Mid-morning, Canterlot Castle.
Celestia glanced away from the police reports spread over her desktop to her sister standing in the doorway. "Oh, Luna, come in. Excuse me a moment, I'm just..." Celestia chuckled. "With an F-1 racing chariot? Where'd he even get the costumes?"
"Erm, Celly?" Luna's urgent tone proceeded to be ignored as Celestia's giggling grew stronger.
"At a soccer game? And no one realized? Oh, Goddess..."
"Celly, I need to -" Luna was interrupted again as Celestia's laugh became a bellowing guffaw.
"That one in a zoo!" she exclaimed with a mix of disbelief and admiration, "And with so many other ponies, too! Oh, Rémi, if only I had your brilliance..." Luna witnessed her sister's eyes close as she began to subtly bite her lip, clearly lost in some fantasy nopony should ever be made aware of, and lost it.
Celestia jolted, refocusing on her sister. "Oh, yes? What's wrong?"
Luna, fuming, slammed a magazine on her sister's desk. "This."
Celestia looked at the magazine, then at Luna with her eyebrow raised. "The tabloids?"
Celestia stared at her enraged sister for a few more seconds, then turned back to the magazine. "'Pony Joe as first recruit of the radical New Lunar Republic?' Oh, dear...'Eating disorder to blame for Princess Luna's choice of stallion?' Now why would they...'Princess obliterates her own office in a night of donut-ridden passion?'" Celestia looked back to Luna with a visage that managed a quizzical, concerned, and slightly amused tone all at once. Luna ignored this, her muzzle scarlet with fury.
"Exactly!" Luna's voice ran with deep reverberation, and she began to pace around Celestia's office. "They think they get away with slander of this breadth, do they?! I demand that everypony working in the establishment printing this publication be tried, put in the stocks, and thrown in the dungeons! It's a villainy most foul, I tellest thou!"
Celestia blinked. "Luna, I thought we'd fixed this..."
Luna froze in mid-stride, the red in her face turning to blush for a moment. "Erm, my apologies, Celly. Relapse."
"'Relapse' indeed," agreed Celestia, "And anyways..." She sighed. "I'm sorry, Luna, but what we called 'slander' one thousand years ago now goes by another name."
"Which would be?"
"'Journalism.' And, might I add, it's legal."
Luna's jaw dropped. "S-so we can do nothing?"
Celestia smirked, reclining slightly. "Oh, I wouldn't say that, but -"
Both princesses jolted as somepony began knocking.
"Come in!" beckoned Celestia.
Into the office trotted a pony bearing the unmistakable armor of a royal guard. He bowed, then removed his helmet before speaking.
"Princess Celestia, Princess Luna," he said flatly, "We have two ponies out here, both requesting to see..." He turned to Luna. "...Well, you."
"I'm certain that about everypony in Canterlot wants to see my sister," said Celestia, "Why these two?"
"Well, the first one," he replied, "I thought you might want to see..."
Thirty-seven minutes earlier...
Pony Joe was gasping for breath, pacing around the donut shop floor while listening to the spastic flurry of hoofbeats on the front door.
"Okay," he murmured to himself, "Okay, PJ, what now?"
He looked around his shop, from the front counter, to the thumping door, to each of the locked and covered windows, and back to the counter.
"...That was helpful," he muttered angrily, "Come on, think!"
He paced in a circle around the central triad of tables, the very same which he'd had to replace not days before.
"The roof?" he thought aloud, "...Nah, wouldn't work. Teleporting?" A few seconds passed as he considered it. "...Who am I kidding? I'd make it ten feet, at best." About the sixth time around the tables, he paused, looked up, and grimaced. "...Aw, no. No, no bucking way." Without ceasing his self-objections, Pony Joe trotted slowly to the back of his shop and to a familiar chute, gingerly opening it and looking down the black void of discarded pastries. He sighed.
"...Well," he said, "It wouldn't be the first time."
The star-maned princess blinked, observing the trash-covered donut salespony standing before her. There were violet grape-jelly stains along the side of his apron, sugar-glaze smeared through his coat, butterscotch cream under one eye, and, for some reason unbeknownst even to him, a banana peel hanging from his wrinkled paper hat. "How did -"
"Don't ask," he interrupted with a sheepish grin.
Luna returned the smile. "I was going to ask how you made it to the castle."
"It's not obvious?"
This drew a chuckle from Luna. "I meant after that."
"It wasn't as tricky as you'd think. Not many ponies were outside the castle; your guards were making sure of that."
The royal guard pony, still in the doorway, interjected: "The crowds were getting unruly, and we were forced to disperse them. We were about to send him away, as well, but one of the gate patrols recognized him. I decided that it would be best to let you deal with him personally."
Luna turned to the armored unicorn, and nodded. "Well done, I'll see that your diligence is rewarded." She paused. "And you said that there was somepony else?"
"Ah, yes," he confirmed, "I'm sure that you'll want to deal with this one, personally, too..."
Approximately one hour earlier...
Snapshot only smiled at Dee. "Come on, it's like any other job we've done."
Dee paused, staring at her long-time partner incredulously. "Are you even listening to yourself, Snapshot? This is Canterlot Castle you're thinking about!" Taking a breath, she continued. "And how do you plan on getting inside, anyways?"
Snapshot just stood there with a dumb smile.
"...I take it you have a way in, then?"
He nodded, then began to make his way to the office door. "Come on, time's wasting."
Dee sat for a moment more, and sighed, chuckling softly to herself. "You crazy foal."
Dee, mouth agape, stared back and forth between Snapshot and the metal chute hanging above the rancid metal dumpster before her. "You're joking. Please tell me that you're joking."
"Hey, I'm not saying it'll be fun." Climbing onto the edge of the dumpster, he added, "But a story like this doesn't come around every day."
Dee shook her her head, smiling. "You're insane, Snapshot."
"So you've told me. Now, are you coming, or not?"
"Um..." She pointed a hoof at his wings. "I'm not quite sure if I even can."
Puzzled, Snapshot looked at his wings, then at the chute. "Oh, right." Undeterred, he turned back to his old friend. "Tell you what: when I get out, I'll tell you all about it."
Snapshot's smile shrunk. "What is it?"
"Nothing," replied Dee in an unusually apologetic tone, "It's just...I've got plans tonight."
Snapshot felt his heart skip a beat. "Oh." Within moments, however, his smile made a triumphant return. "No worries, then. See you at work tomorrow?
"Alright. And Snapshot..."
He paused, one hoof already in the dumpster. "Yeah?"
Dee sighed, taking an unusually concerned tone. "Just be careful. Alright, old buddy?"
Snapshot scoffed. "Trust me, Dee; I'll be fine."
Snapshot stood trembling in the doorway. He looked pitiful with caviar streaked across one wing, creamed carrots over the other, salad dressing smeared on one side of his neck, and, inexplicably, a banana peel hanging off his fedora.
"We found him when he was walking out of the kitchen," reported the guard, "Doesn't seem anything more than a nosy paparazzi, though."
Celestia, any essence of even the lightest amusement vanished from her face, leaned over on her front hooves. "Paparazzi, eh? Well, then, I -"
Before Celestia could finish, Luna urgently interrupted, "Did you have anything with...with..." She levitated the magazine up and to the terrified pegasus. "With this?"
"Y-y-yes," he stammered, "I-I mean, no! I mean, kind of..."
Luna glared. "You're not coming through..."
"I...I'm Snapshot, your majesty. I just take the pictures."
The admission left Luna suddenly unsure of her next response. "Just...the pictures?" she echoed.
Luna stood there, silent. Celestia cleared her throat. "Well, then...guards, please escort him to the dungeon while Luna and I discuss his punishment."
"Yes ma'am." Turning to Snapshot, he barked, "You heard her majesty. Come on!"
As Snapshot was escorted from the room and the door closed, Celestia turned to her sister. "So, then. Your opinion, Luna?"
Luna frowned, her brow furrowed. "I..." She paused, then trotted out the door before saying, "I need to think."
The room was silent for a moment. After that moment, Celestia turned to Pony Joe, nudging her head towards the door. "Go on, then."
Pony Joe nodded. "Yes, your highness." He started towards the door, then paused and turned back to Celestia. "Can I wash up first?"
Pony Joe found Luna sitting in one of the private courtyards, sullenly staring at a nearby fountain. He trotted up, having discarded his paper hat and left his apron in the castle laundry room (with Celestia's permission). Awkwardly, he spoke. "Hi, Luna."
She looked up, chuckling in spite of herself. "You certainly took your time getting here."
He returned the laugh. "I wasn't gonna be cuddling with a mare of royalty while there's a banana peel hanging off my head," he replied jokingly.
Luna's sulking was immediately replaced by confusion. "What is this 'cuddling' that you speak of?"
Pony Joe's lower jaw dropped slightly. "Erm..."
"Well?" asked Luna persistently.
Pony Joe stammered, "W-well, um...cuddling is when...it's two ponies who...uh..." He sighed, then boldly declared: "Let me show you."
Luna watched as he sat next to her, and her eyes widened and her heart raced as he softly put his neck over hers, holding her close. She began blushing madly, almost as madly as he was.
"...S-so...i-it's like a...a hug, then?" she stuttered, "Exc-cept from the side and...longer?"
Pony Joe laughed. "You're adorable."
Luna's eyes narrowed slightly, contrasting with her pink cheeks. "N-not to mention taller, older, more powerful, a-and...oh, stop laughing!"
His chuckling softened, but failed to stop. "Sorry, Luna. It's just not everyday that you get away with calling one of the royal sisters 'adorable.'"
Luna was silent for a moment, then burst into a giggling fit, her face still a raging pink. "Point taken."
The silence stretched on for several minutes, the blush in Luna's cheeks slowly diminishing as she grew more comfortable in this 'cuddling' position. Finally, Pony Joe asked the burning question: "What now?"
Luna frowned, and sighed. "I don't know, PJ. What they wrote about me was beyond insulting..."
"I'm sure it wasn't that bad," replied Pony Joe somewhat stupidly.
Luna chuckled. "'Princess Luna is also rumored to indulge in perverse practices involving a quartet of socks, an abacus, and a tennis racket during her nights with Pony Joe.' And that was hardly the worst of it..."
"...All right," Pony Joe conceded, "So it was that bad. But I'm not sure sending that poor guy to the dungeon is a good move."
Surprisingly, Luna's reaction was to laugh. "I miss something?" asked Pony Joe.
Luna shook her head. "No, no, you're right..." She snickered once more before resuming her semi-somber tone. "Still, though, I don't...I'm not..." She sighed. "Things were so much simpler a thousand years ago."
Pony Joe coughed out a laugh. "Yeah, back when bathing was unhealthy and leeches worked for everything."
Luna looked up, defensively proclaiming, "I'll have you know, I personally made great strides in the use of leeches to cure the Vapours!"
Pony Joe stared, confused. "Err...Vapours?"
Luna sighed. "Nevermind. My point is that a millennium ago, nopony would even think this situation possible, let alone common."
Pony Joe shrugged. "I'm not saying your wrong. Times just change, I guess."
Luna scoffed. "No need to tell me." Semi-reluctantly, she uncurled herself from under Pony Joe and began pacing around him, her eyes locked on her cyclical path. "From the moment I returned, I've faced change after change. I find myself bewildered by modern entertainment, I still cringe at the sight of unshorn fetlocks..." She paused, taking a moment to look back at Pony Joe. "You couldn't even imagine what happened the first time I tried using a microwave." She turned her gaze forward again, and her trot continued. "But I've adapted as best as I possibly can. In fact, one of my most difficult adjustments is now possibly my favorite time of the year."
"And that would be?" asked an intently listening Pony Joe.
Luna paused once more, smiling at the memory before once again taking up her pace. "Nightmare Night, to tell you the truth. At first, I could not help but to find the concept positively abhorrent. Annually, ponies across Equestria would make a mockery of their princess, equating her - erm, me, to the manticores hiding under their beds. At least, that was what I had feared. Within one night, however, my initial impressions were proven false. I had desired love and admiration, and as shown to me, that's precisely what I was receiving. But what's happened today..." Once more, she paused, and she closed her eyes. "I see no redeeming quality. What these ponies have done is slanderous, it's ignorant..."
Pony Joe noticed a growing shakiness in Luna's voice.
"...It's spiteful..." Luna's eyelids grew tighter together. "...It's cruel," she said, a rim of moisture forming on her eyelashes.
Pony Joe quickly realized that he had just become quite possibly the only pony alive to witness Luna - the revered and all-powerful princess of the night - be brought to tears. Tentatively, he trotted up, gently putting his neck over hers.
Luna curled into Pony Joe, shaking her head as she stemmed the flow of tears. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, "A princess should remain more composed."
"Says the pony that obliterated her office not days ago."
Luna laughed in spite of herself. "My point exactly. Since my return, the very essence of calm has all but eluded me. I can't help but to almost constantly feel anxious, or hostile, or bewildered, or...or..." She laughed softly. "Or in this case, loquacious."
"Well, what do you mean?"
Luna sighed. "To tell the truth, I can't quite put my hoof on what's been causing it."
"...No, what does 'loquacious' mean?"
"Oh." Luna paused. "Erm, I believe that a proper synonym would be 'talkative.'"
Pony Joe nodded. "Right." Pony Joe took a step back from Luna, looking at her with a reassuring smile. "And I get it, Luna. I've been there."
Luna's expression morphed into one of mildly confused skepticism (as well it should have).
"...I'm not trying to say I've been through anything you have," he added, "Kind of hard to match a generation gap spanning a thousand years, even I know that. But either way, I'm familiar with those feelings. That things are passing too quickly, that nothing's making sense..." His smile faltered, and it seemed as if he were staring into the distance. "...Wanting everything to go back to how it was before."
Luna cocked her head to one side. "...Is there something that you're wishing to tell me?"
Pony Joe's eyes immediately refocused, and his smile returned. "It's nothing," he lied. Changing the subject, he asked, "So, have you decided what to with that paparazzi pony?"
Luna stood still for a moment, then nodded.
"Good." As they trotted towards the courtyard entrance together, Pony Joe couldn't help but to ask, "What's this dungeon of yours like, anyways?"
The dungeon, as it turned out, was a light gray, 8-by-10 cell placed between the Lost and Found and the Canterlot Castle Souvenir Emporium. Its original and primary purpose had been to detain shoplifters, but Celestia could hardly resist the archaic title. Its current occupant was a very specific fedora-wearing pegasus that smelled vaguely of moldy alfalfa and rotten bananas. Currently, he was passing the time with a decidedly racy magazine that one of the guards had been kind enough to lend him. He maintained, however, that it was 'just for the articles.'
He looked up at the sound of the door opening, reflexively obscuring the magazine's front cover. In trotted two royal guards, one of whom stood at the side while the other one unlocked the cell.
Snapshot looked at both of them, then finally asked, "Am I leaving, then?"
The guard at the side nodded, declaring, "You're free to go, by order of Princess Luna herself."
Snapshot stood up, trotting out of the cell before setting the magazine on a nearby desk. "Well, good-bye, boys. It's been..." He searched for the proper word. "...Gray?" Receiving no response, he trotted hurriedly out the door, and after that, out of the Canterlot Castle gates.
Within yards of leaving, Snapshot saw a familiar, sandy-maned pony napping against a tree trunk. Smiling, he strode up to her, waking her up with: "What, your date get canceled?"
Dee snapped awake and looked at Snapshot, quiet for a few seconds. For a moment, Snapshot swore that he saw relief in her eyes. Immediately after, however, she bolted to her feet and began furiously smacking Snapshot over the head. "You moron," she spat, "You big, bucking idiot!"
Snapshot covered his head, trying to ward off Dee's blows. "Ow! Dee, would you - ow! By Celestia, Dee, what's - ow! - what's your problem?"
Dee ceased her assault, taking a step back from Snapshot. "You have no idea, do you? Oh, you idiot..." She began pacing over the same three feet of grass. "You couldn't have just waited for Luna to leave the castle, or started on another story. No, you had to go and break into Canterlot-bucking-Castle!"
Snapshot chuckled, nursing one of his several sore spots. "Come on, Dee. The worst thing in there was the coffee."
Dee froze, glaring at Snapshot, then sighing sadly. "No, it's not just -" She paused. "It's not that. It's...Mr. Bugle wants to see you when we get back."
Snapshot was still for a few seconds, but slowly and surely, realization crept into his mind. "Oh." For the second time that day, Snapshot's heart skipped a beat.
The next evening, about closing time...
Pony Joe was calmly cleaning off the bar once again, happy to have had a relatively quiet day. Some ponies still had asked him about the whole Luna fiasco, but there weren't swarms of ponies pounding on his door. He looked up at the empty tables, smiling slightly as his gaze crossed the middle three.
Pony Joe looked up. "Sorry, pal, I'm about to close up - oh." He chuckled. "Didn't think I'd be seeing you again."
The blue-maned pegasus with the stained fedora didn't say a word, but instead pulled up a stool to the bar, keeping his gaze downward. "Get me a double-chocolate cream-filled donut with extra sprinkles," he said sullenly, "And keep 'em coming."
Pony Joe grabbed a plate and floated out one of the donuts in the display, setting it in front of Snapshot. "Long day?"
Snapshot sighed, taking a large bite out of his donut. "Longest day of my life."