by ashi


1. Timbre

 If it had been any other day, Fluttershy would've taken at least a moment of her time to enjoy the early afternoon sunshine that bathed the tiny hamlet of Ponyville in an effulgent amber glow; as far as her eyes could see, carefree ponies whiled away the beautiful Sunday, while all she could do was fret, fret, fret about her task. Even the shining edifice of the Castle of Friendship, her destination, looking particularly resplendent as it came into her sights, barely held her interest. As warm and as inviting as the palace looked to her with the cool, polished crystal suffused with orange, all she could do was worry about what all that additional reflected light was going to mean for the birds and other flying creatures that passed through the town on the way to their migratory routes.

        Something to worry about later, she decided with a tiny shake of her head as she brought herself to a halt in front of the castle. Fluttershy extended a yellow hoof and knocked tentatively on the heavy door; after a couple of moments, there was still no answer, but she couldn't help but notice that the entryway was already slightly ajar. Feeling a frown form on her muzzle, she wondered if she ought to just go in. I mean, we are here practically all of the time, anyway. I'm sure Twilight won't mind. Fluttershy hesitated, her foreleg wavering at the threshold, uttering a sigh.

        If somepony just barged into the cottage, I wouldn't be very happy about it.

        It went against her grain to do something so impolite, but the matter was urgent – at least to her – and Twilight had been the one to invite her over; the Princess of Friendship was probably in the library, either reading or reorganising her books, and had simply lost track of the time.

        Inhaling a great lungful of air in order to steel her nerves – Twilight wasn't the type to lose her rag over a minor breach in protocol, but Fluttershy worried all the same about doing something so rude to a friend – the pegasus pushed the door open, wincing slightly at the squeak that issued forth from it. She couldn't help thinking that it sounded like one of her trademark whimpers of fright.

        “Hello?” she said tentatively, her call echoing off the crystalline walls of the plush, well-lit lobby area. “Is anypony home?” Her beryl eyes were drawn to stacks of books arrayed against the walls; some of them were brand new, while others showed spinal damage and frayed pages to indicate that they were much, much older. She was about to move on when something caught her attention.

        One particular heap of … well, books would be giving them a promotion. It was nothing more than a bundle of papers; some of them torn, but all of them bearing scorch marks. Fluttershy's heart sank at the sight and she paused for a moment to reflect.

        The remnants of the contents of the Golden Oaks Library. Who would've thought that it would become such an important place in all of our lives?

        A voice that she did not recognise interrupted her reminiscence and she felt her ears pricking up in interest. “Spike, take a letter.” It was coming from somewhere deeper inside the castle; Fluttershy guessed that whomever was speaking was in one of the many antechambers that split off from the main hallway, and doubtless they were an important guest of Twilight's. Probably one of the many officials that met with her on a daily basis now that she was royalty.

        I should probably leave now, the pegasus thought, chewing softly on her bottom lip. She found that her legs refused to move in the direction that she wished, however; instead, they seemed intent on moving her closer to the source of the voice. Despite herself, she was curious about Twilight's visitor. It wasn't often that upper-crust Canterlotian dignitaries – at least, that's who she assumed it was, judging by the classy, near-inflectionless accent – could be found in Ponyville.

        Plus, it would make Rarity's day if I could deliver some juicy gossip to her about the royals.

        Creeping a bit closer to where she thought the voice was located, she listened intently: “To the Curator of the Canterlot Central Repository, I wish to convey to you my sincerest thanks for your donation of several rare and out-of-print books to replace those that were lost in the destruction of the Golden Oaks Library. Your timely and kind assistance will allow me to open the Rainbow Friendship Library weeks ahead of schedule. With warmest regards, Twilight Sparkle.” A beat passed. “Too stuffy?”

        Fluttershy's mind reeled. That posh, elegant voice belonged to TWILIGHT SPARKLE? The pegasus felt her eyes go wide in shock as she pondered innumerable questions.

        “Princess,” said another, much younger individual. Fluttershy had no problem in identifying him as Spike, Twilight's baby dragon assistant.

        “Princess what?” asked the opulent, cultured tone that Fluttershy still could not believe belonged to Twilight Sparkle.

        One of her best friends of the past few years; they had shared so many adventures, so many good times together, and … the pegasus blinked. Was she going crazy? Had she missed something? Did everypony know this already and, as usual, she was the last one to find out and was going to look like a massive idiot in front of the entire town for the millionth time running?

        “The letter,” said Spike. “Don't you want to sign it Princess Twilight Sparkle?”

        “Not really, no,” replied Twilight; the huffy emphasis that she added to the words made her sound, well, normal to Fluttershy. That amount of world-weariness could not have come from anypony else but the alicorn.

        What the Tartarus is going on here?

        “Hey, did you hear something?” Twilight asked.

        Fluttershy made a noise in the back of her throat; evidently, she had just voiced some part of her inner monologue loud enough for them to hear. She briefly considered bolting, but what would be the point, she reasoned? Fluttershy waited, feeling rather foolish by the time Twilight and Spike arrived in the hallway.

        As if THAT'S a new sensation for me.

        “Fluttershy?” Twilight's muzzle scrunched up in a confused expression, making her appear much younger than she was. She was speaking in what the pegasus thought of as her normal voice, the one she had been using since she'd first moved to Ponyville all those years ago. “I didn't know that you were here already. Is everything all right?”

        “Um, well, um ...” Fluttershy could feel the heat rising from her chest, the prickly barbs of sweat forming on the back of her neck. Not for the first time in her life, she wished that the clouds would descend and encompass her whole. Embarrassed and frightened, she backed a few paces away from them, closed her eyes tightly, saying over and over again, “I'm so sorry, Twilight! I'm so sorry!”

        Spike approached her carefully, placing a claw on one of her forelegs. “What's wrong?” he asked, the concern evident in his quiet voice. He shot a quick glance at Twilight who merely shrugged, just as bewildered by the pegasus' behaviour as he was.

        “Fluttershy,” Twilight said as tenderly as she could, “why don't you come on through to the sitting room and we'll talk about whatever's bothering you, okay? Spike, would you go to the kitchen and fetch a pot of that new mint tea that we brought back from Canterlot, please?”

        “On it,” Spike replied, saluting quickly before darting off in the opposite direction.

        Fluttershy took a step back when Twilight approached her, eliciting a look of surprised indignation from the alicorn. “Come on,” she said with a small smile, trying to mask her hurt, placing a gentle hoof on her shoulder. “I'm not gonna bite you.”


        Twilight led Fluttershy to what had become her impromptu living room; that she spent very little time here was betrayed by the fact that it was so sparsely furnished, with only a table and a couple of chairs sitting lamely in the middle. She gestured for the pegasus to take a seat. Spike arrived a few moments later and placed the tray that he was carrying onto the table. “D'you need anything else?”

        “No, thank you, Spike,” replied Twilight, affectionately stroking the green barbs atop his head. “You can go finish reading your comics now.”

        “All right!” The baby dragon departed excitedly in the direction of his room.

        Resting her flank on one of the seats, Fluttershy had trouble meeting Twilight's studious gaze. “I'm really sorry,” she said again. “I should've … Goddesses, I'm so sorry.”

        “So you keep saying,” Twilight replied, levitating her mug to her muzzle with her magic, silently wishing that talking to Fluttershy could be less like trying to get magic from a limp horn. She narrowed her eyes, letting the mug fall back on to the table. “I'm still perplexed as to why, though.”

        “I must've got here a bit too early-”

        “-No, you were right on time,” replied Twilight, wondering what Fluttershy's punctuality had to do with, well, anything. “I just wanted to send the thank you letter to the Canterlot Repository before I forgot. I guess I didn't hear you knocking.”

        “The door was open, so I just … I'm sorry.”

        “It's okay,” Twilight said softly, unable to believe that the pegasus was this upset about a minor act of discourtesy. Then again, her greatest fear is being a poor host. “You guys are in and around the castle pretty much all of the time, anyway, thanks to the Cutie Map. I thought all of you knew by now that you could just come in at any time without having to make an appointment first?” She stuck her bottom lip out. “Is that really what's got you so upset, Fluttershy?”

        “No, it's …” Fluttershy sighed, cursing her inability to just make herself heard; what she really wanted right now, more than anything, was to go home and fester in embarrassment in her preferred spot: underneath her bed, with Angel Bunny's comforting presence beside her. She couldn't shake off the feeling that she was sitting outside the Principal's office yet again, struggling to find a convincing excuse for why she couldn't complete the school's training course. Her sombre eyes regarded her own mug, but she made no move to reach for it. “Should I go? I should probably go.”

        “Fluttershy, wait!”

        Half-standing, Fluttershy froze in place and stared back at the alicorn.

        “Please, tell me what's wrong? Did I do something to upset you?”

        The wetness of Twilight's mulberry eyes made it impossible to say no. With a sigh that sounded surprisingly loud in the otherwise quiet room, Fluttershy sat back down, grasped her mug and took a quick sip of tea. Wincing slightly when she found it still just a bit too warm for comfort, she let out a gasp of irritation. Sticking her tongue out to cool it, she said, “You remember a couple of days ago I was telling you that my cottage needed to be fumigated?”

        Twilight thought for a moment, then replied, “Oh, right, yes. The stirge?”

        Fluttershy nodded. Stirges were a particularly nasty bug from the Everfree Forest; like their termite cousins, they would happily consume wood, but they wouldn't stop there: almost anything that could be found in a house was fair game to them. If they weren't properly disposed of, they could quite literally eat you out of house and home. “You offered to house my animals in the meantime, and I came over to the discuss the special arrangements some of them require.”

        Twilight was still uncertain what any of this had to do with her current chagrin and said so.

        “Well, um, when I got here-” another quick sip, but this time she remembered to blow on the warm liquid first “-the door was lying open, so I did just come inside, but um, I heard somepony talking ...”

        “Oh.” Realisation dawned on Twilight and she smiled sheepishly. “Ah, I see.”

        “At first, I thought that you just had company over, some important pony from Canterlot or something, and I was about to leave, but-”


        Again, Fluttershy nodded. Her fashionista friend loved nothing more than to while away their weekly spa trips by recounting whatever gossip she'd picked up from her diverse clients, and it wasn't very often that the pegasus had anything interesting of her own to convey. Her muzzle flashed scarlet as she searched for the nearest hiding place.

        “So. Do you feel bad about uncovering my secret? Or-” Twilight's smile broadened slightly as she regarded the reticent pegasus “-for being a snoop?”


        Laughing, Twilight said, “Don't. Like I said, my home is your home. Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. In fact-” she looked thoughtful “-I'm actually surprised that it wasn't much sooner.”

        “You're not mad?” asked Fluttershy, feeling her apprehension dissipate somewhat.

        “Uh-uh,” replied Twilight.

        Fluttershy made to speak, but then hesitated.

        “Go on,” Twilight said with a wave of her hoof, “ask.”

        Nervously, Fluttershy asked, “What's with the accent?”

        “This,” said Twilight, in her posh, cut-glass accent, “is what I would consider to be my normal speaking voice. As you know, my family are of noble stock going back generations, and this is how we are expected to talk in polite society. While this-” she said, switching smoothly to the working class cadence with which Fluttershy was more familiar “-is how I'd prefer to talk. Sometimes, when I'm alone, I do find myself slipping into my old Canterlotian accent.” She reddened slightly. “More than once, Spike's had to remind me about it just before meeting up with you guys.”

        “Why not just use your Canterlotian accent all the time, though? It's lovely,” said Fluttershy, her eyes brightening. Abashedly, she quickly added, “I mean, not that your normal voice isn't lovely, too.”

        “Thank you,” said Twilight, a warm glow suffusing her at Fluttershy's compliment. She traced an invisible line in the air with her hoof as she collected her thoughts, remembering her school days. “Before Princess Celestia took me under her wing, I attended an ordinary primary school. I got teased a lot as a filly,” she said, exhaling sharply as she recalled the taunts she'd suffered from her classmates. “For not having any friends, for being the teacher's pet in every class, for my airs and graces.”

        “I'm sorry,” said Fluttershy empathetically, her own fillyhood having consisted of much the same sort of treatment at the hands of her classmates.

        “It's okay,” replied Twilight, brushing off Fluttershy's concern with a shrug. “I just didn't want to give the bullies any more ammunition. After a while, I didn't even notice that it wasn't my own voice any more.”

        “You don't think that you can be yourself around us?” asked Fluttershy, raising an eyebrow.

        “No, it's not that at all,” replied Twilight hurriedly, eager to correct her misapprehension. If there was one group of ponies that she knew that she could be herself around, it was her closest friends. “It's just that, it's been so long now, I think it'd be weird for all of you if I suddenly changed my voice.”

        “At first, maybe,” said Fluttershy, frowning slightly. “But so what? All we want is for you to be happy, and being happy means being true to yourself, no matter what others might say or think, right?”

        Twilight nodded slowly, recognising the truth of Fluttershy's words. In a way, it was similar to their efforts to get her to express herself through music; despite the pegasus' recalcitrance, she'd finally stopped letting her fears hold her back and had taken steps toward being more outgoing. “You're right,” Twilight finally replied. Switching back to her Canterlotian accent, she said, “So. Shall we get down to business?”

        With a smile, Fluttershy raised her tea to her lips and nodded. “Yes, we should.”

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