“Sunset?” Rarity asked, adjusting her beret while trying to keep her mocha perfectly balanced on her lap. “We've been sitting here for a few minutes, and you've not said a single word.” The two were seated on a park bench by the sidewalk at a small park down the street from Canterlot High, both watching the autumn leaves, the passersby, and the world moving at a slower pace than either girl was used to.
“Sorry.” The flame-haired girl sighed before taking a sip from her pumpkin spice latte (or “white girl crack", as Rainbow often joked on Facebook, as evidenced from all the meme gifs she’d been posting the past week). Sunset then added, “I'm just feeling in a weird mood today. Just a lazy day, I suppose.”
“Well, today certainly is the day for it. I mean, I don't think we expected to get a couple of extra days off from school this close to Thanksgiving, darling. Thankfully, my employer is enjoying a well-overdue vacation with her family in Utah this week, which of course leaves my schedule free as the proverbial bird.” She then added, “And it goes without saying that there’s little more that I’d rather do than to spend time with one of my closest friends.”
“Thanks,” Sunset replied, blushing slightly. “I’m pretty much free this week as well: The Cakes told me to take it easy this week since I'm still recovering from the stab wound.” As if on cue, she winced and grabbed her side, nearly spilling her drink. “I've probably used up all the magic I have in me just to ward off the pain, and now that I'm drained it's kicking into overdrive,” she apologized.
A worried look crossed Rarity’s face. “Couldn’t you just....?”
Sunset shook her head. “Not really. This close to the new moon, I’ll have no chance of pulling ambient magic off the lunar pass for at least another two weeks.”
“Then perhaps we should go indoors? I would hate to be the cause of your relapse, Sunset dear.”
“I'll be fine, Rares. Trust me, if I were in real trouble, the blood would have soaked through my sweater by now.” Seeing her friend blanche at that, Sunset swore at herself under her breath and added a quick, “Trust me, I’ll be fine. If anything, all the outdoor air will do me a world of good, given that I’ve been cooped up either in the hospital or home for the most part.” She would have said more, save for at that point a fire-hued maple leaf gently twirled down from its start point above to fall gently into Sunset’s lap. Looking at the leaf with a smile, she commented, “It’s times like this that remind me why autumn is my favorite time of year.”
“Oh?” Rarity inquired. “I would think that with a name like Sunset Shimmer, summer would be your personal preference.”
“You would think that, but you’re wrong,” Sunset explained. “I always liked the fall. It reminded me so much of, well, me,” she said with a smile as she reached out to catch a second leaf, this one burnished with deep reds and yellows, both the colors of her hair and that of her mane and coat as a unicorn. “Just think about how I was back then: selfish, spoiled and seeing a time of year when everything seemed to be personally tailored for my own entertainment. The Princess even got me a specially-knitted scarf that was enchanted to seem as though the leaves would always fall from one end to the other. It was neat, and I loved it – I’d probably have worn it everywhere, if it wasn’t specifically a cold-weather scarf.”
“My, that sounds fascinating,” Rarity cooed, and Sunset chuckled. With Rarity, she was never sure if her friend’s reaction came up because it was a story from her past back in Equestria...or because it was a story with royalty in it.
“Additionally, when I was ten, several of the Guild’s mages got together and planted a special tree in the royal gardens in my honor. They enchanted an oak tree, and they called it the Eternal Sunset Oak. For this tree, every day is autumn: it drops leaves that are burnished with my mane and coat colors and even as the tree’s leaves fall, new ones immediately begin growing, only to fall off days later.” A nostalgic, misty-eyed look came over the teen’s face. “It’s like a constant rain of leaves, always autumn.”
“That sounds absolutely wonderful, Sunset, dear,” Rarity added, picturing the tree in her mind, along with the image of her friend’s true form that she’d been shown the week before. “But if I may, you sound a bit...wistful.”
“It’s because I am.” Sunset downed the rest of her latte, and then with a basketball shot that would have impressed Rainbow, threw the cup into the trashcan six feet away. “I once thought that beauty was just for me and the Princess – that I deserved it. And as a spoiled and selfish filly that grew up to be a tyrant of a mare, it was all I could see. But now?” She looked at more leaves falling, then to the sugar pine growing in someone’s yard in the distance. Unlike the others, it was an evergreen, and would always remain the same. “Now? All I see is a metaphor for my life.”
“I did not heed my mentor...and I fell. I came here as a would-be conqueror...and I fell – hard. And now? I tried to start my change...and I fell once again, losing my home.”
“Sunset, surely you don’t miss that horrid warehouse you called a home!” Rarity ranted.
“I do, and I don’t. Sure, living with my foster family is wonderful, but at the same time, I rolled the proverbial dice and lost. And I keep losing. How much more until I lose again?”
Rarity took a drink of her cooling mocha, and idly thought about asking Sunset to use her magic to reheat it, before remembering that Sunset’s magic reserves were low just pushing the pain away. Opting to deal with the lukewarm beverage, she continued. “I thought you were happy living with Twilight and Octavia.”
“I am. Believe me, they’re the sisters I never had. And my foster parents are great – it was even worth being grounded for disobeying. I feel like I have a family – finally have a family.” But then Sunset turned away and said nearly sotto voce, “And you have no idea how much that terrifies me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I have them, and I’m adjusting to them. I think the world of them, and I think they like having me around. And so with that in mind, I’m walking around on pins and needles wondering when the hammer will fall, something will go wrong and like an autumn leaf doomed to die–” For effect, she let go of the leaf she had in her hand and let it drop to the walkway, “–I will fail and fall once more.”
The two sat there, for the longest time, before Rarity spoke. “I have never known you to be a quitter, Sunset Shimmer, and I’m frankly surprised you’re thinking of that now.”
“I’m not quitting, Rares,” Sunset insisted. “Why would I?”
“Yes, indeed, why would you? So why are you even thinking it now?” Sunset was about to speak, but Rarity cut her off. “You are. You’re sitting here, thinking that autumn is a time of falling and failure, of death and loss. And maybe you’re right. But do you know what I think?” Rarity smiled widely. “I think you forget that autumn is a season of change.” She closed her eyes, and quote a line from prose:
“Aprils have never meant much to me. Autumns always seem that season of beginning, spring.”
Opening her eyes, she said, “That’s from the novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Summer Crossing. And it very much sounds like he understood the meaning of fall. It’s a season of change, a season to slough off the old and embrace the new.
“Yes, you have had a bad go or two of it. But for better or worse, you kept getting up, embracing change and starting anew. That is the eternal meaning of change. And now you have a family who loves you and wants you there...or am I wrong about the new jacket?”
Sunset idly looked at the new jacket she’d been given by her foster father to replace her destroyed one. It had been a family heirloom, and not something that would have been surrendered easily. “No,” Sunset admitted. “No, I don’t think you’re wrong.”
“Of course I’m not, darling, you should know that by now,” she said with a wink and a grin. “But seriously. You have started another path, and you don’t know what this one entails. But I promise you, Sunset – you aren’t walking this path alone anymore. Your friends are there for you. Your family is there for you. And I am certainly here for you.”
Sunset blushed. “Thanks, Rares. I mean that.”
“Oh, I know you do. It just took you some time to acknowledge that.” A sudden gust of wind hit, its crisping air briefly chilling both girls’ faces. “You know what? I think we should go indoors. How does dinner and a movie sound?”
“Works for me. You buying?”
“Sure, as long as we don’t pick one of those testosterone-addled films that Rainbow is so fond of, or those juvenile toilet humor comedies that Pinkie prefers. Plus,” Rarity added as she stood up, “then you can owe me a favor with a wee problem I’m having.”
Sunset joined her, stretching. “And what would that be?”
“Oh, my cousin is getting married around Christmas – she wanted a winter wedding – and I was thinking about bringing a plus-one, save that I don’t have any boys that would successfully be charmin–”
“Rarity, if you’re going to ask me to put on a suit, pretend I’m a guy and talk in some trumped-up Spanish accent, the answer is no.”
Rarity looked flabbergasted. “How did you–?”
“Applejack told me after you asked her earlier in the week.” She sighed. “Honestly, why don’t you ask someone inoffensive to go with you, like Blue Gem or Slatestone?”
“Because they aren’t as charming as I know you can be, Sunset dear. Trust me, you’re making a mistake by turning me down….”
Sunset laughed as they started walking down the street. “Trust me, I’m an expert at making mistakes.”
“Oh, I’m quite sure you’re not the only person in all of creation that has a monopoly on mistakes.”
“You so sure about that?”
Rarity giggled. “Positive.”
“Thanks for coming, Cadance,” Luna said to her niece as the younger alicorn came through the door. The two were standing on a balcony, looking over into the distance, specifically Celestia’s balcony, where the white alicorn sat, doing nothing save for nursing a cup of tea and looking at the royal gardens. “She’s been like that all day, and save for raising the sun, she’s pretty much asked to be left alone. Even Kibbitz and I couldn’t get to her.”
Recognition dawned on Cadance’s visage. “Yeah, this always happens around this time of year, for as long as I’ve been here,” she said, gesturing to the fall foliage. “She’s never said why, but I think that maybe autumn just gets to her on a personal level. You’re her sister; she’s never been like this before?”
“No, not before my, ahem, ‘sabbatical’. And she won’t explain now.”
Cadance nodded. “Then I would just let her tell you in time, Luna. If we’re meant to know, someday we will.”
The midnight alicorn sighed. “I just wish I could do something for her.”
“Just give her space, then. The answer will come in time.”
Seated on her balcony, Celestia took the occasional sip of tea from a cup, quickly placing it back on the table. She had none of her regalia on, instead today choosing to wear a simple scarf that seemed to be made of leaves in perpetual fall. From her viewpoint, she watched as a single oak tree rained down leaves towards the ground, while at the same time seeming to grow new ones. To the solar alicorn, it almost seemed as if the tree was weeping for what it had lost.
As tears came to her own eyes, Celestia could hardly disagree.