"So that's the story," a golden orange farmpony said. She scuffed the floor of the throne room nervously with her hoof. "Apples just keep disappearin' off our trees! I think it's those darn Parasprites again, swarmin' out of the woods when we're asleep."
"You are most likely right. And we thank you once again for sharing your concerns about the Everfree," Princess Celestia bowed grandly to her latest guest. "In fact, I believe our newest princess will know best how to assist you. Twilight?"
Princess Twilight Sparkle stepped forward, regarding her fellow Element with a fond smile. "Don't worry about a thing, Applejack! You and your family worked really hard on this and I won't let that go to waste. I'm sending some of my personal guard to watch the borders until all of your apples are safely harvested."
Applejack flushed and grinned from ear to ear. "Well, I'll be. You'd do that for me, Twilight?"
"Of course I will! I can't be much of a princess if I don't help my best friends."
"Well thank you kindly girl—I mean, er, Your Highness!" she didn't see her friend flinch ever so slightly at the title. "My folks sure will appreciate it too. So, uh…see you later then?"
Twilight's whole body twitched with excitement—including her wings, which was the last thing she needed. She smiled through the pain of her recently injured limbs. "Oh yes! I have to go into town to have my wings looked at anyway. I'll see all of you at Fluttershy's. You have my word."
AJ relaxed and tipped her hat. "All right then. Thanks again, Your Highness…I mean, Highnesses. I won't forget this!" She trotted happily out of the throne room.
When they were alone, Luna sent Twilight a curious look. "Your personal guard? That's quite a commitment."
"Well…those apples do have to feed all of Ponyville." Twilight said. She shuffled restlessly, staring at the grand doorway her old friend had left through. Besides, she thought to herself, she had too many guards. And butlers. And mares-in-waiting. They were always underhoof. "So, was that our last appointment?"
"Indeed it was," Celestia sat back and looked at her. "I suppose you want leave to visit Ponyville?"
Her tone was kind, but Twilight still chafed and could not meet her gaze. "Yes! I mean, if that's all right with you two."
Twilight hid a sigh of relief, levitating her copy of The Oats of Wrath and performing the customary farewell bow. Her elders returned it.
Free at last, she thought. At least for today…
Princess Celestia watched her former pupil trot out of the chamber, muzzle in a book as always. Some things never changed. The bandages on her wings were becoming another constant.
Celestia didn't understand it. Twilight was always banging or scraping her wings. She hit them on doorways, rolled on them when she slept, knocked over priceless vases. It was because she held them out awkwardly, not fully spread but not tucked against her body either, as if they were an accessory rather than part of her.
Naturally the wings must take some time to get used to. But it had been a full month since the change and Twilight still visited Nurse Redheart on a regular basis. Celestia folded her hooves beneath her chin and thought about it. Was Twilight's appointment as a princess going well? She would be hard pressed to say it wasn't. The purple pony did everything required—stood with her and Luna in royal audience, attended all the proper social functions, slogged through paperwork and politics just as they did.
Princess Twilight Sparkle was everything Celestia expected she would be. But not, perhaps, all her mentor wanted. Celestia had hoped she would appreciate her promotion, take all the new opportunities it offered, spice up the Canterlot royalty with her insatiable curosity. But since the coronation she had been surprisingly quiet, even subdued, leaving the castle every chance she got to linger around Ponyville.
It was not mere difficulty adapting—it was a tacit refusal to adapt at all. No, this was not what the Princess of the Sun had wished for.
But she would not worry about it now. Someday Twilight would understand why this had to be. Someday she would be in a position just like Celestia's: standing outside the Canterlot Academy of Magic, feeling the most powerful aura she'd ever experienced, and respecting it. Even fearing it. And knowing this power must immediately be harnessed and controlled.
The security of her kingdom demanded nothing less.
Luna had been watching her in silence for some time. Now she finally spoke up. "What troubles you, sister?"
"Nothing important, my dear," said the First Princess.
"I must say, Your Highness," Nurse Redheart chuckled as Twilight flinched and groaned under her ministrations. "You are a more frequent patient of ours than Rainbow Dash and I've never seen you fly but once!"
"Well, Rainbow Dash was born with these, you know," Twilight said brightly. "I guess it's just my luck!"
"Mmhmm," Redheart finished peeling off the old bandages and opened a drawer to get some new ones. "Are you sure that's all it is?"
"What do you mean, Nurse?"
"Pardon me. It's really nothing, Your Highness, and I do hate to pry."
"No, please! And you don't have to call me that."
Redheart sighed and started applying the new dressings. Twilight gasped as her hooves brushed another sore spot. "Well, Twilight…I don't know if you keep track. But we do, and you seem to suffer some kind of wing injury almost once a week. And you always insist on coming to Ponyville for it, instead of letting the royal doctors treat you. I mean, we're flattered of course, but why?"
Twilight shrugged and stared at the floor. "Oh, I don't know. Just good memories, I guess."
"But didn't you grow up in Canterlot?"
"The oldest memories aren't always the best," the new princess murmured, almost to herself. "Or the newest."
Redheart didn't understand, but she decided not to press the issue. Pressing these bandages on with hooves was hard enough.
"…So I practiced all day and finally pulled off a Buccaneer Blaze in reverse. Then I lost control and crashed right through the library window!" Rainbow slammed her hoof on Fluttershy's table and laughed loudly. "Spike went nuts. He made me clean the whole place up. It was worth it, though!"
"That's great, Rainbow Dash! Well, except for the window," Twilight said reproachfully. Finally she could smile again. She waited all day for this, just to go home and be with her friends again. "Did you break your speed record, too?"
Dash shrugged. "I dunno. You were always the one who kept track of that stuff."
"Oh. Yeah, I guess you're right." Twilight murmured. There was an awkward silence.
Rarity came to the rescue. "You know, Spike is quite the little librarian these days, Twilight. Just the other day I came in and asked him about pre-Nightmare Moon fashions, and he brought back five books."
"He's not so big on parties though!" said Pinkie Pie. "And the library was always a great place for parties 'cause it had so much space! I guess my house is okay but when you throw parties as big as mine who wants just 'okay'? And there are only so many tables and chairs you can fit in there and cakes and pies and balloons and balloon animals and water balloons and forget about a hot air balloon, 'cause you're always using that one. Even though you can fly now but since your wings are always getting hurt I guess you need it, huh?"
Twilight forced a laugh. "Heh…yeah, I guess I do."
"Just take it one step at a time, Twi," Dash said. "Why don't you let me give you a flying lesson sometime? When you're better, I mean."
Flying came so easily to her, Twilight thought. For Dash, her wings were a symbol of freedom.
She wished she could feel the same way. "That's nice of you to offer, Rainbow. I…um, I'll think about it."
Another silence. Applejack stretched and stood back from the table. "Well, it's been fun, y'all, but I better be getting back for the harvest. And thanks for sending those guards over so quick, Twilight. They're doin' a real good job!"
Rarity followed suit. "Same for me, I'm afraid. Another day, another new design, as t'were."
One by one they said goodbye and went on their way, until only Twilight and Fluttershy were left.
The alicorn looked up to see Fluttershy watching her closely. "What's wrong?"
The Pegasus looked flustered for a moment, but she held her gaze. "Oh, nothing. It's just…I know everything's been just a little strange since…well, you know. But, um…everything's going okay now, right?"
Twilight took a breath, about to launch into one of her old speeches about how good things were going. But Fluttershy's gaze demanded honesty, and she slowly dropped her eyes.
"Oh," Fluttershy said meekly.
"Princess Celestia is happy," Twilight said. "She thinks I'm doing well. That's good, right?"
"Are you happy?"
Twilight's morose expression answered that question.
"Why don't you tell her?"
She shook her head firmly. "I can't just tell her I don't want to be a princess anymore! It's not about me—it's about Equestria. I have to do this for everypony! No matter how hard it is to get used to."
"Well…um, okay. I guess you're right…hm?" Fluttershy bent down to listen to her pet rabbit Angel, who chattered irritably into her ear. "Oh, Angel! That's very rude. No, I'm not going to tell her." The furball stamped his foot insistently.
"What is it?"
"Oh…well…Angel says you were protecting Equestria just fine before."
Twilight bit her lip. "I'm sure there will be bigger challenges in the future, Fluttershy. It hasn't been easy, but the Princess has her reasons. It has to be this way."
"Why?" Fluttershy asked innocently.
The silence in the room was deafening. When Twilight finally spoke, it wasn't to answer the question.
"Please, Fluttershy, let's not talk any more about it. I just need to relax today, you know? I mean…" She caught her friend's eye with a twinge of desperation. "…I really need a break."
The Pegasus looked worried, but she nodded. "I understand. I'll call him."
The fields beyond Fluttershy's cottage seemed to stretch forever, grassy hills rolling gently toward the dark horizon of the Everfree. It was not a place where many ponies chose to hang out, but since the change it was becoming Twilight's favorite.
"Back again, Your Majesty?" a wry, mischievous voice chuckled behind her. She turned to see him floating in the air, upside down, yellow eyes inches away from hers. "Checking to see that I'm still Celestia's good little pet?"
"No. She doesn't know I'm here."
Immediately his mood changed. Discord flopped to the ground in a sitting position and magically produced two teacups, graciously offering one to Twilight. "Marvelous! Then do sit down. May I interest you in some chocolate milk?"
Twilight smiled in spite of herself. "Yes. Thank you."
He squirted the milk from his finger and filled the cup upside down. When she took the cup, the milk moved away to avoid her mouth no matter how she tried to drink. She laughed. "At least it's not raining on me."
"Why, there's no need for that. You've already got a cloud over your head." he pointed out.
"I guess I do," She tried again. This time the milk cooperated. Even better, he presented her with some scones, which played no tricks at all.
Clearly he was preparing her for something.
"You know," Discord said a few moments later, "She really should have asked your permission first."
Twilight frowned and set the cup down.
"Oh, don't get upset with me. I'm only stating the obvious."
"You realize I can't believe a word you say about her."
He raised an eyebrow. "But you'll believe every word she tells you?"
Twilight's wings twitched irritably and she winced at the pain. "And what do you want to tell me?"
"She did not ask your permission to make you a princess because your consent was not important to her. What is important to Celestia is power. She developed a taste for it when she overthrew me, even more so when her sister rebelled. She must be in control. Any different view, any form of dissent is a personal threat to her. She must keep tabs on me, on Luna…and on you. And through you, the Elements of Harmony."
Twilight cringed, searching his features for any trace of amusement or hatred, any excuse to disbelieve him. There was none. For the moment, he was dead serious.
"That is why you find yourself in this position. I could help you, if you let me. But I know you won't. She chose very well when she picked you to enforce her will. She saw in you the same thing she looks for in all her followers: unconditional loyalty." Discord raised his cup and finally allowed himself a smirk. "So, a toast to you, Princess Twilight Sparkle. You have done all she asked of you without question, and this is your reward."
A moment of silence passed, his subtle mockery echoing in her ears.
"Please," she said quietly. "I just need a break."
"Always a break, isn't it Twilight? Always a temporary reprieve that solves nothing," Discord blinked his eyes and their empty cups disappeared. "But as your…" he trailed off, at a rare loss for words.
"Oh very well, if you must use the F-word," he rolled his eyes. "Yes. Knock yourself out."
He snapped his fingers, and Twilight's wings disappeared.
It was as good as the first time—the sensation of lightness, of freedom, of all that weight being lifted from her. Like rebirth, and yet it was so familiar.
"They're gone," she said in amazement. She started to giggle, joy bubbling up from inside her. "They're gone! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!"
Discord groaned as she jumped around with glee. "I'm just not cut out for this mushy stuff. Later."
He vanished. Twilight didn't notice. She dropped her crown and romped through the high grass, not once gauging how much energy she was expending or calculating the exact time from the position of the lowering sun. She was just a unicorn again, a bookworm with big dreams and hope for the future.
"Nothing will change," her mentor assured her after the coronation. But everything had changed.
She could deal with it, she thought in the back of her mind as her magic ruffled a field of flowers and cast their seeds into the wind. It would all be worth it, right? Princess Celestia always knew best…right?
Twilight ran through the fields for hours, racing the jackrabbits (she lost of course) and helping some beavers build their dam. Near the end she just lay and rolled around in the grass, overjoyed at being able to move without her wings always getting in the way. It was wonderful, but as always, it couldn't last. As the sun began to set, Discord and Fluttershy approached her from the cottage.
"I…I guess you have to put them back now, right?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady. She refused to cry. "Go ahead…I'm ready."
In a split second the wings returned. Twilight flinched as her body readjusted. The weight that returned was more than physical. Her wistful smile disappeared, and her eyes lowered to the ground as she lofted the crown back onto her head. She was a princess once more, with all of the questions that came with it-and none was heavier than Fluttershy's.
They said their goodbyes and Twilight walked off to her balloon, moored at the edge of the field.
Discord sighed and shook his head. "Silly girl. I don't have to put them back, doesn't she see that? It's her decision now."
Fluttershy placed a soothing hoof on his back. "Yes, Discord. It is."
The balloon grew smaller in the distance, until it was but a speck among the towers of Canterlot.
Author's Note: I started this story back in February, shortly after the Season 3 finale, 'Magical Mystery Cure.' I finished it when I looked back on everything five months later and realized I still felt the same way about the events of that episode. I hope I'm not offending fellow bronies with this confession, but no matter how much I see Twilight Sparkle with wings and a crown, it will never feel right to me.
"Nothing's going to change," they said. Then why do it in the first place? Because Hasbro told them to, that's why. Twilight wants to study, to conduct research, to discover things and to help Equestria with her friends. She didn't want-or need-to be an alicorn princess. Period. This story reflects both her difficulties, and mine, in coping with the change.