A Ladder to the Sun

by FoolAmongTheStars

Part 2

Flemish, as it turned out, was not a good friend. He was exactly the type of pony Starlight feared Sunburst had grown into before they reunited—he looked down on her and Trixie, at the work that they do, at the mistakes that they made. Fortunately, Sunburst recognized this and sent Flemish packing, though he didn’t leave quietly, apparently.

After he came home from the station, Sunburst looked stricken and barely said a word to his two friends. Trixie tried everything to get him to talk and looked at Starlight with a shrug when nothing worked.

Starlight’s strategy was to leave him alone until he was ready to share, and a week after Flemish left, he finally spoke up.

“I know I’m not the most observant,” he slowly states, as they sit together to have lunch during their break, “but he was not like that when we were in magic school. Maybe something happened to him to make him change? Could I have tried harder to get through to him?”

Starlight chews on her sandwich slowly. She wants to offer advice, but wonders if she has the right to do so, she had been just as nasty as Flemish not too long ago, and her doubt probably reflects on her face.

But Sunburst—still not looking at her, grimaces.

“Or perhaps he had always been this way, but I was too self-absorbed to realize...it would not be the first friend that I let down,” he says. His tone is sad all of a sudden, and—oh. When he meets her eyes, Starlight swallows with difficulty and her heartbeat slows. Oh. She hadn’t realized the extent to which he appreciated his former friend. Hadn’t realized Sunburst cared about this because it symbolized something else, something bigger to him.

“Maybe,” Sunburst continues, distracted, lost in his thoughts, “it’s because I cared more about my books and little else, not like you that cares about others so deeply.”

Starlight’s eyes widened. She never would have described Sunburst as uncaring. But for him to call her kind…rings oddly poetic, resonant. Like a thought carefully hidden, a secret, revealed by chance.

“I, what?”

Sunburst flushes. “You were the first to reach out to me, you were the one that pulled me out of my shell, kicking and screaming, because you cared. You just—you care about others more than you let on. You wouldn’t have changed your ways if you were truly selfish. And,” he hesitates, “you been through so much and yet you always do what’s best. I don’t know how you do that. I sometimes wonder if you even know that such ease—is difficult for others.”

“I—” Starlight has no idea what to say, and her pulse is rather loud in her ears. She veers back to self-deprecation, knowing that she’ll need time to think over his words. “If Spike hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have the courage to knock on your door. You’re giving me too much credit.”

Sunburst’s still looking plaintive, in an unaware sort of way, the way he only lets himself be around Starlight. Thinking about it, she realizes how guarded he is around those he doesn’t know well—but with Starlight, he seems to feel more comfortable in acknowledging what troubles him. She wonders when he started trusting her so openly.

“If I had shown that I cared, maybe Flemish would still be my friend,” he says, melancholic.

Staring at him, Starlight gets the impression that there’s something else on his mind—for when Sunburst is worried about something, he tends to avoid the subject and concerns himself with the little things. Starlight has some gleam, a sliver of understanding, that the fixation with his former roommate is just scratching the surface of a much larger problem.

Starlight doesn’t know what she’s doing, but she knows she has to try and say something. “But you did.”

He looks up.

Starlight continues, her voice sounding far away and insistent and...strange to her. “Sunburst, friendship is not a competition, even I know that it can’t be measure or counted as a scientist does with specimens. You were the best friend you could be to him. Flemish wouldn’t have remembered you, come all the way here, if you weren’t. Whatever happened to him, whatever he decides to do in the future, is not up to you, and that’s that. But who knows—if he comes back and decides to change, you can offer him a second chance, and hope for the best?”

There’s a pause.

“Oh,” it’s all Sunburst can say.

Starlight’s blush turns the purple fur on her face into a darker lavender. She looks down at her sandwich. Who was she, to talk about love and friendship like this? To talk to Sunburst like this?

She dares to sneak a look, only to find Sunburst studying her.

He nods, slowly, to himself, like he’s come to an agreement, and he exhales. His back relaxing like a heavy load has been lifted. And then, from behind his glasses, his eyes crinkle and the corner of his mouth curls up—

—And his smile is so simple and small, but it strikes Starlight deeply; makes her heart stutter, her blood freeze and burn in seconds. She has no idea why.

“I think you’re right,” he says, his voice lighter. “And it makes sense. And,” his smile grows, and Starlight can’t look away, “I think you should give yourself more credit, for understanding things that I may overanalyze.”

I don’t understand as much as I wish I did, Starlight thinks. You make me wonder, a lot, and I don’t always have the answer.

There’s silence between them. They hold each other’s gaze. Sunburst is calm. His posture straight, the tightness in his jaw gone. Starlight is the opposite, she’s rigid, her brain going blank and her heart is doing cartwheels. She wonders what does he see in her.

Then again, nothing is more important to her than the normalcy between them, the comfort of their routine. Starlight refuses to spoil this, and she knows she needs to back away from the edge that she’s toeing, in the next few seconds, or something will be forever changed.

“Your fries should be soggy by now.”

Sunburst looks down at his plate in surprise. “Oh!”

Starlight wolfs down the rest of her sandwich before heading back to work.

She spent the rest of the winter reading more of Sunburst’s books, to the point that he’d stopped directly loaning them to her and made it clear she doesn’t need his permission to take them.

Starlight ended up reading all the poetry she could get her hooves on, without really being able to explain why. Sunburst doesn’t comment on this, as though it was normal—as though it was perfectly plausible that his usually pragmatic friend developed an interest for classical literature, and that she asks him the meaning of intricate words enough times that he shows her a dictionary.

She still has the blank book, Sunburst’s gift, close enough to touch—and she held it often, traced a hoof over the cover, wondering what she could write in its pages to justify marring the pristine paper.

Spring returns, and Starlight is busy as ever with running the school, giving classes, and mentoring the new teachers. She barely has time to read.

She’d assumed that being cooped up indoors due to the weather was the only reason she been reading so much. But now that the world is sunny and warm and full of life, and work is hectic as ever—she still finds herself reading in the evenings, during the hours she isn’t working or practicing magic or hanging out with Trixie, gossiping away.

She liked to read—but now she loves it more than ever. The ponies that know her find her new hobby funny, probably assuming that she spent all of her time thinking of the school.

But Starlight is only as much of a headmare as Sunburst is a wizard—which is to say, both of them are ponies first. Ponies capable of more than a singular trait, ponies more than the stereotypes that others assign to them.

So Starlight works, and Starlight does magic, and sometimes, Starlight reads. She stops wondering why.

One night, shooting stars streak through the sky. It’s a singular event since it was not commanded by Princess Luna—and Sunburst, of course, was dying to see it. It’s an event that happens every fifty years or so according to his books, and Sunburst already knew everything about it, more than Starlight could understand from his earnest lectures on the subject. He prepares his telescope, a picnic blanket, and a bag filled with other essentials, and they trek to some damp hill-peak, arriving late in the afternoon so they wouldn’t miss anything.

Starlight had been tired. Last week had been finals week, and she been grading stacks upon stacks of exams and signing report cards. Trixie had opted to stay in and recuperate from the hectic week, and Sunburst assured her that he could go on his own, that she was under no obligation to come with him—and Starlight had given him a stubborn look each time, and insisted on coming along.

She supposed she could take a nap once they arrived. She’d always been a light sleeper, and Sunburst could always wake her if he needed her.

But they are delayed by a landslide that covered a good part of the road thanks to the summer rains, making it too dangerous to cross, so they opted for a different route that took twice as long to get to the hill. By the time they arrived in the late twilight, the first stars started falling from the sky.

Sunburst, practically vibrating with excitement, ran ahead and prepared his telescope in less than thirty seconds, alternating between looking through it and writing in his notebook like his life depended on it.

She sat next to him, and her exhaustion vanished.

She has never seen so many stars. Starlight lays on her back over the blanket and stares at the heavens, and Sunburst, sitting up next to her, grins with delight.

“I didn’t think they’d be so—I’ve never seen anything like this! I wasn’t expecting much, but, by Starswirls beard! Starlight, they’re so—!”

“I know,” Starlight agrees.

They look at the sky, strewn with constellations parading on and on into infinity.

Something occurs to Starlight. It’s a story she heard long ago, and she isn’t sure if Sunburst remembers since it’s a piece of folklore her father passed on to her when she was a filly.

“You should make a wish,” Starlight says.

He looks surprised when he tears himself away from his telescope to look down at her. In the darkness, she grins cheekily without really knowing why. Perhaps she’s just happy she knows something that he didn’t.

“It’s what you do,” she explains, “with shooting stars.”

Starlight’s eyes are focused on the stars, even if they’re too bright and dizzying to look at for too long. She just smiles and lets the world spin madly around her. When he speaks, his voice is quiet—not in a sad way, but in the way that indicates that the gears are turning in that big brain of his too fast for her to follow.

“You should make a wish, too.”

“I don’t feel like it, I’m happy with what I’ve got.”

“Then I’ll make one for you,” he stubbornly says, “and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Starlight huffs and throws his stubbornness back at him. “Then I’ll make one for you too.”

“A trade of wishes? How generous of you.”

The giggle she tries to hold back comes out in the form of a snort. After a beat, they turn to look at the sky.

“It’s almost over,” Sunburst says, thoughtful as he stares into the night. “Last chance to make a wish.”

So Starlight stares at the stars, focusing on the slowest, less dazzling one with all her heart, and wishes. She wishes for Sunburst’s happiness—the kind that sticks with you for a lifetime, the kind that’s earned and never leaves. For real, true joy for Sunburst.

Because it doesn’t matter if he does leave someday. If he quits the school, leaves Ponyville, makes a new life somewhere else, meets new ponies, and makes new friends. Starlight had thought about it for months, and it comes to her with sudden clarity, and it’s as bright as the shooting stars: that it doesn’t matter if he leaves the castle, if he goes off to follow his dreams, she’ll still care for him, because she’s his friend, and she gave her heart to him, expecting nothing in return. She will miss him terribly, and she will cry and be sad, but she’s not alone this time and she will have help in picking up the pieces. Their bond may weaken and be strained, but she’s sure that it will never break. Because there would always be a place for him by her side—because he’s not just anyone, he is Sunburst, and he would always be dear to her.

She’s breathless as by the profoundness of it all.

“I made your wish,” it’s all she says.

And he answers. “Me too.”

Something changed. Since the night they looked at the shooting stars, Starlight has felt—different. Better. She is emboldened in her assurance that she would never stop being Sunburst's friend, regardless of the path that he chooses.

One morning, she’s alone in the castle, with time to spare. Sunburst is in Canterlot, Trixie’s giving remedial classes at the school, and it’s only her and a book, comfortably reading in the living room.

A stray thought comes to mind: that this quiet day is the perfect day for her to start writing in that journal Sunburst gifted her.

Sunburst writes all the time, he goes through notebooks like a sick pony goes through tissue papers, and he always finds more. Maybe it’s because Starlight is so sure of herself, of the fact that she’ll stay in his life as long as she remains his friend—maybe it’s the comfort, that despite nothing had technically changed, that makes her realize that she’s been too cautious with his notebook. It’s meant to be used. She can write in it, and get more notebooks once she runs out of pages. Sunburst would prefer that scenario instead of never using it.

The idea that she would finally make use of his gift invigorates her. She closes the book and takes it along with her to her room, a silent companion in this odd venture. She clears her desk with a sweep of her magic—pulls out an unused ink bottle and quill, and sits on her chair. She tosses the book on the bed, where it lands harmlessly on the pillows. The first page of the open notebook faces her. It’s not as scary, this blank page—because while Starlight is busy sharpening the edge of her quill, she’s thinking about what she wants to write.

A poem.

The thought’s ridiculous enough to make her laugh. Starlight Glimmer, former villain, graduated student of the princess of friendship, now a part-time poet. She has no eloquence, no grand vocabulary to guide her. She’s not very talkative, she never burst into tears at the sight of a flower, like most poets she’s read appear to have. She has no book smarts, her grasp at etymology and linguistics is basic at best, no sense of rhyme, no sense of wit. She can’t even hope that she will write well.

But she has her experiences and her honesty. It will have to be enough.

Starlight takes herself too seriously at times, but she forces herself to just let it go this once. No one besides herself will read this. And she is reckless, impulsive, and brave enough today to try something she will be awful at.

She writes the title on the top of the page: About Stars and Friendships.

She pauses, her quill hovering, and then, not wanting to ruin the paper with ink blotches, she quickly writes some more. The words come. She barely thinks about it, and to her astonishment, something in the shape of a poem appears on the page, in her messy writing.

We saw them together,
the stars that fell like tears in the night.
But between us, no sadness could be found,
only peace that comes with silence.

You look at the world,
for answers and questions,
and were surprised to find
that there was room for wishing as well.

I found a star
and poured my heart to it,
so my wish may be granted.

When I wished for you happiness
something else happened too,
I found a peace,
I never knew.
I knew I would never leave,
whether my wish is granted or not,
because being with you,
after all this time,
it’s a wish come true.

Everything seems to have a wish,
But I pray that there’s a stronger chance
of you finding happiness,
after I gave my heart to the stars.
Because it’s not just your interest,
but my goal now too.

Two ponies, wishing for one’s joy,
surely should come true.
That’s what I hope.


Starlight reads it over once.

She knows there’s no structure or rhyme. Nothing about it is elegant. But at least it’s down on paper. She waits for the ink to dry, turns the page, and writes the next title. What is Magic, really?

He gave his life away to understand it,
gave away years of his peace for an answer.
But has come no closer to finding it.

In exchange he has gained knowledge,
in other things,
found a purpose in his journey
and a place to call his own.

His open heart draws in
those that look for refuge
from the uncertainties of the world.

What good is my magic,
if I can’t protect that?
If he can use his magic to care for others,
then I’ll use mine to defend them.

I don’t claim to understand magic,
for all my power, I could not describe,
the terrible beauty that is magic.

For all his wisdom,
he doesn’t know, doesn’t see,
that magic is wonderful
and beautiful and awful.

And it’s all around us.
In our hearts,
In our souls,
In our minds.


Starlight purses her lips, staring at the poem. It contains nothing but the truth, her own truth at least, but the poem meanders in places. She could always rewrite, she supposes, but maybe later.

The next entry is not a poem, just a set of sentences she strings together. Like a diary entry, or a vow to carve in stone:

Please, remember these words, this promise,
I will never leave Sunburst, that’s my choice,
Because he is my best friend,
because of the love I bear for him.

The odd note she writes down is done in an almost trance state—and she realizes, as she finishes, that the final line is true.

She loves Sunburst; always has, in her own way, and she realizes that it might not be as simple as she first thought—might not be as platonic as the love of a best friend, and nothing else.

She gasps. The spell is broken; and she feels out of her depth, like she’s falling. She had known, deep down, about her feelings, but never worded it, never dared to give it power over her, and now—she forces herself to stand, to breath, and tells herself this changes nothing.

But she closes the book with more force than necessary, and the verse still echoes in her mind, for a long time: the love I bear for him. The love I bear for him.

“Starlight, are you alright?”

Starlight’s in her office, has her back to him, and she only nods. She focuses on watering Phyllis instead.

Sunburst hesitates. “Oh,” he says, “ok then…”

Starlight knows that it cannot do to love him. Not like this.

As a friend, she has overstepped.

And Starlight knows herself, knows that she is no good at pretending. Not anymore. Distance will be necessary; she can no longer talk to him as causally as she used to.

Her coldness hurts him, she can tell—but it’s for the best.

She’s guarded, silent, and aloof around him now.

And the diary containing the terrible truth is still on her desk, collecting dust. She covers it with other things like a shameful secret, for she can barely look at it without guilt chilling her to the bone.

Trixie gives her the look more often these days, as though she’s saying, How silly you are.

Well, she’s not entirely wrong.

Trixie tries, many, many times to get her to talk, but Starlight won’t budge. This is the one thing she can’t share, even with her best friend, and so she remains quiet about it—evades her questions and pushes her away. Now Sunburst and Trixie won’t talk to her, and the two spend more time together in the corner that Starlight pushed them into, unsure of what to do.

Starlight says little these days—it’s the old silence she once used and stopped being used to. She stops reading altogether, gives the books back to Sunburst, and her shelf is an empty void above her bed. She buries herself in her work and tries not to think.

But at night, in her dreams, it still echoes, still resonates: that the love she has for Sunburst will take a long, long time, if ever, to fade.

How terrifying, the assurance of it.