“Princess Celestia! She did it!” Twilight exclaimed. “Sunset saved her world!”
Celestia looked up from a scroll she had been reading, her golden magic carrying it off to the side to rest. "I always knew she had the ability." There was a faint edge there, almost missed.
Twilight didn't notice at first, fetching them some snacks and drinks to toast and celebrate the good news. "She's come around," she assured. "She's as much a harbinger of good as, well... me, as odd as that sounds." Twilight laughed nervously before straightening herself out. "I just mean she's leading her friends in... adventures, much like me, against the forces that would bring evil to her world... again kinda like me."
Celestia set a hoof on Twilight's nose, silencing her a moment. "The similarities between you two are not entirely coincidence, my faithful student... Do you know what I used to call her?"
Twilight's eyes became wide, curiosity rising. "What was that? Was she your faithful student before? I'd be alright with that."
"She was my little sun." Celestia set her cup down, tea not entirely drained. "I'm glad to hear she is doing well." She rose and left without another word, leaving Twilight behind to watch her departure.
Twilight fled at first, seeking the counsel of her #1 assistant. "And then she walked out..."
"Seems pretty obvious to me." Spike shrugged a little. "She's hurt, about Sunset? You should ask her."
"I can't just ask Celestia!"
"Sure you can." he patted her on the shoulder. "Just go up to her and say the words. You know she likes you, right?"
"She's a very important pony," deferred Twilight. "I--"
"--am going to, out of care for her, the very important pony, find out what's wrong?" He rolled a hand as he went. "That sound right?"
Twilight sagged. "What if I say the wrong thing?!"
"Then she'll know you care but are a little clumsy, which I think she already knows." Spike was smiling gently at his stressed out sister. "Go on. She doesn't bite unless you're cake shaped."
"Spike!" She thumped him gently with a wing, but also began trotting. "You're not wrong... I'll go... check in with her."
"Princess Celestia..." Twilight glanced off a moment, stalling. "I was hoping we could talk."
"Barring when I am already speaking to another, I always have time for you." She extended a wing, curling it to gently tickle Twilight's side. "What's on your mind? Also, we are both princesses, there's no need to use my title."
Twilight flushed a little at the reminder. "Yes, of course... You see.... You seemed..." She sat on her haunches to worry her forehooves together. "Are you worried about Sunset Shimmer?"
"Worried?" Celestia recoiled her head a little at the idea. "No, no... she is doing quite well with her new life. Everything you've told me is that she has no need for worry."
"But you... I could... be wrong, please correct me." She took a slow breath, trying to recenter herself. "You looked sad, or upset?"
"Twilight..." Her hoof came down to rest gently on Twilight's head. "She was once a student of mine, I did mention this. I saw such bright potential in her. Did you know she almost invented a new spell in third grade?"
Twilight almost spit take, wings unfurling. "No way?!"
"Magic research wasn't her specialty, but she didn't know that yet, and she was quite firm on trying." Despite being a tale of failure, a smile was on Celestia's face. "She made excellent progress. I was so very proud, even if it came to a dead end..."
"And then she ran away..."
"Not immediately." Celestia inclined her head. "I don't think it was a reaction to that specific incident. That was but one pebble among many others. But, eventually... yes, she did run."
Twilight could hear the heaviness as Celestia said that. "You miss her...?"
"Don't be silly, Twilight." Celestia waved it away. "She has a very lovely life, with lovely friends, getting such wonderful things accomplished. There is nothing I could possibly offer her now. She’s a grown mare. She doesn't need me anymore." That last sentence, her voice hitched faintly, burying her snout in a fine tea cup to sip loudly.
"She thinks of you." Twilight smiled a little. "You two are... Well..." She brought her forehooves together. "You see each other the exact same way, if you don't mind my saying so." Oh, would that Starlight was around to foist this duty on, though Twilight could imagine how badly that could go... She didn't know Sunset. "She thinks you have no need of her."
"You're overstating things, Twilight," she spoke as the teacher gently educating her student. "What she wants is you. You are the one that has taught her what she needs most to know. You are the one there to lend her a hoof when she is most desperate." She inclined her head. "You are her friend..."
"I am... but that doesn't mean you two have to avoid each other." Twilight puffed out her chest a little. "You obviously care about her, and she cares about you, so..."
"It's... more complicated than that." Celestia's magic wrapped around a plate holding a small slice of dessert. "I thank you for considering me, Twilight."
"Considering both of you," she objected before going red, realizing how forward she was being about being in Celestia's business. "Sorry... I have a diary, the one you gave me? She has the other copy. You two could at least exchange a few letters? What's the harm in that?"
Celestia was still and quiet, minus the sound of the soft nibbles of the delectable cake. "If she does not want to see them, I will leave her be. I do not want to intrude on her."
"You aren't," assured Twilight, a hopeful smile growing. "Just a letter, then she replies or not, and maybe...? We'll see how it goes." She bounced to her hooves. "I'll be back with the journal!" She hurried off, not thinking it might have been slightly rude to dash off in the middle of tea.
Celestia was not thinking about that either. "Twilight..." Well meaning, her faithful student was prodding something... "You mean well." Still, there were other things to get done that day.
Twilight hugged the book close, considering the dire weight of it in her arms. It could mean a lot, and it could maybe make Celestia angry, an unthinkable thing...
She had come that far. "Here it is." She set it down in front of Celestia, her magic taking over for her grip, more easily able to set it right where she wanted it. "Just write in it, this book and the one Sunset had are in sympathy and what is written in either will appear in both. It's quite a nice spell, come to think--"
"--I get the idea," cut off Celestia a bit tersely, even if she looked immediately sorry for doing so. "Thank you... I will draft a letter, but I imagine she has not much room for it..."
Celestia did not write in the book while Twilight was there. Some things were better with a little privacy. "My little sun..." she sighed out, thinking of the filly she knew so long ago. "I am the worst mother known to these lands." She just had to raise one little filly, just one. She had an entire nation's resources behind her, including instructors and foalsitters. She wanted for nothing, and still... she failed.
She touched quill to the paper, but left little more than a dot, slowly spreading as ink flowed. Sunset had fled her. She had fled Equestria and everypony there. She had fled so far and long she found a whole new world to be in... Some part of her burned with a simmering anger, but she quashed it almost as quickly as it came. "A parent accepts responsibility," she chastised herself, taking a breath. "Besides, she has grown... The pony that left me is not the pony I address... That isn't fair..."
Dear Sunset Shimmer,
It has been a while since we exchanged letters, has it not?
Celestia smirked faintly at the letters. They felt so light, but her heart thumped in her chest.
I hear you and Twilight are involved in all manner of exploit, protecting your new world. I'm
Celestia paused, clucking her tongue softly.
That was the word.
of what you've accomplished. I hope your new home is treating you well.
There was some bitterness there. Celestia could read it and gritted her teeth, but quills didn't have erasers, and blotting it out... No...
Twilight insisted I write you a letter. If this bothers you, tell me, or simply don't reply, and I will not send another.
She had already lost Sunset... Twilight was cruel, forcing her to lose her precious filly twice.
I wish the best for you,
"Twilight, I hate you." Even as Twilight shrank back in horror, Sunset scowled at her. "Look what you did!" She shoved her journal forward, Princess Celestia's words clear on the page. "What am I supposed to do with this?! Tell me this was Spike playing a joke. He'd do that, yeah, sure, I can see that." She folded the book back around to face herself, musing. "That little imp. Bring him with you next time so I can twist his head off!"
"He wasn't involved," she assured, even if he did have a little part to play in it. "Don't be mad at him, please."
"So it was you?!" She threw the book aside and grabbed Twilight by the shoulders. "Why?!"
"Because you both talk about each other?" She smiled nervously at her distraught friend. "You both want to talk to the other but think the other doesn't want to talk to you."
"I ran to a whole other world!" Sunset shoved Twilight back, making her rock but little more. "I betrayed everything she stood for, and what she thought I stood for. You!" She pointed at Twilight. "You're exactly what she wanted, everything I'm not!"
"You're not me," gently noted Twilight.
"Exactly!" Her hands thrown up in the air. "What could I possibly have to offer Celestia, other than realizing just how far below the mark I fell?"
"Sunset Shimmer," suddenly burst Twilight with renewed force. "You are talking badly about one of my dear friends and I won't accept it."
Sunset was caught off guard, her tirade fizzling. "I didn't mention any of your friends."
Twilight pointed at Sunset. "I see one right there, a wonderful person who saved her friends, her school, and quite possibly the world. She's a hero that's come through for everyone that needed her right when they needed it most."
Twilight extended the hand that had pointed to instead rest on Sunset's shoulder. "She really wants to hear from you... Write a letter. There's nothing that can force her to reply, but I'm going to bet she'll do it."
Sunset threw up her hands, but her sigh was one of acceptance. "I'll try... But she... Whatever, I'll try, alright?"
It would have to do.
"Celestia." Twilight was smiling as if something great had happened. "I have something for you."
Celestia inclined her head, trying to guess what it could be. "Did you discover a new spell?"
"Even better." Better than a new spell?
"Established diplomatic channels with a new form of creature?"
Twilight's horn began to glow, pulling out a familiar book. "She replied!"
Celestia went stiff. "Oh!" A moment of quiet dragged uncomfortably. "Thank you." The glow around the book shifted as her golden magic took it from Twilight's arcane grip gently. "I will... read it, of course." Though she feared what Sunset may have written in it, she would read it.
At least, perhaps, it could offer some closure that had been long denied her. Yes, she argued with herself, that would be a good thing at least, if their connection were ended formally.
She withdrew from Twilight, and everypony else, to read the reply in privacy.
Wow, this already feels wrong... I'm... sorry, alright? I did some stuff I can't take back. You know that. How am I doing? Pretty alright, I guess... wow that feels awkward... But... how about you?
Celestia could but smile. As awkward as it was, it revealed so much. Sunset was feeling just as bad as she was, and she had reached out a hoof in return. She summoned a quill and got to writing a quick reply.
"I am not ready for this." Sunset worked her hands nervously together, looking to Twilight. "You started this, take responsibility!"
"I did, and I will," she replied calmly. It was so much easier to be calm when it was somepony else having the breakdown. "Celestia obviously forgives you, and wants to get to know the new Sunset better. And what better way than a shared bit of tea and cake?"
"Her favorite," chimed Spike from her backpack.
"It kinda is," agreed Twilight. "Besides, it's your birthday. You got a nice big party in this world, a little good wishes from your first home won't be bad, right?"
"Won't be bad?" She threw a hand aside as she whirled on her friend. "Twilight, I stole an artifact from right under their noses!"
Spike frowned at Sunset. "You're not worried about that."
"I said you're not worried about that." He waggled a paw. "C'mon, be real. If she wanted revenge for that, it woulda already happened. She's happy to hear things are going well. Do you think she's playing the long game to get back at you?"
"She could!" she exclaimed, sound a bit crazed even to herself. "Alright... maybe..." She let out a slow breath. "Maybe I'm overthinking... just a little."
Twilight spread her hands. "Celestia said you were a great student, minus the ending. What do you see her as?"
"Now is not the time, Twilight." Sunset turned away. "Look... I can't..." She raised a hand to her chest as if to calm her thumping heart. "I can't hurt her again..."
Twilight and Spike both watched for a quiet moment, neither daring to speak.
"I'll be there," she admitted in a soft mumble. "When this all falls apart, you know I'm blaming you, right?"
"I will be there, either way," assured Twilight, her smile returning.
Twilight wasn't there. Spike wasn't there. She had been abandoned to her terrible fate. A large off-white alicorn sipped from her tea, watching her.
Twilight wasn't there, nor was Spike. She was left to fend for herself. Celestia watched the smaller pony she knew so well, and yet seemingly not at all. "Thank you... for coming all this way."
"Sure thing," quickly replied Sunset, perhaps too quickly. She blushed under her fur. "You ever wonder how pony blushes can be seen?"
Celestia inclined her head. "I admit the thought never really came to me." She always had fur, and it always blushed. "Do humans not blush?"
"Oh, trust me." She waved the idea away. "They are blushing masters." She laughed nervously.
"I would... like to hear more, about you... your time." Celestia ventured a gentle smile, trying to hide her feelings. "Do you remember, when you were but less than a dozen summers in age... less than ten, come to think."
"You were still nervous." Celestia's smile grew, growing less uncomfortable in the telling of the tale. "Some part of you was still struggling, having joined my school so recently... I wanted to make you feel better. It was a nice, sunny day, much like today, near your birthday... like today."
Sunset did not immediately remember the day. "Wow, that was a while ago." She was a young lady, on the cusp of adulthood in the human world, quite much an adult, as a pony. "What... did you do?"
"I told you a story, a bad habit of mine." Her horn glowed as a cookie floated within reach of Sunset. "About an even smaller filly who felt scared and alone, but she wasn't alone. She had other ponies who cared about her, who wanted her to succeed, and would protect her."
"You weren't there."
Celestia recoiled faintly. "I was not. You ran away..."
"I did," admitted Sunset, shrinking a little. "If you had been there, you would have talked me out of things before I went all demonic, probably."
"I would have tried." Celestia smiled faintly. "But even Twilight has had her moments."
"Little Miss Perfect?" asked Sunset, her doubt clear in her tone. "I doubt that."
"She once mind controlled an entire town into wanting a little doll... just so she could resolve it and have some friendship problem to write to me about." Celestia smirked faintly. "She is not perfect, nor are you. Nor am I..."
"She did not," laughed out Sunset, imagining such a scene. "Wow..."
"She was quite embarrassed afterwards... She thought I'd... perhaps send her away, and lock her up there." Sunset wilted. "But I did not, for her, nor do I plan, for you. Because you two are ponies I care for so very deeply... The idea of hurting you, either of you..."
Sunset shrank all the more, her ears pinned, but it was a new awful feeling. "It must have hurt."
"Every day." Celestia reached out a golden hoof to tap the floating cookie. "Don't you want it?"
Sunset smirked at the floating treat. "You still eat the same flavor..." She suddenly snapped, grabbing the cookie in her mouth and munching it down. "They still make it the same way..."
"There are many changes I welcome, but my cookies are already perfect the way they are," assured Celestia, a warm expression on her face. "Do you remember the last time you had one of those?"
"It felt like forever ago." Her tongue ran across her teeth, drawing up bits of the flavor anew. It tasted sweet, buttery, like... foalhood. "I missed you."
"I missed you too," gently agreed Celestia, extending a wing to the side. "We've both been through so much... But that never changed. My little sun..."
"My big sun." Sunset smirked up at Celestia before she slipped down to her hooves, walking around the table towards Celestia. "You missed so much of... me."
"You missed a good deal of great events," she assured. "But... I would be glad to share them with you. Perhaps we could trade?"
"I hear... Luna's back?" Sunset made her own bid to bring up a topic. "How is she?"
"She... had fears much like your own, considering." Celestia inclined her head. "She had done wrong, and feared she would be despised for it."
Sunset sank in her chair. "Humans are not good about that, let me tell you."
"Than this is one place ponies are superior." She inclined her head. "There are some that even prefer her as their princess compared to me."
"You're joking." Sunset's flat expression was met with an equal one in response. "Right?"
"Not a large number, but there are some who are attracted to her mannerisms." She smiled gently. "And she is a very personal princess, who will visit a single pony and spend time with them. She has an emotional bond with many that I can never compete with."
"Does that make you... jealous?"
"At times... but then I feel guilty." She quirked an ear back. "There I was, lashing out your aunt, those many years ago... for the very same jealousy. Me, who has the love of all ponies, if more diffused. How foolish I must seem."
"No!" she blurted. "I mean... no... you can reach out to ponies. I bet you have already." Sunset smiled hopefully at Celestia. "Don't get yourself down."
"You flatter me, Little Sun, but I... don't make that kind of connection with ponies." She raised a hoof to point at Sunset. "Unlike you. You have quite the collection of very close friends, I am told."
"They're wonderful," she said perhaps a bit quickly. "I mean it... but this isn't about them. I... mostly... I mean..." She reached up to muss her own mane. "I'm not good at this, but hey, it runs in the family, right?"
"This it apparently does." Celestia smiled gently. "It is good to have mine back together."
"I won't stay," noted sunset in a small voice. "You know that."
"I do... But that does not make this event less of a happy moment." She reached out, setting a hoof on Sunset's shoulder. "And now we can speak, even at a distance... if you would permit? I do not want us to drift apart like that, ever again."
"I'm really sorry..." She put a hoof behind her head. "I'm the worst daughter ever." A wing was draped over her even as she said it. "Mom?"
Celestia curled the wing, drawing Sunset closer. "You are a pony first, one who had to find her own place. It would be me, as a mother, who was doing the wrong thing by begrudging you that. I am only sorry I couldn't find what you needed." She inclined her head faintly. "But that is a thing parents experience often, is it not?"
Sunset became quiet, tears stinging at her eyes. She leaned in and they touched noses gently, rubbing the very tips of them together, feeling one another's fur brush against sensitive skin. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"It isn't a contest." Even if she felt sure she would win that contest. "Sunset... I would proudly be your mother again."
"You never stopped," huffed Sunset, recoiling a little. "I was just being dumb, alright?" She threw a hoof up. "But hey, learning, friendship, growth..."
"Growing can be painful." She gently nipped Sunset's closer ear.
"Yeah, been there..." Sunset leaned against Celestia a little. "I still have to go home, my new home... But I'm glad that I came here, alright?"
"And I am glad you did as well." She skewed an ear as she regarded Sunset. "Will you remain in touch?"
"Yeah! Yeah... Sorry." Sunset let out a gust of air. "Did I mention our Celestia is nothing like you?"
Celestia perked a brow at that. "You can't just say that without telling me a little more, Sunset." Her wing was warm, wrapped about Sunset in a fond embrace.
"She's a headmare of a school, and nothing more." Sunset smirked at the thought. "No great kingdom, just a bunch of messed up kids, me included."
"That is quite a difference..." Celestia's horn began to glow softly. "I got something, for you, for me."
"What is--" She trailed off, a new book floating over just in front of her. "A book?" She expected a random book more from Twilight than Celestia. "Thanks."
"You are a bad liar," gently admonished Celestia. "This book is empty." She waved a hoof, the book flipping open, revealing many blank pages. "You've seen the like before... But I have this one's pair. No more going through Twilight. These discussions will be for you and for me alone."
"You must be so busy," Sunset deflected a little awkwardly. "Do you have time for a pen pal?"
One of Celestia's brows raised high. "I most certainly have time for my daughter. Also, may I remind, you are already 'pen pals' with Twilight, who is also a princess."
"Well, yeah..." Sunset shrugged helplessly. "That's true, just... Maybe I'm looking for a reason to not--"
"Enough." She set a hoof on Sunset's lips. "You not only will have this moment of happiness, but you deserve it as well. I've been apart from you for so long... Tell me. Write to me of your worries, your triumphs, and your victories. Speak freely, knowing I am on your side." She lowered her hoof. "Is that alright?"
"It's..." She looked up to Celestia, cradling the book against her front. "More than alright... I will write you every day."
"Don't feel obligated." Celestia smirked faintly with memory. "I had one dear mare forget that. If you can't or simply don't want to on a day, I can wait for the next. My words will be there, waiting for you."
It was the best birthday present Sunset would receive that year.