He sat there at his desk, with his hoof to his chin, pondering with all his might. It had been several days of careful consideration and despite all the time, he still hadn't come any closer to an answer. Things were getting rather stressful for him as he knew the deadline was fast approaching. He hated to think of what might happen if he missed that time. But he couldn't dwell on what might happen. All he had to concern himself was that all-important question.
What should he get for his little sister for her birthday?
Shining Armour was sitting in his office in the royal guard tower adjacent to the royal palace. His schedule had allowed for some free time today but he'd spent much of it simply trying to figure out what to get for Twilight on her birthday, which was tomorrow! Even if he could figure it out, he'd have to get the gift to Ponyville, which would eat up even more time.
He started poking the side of his head with his hoof.
"Come on! Think! What to get her?" He said to himself.
There was, of course, an obvious answer. Shining knew better than anyone how much his sister loved to read. So getting her a book of some sort would be the obvious present. However, he also knew her well enough to know that there probably wasn't a book in all of Equestria that she hasn't already read five times over. So once more, he was stuck.
He looked out of the window. The sun was still shining. Given the rarity of him have any free time at all, he'd prefer to spend it outside enjoying this glorious weather. But, being the loving big brother he was, he couldn't simply forget his sister's birthday like this. But maybe there was another way out of this.
Now all he had to do was figure out exactly what that "other way" was.
He began to feel somewhat depressed by his predicament when suddenly and without warning, he felt someone approaching him from behind. Normally this would put the captain of the guard on full alert. However, his shock was soon disarmed when he looked down and saw a pair of familiar pink forelegs drape over his shoulders.
Smiling, he was given a welcome distraction from his situation but a quick kiss on his right cheek from the pony behind.
"It's not like you to come to a place like this your highness." He said in a bemused fashion.
The one behind gave a short laugh.
"As I've told you many times now captain. If you won't call me Cadence, Mi'Amore will do."
Now it was the captain's turn to give a laugh.
"Not that I'm complaining, but what are you doing here?"
"I was just in the neighbourhood and was thinking to myself, what's a fine stallion such as yourself doing inside on a day like this. And on your day off too?"
The voice was sweet and polite, as it usually was, and one that Shining enjoyed hearing every time he heard it. But the question that had been asked reminded him once more of his deadline, so his smile was short-lived.
"It's Twilight's birthday. It's only a couple of days from now and I have no idea what to get for her."
The pink forelegs were removed from his shoulders, allowing him to finally turn around and greet his guest. Princess Mi'Amore Cadenza, or rather "Cadence" as she liked to be called. She was just as beautiful as ever, gracefully standing there, wings furled, with her gold ornaments glistening in what little sunlight was making it's way through the windows. Seeing her was a welcome sight, especially considering she did not usually venture to this part of the city very often. Her expression was a mixed one between bemusement and concern.
"How very like you to worry so much over something like this. Do you ever think you worry too much over these things?" She asked.
The question was clearly not intended to make him feel bad, but still, it was his nature to worry so being questioned about it didn't help.
"And you never worry enough. Take us for example. You didn't even bat an eye at the prospect at our being together, despite my not being a member of the royal family. I have yet to see anything you've ever worried about."
Cadence raised an eyebrow at this comment.
"Should I have been concerned?"
Suddenly Shining was feeling uncomfortable with this line of questioning.
"Not at all, that isn't......look I only meant that......"
But he was interrupted by the sound of Cadence giggling. He raised an eyebrow himself, leading to her explaining.
"See? There you go, worrying about nothing."
Shining was silent for a moment before affording himself a brief chuckle. She'd always known how to make him laugh in a stressful situation. One of the things he loved about her so much. She was right, he did worry too much. He knew his sister. She wouldn't be mad over something like a birthday present. Besides, all those fiends of hers' would probably get her loads of stuff. So what need would there be for something from him?
"Still. I would have liked to have got her something." He relented.
Cadence sighed. It was clear that her "close friend" was not going to give up on this position. So she put her own hoof to her chin and considered. Then she gained a big smile on her face, a look Shining knew all too well.
"Why don't you go and visit her?" The Princess remarked happily.
Shining was somewhat taken aback by this suggestion.
"Visit? You mean to Ponyville? But that's such a long way away."
Then he saw her expression become one that clearly said "your sister is worth the trip". This, of course, prompted him to explain himself.
"Don't get me wrong, I'd love to visit her. We haven't seen each other in ages. It's just that I have responsibilities here. I'm a captain. I can't just go off to the other side of the principality just to celebrate a family birthday. It's improper, however much I might want to do it."
Seeing the now-depressed look on Shining's face, Cadence gained a smirk on hers, leading to Shining raising an eyebrow.
"Fortunately for you, visiting your sister won't be quite such a long journey."
Now Shining was confused. But that confusion soon vanished as understanding dawned on him. He knew exactly what Cadence was talking about.
"Twilight's coming? Here? To Canterlot?"
Cadence smiled at the happy expression on Shining's face.
"I heard it from my aunt. Turns out one of her friends was staying here in the city. For some reason they've decided to come here instead of having the party in Ponyville."
Shining could not have received happier news. However, a rather bitter thought suddenly arose in his mind.
"I would have preferred to hear this news from my sister. I mean we don't see each other in ages and then doesn't bother to tell her older brother she's coming home?"
Cadence frowned at the rather upset look on his face.
"It was probably short-notice. You know how these things go."
He knew she was right, but it was still an issue for him.
"You'd never catch me keeping something important from her until the last minute. Still, I suppose I shouldn't let it bother me."
And he meant what he said. Hearing that his sister was returning to Canterlot was the best news he'd heard in ages. So good was his mood, that he made his decision. regarding her birthday present.
"My present will simply be a get-together with me and our parents. The four of us haven't been together in months. It'll be nice."
Cadence smiled at this.
"I'm sure she'll love it. Still ,she's coming into town mainly for this party with her friends. Probably best to wait until afterwards before inviting her."
Shining nodded. Although he'd been reluctant to do so, he'd learned to back off when it came to Twilight's friends. It was in her best interests to develop these relationships outside her family and he was not about to spoil things my making Twilight visit her family first.
Then he gained a rather coy look on his face.
"Now that that's sorted out, I have the rest of the day free. I don't suppose you can think of something I can do to fill the time, can you Cadence?"
She smiled and raised an eyebrow at this. The meaning behind his words would have been obvious even to the most dim-witted of ponies. Regardless, it was always fun to play along.
"Well captain, I do hear there's a rather lonely alicorn who's just been dying to visit the royal gardens alongside a handsome stallion."
Smiling, Shining got up from his desk.
"Well Princess, I do believe I know of just such a stallion who would be delighted to take the beautiful alicorn up on her offer."
Cadence giggled briefly before replying.
"Why captain, I do not recall saying she was beautiful."
Acting on faux formalities, Shining Armour took Cadence's hoof in his and kissed it.
"My dear lady, you didn't need to."