The hallways were always empty right after the sunrise, with ponies scurrying about in their rooms preparing for the day ahead or climbing into their beds after a long shift attending to the princess of the night. It was the only time Luna felt comfortable walking by herself in the castle halls, and the only time she wore her dressing gown. It was warm and comfortable to wear during the cold morning hours, but she felt it indecent to be caught wearing it by anyone besides Celly. And Celly had called it adorable before ruffling her mane the last time she had seen her in it.
She saw something moving out of the corner of her eye and turned to look. A statue, little more than a stone bust of a famous colt on a pedestal. Luna moved carefully over to the bust, inspecting it. There was another quick motion from behind it and Luna chased after it, nearly crashing into the attendant who had been hiding there. Both squeaked as they toppled over and fell to the floor. Luna rubbed her head as she stood.
Silver Verve was cowering on the floor, eyes wide with panic. The attendant seemed absolutely horrified.
"I'm so sorry Princess Luna! I was on my way to tell you something and I saw you and you looked so serene and deep in thought so I didn't want to disturb you so I hid! Please don't be mad!"
Luna moved behind the pillar to hide her attire, hoping he wouldn't make as big a fuss over it as her sister. When it seemed he either hadn't noticed or didn't care she smiled a bit and offered the colt her hand, helping him to his feet. Silver was one of the few ponies who wasn't afraid of her, primarily because he had slept through the return of Nightmare Moon and missed the Summer Sun Celebration entirely. He didn't have a clue who she was, aside from "the exiled princess", and Luna enjoyed keeping it that way. It made it less awkward to speak with him.
"Silver, if it's something urgent then don't feel apprehensive about approaching me."
Silver nodded, rummaging through his saddlebag and pulling out a scroll. He unfurled it and cleared his throat before reading it.
"Princess Celestia has requested you join her for breakfast this morning as opposed to dining alone. She has several matters to discuss with you and wishes to speak with you about last night."
The scroll rolled back up the moment his hoof released it and he packed it away.
"My sister is in our private dining room I take it?"
He nodded and smiled.
"She only just sent me off with the message for you, but the castle kitchen has been putting the meal together for you both since she raised the sun up."
"Then I shan't keep her waiting a moment longer. Thank you, Silver."
Silver blushed and smiled.
"I live to serve, m'lady."
He bowed and Luna gave him a small nod before turning away. She walked off towards the dining hall when she heard Silver call out to her.
"Pardon my asking, Princess, but shouldn't you get changed first? I mean, it's not really my place to comment on your choice of attire."
Luna halted and looked down at her dressing gown, then back at Silver. She blinked before turning bright red and dashing off down a different hall in the direction of her room.
Silver's voice echoed as he yelled.
She could already smell breakfast as she approached the large double doors leading to the dining hall. It was the smell of hot tea and fresh fruit mixed with freshly baked breads. She couldn't help but smile to herself as she entered, ready to tell Celly all about the night before and how she had helped everyone. The expression on the Sun Princess's face drained every ounce of happiness from her.
Celestia was smiling broadly, the room lighting up with the sheer glow of her happiness in a very literal way. Luna instantly regretted everything she had ever done up to that point, including being born, pushing Celly down the stairs when they were little and had been fighting, and that one time she had eaten the extra piece of chocolate cake. She recognized that look, the saccharine smile that was the exterior of an inner storm brewing within. Something had obviously gone terribly wrong and Celly was barely containing an explosive amount of fury that would be divvied up among several cruel and humiliating punishments.
"Good morning, dear sister. You're late for breakfast, but since you had a big night that's understandable. I started without you, I hope you don't mind."
Luna nodded dumbly and took her seat across from her sister, eyes directed in front of her at the table. Celestia loaded Luna's plate up with pancakes, toast and a heaping scoop of fruit salad. She smiled and sipped her tea, watching Luna eat with hesitant bites.
"Is something the matter, Luna?"
Luna gulped, turning to face her sister.
"Nothing at all, Celly. W-Why do you ask?"
Celestia finished the rest of her tea, drawing out the pause by refilling the cup and blowing on it to cool it.
"I was just wondering since you seem a little... jumpy. Am I making you nervous?"
Luna looked around the room for escape routes. Teleporting away would be futile, but if it was anything like the last time she'd have to run for her life or end up in the rabbit suit again, strung up with the flag for a full day to be mocked by passing guards. Finally her eyes came to rest on her sister again, on that same glowing smile and dazzling eyes.
"Y-No! Of course not! Why would I be nervous around my beloved sister?"
Celestia tapped her chin, looking up at the ceiling. Her spoon slowly swirled the tea in the cup as she added cream and sugar.
"Well, you did infect one of the Elements of Harmony with Nightmare Moon's influence, ruin the sales that another needed to compensate for the apples she brought to the gala leaving her with a substantial loss, foil the budding romance of yet another Element and cause her to lose face in front of nearly every noble in Equestria and sabotage a statue that landed on, you guessed it, another Element, giving her wing and back sprains and keeping her from her duties as a weather pony. Aside from that, though, I can't think of a reason for you to be nervous."
Any minute now, Luna thought. Any second and Celestia would have her on the first express flight back to the moon. In the bunny suit. Trapped in a stuffy, scratchy and utterly absurd outfit for another thousand yea- What?
Luna stared in disbelief at Celestia who was slowly sipping her tea, eyes closed. One of them opened slightly, eyebrow lowered, to form an expression similar to a glare but more akin to a comical squint. As the cup settled on the table Celestia turned to face her with a frown.
"Luna, I am disappointed. Not only did you purposefully avoid nearly everypony the entire night, but the few ponies who you did talk to ended up frightened of vendors booths the rest of the night or wound up covered in cake at the hooves of irate fashion designers."
"But I was only trying to help! And I thought that everything was going alright!"
Celestia shook her head and sighed.
"My dear sister... It pains me to have to send you far away again but I have to do something about this situation. I-"
"Please don't send me to the moon in the rabbit suit! I couldn't handle exile again, I just couldn't!"
Luna's eyes welled up with tears and she begged the raw magical forces of reality that she wouldn't be locked away again with nothing but the darkness in her heart for company. Celestia's unflinching expression made her heart ache and Luna backed away slowly, her horn glowing with defensive magics. She sniffled, biting her lip.
"Don't send me away again, sister!"
Celestia stared at her for a moment. Her horn glowed for a brief moment and her magic unmade the thin barrier Luna had cast, the blue fragments of her magic clattering to the floor before vanishing. With another flash Celestia teleported directly in front of her.
Luna felt her body quivering with a sickening fear, her breath coming in short gasps.
"Do you really think I'd be so cruel as to lock you away in the moon again? I won't make that mistake twice."
Celestia's expression softened and she lowered her head. Luna wobbled a little before her hind legs gave out and she fell on her flank, eyes widening in confusion.
"We both made mistakes that day, Luna. And your mistakes weren't even your fault. If I had just listened to you more..."
She looked at Luna and the expression of relief and breathlessness she now wore. Celestia moved towards her sister slowly but she didn't expect the sudden impact as Luna latched onto her, hugging her tightly and knocking her off balance. She rested a hoof on Luna's back and rubbed in slow circles until the sniffling subsided.
"Are you really so afraid of me, Luna?"
Luna shook her head and wiped her eyes, looking up at her sister from behind her hooves.
She looked down at the floor.
"Yes. I am scared, sister... But not of you. I'm afraid of myself. Every mistake I make always causes you such trouble, and I get worried that I'll do something terrible that you'll have to punish me for."
Celestia nuzzled her sister and smirked.
"Like causing a series of events that led to property damage, personal injury and poor manners?"
Luna nodded solemnly. Her gaze shifted slightly and she kicked the ground.
"Oh, don't be such a silly-filly. Yes, you made a mistake. Mistakes. You made multiple mistakes. But it's not the end of the world."
"You're going to send me away again though. You're going to banish me."
Celestia sighed and looked around for a moment to make sure no one was around before prodding Luna's horn with her own. The magical discharge sent a severe shock through Luna's body and every hair on her body stood on end. Her body went rigid and she coughed up a few black clouds of smoke before examining her blackened coat and tail. Celestia couldn't suppress her laughter. The princess of night drew herself up to her full, less-than-imposing height and stamped her hoof, her sorrow replaced by indignation. Her wings flared wide and she did her best to scowl.
"Celly! You promised me that you'd never do that again! You know how much I hate it!"
Celestia held a hoof over her mouth and tried to calm herself down. Even though the noise had stopped she was still shaking from time to time with muffled chuckles and her eyes were just as teary as Luna's. Luna pouted, unsure what to make of the situation, before retaliating with an equally forceful flare of magic. Celestia's feathers crackled with arcane light, wings fully extended and mane frazzled. The two sisters exchanged looks before giggling, then laughing heartily. They leaned against each other for support, wiping their eyes clear and using magic to sort out their unkempt appearances. As their laughter died down Luna sighed and let her gaze fall back upon the floor.
"So what's my punishment?"
Celestia pretended to be deep in thought for a moment, her expression overly dramatic and her hoof stroking an imaginary beard.
"I've decided that you're going to repay your debt to these ponies by fixing the problems you caused, and that means that you'll have to take a trip to Ponyville. It's going to take a few days at least, but I don't want my little sister to be scared all on her own."
Celestia's eyes became half-lidded and her smile became a grin.
It was that face again, Luna thought, the smirk of a troll. She raised an eyebrow and took a wild stab at what she was about to say. Did she know about Abby? Was she going to make some kind of joke out of her beloved abacus?
"So you'll be staying at the library with Twilight Sparkle for the duration of your punishment. And with any luck you might just socialize for a change. You remember Twilight, don't you?"
Luna nodded, words eluding her. She wondered for a moment if Celly poking fun at her abacus would have been better or worse than forcing her into the same house, let alone the same town, as the one pony who put her more on edge than her sister.
"Excellent. I've already made the arrangements, and I'm sure everypony there will be quite eager to see you again."
Luna put on a smile but her eyes were wide and nervous.
"Of course. The entire town of Ponyville. All eyes on me. It'll be wonderful."
Celestia hugged Luna and smiled.
"Oh I just knew you'd agree. And that means you'll have a chance to socialize and enjoy yourself while you're there."
Luna laughed and a small, awkward noise emerged from her mouth that could have been gibberish. Celestia's smirk returned and Luna knew precisely what it meant. It was this or the bunny suit. And the bunny suit wasn't an option. Luna gulped.
Luna packed her bags carefully by hoof, not trusting her mind to maintain focus long enough to levitate everything into its proper container without damaging something. Her head was swimming. In a matter of minutes her mood had been tossed to every extreme that she dared tread upon and now she found herself being "banished" to Ponyville to fix problems she hadn't known she'd caused. And she'd be living with a unicorn who made her heart flutter and her mental functions sink to the level of an especially thick pudding.
As she went to pack Abby away she stopped for a moment and considered the wooden object. Would Twilight laugh at her? Would it be a mistake to take Abby? She clutched the abacus, holding it closely. The beads clicked and clacked as she snuggled it, rocking back and forth. Abby could come, she decided, and no one would have to know about it. She placed an extra blanket along the bottom of the suitcase and tucked Abby in.
She felt an urge to speak to it, to kiss it goodnight before closing the lid, but she shrugged it off. It was foalish enough to feel so much attachment to an inanimate object, and even more so to speak to one when it wouldn't talk back. Anyone who'd do such a thing must surely be insane, she mused, or simply too young to know better. She folded the blankets over Abby carefully to keep it safe and zipped the suitcase shut.
Luna spared one last glance at her room as she packed the last few books for her trip. Barely anything remained to indicate it was ever hers. She ran a hoof along a suitcase and sighed, focusing her mind and trying to clear it. She let her magic flow through her and directed it like a dam correcting the flow of a stream. It seized hold of the suitcases and lifted them up, and with a little effort she began moving them towards the door.
Goodbye room, she thought to herself. Goodbye safe castle walls and isolated chambers. Goodbye solitude and comfort and regal authority. And hello Twilight.
For the first time in a thousand years the blackest parts of her heart stayed silent, her thoughts drawn towards the mare who had captured her interest.