The ponies slept in Canterlot Castle that night, to get a proper rest before the flight back to Ponyville they had planned for the morning. Princess Celestia had of course extended the offer for them to stay longer, to enjoy the celebrations that were sure to follow Discord's defeat. But they knew she hadn't been serious, and so hadn't felt terribly guilty turning the offer down.
What they wanted most of all was to go home and move on from this chaotic nightmare.
But they were tired, no doubt about it, and so had agreed to spend the night. Well, they were all tired except Rainbow Dash, but Twilight even had her doubts about Rainbow Dash. The Pegasus had agreed to hang around the castle for them, and that was what counted.
There was no place safer or more comfortable to rest than Canterlot Castle, besides their own beds. Even so, the first night after Discord's defeat was anything but restful for the six heroes.
It all started with Fluttershy.
Every pony received a knock on their door at some point during the night. It hadn't mattered how late – none of them were sleeping well, if at all. But when they opened their doors, Fluttershy would immediately assume that she'd woken them and begin apologizing in her soft, frail little voice for it. And that was before she even got into her apologies for her actions under Discord's influence.
"Applejack, I shouldn't have made you play keep away with Twilight's book, that was so mean of me…"
"Pinkie Pie, I'm so sorry I laughed at you, even after you asked me so nicely to stop…"
"Twilight, I feel horrible about dumping all that water on you. I'll fix your floor, you don't even…"
"Rainbow Dash, I can't believe I even thought about holding you down against your will…"
"Rarity, I shouldn't have touched Tom, he was your rock and you liked him very much…"
"Fluttershy, dearest, we agreed never to speak of that again."
Even so, Rarity's feelings of humiliation at the memory were obviously nothing on Fluttershy's own shame. The pony all but cringed at the reprimand, ducking her head so that her long mane fell over her face and drawing her hooves so close together that she looked like a lawn flamingo and a stiff breeze might send her tumbling. Rarity gave a sigh. There would be no more sleep for her tonight, even if she had been in any fit state to sleep. Honestly, she was going to be such a fright tomorrow.
"Now, now, don't make that face," she said, stepping outside her door and carefully kicking it shut behind her. "You'll get wrinkles. Come on, Fluttershy, let's see if we can find the kitchen in this place. You look like you could use one of Rarity's Revitalizing Raspberry Creams'. I think we both could, but a friend in need, and all that."
It was like a rabbit making its way out of its den during a long Winter Wrap Up, the way Fluttershy poked her head back out from behind her curtain of hair. She had the same look of hope on her face as well, of an animal hoping that a long, cold winter was at an end. Rarity couldn't blame her. A few short days had felt like an eternity, while they hadn't been themselves.
"Oh, Rarity, really?" she asked, risking blowing a few strands out of her eyes. "I'd love one! But you must be tired, and I woke you up. I really shouldn't keep you up any longer, it's very kind of you to offer, though, thank you so…"
"Not so fast, Fluttershy," said Rarity. She saw the look of surprise on the pegasus' face when she found Rarity blocking her way back down the hall, and preened a little bit. Rarity wasn't all gemstones and fabulous costumes, after all, just mostly.
"Come on," she said, even taking Fluttershy's mane in her teeth and giving the gentlest of tugs. "Follow me, and we'll have you feeling better in just a tick."
Fluttershy was either too tired or too gobsmacked to protest, and followed Rarity meekly on their hunt for the kitchens. It was a long search, Canterlot Castle was a big castle, and if they hadn't found Rainbow Dash then the two ponies would probably have been forced to give up on their search for relief by raspberry.
"H-Hey, guys!" said Rainbow Dash, giving them a lazy salute from three feet off the ground. "W-Whats up? I mean, I know why I'm wandering around, I don't need to sleep, but I thought the two of you were wiped out!"
"So did I," said Rarity. "But, well, it seems Fluttershy hadn't just has so much energy to spare, and, in my case, poor beauty sleep is much worse than no beauty sleep. We thought we'd fix that with a trip to the kitchens, but we're utterly lost. Rainbow Dash, would you be a dear and help us find it?"
"You've come to the right pony!" said Rainbow Dash with a smile of something like relief. "I just came from the kitchens! Sorry, but Applejack beat you to it. And if Pinkie Pie even smells raspberries, she'll be over in a flash."
"If Pinkie Pie smells what?" came a chirp from behind Rarity and Fluttershy. All three ponies cried out in surprise before whirling to face the pink pony, who looked back at them with her usual bright eyed curiosity. Although no one was in the mood to be surprised, each one felt a twinge of relief to get another look at Pinkie Pie as herself. All three remembered hearing her voice, twisted into bitterness and unhappiness, crying out for all to hear – "I hate chocolate milk! I hate books! I hate friendship!"
"Hey!" Pinkie Pie looked from one pony to the other, frowning petulantly that she wasn't being informed. "Smells what? What's there to smell? Tell me, tell me, tell me!"
"Cool your hooves, Pinkie Pie," said Rainbow Dash. "I was just telling Rarity and Fluttershy that Applejack's already hit the kitchens, and that some of Rarity's Revitalizing Raspberry Cream sounded like just the thing to give us all a kickstart. I mean…" Here she turned in midair and started to flutter off down the hall. The other three ponies needed no prompting to follow. "…not that I need a kickstart or anything. Staying up all night's great exercise! I need to give my wings a workout after that stupid Discord stole 'em. You ponies have no idea how much work it takes to keep being the best, even a little bit of time off can totally mess you up! I mean, can you believe I let Fluttershy catch up to me? Um…" Rainbow Dash stared down at the other Pegasus with an apologetic smile. "No offense, Fluttershy."
"None taken!" Fluttershy chirped with a reassuring smile. "It's okay, Rainbow Dash. You were keeping Pinkie Pie and Rarity from falling. I'm sure that slowed you down, and everyone knows you're the best flyer in Equestria!"
"Well, just as long as we're all on the same page!" said Rainbow Dash with a self satisfied nod. "On that note, let's go already! Or else Apple Jack will come looking for us and we'll all get lost!"
Pinkie Pie let out a delighted cheer, before the pointed looks she was getting from the other ponies made her put her hooves over her mouth. "Hee hee…um, sorry. I guess I'm a bit overexcited. It's weird. I always get overexcited when I'm sleepy. Makes you wonder why anyone ever goes to sleep!"
They were forced to admit that it did.
Twilight Sparkle was the last of the ponies to find her way to the kitchens. She had fallen into a fitful doze after Fluttershy's visit, until she felt a tugging on her horn and opened her eyes to the glow of magic. As the pony shook the sleep from her again, she slowly became aware that it wasn't her own magic. Or at least, this wasn't her spell. Her horn was reacting to a call from another Unicorn.
Blinking tiredly and yawning, Twilight slowly followed. But her exhaustion evaporated as soon as she turned the corner into the kitchens that should have been dark, and instead had been rendered bright, warm, and welcoming. The delighted calls of her friends filled her ears, and despite herself Twilight Sparkle smiled in happiness and hurried over to meet them.
One day, Twilight knew she would have to figure out how Pinkie Pie managed to drag that Party Cannon everywhere. The question of it was driving her insane so far. It was undeniable that she'd used it, as a little corner of the vast Canterlot kitchens had been turned into a festive little bubble, with balloons and streamers and the smell of cupcakes. Spike was sitting behind a makeshift bar made up of barrels and chairs, mixing up something red and fizzy. Rarity sat nearby, berating him on his technique and fretting all the while. Her horn was glowing, and Twilight knew where the persistent magical call had originated now.
The other ponies were clustered around the bar, drinks in front of them and temporarily forgotten as they waved her over. Everyone seemed to want to talk to her at once, make this joke or share this observation or ask this question. Rationally, or at least as rationally as she could manage right now, Twilight recognized the edge of exhaustion that marked all of them. But with a mug of Rarity's Revitalizing Raspberry Cream in front of her, even that didn't seem so bad.
At least they were all exhausted together. At least they were all friends all here together recovering after the longest few days of their lives. If Twilight Sparkle looked around, she could hardly believe that just a day ago they'd been ready to give up.
And that was just the way she liked it. The simple and unshakeable knowledge that their friendship would survive was the best thing in the world.