Lectern’s New and Used Books was a cozy shelter against the blustery wind and light snow. The recent music festival’s cold but clear night seemed a distant memory to the seven teens curled up on the front room’s wing chairs, buried in their studies. With winter closing in, they were spending less time in the bookstore, but upcoming exams—as well as a bit of guilty loyalty to the shopkeeper who more than once had gone beyond the call of duty on their behalf—had brought them together to share notes and quizzes.
It was a slow evening for the store, but not a completely dead one; traffic shuffled in or out occasionally. The blasts of cold air admitted with the irregular openings of the double-leaf front door had driven the girls to monopolize the chairs closest to the merrily crackling fireplace. By now they didn’t even look up when it opened again to let in another muffled newcomer.
A black-dyed rabbit-fur ushanka and an antique military greatcoat, both in immaculate condition, covered the tall, rangy figure who glanced around and, after a moment, spotted the group of students. A few long strides brought the visitor close enough for them to look up at the interruption. Sunset Shimmer and Twilight Sparkle both let out startled exclamations of recognition.
“Rose!” “Ms. Brass!”
The unique brass-complexioned face, complete with scars and eyepatch, grinned at them. “Hello, Sunset—Twilight. Why don’t you introduce me to your friends?” The right hand—a sophisticated prosthetic—pulled off the fur cap, exposing buzz-cut platinum hair. The other began to unbutton the coat.
Both girls fumbled for a moment until Sunset said, “Girls, this is Captain Rose Brass, the social worker who’s working with the sirens. Rose, these are my best friends.” She pointed and named each in turn; nods and cautious greetings were exchanged. “And you know Sci-Twi, of course.”
Rose laughed, plainly delighted by the nickname. “Indeed I do, and I want to apologize again for putting you on the spot, Twilight. But I also want you to know that I’m grateful for your help.”
Twilight swallowed and replied, “It was hard, but like Sunset said, it was the right thing to do.”
A firm nod acknowledged what the younger woman said—and didn’t say, such as “you’re welcome.”
“So why did you come by, Rose?” Sunset asked curiously. “And how did you find us? I can’t believe this is just a coincidence.”
“Of course not,” Rose agreed. “The address is on the tickets you sent. It wasn’t hard to figure out you girls must hang out here, so it was just a matter of stopping by every evening. I even did a little shopping.”
“You?” Twilight burst out, then clapped a hand over her mouth and blushed.
The older woman rolled her good eye drolly. “I’m not a barbarian, Twilight. I do read once in a while, though I admit our tastes probably don’t have a lot in common.” She met Sunset’s eye again. “To answer your other question, Sunset, I wanted to thank you and your friends for the tickets and for the donation.”
Sunset grinned. “It was a pretty tough sell. And I wasn’t sure you’d be allowed to use the tickets.”
“I’ll bet it was.” Rose’s voice shifted to a more serious tone. “A month ago, I might not have been, but now that they’ve agreed to counseling and we’ve had a good long talk, I was able to strike or reduce some of the restrictions on them. They still can’t meet you face to face, but as long as they’re chaperoned, they can be in the same general area. That’s why we were able to attend the concert.”
“And you can talk to us about them, too, at least a little,” Sunset guessed shrewdly, to which Rose nodded confirmation.
“They didn’t seem ta be very happy ta be there at first,” Applejack observed.
“No, not at first. When they trooped into my office, oh, months ago now, just the mention of music make them flinch.” Rose looked into the fire pensively. “That’s another reason I brought them to the concert. It’s not good for them to abandon something that’s so fundamental to their natures. I don’t have nearly the depth of knowledge Sunset does, of course, but I’ve picked up that much about people from her world.”
Pinkie Pie volunteered, “I saw them clapping along later, though!”
Rose smiled; Pinkie tended to have that effect on people. “Yes they did. They weren’t willing to sing along, and I can’t blame them for that, but by the end of the evening it was pretty obvious they were feeling a lot better than they had in a long, long time. I wouldn’t breathe a word of this to them, but I really do think the concert helped—broke the ice, as it were.”
Rainbow Dash wore a peculiar expression, ambivalent even now. “I’m still not sure how I feel about any of it. I guess Sunset and Twi are right, but . . .”
“But you still resent them.” Rose turned a penetrating look on Dash. “And maybe more than that.” When Dash bridled, she added, “That’s perfectly natural. What they did was pretty nasty. But remember this, Rainbow Dash: They’ve been punished with a life sentence. They’ll never have magic again, as far as anyone—isn’t it ‘anypony’, Sunset?—can tell. How would you feel if someone ripped away your magic, now that you have it?”
Dash looked a bit stricken. “Y-yeah. I get it.”
There was a moment of quiet as all of them digested this unpalatable tidbit. Rose waited respectfully, then said briskly, “I should leave you all to your studies, and I still have a few errands to run myself.” Her smile turned crooked. “You can be sure that right now they feel about all of you the same way Dash does about them, but I think in the long run it’ll work out. Good evening, girls, and thanks again.”
A chorus of acknowledgements answered, to which she nodded before turning and striding once more for the door. After she left, the whole group stared after her in silence. At last Fluttershy whispered, “Is she always like that, Sunset?”