Chapter Twelve
Bachjret Ward, Citadel

Octavia and Vinyl sat silently in the Citadel aircar as it streaked its way towards the Bachjret Ward. The buildings zipped by them at an incredible speed. Vinyl watched through the window, idly noting a large building, a temple by the looks of it. Octavia noted her interest, watching the temple as they flew by.

"The Celestial Temple," Octavia said. "An Asari Matriarch built that after meeting Princess Celestia."

Vinyl didn't say a word, just staring idly off into space. Octavia chewed on her lip for a moment, concerned. This wasn't the way that she had imagined things going.

Leaning forward, Octavia saw her building coming closer. She pointed at it with her hoof. "That's where I live."

Vinyl looked over at it, an unreadable expression on her face. Octavia blanched at the sight.

"Well... where we live now, I guess..." the grey mare corrected.

As the aircar landed, Octavia grimaced at the slight jolt. The doors opened, and Octavia quickly stepped out, trotting around to help Vinyl out of her seat. Neither mare spoke, and Octavia could feel her nervousness growing.

Octavia led her past Fidelis, who caught the mare's pointed glance. Now was not the time for idle chit-chat. He opened the door for the two of them, and Octavia led Vinyl into the main lobby of Tilican Tower.

The little white mare paused in the entrance, her eyes going wide at the sight that greeted her. Tilican Tower was not a cheap residence, and its residents were accustomed to a certain level of sophistication. The floor was polished marble, and beautiful pictures larger than the aircar that brought them there hung on the walls, of landscapes of Thessia, Palaven, and Earth. Gulping, Vinyl darted forward as fast as she could, sticking as close as she possibly could to Octavia's side.

Several Asari chatting quietly on the couches in the lobby smiled as they noticed Octavia. They waved cheerily at her, only for their smiles to turn to confusion when they noticed Vinyl behind her. Their eyes widened in surprise, and more than a little happiness.

Octavia groaned as Reala Maran stood and began walking towards her. The damn asari was the daughter of some notable Matriarch and she was always sticking her nose where it wasn't wanted. Friendly though she was, Octavia could certainly do without her attention at the present.

"Octavia!" Reala greeted warmly, holding her arms out warmly. "It's good to see you!"

"Reala," Octavia greeted with a strained smile and a nod. She could feel Vinyl pressing herself even closer on the opposite side of the Asari. "How are you?"

"Good. I'm good." Reala nodded, trying to get a better look at Vinyl, who was nearly completely obscured behind Octavia's larger form. She smiled happily at her. "Who's this?"

"This is Vinyl Scratch, my wife." Octavia introduced her, glanced back at Vinyl, who was looking incredibly uncomfortable at the attention that Reala was giving her. She turned back and gave an apologetic smile to Reala. "If you would excuse us, we need to get going."

"It was good to see you, Octavia," Reala said in farewell.

"You as well," she replied, strained. Octavia began to lead to Vinyl towards the elevator, doing her best to ignore the stares of the residents behind her. She shielded Vinyl with her own own body.

The elevator door opened with a chime and they stepped in together.

As soon as the elevator doors opened, Vinyl collapsed with a cry, all of her nerves abandoning her. Octavia managed to catch her before she hit the floor. She pulled Octavia close as Vinyl sucked in great breaths of air.

"You did fine, Vinyl." Octavia assured her, stroking her gently. "We're almost home."

Vinyl didn't say anything, trying to get as close to Octavia as possible, her head bowed. Octavia wrapped a hoof around her, hugging her closer.

"It's alright," Octavia whispered into her ear. "It's alright."

The rest of the elevator ride proceeded silently, and thankfully without interruption. As they reached the top floor, Octavia helped Vinyl up to her hooves. "Come on, Vinyl. We're almost there."

She led Vinyl out of the elevator as the door slid open. It was a short walk to the front door of her apartment. She put her eye up to the security camera, and it instantly confirmed her identity. The front door to her penthouse slid open and Octavia urged Vinyl to follow her inside.

"We're home, Vinyl," Octavia reassured her with a smile, giving Vinyl a warm nuzzle. Vinyl's head was nearly touching the ground, her legs trembling as she struggled to stay upright and off of the ground.

It took her more than a few long moments to gather herself together, and even longer before she could take in any of her surroundings. Octavia waited patiently for Vinyl to make the first move.

Slowly, Vinyl pulled herself out of Octavia's grasp. She shook her head to clear her thoughts before starting to look around what she could see of Octavia's penthouse. Her eyes widened, more than a little impressed. "Whoa... kinda swanky, Tavi," she croaked out.

"I have more money than I know what to do with," Octavia said, looking around at her penthouse with new eyes, trying to see it like Vinyl was. "Might as well be comfortable."

"Yeah..." Vinyl said, trailing off.

The two of them stood there awkwardly in the entrance for a few moments.

"Come on," Octavia gestured with her head. "I'll show you around."

"This is the living room." She led the way into the living room, making sure to see Vinyl's reaction to the view. She just stood there, and Octavia could only guess that she had reached her limit for the day.

"Whoa," Vinyl said, appreciative and tired. "Sweet view."

"Yes," Octavia said, looking out the windows with a smile. "It is a part of the reason that I bought this place."

"It was worth it," Vinyl agreed.

Even as Octavia watched, she could see that Vinyl was beginning to relax, the stress of the past few days easing away. The decade of hard times though... that was still heavy on her soul. Her breathing was calming finally, and her lids were falling as she stared out the windows at the spread arms of the Citadel beyond.

"It certainly is," Octavia said with a quiet smile.

Vinyl wandered slowly around the room, stopping at the mantle. She looked over all of the photos that Octavia kept there, stopping as emotions threatened to overtake her. "Tavi..." The emotion was thick in her voice.

"I missed you so much." Octavia moved to stand by Vinyl's side, nuzzling her comfortingly.. "I never stopped loving you."

"I... I'm tired." Vinyl pulled away from Octavia, keeping her eyes away from her wife. "Where should I sleep?"

"Follow me." Octavia did her best to hide her hurt expression from the smaller mare. She stood and led her towards the large hallway.

Opening the door opposite her own room, Octavia led Vinyl inside. "This is yours."

Vinyl paused in the doorway, looking at the room in surprise. She couldn't quite comprehend what she was seeing.

"I'll let you get some sleep," Octavia said, edging past her and out of the room, leaving Vinyl alone.

Vinyl stood there, trying to take everything in. It was familiar, mostly in ways that she hadn't seen in ten years. Stepping forward, Vinyl ran a hoof over the extremely expensive sound system, noting that it didn't have a speck of dust on it anywhere to be found. Her eyes wandered to the posters of her bands that were hanging on the wall.

Tears began to gather in her eyes. Shooting a glance at the bed taking up one corner of the room, Vinyl moved to the corner furthest from the door. None of this was right. Nothing was right. It felt like hundreds of bugs were crawling over her coat, and she shivered in anxiety. Curling up around herself, Vinyl tried to go to sleep.

###

Octavia poured herself a large glass of Apple Family cider. Tears gathering in her eyes, her face was torn as she sat at the kitchen table. She held the glass in both of her hooves as she stared out the windows, wondering where everything had gone so wrong. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Gulping down her glass, Octavia couldn't help but wonder what her life could have been like. As she got herself drunk, she welcomed those thoughts and the happiness they could bring, no matter how artificial. It was better than wallowing in her own pity.

###

Royal Hall, Canterlot Castle, Equestria

"Hey!" Sofi Blackwing shouted at the nearest Royal Guard, clacking her beak in annoyance as her tail swung back and forth in agitation. "How much longer do we need to wait here?"

"The Princesses will be along shortly," the Guard replied, making no move from his position along the wall.

Sofi's eyes widened at the guards response. She padded back to her family in a stunned silence.

The Royal Waiting Hall of Canterlot Castle was filled with ponies and a small group of griffins, and they had been waiting together for nearly two hours. The guard had summoned them to an audience nearly twelve hours ago, and they had been gathered together from their various hotels nearly three hours ago. It had only taken thirty minutes for Sofi's impatience to rear its head and for her to start to pester the guards.

"The Princesses called us here?" Sofi asked incredulously as she sat down next to her mother and father, Tyra and Voss Blackwing.

"It must be something important," Tyra said, looking around at the rest of the crowd.

"It better be." Voss growled, shifting on his talons and paws. He was grumpy, tired, and he could feel the first urges of hunger. "I don't enjoy traveling halfway across the globe to wait another three hours for something unimportant."

"Peace, husband." Tyra laughed at her husband, shaking her head at him.

Voss just snorted, turning his head away.

"Her Highness, Princess Luna!"

The entire room turned to the voice in time to see a the Royal Guards open the doors, and at the sight behind it they all quickly kneeled to the floor. Princess Luna, resplendent in her regalia, stepped calmly into the room. "Please, rise," she spoke in a clear, commanding voice.

Slowly, cautiously, everyone complied with Luna's request. Sofi, Tyra, and Voss looked at each other in confusion before turning their attention to the Princess.

"We are glad to inform all of you that this is a momentous occasion." Princess Luna said with a wide smile on her face. "Please forgive the long waits but I can assure you that it has been more than worth it. You have all had someone taken from you, and we are glad to announce-"

###

Moments Earlier, Side Room

Princess Celestia stood in the back of the room, watching calmly over the survivors from the slave ship, providing a welcoming source of relief to their agitation and nervousness. Celestia had the warmest smile on her face that Twilight had ever seen as she conversed quietly with Princess Luna beside her.

"I'm not sure about this..." Gilda whispered to Twilight, rubbing her beak self-consciously.

"You'll be fine," Twilight assured her, giving her a smile. "They're your parents, and they love you. Everything's going to be fine."

Gilda shuffled uncomfortably, looking over the other survivors. They had the same nervous expressions on their faces, knowing just what was waiting for them beyond the doors. Families, friends, loved ones that they hadn't seen for ten years.

With a nod from Celestia, Luna stepped through the doors. Twilight leaned in to nuzzle Gilda comfortingly as the griffin took a deep breath to try and ready herself. Her eyes darted around nervously.

The door opened and Celestia stood. She looked over the ponies and griffins warmly. "Please, follow me."

She stepped out of the room, and they all moved to follow.