When Sunburst steps out of the train and sees Starlight, Trixie, and three carts parked beside them, he raises an eyebrow. But he smiles.
“We came prepared this time,” Starlight says, tossing the first suitcase into the cart.
Trixie takes her time picking the smallest and lightest valise she could find. “Please tell Trixie this is the last trip?”
“It should be,” Sunburst helps Starlight with a heavy trunk, using their combined magic to hoist it into the cart. “Most of my things came last week from the Crystal Empire.”
At the time, Trixie had been mortified by the number of things that Sunburst had accumulated in a lifetime. She would side-eyed the mountains of boxes piling the empty library that seemed to grow with every delivery pony that came through, avoiding the room entirely for fear of being crushed in an avalanche of ancient artifacts and hardcovers.
It took multiple journeys to get everything from Sunburst’s old life to Ponyville, but Starlight didn’t really mind. There’s more than enough room in the castle for all his things; and seeing the empty library full of books again will bring life back to the castle, more than the crystal walls and dusty banners ever did.
Once the carts are loaded Starlight takes the lead while Trixie and Sunburst trail behind her. Trixie quickly starts talking about a new trick she’s working on that involved her smoke bombs, and Sunburst listens and offers pointers to make it better. Starlight doesn’t butt in, partly because she doesn’t have anything to contribute, and partly because she is still unsure of how to be around Sunburst.
When it’s just the two of them, she tends to go overboard, so she’s glad she dragged Trixie along for this, using her friend as a buffer between her and the stallion.
He’s not terrible or a drag to be around, quite the opposite, he’s wonderful. He’s a lot more bright-eyed and wittier than she remembered. After years bending over dusty tomes, she expected some semblance of wisdom or serenity in his every movement. Not a pony her age. Not a pony that hums as he organizes his books on a checklist, not a pony that trips over rocks while he explains the latest magical theory he came across. He’s not much different from the colt in her memories—but something subtle in him is tempered. Stronger in a way.
Starlight wonders what the future holds for them. Everything around them has changed so drastically, it’s scary to think about sometimes. Going from living only for herself to gladly throwing her life away for her friends—Friends! Real friends! Ponies and creatures that genuinely like her—in a span of a few years still cause her whiplash.
She tries not to think about it and simply listens to Trixie arguing with Sunburst over how necessary it really has to be to pack books in alphabetical order.
(Trixie loses the argument).
Once the semester starts, Starlight notices that Sunburst is suddenly less sure of himself. He’s among ponies, now, young ponies that look up at him for guidance, some even trying to push his buttons to get a reaction out of him. Sunburst smiles to hide how flustered he is and stutters something vaguely diplomatic. He takes to barely leaving his office, reading and writing his lesson plans instead. Starlight lets the subject be.
For a month.
She takes Sunburst with her on errands around the school, using her rank to drag him out of his office. She hates to use it against him, but he needs to be more involved in the school life if he’s going to be vice headmare. She hopes that, if he shadows her long enough, he’ll pick up the tools he needs to deal with the students, especially the rowdier ones that like to get a rise out of the teachers.
Soon enough, the sight of the Headmare and the Vice Headmare walking together in the hallways becomes familiar to the students and faculty. If one saw Starlight alone, it meant that Sunburst wasn’t far behind, and vice versa. These patrols around the school, which sometimes turn into errands that take them to the town, are done in the kind comfortable companionship Starlight had actually never let herself hope for. It comes naturally to them when they’re both in quiet moods, or when they’re in the middle of a heated argument about magic or whatever topic they were debating about. Starlight likes it—having some pony there, not just her—more than she expected she would.
Sunburst’s a good Vice Headmare.
When Ocellus and Smolder move to Ponyville to become teachers, Ocellus immediately takes a shine to Sunburst, their quiet, contemplative personalities making them kindred spirits. And Starlight can’t help but feel please at how well Sunburst deals with Smolder, meeting her quips with his own and sometimes even taking the rebellious dragon by surprise with his cleverness.
When Silverstream comes along, he’s the only one with enough patience to answer all her questions. At first, Starlight tries to reign the over-excited hippogriff from bombarding Sunburst with too many of her interrogations, but Sunburst took them all with stride, no matter how mundane they seemed to Starlight.
When the new semester rolls in, Sunburst is much more confident and competent. He doesn't stutter when he talks in front of a classroom, the troublemakers soon learn that messing with him was the same as messing with her and pale when he catches them doing mischief. The faculty looks at him for guidance and Starlight’s workload becomes more manageable.
Before Starlight knew it, a year had passed.
They’re back at the castle, one chilly evening, and Starlight’s trying to get a fire going in the kitchen. The Pegasi are steadily pushing the winter towards the hamlet, and Starlight’s been busy preparing the castle for the oncoming chill, bringing out the warmer blankets from the closets, and buying other essentials. Trixie is out with Maud and her sisters (a friendship she never saw coming but has no complaints over), while Sunburst is doing some last-minute shopping for their dinner and would be back soon. Starlight would rather have the room warm before he does.
When Sunburst walks in and unravels the scarf from his neck, Starlight turns to greet him—and stops, her gaze caught.
He had been letting his beard grow, a fact that Trixie loves to tease him about, but now it’s trimmed and brushed in a way that framed his face instead of hiding it. He looks handsome.
He answers her unspoken question. “It was getting in the way, with how long it was, so I went to the barbers to have it trimmed.” He clears his throat and speaks in a lighter tone. “Now Trixie can’t call me a hobo horse anymore.”
“Ah,” she says. She’s still staring, she belatedly realizes.
Sunburst leans more into the humor. “Oh dear, did they do such a terrible job? Perhaps I should have considered another barbershop before I walked into that one. But they had a discount so I just—"
“It looks nice,” Starlight blurts and forces herself to be still and not look away. She can feel the heat rising from her neck to her cheeks, and to her surprise, Sunburst is blushing too.
“Okay,” he finally says. He is the first to recover in moments like these. “Thanks, Starlight.”
She smiles and helps Sunburst with the groceries, thinking about what they could make for dinner with the things he bought, but she’s still too flustered and barely registers what she’s placing on the counter. She’s the first to finish and she turns to the pantry, opening the cabinet where all the tea is stored in little glass bottles, labeled in Sunburst’s own scratchy writing. She stares at them, trying to really look at the jars, and not at Sunburst.
Sunburst clears his throat. “Hey, I, huh, got a present for you.”
At this Starlight turns to look at him.
He places a parcel on the counter between them.
“Oh, an early Hearth’s Warming gift?” She teases and takes the gift in her magic.
She doesn’t look at him, but she can see him fidget from the corner of her eyes. “No, just a little something…”
She undoes the coarse string holding it together and carefully unfolds the brown paper, revealing a book. It’s a hardcover, but there’s no title or anything special about it besides the golden stars engraved on the dark purple leather. She opens it and finds that all the pages are blank.
“You been pensive lately,” Sunburst explains as Starlight looks back at him. “I don’t want to force you to talk about it, but it’s not healthy to bottle it up—I find that writing what bothers me helps me understand what I’m going through.” He avoids eye contact, looking down at the groceries between them. “I’m sorry if I come across as presumptuous—”
“Sunburst,” she says, unable to hold back the warmth in her voice. He looks at her, startled. She smiles wide and gives up trying to hide how she’s feeling. “That’s very thoughtful of you, thank you.”
She says it as sincerely as she can, hoping that he will understand how much this means to her. “Thank you,” she repeats, holding the book tight to her chest.
There’s a pause. Sunburst isn’t quite smiling—he is studying her like she’s the most important thing in the world, and he is committing the shape of her face to memory.
“I’m glad you like it,” he finally says and stops himself from saying anything else that might ruin the atmosphere they unintendingly created.
But Starlight, feeling warm and pleased in a way she can’t describe, smiles back. “Well, dinner is not going to make itself, right? What should we have?”
The moment—if it could be called that—passes. Their dinner is delicious.
Starlight still sleeps in the same room Twilight gave her when she first moved in and when she left, Starlight found no necessity to change rooms. She keeps the diary by her bedside, which is close to her desk.
Too close. She realizes that the book could be easily stained, or damaged by the half-finished spells and kites littering the surface. She picks it up hastily, holding it close to her chest, and considers the safest, most sacred place to store it could be.
She ends up walking around the castle, frowning. Despite the numerous rooms not one of them is quite right, quite safe enough, to place the gift.
She walks past Sunburst’s room, the small door overshadowed by the library’s double doors next to it. While the library was technically a shared space it had inadvertently become Sunburst’s space more than anyone else’s, his books were the ones filling the bookshelves carved into the walls after all. Thinking of all the books and space in there makes her realize that it’s the perfect place for this one blank book
The doors are open when she walks in. Sunburst is sitting on the table, his face hidden behind a book. If he’s surprised to see her, he doesn’t let it show, and continues with his quiet studying.
She walks along the shelves, reading the titles that are ordered by subject, and then alphabetically by author. They all have lengthy titles and grand words she never read before. She feels a little out of her depth here.
Reluctantly she turns to Sunburst, and feeling her gaze on him he glances up from his book.
“I was wondering where I could put this,” she answers and gestures to the book she’s holding.
He considers her words, and very carefully asks, “Do you want me to store it for you?”
Before she could answer with an I don’t know, her mind registers the odd, careful tone in which he speaks, the one he uses when he’s hiding something. She looks a little closer and spots the shimmer of hurt on his face.
He thinks she doesn’t like his gift, that she isn’t planning on using it.
Oh crap, Starlight thinks because that wasn’t the case at all.
“A-Actually!” she says a little too loudly and coughs awkwardly. “I was thinking of buying a bookshelf and place it over my bed, so I’ll keep it there instead.”
“A bookshelf over your bed…” Sunburst repeats.
“Well, not like floating over my bed, I mean nailing to it to the wall or something,” Starlight continues without thinking, “I can keep other books in there too.”
His expression changes when her meaning dawns on him. “To read! Of course, I never thought you’d be interested in books! I never even offered to share my books with you, I just thought that you weren’t interested in reading.”
“I like to read,” Starlight says defensively.
Sunburst nods eagerly. “Yes, of course, you do! I can think of so many books you might like. The shelf is a good idea.”
“Yeah,” Starlight says awkwardly. Sunburst stands and races to the nearest wall, a hoof pressed carefully against the spines of the titles as he browses his collection. “I’ll get to it then.”
“I’ll lend you some good titles once it’s ready,” Sunburst says and smiles. “And you’re welcome to any of my books in the future, by the way.”
Despite herself, she smiles back.
Sunburst lends her five books, once the bookshelf is bought, assembled, and nailed securely on the wall over the head of her bed. They included an encyclopedia of crystals and their magical uses, a book on kite construction and design, a compilation of legends from around the world, a tome of Equestria’s history, and the last one takes her by surprise: an anthology of old, archaic love sonnets.
She understands why he chose the first four, but the last one perplexes her. Sunburst picks up on her uncertainty and explains. “I think only reading non-fiction can be exhausting, you can read the poems when you just want to relax and not in the mood for the other ones.”
“Okay,” Starlight nods and, not wanting to sound ungrateful, she continues. “Thank you, Sunburst. I really appreciate this; we can go to the antique store next week and I’ll treat you to something there.”
He practically beams at her. “Sure! I hope you enjoy them and you can keep them if you want, you’ll get better use of them than I ever did. I think these would be a good place to start for you.”
Starlight trusts his judgment. She has all the time in the world to read them, and she’s determined to use it to really appreciate the tomes he got for her, that way the knowledge will stick to her head and she won’t have to bother him again.
That night in the flickering candlelight, Starlight reads the first book.
Winter in Ponyville is only a degree away from being downright freezing, and other than going grocery shopping and bringing in more firewood, Starlight spends most of her time indoors.
Sunburst is busy in the library more often than not, deeply absorbed in his books and theories. Starlight wishes she would join them in the living room—there’s no fireplace in the library, and the high ceilings made it one of the draftiest and coldest places in the castle. But she says nothing and keeps the fireplace roaring, and works on a charm that would warm the library without burning the books.
Trixie giggles from behind her hoof when she catches Starlight staring at the door. “Have you tried to, I don’t know, ask him to come downstairs?”
Starlight rolls her eyes. “I have, and he always forgets as soon as he gets back to reading,” her frown is mixed with worry when she glances at the door again. “I just hope he doesn’t get a cold or something…”
Trixie looks at her for a moment before she sighs, reluctantly getting up from her comfy spot on the couch. “Trixie will let you in on a little secret: if you want to draw crowds to your show, or reclusive book horses from their rooms, food always works!” Trixie grins at her skeptical look. “Just sit and watch.”
The former show mare prepares a pot of tea over the fireplace, and when the kettle starts to boil and the smell of ginger permeates the room, Sunburst appears at the door, his ears perked up with interest. “Are you guys making ginger tea?”
“Sure thing!” Trixie grins at Starlight as she pours the hot beverage in his favorite mug. “Come and get it.”
While Trixie’s tactic works eight out of ten times, Starlight still thinks of ways of making the library a more comfortable place. Even if she were to put a real fireplace or some magical heating crystal in the center, it would have to wait until spring for construction to begin. In the meantime, she seriously considers investing in a couple of hot water bottles—they will come in handy for the next winter, she thinks grimly.
But at that thought, the idea that everyone would be here to see the next snowfall, in this town, and that neither Sunburst nor Trixie are going anywhere—it sends her heart fluttering and makes her smile. She keeps these thoughts to herself though and doesn’t think about it too often. She savors it and it warms her more than any fire spell she could think of.
Starlight reads the books Sunburst gifted her often, at all times of the day. Her favorite spot to read is on her bed, underneath three or four comforters, with a cup of hot cocoa by her side, and flipping through the pages in the pale morning light—it’s a comfort she rarely indulges in, one that Sunburst is probably more familiar with. The luxury of taking her time with a book, instead of ripping through its pages and discarding it once she gets the information that she needs. It’s a bit odd to just lie there and read, that there isn’t anything urgent she needs to do. She knows that this strange peace won’t last—this is Equestria after all, something dangerous and fantastical is bound to come knocking on her door sooner or later. But for now, she enjoys this phase of unfamiliar quiet.
In true Starlight fashion, she doesn’t take Sunburst’s advice of reading the poetry book in between the non-fiction ones. She reads all the non-fiction books first, carefully and thoroughly, at least four times before she finally approaches the poetry tome. Of course, she could always skip this one and ask Sunburst for more books, but it didn’t feel right to ignore something that he’d carefully picked out for her.
She doesn’t know why she has been avoiding this book in particular, and it’s all very silly in hindsight—but she figured she was saving it for last. Judging by the worn-down spine, the dog ears on the pages, and the notes scribbled out on the margins of the text, Sunburst had really loved this book in particular. There is something uncomfortably intimate about reading it, she can’t look at it without picturing the many expressions he makes while he studies, wondering what kind of faces he made when he read the verses. Then again, if this book was so special to him, he wouldn’t have loaned it to her for so long. He could have given her another book or another copy of the same one, but no, he gave her his personal copy of this particular book, meaning that he was perfectly alright with her having it.
Perhaps Sunburst just wanted someone to discuss poetry with, in an academic sort of way. She doesn’t know.
Starlight Glimmer, you’re many things, but an overthinker is not one of them. Just read the stupid book and give it back to Sunburst, simple as that.
So she starts the book one night when the castle is asleep, and her candle only has enough wick to last for about fifteen minutes.
She reads the first poem, then the second one, and the third one, and the one after that. They’re not as bad she feared. They do require some effort and rereading from her part to really grasp their meaning, but they don’t feel like a waste of time or anything like that. They’re actually quite interesting, and she finds herself getting more invested with every poem that she reads, especially since no poem is the same. They all create a different atmosphere—some are delicate and flowery, others wry and yearning, others gut-wrenchingly sad.
One sonnet, in particular, is quite lascivious—but the author was clever enough to hide his passion behind double entendres. Starlight probably wouldn’t have picked up on it right away, if Sunburst hadn’t highlighted certain words and written the meaning on the margins. The poem, and the fact Sunburst had examined it so thoroughly, makes her cheeks and ears redden. It’s well written, even she could appreciate that.
One more and then I’ll go to bed, she thinks as she reads.
But she doesn’t follow through with her plan, and her candle burns out when she’s halfway through the poem she promised herself would be the last—so she lights up another candle, because she hates leaving things half-finish, and reads another ten pages.
It’s late when she finally closes the book and puts it back on her shelf.
She’s tired, but she lays there in the darkness and stares at the ceiling, at the moonlight filtering through the spaces between her curtains. She thinks of Sunburst before she could stop herself. Not about him in particular, just the way he said goodnight before she went to her room, glancing up from the book he was reading to give her a quick smile.
Starlight thinks about every other creature in Equestria, not just the earth ponies and the pegasi and the unicorns. She thinks of the griffons, the yaks, the hippogriffs, to the changelings and the dragons, every one of them saying goodnight, good morning, hello, goodbye, there you are, here I am—that maybe they had a sonnet in their hearts as well, or were living out their own poetry instead of reading it.
The history of the world, she realizes, is made out of these special bonds. A strange thought comes to her then: that reading these poems was a bit like having a glimpse into that private history, the kind of history that is so integral to the world, the one that no one really talks about.
And Sunburst is still on her mind and she doesn’t know why, but she feels serenity when she thinks of him—and another feeling she can’t describe, but it’s so faint that it will disappear if she examines it too closely, so she lets it be.
She goes to sleep, and the next night, in the quiet and late hours, she reads some more.
“Did you like them?” Sunburst asks absently when Starlight places a stack of five books on the edge of his desk.
“Yeah,” she says but looks at him cautiously, hoping that he won’t ask what she thought of each tome.
But it’s exactly what he does. “Really? That’s great! Which one was your favorite?” He smiles eagerly and leans forward.
She answers in what she hopes is a neutral tone. “They were all great, but it’s a tie between the kite construction guide and the poetry book.” This isn’t a complete lie—she really did like the kite designs presented in the book, but the poetry is her favorite by far. More than she expected; she ended up reading the volume over five times.
He looks surprised. Perhaps even embarrassed, if she didn’t know him so well. “Ah, yes, the anthology. I wasn’t sure about recommending that one, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“It’s just—” she pauses, trying to gather the words. “The way the authors transcribe something as complicated and fleeting as emotions, you can’t fake that, and maybe that’s why I like them so much, I like it when ponies are honest,” she smiles and shrugs. “I wasted so many years hiding what I was truly feeling, so I can’t imagine how some pony could open up their heart like that for the world to read…it’s really quite powerful.”
Sunburst stares. She knows she’s not making a lick of sense, but it’s Sunburst, she’s sure that he won’t mind hearing her rambling. He’s probably the only one with enough patience to listen to her and try to understand her.
The door opens and Trixie waltzes in, shaking the snow from her withers. “A word of advice from the Great and Wise Trixie: don’t go out in this weather.”
“Ok, then why was the Great and Wise Trixie out in this weather?” Sunburst asks with a raised eyebrow.
Trixie huffs. “Not out of Trixie’s free will, she was waiting for a very important package!” She grins and waves a hefty box in her magic like a foal in Hearth’s Warming morning. “And Trixie was gracious enough to pick up the mail for you both.” She tosses a parcel of letters onto the desk, one clearly bigger than the other.
Starlight looks at the smaller one and sees her name written in her father’s writing. She glances at Sunburst, who’s flicking through his letters with a slight frown on his face.
“Are they from Sire’s Hollow?”
“Yeah,” Sunburst mumbles. “Honestly, I’m surprised by the small amount, you should’ve seen the boxes of letters my mom sent—oh.”
Sunburst stops and reads a particular letter. It immediately stands out because it’s not the expensive white stationary that Stellar Flare uses. The envelope is light brown, but of no lesser quality, and Starlight recognizes the stamps as the ones they sell in Trottingham.
“Who is it from?” Trixie asks, glancing from the practical magic items she’s pulling out from the box.
“I don’t know,” Sunburst frowns and flips the envelope, his eyes widening. “Wings and Scepters!”
“Wings and Scepters,” Sunburst looks at both mares with wide eyes. “They own the largest collection of decorative arts in all of Equestria.”
“So, is it like an antique store?” Starlight asks carefully.
“It’s a museum nowadays,” Sunburst tears open the letter and reads through the contents.
He’s quiet for a long time, long enough for Trixie and Starlight to share a concerned look.
“You’re not in trouble, are you?” Trixie breaks the silence when it’s too much for her. “I mean, they’re not coming to size up the competition or something like that? Celestia knows you have enough junk to open a museum of your own!”
Sunburst smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “No, just an old roommate from magic school that wants to see me about a business proposal.”
“Okay…that’s very sudden,” Trixie says and motions for him to go on.
He sighs. “Back in college, Flemish Meyer and I were kindred spirits because we didn’t do so well in magic school, but while my mom was understanding when I failed, his parents…weren’t. Last I’ve heard his parents forced him to take on the family business.” He looks at the envelope, tracing the companies symbol printed on the paper. “I knew his family was affluent, but I never guessed they were the owners of Wings and Scepters, so I’m a little shock.”
“Well, he gave you a warning before he dropped by, so let’s give him credit for that,” Starlight says with humor, nudging Sunburst good naturally. “Are you going to take it? The business proposal?”
“Probably not,” Sunburst says. “I mean, I don’t even know what he wants, but I have a pretty good thing going here, it’ll be stupid of me to blow it away just because.”
Starlight’s smile could have lightened up the darkest room. Trixie coos. “Aw, stop it, you! You’re making Trixie blush.”
They all laugh, and soon they are roped in by Trixie to help her try the new props she bought.
While Sunburst is distracted by Trixie’s new card tricks, she can’t help but think, are you happy here, in this town, in this job, with us, with me? One day, an opportunity will come that you can’t pass up. One day, you may leave.
This is more than enough for me, but I wonder if this is enough for you?