Straight-Shooter

Tempest's Heath's Warming (MLP)

Dec 5th, 2017
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  1. >If there was one thing that Tempest appreciated about the ‘Castle of Friendship,’ it was the fact that it was quiet
  2. >The building was so huge that, even with all of the ponies (and one dragon and one bottomless stomach that called itself Grubber) that called it home, she could still find more than a few rooms to be by herself
  3. >There was always some room that was completely deserted, either one of the empty guest suites or one of the uncountable sitting rooms
  4. >Tempest would simply find a space, make herself comfortable, and have some time to her thoughts
  5. >She had needed quite a lot of that, lately
  6. >Time to reflect on her actions, time to question where exactly she was planning on going with all this, time calm the doubts that still nipped at the back of her head
  7. >Still, even if the thoughts were a little dire, she was still glad that she had the space to work through them
  8. >Under normal circumstances, the castle truly was a place that brought some ease to Tempest
  9. >Under normal circumstances
  10. >Unfortunately, Hearths Warming was hardly normal circumstances
  11. >The unicorn sighed as she poked her head into another room, only to find some wasted pony passed out on one of the guest beds, the entire room reeking of alcohol
  12. >Why why why why did Ponyville have to host it’s Hearth’s Warming celebration at the castle?
  13. >Sure, it was by far the largest building in the town, but Tempest was fairly certain that the public wasn’t allowed to gallivant around Canterlot Castle how these guys did
  14. >No doubt this was Twilight’s doing; she was far too nice for her own good
  15. >…Not that Tempest had a lot of room to complain about Twilight’s good nature
  16.  
  17. >Slamming the guest room’s door shut, Tempest sighed as she trotted down the corridor
  18. >Even from here, deep within the bowls of the castle, it was still possible to pick on the festive music that was booming out from the main hall, and the numerous voices joined in song and laughter
  19. >It felt like the entire town had come over to the castle to celebrate the holiday
  20. >Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise Tempest if the entire town had
  21. >Ponyville was uniquely in synch, and it seemed like the town’s inhabitants were always looking for an excuse to host some event to get everyone involved
  22. >It was admirable
  23. >And exhausting
  24. >Tempest reflected, as she approached the next possible free room, that it was a trait that she hadn’t seen for quite some time: the Storm King’s army had felt too cold and professional for such casual camaraderie
  25. >Still, Tempest thought as she started to pull the guest room’s door open, it shouldn’t be too surprising given-
  26. >”Argh! O-occupied, occupied!”
  27. “For the love of…it’s the Castle of Friendship, not a damn hotel!”
  28. >Tempest slammed the door shut, muttering to herself as she moved even further into the castle
  29. >Was there some competition going on that she wasn’t aware? Of how many couples can make out in the castle at one given time?
  30. >Tempest wouldn’t have even minded if it wasn’t for the fact that they seemed to be filling up every damn room
  31. >All she wanted was a quiet space to wait out the party going on, then they could do whatever the hell they wanted, horny blighters
  32. >Screw it
  33. >Next room she walked into, she’d just throw out whoever was inside
  34. >She could literally throw a shark man three times her body weight like a rag doll, what was some Ponyville country bumpkin going to do to stop her?
  35. >Resolve strengthened, Tempest all but kicked the door to the next room in
  36. “Finish up your crap and get out!”
  37. >”Wha!?”
  38. > Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, gave Tempest a shocked look
  39. >…Shit
  40.  
  41. >”Wha-Tempest?” Twilight blinked in confusion
  42. “I…I…”
  43. >Tempest seriously considered just closing the door and running; at this point, it wouldn’t have made matters that much worse
  44. “…Sorry, I didn’t know you were in here.”
  45. >Tempest lowered her body and her head to the ground, giving Twilight an apologetic look
  46. >Twilight, as if only just coming to, suddenly jumped in place
  47. >With an impressive speed, the princess whipped around, her horn glowing
  48. >Tempest only just realized that the room she had just stepped into was one castle’s office spaces, and that the princess was hunched over a desk
  49. >Something, awash with the glow of Twilight’s magic, was quickly shoved to one side, and a sheet was quickly thrown over it
  50. >At the distance from the door, Tempest didn’t get a good look at it, but she reckoned there had been the flash of some bright wrapping paper for a second
  51. >Her work hastily covered, Twilight whipped back around, a smile stretched unnaturally across her face
  52. >”H-hey, don’t worry about it! I mean, it’s not like there’s any reason for me to be in here in the first place, h-haha.”
  53. “…right.”
  54. >A awkward pause that seemed to last a small lifetime
  55. >Twilight looked she was trying to will her next words into being, meanwhile Tempest was still grappling with the instinct to just retreat out of the room
  56. >”Sooooo, what brings you to this neck of the woods?”
  57. >Oh boy, Tempest really didn’t need this line of questioning
  58. >Tempest was already forming several lies in her head (most of them excuses revolving around Grubber and a need to shove her hoof up his tail hole), but stopped herself
  59. >Even in her nervous state, the earnestness of Twilight’s purple eyes disarmed Tempest
  60. >She was fairly certain even telling a white lie to Twilight was now somewhat impossible for the unicorn with a broken horn
  61. >Tempest drew in a breath
  62. >Here goes
  63.  
  64. “I was just looking for a quiet spot, just to wait out the party.”
  65. >The nervousness left Twilight, replaced with a very visible concern
  66. >”Why, are you okay? Did you drink too much?”
  67. >Tempest couldn’t resist a smirk
  68. “Please, I could drink Applejack under the table if I wanted to.”
  69. >Unfortunately, Tempest’s humour did little to get rid of the concern on Twilight’s features
  70. >Looks like it was time to come clean
  71. >With a sigh, Tempest stepped fully into the room, closing the door behind her
  72. >The sounds of the distant party became almost nonexistent, not that that fact helped Tempest’s nerves much
  73. “…Twilight, most of those ponies were enslaved on my orders.”
  74. >Understanding suddenly bloomed in Twilight’s eyes, though Tempest could only manage a glance at them at this stage
  75. >”You just need to give them time, Tempest. If anypony’s said-“
  76. “No, it’s nothing they’ve done.”
  77. >Tempest shook her head.
  78. “While no one’s rushing to be friendly, no one’s actually said or done anything. That’s not the problem.”
  79. >Tempest forced herself to look Twilight straight in the eyes
  80. “It doesn’t feel right that I get to just…enjoy a Hearths Warming party, not after everything I did.”
  81. >Now the flood gates were opening, a part of Tempest wanted to just choke out the rest of all the crap that had been weighing on her
  82. >How she couldn’t walk through town and not feel a wave of guilt every time she looked at lives she had nearly torn apart
  83. >How even now, with all the reassurance she had been show, her broken horn still seemed to cause her an exhaustive ache when she looked in the mirror
  84. >How she felt like she could never repay the kindness Twilight had showed her
  85. >But she’d already said enough
  86. >Tempest let out an awkward cough
  87. “Well, I should probably let you get back to what you were doing.”
  88.  
  89. >Tempest hadn’t even turned fully to door when Twilight had walked up to her side
  90. >The broken-horned unicorn only had the time to raise a confused eyebrow before Twilight, alicorn ascendant, princess of friendship, hero of Equestria, throw her hooves around her neck
  91. >Tempest, trained warrior and near conquer of Equestria, just froze up
  92. >One of Tempest’s hooves rose up, caught somewhere between supporting the now leaning Twilight and pushing her off
  93. >…Well, this was happening
  94. “…Okay. Is this part of your whole ‘friendship’ thing, or what?”
  95. >Twilight jumped in place slightly, and gingerly disentangled herself from the taller mare, smiling apologetically
  96. >”Sorry, I got a little caught up in the moment. It’s just that I’ve kind of seen this before, and it doesn’t get any easier to see my friends beat themselves up about it.”
  97. >Seen this before?
  98. “You mean with Starlight?”
  99. >Tempest had spoken to Twilight’s apprentice a couple of times while she had been staying in the castle
  100. >If Tempest was being honest, the talks had helped a little
  101. >At least Tempest had PLANNED to screw over Equestria
  102. >”Errr, among others.”
  103. >Twilight looked uncomfortably at the floor
  104. >”It’s getting to the point where Trixie’s actually suggested they make a club…”
  105. >Tempest didn’t even want to ask
  106. >”Look, the point is that I know the consequences of just locking yourself away, of avoiding your friends who want to help you.”
  107. >Twilight shook her head, a surprisingly firm look in her eyes.
  108. >”Hiding yourself away isn’t going to make anypony, especially not YOU, happy.”
  109. >Tempest wasn’t so sure
  110. >While Twilight was spinning a pretty picture, that didn’t change the fact that no normal pony was going to want see her casually sipping eggnog at the Hearth’s Warming party of the town she nearly indirectly wrecked
  111. >Tempest didn’t say anything, however, merely losing the resolve to look Twilight in the eye
  112.  
  113. >Twilight, aggravatingly perceptive, must have seen the uncertainty in Tempest
  114. >”Look, I’m not going to force you to come down to the party. This room’s going to be free in five minutes, so if you want to stay in here until the party blows over, I won’t stop you.”
  115. >Twilight frowned, giving Tempest an even look
  116. >”But I think you’ll be happier if you at least gave ponies a chance to forgive you.”
  117. >Tempest bristled slightly, feeling like there was some kind of challenge in Twilight’s words
  118. >Not to mention it was hard to not feel a little frustrated at Twilight’s whole idea; how naïve do you have to be to believe that her actions wouldn’t have some blowback from the town’s folk?
  119. >Tempest felt her jaw clench slightly, her horn sparking
  120. >Just as she was about to open her mouth, Tempest stopped herself
  121. >Twilight, more than anyone else in Equestria, had every right to be angry at Tempest
  122. >She would have had every right to have been first in line to throwing Tempest in some rotting cell after everything she had done
  123. >And yet…
  124. >Twilight been the first to forgive her
  125. >The first to make Tempest feel like she could forgive herself
  126. >…Maybe this plan, as naïve and stupid as it was, actually had merit
  127. >Tempest sighed, though a smile played at the edges of her features
  128. “You just can’t let me wallow in broody unhappiness, can you?
  129. >”Hehe, I guess not.”
  130. >Tempest couldn’t beat down a slightly happy smile as Twilight grinned back at her, before a thought came to her
  131. “Thinking about it, what ARE you doing back here anyway?”
  132. >Twilight’s pupils suddenly turned to the size of pin pricks, and Tempest couldn’t help but notice that the alicorn used her magic to push the mysterious covered item on her desk even further from sight
  133. >”E-erm, don’t worry about that! Why don’t you go ahead, and I’ll catch up, alright!?”
  134. >Before Tempest could get another word out, she was being magically pushed out of the room, and Twilight slammed the door on any further questions
  135. “…If you…say so?”
  136.  
  137. >
  138. >
  139. >
  140. >So it was, five minutes of waiting later, Tempest and Twilight were making their way back to the main hall of the castle
  141. >Twilight hadn’t made any comment on what she had been up to, and Tempest was getting too nervous to pry
  142. >Hell, it was worse than just ‘nervous’
  143. >She would happily give someone a new horse-shoe shaped face modification before admitting it out loud, but she was feeling just a touch of fear
  144. >This whole thing had the makings of a terrible idea that was sure to crash and burn
  145. >Still, she was in too deep to back out now
  146. >Twilight, continuing her perceptive streak, bumped into Tempest’s side as they were trotting, giving the unicorn a reassuring smile
  147. >It helped a bit
  148. >A really little bit, but it helped
  149. >Far too quickly for Tempest’s liking, the pair had trotted their way back to the grand doors that led back into the castle’s main hall
  150. >Laughter and an insultingly festive song could be heard from the other side
  151. >Tempest drew herself up
  152. >Here goes nothing
  153. >The sounds of the party hit Tempest like a physical slap as soon as Twilight pulled open the doors, opening the gap to be just wide enough for the two of them to slip through
  154. >The festivities were in full swing when they stepped into the hall: everyone was singing, gifts were being practically thrown at recipients, foals and fillys were running between the adults legs in some hall wide game of tag, and eggnog and alcohol was flowing like water
  155. >A small cheer went up as soon as Twilight was spotted, and the alicorn was swamped with well-wishers
  156. >Tempest wasn’t too surprised when most well wishers gave her a wide berth; in all honesty she was happy that she wasn’t receiving any dirty looks
  157. >”Happy Hearth’s Warming, Twilight!”
  158. >Three simultaneous voices, all belonging to young fillies with oddly matching Cutie Marks
  159. >”Aww, thanks girls.”
  160. >”And you too, Miss Berrytwist!”
  161. >Wat
  162.  
  163. >Tempest looked down properly, straight at the three fillies
  164. >A yellow earth filly, an orange pegasus filly, and white unicorn filly all beamed earnestly back at her
  165. >They didn’t even look remotely off put
  166. “Err, y-you too?”
  167. >The three fillies soon ran off, disappearing into the crowd
  168. >Tempest looked up to see that Twilight was just as surprised as she was, though the princess soon recovered enough to give her a pleased looking shrug
  169. >Huh
  170. >Tempest followed Twilight as she made her way through the crowd of Ponyville residents, heading in the rough direction of the expansive buffet table
  171. >Exactly as Tempest had predicted, Grubber was stuffing his face, completely oblivious to the curious looks he was earning by shoving in an entire Hearth’s Warming cake down his gullet
  172. >Twilight wasn’t heading towards the cakes though, instead aiming for the punch, or more likely the group currently gathered around it
  173. >The other ‘Elements of Harmony’ let out a chorus of greetings as Twilight approached, with Pinkie already slipping a glass of punch into the princesses’ hooves in a movement that was almost too quick to follow
  174. >Twilight slipped into the conversation they were having almost effortlessly; apparently Rainbow and Applejack were getting into some debate about who had the more kick-flank pet (“Tank is practically indestructible!”), Fluttershy was giggle about some comment that Rarity was making about her winter fashion line, and Pinkie was…Pinkie
  175. >Tempest hovered at the edge of the circle of friends
  176. >It seemed like she would be making herself something of a seventh wheel if she tried to join the conversation, but she wasn’t entirely sure if wandering off into the party was exactly a good idea; the small amount of mercy she had received thus far might stem from her proximity to the princess
  177. >”Hey, Tempest!”
  178.  
  179. >Tempest looked up, blinking as she came face to face with an expectant Rainbow Dash
  180. >”I need you to be the tie breaker here! Which do you think makes the better pet, an awesome, flying, indestructible turtle or some mutt?”
  181. >Applejack rolled her eyes behind Rainbow’s back, but kept her confident smile
  182. >Tempest was confused about why she was even being asked, but it’d probably be best just to answer the question
  183. >The unicorn was silent for a long, long stretch, her face impressively neutral
  184. “A dog is more useful-”
  185. >”Gah!”
  186. >Rainbow groaned as Applejack let out a laugh
  187. >It was all Tempest could do to keep an amused (if slightly bemused) smile off her face as Applejack pressed a glass of punch into her hooves, almost throwing the unicorn off balance as she slapped her back in gratitude
  188. >Tempest blinked in surprise when the apple farmer casually pulled her into the circle of friends, the unicorn suddenly finding herself standing shoulder to shoulder with the six ponies as they chatted away
  189. >Tempest uncertainly fiddled with her drink, slightly at a lost as what to do
  190. >Turns out she didn’t need to wait long for prompting
  191. >”Oh my gosh, Fizzlepop!”
  192. >Tempest let out a grunt as Pinkie suddenly zipped up into her side, knocking the wind out of her
  193. >”I just realized that we never set up anything celebrate this being your first ever Hearth’s Warming in Ponyville, and we definitely didn’t set up anything to celebrate this being Grubber’s first Hearth’s Warming either, which means that we’ve missed two chances to make this extra super amazingly special party, and-“
  194. “P-Pinkie, it’s alight.”
  195. >Tempest, between gasping in air, gave the hyper earth pony a smile
  196. “I’m sure me and Grubber can survive with just a normal Hearth’s Warming”
  197. >As Pinkie let out a disappointed ‘aww,’ Tempest looked over what was happening
  198. >The six friends were just chatting away, as if Tempest being there was the most normal thing in the world
  199.  
  200. >Tempest wasn’t entirely sure what the heck was going on, but she squared her shoulders
  201. >Now that she was caught in the middle like this, she might as well do her best
  202. >For a while, she nodded along as Rarity ranted about some kind of fashion incident (“and I told her if she didn’t take that dress off, she WOULD be caught dead in it-”), before getting into a surprisingly animated discussion with Rainbow when she mentioned that she had come across prosthetic wings during her days in the Storm King’s army.
  203. >She’d even managed to get a few words in with Fluttershy, though the butter yellow pegasus didn’t seem to realize that Tempest had been joking when she had asked for her opinion on taking Grubber to the vet
  204. >Tempest had just managed to start talking to Applejack when Pinkie had suddenly shouted something about ‘crazy awesome snowmares’
  205. >What happened next was kind of a blur for Tempest
  206. >As far as she could gather, Pinkie had somehow managed to pick up all of her friends and Tempest at once, rush through the crowd of Ponyville inhabitants, and drop them all down outside in the frosty snow, all in less than couple of seconds
  207. >Pinkie’s friends didn’t seem all that surprised
  208. >Tempest dusted the snow off her side as she stood to her hooves, blinking as she glanced around
  209. >True to her word, Pinkie had dropped them off right in front of a set of snowmares, complete with stones for eyes and sticks for a crude tail
  210. >While certainly…cute, Tempest didn’t really see what all the fuss was about
  211. >Apparently, Rainbow agreed, as she turned to the beaming pink mare, with a agitated huff
  212. >”That’s really neat, Pinkie, but was it REALLY worth dragging us out here?”
  213. >”Nope, but it was worth it to put you in the perfect place for a snowball fight!”
  214. >”Snowball wha-”
  215.  
  216. >Rainbow was literally knocked out of the air when the snowball impacted her face, her fall causing a perfect Rainbow shaped hole in a snow drift
  217. >The rest of the Elements were silent and still, all eyes turning to Pinkie, who was suddenly standing next to a stockpile of snowballs
  218. >Pinkie’s face promised no mercy, and she was already gleefully reaching for another projectile
  219. >Tempest, already seeing the disaster approaching, took several steps back and waved a hoof
  220. “Please just leave me out of this.”
  221. >As if breaking the silence had flipped the ‘everyone lose their shit switch,’ the six ponies descended into madness
  222. >Pinkie started throwing snowballs like she was getting paid by the ball
  223. >Applejack had managed to bound behind the snow drift, launching entire sheets of snow with her rear hooves directly from the ground
  224. >Twilight used her wings for cover as she tried to withstand Pinkie’s relentless barrage, though curiously didn’t use her magic as she tried to gather up snowballs
  225. >Rarity dived for cover, shouting ‘Not the mane! Not the mane!’
  226. >Rainbow exploded out of the snow drift, tens of snowballs held by her wings, screaming something about it being a ‘good day to die’
  227. >Fluttershy was actually being the most aggressively, immediately returning fire, though Tempest was fairly certain she was apologising with every snowball thrown
  228. >All the while, every single one of the was laughing and grinning, even as they got pelted by snowballs
  229. >Tempest reflected that she was watching what were essentially national heroes muck about in the snow like fillies half their age
  230. >This was turning out to be an odd day
  231. >”Tempest!”
  232. >The unicorn turned to look at Twilight, currently ducking behind a tree, waving at her with a grin
  233. >”Come on, I need some help over here!”
  234. “Ehh, snowball fights aren’t really my-
  235. >Tempest’s head recoiled as a snowball exploded against her head
  236. >The cold sting of snow and ice brought surprisingly clarity to Tempest’s rage
  237. >Slowly, slowly, she turned her head
  238. >Judging by her guilty expression, that had actually come from Rarity of all ponies
  239. >Tempest managed to maintain her severve look for only a second longer before she grinned
  240. “It’s time to open up your eyes…”
  241.  
  242. >
  243. >
  244. >
  245. >Finally, the battle was done
  246. >The battle ground was marred by the affliction of war
  247. >(Twilight’s castle had suffered a number of hits; someone was going to have to scrap all that snow off the windows)
  248. >And causalities had been made
  249. >(Applejack had tackled Rainbow into one of the snowmares, in a display that had been excessive as it have been hilarious)
  250. >But at least peace was finally at hand
  251. >(Fluttershy had been declared the winner when it was discovered she hadn’t been hit once)
  252. >Tempest, meanwhile, was just glad it finally over
  253. >The unicorn’s breath’s came out in pants, the frost evening air turning to mist in front of her mouth
  254. >Tempest had fallen to the ground, her back against the cold snow, mere moments after the snowball battle had drawn to a close
  255. >That had been, hooves down, one of the most exhausting couple of minutes of her life
  256. >It had also been one of the most fun
  257. >She felt a little foolish: she had been throwing around snow and dodging around like a child
  258. >Here she was, ex-commander Tempest, acting like she still a school filly
  259. >But a part of her didn’t mind
  260. >It felt pretty nice, to be able to let go of the mire of thoughts that had been scratching at the back of her mind, and to just feel the cold snap of snow pelting off her sides, and to hear laughter as she retaliated
  261. >…
  262. >…
  263. >...Ahh damn it, is this that ‘magic of friendship’ crap coming through?
  264. >”You alright down there, Tempest?”
  265. >Tempest swivelled her gaze around, turning from the quickly darkening sky, to look at the hovering face of Twilight
  266. >After a second Tempest huffed, and admitted
  267. “No, I’m freezing my tail off.”
  268. >Twilight snorted out a laugh, before offering a hoof
  269.  
  270. >Tempest grunted as she clambered back up, shaking her head to clear her mane of snow
  271. >She turned around just in time to see Pinkie congregating Fluttershy on her win, and presenting her prize: she got to receive her Hearth’s Warming gift first!
  272. >Of course, Pinkie then immediately passed out the gifts for all of her friends anyway, though Fluttershy still looked fairly happy
  273. >Gifts…
  274. >Thinking about it, Tempest hadn’t given anyone a gift for Hearth’s Warming for quite a few years
  275. >Hadn’t received one, either
  276. >There wasn’t much of an opportunity, since Hearth’s Warming was only celebrated in Equestria, and the Storm King’s army wasn’t big on sentimental gifts anyway
  277. >But things were pretty different now
  278. >Tempest found her gaze wander over to Twilight, who was watching her friends with a sentimental smile
  279. >Maybe this was a good year to get back in the swing of things
  280. >”Welp, dunno about you girls, but I’m mighty hungry after all that.”
  281. >Applejack nodded back to the castle
  282. >”Let’s get back inside before all the grubs gone.”
  283. >The rest of the Elements were in agreement, and collectively turned to climb back up the stairs leading back to the inside of the castle, the promise of warmth and food acting as a siren call
  284. >Twilight had been about to take the first step up when she realized Tempest wasn’t following her
  285. >Turning around, the princess spied the unicorn, looking back to the darkened village of Ponyville
  286. >”Tempest? Are you alright?”
  287. “…Yea, I’m fine.”
  288. >Tempest turned to face the princess, her expression even
  289. “But you go on ahead, I just need to take care of something.”
  290. >At Twilight’s concerned expression, Tempest waved a hoof dismissively
  291. “It’s nothing serious, it’s just running an errand. Honestly, you go ahead.”
  292. >It took a few seconds of worry, but Twilight eventually nodded, turning to go back into the castle
  293. >Tempest waited until Twilight was out of sight, before she turned back to the town
  294. >Or more specifically, the gem rich mountain that laid just beyond
  295. >She had a plan
  296. >A pretty stupid one, but they seemed to have a habit of working out around here
  297. >Tempest broke in a gallop, destination already in mind
  298.  
  299. >
  300. >
  301. >
  302. >It was solidly past evening when Tempest finally trotted back up to the castle, with night already overtaken the sky
  303. >The whole building was dead silent; it looked like Tempest had missed the party
  304. >Tempest would have sighed if it wasn’t for the rough hewn bag that she had gripped in her teeth
  305. >While she didn’t regret going to get the gift, she’ll admit that she had been starting to actually have some fun at that party
  306. >Ah well
  307. >Tempest climbed up the stairs, an pushed her way into the building
  308. >The main hall was still a mess; presumably the cleaning effort was going to be begin in the morning
  309. >In addition, the whole place was dark, with the only light sources coming the moonlight filtering in from the windows, and from under a door leading to one of the many studies
  310. >Wait, what? Who the hell was still up at this hour?
  311. >Blinking in confusion, Tempest stalked quietly across the main hall, quietly pulling the door to the study open
  312. >This particular study was one of the cosy ones, being a small and unassuming room with simple wooden book cases and a soft red carpeting
  313. >Even the room’s fireplace was fairly small, though it currently crackled and snapped with burning lumber
  314. >Twilight was sitting in middle of the room straight in front of the fire place, a book floating in her magic before her
  315. >It took Tempest a second to realize that Twilight was actually agitatedly glancing at the room’s clock every few seconds, in addition to shifting uncomfortably where she lay
  316. >Tempest could make a fairly solid guess as to what was making her so unsettled
  317. >Opening the door fully and clearing her throat, Tempest wasn’t too surprised when Twilight snapped her gaze around
  318. >”Tempest! There you are! We were worr-…what the hay happened to you!?”
  319.  
  320. “Ehh, turns out that there were a few more Diamond Dogs in that mountain that I expected.”
  321. >Tempest coughed out after Twilight had insistently dragged the other mare over to the fire place, Tempest putting her gift down as Twilight pocked and prodded at the scrapes Tempest had accumulated
  322. >”Diamond Dogs!? What the heck happened?”
  323. >Tempest had the creeping suspicion that answering this question wasn’t going to make Twilight any happier…
  324. “I kind of came up with an idea for a specific gift I wanted, but I needed a pretty sizable gem for it. I thought it would be a pretty simple of grabbing one from the mountain that Rarity always uses for her mining expeditions, but then Diamond Dogs got involved.”
  325. >Tempest paused before smirking slightly
  326. “Don’t worry, THEY got off a lot worse than me.”
  327. >”You could have at least told me where you were going.”
  328. >Twilight sighed, and Tempest only just realized how wary the princess looked
  329. >”It’s not exactly normal for ponies to go disappearing into night to run ‘errands,’ you know. I was starting to get worried that something had happened.”
  330. >Tempest felt tempted to brag that there wasn’t a whole lot that could actually give her trouble, and that she had never been in any real danger
  331. >But looking at the wariness that seemed to hang off Twilight’s caused her to pause
  332. >She was going to have to get used to this whole ‘there are other ponies that care whether you live or die’ thing again
  333. “Sorry, Twilight. That wasn’t okay for me to do.”
  334. >Tempest hung her head
  335. >There was some small part of her that wondered if she should…hug Twilight, or something, but Tempest thought better of it in the end
  336. >Thankfully, Twilight seemed to be satisfied with just the apology, giving Tempest a small smile
  337. >After a moment of silence, Twilight pondered
  338. >”Still, that must be quite the gift for you to go to all that trouble. Who’s the lucky pony?”
  339. >Oh boy
  340.  
  341. >Tempest tried to think of a way to word the matter, but eventually settled with awkwardly sliding the bag containing her gift over to Twilight
  342. >It actually took Twilight a second to get the message, and she startled in place when she did
  343. >”Oh! You…actually went through all that for me?”
  344. >Tempest shrugged
  345. “Certainly looks that way.”
  346. >There was a pause, as Twilight pawed her hooves against the string tying the bag closed
  347. >”Is it alright if I open it now?”
  348. >Tempest glanced at the clock, seeing it was past midnight, before shrugging again
  349. >Twilight took that as a yes, as she began to use her magic to yank the bag open
  350. >The princess blinked as she slid the bag’s contents out, revealing,
  351. >”A gem?”
  352. >More specifically, a rough hewn amethyst with a cord of wire cut through its body
  353. >Twilight turned the gem over a couple of times, examining it
  354. >Tempest felt a pit forming in her stomach, worry starting to gnaw at her
  355. >Thankfully, Twilight saw the trick
  356. >Twilight turned the gem until the light of the fire was visible through the gem, and a image started to form within the amethyst
  357. >The image was faded and crude, but one could just about make out a pretty familiar fire-works display over a pretty familiar Friendship Festival
  358. >Twilight’s eyes widened slightly
  359. >”Is this-?”
  360. “Yea, another gem for that chandelier over the map.”
  361. >Tempest shifted in place, not quite being able to look Twilight in the eye
  362. “I know it’s not exactly original, but it was the best I could do in such a short time-”
  363. >Twilight was already throwing a wing and a hoof around Tempest’s neck before she could finish
  364. >”I love it.”
  365. >Amazingly enough, she actually sounded sincere
  366.  
  367. “Are you sure? I mean, it’s mostly just adding on to a gift someone else already gave you.”
  368. >”When it’s my friend that’s adding to it, I’m more than happy. Heck, that makes the gift extra special in my book.”
  369. >Tempest ‘hmm’d in thought, but didn’t comment otherwise
  370. >…’When it’s my friend,’ eh?
  371. >So Twilight actually did consider her a friend
  372. >Tempest was little uncomfortable with how much weight seemed to leave her shoulders at that thought alone
  373. >Tempest took a glance at the princess out of the corner of her eye
  374. >Twilight was idly fiddling with amathest, looking pretty fondly at the image in it’s core
  375. >If you had told Tempest half a year ago that being the friend to some overly sentimental, wholly too naïve and overall silly princess would have meant so much to her, Tempest would have most likely fried you
  376. >Now though? Who knows.
  377. >”Besides, when I stop to think about it, it’s actually the SECOND greatest gift you’ve given me this year.”
  378. >Tempest turned her gaze to look at Twilight properly
  379. >The princess was giving her a pointed, happy smile
  380. >The broken horned unicorn was silent for a while, before snorting
  381. “You ponies sure are a corny bunch.”
  382. >”Says you!”
  383. >Twilight pushed against Tempest’s shoulder, causing the unicorn to laugh
  384. >”You know what? Buck it. I’m going to get your Hearth’s Warming gift, then you can judge whether I’m corny or not.”
  385. >Tempest blinked in surprise as Twilight picked herself up and ducked out of the room. Tempest’s gift?
  386. >Suddenly, Tempest found herself alone, with the crackling of the fire being the only sound to accompany the sound of her own breathing
  387. >…Well, looks like she finally got that quiet time to herself, in the end
  388. >Even while she had been out looking for the gem, she had the unfortunate company of Diamond Dogs
  389. >Tempest allowed her breathing to balance, and for her mind to settle
  390.  
  391. >…When she stopped to think about it, that Hearth’s Warming party had gone better than it had any right to
  392. >Twilight’s friends had acted like had always been welcome to join them, like she hadn’t been trying to deliver some serious harm to them only a handful of months ago
  393. >Tempest entertained the idea of her actually hanging around them more often, letting herself actually enjoy the forgiveness they seem to be willing to heap on her
  394. >She could just slip into some kind of routine; let herself be dragged along on their escapades, spending sleepy days in Ponyville, and making some kind of honest life to make up for the disastrous one she had been leading all this time
  395. >…Why was it so hard, then, to just let the idea take root on her mind? Those six had made it clear that they were willing to put the past behind them, even if the rest of the town was a little bit more reasonable in being cautious
  396. >For a few breaths, Tempest almost convinced herself that she didn’t know the reason
  397. >But the answer was pretty obvious
  398. >This whole thing felt like a waiting game, and the end result was the axe finally falling
  399. >SOMETHING about this situation would have to give way
  400. >Maybe someone would finally realize that she didn’t deserve the redemption everyone was trying to convince her she was owed
  401. >Maybe one of the many elements of her past would finally catch up to her
  402. >Maybe Tempest would just realize that she been too twisted to fit into quiet life Ponyville offered, and that eventually she would be the one to give up and flee…again
  403. >…
  404. >…
  405. >Tempest sighed
  406. >With all these doubts, she wondered why she hadn’t tried to flee off into the night already
  407. > What the heck was keeping her tied down? What the heck was giving her even the slightest delusion this would work out?
  408. >Tempest jumped as the door to the study suddenly slammed open
  409. >”Oops, sorry.”
  410. >Twilight gingerly closed the door
  411.  
  412. >Tempest craned her neck back, watching carefully as Twilight resettled next to her, a festively wrapped box levitating besides her head
  413. >Huh
  414. >So Twilight actually had indeed get her a gift
  415. >Tempest even vaguely recognised the wrapping paper from when she had startled Twilight back at the start of the evening
  416. >”…Okay, so it’s a little corny.”
  417. >Twilight admitted as she gently dropped the box in front of Tempest
  418. >”But I think you’ll still like it; it seems pretty ‘you.’”
  419. >Tempest didn’t comment, instead just running her eyes over the gift in front of her
  420. >The box was about as big as her head, but the subtle sound of shaking from inside hinted that the gift was smaller than whatever box it was being carried in
  421. >Twilight’s magic made it impossible to judge whether it was heavy or light
  422. >…This would be her first Hearth’s Warming gift in…more than a few years
  423. >It felt kind of odd to be given something so freely
  424. >It felt kind of odd that someone actually believed she DESERVED to be given something so freely
  425. >Tempest’s eyes turned to look at Twilight, who was looking at her with excited anticipation
  426. >…Well, if there was one pony in all of Equestria that would…
  427. >”Tempest? Aren’t you going to open it?”
  428. “…Maybe in the morning.”
  429. >Twilight blinked in confusion, before letting out a startled noise when Tempest gently rested her head against Twilight’s withers
  430. >She let out an undignified yawn
  431. “Right now, all I want to do is sleep for the next three days. You girls snowball fight like demons.”
  432. >Twilight blinked, before smiling and settling into a comfy position
  433. >Tempest could feel the steady breathing of the mare next her, and she let the rhythm slowly lull her into a drowsy state
  434. >All the while, she kept an eye on the dwindling flames in the fire place before them
  435. >The fire would eventually go out, and eventually the two were going to have to actually head for bed
  436. >But for now, Tempest felt like she was exactly where she wanted to be
  437. >”Happy Hearth’s Warming, Tempest.”
  438. “Happy Hearth’s Warming, Twilight.”
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