Sunset's Isekai

by Wanderer D

Lonesome Heart (Bulletproof Heart - Complete)

Sunset's Isekai
Chapter 8
By Wanderer D and PaulAsaran

The soldiers were gone at last. Rarity slipped out from behind the water barrels, flicking the nearby market pony a tip for not saying anything, then headed for the nearest alleyway. This day was turning out to be more trouble than it was worth; soldiers trying to kill her, Twilight keeping Applejack occupied, and she still hadn’t found her quarry. All that on top of the sun deciding Hoofington needed to be extra crispy today.
She flinched at the burning sensation on her upper arm, raising it to peer at the wound. A close shave. It would need stitches. Her attention turned to the fresh tear in Limestone’s jacket, to say nothing of the white shirt underneath. Formerly white. ’Confound those cretins. Do they have any idea what I have to do to deal with bloodstains?’ She’d have to purchase some more thread and fabric before leaving this wretched town, assuming she could find one that would accept her patronage.
A criminal. They were calling her a criminal! Which was better than what they were calling Pinkie Pie, but still! She’d have to finish her task soon and get out of Hoofington, find a place that wasn’t corrupt to the core. She hoped her friend was well away from this place, wherever she might be.
She paused at the end of the alley, stepping back upon seeing the familiar yellow coats of local soldiers. The place was crawling with them. Which made sense, considering they’d just lost her trail and she couldn’t have gone far. She imagined it was only a matter of time before they checked the alley. She took off her hat and rubbed the sweat from her forehead with the back of her arm. "Just peachy. Applejack, Twilight, where are you when I need you?"
She turned around to look for alternative escape routes. Her attention immediately settled upon a door that she was certain hadn’t been there two seconds ago. Ignoring that, its whole aesthetic was alien to the region: an arch made of grey stone and a solid-looking oak door. Above it was a stylized yellow and red sun. "Well. That’s… different." Her ears perked to the sound of whom she presumed to be soldiers barking orders. "I’ll just have to hope they have a back door." Rubbing the nub on Silver Lining, Rarity pushed her way inside, closing the door as carefully and quietly as possible despite the tinkling of the bell above her.
What she found within was not at all what she’d anticipated. The walls were brick, the small red brick that she’d only ever seen in Manehattan’s wealthier districts. There were a number of wooden tables, their apparent age but smooth finishes giving them a charming air. What really had her attention, however, was the long bar in the back and the rows upon rows of spirits. So she’d not only entered a place with an architectural design unlike anything she’d seen in Hoofington, but also stumbled upon some kind of bar. A nice one.
Which, now that she thought about it, could be exactly what she needed. This looked like the kind of place the Shrouding Midnight might frequent were she not a total homebody. Perhaps there was a connection somehow. A longshot, for certain, but Rarity was willing to risk it. Assuming the soldiers didn’t come barging in looking for her, that is.
There was nopony at the bar just now, but she could hear water running in the back. ‘Indoor plumbing? Definitely an upscale bar. What in Equestria is it doing in this out-of-the-way back alley?’ Her boots clopping loudly on the wood floor, Rarity stopped by the bar. "Hello? Anypony home?"

Sunset washed her face for what seemed to be the third time that day already, trying to wash the last of the grogginess away. Turning to glare at herself in the mirror, she held her own eyes and spoke out. "You will never again agree to a drinking competition with a krogan."

The familiar ring of the silver bell announcing the arrival of a new patron made her wince. She quickly studied herself, making sure she was dressed as prim and proper as Rarity had designed. She checked her hair. The position of her pin.

She could hear footsteps. Hard taps, sounded bipedal. Another soldier?

"Hello? Anypony home?" a familiar voice reached her.

Huh. Rarity.

"Sorry! I'll be right there. Please take a seat," she called out, quickly flashing a smile that hid the headache and stepped out of the restroom. She didn't run, but she did hurry, and slipped behind the bar, her eyes already studying the stunning figure across from her.

It was Rarity, but a Rarity like she had never seen before. Several thoughts flashed across her mind. 'She's gorgeous! She's half pony! She's a cowgirl! That's just as epic as Commander Twilight!' The thought, however, reminded her of how much that particular Twilight could drink and in turn, sobered her up. "Welcome to Sunset's Isekai," she said, bowing slightly at the mare, then as she straightened, she frowned, noticing the blood. "I… would offer you a drink, but maybe you'd like to use my med kit?"

Rarity stared at the… woman? Yes, absolutely a woman. Almost a pony, but there were some distinct differences. The flat face, for example. Well, flat-er. But that hair, those eyes… It couldn’t be, and yet it sounded just like her. Sunset Shimmer, most certainly. But what was she doing here, in this fancy bar in hoofington, and dressed so wonderfully? More importantly, she didn’t seem to recognize Rarity at all.

"I… um… Sunset Shimmer?"

Sunset blinked, then grinned. "Oh, you know me in your world? Awesome, that makes things so much easier. But, uh, what would you like to do about that?" She pointed at Rarity’s wound. "That looks bad. Let me get you something for that."

That snapped Rarity out of her bewilderment. That Sunset was here—and apparently no longer a pony?—was a mystery that would have to wait until later. "No time, darling. The soldiers here have decided I’m not welcome and could come storming in at any minute. I just had a couple questions and then I’ll be on my way."

"Oh." Though clearly bewildered by this, Sunset waved her hand dismissively. "You don’t have to worry about that. I give you my word that no soldiers will be storming into my bar." Rarity only barely heard her grumble the word "Again." The mare... woman… thing hurried away. "Just a sec, let me get you that med kit!"

Rarity had to wonder just what kind of establishment she’d gotten into. Could this Sunset really prevent the soldiers from coming in? That didn’t seem likely. From where she was standing, Rarity didn’t even see a locking mechanism on the door, nor did this version of Sunset have a horn. Still, it was Sunset Shimmer… wasn’t it? She might be able to trust her.

She pulled Ruby Heart and Silver Lining out and set them on the bar, just in case, then eased herself into one of the leather stools. After a moment’s consideration, she took off her jacket and set it on the seat next to her own, then placed her hat on top.

Sunset came back with a large white box, freezing upon seeing the guns. "Whoa. Are those yours?"

Definitely not her Sunset. What in Equestria was going on here? "Yes. Sunset, I must admit to being thoroughly flummoxed. Why are you here? What are you? And can I please get that med kit, now? Oh." She reached into the pouch on her belt and produced a few sapphires, setting them on the table. "I appreciate you letting me use your supplies like this."

Sunset blinked at the sapphires, before rolling her eyes. "Geez, you never change, do you? I'm not going to charge you for this," she said, opening up the large plastic box containing her kit. "I'll only charge for a drink later. But not for helping you with a wound."

She turned the open box around, so that Rarity could look for what she needed. Cowboy Rarity seemed surprised by the amount of things in there, but her guest was nowhere near as surprised as she herself was when Rarity picked out thread and needle.

"Oh." She gulped. "So you're doing that, huh?"

"Yes, darling," Rarity responded, giving her a slightly amused look. "Even if your words are true and my pursuers cannot come in, I’d rather stitch this than gallivant around losing blood. Don't you agree?" Cowboy Rarity looked at her, her expression not even betraying any pain. "Are you sure you're okay? You're looking a little bit green."

Sunset laughed nervously. "You know, I've seen worse…" She cringed as Rarity moved her shirt out of the way. " a medieval world. So, you know. Swords. Spell-blasts. Meteorites… But I've never seen anyone stitch themselves up. Is uh, there something I could do to help?"

Rarity smiled after a few seconds. "Oh, I do appreciate it, Sunset. How about you prepare the gauze in there and the bandages? And do explain this place," she added, waving around them with the hand holding the needle.

"Ah," Sunset said, swallowing again and taking a deep breath. She turned the box around and started fishing out antiseptic cream, gauze and bandages. "Well, ahem. Alright, in order, yeah… This bar is in a pocket dimension, it moves around, but don't worry! I won't take you anywhere… I sort of…" She trailed off, smiling sheepishly. "When I set it up with my Rarity as a business partner, I made sure it would allow only those that really need a break from life in. I can make it so no time passes out there, but I can also make it so that it does. Generally I let my guests out basically at the same time they came in."

Once the essentials were on the table, she moved the medical kit out of the way, grimacing as she watched Rarity work. The gorgeous mare's arm was covered in blood. It flowed a bit more freely as Rarity patched herself up, so she quickly produced a clean towel from the bar and slid it across, gently setting it in front of Rarity, all the time well aware of how her guest had been watching her every move.

Sunset leaned back. "Uh. So you don't stain more of your clothes, the towel is clean so you can use it after you're done and we can put some antibiotic cream on top," she explained lamely, looking down. "I've… never seen a bullet wound. I bet if Twilight and Wrex were still here you'd be all patched up. I'm sorry."

A pocket dimension. That sounded like something Twilight would understand, but the concept flew over Rarity’s cowboy hat. Still, she had a general idea of the meaning. She threaded the needle through her skin, cringing at the pain the act caused. How many times had she done this now? Strange, how some things got easier with practice.

"My thanks for the towel." She hissed as the needle pierced her flesh once more. Talking. Talking made it easier. "So, there are other Rarities and Sunsets and Twilights out there? That’s… interesting. But I suppose I’ll trust you. I wouldn’t have put you in charge of Little Longhorn otherwise." At the woman’s cocked head she added, "Long story."

"Right." Sunset nodded, still a little pale as she watched Rarity work. When Rarity used her magic to cut the thread and tie it off, she offered the antiseptic cream. "A-anyway, uh, there are technically infinite yous and mes and Twilights out there. My bar caters to all of them, and any other friendly, provided they need a drink and someone to talk to."

Rarity said nothing as she rubbed the cream on her arm, mostly because she was clenching her teeth against the pain as the salve did its job. Once the sting died down, she grumbled a distracted, "I don’t drink. And I honestly don’t know what we’d talk about."

"A Rarity who doesn’t drink?" Sunset flinched at Rarity’s glare. "Sorry! I'm not criticizing you, I promise. We’ve got non-alcoholic stuff too." Sunset reached under the bar and pulled out a small, ornate menu. "For when you’re ready. I promise, nothing alcoholic on this one."

The gauze had already been applied and Rarity had begun wrapping her arm in the bandage. She considered her options, only to realize that no soldiers had tried to get into the bar. There hadn’t even been a knock so far. And if she really could step out at the same time she stepped in—something she’d have to see to believe—then there was no harm in sticking around for a rest, was there? Luna knew she could use a break.

"Very well, Sunset, I’ll play along." Arm bandaged, she lowered her shirt back into place and grabbed the menu. "How about we start with your attire? I must know who your tailor is. Wait, don’t tell me." She smirked. "It was me, right? The taste is impeccable, so I can’t imagine it being anypony else." A glance at the menu. "Virgin apple cider? From Sweet Apple Acres? Now I have no choice but to compare."

Sunset chuckled. "That's the Rarity I know," she said, grinning as she took the menu. She glanced at it and frowned before running a line across the "virgin Pina Colada", then she pulled out a cold bottle of cider and popped it open, serving it in a glass with ice for Rarity. "But yes. Rarities, Sunsets, Chrysalises, etc. Not all of them pleasant, but I don't think any so far have been, you know, evil."

She went around the bar to bring a couple of frames, one with her friend the inter-dimensional Rarity, and one with pony Twilight and Wrex. "So, this is how you look in my second world," Sunset explained, "and this is roughly how you and I look in my original world." When Rarity looked down to the unicorn in the picture, then up to her, she smiled. "I travel a lot."

Rarity sniffed the cider and took a careful sip, making sure there was no alcohol in there before smiling and drinking a bit more. Sunset for her part leaned back and took a deep breath. "So you know me here, huh? I'm glad I seemed trustworthy to you, although I guess I always meet myself after I've reformed." She licked her lips, glancing at the bottle of changeling amber-sap. Yep. There you go, slight glow. 'Figures.'

She watched Rarity relax a little. "Anyway, this is the first time I've seen you like this… There must be a lot behind how you can take care of yourself." She motioned with her head at the guns. "You speak like a well-educated mare, your mannerisms are practically courtly, but you have an air of danger around you that just seeps through… and yet you remain warm, yourself. Also, before I forget, I do have some extra shirts and a washing machine, if you'd like… although, if you just want to let some cold water run through the fabric that should take care of most of the blood…"

Rarity chuckled at Sunset’s blatant curiosity. "Darling, if you only knew. I’ve been shot, burned, nearly drowned, almost starved to death on three separate occasions, ran into poison joke, met a veritable goddess (even if she denies the title), nearly blown up… I imagine I’m forgetting something. Point is, this?" She raised her arm in display. "This is nothing. A scratch. But a flesh wound." She sipped her cider, which was every bit as delicious as she’d hoped, while Sunset gaped at her. "Yes, that’s about the reaction I would anticipate."

Sunset sighed and crossed her arms. "I guess I'm full of questions… but if you don't want to talk about it, I'm not going to force you." She smiled understandingly and shrugged. "Hay, it's Friendship Lesson number… uh… 10? Anyway, respect your friend's space."

Sunset shook her head. "Geez, and I thought I’d had it tough at times. Suddenly all that complaining I did as Celestia’s protégé makes me feel like a whiny, spoiled child."

"Ah, I remember that—hold on, Celestia?" Rarity almost dropped her glass. "Y-you know Celestia? No… No, wait…" She groaned and sat back in her seat. "Alternate universes, right. It almost certainly wouldn’t be our Celestia. If it were that easy she’d have come back by now."

To this Sunset said nothing, for which she was glad. While her gracious host started cleaning up the medical supplies, Rarity distracted herself with the pictures laid out before her. A Chrysalis that looked uncannily like the one from her world, only quadrupedal. How strange. Was there a quadrupedal Rarity out there, too? What other strange forms might she have? She examined the big photo with all of Sunset’s friends, taking in herself.

A young Rarity, with six equally young, just as happy friends. They were all… whatever they were, but still easily identifiable. Herself, Sunset, Twilight. That one with the exploding pink mane had to be Pinkie Pie. There was even… She smirked. "So, is your Applejack a pervert, too?

Sunset snapped the hitches of the medical kit closed even as she shot Rarity a wide-eyed look. "A pervert? No way, not AJ. She’s got to be the most respectable person there is. How could you possibly jump to that conclusion?"

Sighing, Rarity set the frame aside, face-down. "To be fair, ‘pervert’ is probably too strong a word, first impressions aside. But she… did something, and I haven’t let her forget it. She’s been trying to make it up for me for a while." A sip of the cider. A light smile. "She’s begun trying to serenade me with her guitar and singing. I tell her it won’t work, but she insists she’s ‘just practicing’, that she’ll ‘serenade me for real’ when she’s found the right song. It’s actually quite charming."

Using the same hand holding the glass, she thrust a finger at Sunset. "But in case you ever meet her, don’t you dare tell her I said so."

"My lips are sealed." Sunset mimed locking her mouth, a motion that she had to have picked up from her world’s Pinkie Pie. She leaned against the bar and eyed her guest with a warm smile. "You and AJ, huh? That’s kinda cute, to be honest."

"Oh, Goddess, don’t say that." Rarity covered her face behind a hand as her cheeks started to burn. "It’s confusing enough as it is."

Sunset grinned, picking up a glass and starting to clean it with a too obvious nonchalant attitude. "You don't say? Well, if you haven't met your Celestia yet, then count yourself lucky on the romantic advice department. Mine was always putting her nose where it didn't belong." She frowned. "Well. One of them anyway, but it was sort of her job to stop students from doing things that they might regret later. Speaking of which, I'm making some coffee."

She proceeded to set up her espresso machine while Rarity watched. "You know… I think Rarity… my friend in the picture—not my business partner—had a thing for Applejack back home. But they had been friends for a long time, so they knew how to hide it better? It's weird thinking they already sorted a little something of their lives out."

She pressed the coffee and slid it into place. "I was ahead in schoolwork, and I guessed a lot of things, but relationships? Celestia forbid. My 'ex' was more of an excuse to get popular in school, and he really deserved someone better than some transformed unicorn that saw him as an easy step up in popularity." She tapped her chin, glancing at Rarity. "Although he did try to serenade me once too, after I broke up with him, and now I can't get my head around how—technically—Applejack serenading you with country music is not going to end up in drama."

"What do you mean, darling?" Rarity asked, tilting her head.

"Let's say country music was not her jam. It's just that the only times my friend Rarity wore a cowboy hat, was when Applejack placed it on her head, which now that I look back on it, was kind of a big hint."

Once her coffee was ready, she quickly downed it. "And again, sorry for that—" she made a face "—it's just I'm still recuperating from a bad decision involving creatures that can drink a lot more than I. I'm just glad my bar is closed whenever I say it is, or I would have had a lot to explain to potential customers if they had arrived before you did."

She glanced at the guns again, oddly curious. "So… mind telling me how you got these? I've got to admit, I've seen some really impressive guns, futuristic mostly, but these look like works of art."

A curious dodge, but one Rarity could appreciate. "That’s because they are works of art. Really, would you expect me to fight with anything less?" Rarity smirked as she took Silver Lining in her hand, giving it a quick twirl. She might have an audience of one, but that was no reason not to show off. "Gifts, as it were. Silver Lining here is my first weapon, and it… took some getting used to. It was given to me by a—" She hesitated, then smirked. "A cranky donkey named Whyare Youhere. It originally belonged to… Well, I suppose she was my predecessor, in a sense, but she told me I could keep it."

She’d almost forgotten that the entire reason she was on her own right now was because she was seeking that same mare. Still, she was loath to stop the break she’d somehow managed to find herself. She set Silver Lining down and picked up the other, much heavier weapon. To think, she’d once had trouble aiming it with two hands. "Ruby Heart was a gift from an entirely different friend. Quite the charmer, that one. Also the size of a small building, but that’s a dragon for you."

She’d expected shock or something similar, but somehow Sunset’s smile only grew wider. "His name wouldn’t be Spike, by any chance?"

Rarity nearly dropped Ruby Heart. "H-how did you know?"

With a chuckle, Sunset tapped the picture. "The Rarity from my original world? Spike was enamored with her, too. Well, both my worlds, come to think of it. And the Rarity who is my business partner? She’s had relationship issues with her own Spike. It seems to be a common trend across the multiverses."

"I see." Putting the gun down, Rarity returned her attention to the picture of Sunset’s friends once more. She traced her finger along the image, first over herself, then over Applejack. "Does this mean me and Applejack are a trend? Are we ’destined’ to be together regardless of my feelings on the matter?"

Sunset began cleaning her glass once more as she studied Rarity’s face. "How do you feel about it?"

Rarity didn’t answer at first. She was too busy thinking. About a night in an entirely different bar. About the strange mare with a dog who started talking to her when she was smashed drunk. About waking up in an unknown bed with no memory of how or why she was there. About the mare who had been there, and all the times she’d been around since.

"She hurt me, Sunset. She hurt me in a way that still sickens me. For a long time, I genuinely wanted to kill her. I became a monster because of that mare. Briefly, and I pulled myself out of it, but a monster nonetheless. I killed a lot of ponies who didn’t need to die, all because I wanted them to be her."

"Whoa. That’s, uh…"

"And yet." Rarity stared into those green eyes, so happy and kind, and imagined they belonged to her own Applejack. "And yet. Every day since then, she has strived to correct the mistake. She bends over backwards to support me, to help me in whatever I need, despite knowing I may never forgive her. She’s been by my side, defended me with words and with bullets, respects my need for space, and only pushes when it is necessary. I’ve come to honestly believe that that night was all one big misunderstanding on both our parts. And while I haven’t forgiven her, I…"

She groaned and thrust the frame aside, reaching for her glass. It had been filled at some point during her monologue, but she didn’t care, taking a few big gulps. The cool liquid did wonders to ease the flame inside. The glass hit the bar with a loud thunk. "Tell me, Sunset, is it possible to love and hate someone at the same time? That seems to be where I’m at right now. It’s not a comfortable situation."

Sunset started cleaning her equipment, thinking about Rarity's words. "From what I know of my Applejack, I can believe it might have been a misunderstanding. Assuming a similar personality and not knowing what happened, of course… but yes, I think you can both love and hate at the same time." She put down the rag. "A couple of years back I became a monster too. A very literal monster. Claws and everything. I stole an Element of Harmony, used its power… not because I needed it, but because I wanted Celestia to admit to me she was wrong, and that I was right. I hated her. But I also wanted so much her admiration and love… It sounds silly to think you can both despise and desire at the same time, but isn't that part of what makes us all special? We have flaws and beliefs that contradict each other, but they're just part of what being sentient means."

She glanced at Rarity. "My stint as a demon was thankfully short, but I think that on some level I can understand that anger and resentment, even if I was lucky and I was rainbow-blasted into a more reasonable state before I did something I would never be able to forgive myself for." She chuckled. "So… I don't know what to tell you other than yeah, it happens. But—if she made an honest mistake—it seems she's dead-set on proving to you that whatever she did, it wasn't with the intent to hurt you."

She poured more cider for Rarity and poured herself a glass as well. "I don't know what I would do if I had been in your boots. How do you deal with having done that? I mentally enslaved a hundred teens for a few minutes and I still feel awful about it. Heh. Now that I think about it, it seems that outside my bar, my primary motivation these last few years to do anything has been guilt."

"Guilt." Rarity hummed, swirling the glass in lazy motions and watching the amber liquid spin around. "I suppose that might be Applejack’s motivation. Mother once told me she was ‘devoted’ to me. Sometimes I remember what she did and I just want to slap her, convinced that everything she does is little more than an excuse to get me to lift my tail. Then I remember all that she’s done since. Honestly, it’s a lot to go through just for a little play time."

She sighed and set the glass down, trading it for Ruby Heart. She ran her fingers along the rubies embedded in the weapon’s side. "As for me? My motivation was always my family. Everything I sacrificed was for their sake. But along the way, I lost sight of things. I let the anger start to fill me up. I didn’t become a demon in the literal sense, but I was probably as close to it as a pony could be. But then something happened."

"Oh?" Sunset leaned closer, clearly intent on hearing a story. "What happened, Rarity?"

"I met what I could have been. A pony who had let her rage and hatred and bitterness consume every inch of her until there was nothing left but white hot fury. I had to fight her, and I had to win, but I had to do it the right way. In a sense, fighting her was like fighting myself." She reached up to rub the necklace beneath her shirt. Then, noticing Sunset’s curious gaze, she pulled it out.

Sunset let out a quiet gasp. "Is that an Element of Harmony?"

Rarity smiled warmly at it. "Generosity. Or so I am told. When I rejected that future, it gave me the strength I needed to see things through. And now? Well, I won’t say I’m all together, but I can at least say I’ve overcome that particular demon. I was a bloody mess afterwards, literally, but I pulled it off."

Letting the Element rest outside her shirt for once, Rarity went back to sipping her cider. It bought her time to think on that glorious moment of perfection, when Rarity Belle was the master of her new art. And oh, how she longed to feel that again. But for now, she was happy with what she could do on her own. Somehow, she knew the Element would be there should she need it.

Sunset sighed and stood up once more. She went back to the routine of cleaning her mugs. "Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had an Element to get us over the hump?"

The sentiment brought a frown to Rarity’s face. "I beg your pardon? I think you misunderstand."

Sunset, face partially hidden by her luxurious mane, replied quietly. "You just said the Element helped you ‘see things through’."

"No." Now it was Rarity sitting up straight, her expression as hard as her voice. "I won that fight on my own merits. I beat the Flaming Vermillion by my actions, my decisions, my unwilling to become the monster. It was only after the fight was over and I’d chosen my path that Generosity came to my aid. It let me do what came after, but that had nothing to do with me overcoming those demons. You don’t need some mystical, magical artifact to do that much, Sunset. You just need to choose who you are going to be."

She lifted her glass, peering at the bartender from over the rim. "I have to wonder, what will you choose to be?" 

"Well, I'm a bartender now, aren't I?" Sunset glanced over her shoulder, matching the smirk on Rarity's lips. "I've been through my own share of trouble. Not as bad as yours but… I've been trying to make up for it ever since. I don't get shot as often, but it does feel like two steps backward for each step forward, you know?"

Sunset bit her lip before she also slid out her own precious pendant. She held the geode in her hand so Rarity could see it. "It's funny. This is not an Element of Harmony, of course. Same magical principle, however. We had a life or death situation, severely downplayed by sheer luck that no one got killed, and with the power of friendship, we brought forth… our Geodes. We have super powers. You got the ability to cast shields shaped like your cutie mark, although it's not limited to that… you're very creative. Applejack got super-strength, Pinkie can make food explode… you get the gist. Me? I got the power to see into people's minds."

Rarity frowned, lowering her glass and looking hard at her. "I hope you don't intend to do that with me."

Sunset shook her head. "It's been helpful a couple of times, but when I started, I made myself promise that I wouldn't use it to read anycreature." She made sure their glasses were full before continuing, "I thought… that everyone deserves to have their pasts to themselves… or at least that it's none of my business to go look uninvited, especially in a situation like this, where people could have very personal reasons to not share something." She shrugged. "Maybe one day we'll be good enough friends that you'll tell me your whole story, but I won't get there by betraying your trust."

Rarity leaned back, relaxing a little at the statement and nodding in understanding.

Sunset sighed. "It's a pretty big responsibility, but now I'm wondering if there was an additional reason I decided not to use it anymore." She glanced up at the counter with all the bottles. "Most of these bottles I ordered directly from their origin point… wines from elves; beer made by a drunk robot; a cocktail recipe that once you drink it is like having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick… crazy stuff, but most importantly not tied to my past. 

"I feel like in a way this bar freed me of that. I can still see my friends… and I do! My original ones, not only their gorgeous inter-dimensional counterparts. And odd as it sounds, I feel like I'm really moving forward now, even if I'm inside the same building at the end of every day."

"‘Gorgeous counterparts?’" Rarity chuckled and flicked her mane, then arched her back and batted her eyes. "Why, Sunset, you flatter me." When her host simply blushed but didn’t take the bait, she sighed and picked at her shirt. "I’m covered in dirt half the time, get a shower maybe once a season if I’m lucky, have no small number of scars, and yet still ponies say such things. Sometimes I don’t know whether to strut and boast or accuse them of ‘just being nice.’"

Sunset shrugged. "Just being honest. And I'm used to being the bad girl in town. My Rarity’s plenty attractive, but that extra edge on you is just—" Noticing Rarity’s deadpan look, she took a quick drink to mask her face. "Okay, okay. You have trouble taking compliments, huh? That’s certainly not a trait my Rarity takes."

"I appreciate compliments. And flattery." Rarity turned her gaze to the drink in her hand, once more swirling it in little circles. "I’ve learned to live with what I’ve become these past few years, but really? All I want is to find a small town to settle down in, open a new clothing shop, and live the rest of my life in peace. You seem to already have that, but I wonder.

"I used to want to be a fashionista, you know? Move to Manehattan, rub elbows with the agricultural elite, have my dresses known throughout the city states. It all seems so petty now." A sip. She was drinking a little too much of this stuff, but who cared? When one travels hundreds of miles and normally eats carefully rationed food, one need not fret too much over diets. "Reality has a way of slamming the door on your little fantasies, doesn’t it? You and your princess. Me and my career. Are we better for that?"

"Well, if you ask—"

"I kill ponies." Rarity wasn’t sure why she felt compelled to blurt that, but the words were slipping out and she felt a curious disinterest in stopping them. "Where I once feared guns, I now rely on them for my survival, in more ways than one. I tried to defend myself, and I became hunted. I went to rescue my sister and assistant from an army of bandits, and now the local government wants to put me on a show trial. I try to be a ‘good pony’, and it just leads to more bullets flying my way. It’s like this stupid world has a thing against ponies trying to live their lives in peace!"

She snorted and tapped her Element. "And now I’m expected to find these things. And for what? I have no idea. They aren’t forthcoming with that information, but it chose me and now I’m scouring Equestria. Is that supposed to make me a hero?" A scoff, another gulp of cider. "I don’t know where I’m going with this, but you said I could talk, so damn it all, I’m talking. I never wanted to be a hero!"

The glass slammed onto the counter, nearly spilling its contents. Rarity scowled at it, feeling strangely disappointed by the lack of a mess. "What are these stupid things supposed to do? Save the world? Discord is still in Tartarus, so what else am I supposed to fight, Trixie? Will they magically make all the city states stop fighting one another? Will they bring Princess Celestia back from wherever the hay she’s gone? And they talk about responsibility. Hah!"

She looked up to find Sunset watching her with a worried expression, and realized she’d been spouting off her concerns for no apparent reason. Why would she do that, and to this total stranger? ‘Because that’s what ponies do in bars, Rarity. Don’t you know that?

I don’t visit bars that often, so no.

You read books, right? It’s a common trope.

I don’t hardly read anything anymore, either. No time.

Bull. You could bring a book along on your travels easily.

Books cost bits.

Fair enough.’

Winning an internal argument for once did little to ease Rarity’s mood. She groaned and went back to staring at her glass. "I’m sorry, Sunset. It’s just… everypony says I’m the best thing to happen to Equestria since the Rainbow Gang, and they got slaughtered at the Battle of Ponyville a couple decades ago. I keep doing what I think is right, but sometimes it feels like it’s all pointless. This time next year I could end up dead in the desert, my heart finally proving it isn’t bulletproof, and for what?"

She waved a hand at the fine establishment surrounding her. "Then I see this. I see a friend living a pleasant dream of sorts. I see the kind of life I’d like to have. I can’t help but ask, ‘Why couldn’t it have been me?’" She sighed and rubbed her bandaged arm, letting the sting ease her thoughts. "I apologize, darling. I’m usually not so… melancholic. Overdramatic I’ll admit, but…" Another sigh, another sip of cider.

The bar settled into silence.

Sunset carefully approached Rarity, and when there was no more glass-slamming, raised an eyebrow before she filled her drink once more. She wasn't splurging either—the stones Rarity had dropped earlier would suffice for all she had drank and she'd still have change left. "This is… what you do at bars, Rarity. Well, at least my bar. I want ponies to be able to forget about life for a while, like the song goes. I don't think I told you, but I opened this place up because I let my business partner talk her heart out…  I know it's presumptuous of me to offer that, having as little experience as I do, but…" She shrugged, taking a deep breath. "I needed an ear a lot of times too, so I don't mind listening."

Then, as if she herself couldn't stand the silence brought by brooding, she started speaking again. "It wouldn't be a lie to say that I'm sort of jealous of the romanticized version of what you and the others have said—over here you're doing so much! And one Twilight is a space commander! And another Sunset found her fiancée. And I met not one, but two Queens and I wonder what their lives are like." Her face soured for a moment. "I even had the misfortune of meeting a Gilda and Twilight that tried to commandeer my stock to get their whole ship drunk," she muttered. She straightened up, looking at Rarity again. "I guess, as a non-heroic type, having you here, where you can rest and tell anything to somepony that doesn't have an agenda is something that I can do. Maybe the only thing I can really do."

They descended into contemplative silence, Rarity taking small sips of her drink, while Sunset arranged things and turned bottles around, trying to think of what to say. It bothered her to have her friend be so gloomy and pessimistic about her future. This was a mare whom she could admire. There was no way she was sitting this one out quietly. "Who's to say you won't get what you want in the end though?" she finally asked. She looked over her shoulder. "I don't think you see—or maybe you do see, but don't really want to admit—just how exceptional you are in every world, and here especially so." She chuckled. "I can see why ponies would admire you. And it's not a bad thing."

Exceptional. Rarity couldn’t deny that, though she’d have loved to. The first time she ever emptied a gun, she’d hit bullseyes. She could miss, but it didn’t happen often. And somehow, despite everything, she was still alive.

She sighed. "Being exceptional didn’t save Papa’s life. Didn’t keep the Rainbow Gang from falling when they were at the peak of their fame. That’s why I have Silver Lining in the first place: somepony exceptional had to fail before me, and lose everything she loved." She picked the gun up, eyeing it from several angles. She thought of Moonlight Raven, wondered where she might be right now. That mare had given her blessing. Why would she do that?

Because Rarity, too, was exceptional.

"It’s easy to forget, sometimes," she said, spinning Silver Lining’s cylinder. "I used to hate guns. What do they do but cause death and destruction? But without this weapon, I’d have lost my marehood to a brute. An entire town of ponies would have been cheated out of their lives. My parents would be dead, and so would I. My sister, former assistant, and some good friends would be slaves."

She met Sunset’s gaze with a wane smile. "I understand where you’re coming from, Sunset. When I was but a teenager, I left home to prove that I could live that great life, filled with dreams of success and fame." She scoffed and set the gun down once more. "It ended with me alone in the barren wilds, my dress ripped up and wrapped around my head to protect me from the sun. I nearly died from dehydration, and then I ended up with a terrible fever once a kind soul rescued me. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience."

Taking up her refilled glass, she raised it as if in toast. "It’s okay to wish for a more adventurous life. It’s okay to be jealous of it. Just remember that when you wonder what those other ponies’ lives are like, there’s always a downside. And I?" She paused, staring at nothing for a moment as she wondered how to finish that line of thought. The lights of the bar made the amber liquid seem to glow. At last, she smiled and drained her glass in one long pull.

"I suppose I should remember the flip side, as well. It might not be all sunshine and roses, and I might not know if my story will have a happy ending." She pushed the glass aside, waving off Sunset’s attempt to refill it. "But I didn’t become famous because I’m a failure. I’m making ponies’ lives better, or at least trying to. I’ll just have to live with that for the time being."

Sunset licked her lips, an idea forming in her head. "You know. I think I have some of Rarity's stuff in the back room. I'm sure you could design a new getup for me based on your style and your world in a jiffy." The cowmare looked up, blinked and smiled slightly.

Setting her hat back on her head, Rarity stood and examined Sunset’s attire. "You say my counterpart did this? Exquisite work, as can be expected. Beating it would be quite the challenge, and I’ve not had a proper opportunity to flex my creative muscle in many seasons. Hmm…" She grinned as she envisioned several options. "Yes. I think I know just the thing. You, Sunset my dear, shall look divine. Which is good, because I thoroughly regret not getting to dress my own Sunset. A mare of your physical caliber demands at least one opportunity at perfection and I, of course, am the pony to provide it. If I should ever meet this ‘other me’, I fully expect to hear her opinion, and perhaps a challenge.

"Oh, and while I’m at it?" She raised her arm, putting her torn sleeve on display. "Perhaps I can fix this. A lady must always look her best, after all. Even when covered in dirt and sweat."

It had taken some cleaning up to make sure the surface of the bar was spotless, before Sunset  headed over to Rarity's office. It wouldn't do to get the equipment wet or dirty, after all. Eventually, she came back from the back room, bearing a basic sewing kit, and several sheets of paper that Rarity used to design clothes. She might complain a bit later, but the fact was that it was still Rarity (sort of) making use of it. 

Truth be told, she could barely hide her excitement. When she had mentioned it to Cowgirl Rarity, she hadn't been sure what the reaction would be. She hadn't done it out of pity, of course, but rather had seen an opportunity to let a friend indulge in their passion. But she had been secretly afraid it would be taken the wrong way. Now, she was getting a new outfit out of it!

"Alright, here's the sewing kit, and some paper. Pencils, design tools, etc. If you need a specific thing, I can go back and get it… I don't work with any of these, but I sometimes sit down with Rarity while she works, so I can probably find what you need if she has it."

She sat down, grabbing one of the stools to watch Rarity work. "You know, I think she'll like that…" she mused. When Rarity gave her a look, she shrugged, clarifying; "What you said, I mean. About her challenging you later. I've yet to meet a single Rarity that doesn't have that competitive spirit," she added, chuckling. "In fact, I think it's one of their, and your, most endearing traits."

Rarity raised an eyebrow. "How many Rarities have you met?" When Sunset declined to respond with anything other than a smile, she shrugged and examined what she had to work with. "First things first: fabrics. Give me colors. Browns. Reds. Blacks. Whites. Don’t worry about the specific shades, just give me what you’ve got. I can’t make something for you if I don’t know what materials are available, and I need something to compare to your dazzlingly natural colors."

"Yes, ma’am!" Sunset saluted and disappeared in the back once more. While she was gone, Rarity turned her attention to the machine up against the wall. A… juke box? That was what Sunset had called it. She wondered if she could get it to play—music kicked on, making Rarity jump.

On the road of experience, I’m trying to find my own way
Sometimes I wish that I could fly away

"Interesting choice."

Rarity jumped, turning to find Sunset and a whole lot of fabric. "B-but I didn’t choose anything."

Sunset smiled knowingly as she listened to the music. "Trust me, Rarity. You did. You just didn’t know it."

After listening to a few more lyrics, Rarity smiled. "Well, it’s not a bad song by any means. Now, I’m going to begin sorting all of these." The many, many pieces of fabric began to float in the air all around her, encased in her light blue aura. "And you are going to get me some coffee. No sugar, but cream would be heavenly."

"You got it."

"You know," Rarity said as she examined her many options, passing them across Sunset’s lovely mane for comparison purposes, "I think that competitive, aggressive spirit may be the thing that’s kept me alive for so long. I never would have had the courage to stand and fight without it."

It’s a sweet, sweet, sweet dream
Sometimes I’m almost there

"So you might be right about it being my best trait. Thank you for reminding me of that, Sunset."

Sunset turned back to her, a steaming mug in each hand, her smile rivaling the coffee for warmth. "It was my honest pleasure."

"Now then, enough about how amazing I am. I’m already aware of that, after all." Rarity snatched a piece of dark silk out of the air, closed an eye and peered at it while holding it so it was visibly over Sunset’s cheek. "Let’s make you fabulous."

Sometimes I fly like an eagle,
Like an eagle
I go flying high


Sunset stepped out of Rarity's office, walking down towards the bar with her boots making a nice, solid sound with each step. She had tight, reddish-brown pants, of a color that Rarity had called "Oakbark", and matching boots. A light cream-colored, slightly frilled blouse with a slightly darker pattern was topped by a cloth black vest. 

Unlike her previous one, this one had a collar and lapels, which folded stylishly the moment it was buttoned up… and the buttons! Cowboy Rarity had used her skills and some of Partner Rarity's equipment to fashion them out of some orange garnets. She almost hadn't, expressing a slightly disappointed disgust at using "currency" for clothes, but Sunset had insisted that gems in the multiverse weren't always currency—and besides, if Hotel Chic could exist, so could garnet buttons.

The whole thing was completed by the black leather hat and gloves that Rarity had insisted on making herself. Magic and fashion were things of beauty. "Rarity this… this is amazing." She walked into the bar's main area and posed for her friend. "What do you think?"

"I think that all you need now is a holster and a pair of guns, and we'd be ready to gallop into the sunset, darling," Rarity said with a smile.

"I don't even know how to thank you for this."

Rarity huffed and turned up her nose in an exaggerated display of pomp. "I didn't do it for gratitude, my dear. I did it for fabulosity. That is its own reward." She held the pose for just long enough for Sunset to start giggling, then joined in.

"But seriously." Rarity took her own hat, discarded once more in the work, and set it upon her head. "I should be the one thanking you. It was a delight to work my real craft again. I almost never get the opportunity to anymore. It’s nice to know I haven’t lost my touch." She raised her arm to show the freshly repaired sleeve of her shirt. "And this is greatly appreciated, as well."

Sunset grinned and nodded, allowing herself another moment to examine her new attire. "Pretty sure my Rarity will love this. She—the one from my world, mind—once made me a cowgirl outfit. I dare say you’ve outclassed her."

"She’ll get there, I’m sure. I wouldn’t accept anything less." With a sigh, Rarity grabbed Limestone’s jacket, also freshly repaired, and slipped it on before putting her weapons away. "I really mean it, Sunset. Thank you. I didn’t realize how badly I needed a break. I almost don’t want to go back out there, but you know how it is."

"Gotta stand up to the challenge, right?" Sunset nodded before reaching back and taking a bottle of cider. "Here, for the road."

Rarity’s eyebrows widened. "The whole bottle? Are you sure?"

"Positive. You’ve more than earned it. But I have a request."

Hand pausing not an inch from the proffered bottle, Rarity abruptly gained an expression of mock suspicion. "Tempting me with virgin cider. You really are a devil, aren’t you?"

Tittering, Sunset pulled out her phone. "Can I get a picture with you for my wall? This is one visit I absolutely don’t want to forget."

"A picture?" Rarity glanced at all the images on the wall. There was still a lot of space left for filling. "Why, I would be delighted! Just make sure to show me off to myself when you get the chance. After all…" She smirked. "We all need a standard to build up to."

She watched Sunset eagerly walk around the bar, her thoughts drifting to all they’d spoken of during this strange encounter. Just as her host and friend was standing at her side, she caught the woman’s arm. "And Sunset?"

Sunset looked at the hand on her arm, then at Rarity. Her smile diminished when she noted the gunslinger’s solemn gaze. "Yeah?"

"Don’t ever forget. You may not be going on grand adventures and fighting the villains, but for those of us who are, what you do here is no less important. Please remember."

They stared at one another for some time, Sunset seeming at a loss for what to say. At last, she managed to regain her smile, this time with a bit of pride to make it shine all the brighter.

"I will."

Sunset and Rarity stood at the door of Sunset's Isekai. Out there, Rarity's home waited for the return of the Bulletproof Heart. In here, a blooming friendship was reluctant to be split.

"I'm dropping you off a few minutes before you stepped into my bar, in another area of town, just so you have a bit of an advantage. You know," Sunset said, lowering her voice while she gave Rarity one of her cards, "this place will find you when you need a drink and to collect yourself. You'll always be welcome."

Rarity smiled. "Thank you, darling, if I see the door I'll be sure to visit."

Sunset returned the smile. "You can tell me more about your adventures when you do. And make sure you bring Applejack with you, alright?"

"I—" Rarity gave her a look before shaking her head. "I guess it's time to go. Good luck to you, Sunset Shimmer."

Sunset watched Rarity leave, her eyes briefly catching a glimpse of the western world outside of her bar before the door closed and the bell rang. Sighing, she turned around and was about to make her way to the bar when the door opened behind her.

She heard a gasp. "Darling! Those clothes! They are fabulous!"

She felt a smile growing on her face as she turned to face her business partner. "Oh, and do I have a story for you." She tapped her chin. "And a challenge."

End Chapter