“Soooo...?” Twilight’s eyes gleamed expectantly. “What do you think?”
On the other side of the table, Rarity returned her teacup to its saucer and met her hostess’ nervously hopeful smile with one of her own. “Oh, Twilight, dear, I think it’s wonderful,” she said with sincerity.
“You do?” The purple unicorn’s delight leaped up several notches, her anticipation rapidly giving way to the satisfaction of a job well done. “Oh, I’m so happy you think so! All this time I was worried you’d think it was awful and... uncouth, or something.”
Rarity slowly extended a hoof and laid it atop Twilight’s, to the latter’s mild surprise. “I could never think that,” she declared. “And I’m sure our friends will all agree with me. We’ve all been worried about you, you know. We haven’t seen you in weeks.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Twilight said, her gaze and hoof shying away. “I’ve been so busy with all these advanced assignments the princess has been sending, I’ve just been cooped up here in the library the whole time. I really haven’t had time to go out. It was the princess herself who insisted that I take a break.” She looked back to her guest apologetically. “And she’s completely right. My studies may be important, but they shouldn’t come at the expense of my friends. That’s why I’m planning to invite everypony over on Friday to catch up. And this–” She indicated downward with her hoof. “–was going to be a surprise. I just really wanted somepony’s opinion first, and since your expectations are always so high...”
Twilight stopped suddenly, and her eyes went wide on realising what she had just implied. “Uh... But in a good way! You have high standards, and that’s a good thing!” She dug out the friendliest grin she could, hoping she hadn’t managed to insult her guest. Rarity, thankfully, gave no sign of a negative reaction. She was, in fact, still smiling gently. Calming down, Twilight continued, “Anyway, the reason I invited you over is because I really, really wanted to get your opinion first. But if you like it, I’m sure the others will, too!”
“I’m sure they will,” Rarity affirmed. “Pinkie will probably want to host the shower,” she stated thoughtfully, her smile gaining force, “Though I strongly suggest you pick a date before she does. I know that neither of us really care for that whole ‘surprise’ business she is so fond of, and it may even be unhealthy for a mare in your condition. A formal guest list and invitations with an R.S.V.P. date are the order for this kind of celebration. Oh, and a gift registry!” The unicorn’s eyes were sparkling with giddiness, and she clasped her hooves together. “I know this darling little store that will have almost everything you’ll need. I could certainly help with getting everything set up, if that’s alright with you. We wouldn’t want a repeat of what happened with Pinkie and the Cakes, now would we?” Rarity took another sip of tea, seemingly to douse her own enthusiasm, and waited for an answer.
Twilight, however, had not yet processed the question. Her mind had derailed much earlier, ceasing its progress utterly. She stared, confused, at Rarity. “The... shower?”
“Well, yes, it is customary.” The white pony’s exuberant demeanor began to melt away to concern. “If you’re worried about the reactions from the rest of Ponyville, you can certainly restrict the guest list to our closest friends. Make it a more quiet, intimate affair. I must say that I prefer those myself.”
Despite Twilight’s best efforts at untangling the knot presented to her, none of what she was hearing was making any sense. “Rarity, what are you talking about?”
A look of veneered terror crossed the other unicorn’s countenance. Twilight was by no means an expert on reading ponies – it was, in fact, one of her weaknesses – but this expression was one she had seen before and could now positively identify: It was a sign that Rarity had just caught herself in a faux pas.
“Uh, I was... talking about...” the white pony spoke through an unconvincingly brilliant grin, “...uh... the... topic at hoof. We were both talking about it. Though... perhaps you should reiterate precisely what we’re talking about, just so that we may be certain?” She chuckled, quickly grabbed her cup, and slurped slowly from it, undeterred by the fact that – as Twilight had noticed a moment before – it was already empty.
“Rarity, I was asking you if you liked the tea.”
“Oh.” The mare stared at the empty vessel in her grip. “Oh... Oh! The tea. Of course!” Levitating the teapot, she refilled. “Of course I like it! It’s very good tea. Fantastic, in fact. Are you trying out a new brewing method?”
Twilight sighed dejectedly, lowering her head nearly to the table. “You didn’t even notice.”
Rarity was growing manifestly more uncomfortable by the moment. “Notice? O– of course I noticed!” she claimed, delivering another fake laugh as followup.
Twilight didn’t buy the act for a second.
Rarity’s smile could no longer take the strain and collapsed. With her supply of fake charm exhausted, she was forced to ask guiltily, “So, please tell me... what, exactly, did I notice?”
The purple pony pointed to the teapot. “This tea is a special blend. I made it myself. It was an experiment to see if I could combine some of my favourite flavours into a new mix. I researched all the known varieties and thought I could come up with a truly unique taste. I...” Her hoof idly circled along the grain of the table. “I was going to give some as a gift to Princess Celestia.” She examined the teapot, hoping it might somehow give up an explanation of her failure. When it didn’t, she snorted dismissively at it. “I guess that didn’t turn out so well.”
Rarity took another sip, making a show of properly tasting it this time. “Twilight, it’s... it’s good tea. Believe me. The tea you make is always splendid, and I suppose I’ve started taking it for granted.” She straightened herself out, lifting her chin. “I apologise. And I’m certain the princess will appreciate the gift.”
“Can you even tell what’s in it?”
The mare’s earlier nervousness made a rapid comeback. “Well, I... I do enjoy a good cup of tea, but I’m hardly what one would call a connoisseuse, and I’m not completely familiar with all the subtle varieties.” She sniffed daintily at the liquid, and brought it to her lips once again. “Hmm. This is Assam, is it not?”
Twilight frowned. “I did use Camellia sinensis assamica as the base, but there’s also Keemun and... and there are supposed be hints of Jasmine. And I went to Zecora to get this special herb I can’t even pronounce properly, and... and...” She sighed again and closed her eyes. Vapours emanating from her own cup teased her nostrils with warmth, but the mixture of aromas she had painstakingly worked to arrange into an agreeable balance now stunk only of wasted effort. “The princess suggested I should do something that I liked that didn’t involve magic...”
Slow, deep breaths. Twilight focussed herself on the technique; a way to soothe her nerves. Chiefly a method to dismiss worry and panic, it was presently proving itself just as effective at expelling her disappointment.
Slowly, her eyes opened, lips curling upward in a bittersweet acceptance of the situation. She gave a weak chuckle. “Guess I’m just not cut out to be a teamaster,” she stated, taking a small drink to remind herself of what her endeavour had wrought. It still tasted okay, if a bit uninspired. Pedestrian. “It’s okay, though. Nopony can be an expert at everything, right?”
Rarity nodded, visibly relaxing with her hostess’ return to good spirits. “Twilight, it is good. You should definitely send some to Princess Celestia. Her opinion is ultimately the one that counts, and I’m absolutely convinced a pony of her expert palate will be able to appreciate it more than I. This blend might not shake the tea world to its very foundations, but it’s far from a failure.”
Twilight glanced to her friend, and a simple look in her eyes confirmed that she wasn’t just trying to be placating; her compliments were genuine. “Thanks,” the purple mare said, back to her previous cheer. “If nothing else, I did enjoy myself, and I fulfilled the princess’ request to ‘get creative’, as she put it.”
Rarity giggled, and her friend followed suit. Both partook of the good-but-not-quite-great beverage, and in that moment Twilight recognised – or perhaps simply remembered – that the best of teas could never make up for the presence of good company. She could barely wait for Friday.
Still, a thought niggled at the back of her head. “Rarity,” she drew the other unicorn’s attention, “What were you talking about earlier? About some kind of shower?”
“Oh, um, it was nothing.”
Out of all of Twilight’s friends, Rarity came second only to Applejack in being thoroughly horrible at fibbing.
“I... I was just confused. I don’t know what I was thinking. Let’s just forget it, shall we?”
Twilight almost relented then – almost – but her guest’s evasiveness was a puzzle that was simply too intriguing for the scholarly mare to abandon. She cycled through everything she had heard, once more attempting to place the confusing bits into coherence.
Rarity had mentioned the Cakes, and Pinkie, and a gift registry... for a shower.
“A... a baby shower?” the purple pony hazarded, and the way Rarity’s pupils shrank told her instantly that she was correct. This, however, just added another oddly-shaped piece of jigsaw to her collection. “I don’t get it. Who’s having a baby? Is it somepony I know?”
The other mare’s eyes looked in every direction but hers. “Oh, dear, look at the time! I’m terribly sorry, but I really must be going! I have to... help... Sweetie Belle... get her cutie mark in... tea-making! Thank you ever so much for having me; we simply must do this more often! I’ll see you on Friday, and I’ll let our friends know–”
The sound of her own name forced the unicorn back into her seat. Despite the cool temperature of the library, she was unmistakably sweating.
Twilight thinned her lips and lowered her brows, hoping to look sufficiently authoritative and just intimidating enough to pull the truth out of her visitor-turned-suspect. “Rarity, we’re friends. Good friends. And it seems there’s something you know, that I, as your good friend, deserve to know as well. If you’re keeping a secret for somepony else, then I won’t force it out of you, but you should consider that keeping secrets for some silly reason, like, say, to save yourself or myself some embarrassment, can only be bad for our friendship. I hope you can respect me enough to be honest with me, and I promise that whatever you tell me, I will handle the information calmly, rationally, and discreetly.” She smirked. For something made up completely on the spot, it sounded pretty convincing.
The white mare faced sheepishly downward, keeping a tenuous visual contact with her interrogator.
“Who’s having a baby?” Twilight prodded.
Rarity said nothing. In a nearly imperceptible stroke of time, her pupils flitted downward to the other mare’s abdomen, before returning, as if nothing had happened, to looking her in the face.
Rarity had mentioned something about Twilight’s ‘condition’...
“M– Me?!” Twilight’s head cocked to the left. “You think I’m having a baby?!”
“But you did!”
Her now-very-unwilling guest bit her lip, apparently having decided that uncomfortable silence was preferable to further self-incrimination. Twilight wasn’t even sure if she should be angry. Mostly, she was simply confused.
“Rarity, I’m not pregnant.”
The unicorn spoke hesitantly, “I– I gathered as much.” Her eyes turned pleading, shimmering with liquid. “Twilight, I’m so very, very sorry. I should never have assumed something like this. It was simply awful of me. You are one of my best friends and you deserve better. I don’t know what I was thinking. Can you ever forgive me?” She clasped her hooves together, pursing her lips pathetically and stretching herself forward onto the table in supplication, a hair’s breadth away from bursting into dramatic tears.
The purple mare still didn’t know quite what to make of all this, the mystery having not so much dissipated as changed shape – though the apology had seemed real enough. She sighed. “It’s okay, Rarity,” she offered, and watched as the other pony slunk back into her seat. “I forgive you...” Then a sudden, brilliant idea struck. “...if you explain to me why you thought that I was having a baby.”
“And no lies this time. If we’re really friends then I deserve the truth. Has somepony been spreading rumours about me?”
Twilight’s stare was a drill, and Rarity flinched as it pierced her.
“It’s just that you’ve barely been seen around town the past few weeks, and someponies – and I can’t say who – may have noted that you’ve... um...” Rarity’s hoof dug nervously against the back of her neck. “...how do I put this delicately? Twilight, dear... you seem to have gained some... mass.”
The purple pony’s eyes bugged. Slowly, her sight moved downward to her stomach, where she assessed the prominent bulge that, over the past couple of months, she had only in passing perceived growing larger. Weeks upon weeks of sedentary study combined with an unrestricted diet could do that to a pony, and Twilight had never been particularly concerned with her physical image. She didn’t even own a personal scale; the closest thing she had being a small balance in her downstairs laboratory used for measuring chemical samples. Rarity could, at times, be overly-concerned about appearances, but if she seriously thought that she was pregnant, of all things...
With a slow, calming exhale, Twilight made a mental note to start exercising and cut back on sweets immediately.
“Rarity, I’m not pregnant.”
“I know. I’m sorry. When I heard about you, I wasn’t certain, of course, and I decided to reserve judgement. But then today I saw you, and our conversation led me to believe– well, now I understand you were merely talking about the tea, but the way you spoke of making an ‘addition to the world’ and how thrilled you seemed to be... I drew my conclusions. Unfounded ones.”
So that was it, then. A larger-than-normal belly, and an unclear conversation, had convinced somepony that Twilight was expecting. The mystery was solved.
Then she smiled.
Then she chuckled.
Finally, she laughed.
The ludicrousness of the situation was simply too much for her, and she let loose, howls of laughter racking the mare from head to hoof. Her guest made an attempt to join in the mirth, but was having a harder time of it.
“Oh, lighten up, Rarity!” Twilight decreed once the worst of her guffaws had faded. “This is the funniest thing that’s happened to me since that whole thing with Miss Harshwhinny, and at least the reputation of an empire isn’t at stake this time.”
“So, you’re not offended, then?”
Twilight considered with a smirk. “Well, maybe a little. But I already said I forgive you, and I meant it.” With a wave of her foreleg, she dismissed any discord that might have accumulated between the pair. “And it’s mostly my fault, anyway. I need to communicate more clearly. I’m a scientist, for Celestia’s sake! When somepony can’t tell whether I’m talking about tea or a baby, something’s wrong.” She giggled some more. Her hoof patted at her protruding belly. “And I guess I did let myself go a little...”
“Oh, it’s not that bad,” Rarity tried. “You look fine. Very... healthy...”
Twilight could only roll her eyes. Her magic summoned a full-length mirror into the room, and she stepped away from the table to examine herself. Head-on, she didn’t look much different than usual – perhaps a bit fuller in the cheeks, but hardly pudgy. Turning to the side, however, revealed that her abdomen was, indeed, worryingly larger than she remembered it. She frowned in disapproval at the reflection.
“I’m going to talk to Rainbow about starting up that training regimen again. This really is too much. I think Spike even mentioned something about how I’ve been eating a lot lately, but I was too busy to listen.” She sat back down, pouring herself another cup of tea, which had at this point become tepid. Remembering her manners, she offered the same to Rarity, who graciously accepted with a still-uncertain smile.
“It’s strange though. Usually when I get into ‘the zone’–” Twilight airquoted. “–I forget to eat. In fact, I forget everything except the book I’m working on. But lately I’ve been feeling extra-hungry, so I’ve been snacking constantly. Weird cravings, too. Just last week I sent Spike out for strawberry ice cream and deep-fried tulips and ate them at the same time. Weird, huh?”
Twilight’s brain very helpfully replayed what she had just said. That only made the situation funnier, and she chuckled again.
“Rarity, I’m not pregnant.”
The white pony snapped out of her brief stupor. “Oh, of course not! You’re certainly the most qualified to be the judge of something like that. And I take it you have been going into heat as normal this summer, have you not? That would certainly put any doubts to rest.”
The other unicorn shook her head. “Not really. My cycle’s always been a bit irregular, though, so I’m not worried.” She scratched thoughtfully at her chin. “But now that you mention it, I can’t really remember the last time I was in estrus. I think it was back in... May?”
That was a long time ago.
All of summer had gone by without the typical nature’s call. Twilight was a young mare, after all, and, irregular cycles or not, spending the warmest season mired in full-time anestrus couldn’t be the sign of anything good. The first twinge of worry entered her mind. The idea of pregnancy still seemed unlikely to the unicorn, but she now began to entertain the thought that some other medical condition might have set itself upon her.
Twilight was a voracious reader, though aside from studies in magic specifically, her other research was very much scattered, with bits and pieces and odd minutiae of knowledge from various fields presently filed away in dusty corners of her memory. One of those fields was medicine.
She thought of her distended belly, rubbing it absent-mindedly, and tried to pull out statistics on the occurrence of tumors. She could remember nothing, aside from the alarming facts that the chances of having one were always non-zero, and that increased appetite was often a symptom. So were hormonal imbalances that might effectively halt a mature mare’s reproductive cycle.
Tumors could also be benign or malignant. The benign ones would simply grow and take up space in the body, and procedures existed to excise them. Malignant tumors, however, would metastasise – spread, and infect vital organs, consuming the body from the inside-out. And even after being removed, new ones could, and often did, sprout up, like a swarm of carnivorous parasprites. It was thoroughly horrible.
“Twilight, are you alright?”
The sound of Rarity’s concerned voice brought the purple mare back into the here and now. She did her best to smile again; to reassure her friend.
To reassure herself.
“Rarity, I’m not pregnant.”
‘I’m also not sick,’ she silently added.
Imagining the worst always brought out the worst in Twilight – she had multiple examples in her life to point to as evidence. The unicorn resolved to take a positive outlook: Her earlier conclusion – that she had simply been eating too much – was by a wide margin the simplest explanation. Occolt’s Razor stated that, as a scientist, it was the one she should prefer.
Still, a routine medical checkup wouldn’t be a bad idea.
“Alright,” her guest responded carefully after a moment’s hesitation. “You’re sure of that?”
“Of course I’m sure,” Twilight replied confidently. “I can’t have a child. I’m not married. I don’t even have a boyfriend.”
Rarity winced, treading carefully with her words. “You... do realise that it’s not strictly required for you be in a stable relationship...? Getting pregnant simply involves... well, a stallion who... uh...”
“Rarity!” Twilight whined. “I’m not that sheltered! I’m well-aware of the biological requirements for equine impregnation.”
“Right. So, then, you haven’t been... active... with any stallions this past season?”
“Well...” A sudden chill ran down the purple unicorn’s spine. Without any thought, her head turned toward the staircase that connected to the upper floor of the library.
To her bedroom.
To her bed.
A flood of memories rushed in. Memories of what she had done in that bed, and with whom. She felt something stick in her throat; a lump of pure dread. ‘No. No, no, no, no, no, no. That couldn’t happen. Not with him. I can’t have a baby with him.’
She swallowed the lump, and forced another smile. It proved to be a far more daunting task this time around. When she finally succeeded, it was a desperate, fragile thing, ready to shatter at any instant, and was obviously doing little to convince the increasingly-worried unicorn observing her.
“Rarity, I’m not pregnant.”
The other mare nodded slowly. “Then you haven’t...”
“Yes, I had sex!” Twilight blurted, placing both forehooves on the table. “With a stallion!”
Rarity retreated slightly.“But... not during your fertile period?”
Twilight’s lip quivered. “It... it was during my estrus phase,” she confessed, as an uncertain hoof rubbed into the coat of her belly, until she forcibly commanded it back down. “But it doesn’t matter because I can’t be pregnant.”
The white mare raised an eyebrow. “How can you be certain–”
“I used a spell!” Twilight declared. “A contraception spell. I even did the research, and it’s the most recommended form of magical birth control available. It’s completely effective and completely foolproof, and yes, I’m absolutely sure I cast it properly! I’m not irresponsible!” She lowered back into her seat. For some reason her forelegs were shaking and keeping weight on them was making the teacups rattle in their saucers.
Rarity sat contemplatively, staring off into the surrounding bookshelves. At length, she spoke again, measuring her syllables. “This spell – you say it’s completely effective?”
Twilight’s tea had gone cold. She didn’t care, downing the rest of her cup and humphing in irritation upon finding the pot empty. “Well, it’s very well-documented and proven to be extremely reliable in laboratory conditions,” she explained. “Properly cast, it’s ninety-nine point nine nine percent effective.”
“Rarity, I’m not pregnant.”
There was no smile; she could no longer summon up the energy or goodwill for one. Again, her hoof found her abdomen, feeling about for... something. It seemed to be acting with a mind of its own recently, and in a moment of annoyance Twilight considered smacking the unruly limb away.
Rarity cleared her throat. Her nervousness had experienced a distinct shift in tone: Rather than being concerned about herself, she was showing unmistakable signs of worry for Twilight. Ironically, this was only making the purple unicorn more antsy.
“Have you had any other symptoms? Have you felt... kicking?”
“No!” The other pony paused. “Maybe. I don’t know! What does that even feel like?!”
“I’m afraid I don’t have any first-hoof experience, but from what I’ve been told it can feel like a... a ‘fluttering’ sensation. I’ve also heard it described as muscle twitches. Have you felt anything like that?”
Something had fallen into Twilight’s eyes – or, at least, that was what she concluded, based on the fact that her vision had become irritatingly wobbly. “I... I don’t know. I might... maybe I think I had some indigestion a little while ago... but that would make sense because I’ve been eating so much and so many weird things because of my weird cravings which is why I’ve gained all this weight and it’s definitely not because I’m pregnant because there’s no way I’d ever be irresponsible enough to have a child without two parents to take care of it and I’m not ready to have children anyway so when I had unprotected vaginal intercourse right in the middle of my estrus phase I used a very reliable spell that works... almost... perfectly...”
She coughed, finding herself suddenly choking on some kind of salty liquid that had materialised in her throat.
“Rarity, I’m not pregnant.”
It was no longer a statement of fact.
It was a hoarse plea.
The other mare guardedly inched out of her seat. “Twilight, darling, please understand: I’m not saying that you’re pregnant. But, perhaps it would be best if we had you examined, medically? Just to put any fears to rest? I’m sure it would be a good idea regardless and...” Her eyes locked on Twilight as she gingerly circled around to her fidgeting friend. “And I just want to assure you, if, by some chance, you are pregnant, all your friends will support–”
“No!” Twilight bellowed, abandoning her seat, setting upon Rarity, and grabbing the frightened mare by the cheeks. “I don’t need anypony’s support! Didn’t you hear what I just said?! I can’t be pregnant! I used the spell! The odds of it failing are less than one in ten thousand! I mean...” She panted through gritted teeth. “What are the chances of that?!”
“Don’t answer that!”
She released the white unicorn from her grip, the tiny hesitation from Rarity providing enough time for Twilight to formulate her next course of action. She all-but-lunged at the bookshelves, avoiding teleporting to them only because charging up and engaging the relevant spell would have taken a few hundredths of a second longer than simply hoofing it. As her legs covered the precious few steps, the shocks they sent up her body served as a harsh reminder of the unwelcome, extra weight clinging to her.
She started ripping tomes from their assigned positions, glancing occasionally at the titles, but more often than not, simply determining by shape or weight alone that they weren’t her quarry, and dumping them unceremoniously behind her. As the pile of discarded books grew, she silently cursed Spike for having the sheer gall to have a life outside the library and not be at her beck and call in this moment of need.
A timid Rarity approached. “Twilight, maybe we should go see a doctor. I don’t think that–”
“A-ha!” The unicorn grinned as she levitated her prize in victory. Wasting no time, she skimmed through pages of text, taking in dozens every second, looking for one specific, particularly fascinating spell she had once seen long, long ago.
If pressed, it was likely that she could have performed it solely from memory – memorising and retaining magical techniques was something the unicorn excelled at – but it was vital that the spell be cast without any errors or alterations. She couldn’t risk generating a false positive.
Confirming the formula thrice, just to be certain, she nodded in satisfaction. Her horn’s aura activated, and the spell took its intended effect.
To Rarity, it seemed that Twilight had stopped breathing.
To Twilight, it seemed that the world had stopped. Entirely.
That wasn’t, strictly speaking, a result of the spell. The universe fell away only in Twilight’s subjective perception; the result of the truth, now no longer deniable through even the most convoluted reasoning, crashing into her like a tidal wave, and leaving her stunned and floating in a watery abyss, unable to see or breathe or even think.
She could still hear, however – and what she heard absolutely terrified her. Her only remaining shred of hope was that this was all a dream. She willed herself to wake, but to no avail.
“Twilight!” Rarity yelled as she physically jolted the purple mare back to reality, the library, and much-needed oxygen. “What happened?! What spell did you use just now?”
Her friend’s entire frame was trembling uncontrollably. “Heartsong,” she replied, breathing the word more than actually speaking it.
“I– I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that one.”
Tears rolled down Twilight’s cheeks, forming thin rivulets. Her voice cracked. “It’s... it’s a spell that allows you to hear a pony’s heartbeat. I just cast it on myself. And I can hear it... there’s– there’s my heart; but there’s also– it’s–”
She was still shaking as Rarity’s forelegs wrapped around her – holding her, absorbing some of the tremors.
“There’s another pony inside me.”
Rarity said nothing. She simply held the embrace – tightly, tenderly, genuinely – until the quakes rolling through Twilight’s body could subside at least a little, and she could find the strength to face her friend and speak again.
“Rarity, I’m pregnant.”