, take a look." Cerulean walked to his side and looked down, having a clear view as the battle with Bangles continued without him. Twilight had given in to her hatred, nullifying her ability to use her Element, and one by one his friends fell before Bangles. There was no way that the other ponies even stood a chance, not being accustomed to any kind of combat. Cerulean stared in horror as Bangles dispatched Pinkie Pie with her sickle before turning to Applejack, sending forth her minions.

"Make it stop! Please, you have to help them!" Cerulean pleaded, dropping to his knees as Applejack finally caved to her wounds, covered in raking gashes from the shadows that towered over her.

"Help is not mine to give in the land of the living. Do you wish to save them? Then answer my question." Cerulean tried to think but as he saw Twilight begin to back away from Bangles his thought processes broke down. "Are you really going to let her, all your friends, and your child die tonight, Cerulean?" His child? He heart simultaneously filled with joy at the words, and then despair as he saw how close he was to losing it all. Twilight tripped over his corpse, falling to the ground as Bangles sauntered over.

"No greater love has one than this, than to lay down his life for a friend." The mysterious stallion raised an eyebrow at Cerulean's words, his voice full of determination and confidence. "If you combine all the elements into one, there is only one word to describe it." He placed a hoof over the necklace around his neck and shouted his answer. "The greatest Element... is Love!" The black stallion approached and tapped his horn to Cerulean's necklace, causing it to shine.

"Well spoken, Cerulean. You are indeed the seventh element." The light eminating from the necklace grew increasingly bright, banishing the darkness around him and lifting Cerulean from the abyss. He set his sights on the sky above, the meadow returning once more to life as he rose above it.

"Well well, it seems we've reached an end." Bangles said with a giggle, staring Twilight down as she clung to Cerulean's still form, weeping. Her grief was as much for losing her friends as it was knowing that she had played a part in their deaths, her hatred feeding into the Codex and causing Bangles' power to grow while rendering the Elements useless. "I must say, your friends were quite entertaining. Especially that yellow pegasus, it was exceptionally quaint the way she shouted at me. But I tire of this," she said, summoning a sickle to her hooves and raising it above her head. Twilight closed her eyes, the memories of her life flashing before her as she was overcome with regret. She had failed, and Cerulean's sacrifice had been in vain.

"Cerulean... Forgive me..." A massive shock wave knocked both Twilight and Bangles away as Cerulean's form rose in the air, his wounds closing on their own and the necklace emitting powerful magic waves. Twilight watched as the necklace's color changed from silver to gold, and a snowflake formed in the center of the amethyst. She gasped with wonder as her own wounds began to heal, and her body was flooded with warmth. Her amazement turned to joy as one by one the rest of the Elements of Harmony slowly stood, looking at their bodies with confusion; no traces of the battle were visible, no sign of any scars. Cerulean was glowing with a lavender aura, the same color as the heart that adorned his flank, and even his burn scars disappeared in the cleansing light.

"What manner of sorcery is this? I killed you once already, and I can do it again!" Bangles shouted, summoning a horde of shadows from the ground. The mane six gathered behind Cerulean, but to their surprise he turned to them and shook his head.

"Do not interefere, Elements. I alone shall be the arbiter of justice in this trial." Cerulean's voice sounded different, and Twilight approached him cautiously.

"Cerulean? Is it... is it really you?" To her relief he drew her close, holding her tightly.

"Aye, Miss Sparkle. It is I, the great and powerful Cerulean Snowgleam."

"I thought you were gone for good, Cerulean. I couldn't handle the thought of..." she started, before he cut her off, kissing her deeply and cradeling her face with a hoof.

"Our child needs a father, Twilight." Her eyes grew wide with wonder at his words before he turned to face the raging Bangles, a veritable army of shadows collected underneath her.

"Bangles, you who have lived your life in malice and hatred, shall now be judged upon the scales of justice. You will be repaid according to your actions," Cerulean declared, his voice firm and unwavering. Bangles howled as her runes glowed and her blades rained down once more. Cerulean threw up a single hoof, deflecting every blade away from Twilight and her friends with a purple barrier. With a cry of rage Bangles commanded every last shadow to attack. Cerulean ran forward into the writhing mass as Twilight and her friends looked on, their hopes resting upon his shoulders.

In Canterlot Celestia heaved a sigh of relief, drying her tears as she felt life return to Cerulean, Twilight and the other elements. She turned and faced the black alicorn as he slowly approached.

"Thank you, Fate. You have just saved many lives."

"Do not thank me, Celestia. The victory belongs solely to Cerulean." He disappeared in a small flash of black flames. She turned and joined Luna at the window.

"Prevail, Cerulean. Bring Twilight and the others home safely."

The shadows rose up around Cerulean, but he refused to be overcome. Summoning a small blizzard he propelled them back and then closed his eyes, countering Bangles' chants with his own.

"A light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it!" Out of the ground materialized six swords made of ice, their hilts adorned the Elements' cutie marks. Controlling them all simultaneously, he cut down every shadow that Bangles threw at him. As he finished the last one, he began to walk slowly towards her. The massive black hand rose from underneath him, holding him firmly in it's grasp for a moment before being eviscerated by the swords swirling around him. He landed lightly on his feet, pulling out his wings as he fell.

"A great darkness shrouded the land and the inhabitants fled, seeking peace but finding only sorrow!" Bangles cried, causing black clouds to form above her. A bolt of lightning cracked the skies, heading straight for Cerulean.

"Now these three endure; faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these..." he stopped, raising a hoof as the lightning struck. There was a bright flash, causing Twilight to blink as she was momentarily blinded. Relief flooded through her as Cerulean stood his ground, lightning crackling all around him but not making connection, his hoof still outstretched. "...the greatest of these is love." The six swords combined to form one brilliant blade, and he charged as she summoned her her scythe once more, meeting him head on. The Elements watched in silence, knowing that they could do little more than hope and put their faith in Cerulean.

Bangles was hard pressed to keep up with Cerulean's skill with a blade, and where she had once been on the offensive she found herself being steadily driven back under his onslaught. Reaching down she wrapped a shadow around his legs, causing Cerulean to trip. He raised the sword behind his head just in time to deflect the blow before launching himself to his feet once more. "No more games. I've suffered your insolence long enough, Strife." His horn began to glow, eminating magical waves on par with Celestia's. He slowly opened his eyes, now a soft violet as the seventh Element's power flooded through him, and brought his gaze to match Bangles'. Her crimson eyes blazed as she mentally ripped him apart again and again. "Repent, for the pit you have dug for another shall consume you whole."

Bangles took a step forward, and Cerulean stomped a hoof, generating a pillar that struck her from behind, throwing her off balance. Another stomp, and another made connection with her chest, winding her. His gaze was cold as he jumped once, slamming all four feet to the ground in unison causing a monolithic spire to appear underneath her, launching her into the air. Taking flight he met her as she fell, freezing her solid and hurling her towards the ground, the ice shattering at the impact. She lay in a daze, limbs outstretched and fighting to retain consciousness. He waved his hoof in a wide arc, splitting the sword again into six. He met her gaze briefly before dropping his leg, sending the swords raining down.

Bangles cried out in agony as a sword pinned each limb to the ground, the other two crossed against her throat. Feebly she tried to lift the Codex with her magic but Cerulean firmly stomped his hoof atop it. "It's over, Bangles." He slowly lifted the Codex before him, and his eyes shone as a piercing beam shot from his horn, transfixing the book. "Elements, lend me your strength! Focus upon the Codex!" The six ponies rush over, surrounding the book releasing the Elements. Millenia of hatred and violence evaporated under the force, the sound of screams tearing from the pages. A great darkness raged against the power of the elements but could not prevail, and as the light died down the now harmless book fell to the ground. Cerulean picked it up and flipped to the final page, reading aloud. "To the pony who treads in darkness, I have this to say; turn back. There will always be a light to overthrow the darkness."

He tossed the book over to Twilight, who stepped away from it rather than catching it. "Burn it. The world has no need for relics such as this." Twilight happily complied, and it was soon a smoldering pile of ash. Cerulean nodded his approval before turning back to Bangles who still lay transfixed by his blades.

"Please, have mercy. I don't want to die!" Bangles whimpered, cringing as Cerulean stood beside her.

"To one who shows mercy, mercy shall be returned unto them." Bangles began to sob as Cerulean stood over her.

"Bangles, the debt must be repaid in full." With that, Cerulean placed his horn to hers. A lavender bolt of lighting cracked the sky gravitating directly to her horn, and he stood back as her face contorted in indescribable anguish, the full measure of every pain she'd ever caused others being compounded into her mind at once. Her screams pierced the night sky, carrying for miles as her vision was flooded by every moment she had wished ill on others, the pain of the betrayal she'd caused others now being multiplied within herself. After a long sixty seconds the spell reached it's end and her horn cracked and shattered. Her mind and body were unable to hold out any longer and she passed out, blood running down her muzzle from where her horn had once been.

Twilight approached as Cerulean's eyes returned to normal, regaining their teal hue that she had come to adore so much. He stood shakily for a moment then fell, the strain of manifesting the Element of Love taking a heavy toll.

"Is it finally over?" Twilight whispered, stroking Cerulean's mane as she laid his head in her lap.

"No Twilight," he responded with a weak smile, placing a hoof over her stomach, "It's only just beginning."

The sensation of body wide pain pulled Bangles into consciousness. Her limbs were unresponsive, and even the thought of moving them seemed to be cause lancing pains to shoot through them. A splitting head ache towered over all of these, and she did nothing but lay there, as confused as she was thankful that she was still alive. She cracked an eye open and let out a small whimper as she found Cerulean sitting by her bed side, watching her intently. She struggled feebly but couldn't coax her limbs to move, the gaping wounds from Cerulean's swords having rendered them immobile.

"It's good to see you awake, Bangles. You've been unconscious for three days." She froze, staring in utter confusion at the statement. "Make no mistake, I have no intention of being your friend. However, I do no want the blood of another on my hooves." He shook his head, standing and walking over to her. She closed her eyes, expecting pain that never came. She opened her eyes to see a soft, lavender light coming from the gold necklace around his neck. As the light faded he began to unwrap the bandages, revealing the newly restored limbs. "You will never be able to use magic again. Perhaps now you will think twice before tearing apart the lives of others. You may leave as soon as you feel able." Bangles watched him leave, bringing a hoof to her forhead. A small indentation into her head was all that remained of her horn, and she cried softly as she was crushed by something she hadn't felt in a very long time - guilt and remorse.

Twilight was waiting for Cerulean as he exited, and he appeared quite visibly relieved to have left Bangles' presence.

"So what happens now?" she asked, none too happy about leaving Bangles to her own devices.

"I don't think she'll pose a problem to anypony now. I could be wrong, but I will not be the one to strike her down." Twilight smiled as she beheld the conviction in his eyes, her admiration for his strength of will overcoming her anxieties. "Come, Twilight. There's a lot to do."

"What do you mean?" she replied, turning towards him and cocking her head to the side.

"Well, for one I'd like to petition Celestia to formally add me to her payroll as your official assistant in the research of magic, as we've all seen me working at Sugarcube Corner has disasterous results." Twilight giggled as she followed him out of the clinic, recalling the frosting incident.

"Well, aside from a building burning down and a couple dozen ponies waking in the middle of nowhere, it wasn't all bad," she said with a smirk. "Oh, except for Lyra. She was sick for nearly a week, poor mare."

"And I do so well when I'm in your kitchen, too. I just don't know what went wrong," he said, faking confusion. "And there are other things to think about as well, like how the hay are we going to make a library foal proof? Oh yes, that's after we rebuild it."

"Ok, stop talking about all the things that could go wrong please. You're making me worry."

"My apologies. I suppose I could change the subject to happier things," he offered, looking towards the sky as if to seek inspiration. "How about this, I have a surprise for you, but you can't have it until tomorrow morning. Moving on, I..."

"Oh no, you can't do that to me! Come on, tell me please!" she begged, stomping a hoof in annoyance as he vigorously shook his head. "You do realize that I'm going to be thinking about it the rest of the day, right?" Cerulean nodded, grinning. "And that means you're sleeping on the couch." Cerulean frowned at this, looking at her with pleading eyes.

"Come on, Twilight. That's blackmail."

"Yes, yes it is. I'm glad you understand your position," she said as she cantered off ahead.

"But... but that's not on today's checklist!" Cerulean exclaimed, shocked by her breach of conduct.

"Well, I believe a certain stallion I know has been a bad influence on me. I'll just have to write it in when we return to the farm," she called over her shoulder, walking a short way before turning to the now crestfallen Cerulean.

"We don't even have a couch anymore, remember?" She heaved a sigh at the statement, remembering that he was unfortunately correct. She was about to say something when he galloped towards her and tackled her to the ground, kissing her in the middle of the road. He chuckled at her confused expression before continuing his journey to the library, which was still in ruins after Bangles had destroyed it.

"That's cheating," Twilight whispered to herself as she picked herself up and galloped after him, secretly smiling. The library had to be reconstructed from the ground up, and most of the books were completely destroyed in the collapse, much to Twilight's anguish. Many ponies were pitching in to help though, and at the rate they were working it would likely be only a week longer until it was finished. In the meantime Applejack had offered to let them use a spare room at the Apple family estate, which they gratefully accepted. As they arrived at the construction site they eagerly pitched in, and the sun had fully set when they left, returning to Sweet Apple Acres and climbing wearily into bed. Twilight curled up against Cerulean's chest, and they were both soon fast asleep.

Twilight groaned as Cerulean shook her awake, noting that the sun had not yet risen. "What could possibly be so important that it can't wait until daybreak?" she whined half heartedly, groaning and rolling away from him.

"Well, I figured you'd want your surprise." Twilight came alive as she heard this, her anticipation from the previous day coming back like a tidal wave. Cerulean grabbed a small basket in his mouth and motioned her to follow. Cerulean smiled around the basket as he noticed Twilight's admiration as he summoned his wings, motioning her to come closer. She closed her eyes and let herself become weightless, her trust unwavering as Cerulean held her tight and took off. Flying a fair distance into the sky they landed on a large cloud and Twilight followed Cerulean to the edge, laying beside him. Levitating the cover of the basket away he offered Twilight an enormous strawberry, which she eagerly devoured, followed by several more shortly thereafter. Cerulean lay back, watching the sky grow lighter as the sun's first rays prepared to shine upon Ponyville.

"Twilight, I brought you here because I wanted to ask you a question."

"Cerulean, what is it?" she asked, a tinge of worry in her voice as she watched him stand. His horn began to glow, and soon snow started to fall all around them. The sun breached the horizon, lighting every flake like a myriad of fireflies and setting his face aglow. Twilight's eyes filled with tears as he pulled a small box from the basket, opening it slowly to reveal a beautiful platinum band that matched perfectly with necklace, containing a diamond offset by two smaller sapphires. "Twilight... Will you marry me?"

* * * * * Four Years Later * * * * *

"And mommy said yes?" The young unicorn looked up at Cerulean with wonder, her flowing golden hair falling in her face as she tilted her head to the side. She had her mother's horn and her father's teal eyes, her coat a light blue like the morning sky and hair like the sun. Cerulean and Twilight instantly agreed to the name Dawnlight the moment she was born.

"Why, what's so shocking about that, Dawn?" Cerulean replied, just as confused by his daughter's reaction.

"Well mommy is so smart! And you're... just strange!" Dawn giggled as Cerulean faked a heart attack at her cutting words.

"Come now, give your father a little more credit, young lady," Twilight said with a smile, joining the two. "Despite his track record, he's actually quite clever." Dawn rolled her eyes, laughing as Cerulean expired on the floor. The library was even better than the way it had been before being destroyed, with a whole other floor and an additional room for their daughter. Celestia had even replaced all the books and then some, much to Twilight glee; she still hadn't read through all of them. "All right Dawn, bed time." The filly was about to protest when a cavernous yawn forced her to reconsider, giving in without a fight. Cerulean followed them up the stairs, and kissed Dawn gently on the horn, which she immediately proceeded to wipe away, making a face. Twilight's kiss, on the other hand, was well recieved, and Twilight laughed quietly as she turned out the light and returned downstairs. Cerulean stayed for a while, watching as Dawn drifted off to sleep.

"Twilight, do you remember our wedding?" Cerulean asked as he returned downstairs, Twilight's nose already buried in another book. She gave him a quizzical glance at the ridiculous question.

"It was only the biggest party in Canterlot, hosted by Celestia herself with over a thousand ponies in attendance. How could I forget?" she replied before getting a dreamy look in her eyes as she recalled the event. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason in particular, I just... Thank you, Twilight. For everything." Twilight smiled and set the book down, walking over to the record player and putting on a slow piece. Cerulean accepted her invitation and they began to dance, careful not to trip on the many books littered around the floor. Between researching magic and caring for Dawn, cleaning often took a back seat, especially since Spike had moved out. Twilight was sad to see him go, but he stayed in Ponyville and still helped them quite a bit, especially with their daughter. They continued to dance through the night, recalling their fondest memories in hushed whispers and every bit as in love as the first day Cerulean confessed to her. They eventually crawled into bed, Twilight taking solace in Cerulean's heartbeat as she lay her head on his chest and quickly drifting off to sleep.

A sudden impact to his gut thrust Cerulean into wakefulness and forced the air from his lungs. He coughed weakly as his daughter lay perched atop him, grinning widely.

"C'mon dad, we're gonna miss it!" she urged him, impatiently stomping her hooves on his ribs.

"Dawn, how many times have I told you not to cannonball onto your father like that? You've been spending too much time with Pound Cake," Twilight reproved her gently, causing Dawn to hide behind her hair.

"Sorry daddy, are you ok?"

"Hmmm, one two... four cracked ribs? That's it? You must be taking it easy on me this morning," he replied as he once again found the ability to breathe, quickly sitting up and tickling her furiously. She squealed and tried to break free, and Cerulean let her escape, watching her scamper a short way downstairs before poking her head up just enough to give him the evil eye. Cerulean took this as a challenge and bounded out of bed, chasing her around the main floor. Twilight lay back a moment and grinned, listening to the two make far too much noise too early in the morning, though this had become the norm and she was expecting it. "Twilight, you coming? Hate to say it but this little antagonist is right, we're gonna miss it if we don't hurry!"

"All right, I'm coming." Twilight joined them, and she and Cerulean both summoned their magically designed wings. Dawn wrapped herself around Cerulean's neck as they all took flight, finding a high cloud and landing. Dawn clambered onto Cerulean's head and began to bounce lightly, anticipation of the coming sunrise filling her with excitement. It was something she never seemed to tire of watching, and it had become something special they shared every morning. They all closed their eyes as the first rays of Celestia's sun warmed their faces, the start of a new day holding untold promise. Cerulean pulled Dawn from her perch and squeezed her tight, tears creeping from the corners of his eyes as an overpowering joy flooded through his being.

"Daddy, what's wrong? Does something hurt?" She reached up and wiped away the tears as the dripped down. Cerulean hugged her just a bit tighter.

"No, Dawn. Daddy's fine." He looked at Twilight, smiling through salty eyes before turning back to his daughter's concerned face. She lay her head against his chest and returned his embrace as she smiled at her father's words, relieved that he was all right. He set her atop his head once more, staring into the horizon as Twilight drew beside him, nuzzling him gently. "I'm finally... where I've always wanted to be."

alt: The End of Tears

// This ending takes place during ch.22-24 and is dependent upon having read them first.

Alternate Ending: The End of Tears

"Writhe... You shall always be alone, abandoned and forsaken. There is no escape." Bangles winced as the runes flashed crimson before slowly fading from her legs. She sat in silence, knowing that Cerulean's life would quite likely end soon.

"Why... Why do you make me do these things!" she shouted at the empty office, tears beginning to form in her eyes.

"Oh come now, shed no tears for him. He deserves every ounce of pain he's receiving for rejecting us, you know." A black earth pony appeared in her vision, her long crimson hair running down to her chest and matching her eyes. Her cutie mark was a cracking whip, an ever clear reminder to Bangles that her specialty was causing pain. She floated in the air for a moment before appearing to land and walking close.

"How can you say that, Spikeflail? He was only ever kind to me..."

"Then how come he left you? Even after you gave yourself to him, he left a few days later. Not a word, no goodbye, he just up and left. That's why we cursed him to the same fate."

"He left because you made me lie to everyone!" Bangles raged, tears now flowing freely from her soft, green eyes. "Because I tried to take what wasn't mine..." Spikeflail sighed in exasperation and slowly wrapped Bangles in her arms.

"Hush now, Bangles. This is for the better, you'll see. With him gone, we can find a new toy."

"No!" Bangles screamed as she slapped the imaginary hooves away. "I'm done with this! I can't live this way anymore, just leave me alone!" Spikeflail gave her a glare before disappearing into nothingness. She would bide her time, and if it came down to it, she could simply take control for a while, as she had done for years. Bangles was much too timid for her own good, and all ponies were worthy only of scorn. Especially that bucking Cerulean; as if we need his pity!

Bangles whimpered as her mind was suddenly flooded with anger that wasn't her own, and she set the files down, cleaned up her mess so there was no sign she'd invaded the study and ran to her room. She fell asleep on a damp pillow, her body slowly exhausting itself as the sobs flowed unchecked.

Bangles woke with a start, a loud noise she couldn't identify having wrenched her from unconsciousness. Only three years old, it frightened her deeply, but her curiosity got the better of her and she slowly made her way to the kitchen. She cracked the door open and stood in horror as the image was forever burned into her memory. The dripping knife, her mother's corpse, and her father standing over her... Speechless she slowly backed away, and then he turned and looked directly at her. She broke into a run but was quickly overtaken, her screams stifled as her father's bloody hoof covered her mouth.

"You saw nothing. Do you understand me Bangles? You speak of this to anypony, and you will die."

Her pillow had just dried out when a fresh flow of tears drenched it again. A nightmare this early? She'd only been asleep for two hours...

"Spikeflail, stop... I can't handle this, just let me sleep!" Bangles lay back down as she received no response, her eyes half closed as she tried to push the memory down deeper. Sleep came back to her slowly, a much happier memory coming into view.

"Hey, gaudily dressed mare. You look like you could use a smile." Bangles slowly lifted her head to find herself face to face with a blue stallion, his teal eyes shining merrily. She immediately broke eye contact and stared at her sandwich, too frightened to speak.

"Oh my, he's quite charming, don't you think? Nothing like those other ponies we've dealt with. Go on, talk to him." She regarded Spikeflail with a glare, causing Cerulean much confusion as he didn't comprehend what the other side of the bench had done to deserve the mare's angst.

"What's your name?" Bangles said nothing, squeezing her sandwich tighter and greatly reducing its visual appeal. Spikeflail sighed and took control, Bangles green eyes turning the same bright red as Spikeflail's mane. Cerulean stood back a little, the obvious change being something both intriguing and slightly disconcerting.

"I am Bangles. It is a pleasure to meet you," she said, happily offering a now messy hoof. She immediately withdrew it, giggling and shooting him a shy smile. Cerulean looked down at the many emerald rings around her legs before smiling back.

"Hmmm, I suppose that makes sense. A smarter pony probably could have guess that, but I unfortunately do not fall into that category." Bangles watched from the inside as Spikeflail bantered easily with him, passing a pleasant hour before Cerulean stood to make it to his next class. Her eyes returned to green as he turned to leave.

"Cerulean?" He turned, noting the change in her eyes but saying nothing. "Can... can we talk some more sometime?"

"Eh, why not? Couldn't hurt," he replied casually before catching up with a friend who was on the way to the same class.

"You're blushing, you sad, smitten foal."

"Spikeflail, shut up."

Bangles was too grieved to leave her house the next day. No matter what had happened, even if Cerulean had somehow managed to survive the devestating hex that Spikeflail had put on him, it didn’t change the fact that she had played a part in it. Spikeflail tried to comfort her but after being ignored several times she gave up, leaving Bangles to pass the day in silence, drifting in and out of sleep and ignoring the growing hunger in her stomach. Eventually she fell into a deep sleep as the moon rose in the sky, dreaming of nothing and wishing she could just disappear.

The sunlight had already filled her room when she awoke, and though she had slept far longer than she normally did, it was anything but restful. She groggily descended the steps and opened the fridge, finding little by way of food. Closing the door revealed a hastily scrawled note which read “buy groceries.” She donned her cloak, grabbed the bag of bits from the table and walked into the streets of Canterlot.

Everypony knew who she was cloak or not, but for some reason fewer stopped to insult her when she wore it. Her mind quickly wandered back to her dream of when she first met Cerulean. She had so much trouble even getting out simple things like “hello” that after that day, she let Spikeflail do all the talking. It was rather fun, getting to take a backseat while still feeling all of the emotions as Spikeflail easily carried on with him, her overly outgoing personality the complete opposite of her own.

She had wanted to try speaking to him without Spikeflail’s help, just once that night in the garden, but Spikeflail forbade her, and she could do nothing but watch as she backed him into a corner and cut off his escape. And then, after she was through with him, she pulled down his wristbands and cast her curse, making the penalty all too clear. Bangles had never been able to shake the look he had in his eyes that day; it was too close to the one on her father’s face when she...

“What the buck? How is he still alive?” Spikeflail suddenly howled, wrenching control from Bangles and running towards a restaurant in the distance. Bangles heart leapt as she beheld Cerulean, still alive and seemingly in good health. But that mare was with him still... "You, you're... You're still alive? But how?" Cerulean grinned mischievously, savoring her confusion as he proudly trotted over and stood just inches from her face.

"You have no power over me anymore. Find somepony else to torment, because I no longer acknowledge you." With that, he cantered off with Twilight, laughing happily and making sure his cutie mark was clearly evident, as were his bare forelegs; he even waved as they left. Bangles was overjoyed; somehow, some way, he had managed to free himself from her wrongdoing. It could never erase what she’d done, but if he could be happy...

“He’s going to die. Tonight!” Spikeflail howled as she steered Bangles’ body towards the university.

“No, he doesn’t deserve this, I won’t let you!” Bangles screamed, fighting her other half with all her might. The other ponies in the street backed away as they beheld the yellow mare curl into a ball and begin to scream, her pained howls carrying on the wind. Bangles slowly felt control return to her limbs, and she struggled to her feet, ignoring the fearful looks of the ponies all around. Spikeflail stood panting for breath on her vision, eyes blazing as Bangles met her rage with defiance. “You’re not going to hurt him anymore. You’re not going to hurt me anymore. I don’t need you anymore, so just go away!” she shouted. Spikeflail stood still, casting one final glare before disappearing from sight.

Bangles breathed a sigh of relief as she continued the rest of her shopping undisturbed. If Cerulean could find the strength to overcome all she had put him through, then maybe she could too. Bangles cringed as she heard Spikeflail’s voice once more, several hours having passed since her departure.

“You should apologize to him.” Bangles regarded her with utter disbelief as she came into view, her face actually appearing concerned.

“Why should I listen to you? After everything you’ve done?”

“Easy, you know I’m right. You do want to say you’re sorry, right? Then do it. Use your new found strength and make amends, you silly foal.” With that she disappeared once more, leaving Bangles to ponder her words. She really did want to apologize for everything, but having it suggested by Spikeflail made it seem like a terrible idea. She returned home, the issue plaguing her mind. She tried to resist, but every argument she offered led back to the same answer; she had to go. Grabbing enough bits for train fare, she galloped to the station in time to board the last train to Ponyville that day. It would be early evening when she arrived, and she realized she had no idea where he lived. It would be scary getting directions in a new town, but she would find a way. She had hidden behind Spikeflail for too long, and she wasn’t going back. Fatigue from her horrible night’s sleep began to catch up, and she drifted off clinging to her newly found hope for freedom.

“Hey there, Cerulean, whatcha doin?” Spikeflail asked as she bounded into the magical practice wards. Each room had high walls made of magic resistant materials to stave off the damages should anypony’s spell backfire.

“Just testing some new spells. You’re welcome to watch. Do keep quiet though, you have this habit of running your mouth,” he replied, not looking up from the book and waving a hoof at her. Spikeflail giggled and sat down near one of the walls. Cerulean closed his eyes and built his magic, releasing a sudden burst of energy from his horn. The wall shrugged off the blow easily, though it would have been devestating for anything else. He nodded his approval then summoned Bangles over. Spikeflail was about to praise his magical talents when he tapped a hoof to her horn, a small burst of magic shooting through her and paralyzing her limbs. She could only stare, her view turning sideways as she fell, not feeling the impact. “Oooh, that’s a good one. I”ll have to remember that for later,” he grinned, tapping her horn again and releasing her.

“That wasn’t nice, Snowgleam,” she pouted, pretending to be upset. The truth was Bangles really was impressed, though Spikeflail couldn’t care less. She had become increasingly flirtatious as of recently, a fact which didn’t seem to faze Cerulean in the slightest.

“Spikeflail, what are you doing?” she asked as her body wandered over to the book, Cerulean having stepped away to try out his next spell.

“Just taking some notes,” she replied, scanning the pages and finding the two spells Cerulean had just learned. The text made no sense to Bangles, though Spikeflail seemed to grasp it easily. Satisfied, she returned to harassing Cerulean, and Bangles settled in for another fun-filled afternoon.

“Now arriving in Ponyville Station. Please exit in an orderly fashion,” a voice called out, rousing Bangles from her slumber. She yawned as she descended the steps, the sun having dipped below the horizon an hour or two ago. There weren’t many ponies in the streets, but she stopped a passing earth pony if they knew where Cerulean lived.

“Oh sure, he’s probably at the library. About ten minutes that way,” he said, pointing a hoof. Bangles thanked him quietly and began to trot in the direction he had indicated. How would she ever be able to say she sorry in a way that showed it? The things that Spikeflail had done, that she had let happen... There’s no way he could forgive her now. Her fear threatened to overcome her as the building came into view, and it took all her strength not to run. Sounds of music and joyous voices came from the building, and her timid knocking went unnoticed for a time. Closing her eyes, she brought her hoof down as hard as she could, a single loud thump catching Pinkie Pie’s attention, who promptly threw open the door and gasped in shock.

“Pinkie, what is?..” Cerulean asked before stopping mid speech, his eyes connecting with Bangles’. The voices ceased and soon only the music was audible as a heavy silence fell over the room. “Bangles, what are you doing here?” Cerulean said after a time. His words were completely devoid of emotion, and it reminded her of the vacant look in his eyes after Spikeflail had sent him on his way after cursing him.

“I... I just...” She couldn’t do it. Cerulean watched as she turned and ran off into the night, too shaken at her sudden appearance to give chase. Twilight drew up beside him and placed a hoof on his shoulder.

“I think... I think she was going to apologize... I’ve never seen her look like that, not since the very first time I met her...” Twilight could tell he was freaking out on the inside, and that until this was resolved he wouldn’t be able to enjoy the party.

“Come on then, let’s go talk to her.” she said with a sigh, nudging him towards the door. As badly as she wanted to teach that little tramp a thing or two, she knew Cerulean had other plans and she would try to support him in that. Twilight and Cerulean asked that everypony wait for them at the library for their return and took off after Bangles. She hadn’t made it very far, her emotions robbing her of the strength to run. She slowed to a canter on the outskirts of the town, crying softly.

“Bangles?” She slowly turned at Cerulean’s voice, finding his eyes full of sympathy and concern. Twilight looked in confusion at her green eyes. Hadn’t they been red in Canterlot?

“Well done, Bangles,” Spikeflail whispered before forcibly taking control, her horn glowing with a dangerous red aura. Cerulean tackled Twilight to the ground as she used the spell she had seen him use all those years ago in the magic practice ward, the red blast of energy landing where Cerulean had been moments before and blowing a large chunk out of the earth. Cerulean touched horns with Twilight and erected a quick barrier of ice, which was immediately assailed by continual blasts.

“Cerulean, what’s going on?”

“Twilight, something’s wrong. That’s not Bangles, not the real one. The one at the door, the one with green eyes who can’t look me in the face... That’s the real Bangles. Gather the Elements of Harmony as fast as you can and come back as soon as I lower the barrier, all right?” he gritted out, maintaining the barrier draining massive amounts of magical energy. He let it fall and Twilight took off. Spikeflail saw and turned to fire when she was knocked to the side by Cerulean, who had summoned his wings and charged while her attention was turned. He quickly righted himself and stomped a hoof to the ground, a pillar of ice materializing and slamming into her chest, sending her sliding a short distance. He flew to her position and raised a hoof to freeze her body when she slammed her hoof into his chest, a sharp magical pulse sending sparks through his limbs. He suddenly found himself frozen in place, and he slowly fell to one side, his wings turning to powdery snow as their magic supply was abruptly severed. Spikeflail brought her crimson eyes to Cerulean’s, speaking in a soft tone.

“My, how this brings back memories. Do you remember, Cerulean? Let me show you what I learned that day.” She backed away and her horn began to glow, and one after another she launched less powerful versions of the spell at him, burning him badly with each strike. Spikeflail didn’t stop until most of his body was a deep crimson, the wounds instantly cauterizing with each impact. He couldn’t feel a thing, the numbness of his body complete, only watch unblinkingly as she gave full vent to her fury. “And now, we wait for that little mare’s return,” she said, sitting upon him and gazing into the night.

Twilight burst through the door to the library, shocking everypony and demanding their full attention. She raced to the place she kept the elements and doled them out, giving them a rushed explanation as she did so. Nopony argued, as they knew time was of the essence, and the raced back to Cerulean, their hooves and hearts beating with one purpose. The six friends stopped short as Spikeflail stood, revealing Cerulean’s marred form. “This,” Spikeflail said as she lowered her hoof to Cerulean’s horn while locking Twilight in her gaze, “is what happens to those that cross me.” Cerulean’s screams rent the night as feeling came back, his mind unable to shut down as his entire being was wrapped in pain.

Twilight closed her eyes as her fury fueled her magic, her body soon bathed in lavender flames. Even as Cerulean struggled to maintain consciousness he could feel the magic, growing dangerously out of control and threatening to consume everypony there. The rest of her friends drew back fearfully as Spikeflail summoned her own magic, but not soon enough. With a howl, Twilight released a massive blast as Cerulean stood, summoning a wall of ice with what little strength he had left and standing between them. There was a blinding flash of light, and then silence. Cerulean stood with his hooves outstretched, a massive chunk blown from his chest as he slowly fell forward. His horn glowed briefly, spelling out one last message into the blood.

“Use the Elements.”

Bangles raged against Spikeflail as she began to laugh, her mirth soon turning to frustration as Bangles fought with all the strength she had. Twilight slowly sank beside Cerulean, ignoring the message and staring at what her anger had brought. He was gone, and she could only blame herself.

“Snap out o’ it Twi! Cerulean’s gone but all of Ponyville could be wiped out if we don’t do somethin’!” Applejack cried, shaking her desperately. Twilight stared down at the message in the blood, which had started to melt and run. She stood slowly and focused her Element, her five friends drawing beside her and doing the same. Bangles continued to scream as she fought to hold Spikeflail at bay, but was beaten back. Spikeflail raised her head in time to see an enormous beam of rainbow light enshroud her vision, before she was forcibly ripped from Bangles’ mind, slowly fading into nothing.

Cerulean sat in silence as the meadow he had enjoyed for such a short period of time withered and died. The flowers petals curled and fell as the stream evaporated, leaving him in a barren wasteland. He took no notice as the ground beneath him started to crack, and soon he was falling deep into a black abyss. Placing his hoof to his neck, he clung to the necklace Twilight had given him, ignoring his surroundings and focusing on his memories as they tried to slip away.

"To you, Cerulean Snowgleam, I pose a question." The voice came from deep within the darkness, and Cerulean found himself no longer falling. He could see an alicorn approaching, though he was incredibly difficult to see as his coat was jet black. His mane was white like his own, minus the teal streak and his wings were massive, each feather tinged with white at the ends. As a whole he was much larger than Cerulean, and his cutie mark was a set of scales. "You sacrificed yourself to save your greatest enemy. Why?” Cerulean dropped his gaze, staring into the black.

“Everypony deserves a second chance.” The alicorn raised an eyebrow as he continued. “After seeing Bangles again I realized that she was fighting a war inside, just as I had. It may have been for different reasons, and she may have made it known in terrible ways, but I know that no matter how far gone I was, I’d want somepony to reach out to me, and Twilight did. I wanted to show that grace to somepony else, I guess.” The alicorn walked over and tapped his horn to the necklace, causing it to shine.

"Your compassion speaks greatly with much more articulation than your words, Cerulean. You are indeed the seventh element, and the gift of a second chance I bequeath unto you." The light emanating from the necklace grew increasingly bright, banishing the darkness around him and lifting Cerulean from the abyss. He set his sights on the sky above, the meadow returning once more to life as he rose above it.

Twilight clung to Cerulean’s still form, oblivious to the blood that had matted to her coat. The Elements of Harmony had restored Bangles, who lay unconscious a short distance away, but she couldn’t even begin to be happy with the trade. No matter how she looked at it, she had failed.

“Cerulean, I’m so sorry...” she whispered. A sudden increase in warmth caused her to start, Cerulean’s body quickly becoming coated in soft violet flames as his necklace changed from silver to gold. His wounds began to close, the burns healing and his coat regrowing. Even the scars from her outburst disappeared under the purifying blaze, and her heart was again filled with hope as he opened his eyes, gazing fondly at her.

“Well done, Twilight.” Relief, adoration and love flowed down from her eyes as they held each other, relieved that the battle was over. Bangles let out a moan as she came to, setting everypony but Cerulean on edge. He slowly stood and drew close to her, and expecting a beating she closed her eyes, knowing that she would deserve every blow. Instead she felt herself encircled by his hooves, her second half no longer present to twist the sincerity of his words. “Bangles, it’s over. You don’t have to fight anymore.” Twilight came to join the hug as Bangles fell to pieces, unwilling to restrain the cavalcade of emotions that tumbled down upon her as she found an acceptance and forgiveness that she never believed she could ever have.

* * * * * One Month Later * * * * *

“Twilight, are you feelin’ all right?” Twilight shook her head as she munched on the fruit Applejack had brought. She’d noticed a steady increase in her appetite, and it was beginning to show around her stomach. It embarrassed her to no end, and try though she might, exercise did little to help. In fact, she’d felt kind of under the weather for a few weeks now. “Why don’t you run down t’ the clinic and get checked out? Come on, I’ll go with ya.”

With a sigh she dragged herself off the couch and made they made their way through town. Bangles had left about a week after the battle, returning to Canterlot to have an audience with the princess. Celestia had her set up with a job and a small apartment so she could begin rebuilding her life away from her father, who was immediately jailed upon her confession of witnessing his crimes. Cerulean was as active as ever, eagerly helping her with her studies in magic and friendship. They had some clashes as they adjusted to living with one another, but in the end she couldn’t hope for a better relationship.

Due to the lack of patients that day, Nurse Redheart immediately led them back to a room and began the examination. As she pulled out the stethoscope and checked Twilight’s heart, her hoof slipped and it came to rest upon the mare’s stomach. Twilight cocked her head to the side as Redheart gave a shocked expression before busting into a cheery grin.

“Uh, what’s with the look, Nurse Redheart? Do you know what’s wrong with me?”

“Oh, Twilight, there’s nothing wrong with you. Let me be the first to say congratulations! Oh, this is so exciting!”

“Uh, Nurse Redheart? Could ya try makin’ some sense?” Redheart beckoned Applejack over and stuck the stethoscope to her ears, moving the receiver again to Twilight’s abdomen. Applejack recoiled back and shook her head, flabbergasted.

“You and Cerulean... already Twi? I knew you two was movin’ too fast, but that’s just too much!” she exclaimed, blushing deeply. Frustrated with the enigmatic reactions she grabbed the stethoscope and gave it a listen, her eyes growing wide as she heard the sound of a second heartbeat.

“I’m... I’m!..”

“Congratulations, Twilight Sparkle. You’re pregnant!”

Landing on a low flying cloud, Cerulean surveyed the town, hoping to spot Twilight. He cracked open the jewelry box to make sure for the hundredth time that the order had be made to perfection. He saw Twilight burst from the clinic doors, frantically scanning around her, and he immediately began to worry about what the doctor had said. Whatever it was, she didn’t look very happy, and this suspicion was confirmed as she saw him land and tackled him to the ground.

“What did you do to me?” she bellowed, completely beside herself. She wasn’t angry, or even slightly upset, she just had no idea how to handle the news that she was now with child. What would happen to her studies, her library? And what about romance?

“Actually, I’m glad you asked. I have a present for you,” Cerulean quipped, ignoring her obvious discontent and grabbing the box once more.

“Oh, you already gave me a pretty big present, thank you. You can keep that one to yourself!” she huffed, sitting up and regarding Cerulean’s crestfallen face with annoyance. He slowly rose, and stared at her for a moment before speaking in a quiet voice.

“I just wanted to ask if you would m...”

“Mate with you?” she interjected, cutting him off. “Too late buster, you’ve already had your fun. And you better be ready to take responsibility for our child!” The box fell from his hooves, opening as it hit the ground to reveal a beautiful platinum band inlaid with a diamond and two sapphires. Twilight’s breath caught as she realized what he had been meaning to say, and she desperately wanted reverse the flow of time. “Cerulean, is this?..” He stooped slowly to pick up the box, smiling as he did so. The idea of having a child posed no fear for Cerulean, only excitement for the future, and he locked eyes with her as he completed his inquiry, offering the box to her.

“Twilight Sparkle, will you marry me?” He slowly lifted her hoof and slipped the ring on. It fit perfectly, as if it had always been there, and Twilight wrapped her hooves around his neck and held him tight, smiling through the tears.

“If you would have me, Cerulean, then the answer is yes.”

Return to Story Description

Other Titles in this Series:

  1. Tears in the Snow

    by Wintergreen Diaries
    39 Dislikes, 15,660 Views

    Twilight sees a vision after casting a spell to see the future and ends up saving a mysterious colt.

    Slice of Life

    25 Chapters, 82,999 words: Estimated 5 Hours, 32 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Feb 15th, 2012
    Last Update Mar 12th, 2012
  2. The Risks of Braving a Storm

    by Wintergreen Diaries
    19 Dislikes, 12,835 Views

    Storm Blitz, a massive pegasus, comes to Ponyville after his grandfather dies.

    Slice of Life

    25 Chapters, 87,479 words: Estimated 5 Hours, 50 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Mar 7th, 2012
    Last Update Mar 27th, 2012
  3. Unplanned Parenthood

    by Wintergreen Diaries
    24 Dislikes, 12,306 Views

    Twilight confronts the rigors of pregnancy with mixed emotions... and magic.

    Slice of Life

    16 Chapters, 68,952 words: Estimated 4 Hours, 36 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Mar 25th, 2012
    Last Update Apr 20th, 2012
  4. Under the Starry Skies

    by Wintergreen Diaries
    11 Dislikes, 8,962 Views

    Silver Moonshine opens a tavern in Ponyville, hoping to escape the city and maybe find a nice mare.

    Slice of Life

    31 Chapters, 129,502 words: Estimated 8 Hours, 39 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Apr 22nd, 2012
    Last Update May 14th, 2012
  5. Song of Whispers

    by Wintergreen Diaries
    16 Dislikes, 8,960 Views

    Fluttershy befriends a pony who refuses to speak, believing his voice causes only disaster.

    Slice of Life

    37 Chapters, 180,578 words: Estimated 12 Hours, 3 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published May 18th, 2012
    Last Update Jul 23rd, 2012
  6. Cutie Mark Catastrophes

    by Wintergreen Diaries
    16 Dislikes, 13,470 Views

    Cutie Mark Crusaders find their marks and look to new horizons; taming colts for themselves.

    Slice of Life

    24 Chapters, 215,467 words: Estimated 1 Day, 22 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Jul 6th, 2012
    Last Update Feb 14th, 2013
  7. The Cheval Glass

    by Wintergreen Diaries
    8 Dislikes, 2,649 Views

    Tensions erupt as Pinkie realizes her dream will never be, and Rarity is forced to come to terms with what she's allowed herself to become.


Login with