Looking Glass

by Krickis

24 – A Place to Call Home

Act IV

Consumed by Fire

Chapter Twenty-Four

A Place to Call Home

It was finally time. After a lifetime of waiting, it was finally happening.

‘Not a lifetime,’ Sunset reminded herself. There was a time before New Horizons, an entire life spent elsewhere. Even after everything Sunset had experienced, she still had to remind herself of that from time to time.

Perhaps that was why she was still going through with the whole thing. But as she loaded the final box into the back of Flash’s car, it didn’t really matter why. It was finally time, and Sunset was not looking back.

“You’re sure that’s everything?” Rose Petal asked as Sunset shifted the passenger seat back into its usual sitting position. “It never hurts to do a double check, you know.”

“I’m positive,” Sunset said. “It’s not like I had all that much stuff to begin with.”

“You remembered your toothbrush? Everyone always seems to forget their toothbrush.”

Sunset smiled and rolled her eyes. “Yes, I remembered my toothbrush.”

“Well, okay then…” Rose Petal looked at Flash’s car apprehensively. The trunk and back seat were full of Sunset’s things, and it was ready to take her away from New Horizons forever.

Snails was leaning against the car. “Uh, do you want us to come and help you unpack everything?”

What a stupid question. Even if Sunset wanted them to come, which she definitely did not, there wasn’t anywhere for them to sit. But before she could point that out, Flash stole their attention with a friendly chuckle. “Thanks, Snails, but I think we can take it from here. We appreciate the offer, though.”

“I guess we’ll see you at school tomorrow, then,” Snips said. He was standing near Snails, inseparable as always.

“Yeah, of course,” Sunset said, following Flash’s lead by being polite. It would be easier than ever to ditch school, but more than ever, she needed something to focus her attention on these days.

Snips and Snails had helped Sunset and Flash load up her stuff. Rose Petal was too old to actually carry any boxes, but she had come to see Sunset off. The other caretakers who happened to already be at work and a few of the kids had also come outside, but they all lingered a fair distance away and were already talking among themselves. No one that wasn’t already at the orphanage had bothered to show up for her last day there.

“Sunset,” Rose said gently, “if things don’t work out for you on your own, I hope you know that you can always come back to me. I’ll… well, we’ll figure something out.”

That was easier said than done, and they both knew it. Sunset had been officially emancipated from the state’s care, which meant that living at New Horizons would never be an option for her again.

But since they were both aware of that fact, there was no reason to point it out. “Miss Rose, everything will be fine. But if anything does go wrong, I’ll be sure to come to you.”

It didn’t seem like quite enough for Rose, but Sunset doubted anything ever could be. “Alright, Sunset. And you know, even if you are okay on your own, you can always drop in just to chat.”

Sunset smiled. “Of course. I’ll still be right here in town, and now that I’ve got my motorcycle, getting around won’t be a problem.”

Rose sighed and bowed her head for a moment, then lifted it and smiled. “I’m sure you’ll be just fine, anyway. You’ve got a bright future, Sunset, and I’m so proud of everything you’ve done in the past few years.”

“Come on, Miss Rose, you’re going to make me blush.”

No doubt aware that Sunset would resent a hug, Rose settled for taking Sunset’s hands in her own. “Take care of yourself, Sunset. Keep making me proud of you.”

Sunset wasn’t sure exactly how to respond to that, so she just smiled along and rushed into her final goodbyes. “Well, we should get going. Bye, Miss Rose. And thank you. For everything.”

In the end, that was really all there was to say.

With nothing left holding her back, Sunset climbed into Flash’s car. They didn’t speak as he got in and started the engine. Sunset stared at the mirror in silence as they pulled away, watching as everyone waved. One by one, most of the people went back into the orphanage. None of them really cared anyway, Sunset’s departure was just a point of interest for them.

Rose Petal didn’t wave for long, but she also didn’t go inside. Instead, she stood and watched the car sadly. The elderly caretaker had been the person who welcomed her to New Horizons eleven years ago, no one else in this world had known Sunset for quite so long. And she had stood by Sunset the whole time, supporting her even when she should have been written off as a lost cause. And now, after so many years, Sunset could only stare as they drove away from her.

“You okay?” Flash asked.

Sunset pried her eyes off the mirror. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Flash cast her an uncertain glance, but he didn’t argue. To try and prevent any awkward conversations about feelings, Sunset turned on the radio and flipped through stations until she found something that they both liked.

Whether it was because he caught on to what Sunset was doing or because he also wanted to avoid the conversation, Flash focused on a more positive topic. “So it’ll be pretty cool having a house all to yourself.”

Sunset suspected she knew exactly what Flash would find the most cool thing about it to be, but she was far more interested in other things. “Yeah, it’ll be great to not have twenty other kids around.”

“You’ll be able to play your music as loud as you want.”

“Sleeping in on the weekends will be a lot easier.”

“You can eat whatever you want.”

“Trust me, I’m already planning the ice cream for breakfast.”

Flash placed a hand on her thigh. “And best of all, there won’t be anyone to walk in on –”

“Mind on the road, Loverboy.” Sunset pushed his hand off but flashed him a sly grin.

Flash laughed and returned his hand to the steering wheel. “I’m a little surprised that you actually went through with it, though. You’ll be eighteen in another year.”

Sunset shrugged. “And I’ll enjoy that year a lot more on my own.” Or at least, what was left of it. The portal would be open in just under a month, and Sunset wasn’t planning on coming back this time.

But still, there was part of her that needed this backup plan. Sunset had already returned to Equestria once, so she knew it was real. But she had seen so many things since then, and that seed of doubt would never quite go away. So living on her own would be a good move for her; anything that helped her keep calm was good.

But since she couldn’t tell Flash any of that, Sunset added, “Besides, this has been in the works since before I met you.”

“Yeah, I know. And don’t get me wrong, I do understand. It’s just a little surprising to see someone in high school go through with getting their own house.” Flash grinned. “But I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. Since when does Sunset Shimmer not follow through with something?”

“Pretty sure that’s never happened. You know that when I set my eye on something, I get it.”

“Of course, Princess.”

Sunset’s chest tightened and the sounds all around her suddenly seemed distant. “Princess?”

Flash smirked, completely oblivious to Sunset’s complicated feelings towards the term. “Well, you will be soon enough. The Fall Formal is right around the corner, you know.”

“Oh, right.” That was all. Sunset let out a breath and things started to refocus. This was just a normal conversation with Flash, nothing to do with why she was usually called princess.

And as far as normal things went, the Fall Formal was business as usual. Everyone knew that Sunset Shimmer would be the Princess of the Fall Formal. Canterlot High School had a dance for every season, and Sunset had already been crowned in the Summer Shindig, the Spring Fling, and the Winter Wrap Up. The Fall Formal would be her fourth consecutive win, proving that her reign was unbeatable.

Which was why it would probably come as a surprise to everyone when Sunset didn’t even bother to show up for the dance. It was almost a shame. Winning the Formal would be a great way to cap off her time at Canterlot High School, but the portal opened two days before the dance, and there was no question about which one of those Sunset cared more about.

“Hey, uhm…” Flash shifted nervously in his seat. “Speaking of the dance, there have been a lot of rumors going around…”

“Not surprised. I swear, CHS had a lot less gossip when we first started going there.” Of course, that was because Sunset had carefully been using her popularity to manipulate the student body to segregate into smaller, more manageable groups. Gossip was both a natural byproduct of that and part of how Sunset had accomplished it in the first place.

“Yeah, but… people seem to be afraid to run against you. And after seeing that no one ran against you during the Summer Shindig…”

“I can’t help it if everyone knows I’ll win.”

“I don’t think that’s it.” Flash’s tone grew less nervous, more serious. “It sounds like they’re afraid of you, Sunset. People are scared you’ll do something to them if they run against you.”

Nothing good could come of Flash looking into Sunset’s reputation. He usually proved too oblivious to take much notice, but Sunset occasionally had to win him back over to her side. She decided to start by playing up how upset the news made her. “What? But I’ve never done anything to anyone at that school! Why would people think something like that?”

“I don’t know. Like you said, the school does gossip a lot.” Flash didn’t sound as sympathetic as Sunset had hoped, but he was sounding a little less sure.

Good. Sunset was working her doubt in. As long as he stayed open to the idea that she was innocent, then he’d stay hers. She’d be able to solidify her hold later. But that could wait; for now, it was better to drop the subject.

Since Flash wasn’t pressing to continue it, Sunset focused on the way the city changed as they drove. The houses grew smaller and closer together, and they lost the expertly maintained lawns of suburbia. Large chain stores and restaurants first started appearing run down, with faded paint jobs and out of date signs that didn’t fully light up, then they disappeared altogether. In their place, convenience stores and laundromats started popping up as the most common local businesses.

The minivans, SUVs, and mid-priced sedans that Sunset was used to seeing around New Horizons and Canterlot High were replaced with either old, beat-up cars and trucks or foot traffic. Flash’s sports car, with its custom paint job and undented frame, must have stood out like a sore thumb in Sunset’s new neighborhood.

It wasn’t luxurious, but it wasn’t for long. “I can’t wait until I can just leave everything behind.”

Flash didn’t catch on that she wasn’t talking about the rumors anymore. “You know the school just likes to gossip. Being talked about is kind of part of being at the top.”

At least he was sounding more sympathetic, so Sunset decided to roll with it. “I know. And it usually doesn’t get to me, but… I guess this just isn’t how I wanted to start senior year.”

“I swear, this school’s been getting worse every year since we’ve been there. Do you remember freshman year? The whole student body was so supportive of one another, and I was proud to be a Wondercolt! Why do we even let all these stupid cliques divide us, anyway?”

Bad move, Sunset did not like where this was heading. “Maybe we were just too young and naïve to see that this was always there. I don’t know. I just know that I’m ready to move on from this school. Bigger and better things and all that.”

Flash laughed, so Sunset punched his shoulder playfully. “Hey, that’s not nice. Your girlfriend’s trying to be all angsty over here, and you’re laughing at her?”

“Sorry, it’s just… you just got your own house! You haven’t even settled in yet, and you’re already pushing for the next thing. That fire is one of the things I love about you, but maybe tonight you could keep it more of a simmer?”

Okay, so his fire metaphor went bad at ‘simmer’, but Sunset still found herself smiling. “Fine, you win. Tonight will be a drama free night.”

“Speaking of your house…” They came to a stop in front of a small red house. There was no driveway, so Flash pulled over along the road in front of it.

“Home sweet home.” Sunset got out and folded her seat down as Flash cut off the engine.

Even with only two of them, it didn’t take long to bring everything in. All of Sunset’s worldly possessions amounted to her motorcycle, some furniture and appliances she’d only recently acquired for the new house, a guitar Flash gave her last Christmas, her computer, and half-a-dozen boxes. Since the motorcycle, furniture, and appliances were already at the house, that just left the computer, guitar, and a few boxes to bring in.

Once they finished with that and shut the door behind them, Sunset let out a giddy laugh in spite of herself. “Okay, so this is pretty exciting!”

“So should we unpack now, or jump straight into the obligatory kegger?”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “You know, I did manage to get some beer in the fridge after you and your dad left yesterday.”

Flash didn’t seem as enticed as Sunset was by the idea of booze that was actually cold. “Please tell me you paid for it.”

“Of course I did,” Sunset lied. “I told you I’d behave myself. I had to drive to like five stores before finding someone who didn’t care enough about his job to ID me.”

It was just what he wanted to believe, so Flash ate up the lie. “Yeah, of course. But maybe next time, I’m gonna have to drive home later.”

“Ever the responsible one. Oh well, we should really unpack anyway. I don’t know how we’ll ever get through this mountain of boxes.”

One of the boxes was full of books, which went on a small bookcase Violet Dusk had bought her. A second box contained a few more books and some miscellaneous things; most of those also went on the bookshelf, for want of anywhere else to put them. The remaining four boxes were mostly full of clothes, so most of their time was spent putting things on hangers. She didn’t have a dresser anymore, but she did have a small closet.

Small described almost everything about the house. There were only four rooms – living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen – and none of them were as big as Sunset would have liked. In addition to small, cheap could be used to describe all of Sunset’s furniture and appliances. Along with the bookcase, the living room had a table they had found at a yard sale that would be her computer desk, one chair, and a couch that Flash had insisted on helping her pay for despite the lack of a TV to watch from it.

The bedroom was, if anything, even more minimalistic. The full-size bed had been a difficult decision, but Sunset had slept on a twin mattress her whole life, and they cut enough corners elsewhere. Besides, the full-sized frame had been free, a hand-me-down from Flash’s uncle, so she had only needed to buy the mattress. The only other things in the bedroom were a few recently empty boxes and a bedside table with a few drawers she used for underwear, socks, and makeup.

“So what do you think? Good look for me?”

Sunset turned and burst into laughter. It seemed that not all of her underwear had made it into the bedside table drawer – Flash was wearing one of her bras over his shirt. To top it off, he had one hand on his hip, the other behind his head, and his lips stuck out in a pout.

“Take that off, you dork,” Sunset said in between laughs.

“What’s the matter? Don’t want your boyfriend to become your girlfriend?”

“No, that part sounds fine. But any girlfriend of mine can get her own clothes.”

“Oh really?” Flash smirked. “So then explain why you’ve had my leather jacket for over a year now.”

“Because being my girlfriend and being your girlfriend are different things. I can steal your clothes because, unlike me, you’re a pushover.”

“Now who’s being mean?”

“Yeah yeah, I’m a real bitch. Now take my bra off!”

Sunset lunged for it, but Flash pulled away. “But I feel pretty.”

“Oh, you’re pretty alright,” Sunset said as she shook her head. “Pretty ridiculous.”

Flash laughed and took off the bra. He handed it to Sunset, who shoved it haphazardly into her underwear drawer. “I wish you’d let other people see this side of you.”

Sunset smirked. “I don’t really think other people need to see my bra.”

“Well, no, obviously not that. But the warmer, more playful side of Sunset Shimmer.”

That didn’t make any sense. Sunset had worked her way to the top in a large part by using her charm. Sure, now that she had her hold firmly established she was squeezing a little tighter, but she still had to put on the fake happy demeanor more often than she’d like. “I don’t get what you mean. I’m just me, Flash.”

“I thought that for a while too, but you’re different when we’re alone. It’s like… you keep everyone else at an arm’s length. I’m glad you can relax around me, but I wish I wasn’t the only one.”

Sunset kept everyone at an arm’s length, including Flash. Where was this coming from? “Is this about the rumors?”

Flash frowned. “No, it’s just something I noticed.”

“Well, you noticed wrong, then.” Sunset’s tone had hardened in the span of a few moments. She was not more comfortable with Flash, and he was not different. Just a pawn in her plans like anyone else.

“Sunset, I–”

“So what exactly are they saying about me?” Sunset asked sharply. “They think I’ll ‘do something’ to them? What does everyone think I’m going to do?”

“Look, we said we’d drop that for tonight. I didn’t mean to bring it back up, I was just saying…” Flash didn’t seem sure what exactly he had been trying to say anymore.

Sunset narrowed her eyes. “You do know something else, don’t you? What is it?”

Flash’s mouth fell open and he looked around as he struggled to make words come out of it. Eventually he sighed and stared down at the bed. “It’s… dumb. And I don’t know exactly what, but… People are saying that you bullied that other girl out of running against you during the Spring Fling.”

“Rarity?” Sunset asked incredulously. “Rarity is a self-absorbed drama queen. Of course she says I ‘bullied her out of it’, she doesn’t want to believe that she lost all on her own! No wonder her friends don’t even like her anymore.”

Flash didn’t say anything, but that meant he didn’t deny it. It was strange, though. Sunset had made sure to cover her tracks with the whole Rarity incident, and she’d been keeping an ear out to see if the bitch talked. And yet this was the first she was hearing about anyone else suspecting foul play. “But you don’t even talk to Rarity. Who told you that?”

“Sunset, I… I don’t think it matters who –”

“You don’t think it matters that someone is spreading lies about your girlfriend?” Sunset scowled. “I thought you were supposed to be there for me…”

Flash sat up straight and quickly answered, “I am!” He sighed again and looked away for a moment before turning back and giving Sunset what she wanted. “I heard it from Rainbow Dash.”

Ah, that made sense. Sunset had never deliberately put anything in between Rarity and Rainbow Dash, but as their circle of friends imploded, the two of them had begun hanging out a lot less. It seemed they did still talk about some things, however. “Rainbow Dash is her friend. She’ll believe anything the little diva says.”

“Well, they’re not real close anymore, so I just thought that…”

It seemed Flash realized his poor wording before he finished, but Sunset wasn’t letting him go so easily. “Just thought what, Flash? That I have been terrorizing girls out of running against me? That I’m some sort of monster trying to bend the student body to my will?”

“No! Where is this all coming from?” Flash shook his head. “I just thought that I should talk to you is all.”

“Well, congratulations. We’re talking. Real fucking delightful conversation we’re having right here.” Sunset turned away, giving Flash a moment for his actions to sink in.

He didn’t react right away. Sunset was beginning to think she’d have to make the next move, but he eventually stood up. “I have something I need to do.”

Sunset didn’t acknowledge him. After another moment of silence, she heard him walk away. Within a few more moments she heard the front door open and close, followed by the sound of his car starting and driving away.

She could have handled that better. In fact, it would’ve been hard to have handled it worse. Why had she brought the rumors up again in the first place?

With nothing else to do in the bedroom, Sunset got up as well. More so to fill her time than because she wanted anything, Sunset went into the kitchen. It was the only room in the house that wasn’t strikingly empty, but that had more to do with its small size than anything.

Well, its small size and the fact that the motorcycle sitting in it was taking up a lot of the precious space. It was only a temporary solution; since Sunset didn’t have a garage, Bottled Lightning was going to come over and help her build a shed she could lock it up in. She wasn’t sure if he actually knew how to build a shed or if that was just his masculinity insisting he knew what he was doing, but he certainly knew more than Sunset. He and Flash had been over the day before to build a ramp leading into the kitchen door, and that had worked to get the motorcycle inside, after all.

Sunset walked over to the motorcycle and brushed her hand along it. A ride to clear her head sounded like the best thing for her, but she was low on gas and had to make it last until payday. That was why she chose a motorcycle over a car in the first place; it was cheaper to buy, more economical on gas, and repairs would be more manageable. Lightning had gone with her and made sure she wasn’t getting ripped off, then he and Flash had helped her tune it up and showed her how to maintain it.

Flash. When she really stopped and thought about it, Flash Sentry was responsible for so much of this success. He’d helped her buy a lot of the furniture, and his dad had been essential while they were figuring out what to get and how to budget. She even had her job thanks to them, since Flash’s uncle was the owner of the store she worked at.

‘Why did I bring up the rumors? Because he was right.’

Since a joyride was out of the question, Sunset opened the fridge. She immediately pulled open one of the bottom drawers and moved aside a bag of lettuce to get to the beer shoved all the way in the back. Even though everything was finalized by now, she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone would pull it all away if she was caught with alcohol.

But since there were only four cans, Sunset just put the lettuce back in place. She knew she’d be better saving it, since there’d come a time when she wanted it more than she did now. Probably in a few hours or so.

Instead, she grabbed a can of off-brand cola. It tasted like crap, but it was crap she could afford. Since there was also nothing else to do in the kitchen, Sunset walked back to the living room.

It seemed that as much as she was thrilled to have her own house, there wasn’t much to do in it. The unpacking was finished and she hadn’t lived in it long enough to need to do any chores, so she moved onto the only thing left to do and set up her computer.

It took all of maybe five minutes. Move everything to the table, plug everything in, and turn it on. She wouldn’t have internet for another couple of days. Even if one of her neighbors had an unsecured wifi connection, her desktop didn’t have a wifi adapter to connect to it.

She sighed and watched the computer boot up. There were a few things she could do offline – she had downloaded some music and movies specifically to give herself something to do until there was internet – but nothing appealed to her at the moment.

This was it. This was what she wanted. A place all to herself, somewhere she could call home.

The word processor on her computer popped open, and Sunset stared in disbelief as words started appearing.

you dont have a home =)

Sunset jumped back, knocking her soda onto the floor. When she looked back to the computer, it was her desktop wallpaper, with no document in sight. She picked up the half-empty can of soda and shut off the computer anyway.

The bathroom was the only room in the house with a mirror, but it was also where her towels were. Reminding herself to pick up paper towels the next time she was at work, Sunset grabbed the dingiest towel she could find. She avoided looking in the mirror, especially after what had just happened.

Although she half expected the computer to turn on by itself or something, nothing strange happened as she cleaned up the soda. Still, her nerves were getting to her and it was easy to see why. She’d made a mistake. She wasn’t supposed to be this comfortable.

She grabbed a trash bag and shoved the dirty towel in it. A dirty laundry hamper was another thing she’d need to get soon. For the time being, she set her dirty laundry bag down against the wall in her bedroom, pulled her phone out of her pocket, and dialed the most recent contact.

“This is Flash Sentry. Too busy rocking out to come to the phone right now, so leave a message after the B!” A B major chord sounded from Flash’s guitar, followed by the standard answering machine beep.

“Hey, Flash, it’s Sunset…” She sighed. “I’m really sorry I snapped at you, I just… Things have been extra busy with the house, and I know that’s a bad excuse, but please come back. We should be celebrating, not fighting! At least call me. Love you, I’ll talk to you soon.”

Love you. It wasn’t true, of course. Sunset had been dating Flash for almost three years now, and saying things like “I love you” were expected by this point. But Sunset didn’t love anyone, and saying it didn’t make it true.

With nothing else to do, Sunset collapsed on the bed. This was her own fault. She had let herself get too comfortable in the house. She had even fallen into the trap of thinking of it like she was going to stay there.

No, this was only for a month. Just something that was already in the works and that would make her last month in this hell slightly more bearable. And if she started thinking of it as more than that, she’d regret it. Things didn’t go well when she got too complacent with life in this world.

When staring at her ceiling lost its interest, Sunset finally returned to the living room. Since her computer still wasn’t very appealing, she instead retrieved the only thing they’d brought from New Horizons that she hadn’t used yet – a V-shaped electric guitar. It was seafoam green with a white decal, and Sunset spent a lot of her free time playing it.

Guitar lessons with Flash had just been a way to fill time, and practice was mostly the same. She enjoyed playing, but she’d miss computers a lot more than guitars when she went back to Equestria. Still, it was a sure way to kill some time.

She worked her way through a few different styles as she tried to decide what to play. Nothing felt right, so she kept hopping from song to song while trying her best to just not think of anything. Eventually she found a nice groove in a slow melodic chord progression. It sounded familiar, but wrong somehow. Like a song she was trying to remember, but she couldn’t quite figure out how it went. Sunset closed her eyes.

The world stretched out below her. It was bathed in fading orange light, and Sunset knew it was her time. She watched the land, although she did not know what for. She watched as her time faded, and twilight took hold of the world. She watched as that, too, faded.

It was dark. There was a stillness that hung over everything. Stillness, but not calmness. There was fear, but Sunset was not the one who was afraid. She was as detached from fear as she was from the scene below her.

Below her, there was a mountain. It rose sharply into the air, a pillar watching over the land. Did it watch over to protect or to keep in line? Where did the line between the two converge?

Below her, there was a city. It jutted from the side of the mountain in defiance to nature, proof that anything could be conquered. The city slept, but it did not sleep easily.

The darkness was disrupted. Red and yellow danced through its streets, creating distorted shadows that now claimed the city for their own. The city burned.

In the distance, another light broke the darkness. A light that threatened to burn all the land. A light that had once claimed this city, but now bore witness to its end. Sunset’s time had passed, and morning rose. What would the light become?

Sunset never found out, as a knock on the door brought her out of her thoughts. She blinked and looked around the room. It felt like only moments had passed, but the light outside her windows was beginning to dim, and her hands were cramping from playing the same chords over and over.

“Sunset? It’s me. Can you unlock the door?”

“Uh, yeah, just a minute.” Sunset laid her guitar down on the couch and stood up. She felt light-headed, so she took a few steadying breaths before going to the door.

Flash stood waiting on the other side. “Hey, sorry I –”

Sunset cut him off by throwing her arms around him. She felt dazed and knew she was on the verge of lapsing into an episode; she needed Flash to help ground her.

“I was only gone for a couple hours,” Flash said as he hugged her back. He probably thought this because of the fight. It was better for him to think that.

Sunset pulled away and smiled. She had gotten quite good at pretending like she wasn’t completely mental when she needed to. “I take it you got my message?”

“Yeah, and I called you back like four times. Why didn’t you answer?”

Sunset shifted her expression to appear guilty. “Sorry, I left my phone in the bedroom. Guess I’m not used to this whole multiple rooms thing. I’ll have to remember to keep it on me now.”

Flash smiled. “Hey, no big deal. And I was coming back anyway, I just had to go get something. Speaking of which, want to give me a hand with it?”

Before Sunset could ask what he meant, Flash led the way to his car. He smiled proudly as he opened the door, revealing a flat screen TV sitting in his passenger seat. “It’s not huge, but it’s better than nothing.”

Sunset stared for a moment before breaking into a grin. “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you did this! But you really shouldn’t have.”

“It wasn’t that much. I got a good deal at a pawn shop a few weeks back, and they agreed to hold it until you moved in.” Flash held up a finger when Sunset tried to speak again. “And before you say anything about not having cable, I already planned for that. I picked up an antenna that works on digital TVs and brought my DVD player with a bunch of movies.”

“Flash…” Sunset smiled and shook her head. “You are unbelievably sweet. Come on, let’s get it inside.”

The two of them worked together to carry the TV inside, then went back to the car for the DVD player. Flash surprised her again on the second trip by revealing he also had two pizzas in his back seat, reasoning that she wouldn’t want to cook the same day that they moved everything in.

Lacking anything to put the TV on, they dragged the kitchen table into the living room. It wasn’t a huge loss, considering the kitchen was too crowded anyway. With the TV and computer on the only real tables, they used empty boxes as their tables to eat off of.

Sunset let Flash pick out a movie, which meant a generic action flick. That was fine, though; it wasn’t Sunset’s favorite kind of movie, but she was just glad to have something to focus on.

“It’s amazing how many problems you can solve with guns and muscles,” Sunset commented about halfway through the movie.

“That’s not a fair assessment,” Flash said. “They also solved some of their problems with explosives.”

Sunset laughed. “Slow motion explosives, at that.”

“Do explosives even come in any other kind?”

Sunset stretched out as best she could. Like almost everything she owned, her couch wasn’t very big, and yet she had decided to lie down on it. Her feet were hanging off one end and she was lying against Flash on the other, so they were both more than a bit cramped. But as she stretched and looked into Flash’s face, she knew he didn’t mind.

If Sunset was really indifferent to him, seeing how happy he was wouldn’t affect her one way or another. If she was a normal person, she suspected it would have made her happy too. Instead, she found herself looking away. She didn’t want to see that. “You’re too good for me.”

‘Which is why I have to push you away while I have the chance.’

Flash’s hand found hers. “Yeah, I should really shoot for better than the most popular girl in school. I mean, she only has her own house, makes straight A’s, works a full-time job, plays gui–”

Sunset pulled him into a kiss. She didn’t want to hear that. Didn’t want to hear about the perfect Sunset Shimmer that he saw. The Sunset Shimmer that she could never be.

Because the real Sunset Shimmer? The real Sunset Shimmer was going to leave him in the dust. She wasn’t even going to tell him she was going. And even though that meant she no longer had any reason to establish her dominance at school, she was going to keep doing that too.

The real Sunset Shimmer was going to destroy whatever she could in this world, just like this world had destroyed her.

‘That’s more like it, Princess.’

Sunset winced. That had been her voice, and it came from the bathroom. She didn’t need to look to know which reflection she would see in the mirror.

Only one more month. She only had to make it one more month, then she’d be free from everything. Until then, she just had to keep the demon’s fire from consuming her along with everyone else.

Sunset pulled away from Flash and stood up. “So what do you say we finish this movie another time?” She kept hold of his hand as she took a step toward the bedroom, and he grinned in response.

No amount of telling herself that some of the things she saw and heard weren’t real had ever helped. So instead, she had often relied on Flash to do that. Kissing had been enough once, but that was years ago. They had a new way of forcing the thoughts out of her head these days, and with no risk of anyone walking in on them anymore, Sunset planned to make the most of it.

Sunset stirred restlessly. It was only August, but there was already a chill in the air. They must have left a window open or something. Even under a blanket, the chill cut into her.

At least Flash had stayed the night. He was supposed to go home, but they wound up falling asleep together in Sunset’s bed. That had never happened before, and Sunset wasn’t sure how she felt about it, but having someone else’s body heat to share on such a frigid night pushed any concerns out of her mind.

She moved closer and placed her arm around his stomach. He had his back to her, so she curled around him. He seemed to be sleeping soundly. Even pressed against one another, Sunset felt unreasonably cold, but she tried to ignore that.

Even with him on his side, Sunset could see the rhythmic rise and fall of his breathing. She had never noticed that before. Maybe it was the way he was silhouetted by the streetlight that gently illuminated the room, but something about his breathing stood out to her.

Sunset sighed and knew she should get back to sleep. Instead, she leaned her head against Flash’s back. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, barely above a whisper. “I’m sorry. You deserve better. You deserve someone who won’t leave you. Someone who can honestly say that she loves you. Someone kind. You deserve… everything you see in me that I’ll never be. And that’s why… you should just go. You’d be so much better off without someone like me who will just make you suffer.”

Flash shifted, and Sunset wondered if she woke him. But he didn’t speak or turn around. Sunset remained as still as she could, waiting to see what he would do. But when his hand moved to cover hers, she was shocked into moving. “Jesus, you’re fucking frozen.”

Sunset tried to pull her hand away, but Flash kept a hold on her. He slowly turned around, and Sunset realized that the silhouette’s form was wrong. “Sunset…” Applejack let go of her hand only to wrap both arms around her body. Her skin was unbearably cold against Sunset’s. “Don’t make me leave.”

There was a cracking sound, and the ground below them opened up.

They fell into the water, and it burned. It was more like fire than ice.

What little light there had been didn’t reach them anymore. There was nothing but darkness in her world now. Darkness and the burning cold.

When Sunset woke up, she was too terrified to move. It had all been a dream, that much she was sure of. But that didn’t shake the feeling that if she rolled over, she wouldn’t be alone in her bed.

Flash had left, of course. He stayed for a little bit after the sex, but even if his dad was okay with him sleeping over at his girlfriend’s house, it was a school night. Sunset had gone to bed shortly after that, feeling confident that the lingering endorphin high would allow her to sleep easily for once.

But Sunset never slept easily. On some nights, she didn’t sleep at all. So she was used to this feeling, used to the dread that something from a dream had followed her into the waking world. And although sometimes things did follow her from her dreams, she was used to confronting that fear.

She summoned all her willpower and managed to turn around. Applejack wasn’t there, nor was anyone else. Everything was as it should be.

The first thing Sunset did was turn on a light. Lights didn’t stop the visions, but darkness welcomed them. Next thing to do was find a distraction. Her phone was in the bedroom, so she chose that.

She opened her contacts. It was not a long list, and there was only one person who was worth paying attention to at this hour.

She could always count on Flash. Even in the middle of the night, he’d answer a call from her. If she told him she’d had a nightmare, he’d be ready to talk to her until she fell back asleep. There had been times she’d been desperate enough to need that.

But this time, she set her phone back down. For the first time in her life, there was no one else around. This was her house, and there was no one to stop her from playing music, or watching a movie, or doing anything else she wanted to do at two in the morning.

Instead of doing any of that, she sat on her bed and hugged her knees to her chest. She never knew she could feel so alone.