I wish I had gotten kicked out too.
Camp just isn't any fun without Sunset. I mean, sure, I’m still learning a lot, but I want to be learning it with her.
Today we went on a long hike and, at some point, climbed up to the top of this one cliff, which gave us a really nice view of the area. I think we were actually close to Sunset’s house.
There was a weird shrub up there that looked familiar and I wanted to check it out more, but we didn’t stay that long.
Oh well. I go home tomorrow. Hopefully Sunset will talk to me.
"Do we really have to do this?" Rainbow Dash grumbled as Twilight stuck electrodes onto her skin.
Twilight rolled her eyes. "Yes. I know you’re technically still on vacation, but I put a lot of effort into building my home lab, and there's a few things I still want to test about this magic thing. You didn't think I'd forgotten about it, did you?"
Applejack bit into an apple, chewing and swallowing while leaning against the doorframe. "Actually yeah, was kinda startin' to. Used to be your science was the only thing you'd go on about."
"Now you just talk about Sunset instead!" Pinkie Pie said, giggling.
Twilight forced herself to keep a straight face. "Well, I haven't. I guess you guys don't notice because you're not around me when you're at school, but I've been working really hard on this project, and my paper is almost done.”
"Hmm." Rarity drummed her fingers on the table, frowning. "I can’t say I’m that familiar with the intricacies of science publishing, but... are we going to have to worry about becoming celebrities, or worse, test subjects if you show all this to other people?"
Twilight shook her head. "I've been careful to retain your anonymity. It was in the contract you signed. Besides, if you guys were going to be government lab rats, it would have happened already. You aren't exactly subtle about transforming in public. What matters is the data, the conclusions that can be drawn from it, and the additional understanding gained about our own world and how it interacts with others."
"Hey, Twilight," Sunset called out, pushing the door to the lab open while carrying a bundle of snacks. "Sorry. I would've been quicker, but your dad decided to regale me with a heroic fishing story involving him and a white whale."
"He's never been fishing in his life," Twilight said, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, I kind of got that impression,” Sunset said with a grin. “He’s a funny guy, though.”
Twilight continued scribbling down notes. “Please don’t encourage him. There’s only so much room in this universe for bad puns, and if it’s left unchecked, the world is doomed.”
Sunset opened her mouth, then frowned, then shrugged. She raised her hand and Applejack tossed her an apple. She bit into it, then moved to go peer over Twilight’s shoulder. “I was going to respond to that with a terrible pun of my own, but I’m drawing a blank. Also, your math is wrong here.”
“Yeah.” Sunset grabbed a pen and wrote out a quick equation on some scrap paper. “Magical energy needs to be calculated using this constant. It’s Starswirl’s Law of Fundamental Force. Basic stuff, but pretty core to the whole thing. You won’t get anywhere without it.”
Twilight blinked, stared at Sunset’s equation and then looked back to her own notes. After taking a moment to check the math, she cursed loudly, throwing her pencil to the floor. "Damnit! This changes everything! Why didn't you tell me this sooner?"
Sunset shrugged, taking another bite of the apple. "You never asked. I told you I'd help if you needed it, didn't I?"
"That's..." Twilight frowned. Sunset had mentioned as much, and while Twilight had gleefully probed her for all manner of details on Equestria, she had been trying to puzzle out the physics of it all herself. She thought she had succeeded, even.
Well, science was science after all. Far greater minds than hers had been proven wrong in the past. It was what made the whole process work.
"Well, I could be wrong," Sunset said, rubbing at the back of her head. "That's the equation for how things work in Equestria. No guarantee it works the same way in this world. I mean, you've already got a different formula for gravity here."
Twilight sighed, shaking her head. "No, this is definitely correct. Now that you've pointed it out, I can see how it all falls into place. This is a good thing. I’d rather take some time to correct my calculations than end up with faulty results. It’s just… ugh. A lot of work wasted.”
“Like I said, I’ll be glad to help.”
“Thanks.” Twilight raised her fist. “Science buddies?”
Sunset grinned, pounding it. “Science buddies.”
“Bleaach,” Rainbow Dash spat, going through exaggerated gagging motions. “I think we’ve hit the tipping point where their relationship goes from cute to obnoxious.”
Fluttershy cocked her head. “No, um, I don’t think so at all.”
Sunset flashed Rainbow Dash a devilish grin, then turned back to Twilight. “I suppose it’s about that time where we start calling each other pet names? There’s the standards: honey, dear, darling, etcetera. Sunny and Twily seem like pretty obvious stand-ins. Could get creative though. I could call you Li-Le and you could call me Shimmy Shims.”
Twilight felt her gut twist, torn between the prospect of continuing to make fun of Rainbow Dash and her revulsion at that level of saccharine. And perhaps she held the slightest fear that Sunset might actually start using names like that. In the end, the latter won out.
“Let’s just stick with our actual names. I don’t want to accidentally drive innocent bystanders into a murderous rage.”
Twilight flopped onto the couch, sitting between her mother and father.
Twilight Velvet peered over at her from her laptop screen, then turned her attention back to the computer. “Where are your friends?”
“Upstairs, getting ready for bed,” Twilight said, kicking her feet onto the coffee table. “How’s the writing going?”
“Well,” Velvet said, not taking her eyes off the screen. “I had an idea for a new story. It’s a coming of age lesbian teen drama with a twist. The protagonist loses her childhood friend and crush in a tragic accident when she was little, but many years later she meets her long lost identical twin sister and despite how messed up it all is, starts to fall in love with her anyway.”
Twilight’s mouth fell open. “Are you… you’re just messing with me, right? Right?"
Twilight Velvet met her daughter's gaze, adjusted her glasses and said, "Of course not. It's a perfectly viable story concept, and full of enough juicy drama that teens will absolutely adore it."
"Ugh! My life is not some kind of soap opera!" Twilight yelled, clenching her fists.
Night Light licked a finger and turned to the next page in the stack of papers he was working on. "Laying it on a little thick, aren't you darling?"
Velvet grunted. "I have no idea what you're talking about, dear."
Twilight blinked several times, then sighed. While her mom’s poker face never wavered, she could see the mirth hidden in her eyes.
"So, Twily," her dad said, putting his papers down and stretching, "did you girls have fun? I've got to admit, I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get to see more of you, but hey, a beach house is a beach house, right?"
"Yeah, it was a blast," Twilight said, yawning. "I've got a lot of work to get back to, but I’ll keep going at my own pace."
"You're leaving first thing tomorrow morning then?"
Twilight nodded. "Yeah... well, actually Sunset and I were going to stop by the cemetery first, just because... well, you know."
Velvet looked up, her face softening as she closed her laptop, set it aside, and threw her arm around Twilight’s shoulder, silently pulling her into a hug.
“Ooh, I’ve gotta get in on this,” Night Light said with a grin, throwing his arms around her from behind.
Twilight smiled, and buried face into her mother’s arm. “Thanks. I love you guys.”
“We love you too, sweetie,” Velvet said, running her fingers through her hair.
“Hey, Twilight, I wasn’t able to find the, uh…” Sunset came down the stairs, stopping when she saw what was going on in the living room. “Sorry, I’ll just come back later.”
“Sunset Shimmer!” Velvet snapped. “As my daughter’s girlfriend, you get over here and join in the group hug this instant!”
“Y-yes ma’am!” Sunset walked over awkwardly and found herself yanked into the hug, her head ending up close to Twilight’s.
“Hey,” Twilight said, leaning forward slightly and touching their noses together.
“Hey,” Sunset said, smiling.“Um, why are we hugging, exactly?”
Sunset stepped out of the van on the passenger's side, shielding her eyes against the midday sun.
“Are you sure about this?” Twilight asked as she closed her own door, flowers in hand. She glanced over at Sunset, then looked away, fidgeting. “I know this is super weird and way too much for me to ask, and you really shouldn’t have to...”
Sunset sighed, but smiled and walked around the van to grab Twilight’s free hand with her own. “It’s fine, Twilight. We’ve already talked about this. Just do what you need to do, and I’ll be here with you.”
Twilight took a deep breath. “Yeah, right. Sorry, I just… yeah. Let’s go.”
Twilight led her down the winding path to their destination. Past statues and mausoleums, through fields of flowers and weathered flags. Sunset kept her coat drawn tight around her until they reached their destination: a relatively humble plot near the edge of the woods.
Sunset had never had an occasion to visit a cemetery in the human world, but it was no surprise that it was much the same as back home. And yet, despite the warm sun, the light breeze, the excited chatter of the birds and squirrels—whenever Sunset gazed upon one of the graves, she felt a dull ache echo through her chest.
“Hey,” Twilight mumbled, her voice barely a whisper. She let go of Sunset’s hand, then took a few steps forward and knelt before her grave.
“Here lies Sunset Shimmer.
Loving daughter and loyal friend.
To see her own epitaph was… unsettling, to say the least, but this wasn’t about her. She was here to support Twilight so she could visit her old friend. Feeling a little weirded out was a small price to pay.
“It’s been a while, I guess. I’ve been busy, and stuff. You know. Lots of stuff to do. And… other things. I… ah.” Twilight sniffed, then wiped at her eyes with her sleeve. “Gods, this is always so stupid. There’s no point in me talking like this. You can’t hear me.”
Twilight set the flowers before the grave, orange tips glinting in the midday sun. “I guess when it comes down to it, I’m just doing this for my own benefit. Phrased that way, it seems slightly less silly and more like an elaborate coping ritual. And you know how I can get. If you phrase it to be more science-y I’ll eat it up hook, line, and sinker.”
Sunset moved to wrap Twilight in a hug, but stopped herself. This was Twilight’s moment, and she needed to let it happen.
Sunset’s eyes began to wander; something about the gravestone in the next plot over seemed vaguely familiar, and—
Sunset’s breath caught in her throat.
Twilight laughed, voice cracking. “I dunno. It’s hard to explain. I’ve met new people. I’ve made new friends. I’m moving on with my life. It’s wonderful, really. But considering one of those friends is your twin from an alternate universe, and I’m dating her… I mean, if you could respond to me right now, what would you say? Other than…”
Sunset tuned Twilight out.
“Here lies Starburst Shimmer.
Loving father, with his daughter now.
Sunset ran through the dates in her head, calculating ages and timeframes in her head. It matched up perfectly, of course. These dimensional parallels just always seemed to work out so perfectly.
It only made sense, right? Ever since she had learned about the existence of the alternate Sunset Shimmer, it had been a nagging question at the back of her mind. Sunset supposed she had been too scared to even give it conscious thought.
“Alright,” Twilight said with a sniff, standing up and wiping at her eyes once more. “I think I’m good, thanks for—” She glanced at Sunset’s pale face. “Sunset? What’s wrong?”
Sunset realized she was trembling, her teeth clenched and her nails digging deep into her palm.
Twilight tracked her gaze to the gravestone of her father, then gasped, clasping her hands over her mouth. “Oh, no, Sunset, I’m so sorry. I completely forgot. But I mean, the one, uh, the counterpart to your father in this world, he—”
"How?" Sunset asked, her voice a low growl.
“That’s—” Twilight bit her lip, looking away. “About two years after Sunset died, he took his own life. It was bad for me and all, but losing a daughter… I can’t even imagine.”
Oh, she could imagine alright. A father committing suicide after his daughter died in a tragic accident? Framed in the right way it would be almost noble. “He’s just a coward,” Sunset spat, her eyes starting to fill with tears. “Just a pathetic loser who couldn’t take it anymore and didn’t care who he hurt or left behind.”
Twilight reached a hand out towards her, but hesitated, her eyes wide. “Sunset… what’s wrong? Talk to me.”
“Damnit.” Sunset’s legs lost strength, and she sunk to the ground.
It was an old, stupid pain. It didn’t matter anymore. Her father sucked and didn’t care about her—so what? Lots of people had terrible fathers. She was better than him in every way. She didn’t care, and she had never cared.
That’s why for weeks after it happened, she would stay up all night, sobbing into her pillow. She cursed herself, her father, the world. She still remembered every word of that fateful letter.
Sunset pulled her knees in close and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin on her legs.
Twilight fidgeted for several moments, but finally sat down next to Sunset, keeping silent.
“I’m sorry,” Sunset mumbled. “This is supposed to be your thing, Twilight. I had no right to make a scene.”
“It’s okay,” Twilight said, reaching out her hand and putting it on Sunset’s shoulder. “I don’t mind, really.”
Sunset let out a long sigh. The maelstrom of emotions began to bleed away, leaving a numbness behind. “My dad killed himself when I was twelve. Didn’t even have the courtesy to leave behind a note.”
Twilight furrowed her brow. “Two years? That really is a startling coincidence. Way too convenient. I wonder if—”
“Twilight,” Sunset snapped, her voice hard. “Stop. Don’t get all analytical about this right now. I just… I don’t want to hear it.”
“I’m just…” Twilight bristled, but whatever gears were turning in her head led her to back down, with a mumbled, “I’m sorry.”
Sunset shifted her balance until she was leaning on Twilight, resting her head on her shoulder.
“...He was a good dad, when he was alive,” Sunset said, her voice barely a whisper.
Twilight wrapped her arm around Sunset’s shoulder. “He was always really nice to me when I was little, and it seemed like Sunset got along with him really well. Did, um, your mom in your reality also…?”
Sunset nodded. “Left my dad when I was just a foal. Never heard or saw from her.”
“Man,” Sunset said, sniffing. “Your family is just perfect, you know that, Twilight? I’m not sure you realize how lucky you are to have them.”
Twilight bit her lip. “I do know that… but you’re welcome as a member of our family any time, Sunset.”
Twilight’s mom had said the same thing, but the words felt empty. Saying someone was family didn’t actually make it so. The years in her life where she would have needed a family like them the most had already passed.
“Hey, come on,” Sunset said, standing up and grabbing Twilight’s hand. “This is too depressing, and I really don’t feel like thinking about this right now. Let’s head back, okay?”
“Uh... “ Twilight let Sunset help her to her feet, and looked her up and down. “Are you sure?”
Sunset nodded. “Yeah. Besides, the others are waiting.”
She took off at a fast pace, forcing Twilight to hurry to keep up.
The trip back to Ponyville was considerably more subdued. Everyone was exhausted from the long week, and all their manic energy had drained away. Those who weren’t driving were content to sleep, to read books, to work on some sewing, or to just sit back and put on a pair of headphones.
All of that suited Sunset just fine. It left her free to just focus on driving and avoid any awkward conversations. After the graveyard, she just wasn’t in the mood.
There wasn’t any good reason it should have affected her the way it did. Her dad had been dead for years now. And besides, this Starburst Shimmer wasn’t even her father—she had no reason to care.
But despite Twilight’s herculean efforts to overcome and escape from her past, Sunset wasn’t sure how long she could do the same. It all served as a stark reminder that in spite of everything, this wasn’t her world, and she didn’t belong here.
That kid, back at the beach. They hadn’t heard from or even seen either of those boys for the rest of the vacation. Had she ruined his friendship, his life? Would she always be some nameless villain when he looked back on his memories? Was it possible she’d even driven the kid to...?
“Hey there, grumpy pants! What’s got you so grumpy?”
Sunset turned to give Pinkie a level look. It was late, and they were pretty close to Ponyville, but everyone else had fallen asleep. For whatever reason, Pinkie Pie had called shotgun the last time they had changed drivers.
“Ooh, I know! You’re hungry, right? There’s still some donuts left from that gas station earlier. I’d be happy to share!”
“No thanks,” Sunset said. She glanced behind her, double checking that everyone was really asleep. Twilight was slumped against the car window, snoring softly, with a small tendril of drool running down her lip. Damned if she wasn’t cute.
“Pinkie… what are you going to do after high school?”
Pinkie Pie giggled, but uncharacteristically lowered her voice, like she didn't want to wake anyone. "I get asked that a lot! From my mom and my dad and my big sister and my little sisters and my teachers and my guidance counselor, and even Principal Celestia!"
"So what do you tell them?"
"I don't know!" Pinkie Pie said, crossing her arms behind her head and leaning back into her seat. “There’s like, sooo much you can do after high school, right? I could travel the world, or join the army! I’ll probably just go to Canterlot University though. It’s what the other girls are all aiming for. I could major in baking, or cooking, or maybe even find a way to become a professional party planner! Of course I think those might be called caterers, and they just do like fancy events and weddings and stuff. Or, like, the manager for a DJ who books events and sets them all up and stuff. I’m pretty sure that’s a thing people can do!”
Sunset chuckled, shaking her head. It was Pinkie Pie, after all. “I’m glad you seem excited about the possibilities.”
“How could I not be? The world is just so big and amazing and awesome sometimes it’s just like, woah, slow down, even I can’t do it all at once! Oh, what are you going to do, Sunset? You should totally come to Canterlot University with us! Oh my gosh, we could be roommates! We’ll get a dorm and stay up late and it’ll be like having a sleepover every day and… oh yeah, you’d probably want to room with Twilight, huh? I guess privacy would be nice so you guys can kiss each other and stuff.”
“That’s… Twilight isn’t going to Canterlot University. She’s got a full ride scholarship to Hayvard, remember?”
“Oh yeah.” Pinkie Pie crossed her arms over her chest and furrowed her brow. “Hmm… That complicates things.”
Sunset sighed and stared off into the darkness. The road was empty, and she barely had to focus on her driving at all. Her thoughts drifted back in time, to when she first stepped out of the portal. She had been filled with an indignant rage at her lot in life, and she quickly had grown to hate this world and everyone in it. So much of her attention had been dedicated to getting back home and taking what she thought she deserved.
It had only been over the last six months that she had begun to appreciate this world for what it was, and to see it as more than just a side trip on her road to greatness.
But even then…
“I’ve got it!” Pinkie Pie said, slamming a fist into her open palm. “You should just apply to Hayvard! You’re super smart, just like Twilight, you can get in for sure!”
“My grades are pretty mediocre, Pinkie,” Sunset said, shaking her head. “I’m great at math, decent at science, but for the past four years I’ve put almost no effort into my education here, because I didn’t think it mattered. And even then… I don’t have a Social Security number, or any kind of official documentation.”
“Welp, I’ve got nothing then,” Pinkie Pie said, shrugging, “but you guys are super smart, so I’m sure you’ll be able to figure something out that I wouldn’t in a million years.”
Super smart, huh? Pinkie meant well, but her advice didn’t really touch on the heart of the problem.
“Sunset…” Twilight mumbled from the back seat.
Sunset stiffened. Had Twilight overheard their conversation? She looked back to see that Twilight appeared to still be sleeping, her face contorted into an almost lecherous grin.
“...You’ve got a really cute butt.”
She shared a glance with Pinkie Pie, and they both burst into a fit of silent giggles.
Whatever her answer, she had to figure this out. For Twilight's sake.