Fractured Sunlight

by Oroboro

7: Study

Dear Diary,

WOW!!!!!!!! :heart: :heart: :heart:

Okay, this had to have been the greatest weekend ever. Where do I even start?

So, early Saturday we got a phone call, and when Mom picked it up, it was for me. Usually the only people who call me are Grandma and Grandpa, but this was way better since it was Sunset! And then she asked me if I wanted to come over to her house and spend the night!

I got really excited and asked Mom, and then Mom wanted to talk to Sunset’s dad about it, so they did that for a while, and I was really hoping it would be okay and it was.

I wanted to go over right away but Mom made sure I packed up everything I would need.

Sunset lives on the outskirts of town, in the country area. Her house is kind of small, but it’s right next to some woods which is really awesome.

Sunset seemed kind of nervous and kept apologizing for things when she showed me around, but I think it was a really cool place. Her dad had a really neat collection of old coins.

Her dad seemed like a really nice guy too. He was nice and funny and told lots of jokes and made really awesome hotdogs and burgers.

Before that though, Sunset wanted to go play in the woods, so she showed me her favorite hiking trails and a really neat grotto that she considered her special place, and she told me that she’d never shown it to anyone.

We hung out there for a while just talking and stuff, and then I found a nice pair of sticks so I wanted to play Jedi. But Sunset said she’d never seen Star Wars, and that it looked dumb and nerdy. I got mad at that, and we started yelling at each other for a bit, but we eventually decided to just swordfight as knights instead.

It was still fun, but Sunset accidentally swung too hard and hit me right above my eye. It hurt a lot and I was worried she had broken my glasses. Sunset actually started crying before I did, which was kind of funny, she was apologizing and trying to tell me that it was an accident and that she didn’t mean to hurt me and that she hoped I didn’t hate her.

I mean it hurt and all, but I already knew she didn’t mean it

After that we went back to the house and cleaned up and put a bandaid on my new battle scar (it’s way cooler if I call it that) and ate dinner.

Since this was my first sleepover, I brought a book about what you’re supposed to do at sleepovers. Sunset said it was lame, and that we should just have fun doing whatever, but there was a ton of stuff in there I really wanted to do, so I kept pushing until she gave in.

So we braided each others hair, and played truth or dare, and had a pillow fight, and a bunch of other stuff. Then we played a kart racing game on an old console (it was a bit old school, but still fun), stayed up late watching a movie and eating popcorn (she wouldn’t watch Star Wars but I’ll convince her someday), and then it was finally time for bed.

It wasn’t like sharing a bed with Mom or Shining Armor or anyone. We ended up staying up for hours just talking to each other about stuff. I almost can’t remember everything we talked about, but I did finally ask her why it was just her dad taking care of her. She got quiet and said that her mom had left her when she was little and that she hated her.

I wasn’t really sure what to say, so I just hugged her.

The next day we woke up, ate breakfast, played some more video games, then decided to go wander around the woods for a couple more hours until it was finally time to go home.

Mom asked me if I had fun and the answer is YES!!!!

Maybe next time she can come spend the night at my house.

:heart: :heart: :heart:

Twilight Sparkle

Sunset sat uncomfortably in the back of Rarity’s sedan, the six of them crammed into a car that could barely seat five.

“You know I could have just taken my bike,” Sunset said, grunting as Rarity hit another pothole and sent Pinkie’s elbow into her side yet again.

“Relax, darling. We’re all going to see Twilight together; we might as well take the same car.”

“I’m just glad she’s feeling better. Three whole days of being sick must have been just awful,” Fluttershy said.

Rainbow Dash grunted from underneath Pinkie Pie. “Big deal. It was just a case of the sniffles, right? There was never a reason to get all worked up about it.”

Applejack turned to face them from the passenger seat, grinning. “‘Cause we all know exactly how tough you are as soon as you feel a little under the weather, Rainbow Dash. Last time I remember, you barely hit a temperature of ninety-nine and you would’ve thought it was the end of the world.”

Rainbow Dash tried to retort, but the car lurched again. Pinkie Pie bounced with the movement, knocking the wind out of Rainbow Dash in the process.

Sunset couldn’t help but smile. Pinkie was probably putting extra weight into it on purpose. But Sunset’s mind was elsewhere at the moment. At least Twilight had remained in contact with them while she was sick, even if it was just terse status updates. Today, they had received a message that she was feeling better and wished to speak to them all after school.

“We’re here,” Rarity said, pulling to a stop outside of a typical looking suburban home.

That girl… there was something about this Twilight that Sunset just couldn’t shake. The pony-Twilight had always seemed like a twisted reflection of how her life could have gone had she listened to the ponies who cared about her, had she not given into her selfish desires, had she been a better pony.

As much as she respected that Twilight, those thoughts had always colored Sunset’s perspective of her. Even now, living as friends and regular correspondents by letter, it still stung.

This other Twilight wasn’t like that. She was, well, as she often insisted, her own person. Instead of a reflection of what could have been, it was more like a reflection of what once was. This Twilight had a powerful desire to accomplish her goals, and Sunset had a chilling suspicion that, while perhaps not actively malicious, Twilight wouldn’t give much thought to anything or anyone caught in the crossfire. It was a road that seemed all too familiar to her.

“Sunset,” Rarity said, putting a hand on her shoulder, “are you sure you’re up for this? I know things are awkward enough between you and Twilight already, but from what I understand, her brother and sister might be here too.”

Sunset blinked, then shook her head rapidly to clear her thoughts. She had almost forgotten about that particular problem. Twilight was one thing, but it seemed like the rest of her family had known the other Sunset too. Sunset’s presence would just bring them pain, but Twilight had still requested that they all be there.

“It’s fine,” Sunset mumbled, lowering her eyes.

The rest of them exited the car and made their way up the sidewalk to the front porch. Applejack rung the doorbell, and they waited.

Through the curtains, Sunset could see a tall feminine shadow moving towards the door. As it began to open, a surge of panic overtook her. She flung herself to the side, pressing against the wall of the house and out of eyesight.

“Why, hello there!” a female voice said from within. “You must be Twilight’s new friends. It’s so nice to finally meet you all.”

“Howdy, Ma’am,” Applejack said, shaking the woman’s hand. “Name’s Applejack. Very lovely home you got here.”

There was the sound of light laughter, and a quick set of introductions went around.

“Well, you’re all welcome here. Twilight’s fever has broken, and she’s feeling a lot better today. She’s been looking forward to seeing you all.”

There was a long awkward pause as her friends sort of shifted about, a few of them glancing in Sunset’s direction.

“I know you're out there, Sunset,” Cadance said, her voice wavering slightly. “Twilight’s told me everything. You don’t have to hide, I can handle it.”

Sunset sighed, then took a deep breath and moved back to the porch proper, facing the older woman.

“Gods,” Cadance swore, clasping her hands over her mouth as her eyes went wide. “Twilight showed me the pictures, but you’re just so…” Her eyes began to fill with tears.

Sunset bit her lip and looked away. What was she supposed to say to something like that?

“I’m sorry,” Cadance said, her voice cracking slightly. “I know it isn’t right of me to ask this of you, but could you please let me indulge myself for a moment?”

“Uh, I guess?” Sunset said, looking up.

Cadance stepped forward and threw her arms around Sunset, pulling her head in close to her breast and squeezing her tight. “Oh you poor, sweet child. Gods, but the world is a dimmer place without you in it.”

Sunset let herself be held awkwardly as Cadance sobbed into her hair. It was weird as hell, but if this helped her feel better, it was a small price to pay, wasn’t it?

After about a minute, Cadance finally pulled away, wiping at her eyes, her makeup smeared. “I’m sorry. I’m a terrible person, using you for my own emotional closure just because you happen to look like her. I should be ashamed of myself.”

Sunset glanced at the others, who only returned a shrug, so she repeated the gesture herself. “It’s… okay, I guess. No harm done. The, um… other Sunset must have touched quite a lot of people.”

Cadance smiled, her eyes growing somewhat distant. “I don’t know if I’d say a lot, but she certainly left her mark. But that’s enough getting drunk on memories. Come in, come in.”

They all scurried inside, and Cadance pointed up the stairs. “Twilight’s room is upstairs and to the right. You girls be good to her, alright? She acts tough, but she’s honestly such a sweet and vulnerable girl on the inside. It’s been a long time since she’s had any friends.”

“Don’t worry!” Pinkie Pie said, throwing her arms around Cadance in a hug. “We’ll make her smile, both inside and out!”

Cadance started slightly at the sudden contact, but her expression quickly morphed into a wide grin. “Yeah, I think you’ll do just fine.”

Sunset knocked lightly on the door. “Twilight? It’s us, we’re all here.”

“Come in.”

Sunset opened the door and Spike shot out from behind it amidst a flurry of barking, happily bouncing between their legs before he was picked up by a cooing Fluttershy.

Twilight sat on her bed, dressed in only a tank top and pajama pants. She typed furiously on a laptop, several notepads scattered around her and a pencil stuck behind her ear. “Just sit anywhere. Uh, the floor, I guess. Sorry, I don’t really have many chairs.”

“So uh, how you feeling, Twi?” Applejack asked, leaning against a wall. “You look like you’re doing a lot better.”

“Mmmhmm,” Twilight mumbled, gaze still focused on the computer. “I’m not some frail and sickly waif. It was nothing more than a routine cold. Easily curable with a bit of rest.”

“Heh. Guess you are pretty tough after all,” Applejack said, taking off her hat and resting it on a coat hanger. “Still, thanks for keeping us in the loop. We were all a little worried when Sunset told us what happened.”

“I…” Twilight paused, looking up and over the six of them, her cheeks coloring. “No problem. It was only the polite thing to do, after all.”

Nobody else seemed to be going for it, so Sunset sat down in the one chair located at the desk on the other side of the room. The room had a number of various kitschy knick knacks strewn about it—stuff she wouldn’t have associated with either Twilight.

“Hmm. I have to say, I was expecting your room to be something that was a little more, well, you, Twilight,” Rarity said, gesturing at the rather sparse and neutral decorations.

Twilight shrugged. “This is just a guest room, and I’ve only been here a week. My ‘personal touch’ is in my room back in Baltimare.”

“Ooh, I totally wanna see your real room now!” Pinkie Pie said. “I bet you must have all sorts of cool stuff.”

“I do,” Twilight said, looking somewhat pleased with herself. “But that’s a bit irrelevant at the moment. I asked you all to come here for a reason.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “What, you mean you weren’t just interested in our company? Color me shocked.”

Twilight gathered up several stacks of papers. “I’ve been going over the footage of you girls playing and transforming, as well as my conversation with Sunset. I’ve been coming up with some workable theories to explain the phenomenon based on the information you’ve given me, but hard data would be much more valuable. I’d like to run a series of tests on you guys to determine if your exposure to ‘Equestrian Magic’ has had any detectable effect on your biochemistry.”

“T-tests?” Fluttershy grew a shade paler, and clutched Spike close to her chest. He didn’t seem to mind.

Rainbow Dash growled, and opened her mouth to say something, but Applejack gripped her shoulder and shook her head before turning to Twilight.

“Look, Twi, we’re willing to help you out with this and all, but there’s limits. We ain’t gonna sit quiet and let you play mad scientist.”

Twilight blinked and glanced between everyone as they nodded in agreement. Her face fell. “Mad scientist? I’m not… it’s just a full physical and some blood work. Cadance is a nurse, and I’ve already gotten the okay from her.”

“A physical?” Rainbow Dash asked, raising an eyebrow. “I got one of those already at the beginning of the semester. Can’t you just use that?”

Twilight shook her head. “The information in that is obviously confidential. Speaking of which, I also have these consent forms for you all to sign that give me permission to do the research I need and give me access to the results. For those of you who aren’t eighteen yet, you’ll need your parents’ signatures.”

“Hmm.” Pinkie Pie grabbed one of the papers that Twilight handed out and looked through it. “I have absolutely no idea what this says!”

“Let me see that,” Sunset said, grabbing one of the papers and looking it through. It was fairly standard legalese, but after a few minutes of inspection, she was mostly certain of the contents. “It’s okay guys, there’s nothing nefarious hidden in here; it’s just permission for Twilight to run some doctor-supervised tests, and to perform what experiments she sees fit on whatever tissue samples she gets from us.”

Sunset picked up a pen from the desk, signed the paper, and handed it to Twilight, looking her in the eyes. “I’ll trust you with this.”

Twilight’s cheeks colored, and she took the paper. “Thanks. I’ll, uh. Every experiment needs a good control. If you know six other people in school you think would agree to undergo the same tests, that would be great. There’s a twenty-five dollar gift card in it for everyone at the end. Of course, the other students at Canterlot High may also have had some exposure to the ‘magic’, so I’m arranging a third control of six random students back in Baltimare, but you don’t have to worry about that.”

Applejack frowned, tapping a pen against her teeth. “Before I sign this, Twi, I want something from you.”

“Is the gift card not enough? My research budget isn’t exactly astronomical, but I could probably pull something out of my personal funds if it’s really necessary.”

“I don’t want your money,” Applejack muttered, rolling her eyes. “Pinkie Pie is hosting a party at Sugarcube Corner this weekend, and we want you to attend. It’s your official welcome party, after all.”

Pinkie Pie blinked. “I am?”

Rainbow Dash grinned, clapping her on the shoulder. “You are now!”

“Sweet!” Pinkie Pie pumped her fist into the air. “I love surprise parties!”

“Applejack’s right,” Rarity said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Quid pro quo, Twilight. This was part of our agreement, after all.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow and adjusted her glasses. “You know, I might not be a ‘Princess of Friendship’ or anything ridiculous like that, but I don’t think a lot of strong bonds are formed from transactional relationships.”

“Um, we know that, Twilight,” Fluttershy mumbled, hiding her face behind Spike. “But we’re hoping that you’ll like spending time with us enough that you’ll want to do it on your own. I used to never want to leave the house at all to spend time with people, but Rainbow Dash and everyone else helped me see what I was missing out on.”

“...Very well,” Twilight said, letting out a sigh. “If this goes as planned, I’ll be pretty busy doing the necessary research, but I’ll make time to attend your party.”

“Yes! Oh man, this is going to be so much fun!” Pinkie shouted, cheering.

“Now,” Twilight said, pulling out another notepad, “as for the physicals, help me find a time that works with everyone’s schedules here…”

Twilight looked over her charts as the girls underwent the various processes of being poked, prodded, and measured. Even though she would have access to the full charts later, she made sure to keep her own records.

“This is turning out rather nicely, don’t you think?” Twilight asked Cadance, who was standing next to her. “But I’m going to need a little bit more, if that’s alright.”

“More? What do you mean, exactly?” Cadance asked, frowning.

“You guys are going to do standard blood tests here and share the results with me, but if I had my own samples, there’s a handful of nonstandard tests I could run on my own which might help me isolate the results I need.”

Cadance paled slightly, then leaned in close to whisper, “Twilight. That’s highly unethical, among other things.”

Twilight shrugged. “It’s just a little bit of extra blood, right? It’s not like they’ll miss it. Please?”

“You can’t always get what you want, Twilight,” Cadance said, letting out a long sigh, “but it’s so hard not to spoil you.”

“Thanks! You’re the best,” Twilight said, grinning as she leaned in and gave her sister-in-law a hug.

As Cadance walked over to start rooting through cabinets for the necessary supplies, Twilight turned back to her charts. The girls had done as asked and found a solid control group. She looked at the names she had written down: Bulk Biceps, Derpy, Lyra, Bon Bon, Vinyl Scratch, and Flash Sentry.

That last name seemed familiar for some reason…

“Uh, hey, Twilight. How’s it going?”

Twilight turned around to see the boy who had bumped into her at the fair last week. Right, that’s where she recognized the name. He had cropped up a few times in Sunset’s story, too.

Flash Sentry blushed, rubbing the back of his head. “This is uh, some neat stuff you’ve got arranged here. Look, the others told me how you’re not the same Twilight I knew before, so sorry if I freaked you out last week.”

Twilight slipped her pencil back into the pocket of her lab coat and adjusted her glasses. “Apology accepted. This situation took a lot of people by surprise. The others have informed me about you as well. You apparently used to date Sunset Shimmer and had somewhat of a thing for the other Twilight, correct?”

“I, uh, well…”

“Allow me to be frank and make things clear early on. I’m not that Twilight, and you’re… not really my type.” Twilight kept herself from glancing behind her at that remark, leaving her gaze on the boy she was rejecting instead.

Flash reeled a step backwards, but then shook his head, chuckling softly. “Ouch. That’s pretty harsh, but it’s cool. Thanks for being upfront and honest; this situation is still super weird to me anyway. You, uh, still wanna be friends?”

Twilight shrugged. “Everyone seems to want to be my friend all of a sudden. But, we’ll see.”

Flash Sentry nodded, then excused himself and wandered off. Twilight turned back to her charts before a hand suddenly gripped her shoulder.

“He was kind of cute,” Cadance said, grinning.

Twilight sighed. “Like I just finished telling him, he’s not my type. Besides, it’s unethical for a researcher to ogle her test subjects.”

Cadance raised an eyebrow. “Oh, so now we’re actually considering ethics. And really? Not ogling anyone here at all?”

They both glanced over to the other side of the room, where Sunset and Rainbow Dash were dressed in gym clothes and currently racing each other on treadmills set at max speed, much to the consternation of one of the supervising nurses.

Twilight swallowed as she felt her cheeks heat up, and she started scribbling more notes on her chart. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Cadance threw back her head and laughed, then reached down to ruffle Twilight’s hair. “You’re too cute sometimes, you know that? Just… be careful. These girls seem really nice and all, but I’d hate to see you get your heart broken.”

“It’s not…” Twilight grit her teeth, took a deep breath, and forced herself to calm down. “I’m a professional here, and I’m focusing on my research. No hearts are involved.”

Cadance gave her a sad smile, patted her on the head again, then left to go supervise more of the testing.

Twilight redoubled her note taking efforts, pressing her pencil hard into the paper. It snapped, and she cursed under her breath. She found her gaze drifting back to Sunset, but refocused. Her sister was right, of course, but it was far too insane to waste mental energy considering. She had far more important things to devote her attention to.

Not to mention that the Sunset she had been in love with had died a long time ago. This one was just a…

No. This Sunset wasn’t a copy or an imitation of her friend. Just like she wasn’t a mere copy or imitation of the other Twilight; they were both their own people.

Sunset wiped the sweat from her brow with a towel. As she took a long swig from a water bottle, she caught Twilight’s gaze and smiled.

Maybe this friendship thing wouldn’t be quite the terrible burden Twilight had been treating it as.

“Twilight…” Rainbow Dash growled, her face bright red.

“Hmm?” Twilight murmured as she fiddled with various instruments.

“How the hell are we supposed to rock out like this?”

Twilight turned around, carefully keeping her gaze at eye level. The six girls stood, instruments ready, in nothing but their underwear, with electrodes and other various monitoring devices stuck to their bodies.

“It does seem a little hard to get into the groove like this, I’m afraid,” Rarity said, awkwardly adjusting the strap on her keytar.

Fluttershy let out a quiet whimper from behind a privacy curtain, and her tambourine rattled slightly.

Twilight let out a sigh. “Look, we’ve got all the normal results, but I want to see what this equipment can detect when you actually play music and transform. Not to mention wanting to get a better look at the process in general. There could be other physiological changes hidden underneath clothing. Have you ever actually checked?"

“I suppose we haven't. But it ain’t quite that simple, y’know,” Applejack said, idly plucking a few strings on her bass. “It ain’t just any time we play. We really have to be feeling the music and be in total sync with each other. If we’re off our game, it just don’t work.”

“And this is like, the exact opposite of cool,” Rainbow Dash said, her face twisted in disgust.

“Aww come on, Dashie, it’s not so bad!” Pinkie Pie said, tapping on her drums. “At least it’s warm in here.”

“Seriously?” Sunset said with a grin. She leaned back and stretched, her muscles taut. “You’re not embarrassed, are you Rainbow? I would have figured you’re awesome enough to play in spite of any handicaps. If you’re not feeling up for it, I could take over lead guitar for a song or two.”

Rainbow Dash glowered, and the other girls shared in a laugh. Twilight found herself smiling too.

“I’m sorry if this makes you guys uncomfortable, but it’s just me and Cadance in here right now, and this is the best and fastest way we can get measurements of this with the equipment we have.”

“That’s, um, nice and all, but can I stay behind here?” Fluttershy asked softly.

“You’re fine back there, Fluttershy, don’t worry,” Sunset said, resting a hand on her hip. “Just think of it like one of those lingerie charity events or something. Maybe it’ll take us a couple songs to find the sweet spot, but the more we play, the easier it’ll get.”

“Look at you,” Rarity said, chuckling softly. “Not afraid to flaunt what you’ve got.”

Sunset stuck her tongue out. “Where I come from, clothes are really more of an optional accessory.”

Twilight kept her expression perfectly neutral. “Alright, everything is good to go, so start whenever you guys are ready.”

Twilight stared at her computer screen, its soft glow the only illumination in the darkness of her room.

There was so much data to tabulate and compare, and she hadn’t even started on the blood tests. However, even the standard tests were turning up some promising results. This was exactly the kind of evidence she needed to produce a real research paper and break previously untrodden ground in the scientific community.

Her dreams were literally at her fingertips.

But even with all that to occupy her mind, she kept getting distracted by the idea of the party she would have to attend tomorrow. Or technically today, since it was now three in the morning.

She had never been to a high school party before and really had no idea what to expect. If it was anything like on TV, there would be lots of people, obnoxiously loud music, underage drinking, and considerable amounts of other delinquent activities.

Of course, fiction tended to match up poorly with reality, and these girls didn’t really seem the type for that kind of scene. Maybe for them, a party just meant a group of friends sitting around and playing board games or something.

Friends. For one reason or another, they all wanted to be friends with her, but what did that actually entail?

Finally closing her laptop, Twilight climbed into bed and wrapped her arms around a pillow. Her mind drifted to the past: to playgrounds at recess, sleepovers, hiking in the woods, frolicking in her pool, summers spent playing at every opportunity, and a crush, at an age too young to really understand what a crush even was.

That was what friendship had been for her. She had been young, carefree, and happy. And in a single instant, it had all been stolen away from her.

Was it even possible to find joy like that again, with new friends in new places? Or was she already too old and jaded?

“The magic of friendship, huh?” Twilight murmured into her tear-dampened pillow as she started to drift off to sleep. “I wonder what that really means.”