• Published 10th Apr 2014
  • 8,159 Views, 560 Comments

Seven Days in Sunny June, Book I - Shinzakura

A tale in the Berylverse. Meanwhile, a reality away, Sunset Shimmer's life has changed since she met Princess Twilight...and it's about to change even more, whether she likes it or not.

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October 20: Starting Over

Instead of heading home, Celestia drove towards a secluded townhouse in the middle of the eastern district. Parking next to a dark blue Volkswagen Beetle GSR, the principal shook her head in amusement at the sheer number of empty bags of McDonalds, Chipotle and other fast-food doggie bags, the sign of someone who lived pretty much on the go. Of course, that was normal: Celestia and her younger sister had always been a study in contrasts, and both even more so when compared to their older sister, Armonia.

Heading up to the front door, she gently knocked on the door of 203 Calle de la Noche – probably the main reason the resident within chose the place, Celestia guessed. The townhouse’s owner tended to be a bit…flighty…when it came to important decisions like that.

A muffled shout of “Just a minute!” echoed through the door; at that point, Celestia knew she was likely to be in for a hell of a wait unless she acted. Not really in the mood to wait what would feel like a millennium, Celestia reached into her pocket, pulled out her keys and used the spare her sister had given her.

Walking in, she entered a place where time stood still, forever held in place by the whim of its timeless mistress…which was a nice way of saying that if the Homeowners Association that Luna belonged to ever saw the inside of her home, the term “urban warfare” would likely have to be revised. “Lulu, we need to talk.”

“Okay,” a voice called from the kitchen. “Want a beer?”

“Can’t; I still have to go home.” Almost instantly, as Celestia recalled what she was about to tell Luna, she reconsidered. “On second thought, what do you have?”

“Smithwick’s and a few bottles of Nastro Azzurro that you left last time.”

“Pass me a Nastro. I’m going to order a pizza, too,” the elder sister said, pulling out her phone. “The usual?”

“Sure.” Luna came out of the kitchen while Celestia called the local pizza joint. She wore what she typically tended to when she was at home: well-worn daisy-dukes, a deep blue t-shirt emblazoned with Pac Man and the words EAT ME, and an expensive wireless Sennheiser gaming headset around her neck. As soon as the elder sister was done, Luna passed her the beer, asking, “So, I’m guessing you’re either here to tell me to clean my place again, or Armonia’s fretting about Cadence’s wedding?”

“Neither, actually – it’s about work.”

Luna sighed in relief. “Oh, thank God. Every time sis mentions Cadance’s wedding, Mama insists on bringing up ‘So, when are you and Tia going to settle down?’ So, which one of our students is in jail right now?”

“Actually, it’s about Sunset Shimmer – you won’t believe who took her under her wing.”

“Hit me,” Luna said, grinning. “I’ve been fucking up the hell out of smack-talking asshats all day on Titanfall and I could use the excitement.”

“What the fuck is Velvet thinking?!” the midnight-haired woman asked as she plopped on the couch.

“You know how Vel is,” Celestia said. “Besides, we can’t exactly tell her, can we? I mean, she’s known us forever, but if I were in her shoes even I’d find it a little hard to believe.”

“No fucking kidding! ‘Oh, hey, Vel, your closest friends have been hiding a secret from you – that the girl you just took into your home is only behaving herself because her ass got kicked by an alien princess who just happened to look like the spitting image of your daughter!’” Luna drained the rest of her beer, then went back to the kitchen for another. “Think that was on purpose?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Celestia said, finishing up her own beer as the pizza guy knocked on the front door. “And I’d hate to be in Sunset’s shoes when she finally gets to meet Twilight. She just might find that things are a little different than expected.”

It was the third knock on the door the following morning that stirred Sunset awake. Her head screaming, she sat up, bedhead on her hair and a very loose Sapphire Shores tanktop that was slipping off her shoulder. She was barely able to open her eyes, and she felt completely exhausted. Even though the bed she was currently on was utter heaven compared to the dingy bunk she’d been sleeping on the past few years, the nightmare of the previous night had ruined any real chance of sleep for the first night she’d likely been completely safe since her exile began.

There was another knock on the door, and before she could really gather her wits about her, Sunset mumbled something that sounded vaguely in the ballpark of “Come in.” As her vision came to, she saw a figure before her. She blinked, then rubbed her eyes, making sure she wasn’t hallucinating. But standing before her, wearing a black-and-gray hoodie with Japanese on the front and a poodle skirt – poodle skirt? – was a person she never thought she’d see in her lifetime:

Twilight Sparkle.

There she stood, the same soft smile on her face and the same twinkling purple eyes. “Um…good morning,” she said softly. “Are you okay?”

A sudden flood of emotions overcame Sunset and she was too overwhelmed to speak as she sat up to look at her fellow pony. A dozen sensations roiled through her: joy at seeing her first real friend once more. Sadness in being reminded how that friendship had come about. And confusion as to why the alicorn princess had returned to Earth.

“Twilight?” she asked, barely able to get a hold of herself. “What are you doing here?”

“I…um….” Twilight mumbled, looking down at the floor in an action more akin to Fluttershy than anything else. Finally, with her head still down, she said, “Uh, your shirt….”

Sunset immediately realized that as she sat up, the other strap of her tanktop had slid off that shoulder and the whole thing, already oversized, had slid down her body, and was hanging down past her torso…with nothing now covering her. Sunset quickly covered herself with the nearest pillow, turning bright red in the process.

A rousing amount of laughter sounded from behind the door and another girl came into the room, patting Twilight on the shoulder. Wearing a CARE BEARS STARE THERE! t-shirt and jeans, she had long black hair and eyes the same color as Twilight’s. “Twily, once again, you prove you have such a way with words,” the other girl said, grinning.

“But I….” Twilight stammered.

“Don’t mind her; she’s socially awkward,” the newcomer said.

Recovering somewhat, Twilight blushed and said, “Um, let’s try this again. Hi, I’m Twilight Sparkle, and this joker here is my cousin and best friend, Octavia Melody.”

“Cousin and only friend,” Octavia drawled. “Anyway, you can just call me Tavi and she goes by Twily. And you’re Sunset? Sunny? Setty?”

“Sunset,” the ex-pony replied as she wriggled under the sheets to adjust her tanktop. And as she did, she now realized why things seemed so familiar: this was the human Twilight Sparkle, and the alicorn princess that Sunset knew was likely still in Equestria, since the dimensional gates were still closed. Likewise, that pony’s pet dog, Spike, had a counterpart in the eight-year-old boy living in the house, though how that happened was beyond Sunset’s ability to grasp.

“Well, Mom figured that you were going to sleep in since you likely didn’t sleep well – unfamiliar location and all,” Twilight rambled, unaware of Sunset’s thoughts, “so she’s making brunch now. I set up the bathroom down the hall for you if you want to take a shower or bath. Afterwards, we can eat and talk. I’m guessing you want to know a little about me and Tavi and we’d like to get to know you as well.”

“Um…okay,” Sunset answered as she struggled for words, lost for them once more. Maybe if this was Princess Twilight Sparkle, perhaps she could have handled the whole thing better, but the awkward girl standing in front of her was definitely not that pony, and so Sunset was just going to have to start off from scratch. Maybe that was a good thing; there were probably large differences between the two Twilights, just as there had been between the two Celestias and most definitely the two Spikes – it would be unfair to hang what Sunset knew of the alicorn princess on this girl standing before her.

Besides, if we’re going to be living together, I should get to know her and not just assume she’s like the Twilight I knew, Sunset thought to herself as she climbed out of bed to get ready for the day.

“Twily, did it ever occur to you that she probably could’ve just woken up on her own?” Octavia asked her cousin as the pair went downstairs.

“Well, Mom said that she had to work today and that sleeping in wasn’t a good idea,” Twilight pointed out. “Besides, I read a report the other day that said that no matter how much sleep your body is trying to make up for, the lack of sleep has already done neural and physiological damage, so—”

Octavia rolled her eyes; Twilight was in her infamous lecture mode once again. “I give up – I should know this from years of dealing with you by now.”

“Yes, you should,” the purple-haired girl said, grinning.

“Is Sunset up?” Velvet asked, poking her head out of the kitchen.

“Yeah, Mom, she is,” Twilight answered.

“Oh, is she ever,” Octavia agreed, with a wry smile.

“Girls…what did you do?” Velvet asked.

“Nothing, Aunt Velvet. It just looks like we ran into her at the wrong time – and she’s clearly not a morning person.”

“Well, it’s almost noon, so…I suppose that makes sense.”

Thundering footsteps rolled down the stairs, as a kid almost knocked both teens over on his way to the kitchen. “Hey, is the food ready? Gotta eat and then head over to Pip’s house for an epic gaming session!”

“Is that all you ever think about, Spike?” Octavia said as she reached down to muss with his spiky green hair. Sure enough, the young kid was dressed as normal: purple t-shirt with a videogame character on it, jeans and a well-beaten pair of sneakers.

“Well, no, sometimes I also think about comics, and other important things.” But then the smile fell from his face as he added, “Oh, by the way, I couldn’t find where you put your tablet. Wanted to copy over a gamefile that I was playing on it an—”

Her eyes narrowed. “You went through my things again, didn’t you? And using my tablet again without asking?”

“Well, yeah, bu—”

“I swear, Spike, you’re such a troublemaker at times!” She turned to her aunt, groaning, “Aunt Velvet, can I boot him into next week?”

“No, he has to do his homework first,” Velvet replied. “Though I’m sure that Spike would like to do the dishes before he does his homework as a punishment for going through your stuff, isn’t that right, son?”

But Spike was already tuning them out. “Not really,” he said.

Twilight bent down and looked at her brother, eye to eye. “Spike? Word of advice: say yes before Mom only makes it worse for you.”

“But I didn’t do anything wrong! I just wanted to pla—”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, squirt,” she told him, standing back up.

“Spike, that’s very generous of you to offer to set the table as well,” Velvet added.

“But I promised Pip that he and I would—” he started.

“Oh, and I think you’ll be assisting me with cleaning the house today as well. The help will be very much appreciated, Spike.” The look in her eyes and the tone in her voice very strongly indicated that further attempts to push his luck would be met with peril.

“And I tried so hard to protect my little brother,” Twilight said theatrically. Octavia’s response to that was an exaggerated golf clap, to which Twilight bowed in response.

“Well, if you two are done, Tavi, you might want to check your stuff to see that he didn’t do anything else by accident. And Twily, can you go get your father?”

“Sure thing, Mom,” Twilight replied, as she headed to the room the family used as a home office. As for Octavia, she went back up the stairs, fearing the worst; she remembered the last time her little cousin ransacked her bag – that didn’t end well either.

An hour later, Sunset stepped into Sugarcube Corner. Breakfast had been…awkward. At first, she felt defensive, put in the spotlight. She wasn’t really sure how to react, and she felt as though she’d been placed on display, like a museum piece placed next to the table. But fortunately, something had occurred while she was taking a shower, and most of that time was spent with Spike sulking – she got the feeling she was going to be seeing that on a regular basis – and Twilight and Octavia talking about their overnight trip to Riverdale, down in the southern part of the state. And so Sunset sat, hoping that she could blend in with wallpaper and continue to remain unnoticed. Thankfully, that hadn’t been hard; it was almost as though she hadn’t been there.

At least, here in the café, she was on familiar territory, and as bizarre as Pinkie’s antics could be at times, it was something Sunset was well familiar with and could handle – in an odd way, that made it comforting, in a Kafkaesque sort of way. In any case, that had been the plan…

…until she got glomped by Pinkie the moment the door closed. Pinkie’s face was a mixture of joy, relief and concern as she chirped, “Sunny! I was worried about you!”

“Pinkie, really, I can’t imagine…why….” As she took stock of what was going on, she noticed four other teens standing there, all with the same looks on their faces. She then turned her eyes towards the counter to see her bosses, Mr. and Mrs. Cake, Pinkie’s aunt and uncle, also looking at her with the same weighty concern.

“Okay, what did I do this time?” she muttered.

“Well, sugarcube, that would depend….” Applejack began.

“Sunset…why didn’t you tell us?” That soft voice came from Fluttershy, and as Sunset’s mind processed the words, her blood suddenly ran cold. They knew. Somehow, they knew.

Celestia, you b…. Sunset chopped off the unspoken insult. The principal might be any number of things, but dishonest wasn’t one of them. If Celestia said she wouldn’t do it, she didn’t do it.

Okay, Shimmer, think of something! “I…um….” She began, trying to come up with something – anything – that would help her get out of this.

Thankfully the adults intervened. “Girls,” Carrot said gently as he gestured towards the door leading to the residential part of the building, “maybe you should take it upstairs. It’s a slow enough day that Cup and I can handle things down here. And Sunset…no matter what, you can always come to us if you need advice.”

“Most certainly, dear,” Cup added, giving the confused teen a comforting grin.

The curly-haired girl started pulling Sunset towards the residential stairwell. “Well, time to power up for a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long—”

“We get the idea, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash said, shaking her head.

“—long, long, loooooooooooooong talk!” Pinkie then raced towards the kitchen, returning with a sheet of chocolate chip cookies. “We’ll be putting these to good use, Uncle Carrot, Auntie Cup!” she said, pausing just long enough to give them kisses on the cheek before heading to the door. She then let go of the cookie sheet for a second as she pointed upstairs while calling out, “To the Batcave!” before grabbing the tray again, which somehow managed to float in the air just long enough for her to pull that off.

No idea how she does that,” Rainbow grumbled.

“Dear, it’s Pinkie being Pinkie, you know that,” Rarity said with a sympathetic smile. “But for now we need to focus more on Sunset’s needs, not Pinkie’s, um, ‘Pinkieness.’”

“Yeah, ya got a point,” the athlete admitted as the teens went upstairs, while Sunset wondered if there were somehow any dragons here on Earth that she wasn’t aware of – maybe she could arrange to be eaten by one.

That might be the easier way to deal with all this, she mused.

A minute later, the six were seated at the table in the Cakes’ dining room. As Pinkie wandered off to the kitchen to get glasses of milk for “emergency dunking purposes,” Sunset wasted no time in counterattacking. “Okay, who the hell told you guys?” she asked, looking at all of them.

Applejack sighed and raised her hand. “Ah don‘t know if you‘re aware, but mah ma and Vice Principal Luna are friends. From what Ma told me, Principal Celestia told Ms. Luna last night, and first thing Ms. Luna did was to call Ma. She then came by the store this morning and told her, Pa, and Granny – and Mac just happened to be there. He told me, and then mah parents pulled me aside to explain. So once Ah knew, Ah had to tell the girls – we’re all friends, and friends back each other up.” The other girls nodded as one at this sage wisdom.

“Sunset, darling, why didn’t you tell us?” Rarity asked, sounding hurt. “We’re your friends…or at least we thought we were.”

“You guys are! Well, I hope you are,” Sunset said, somewhat abashedly. It wasn’t something she was comfortable admitting to them, and for once she felt like Fluttershy, complete with the need to hide under the table.

“But friends tell their friends everything, both good and bad,” Rarity added, “and this is most certainly bad. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the worst. Po—”

“Ah think she gets th’ idea, Rares,” Applejack interjected.

“No, I think Rarity’s right,” Rainbow said, slouching in her chair while reaching for another cookie. She then fixed her rose-colored eyes on Sunset, snarling, “Making us worry like that is seriously uncool, Sunset. Not friggin’ cool at all.”

As for the other two, Fluttershy, sensitive as always, said nothing, but looked fit to cry. Pinkie, however, simply sat there, giving Sunset a wavering grin, though the girl’s blue eyes seemed like bottomless wells of sympathy, and…. Wait, is Pinkie’s hair straightening? Sunset wondered.

Sunset dunked a cookie, ate and pondered her words. These are my friends, she thought to herself. I owe them this much. “Look, what do you guys want me to say?” she asked. “We weren’t friends up until just a little while ago – hell, none of you were even speaking to one another until Twilight Sparkle appeared on the scene.”

At the mention of the alien princess’ name, Fluttershy seemed to be even more distraught. “I miss her,” the chiffon-haired girl said, and the other girls agreed.

“She said she’d be back someday if she could, Fluttershy,” Rarity reminded her.

“Well, I guarantee you won’t be missing her long,” Sunset interjected, “‘cause I live with her now. Well, her human counterpart, that is.” At her pronouncement, the five paused in surprise. Comically, Rainbow even dropped her cookie into her milk, the impact splattering white liquid all over the jersey she was wearing.

“Really?” Pinkie asked.

“Really,” Sunset insisted. When the five looked at her as though waiting for a punchline, Sunset said, “No, I’m serious about this, guys – I live with her family now.”

“So, um, what’s she like?” Fluttershy asked.

“Don’t know, really – just met her this morning,” Sunset admitted. “But she seems to have even less friends than I do…well, did, at any rate. She apparently hangs around almost exclusively with her cousin, who’s the same age as she is, and while they’re very close, I get the feeling neither of them have particularly large circles of friends.”

Pinkie snapped her fingers suddenly, the sound of the microscopic sonic boom filling the air. “I knew I saw her somewhere before, and now I remember! Saw her at the mall earlier in the year – she was wearing the school uniform for the Zacherle Academy for Girls!”

“That posh private school on the other side of town?” Rarity interjected. “That’s quite impressive – they have very rigorous standards for their students, both academic and extracurricular. I would have loved to go there myself, but unfortunately, my parents couldn’t afford the tuition. I guess you’re living up in Northside, then?”

“No, actually, they live over in San Palomino, but thankfully, Principal Celestia arranged for me to keep going to Canterlot High instead of having to transfer to San Palomino High,” Sunset explained, and the girls gasped.

Rarity’s eye twitched in surprise. “San Palomino. As in ‘one of the wealthiest towns in the state’ San Palomino?”

Pinkie’s next word said it all for them: “Wow.” The quintet then quieted down as they tried to process the unexpected information they’d just received – earlier, they were worried that the newest member of their circle would be living in penury; obviously that turned out to be not at all the case.

“Well, okay, so you’re living large – fine. Still doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell us shit, Sunset,” Rainbow accused. “What, don’t trust us or anything?”

“Rainbow, weren’t you listening? What could I do? My life was already in shambles and even though I have you guys now, it’s not like I could’ve asked any of you for help on my living situation!”

“But we would’ve tried, Sunny!” Pinkie insisted.

“I know, Pinkie, but…look, you’ve done more than enough for me; I know you had to cut some of your own hours here at the café to convince your aunt and uncle to give me the job. And they’ve already got you and their own kids to take care of; they couldn’t take in another.”

She then looked at Applejack. “Your family has you, your parents, your brother, your sister, and your grandmother living in your house. I know your family would have offered, but they’ve got enough mouths to feed.”

“Well, if we still had the farm, it’d be easy, but since we sold it and opened up our store, yeah, living space is a mite tight at home,” the former farmgirl admitted.

Rarity was next. “As for you, I know your family would have happily done so as well, but I also recall you saying the other day that both your parents are freelance journalists and business has been kind of tight lately.”

Rarity nodded. “True, mother hasn’t received any article assignments from any of her contacts as of late, but at least my father’s still busy with his weekly column at ESPN.”

Turning to Rainbow next, Sunset said, “And then there’s the issue with your family. You mentioned that your parents wanted to try for another kid, and…awk-ward….”

“Yeah, no kidding,” Rainbow grunted. “Half the time Scoots and I are staying at my cousin Spitfire’s as of late so my parents can do the horizontal bop, an—”

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy scolded, blushing furiously.

“Well they are!”

Sunset ignored Rainbow’s outburst and finally turned to Fluttershy. “And while I know you were probably the best option, your mom’s a single mother raising you and your little brother. She’s got enough problems and I probably would have compounded them.”

“But Sunset, we’re your friends – what kind of friends would we be if we didn’t try to offer?” Rarity asked.

“And what kind of friend would I be if I imposed? You already know my deepest secrets, and that’s hard enough to live with. But having me under your roofs would have been one step too far. And you guys are my friends – I like keeping you that way,” Sunset said, adding a quick smile in the hopes it would help.

“Still, we would have found some way to help,” Rarity insisted. “You could’ve stayed with one of us at least for a couple of days! Or maybe—”

“—or maybe one of your parents would have called Social Services on me, because that would be the right thing to do…but that’s what I don’t need right now! Too many questions would be asked, and not even Principal Celestia could cover for me at that point.” When she saw the questioning looks on their faces, it made her smile inwardly a bit at how much they’d accepted her over the past few weeks. “I think you guys forget – I’m not really human, and there’s an actual Sunset Shimmer somewhere else on this world whose identity I’m using. Hell, Princess Twilight temporarily turned you into pony-human hybrids so you could beat the demon that possessed me!”

“Eyup – gotta admit, that was freaky,” Applejack admitted. “Glad no one remembers any o’ that, save fer those that needed ta.” The room descended into an uncomfortable silence, as the natural humans thought about their temporary change and how odd it had been, and the girl who probably had to live with the reverse equivalent every day; as for Sunset, she pondered how the girls, growing up in a world without magic, felt about their first experience with it – relatively speaking, shapeshifting spells weren’t by any means comfortable.

Finally, Sunset leaned back in the chair and spoke, breaking the silence. “Look, if you guys really want to help me? Just be there for me like you have been in the past few weeks. And at the risk of sounding weird, I think that Twilight and her cousin could probably use you guys too. Princess Twilight said she had a group of extremely close friends back in Equestria and they meant the world to her.”

“An’ now ya have us, sugarcube,” Applejack said, rising from her seat to embrace Sunset. A second later the other four girls did the same, and Sunset felt very warm and comfortable in the embrace of her friends.

I was wrong to wonder if they’ll ever be my friends someday, she thought to herself. Not when it’s already obvious. “Thanks, girls,” she said to them, relief crawling onto her features.

“Yeah, whatevs,” Rainbow said, trying to play it off as always. “But next time, if you don’t tell us you’re in trouble, I swear to God I’m going to kick your ass, got that?”

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy scolded. “How is that going to help anything?”

“Eh, don’t worry about it, girls! I’m sure after this, Sunny’s life’s going to be all sunshine and sweetness!” Pinkie shouted. “Now, c’mon, we gotta finish all the cookies!”

The remainder of the day was spent in idle chatter – neither of the Cakes came upstairs during the café’s hours, which meant it had been a very slow day – and support for Sunset. The ex-unicorn promised to introduce them to her new family as soon as it all settled down and they were looking forward to it; likewise, they were definitely looking forward to meeting both Octavia and especially Twilight, despite Sunset’s warnings that the teen was more like Fluttershy than the alien princess they knew.

Finally, as closing time came, Mr. Cake came upstairs to let Sunset know that her ride was there. As the girls went downstairs, she noted Night waiting just inside, drinking a cup of coffee and breezily chatting with Mrs. Cake. Once Sunset had gathered her stuff, the two departed. As the car drove off, Pinkie was the first to ask. “So, Auntie Cup, is he okay?” Though the others hadn’t asked, the concern on their faces was just as obvious.

“I think he is,” she told the girls. “Sunset should be in good hands – I have a good feeling about him.”

Earlier, buoyed by her friends’ support, Sunset was sure that she was going to be okay. However, that confidence quickly went away as the time came and they arrived at the restaurant. Now, all Sunset wanted to do was to crawl under the table, and maybe through the carpeting, at least into the ground a few feet below. It would help prevent everyone at the table staring at her, as she had no idea what to do.

“You look as though you’ve never been to a real Italian restaurant before,” the girl leaning against Shining’s shoulder commented. That girl was Mi Amore Cadenza, though she preferred to be called Cadance instead. Celestia’s niece turned out to be much more different than expected; she was funny, charming and sweet, though Cadance claimed that was just on her off hours – and that during her day job as an assistant district attorney for the county, she was a lot more ruthless.

Meanwhile, Sunset continued to look at the menu, floored. The truth of Cadance’s statement was that in fact, Sunset hadn’t. While she’d studied about the peculiarly-similar Bitaly back on her homeworld, but as for its counterpart here she only knew via fast-food pizza joints and the numerous Chef Boyardee cans she’d consumed over the years.

Cadance smiled again. “Well, fortunately for you, Buca di Beppo isn’t a real Italian place either, though it’s likely the closest thing you’re going to find here in Equestria County. And while there is a nice little trattoria by the state line up in Brambleton, otherwise you’ve got to go somewhere like New York or New Jersey to get something a little more authentic.”

“So says the person who’s never been to Italy and can barely speak Italian?” Twilight teased, while Octavia giggled from her adjacent seat.

Cadance mock-pouted for a second. “Yeah, laugh it up, Twily. Anyway, my grandparents, Mom, and my aunts moved here from Italy when Aunt Luna was five,” she told Sunset. “You’d think they’d just leave things as is, but when I was born my grandparents insisted to Mom and Dad that I get an Italian name so I wouldn’t forget my family heritage. But as far as I can tell, said heritage consists of a lot of carbs and marinara sauce.”

“Well, at least there’s the wedding next year, if you two are still thinking about getting married there,” Velvet wondered as she took a sip from her glass of wine.

“Yeah. Destination weddings are all the rage, and my parents think it’s a great idea,” Cadance told her. “Besides, Grandma and Grandpa are getting up there in years, and they haven’t been back to Cavalcanti in decades. Besides, what’s not to love about Italy?”

“Well, the girls there are hot,” Shining said whimsically and got punched in the shoulder for it. “What’d I say?”

“I know you said that just to be facetious, but it’s gonna cost you,” she said in a teasing, sing-song voice.

“Like what?”

“Oh, you’ll find out tonight, sweetie,” she said enigmatically, before drinking from her own glass of wine. Night Light and Velvet merely looked at each other in that way that indicated as a married couple, they generally knew what their future-daughter-in-law meant, though their son was lost. Twilight continued to look at the pictures, and Octavia had her head cocked in the way that indicated she was listening to the music – she played the contrabass and was planning to be a classical musician for a living – and Spike ignored everything, heavily focused on his 3DS.

But as for herself, Sunset never felt so alone. If asked, she would have said that she felt like a camera recording a family, just a piece of furniture, an interloper who was forever on the outside, looking in. The seven of them were like the ideal family; even Octavia, who was Twilight’s cousin on her father’s side; and Cadance, who wasn’t even married into the family yet, belonged more than she did.

Thankfully, the waiter came by to take orders and pointed out that the food here was communal, similar to Chinese food – that made Sunset unwind just ever so slightly. As everyone placed an order – good thing Twilight ordered the Penne San Remo, because that sounded interesting – Sunset drained the rest of her raspberry crème Italian soda and blurted something about having to head off to the restroom. She really didn’t need to go – she just had to get away.

As she departed, Cadance said to Velvet, “Just so you know, both Shiny and my aunts told me everything already. I have to admit, I’m kinda surprised you’re doing this. Isn’t four kids enough? Well, three-and-a-half, no offense, Tavi.”

“None taken,” Octavia replied.

Velvet drained her glass, then looked at her future daughter-in-law. “Actually, if you want to know the truth, Sunset kinda reminds me a little of myself when I was her age – both me and your aunt Tia.”

Just about everyone at the table looked at Velvet and said, “Really?”

Velvet nodded. “We were the queen bees at our school and part of me wonders if Lulu’s ‘attitude phase’ was simply because she couldn’t match the popularity Tia had. Either way, I know I didn’t treat any of the folks I knew well, and at one point Tia and I even came to blows over a boyfriend she had at the time. But thankfully I got older and realized that you’re only on top for a little while – sooner or later, you’re going to fall, and when you do, hopefully you’ll have someone there to catch you. I was lucky: Tia and I have had each other and we’ve remained friends throughout the years.” She looked at both Twilight and Octavia. “In years to come, you two will realize just how lucky you are that you two are practically joined at the hip.”

But the older woman looked towards the direction of the bathroom as she continued. “But I don’t know if Sunset has that kind of support. Best guess that Tia has is that Sunset’s been living alone for the past four years – she’s been on her own since she was twelve, which is obscenely unthinkable. She’s had no one, and while that’s great for being independent, it also gives you a huge blindside when it comes to trusting others: you end up not believing in anyone except for yourself, and sooner or later, that means you’re alone.”

Twilight looked at her mother intently, then at her cousin. And with that, immediately left the table, headed toward the restrooms posthaste.

After briefly bumping into Vinyl Scratch of all people on the way to the restroom – who the fuck wears shades indoors? – Sunset made it to her destination, a place just as gaudy as the rest of the restaurant. Leaning against the sink counters, she started to breathe heavily again, trying to regain whatever sense of normalcy she had earlier today, but it was long gone – and nothing seemed normal any longer. Something was tearing at her heart, and she knew exactly what it was; after all, she saw it every day: the scorn, the looks of disappointment, the sorrow, the hatred. All of it perpetually directed at her, an unceasing maelstrom that she’d had to live with these past four years, and only now had it begun to buffet her against the rocks and shoals of despair.

And yet, just mere yards away was a family that she was now normally with…yet forever apart from them, the “oh, and her” that would forever mark her so long as she remained. And every damning look she received from Principal Celestia continued to remind her of the alicorn princess, the closest thing Sunset had ever had to a family prior. The sun alicorn had reached out to the young mare, and in return, all Sunset had done was to spurn the love given out of greed and obsession.

Friends? Foster family? These were only reminders of what she could never really have, mere stand-ins for what she’d pushed away on her native world.

As she turned to look in the mirror, she saw herself – her true self – in its reflection: the muzzle, the fur, the hooves, the horn – all reminders that she was an alien on this world, solitary and exiled. At best, in her real form she would be seen as a pet; after all, by her rough guess she stood about as tall as the average German Shepherd, about 24 inches or so at the withers. But it was her magic that would make her a threat, a sort of living nuclear weapon to either be controlled – or destroyed. “Fortunately” for her, however, only a few select people really knew what she was, but in many ways, that made it much worse: she would forever be beholden to the goodwill of people she couldn’t entirely trust, or in the case of her friends, young women who could turn an innocent slip of a tongue into a lifelong stay at a highly-classified government lab somewhere in an undisclosed location – or worse, on dissecting table in said location.

Sights and sounds ran through her like infinitely sharp knives, memories of ponies who wanted to be her friends only to be spurned because they weren’t “important enough”; associates who wanted to get to know her, but were ignored because her studies were far too important. Celestia even had a niece – though she couldn’t remember her name – who the princess once mentioned could have been like a sister to her, since she lived with her parents in a mansion just north of the palace. So many chances at a normal life – too many chances at a normal life – burned to the ground because Sunset Shimmer dared to think she knew better. And what did that get her in the end? Exile and a sort of dungeon in the place she’d been exiled to.

Before she realized what was going on, she was slumped on the floor, crying. She was forever barred from her home, at least for the next three years, though that in itself was merely an academic point: She knew that if she tried to return, Princess Celestia would arrest her. Even if Princess Twilight tried to speak in her defense, it was the younger alicorn – once a unicorn herself – that had met all of Celestia’s dreams and had earned her place as the elder alicorn’s daughter. All Sunset was and would ever be, was a failure and a washout – an exile, never to return home.



She didn’t know how long she’d been there, until she felt the soft impression of arms encircling her, the warm pressure of someone pulling her close. Looking up through tear-stained eyes, she saw Twilight sitting there, next to her, holding her tightly. Standing next to her, but with no less a concerned look, was Octavia.

“I know this isn’t easy for you,” Twilight said, holding her as close as possible, “and…it’s not easy for me, either. All my life, it’s just been Shiny, Cady, Spike, Tavi, my parents, and her parents – I’ve never needed anyone else. They’re my family, and I love them more than anything.” She took a pause to catch her breath, and Sunset felt something hot and wet on her cheek – was Twilight crying? For her?

“But I know they’re just strangers to you, and that you probably feel alone right now. Afraid. I know how that feels sometimes. If it wasn’t for Tavi, I’d probably just go to the school, the library, and that’s it. I’m not very good with people, as you can probably guess.”

Octavia nodded. “What Twily’s trying to say somewhere in those sobs and her usual lack of getting to the point is that she and I are more than just cousins, more than just best friends – we’re sisters of a sort. My parents are both in the Canterlot Symphonic, and they’re almost always on the road, so Uncle Night and Aunt Velvet have raised me just as much as my parents, maybe moreso. Shiny and Spike are the closest things I have to brothers, since I’m an only child; Cady’s been our babysitter since we were seven. So it’s natural that we’re as thick as thieves…but I think all of us forgot about you in the process.”

“But now we have someone new to think about and it’s a learning process,” Twilight continued. “I have to get used to having someone else there that I’ve never had to deal with before, and I probably came off as standoffish since first thing this morning. I’m sorry if I did that.”

“Same here. Twily’s sarcastic, but I’m outright snarky, and I know it takes some getting used to. I’m sorry as well if I hurt your feelings.”

Sunset looked at them both, not believing this – they were acting much the same way as she’d expect her friends to do, and she just met these two! And while she had no basis of comparison for Octavia to anyone she’d known back in Equestria, this Twilight was definitely not like the confident, courageous and assured princess she knew – in some ways, that was comforting, as with the princess, Sunset would always be reminded of the pony she could have been, but with Twilight, she could be a symbol of the person Sunset wanted to become.

Sunset gave the other two girls a simple nod. “No, it was an accident – I was groggy from the night before and not in the best of shape,” she told them. “Furthermore, I wore that tanktop without reading the instructions; it’s an overgarment, meant to be worn over a t-shirt, so that was my fault entirely and I owe you both an apology for the unexpected show.” At that, Octavia started giggling, though it was clearly not meant in a malicious way. “What’s so funny?”

“I…um….” Twilight said, before blushing furiously. Sunset looked at her weirdly before Twilight confessed: “Yesterday, Tavi and I went to one of her recitals over in Riverdale, and there was this one guy from Riverdale High who kept looking at our chests – really bothered me. And then after this morning, when you went to use the shower, I told Tavi that we should have brought you along, because you’re bigger than both of us and could’ve kept him busy.”

Sunset blinked once. Twice. And then for some reason, started laughing at the absurdity of it all. Twilight looked flustered, then frowned before starting to laugh as well, and when Octavia got started once more, the trio of girls couldn’t stop, breaking a very tense moment for the three of them.

Peeking her head into the restroom carefully, Velvet sighed in relief. After Sunset raced off, she’d feared the worst, but Twilight and Octavia, bless them, went off after her. Twilight, in particular, had a look of determination on her face that Velvet had rarely seen on her milquetoast-natured daughter, as if the situation brought out something in Twilight that had compelled her to rise to the occasion.

“Oh, that’s good,” Cadance said from behind her. “I was worried there for a moment, but the girls have got everything under control.”

Velvet closed the door carefully, then nodded. “Let’s get back to the table; I’m sure they’ll join us soon enough.”

The three girls continued to chat in Sunset’s room, well past a reasonable hour. Octavia had called her parents and said she was staying over, and as always it was never an issue. Since their return from dinner the trio had a more detailed conversation, far more relaxed and certainly more akin to what would be normal for their age.

“Since I’m a bassist – and you won’t believe how many times people think I mean a guitar when I say that – I mostly tend towards classical music, though I also tend to raid Aunt Velvet’s jazz CD collection now and then,” Octavia said. “On rare occasions I’ll listen to something that Twily insists on, though I usually tend to regret it.”

“Well, that’s because your taste in music runs towards the ancient and bo~ring!” Twilight laughed. “As for me, I mainly listen to pop: Sapphire Shores, Happy Bighat, Bombay Bicycle Club, that kind of stuff.” Octavia pantomimed gagging while Twilight explained, earning a scowl from her cousin, causing Sunset to chuckle. “Though I will admit that once in a while she finds something in Mom’s collection that’s worth listening to,” she amended. “What about you?”

“Well, other than the occasional song by Silky Sounds or Tequila Sunrise, I mostly like hard rock: Hoofstomper, Mute Math, Of Mice & Men, and all the good stuff.” A sudden thought crossed her face, as she blurted, “Oh, that reminds me! I have to get the new Discord album from my friend Rainbow when I get a chance – I’ve been waiting all month for his new album to come out and she told me she got a copy of Tom the Mighty Rock yesterday.”

To Sunset’s surprise, both Octavia and Twilight looked at each other as if something clicked before Octavia asked, “Rainbow? As in Rainbow Dash?”

Uh-oh. “You know her?”

“Well, we know of her,” Twilight explained. “We have this girl on our school’s JV soccer team, Fastflyer, and she’s a complete bitch. Anyway, at the start of a game last month between your school and ours, Fastflyer apparently said something to Rainbow that must’ve pissed her off completely, because apparently a few minutes later she kicked the ball hard enough to smash Fastflyer’s nose – broke it, too. Got the message across, apparently.”

Well, that explains why Rainbow was suspended from school those two days, Sunset said to herself. Even still, though Rainbow wasn’t her friend at the time, she was now, and Sunset felt compelled to defend her. “Hey, Rainbow’s cool. She probably didn’t do it on…okay, she probably did do it on purpose, knowing Rainbow, but there was probably a good reason for it. Rainbow’s really big on loyalty and nothing pushes her buttons faster than someone talking shit about her friends.”

“Yeah, one of the cheerleaders at our school said she’d overheard Fastflyer call some girl named Fluttershy ‘an autistic flower-child cunt’ or something like that. You know her?”

Yeah, that would do it, Sunset thought; frankly, that would probably be enough to make her go after Fastflyer as well. “Fluttershy’s a friend of mine as well, a really nice girl. Actually, Twily, you remind me a little of her.”

“Hopefully that’s a good thing,” Twilight answered.

Sunset nodded in the affirmative. “It is; Fluttershy’s a great girl. Actually, I hope I can introduce you to all my friends – I think you’d really like them all. They’re not the most normal bunch of girls, especially Pinkie, but…well, that’s part of their charm, actually.”

Octavia nodded. “That’d be nice. What do you think, Twily?”

“Um…no offense, Sunset, but let me take things a little bit at a time. Still kinda getting used to this agreement,” she said. “Not that I think your friends are bad or anything, but….”

“No, I understand; if anything, that’s the kind of answer Fluttershy would give as well, to be honest,” Sunset admitted. “Plus, there’s no rush; someone I know once told me that the magic of friendship is everywhere.” Though she was talking to one Twilight Sparkle, inwardly, she was thanking another; the alicorn princess’ words were coming in quite handy. Thanks, Twilight, she said to herself.

However, the human Twilight gave Sunset a nonplussed look before saying, “Um…whoever told you that, Sunset? That’s kinda…cheesy.”

Octavia, however, grinned. “You know, Twily, that sounds exactly like something you’d say, come to think of i—” The teen never finished her statement as she was immediately beaned by a well-placed pillow to the head, thrown by Twilight.

A second later, there was a knock at the door, followed by Velvet poking her head in. “Girls, I know you three are having fun, but you should really call it a night, okay?” When the trio groaned, she added, “I’ve got to get up early, get us all fed, then drop off both Spike and Sunset before heading to work. Twily, your father will be taking you and Tavi to school tomorrow. So with that being said, cut us old folks some slack, okay?”

“Fine, we get the message, Mom,” Twilight answered.

“We were just wrapping up anyway, Aunt Velvet,” Octavia answered. “And I need to get up early anyway, if I’m going to take a shower before these two hog all the hot water.” When her answer earned her scowls from the other two teens, she asked coquettishly, “What did I say?”

Sunset chose to ignore that and instead addressed Velvet. “Besides, I’m guessing that Principal Celestia will want to see me before class starts,” she hazarded.

“Most likely,” Velvet agreed. “Goodnight, girls; see you in the morning.” With that, Velvet closed the door, leaving the trio in peace.

About an hour later, Velvet noticed that the lights were still on. Girls, it’s two in the morning, she mentally grumbled. You three had better…. Opening the door, she was prepared to scold the trio…but stopped.

Though the lights were on, the three girls were asleep on the bed. Though Twilight and Octavia had separate beds in Twilight’s room, the two had been so comfortable with one another they tended to sleep together even as teens, so that wasn’t odd. But in the center, seeming as though she’d always belonged, was Sunset. There was a hint of a smile on the girl’s face, as though she subconsciously knew that for the first time in a long while, she didn’t have to fear being alone. Velvet had no doubt whatsoever that tonight would probably be the best night of sleep that the troubled youth would have had in a long, long time.

A motherly smile crept onto the face of the fifty-something woman. Quietly entering the room, she bent down and kissed her daughter on the forehead, then her niece. And after a slight second, she did the same to Sunset. Taking care to be quiet, she slipped the comforter over the trio, gazing at them one last time before she turned off the light switch.

“Good night, my sweet girls,” she whispered warmly before closing the door.