Chapter Sixteen
The Royal Kitchen, Canterlot Castle, Equestria

Spike and Gilda sat at one of the dinner tables in the informal kitchen of Canterlot Castle. It was commonly used by residents of the castle who were not the Royal Sisters, providing a cozy atmosphere for meals in-between work and study. When Spike had made his way to kitchen, he was surprised to find Gilda already there. He had yet to actually be formally introduced to her, but Twilight's descriptions made it easy enough for him to guess who she was. A quick question confirmed it and he had introduced himself as Spike, the wonderful dragon assistant of Twilight Sparkle. He was happy at her quiet laugh and she quickly confirmed his suspicion that she was the Gilda that Twilight spoke of. He had quickly gone on to suggest dining with him, informing her that Twilight would be along shortly.

That had been over an hour ago. Spike blushed as he glanced up at Gilda who just picked at her food. Where was Twilight? What was taking her so long? If he was a pony, Spike was sure that his coat would be slick with sweat by this point in nervousness. He had no skill with small talk and Twilight knew that! Curse her for putting him in such an awkward situation. Slowly, he reached out and grabbed one of the few remaining jewel remnants on his plate, bringing up to his mouth to chew even more slowly.

Gilda paid Spike no mind, her thoughts drifting elsewhere.

At the sound of the door opening, both Gilda and Spike looked over hopefully. When Twilight stepped inside with a content smile on her face, Gilda slumped ever so slightly in relief. She instantly tensed back up again when Tyra followed Twilight into the kitchen, finding a sudden interest in the floor. Spike just smiled and wave, missing the wave of tension that flooded the room. opens and Twilight enters, followed by Tyra.

Tyra paused mid step when she saw Gilda's timid look. She looked at Twilight worriedly, who gave her an encouraging smile in response.

Taking a deep breath, Tyra steadied herself and walked up to Gilda, who was doing her best to look anywhere in the room but her mother. Spike looked up at Twilight, confused about what in the world was happening. She motioned for the dragon to stay quiet, and he was more than willing to oblige.

"Gilda..." Tyra's voice was quiet, nervousness filling her entire body. She didn't quite know what to do.

Gilda was silent for a long moment before she answered, having to gather her courage together. "Mom..."

"I want..." Tyra took a deep breath, trying again. "I want to apologize, Gilda. I've been acting like a hatchling. Finding out that you were alive, all that I could think about was how awful of a mother that I was."

Gilda was silent, not knowing how she should respond.

"I wanted to find out who had hurt my little lion, so I could track them down and make them pay." Tyra confessed, hanging her head in shame and embarrassment. "I was being selfish, and I wasn't thinking about you and your feelings."

Gilda stared at the ground, unresponsive. Tyra waited for a moment, seeing if Gilda was going to respond in anyway. She didn't, so Tyra turned to go, smiling sadly at Twilight as she passed the lavender unicorn.

"Wait."

Tyra stopped when she heard Gilda's voice. Slowly, she turned to face Gilda. Gilda looked up from the floor for the first time and met eyes with her mother, her face torn and sorrowful.

"I love you mom." Hesitantly, Gilda stood. She was still for a moment but walked forward. Nervously, she wrapped Tyra in a tight hug.

"I swear, little lion." Tyra wrapped her forelegs tightly around Gilda, smiling at the contact with her daughter. "I won't push you. I love you, and all I want is what's best for you. Please, just give me another chance."

Gilda was silent, trembling ever so slightly. "I love you too, mom."

"What's going on, Twilight?" Spike stepped up and whispered into Twilight's ear.

"Not now, Spike." Twilight shushed her.

With a shrug Spike sat back down and went back to eating, ignoring the touching scene before him.

###

Sha'ira sat patiently on one of her chairs sipping at a glass of expensive Thessian wine. It was a beautiful vintage, and she was savoring every sip of it that she took. The door to her office chimed happily and she set her glass down, standing from her chair.

"Come in," Sha'ira spoke confidently.

The door opened, and Vinyl Scratch walked in. Looking back over her shoulder at Octavia, who stood in the hall smiling encouragingly, Vinyl gave her own shaky smile in return. It didn't reach her eyes. The door closed, leaving Vinyl cut off from her wife and alone with a woman that she had never met before in her life.

"Vinyl Scratch." Sha'ira spoke first, breaking the silence.

Vinyl looked up at Sha'ira, who was smiling calmly down at the small pony. She shifted nervously on her hooves, feeling uncomfortable in such a position.

"My name is Sha'ira. It is good to meet you." Sha'ira gave a small bow in greeting. "I have heard a lot about you from your lovely wife."

"Hi..." Vinyl said uncomfortably, shuffling on her hooves.

"There is no need to be nervous, Vinyl," Sha'ira said. From the moment that Vinyl had entered the room, Sha'ira had quickly been able to get a read on the mare. Every moment that she spent with her only confirmed her initial thoughts.

Sha'ira sat down on one of her couches, crossing her legs gracefully with an arm casually thrown over the back of the seat. She motions towards the other couches in the room. "You can sit if you want."

Vinyl eyes the couches, nervously keeping Sha'ira in her line of sight the entire time. Slowly, she moves over to couch opposite Sha'ira, clambering onto it. She settles herself down, and the two females sit together quietly for a moment. Sha'ira has a soft smile on her face.

"Why did you want to meet with me?" Vinyl asked cautiously with a quiet voice. She moved to sit on one of the couches, struggling up onto the cushion. "You've never met me before."

"I have known Octavia for a long time." Sha'ira shifted in her seat, tilting her head to get a different view of Vinyl. "She talked about you often, and when I learned of your rescue, I couldn't help but want to meet the mare who so affected her."

"Right." Vinyl nodded, looking around the room. She shrugged, not really understanding what Sha'ira was talking about. "Well..."

Sha'ira watched Vinyl quietly, studying her carefully before speaking. "You have been hurt for so long that you have forgotten what it means to be safe."

Shifting uncomfortably, Vinyl glanced at the door. The urge to run and not look back was quickly growing larger by the moment.

"It is alright, Vinyl. You have nothing to fear. The only threat in this room is your mind." Sha'ira looked down at Vinyl's prosthetic leg, frowning at it in realization.

"What?" Vinyl notices it, and tried her best to hide the leg, failing miserably. There wasn't anywhere that she could place it.

"Is there any particular reason that you are not using a replacement limb?" Sha'ira spoke evenly, like she was conversing with someone about the state of the weather.

"No..." Vinyl glances away, embarrassed and anxious. "I..."

"You do not have to say anything about it if you do not want to," she said with a shrug. Standing, Sha'ira paced over to the side of the room with a small kitchen set into the wall. She pulled out an ornate tea-pot and two cups, preparing a set of tea for the two of them. "How do you take your tea?"

"Uh..." Vinyl glanced about, not quite sure how to answer that. She had never been a tea drinker before the... "Regular?"

Sha'ira laughed as she walked back to the couches. She set down several small pots, full of sugar, honey, and small little jar of milk onto a table set between the couches. Sitting down, she adjusted herself for a moment before leaning forward and pouring the tea into both cups, adding milk and honey to her own. Picking up her cup, she sipped at it, watching Vinyl with a half-smile.

Staring at the cup, Vinyl struggled as she tried to figure out how to pick it up. Subconsciously, she tried to use her magic to lift the cup. The moment that she remembered that she had lost her horn, her eyes widened and she let out a whimper. Her face fell and she crumbled.

Sha'ira smiled sadly at what she had just forced to a head. She took another sip of her tea before setting the cup down. "Vinyl."

Vinyl didn't hear Sha'ira, descending quickly into grief and pain that she hadn't dared to touch, much less acknowledge since her rescue.

"Vinyl," Sha'ira said louder.

Still no response.

Standing up, Sha'ira moved over to Vinyl's side, kneeling down to the floor before her. She placed a hand gently on Vinyl's left leg, bringing Vinyl instantly back to the present.

"It is alright, Vinyl." She did her best to reassure her.

"No." Vinyl shook her head, a sob cracking her voice. "It's not! I'm nothing. I should have died!"

"No!" Biting her lip, Sha'ira sympathized with Vinyl. "You have survived through the darkest life in the galaxy! You've emerged, scarred, but alive!"

Vinyl buried her head into Sha'ira's chest, sobbing. She had long since past the point of caring about propriety. Sha'ira embraced the little white mare, running a hand gently through the shaved blue of her mane.

"You are strong, Vinyl. When I look at you, I see a young mare who has been beaten down by life, but has survived, ready to grow beyond the struggles that have held her back for so long." Sha'ira said, rubbing a hand up and down her back.

Slowly, Vinyl's sobbing began to subside.

"Grow, Vinyl. Don't be afriad to trust Octavia. She will always be there for you. Her love for you is among the strongest that I have ever seen." Pulling away from Vinyl, she puts a finger under the mare's chin, raising her head to look her in the eyes. "If you stand in the face of your fears, you will go far."

###

Octavia sat on one of the couches in the waiting room of the Consort Chambers. She stared anxiously down at the ground, nervous about what Vinyl was going through in Sha'ira's room.

Nelyna walked quietly up to her, and Octavia didn't notice until the young Asari coughed quietly. She looked up to find Nelyna smiling down at her, not having the energy to startle at her presence.

"Oh, Nelyna. I didn't hear you." Octavia nodded her head briefly in greeting.

"Would you like me to get you anything, Mrs. Melody?" Nelyna asked in concern.

"No." Octavia shook her head, thankful but without need. "Thank you."

"If you're sure," Nelyna said, understanding. It wasn't the first time that the Consort had stepped in when one of her acolytes problems had grown to big for them to handle by themselves. She was used to situations like this by now. "Don't be afraid to ask."

"I'm fine, thank you Nelyna." Octavia was already turning her attention onto other things.

Nelyna bowed gracefully to Octavia, acknowledging her wish to be left alone. As an acolyte, Octavia was more than several levels higher than her, and walked back to her post at the front.

Looking back at the floor, Octavia went back to waiting for Vinyl and Sha'ira to finish.

Several moments passed.

From the staircase leading up to Sha'ira's room, Octavia's ears swiveled around when she heard Vinyl's distinctive hoof-steps. The sound of her prosthetic limb mixed with her other three hooves was quite noticeable.

Standing up off of the couch, Octavia looked up at the staircase. A moment passed, and Vinyl hobbled downstairs, followed by a softly smiling Sha'ira. Vinyl's fur was matted with tears.

Vinyl hobbled quickly over to Octavia, nuzzling her wife as she threw a hoof tiredly over her shoulder. Octavia's eyes widened momentarily at Vinyl's uncharacteristic actions. She looked up at at Sha'ira, who was smiling calmly down at the two of them.

With a nod, Octavia smiled at the Consort, extremely thankful and it showed on her face.