Firebird Dahlia

by The Albinocorn


Firebird Dahlia

Lanterns stood as glowing sentinels that lined the path to the castle, illuminating the freshly polished marble. Strings of lights hung between them, leaving no room for shadows. Ribbons were tied around the bases of trees, and multicolored streamers hung from the low branches.

Ponies came to the Grand Galloping Gala in pairs, in groups, or in full parties, taking their time up the road to the castle to admire the decorations and savor the feeling of attending Equestria’s most premiere event.

Sunset and Dawn were no different, arriving just as the sun settled behind the mountain. Both of them wore blue dresses that matched their eyes, Sunset’s being a light teal. Hers was a little more form-fitting and had a hole cut in the back to let her tail free. Dawn’s was closer to a traditional gown, with a short train that transitioned from sapphire to baby-blue, and puffy sleeves. Sunset hadn’t done much in terms of her hair, despite her mother’s protests. Dawn had rolled her mane into a neat bun held together by a gold clip, which complimented her pearl necklace.

“Oh, this is so lovely,” Dawn said, her eyes wide with wonder as she looked from the lights to the glittering castle before them. “I haven’t been to the Gala in such a long time.”

“Same,” Sunset said. Just as when she had left last week, the castle stood over her, not a carnivorous and judging beast, but a grandiose and lustrous beacon of hope. Tonight was going to be the best night ever.

Or an absolute travesty. Sunset made a slight shake of her head, trying to stay positive.

Just beyond the threshold was the line of ponies waiting to be greeted by Princess Celestia and Princess Twilight. Just as Sunset remembered, some of the better dressed, nobler looking ponies took the time to kiss Celestia’s hooves while they praised her name. Though she hid it the way only a ruler who had been subjected to this treatment a million times could, Sunset could see Celestia’s eye flicker away every time it happened.

When Sunset’s turn arrived, she settled for a smile and a deep bow. “Good evening, Princesses.”

Celestia’s eyes twinkled. “Good evening, Sunset, you look lovely tonight. As do you, Dawn Glider.”

Dawn neither bowed nor smiled. She gave the princess a rather withering glare and tipped her head in acknowledgement.

Sunset immediately tried to bring some heat back to the conversation. “So, Twilight, what was it like organizing the Gala?”

Twilight nickered in excitement. “It was so much fun! Of course, I had some help from my friends, and it was really to help Princess Celestia so she didn’t have to it all on her own this year. But I had a blast!” She finished with a little skip.

“I’m glad. Well, I guess we better get inside. Come on, Mom.” Sunset tried to steer her mother down the hall, but she remained resolutely still, eyes still fixed coldly on Celestia.

She met Dawn’s stare with firm patience. “Is there something wrong, Ms. Glider?”

Dawn inhaled through her nose, then said in a low, even voice, “You had no right to not tell me where my daughter went. You knew the entire time.”

Sunset’s ears flattened against her head. She took a step closer to Twilight, trying to escape the ring of frost her mother was exuding.

Celestia didn’t flinch. She didn’t raise her voice or look away. She kept calm and collected, though Sunset could see the smallest hint of regret in her eyes. “You’re right, I knew. I knew Sunset had gone through a mirror to a world I knew virtually nothing about. Would you have believed me if that’s what I had told you?”

Dawn grinded her teeth behind pursed lips. “I don’t know. But we still had a right to that information.”

“The knowledge of other universes is sensitive information, Ms. Glider,” Celestia said, keeping her voice soft. The chatter of the ponies waiting in line and the orchestral arrangement coming from the ballroom helped drown her out. “But perhaps I could have trusted you and Zephyr Spark to keep such a secret to yourselves. Regardless, I told you all that I could. Sunset departed for distant lands to seek something she felt I could not give her.”

Sunset involuntarily flinched. She straightened up and smiled at the hoof Twilight placed on her back.

“That being said…” Celestia’s calm facade broke, and the remorse spread from her eyes until her entire face was heavy with it. “I truly apologize for any additional grief I may have caused you.”

Dawn was silent, giving away nothing. Sunset moved a hoof forward, prepared to jump in if Dawn snapped or yelled. Instead, Dawn gave a bow of her head. “Apology accepted, Your Majesty.” The words were still wound tight, but Sunset knew they were sincere. Dawn turned on her hooves, sparing Celestia one last glance before heading to the ballroom.

“I’ll see you both inside,” Sunset said hurriedly, darting after her mother. When she caught up, she found Dawn fighting to rid herself of her scowl. “Mom, you okay?”

Dawn wrapped her hooves around Sunset in a surprise hug. “I’m sorry, baby. When you told me where you really went, I realized Princess Celestia had… not told us the full truth. When I stood in front of her, ten years of not knowing… I’m surprised I didn’t scream.” Her chest rose and fell, and she placed a hoof on Sunset’s cheek. “One day, you’ll understand. You’ll do anything, know anything if your baby is in trouble.”

Sunset blushed and looked at her hooves. “I’m sorry I caused all this. I’m sorry I ran away.” A wing gently swept across her mane.

“No more of that,” Dawn chided. “Come on before we waste the night talking about old wounds.”

They entered the main ballroom, painted in pink hues by the final light of the sun. Confetti sprinkled across the floor, trampled under hoof by ponies milling and dancing about. On stage, the Royal Orchestra performed, playing a fast tempo piece that still managed to sound graceful and dignified.

Sunset made out some faces she recognized. To her displeasure, she saw Jet Set over in a corner talking to Fancy Pants. To balance it out, she spotted Pinkie near the buffet table. Pinkie had been exuberant to meet Sunset and Dawn a few days ago and treated them to free cupcakes for Sunset being an ‘interdimensional-friend-who-was-once-a-demon-thief-but-is-now-super-awesome’ friend. Sunset had conveniently coughed when Pinkie reached ‘demon’.

Three school fillies that Sunset could only guess were Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo ran past, singing, “We’re at the Gala, we’re at the Gala,” at the top of their lungs.

Following not far behind were Applejack and Rarity. Rarity paused upon seeing Sunset and Dawn. “Hello, ladies! Oh, both of you look marvelous tonight! Enjoy yourselves; I have to make sure my sister doesn’t get into any mischief.”

Over by the windows, Sunset spotted Fluttershy in a peacock themed dress, with a pony she didn’t recognize at all. She had such a mellow expression on her face, Sunset wondered if she was paying attention to anything Fluttershy was saying.

“Hmm…” Dawn scanned the crowd as well. “I wonder where your sister is. She usually comes to the Gala with the other Wonderbolts.”

Sunset pointed to the door leading to the garden. “You know, I’ll bet she’s outside. Why don’t you go look, and I’ll get us some punch?”

Dawn nodded. “Sounds good.” She cantered off to the door. Sunset waited until it was closed before she bypassed the punch table and left the room.

She made a left down the hall and followed it until she reached the bathroom. Inside, the sounds of the party were completely muffled. Like the rest of the castle, the bathroom was immaculately polished, to the point where the sparkling white walls hurt Sunset’s eyes.

All but one of the stalls were open. Sunset made three short whistles, and Spitfire emerged from the only closed one, wearing her Wonderbolts uniform.

“What took you so long? I got a cramp sitting in there.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Is Dad outside?”

“Yep.”

“Good. Then Mom should run into him any minute.”

Spitfire stretched her wings. ”Well, what do you want to do in the meantime?”

Sunset pushed the door open and led her sister out. “It’s a party, right? Let’s mingle and have a little fun.” The ballroom had filled with more ponies in the short time Sunset had been gone. Among the throng of new ponies were Soarin and Rainbow. They spotted Sunset and Spitfire, and jetted over.

“Hey, Captain,” Soarin said, “I wasn’t sure if you’d be here tonight.”

“I’m here for more… social reasons than to stand on ceremony.” Spitfire pulled at her uniform. “I just, you know, don’t do dresses.” She narrowed her eyes. “How’s my academy?”

“Burned to the ground,” Soarin said cheerfully.

“You’re still not funny.”

Rainbow pulled Sunset off to the side. “Twilight told me you guys worked things out.”

“Yeah.” Sunset stuck a hoof out. “Something tells me I have you to thank for a big portion of it.”

Rainbow grinned and bumped Sunset’s hoof. “Anything for a friend of a friend. So, what are you going to do now?”

Something stupid. “Oh, you know. This and that.”

“That’s the answer of somepony with something to hide,” a deep, mischievous voice said from on high.

Sunset twisted her head up and nearly screamed at the sight before her. Dressed in an orange suit and top hat was a snakelike creature with mismatching body parts. It had a paw and a talon for arms, a goat hoof and a lizard’s foot for legs, the horns of a ram and a jackalope, and the wings of a bat and a bird. His eyes were yellow and full of diabolical devilry, and his sharp toothed smile only added in his impish design.

The creature was hauntingly familiar, and it took Sunset a fraction of a second to recall why. The statue in the garden, the ancient history texts. “D-D-Discord,” she squeaked.

Rainbow groaned. “What do you want, Discord?”

Discord floated down and coiled himself around Sunset, making her lock up in total paralysis. “What, I can’t just come by and say hi? I thought the point of this little…” He looked around, his smile replaced by a bored and agitated stare. “Sure, let’s call it a party. I thought that was the point of this little ‘party.’”

Oh, Celestia! The Spirit of Chaos is wrapped around me! I’m gonna die! Or turn into chocolate! Or start talking backwards! Or think pop songs are actually good!

Rainbow stomped a hoof against the floor. “Discord, you’re scaring her.”

Discord looked into Sunset’s eyes. Sunset immediately closed them. Never look into his eyes! You’ll only find madness and lose yourself!

“Oh, come now, Shim Sham.” Discord uncurled himself and settled for wrapping his paw around her shoulder. “I thought we could bond. You know, share stories from one reformed villain to another. I heard all about your little exploits and I must say, I’m quite impressed. You know, for an amateur's work.” He patted her on the head.

Sunset blinked. “What?”

Discord, however, was looking over her head. “In fact, let’s go talk about them over there.” He snapped his talons, and in a flash of light, Sunset found herself on the other side of the room with a cup of punch in her hoof.

“What?”

Hahahahaha!” Discord tossed his head back. “Oh, Sunset, that’s hilarious! What a great story! Oh, Fluttershy, didn’t see you there.”

Sunset turned her head, finding Fluttershy and the mellowed out mare she had been sitting with earlier. Sunset looked into her glass of punch, wondering if anypony had spiked it yet.

“Oh, Discord, you met Sunset Shimmer?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yes, yes, and you wouldn’t believe how we just hit it off!” Discord picked up Sunset in a one armed hug. “She was just telling me about the time she turned into a raging she-demon and almost took over Equestria! Funny stuff!”

Half of Sunset’s face twitched.

“Whoa, that sounds wild,” Fluttershy’s friend said, her voice raspy.

Fluttershy’s lips turned upwards in a small smile. “Oh, yes. Twilight told us that story. Um, I’m very glad you didn’t… do that, Sunset.”

“You and me both,” Sunset said. “Ooof!” Her punch miraculously landed back in the cup as she hit the floor. She glared up at Discord, who wore a scowl and a glare of his own, though it wasn’t directed at Sunset.

“Well, I must be off,” he said. “Plenty of other friends to talk to.” He vanished without another word. As the residual flash faded, Spitfire pushed through the crowd.

“You okay?” she asked, giving Sunset a quick once over.

“I think so?”

Spitfire looked back, trying to find Discord. “What was that all about?”

Sunset drained her punch. “Don’t know, don’t want to know. Let’s go find Mom and Dad.”

******

A second band filled the castle courtyard with music, aided by the ambient sounds of a bubbling fountain, and the chatter of the animals hiding in the private garden.

Dawn waited by the fountain of a prancing pony spitting water from its mouth. She cleared her throat, hoping Sunset would hurry with the punch.

Scanning the courtyard, Dawn couldn’t see any faces she knew personally. She recognized Roseluck from the Equestrian Flower Club, but had never really spoken more than friendly greetings to her. Close to the balcony were some of the press ponies Dawn saw every time Spitfire was being interviewed.

Turning her head in the other direction, Dawn gasped, her heart fluttering at the sight of the last stallion she expected to see here. He was sitting on a bench, fumbling with a blue tie that clashed with his red mane. His black tuxedo was looking tight around him, but he still managed to look handsome.

Dawn trotted over, unnoticed by Zephyr until she spoke. “Would you like some help?”

Zephyr jumped. “D-Dawn? You’re—I mean, when—how long…” he cleared his throat. “Yes, please.”

Dawn finished the knot he had been making and pulled the tie through before sliding it up and tucking it around his neck. “There. You look handsome tonight, Zephyr.”

“So do you.” Zephyr blanched. “Beautiful! You look beautiful, not handsome! Unless, you want to be called handsome, in which case, you’re very handsome.”

Dawn covered her mouth and laughed. “Don’t tell me you can’t talk to mares after all these years?”

Zephyr rubbed the back of his combed mane. “I may have lost some of my game.”

“Well—” Dawn patted his tie “—at least you still clean up nice.”

They shared a laugh, soft and familiar. As it subsided, Zephyr rubbed his front hooves together and said, “It’s good to see you, Dawn. I’m actually surprised you’re here. Spitfire said you and Sunset were doing… something else… tonight,” he finished, knitting his eyebrows together.

“Funny,” Dawn said, following his train of thought. “Sunset told me you didn’t want to come to the Gala. Said it was too girly.”

Zephyr’s sigh melted into a smile. “They’re plotting something.”

“Of course. But you know what? They could be plotting a coup of Equestria for what it’s worth. Sunset’s home, and they’re talking to each other.” Dawn felt her eyes growing wet.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d live to see the day. Either of them. But here they are.” Zephyr pulled the handkerchief from his breast pocket and gently dabbed at Dawn’s eyes. “Miracles can still happen.”

Dawn sniffled and nodded her head. She took a second to compose herself then asked, “How are you, Zephyr? We haven’t exchanged letters in a while.”

Zephyr stood, and they took a walk along the outskirts of the garden. Dawn breathed in the wild and exotic scents released by the hundreds of flowers. Their mingling smells helped calm Dawn’s nerves, though she hadn’t noticed she was anxious until her heart rate began to return to normal.

“I’ve been okay,” Zephyr said casually. “Just living life one day at a time. Picking up a few shifts at the Weather Factory whenever I get restless. Working out whenever I can.” He flexed his foreleg, showing off muscle slowly degenerating into flab.

Dawn playfully rolled her eyes. “Still full of machismo I see.” Just as she said it, Zephyr flew ahead and lifted a low branch hanging over the path. After Dawn had crossed over it and Zephyr had put it back down, Dawn saw it barely came to the tip of her head. She made a small noise in her throat but kept walking.

“How have you been?” Zephyr asked, falling back into step next to her.

“Sunset’s home and my babies are talking to each other again. I couldn’t be happier,” Dawn said, putting an extra spring in her step.

“Yeah, it’s great.” Zephyr nodded. “But how are you? Are you healthy? Do you need me to do anything around the house?”

Dawn rolled her eyes in earnest this time. It was the same in all of his letters; and while Dawn appreciated the gesture, she had to fight to keep the irritation from her voice. “No, Zephyr, I’m fine, everything’s fine around the house. There’s nothing there that I can’t handle.”

Zephyr kicked away some bramble that Dawn could have easily stepped around. “Are you sure? Because last time I was there, that faucet was still leaking—”

“You’re doing it again,” Dawn said, coming to a quick stop and pointing at the bramble.

“Doing what?” Zephyr looked to where she was pointing. “Being a gentlecolt?”

Dawn sighed. “No, you’re… doing too much.” She hoped she sounded more exhausted than annoyed. “You’re always doing too much.”

Zephyr kept staring past her into the bushes. He rolled his shoulders and started finishing the path back to the courtyard. “All right, well, I know where this conversation is heading.”

Dawn cursed under her breath and flew to catch up to him. “I wasn’t going to go there, Zephyr.” She put a hoof on his shoulder, stopping him. “I just meant that, you know full well I can take care of myself. I love that you want to help and still care, but I’m not helpless.”

A buzzard buzzed in the trees above them, making them both jump. It was enough to get Zephyr to turn around, and Dawn could see the hurt in his eyes.

She raised a hoof to his cheek. “Spark, I’m sorry about what I said. It was never your fault Sunset left. And you only pushed them because you cared.”

Zephyr placed a hoof over hers. “No, maybe you were right. Maybe if I hadn’t pushed them, they wouldn’t have been at each other’s throats.”

Dawn inwardly cringed. The one time I let my temper get the best of me. “Spark, listen to me…” Her eyes drifted past him and locked onto a pile of green jelly moving toward them. “Spark,” she said, her pupils shrinking, “what is that?”

The pile of green goo wore a top hat and a red bow tie, and almost appeared to be smiling. If Dawn didn’t know any better, she could have sworn it was focusing on her necklace. Zephyr put a wing in front of Dawn, blocking her view of the monster. “I don’t know, but I’m not letting it touch you.”

Dawn opened her mouth to protest, but as she looked over his wing and saw the trail of slime being left behind by the blubbering blob, her voice failed. Zephyr picked up a rock and hurled it, but it was merely absorbed by the creature. The blob halted for a moment, spat the rock out from what appeared to be its mouth, then ambled forward.

“Okay then.” Zephyr ushered Dawn into the air. “Let’s just get out of here.” But the goo moved at an impressive speed. Before Zephyr could get up, the creature’s mouth shot forward and wrapped around his hoof, encasing the silver watch he had been wearing.

“Zephyr!” Dawn wrapped her hooves around his middle and pulled. The beast let go, but took the watch with it, vanishing inside the gelatinous mass.

Both of them took to the skies before the goo could attack again. They soared over the garden and landed back in the courtyard, avoiding the trails of green slime crisscrossing through the grass.

Upon landing, Zephyr tried wiping off the slime on his hoof, running it back and forth through the grass. “What in Celestia’s name was that thing?”

“One of the Princess’ pets?” Dawn saw a hoofull of ponies that had come in contact with the monster, evidenced by the ooze hanging off them. “Or… perhaps not.”

Zephyr managed to get most of it off. He gave one last shake of his hoof, then sighed in resignation. “Uhh…” He smiled sheepishly at Dawn. “Thank you for the help.”

Dawn bowed her head, trying to hide her smile. “It was noth—”

A loud scream tore through the rest of her words. Behind the wail was Rarity, running across the yard and covered in green slime, the goo creature close behind. She pounded against the ballroom doors until they yielded, and threw herself inside. Moments later, Discord came out, put a leash around the blob, and returned to the main hall.

“Well, this has certainly been an… interesting evening,” Dawn said, still processing the events that had just unfolded.

******

Sunset could only stare as Discord led the Smooze past her and Spitfire, a bubbling trail of slime in its wake. Leaning her head out the door, she could see all of the guests mirroring her expression.

“What was that all about?” Spitfire asked.

“Still don’t know, still don’t want to know,” Sunset said. She gathered herself, pushing things to the back of her mind.

Outside, her mom and dad stood, recovering from the weirdness. They snapped out of their daze when their daughters approached, then fidgeted when they realized how close they were standing to each other. Sunset ignored the ice in her stomach and kept moving forward, smiling like nothing was wrong.

“So, having fun, guys?” Sunset asked.

Dawn gave her a pained smile. “Tonight has been… exciting. But I think I’ve had enough excitement for one night.”

What?” Sunset cleared her throat. “I mean, you can’t leave now.”

Spitfire stepped in. “Yeah, the slow dances are about to start. I mean, the extra slow dances, since slow music is all they seem to play here.”

Zephyr gestured to the slimy lawn. “I don’t think dancing out here is a sanitary idea.”

“Come on, it’s just a little slime,” Sunset said cheerfully. She looked at a bursting bubble and gagged. “Okay, well, I’m sure you guys could find a safe spot to dance in.”

“Or you could fly,” Spitfire offered, casting Sunset a ‘duh’ expression.

“Girls,” Dawn said softly, “we know what you’re trying to do—”

“No you don’t,” they said in unison.

Dawn stepped forward and kissed both of them on the head. “It’s very sweet, but tonight just isn’t a good night. Now, I’m going to go get some punch and return home.”

Sunset jumped in front of her mom. “Okay, maybe our plan is kinda obvious, but…” A shudder ran down her spine. “I have a distinct feeling that going inside right now is a really bad idea.”

Spitfire jumped into the air and threw her hooves out. “Besides, you’re at the Grand Galloping Gala. You can’t not have at least one dance. Just as friends,” she quickly added. “Come on, one dance won’t hurt.”

Both of them were quiet, immersed in their own thoughts. Sunset’s heart picked up speed as the silence dragged out. Spits was right, this plan is stupid! They’re going to leave and never get back together!

Zephyr took a step and offered his hoof out, then quickly switched to the other one. “She’s right, Dawn. One dance won’t hurt.”

Dawn looked away from the door and into Zephyr’s eyes. “Well…” She brushed out the hem of her dress. “One dance. For old time’s sake.”

Sunset resisted a hoof pump and settled for a vigorous nod of her head. One dance was all they needed. “Well then, we’ll just leave you two alone. Come on, Spits, let’s go for a walk in the garden.”

“Sure thing.” Spitfire nudged Zephyr in the shoulder before flying after Sunset. They rounded the corner, stepping out of the warmly lit courtyard and into the dark eaves of the trees. Behind them, the outdoor band began to play, and Sunset thanked Celestia that the Smooze hadn’t gone after their instruments.

They stopped in a wide clearing. Through a gap in the trees, Sunset could see snippets of the courtyard. “Well, this is it.”

Spitfire brought her goggles down. “Yep. Soon this harebrained scheme will be over and I can do my ‘I told you so’ dance.”

Sunset gave her a deadpan glare. “You’re a ball of sunshine, you know that?”

“Sorry, dodo, I just don’t believe in fairy tales.” She took a pause in stretching her wings and patted Sunset’s shoulder. “But hey, whatever happens, at least you tried.”

That was why Sunset was here: to try. She wanted to succeed, but knew deep down that her parents magically falling in love again was a long shot. But still, she had tried. “Yeah.” She looked at Spitfire. “And, we worked together. We finally pulled off the Firebird Dahlia.”

“Well, we’ve pulled off the practice versions. Now let’s see if we can do the real thing.” Spitfire crouched down, ready to spring at a moment’s notice.

Sunset lit her horn and produce four gold rings. Three floated into the air while the fourth remained with her. “Wind speed?”

“Fifteen miles per hour.”

“Direction?”

“Blowing east by southeast.”

Sunset pressed her tongue between her lips as she worked out the degrees for the rings. “Okay, the wind’s going to give you a little bit of a push coming down, and there’s a shorter distance between the last ring and the ground than there was at practice, so you’re going to have to bank as soon as you get through the last ring.”

“Easy-peasy.” Spitfire gave her feathers a ruffle. “We’ve got this down.”

“It only took us eleven years,” Sunset said, half-joking. She looked back through the gap in the trees. Her parents drifted by, circling each other in a slow waltz. Both of them were smiling. “Well, here goes nothing.”

“Ready?”

Sunset’s horn glowed a deeper teal, and Spitfire’s tail and mane began to glow a soft orange. “Ready.”

Spitfire whipped her head around, trying to get a good look at herself. “Whoa, this is new.”

“Thought it might make it easier to see you. And, you know, make it look flashier.”

“You’re just full of tricks, aren’t you?” Spitfire grinned and dropped into her takeoff stance. “Call it, Sun.”

Sunset looked up and found the glowing rings among the stars. I’m not going to mess up. I’m not going to mess up. She thrust her hoof to the sky. “Go for it!”

Spitfire burst through the trees, scaring away the buzzards and other exotic birds that had been hiding in the branches. Sunset quickly swiped the falling leaves away and kept her eyes trained on her glowing sister. She was like a comet soaring freely in the night, rising up through the atmosphere in loops and spirals.

Show off, Sunset thought, grinning in spite of herself. She watched her sister’s contrail rise above the first ring. The orange dot hoovered in the darkness coming forward, picking up speed. This was it. Time to put on a show.

Sunset widened her stance and breathed deep, feeling her magic course through her. Casting three spells at once was something she hadn’t done in a long time. Her eyes flickered between the ring next to her and the falling star that was Spitfire.

“It takes a brave pony to admit their mistakes, and a braver one to try and fix them.”

The ring went off, and Sunset let loose a burst of magic, creating a scarlet bloom in the sky that curled at the edges. Maybe I can’t fix everything I broke, but I can try!

“But, you know, we’re sisters.”

The second ring flashed, and Sunset created a second bloom, this time a bright yellow. It lit up the opening she was in, bathing it in a fiery glow. Sweat poured down Sunset’s face. She could see Spitfire racing down for the last ring. That’s right. We’re sisters. We can do anything together!

“Thunderbolts, you’re such a sap.”

Time slowed. Sunset tensed. It was always the third ring. The ring that Sunset had used to nearly destroy her sister’s hopes and dreams. They had pulled through in practice, but it always made Sunset’s heart race when they got this far. A second too soon, and history would repeat itself.

But Sunset refused to be sisterless again. Sparks ran up her horn, the last spell charged and ready. They would succeed tonight, in front of everyone—in front of their parents, and Equestria would bear witness to the Firebird Dahlia.

Maybe I’m a sap, but that’s what family does to you.

The last ring flashed.

******

Every key on the piano was soft, every string on the violin was tender. Zephyr would never listen to this music in his free time, but he admitted that it was very nice; perfect for dancing. He and Dawn drifted and turned slowly with the music, hovering just off the ground. Zephyr had tried his hardest to wipe the remaining slime off his hoof before they began, and hoped to Celestia that it wasn’t staining Dawn’s dress.

His green eyes stared into her baby-blues. He had missed waking up to that sight. It still made his heart flutter, but in the back of his mind, he could still see those eyes wet with tears while their owners yelled at him. He pulled himself away from them, averting his gaze to the other couples dancing in whatever clean space they could find.

‘This is nice,” Dawn said. “The girls were right. It would have been a shame not to have one dance at the Gala.”

“Yeah.” Zephyr chuckled. “Reminds me of the first time we met, at the Hurricane Ball.”

“You mean when you spilled punch on me?” A playful smirk pulled at Dawn’s lips.

“I would like to think the dance made up for it.”

Dawn fluttered her eyes at him, making his stomach spin. “I’m inclined to agree.”

Don’t read too much into it. We’re just reminiscing. Zephyr flashed his teeth, glad he hadn’t eaten before showing up. They made a few more rotations, moving with the violin. Dawn’s head drifted forward, like she wanted to rest it against Zephyr’s chest, but she caught herself at the last minute.

“We need to talk about this,” she said.

“About what?”

“About us.” She gestured between the both of them. “About what our daughters are trying to do.” She sighed and looked Zephyr in the eyes. “I miss you a lot, Zephyr Spark, I’m not going to lie about that.”

“I miss you too, Dawn.” Hope, anxiety, doubt, fluster. She was the only mare that could make him feel so many things at once. It was hard to keep his bravado when she stared him down like that.

Dawn’s eyes lit up for a moment. “But, we can’t just pretend nothing happened and go back to how things used to be. It’s been five years since we’ve shared a house… shared a bed.”

“I know.” Zephyr gave her a little twirl. When they locked eyes again, the light was gone. “We’ve both apologized though. We’ve both got some distance. Maybe this wasn’t about getting us, you know, together…” Zephyr found a smile crossing his face as his conversation with Spitfire drifted to the forefront of his mind. “Maybe it was just to get us to talk.”

“Talking is good.” Dawn opened her mouth to say more, but a bright flash and a loud boom cut her off. “Oh my…”

Zephyr turned and lifted his head to the sky, where a red firework was going off. Maybe his eyes were tired, but it looked like the tips of the explosion were curling like flower petals. A second explosion went off, and yellow filled in the spaces between the reds. It almost looked like…

He and Dawn gasped as the last firework went off, creating another, smaller red in the center of the blooming flower. It lit up the entire sky like the evening sun, drawing gasps of amazement from everyone. Then, from out of the flower, Spitfire came shooting overhead, her mane and tail glowing like she was on fire, and leaving a blazing trail behind her. She looped overhead and disappeared over the edge of Canterlot.

Cheers and applause went up through across the lawn, while Dawn stared at the flower, open-mouthed. “That was the…”

“Firebird Dahlia,” Zephyr finished. “They did it.” He pounded his chest as a lump formed in his throat. But with everything that had happened between them… to see it blossoming in the sky brought tears to his eyes.

Dawn sniffled and dried her eyes on her sleeve. “You know,” she whispered, leaning her head onto Zephyr’s shoulder, “we both made some mistakes… but we made some great children.”

Zephyr watched the Firebird Dahlia until it faded out, leaving wisps of red, orange and gold behind. He leaned his head on top of hers. “Yeah, we did.”

If they were quiet, they could hear two voices giggling in the bushes.