• Published 15th Mar 2015
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Six Nights (and a Day) With Sunset - EchoWing



Sunset Shimmer adjusts to her new life after the Fall Formal and gets to know her new friends better, while reflecting on her old one.

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Chapter Three - A Night With Rainbow Dash

“Would Maud really do something like that?”

“Of course not!” Pinkie hugged Fluttershy and assured her, “All Maud was doing was cutting up some sausage for breakfast. Shimmy just let her imagination run away with her.”

The girls had gathered at Sugarcube Corner, in part to revive an old tradition from before Sunset Shimmer had torn their group apart but mostly to discuss what had happened to the newest member of their circle over the course of the weekend. Rarity sighed regretfully as she reasoned, “After what happened with Sweetie Belle, I can’t blame her for being somewhat paranoid. Did she at least come down for breakfast?”

“Yeah, but it took some coaxing. And oatmeal with brown sugar.” Pinkie took a sip of her smoothie and asked, “Don’t get why she’s so scared of Maud, though. I mean, Maud’s the best big sister in the world! She wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

“Sunset did almost kill us Friday night, sugarcube.”

“Yeah, but she wasn’t herself and she said she was sorry.” Pinkie shrugged and reasoned, “I mean, I can kinda get Maud attacking her during all that, but now?”

“Well, regardless, I don’t think it would be good for her to stay with you any further.” Rarity looked about the rest of the group as she took a sip of her hot cocoa. “Though I fear our options are dwindling. I’ve already been ruled out, given Sweetie Belle’s appalling behavior, and I fear we’d only get something similar with Applejack.”

“If not worse, given Big Mac and Apple Bloom both were at ground zero Friday night.” The country girl crossed her arms and contemplated. “Still, Big Mac’s right patient under the worst cases, and Apple Bloom’ll know better’n to cause trouble.”

“Well, perhaps we should keep your home as a worst case scenario.” The fashionista turned to Fluttershy and asked, “What about you, dear? I don’t see your parents turning anyone out.”

The poor girl turned embarrassed and nervously explained. “Well, no, but this is very short-notice.”

Heads turned to Rainbow Dash, who was absent-mindedly munching away at a scone between sips of cider. She realized they were all looking at her and asked, “What, my place? You kidding?”

“Process a’ elimination, Dash. ‘Sides, you don’t havta worry none ‘bout askin’ fer permission.”

“Well yeah, but…!” The athlete sighed, already knowing the odds were stacked against her. “Okay, fine. But she better be ready, it’s a bumpy ride between Pinkie’s place and mine.”

-

The doors to the bus opened with a hiss, and Sunset stepped out onto the sidewalk with uneasy footsteps, her luggage and new sleeping bag tightly held close to one side. Rainbow Dash stepped out after her much more smoothly and asked, “Two and a half years, and you’re not used to buses?”

“Anywhere I needed to go was in walking distance of the school. Besides, we didn’t have them back in Equestria.” The bus roared off as Sunset elaborated, “I needed to go somewhere back there, I walked or rode a carriage or took a streetcar. Or I teleported, but that’s if I was in a real rush.”

The athlete smirked. “Must’ve done that a lot close to the time you left.”

“Not that much, actually.” A nervous smile crossed her face as she added, “Thanks for this, Dash. I hope you’re not too sore about drawing the short straw.”

“Eh, I don’t mind the whole musical houses thing. I just hope you don’t mind the altitude.” She gestured to a tall blue building and continued, “Speaking of, welcome to Skycastle Apartments! Bet you don’t see a lot of these back in Equestria.”

“Not in Canterlot, no, but other places?” The building reminded her of similar architecture in Indianapoloosa, as well as pictures she’d seen of Las Pegasus, Manehattan and Fillydelphia. She could never see her parents, or her aunt and uncle, living in a cramped apartment however. Then again, she never thought of a pegasus family living in a house on the ground rather than in the clouds. “Still, where I come from, apartment buildings aren’t usually this big.”

“Well, it’s no skyscraper, but it gets the job done.” Rainbow pulled a keycard from her shirt pocket and brought it up to an electronic lock on one side of the door. The lock flashed green, and she pulled the door open and led Sunset into the building’s lobby. It was impressively sized and well-lit, with assorted columns spaced in two lines leading from the front door to the elevators and assorted doors on either side. Directly to their left was a desk, a dark-haired man seated behind it in a security uniform. He looked up as Dash called out, “Hey Sam! Slow day?”

“Nothing wrong with staying out of the fast lane, Dash.” The guard leaned forward and asked, “Hey, I caught something about a freaky light show at your school last Friday night. You know anything about that?”

A dismissive snort escaped the teen’s lips. “You’ve been paying way too much attention to Ralph and his crazy theories. Any mail?”

“Yeah, couple things for you.” The guard produced a few letters from beneath the desk and handed them off. “Listen, if anything happens…”

“I know you and the guys’ve got my back.” With a grin and a wave, Rainbow Dash went on her way, Sunset following close. They approached the other end of the lobby and she explained, “That’s Sam. He’s one of the security guys for the building. Nice guy, mean fastball. Gets along great with my dad.”

“Should I be worried?”

“Nah, he trusts me.” Rainbow pressed the ‘Up’ button for the elevator, and the doors swung open, allowing them access. On one side were a number of labeled buttons, most marking the twenty five floors of the building. The one marked for Floor 24 was pressed, and the elevator started its ascent. “You’ve got elevators in Equestria too?”

“Yeah. Some really fancy hotels have them operated by unicorn magic, but most are just like this one, wholly mechanical.” The elevator came to a stop, and the doors opened, the two girls making their way out to a well-lit, nicely-carpeted hallway. “I never got why there are still holdouts. You’d think they’d want to make things easier on the employees instead of giving them more work.” Though given hers was a world where the weather was micromanaged, perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that such things existed. She noticed a door marked with a trio of familiar symbols, one of them a familiar cloud with a tri-colored lightning bolt emerging from the bottom. “Your place?”

“What was your first clue?” Another swipe of her keycard, and the door was opened. “Here we are, Casa de Rainbow! Make sure you kick off your boots, okay?”

Sunset did as instructed, slipping out of her boots and letting her sock-clad feet sink into the carpet. She put hers alongside of her host’s pair and looked about in amazement. “Wow. Cleaner than I thought. I mean, I don’t think of you living in a pig sty, but…”

“Yeah, I know, ‘neat and tidy’ is more Rarity’s thing, but the cleaning lady’s only in once a week, and I don’t like giving her more work than she needs. Keep the scuffs to a minimum, y’know?” Rainbow gestured about and added, “Anyway, make yourself at home.”

Sunset entered the living room properly, her eyes sweeping it over. In the center of the room was a luxurious-looking sofa, its back to the door and positioned for a perfect view of a large flatscreen television, a small cabinet with assorted electronics beneath and a door at each side. One corner of the room was occupied by a desk, computer and office chair, another occupied by a small fountain, the water spraying from it shifting through each color of the rainbow every few seconds. The left wall had another door, which she assumed was the bathroom. At her right was the kitchen, fully stocked with all sorts of appliances and one wall occupied by an impressive window, light indirectly coming in from outside. She set her things down at the side of the sofa and approached her host with amazement. “You never struck me as the rich kind.”

“We’re not rich, just well-off. My dad’s a coach for the local college’s football team, and Mom’s always had a good head for numbers.” A sheepish grin, and Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her head as she admitted, “Kinda wish I’d gotten some of that.”

“So, where are your parents?”

“Dad’s off on the road with his team, and Mom…” She grew distant, then shook it off. “Anyway, no big. Come on, let’s get you settled properly. We don’t have a guest room, so you’re bunking with me.” Rainbow Dash picked up her things and asked, “So, you liking the sleeping bag?”

“Yeah, but I’m surprised Pinkie let me have it. She said it was one of her spares, something about sleepover-related emergencies, but…”

“Don’t try to figure Pinkie Pie out, trust me. Your head might implode or something.” She opened her bedroom door with a free hand and warned, “Just watch your head, alright?”

Sunset followed her host in, and found herself thinking that this was exactly how she pictured Rainbow Dash’s room would look. All the usual bits of furniture she expected were there, dresser-mirror combo and computer and TV and what-not, but the décor brought the friendly skies to mind very quickly. The three walls were sky blue, placid white clouds painted upon them with the remaining one occupied by another immense window that, mercifully, had a set of cloud-pattern curtains blocking it from view. She looked up and saw a number of ceiling pegs, some with various models of aircraft hanging from them and others with encapsulated posters depicting all manners of things associated with flight, from birds to aviatrixes to caped superheroines. Sunset chuckled as she recognized two or three characters from comics that she’d spied belonging to Snips and Snails. “Nice.”

“For the longest time, I thought the closest I’d ever get to flying before I had a license was this.” Rainbow Dash set her backpack and her guest’s things down at the foot of the bed and idly traced a finger along the bottom of a model of an old twin-engine aircraft, painted silver and lovingly-made. “Still want to learn how to fly a plane, but after last week? Literally having my own wings? It isn’t quite gonna match up.”

An uncomfortable smile crossed her face as Sunset remembered all too clearly the events of that evening, and the massive demonic wings she’d possessed. “Yeah, it was something all right.”

Rainbow winced, realizing that she’d said exactly the wrong thing. “Yikes. Sorry.” She quickly changed the subject and tipped her head towards the window, pulling open the curtains slowly. “So, hope you don’t mind the view.”

“No, it’s great.” Sunset approached the window, taking in as much as she could. It was a very impressive view of the town, the buildings and shops looking miniscule and the cars looking like insects. She could barely see Canterlot High in the distance. “Actually reminds me of home. My Canterlot is carved into the side of one of Equestria’s highest peaks, and it’s the rare unicorn that doesn’t mind living up high somewhere. I even took the top bunk when I was younger, after I moved in with my aunt and uncle. Never got quite as high as pegasi, though; many of them actually live in cities built of cloud.”

“Really? Awesome.” Dash stepped up beside her and admitted, “I had to beg my folks to get a place this high up. Always felt like I belonged in the sky. Then Twilight tells me I’m a pegasus in another world, and I actually meet her and it just made sense.” She turned to Sunset and asked, “So, you had pegasus relatives. You ever live in a cloud city?”

“No. Most pegasi live in cloud cities because their magic lets them walk on clouds. There are spells that let other ponies do the same, but they’re temporary, only last a few days or so. My aunt and uncle had a plain house on the ground in Indianapoloosa.” She put a hand to the window and noted, “They didn’t seem to mind being stuck in the dirt with me. My cousin actually seemed to love it, especially when it snowed. She’d count the days before a scheduled snowfall like they were the days before Christmas.” Anticipating her friend’s question, she added, “Pegasi control the weather in Equestria. There’s this massive, government-run infrastructure around weather management, factories dedicated to it in Cloudsdale, everything. We’d know when it rained, snowed, all that. It took me forever to get used to the weather acting on its own after I came here.”

“Yeah, I can see that. Kinda takes the adventure out of the weather, though, it being controlled and all. Would be plenty handy for dealing with droughts.”

“Well, but we still had those for one reason or another.” She smiled and turned to the girl beside her. “Last thing I expected from you, though. A little bit of home.”

“Well, it wasn’t part of the plan, but I’m glad you like it.” A small jerk of her head, and Rainbow Dash offered, “Hey, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Got some leftover pizza I don’t mind sharing.”

“I don’t mind at all.” Sunset had refrained from joining in before, and wasn’t about to make the same mistake again.

-

“Mommy! Mommy, look!” Sunrunner excitedly pointed a hoof at the front window out to the front yard. “It’s snowed! There’s snow on the ground!”

Solar Flare came up to her daughter and smiled, her husband in tow. “I’d say it has, hasn’t it?”

“Oh, that’s a beautiful sight. It’s been years since I’ve seen a snowfall that gorgeous. The weather workers up in Cloudsdale must have put in a lot of overtime for all that snow, carrying on Snowdrop’s proud tradition…”

“I wanna build a snowmare! Can I, please?”

Her mother chuckled. “Of course dear. Go get your cousin; maybe she’ll want to join in.” As Sunrunner dashed off, she called back, “And then make sure you put on your snowboots before you go out!”

Her husband looked hurt as he asked, “You’re not going to let me finish my story?”

A sly smile. “Blue Streak, I love you, but if I let you talk too long, we might miss out on a chance for some quality family time.”

At the top of the steps, Sunrunner knocked on the door to the bedroom she shared with her cousin with one hoof. “Shims! It snowed!”

“I see that, Sunrunner!” came the muffled reply.

Undeterred, the little pegasus decided to break out her best weapon to coax out her honorary sibling – her singing voice. It always worked on her mom and dad, so why not her cousin?

“Do you want to build a snowmare?

Come on, let's go and play!

I barely see you anymore

Come out the door,

Let’s not waste the day!

We could be best buddies

Don’t know why not

How ‘bout we give it a try?

Do you want to build a snowmare?

It doesn't have to be a snowmare!”

“Go away, Sunrunner! I don’t want to play in the stupid snow with you!”

The little filly stepped back from the door, surprised. “But Shims…!”

“I said no! And don’t call me that!”

Her ears went low, her head doing likewise, and Sunrunner turned away from the door in defeat. “Okay. ‘Bye.” She walked down the steps, saw her parents at the foot of the staircase, and said, “I don’t think she wants to build a snowmare.”

Solar Flare gently nuzzled her daughter and offered, “Give it time, dear. She’s still adjusting.”

-

The timer dinged, and Rainbow Dash opened the oven door and extracted a large pan with four slices of pizza upon it, her hands protected by oven mitts. “You’re sure you’re passing on the pepperoni?”

“Positive, plain cheese is fine.” Her selected portion slid onto a waiting plate with the help of a spatula, and Sunset smiled. “Looks delicious.”

“You can never go wrong with Piedmont’s.” The oven door closed, the pan and spatula set aside, and the oven mitt back where it belonged, and Rainbow sat down and opened her can of soda, taking a sip before taking a bite. “So why not to the pepperoni? Not that I’m complaining, but I thought you ate meat.”

“I eat some meats. I checked a while back; pepperoni’s made from a mix of pork and beef. I’ll eat pork no problem, but beef? You want to, go ahead, but not me.”

“Suit yourself.” The two started eating, the silence lasting long enough for the two to swallow their first bites. “Tell you the truth though, I’m surprised you’re even willing to eat meat. I mean, I thought horses just ate grass and hay and stuff.”

“We can eat a little meat. I had some goose liver once back in Equestria, part of a state dinner.” A queasy look passed on her face, and Sunset added, “The less said about that, the better. After I came here, I tried to stick to salads, but after a while, I gave in to being an omnivore. Still not crazy about seafood, but chicken and pork aren’t bad.”

“Yeah, I get that. Guess that’s why you stayed here; got to liking meat too much.”

“No, believe it or not, we’ve got plenty of substitutes for various meats back in Equestria. Soy and tofu and such, and it’s the rare day I don’t crave an HBLT. I stayed here…” A sigh. “Oh, so many reasons. The big one being that I’m an idiot.”

“You? An idiot? You sleep through science classes I struggle through, and you still score better than me.”

“I knew the material. Just because it’s a different world doesn’t mean chemistry isn’t the same; two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, you still get water. And with physics, well, the laws still apply, we just bend them a little with magic. I’m not an idiot because of a lack of book smarts. I’m an idiot because of a lack of common sense.” She set her slice of pizza down and explained, “My aunt and I never really talked about what happened with my parents. All I know about how they died is that it had something to do with their work, whatever that was, and I never really got close with my aunt’s family. They tried, but I just ended up pushing them away more often than not. I never really had a bond like I did with my parents again until I became Princess Celestia’s personal student.”

“Yeah, I kinda noticed that.”

“And then I ruined it by acting like a brat and making demands of her. No wonder she refused to make me a princess.” She idly rolled her wrist, swishing her soda about in its can, and added, “Coming to this world was as much about spiting her as it was getting away. I felt like I’d been abandoned. Again.” A sip, and then she continued. “Any thoughts about going back and proving her wrong were just idle fantasies until I found out about Twilight. Over here, at least until I got out of CHS, I’d have something like the power I wanted.”

“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven?”

“Yeah, and look how well that went. No matter how you look at it, I was being an idiot; the queen bee at a six-year high school isn’t anything like being a princess. What power I had would’ve ended after five years, and I wouldn’t be able to pass myself off as a high school student forever.” Another sip. “I thought finding out about Twilight and her crown was a godsend. I could get my hands on it, I’d have what I wanted all along, not just power, but to not be forgotten. Talk about irony.” She sighed. “As it is, I’m probably lucky I failed.”

“You got blown into the bottom of a crater. I wouldn’t call that lucky.”

“Better than the alternatives. Let’s say Friday night went differently, and I’d actually managed to…” A deep breath, and Sunset brought herself to say it, “…managed to kill all of you. I go through the portal, and I’d have Celestia, Luna, Cadance and all of Twilight’s friends waiting for me. If they didn’t put me six feet under, Shining Armor would have. All the fireballs in the world wouldn’t save me from being trapped in a barrier spell and getting smothered.” She turned morose as she added, “And that would’ve at least left a body behind.” She saw Rainbow’s puzzled expression out of the corner of her eye and asked, “Don’t tell me you’re actually surprised by that.”

“A little, yeah. I kinda figured that thing with Nightmare Moon was just something by itself, one of those ‘isolated incident’ things.”

“Well believe it or not, my world’s history isn’t much different from yours. We’ve got war, crimes, innocent ponies getting hurt over the most trivial of things, all that. Our justice system is even a lot like the one you have here, even if it is a little less complicated. Light crimes get light punishments, severe crimes get severe punishments. If I’d been successful, if I’d…if I’d killed Twilight, it wouldn’t have just been murder, it would’ve been treason. That’ll net you the worst punishment of all; the Ultimate Sanction.”

“I’m guessing that’s some kind of death penalty?”

“Got it in one. It’s rarely done, the last time it happened was over a century before I was born, but I’ve read descriptions of it. I’ll spare you the details over dinner, but the short version? I’d be burned alive, from the inside out.”

A disbelieving look crossed Rainbow Dash’s face as she asked, “Seriously? That bad? No way.”

A sad nod. “We’ve got prisons in Equestria, but the ones for ponies are for low-level offenders. The really nasty criminals and monsters end up in Tartarus, but that’s only because they can’t be disposed of by other means. If she thought she had no other way, Celestia would’ve done it.”

“Yikes. I guess that’s why you didn’t go back with Twilight.”

“And why I was glad she didn’t force me to go back. Seeing Princess Celestia the next morning made things better, but still.” She sighed. “The really sad thing is that I doubt anyone would’ve complained if I went back to Equestria and died. Doubt they would’ve missed me anyway. They might even have cheered.”

“Whoa, hold on!” Rainbow brought her hands to Sunset’s head and turned it to face her. “Don’t you go talking like that! Yeah, you did plenty of bad stuff, but don’t you think for a second that anyone at CHS would be happy to see you dead! I wouldn’t!”

“Rarity’s little sister tried to melt me.”

“Yeah, well, she’s a kid! Kids don’t think straight!” She took a breath to calm herself and added, “I get you’re feeling guilty about all of that. I don’t blame you. But trust me, there’s folks who’d miss you. Especially now.”

Sunset half-smiled. “This from the girl who was the first to call me on all my bull.”

“Yeah, well, loyalty’s gotta be earned.” She released her friend and added, “Besides, I still wasn’t quite sure how I felt right there. I mean, I didn’t hate you or anything, definitely wouldn’t have been happy if you just died or something, but still, the crap you pulled isn’t something I was just gonna forget about. Then I saw you that morning and, well, I really believed you meant what you said about being sorry and all.” She smiled and added, “And don’t tell anyone else, but I almost-sorta had something in my eye when you and the princess made up.”

“My lips are sealed.”

“Good, because I’d deny it later.” A sip of her drink, and they moved talk elsewhere, “Speaking of your reign of terror, why have Snips and Snails for minions? I’d think you’d want to have a couple girls backing your plays.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I can see that, me having a girl posse.” She shook her head and explained, “I wanted power, but I wasn’t eager to share it, especially with someone who’d stab me in the back. Snips and Snails were just smart enough to be obedient and too stupid to be ambitious.”

“And that ‘amassing an army’ thing?”

“Again, me being stupid. I dismissed it anyway almost immediately; I wanted to be Celestia’s equal or superior and show her she was wrong. Even if they were willing, I’d have an army that’d stab me in the back or desert me as soon as they could. And if things went exactly like they did with the Fall Formal, well…”

“We’d be screwed.”

“Until someone shot me. Magic or no magic, I wouldn’t be bullet proof.” Sunset sighed and added, “I really was an idiot. I’d blame hormones, but how many teenage girls do you know of who seriously thought they could rule the world?”

“Personally? Too many. But I’m glad one of ‘em came to their senses.” She gave her new friend a nudge and grinned. “And I get the feeling that your Celestia wouldn’t have executed you, assuming she got you back to reality. You regretted all you did. So did she. Now you’ve got a chance to make up for it.” She moved topics elsewhere and asked, “So, if you’ve fought wars, then you’ve got armies, right?”

“Yeah. That group pony-you mentioned, the Wonderbolts? They’re a unit of elite pegasus flyers based out of Cloudsdale, founded right after the guard was expanded about a thousand years ago. They don’t get into a lot of combat anymore, though, but I can get her wanting to be one of them. They’re the best of the best.”

“You think that cousin of yours might be one of them?”

A shrug. “Maybe. She was always good with her wings.” She barely heard the sound of the door latch as she added, “Tell you the truth, I was always kinda…”

“Rainbow Dash?” The two girls turned to the door to find a tall, athletically-built man standing just inside, casually dressed but clearly mussed up from recent exertion. Between his pale lavender skin and his rainbow-colored hair, it was obvious who he was. “Are you alright?”

“Dad?!” Dash jumped to her feet, a mix of emotions including, surprise, joy and dread clear on her face. “I thought you wouldn’t be back until later this week!”

“I caught the earliest flight I could as soon as I got word about what happened at the Fall Formal.” He gave Sunset a quick glance, which made the fiery-haired girl suddenly wish she still had enough magic to muster an invisibility spell, before turning his gaze back upon his daughter. “Now, are you alright?”

“Dad, I’m fine! Really! I’ve had worse hits from soccer practice than I did the Fall Formal.”

His attention turned back to Sunset Shimmer as he asked, “Then explain what she’s doing here.” She got to her feet, but he quickly moved to stop her. “Hold it. Sunset Shimmer, right? I’m not telling you to leave. I’m asking my daughter to explain why you’re here.” He turned his attention back to Rainbow Dash again and quirked an eyebrow.

“It’s because she needs a place to stay. Dad, I know she’s done bad stuff before. I haven’t just forgotten any of it, and I’m not about to. But she needs a friend right now, and if I don’t give her one, who will?”

His expression remained incredulous. “I remember the last time something went down involving you and a bully, Rainbow Dash. I had to transfer you to a different school once everything was said and done. And now you’re telling me that this time, after a bully treats you and Fluttershy and your friends like dirt and causes a gas explosion, you’re giving her a second chance and feeding her your leftovers? Don’t tell me it was because she said she was sorry.”

“No. It’s because I believe her when she did.”

Expression unchanged, he turned back to Sunset, who suddenly felt like she was sweating crossbow bolts. “You believe her.” After what felt like an eternity, his gaze softened. “Well, I suppose that’s good enough for me. Sunset Shimmer, we’ve never been formally introduced.” She stood up and approached as he offered his hand. “Rainbow Blaze, Dashie’s father. Taught her everything she knows about athletics, including how to be a good winner. Always makes me proud when she does the right thing.”

Sunset accepted with a relieved smile. “Nice to meet you, sir. And thanks for not throwing me out.”

“Well, Dashie’s already fed you, so it’d be wrong at this point. But that only gets you a night under our roof – you’re going to have to make new arrangements for tomorrow. My daughter’s giving you a second chance, but I’m still on the fence about it.” The handshake ended, and he asked, “So, is there still pizza left?”

-

“Your Highness, again, I must offer my apologies for the lapse in security during the summit. That it happened under my watch…”

“Captain Topaz!” The Crystal pony stood at attention at his commander-in-chief’s order, not even relaxing as Shining Armor reassured him, “Your arrangements were excellent, you were just hit with something we didn’t see coming. Next time, we’ll know better. Now stop being so hard on yourself.”

“Forgive me, sir, but…” His golden yellow coat seemed to dim slightly, and the guard noted, “We very nearly lost an Element of Harmony. Worse, we very nearly lost Princess Twilight. There’s no excuse for that.”

“And you aren’t giving me any. If you were, then I’d be having a different conversation with a different captain.” It took everything the unicorn had to hold back a laugh, as a very similar conversation to this had taken place between him and Princess Celestia only shortly after the changeling invasion of Canterlot. In comparison, Topaz was having an easier go of it. “Now dismissed. We’ve both got work to do.”

Still nervous, but his coat having regained some of its gleam, Topaz saluted and made his way out of the office, pausing as the door opened before him. “Excuse me…your Highness!”

A nervous giggle, and Twilight assured him, “It’s alright, Captain. As you were.” She stepped aside to allow him to go on his way, and quietly knocked on the door with one hoof. “Can you spare me a minute, BBBFF?”

Relief on his face, Shining Armor beckoned her inside. “Sure, Twily. Come on in.” She closed the door behind her as he asked, “What’s brought you in…?” He then noticed the nervous blush on her face, and a sly grin formed on his own. “Oh. That’s what this is about.”

She attempted to maintain a neutral expression as she noted, “I haven’t said a word.”

“You didn’t have to. I’ve seen that look on the face of more than one mare fresh into the academy, and it’s the rare soldier who doesn’t pay attention to scuttlebutt. Add in Cadance neither confirming nor denying anything, and I got an idea of what’s going on.”

Twilight sighed and relented. “You could always tell when I was hiding something, couldn’t you, Shiny?” She recovered herself. “May as well stop wasting time. What can you tell me about Flash Sentry?”

A laugh. “So that’s the stallion you’ve fallen for. I was hoping it was him.” A bit of magic, and a desk drawer was opened and a personnel file extracted. “First Lieutenant Flash Sentry. Canterlot native and a recent graduate of Wing Point. Not valedictorian, but he was in the top ten percent of his graduating class. Earned a commendation before he graduated, got another one for his actions during the changeling invasion.”

Surprise was clear on her face. “He was in Canterlot for the invasion?”

“Grads have a mandatory tour of duty in Canterlot prior to permanent assignments, Twily. His wasn’t up yet.” He found a portion of the file and added, “According to district commander Firebolt, the young lieutenant was one of a group of four rookies who managed to fight off the changelings right up until Cadance and I were able to repel them. Between that and the group’s prior actions, all four of them were on my list for transfers out here to strengthen the Crystal Guard. He’s the only one who made it; the other three are either still on duty with the Canterlot guard or awaiting admittance to other units, but we all know how long transfers take.”

“And you’re so approving because of his record?”

The file was put back in its place as Shining admitted, “I’m so approving because I’ve met him. You meet as many troops as I have, you get a good idea of what sort of pony they are. His record called him competitive; he copped to that, admitted to a rivalry with one of the mares he worked with. Now he calls her a friend. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a good stallion.” He smirked and teased, “So how soon before you introduce him to Mom and Dad?”

“Shining!”

“I’m kidding, Twilight! Promise!” In all seriousness, he added, “But I’m the last pony who’s got the right to disapprove of a princess and a member of the Guard being in a relationship, and I trust my little sister to look after herself. If you want to give dating him a try, feel free. I won’t stop you.”

Twilight smiled. “Thanks, BBBFF.” She turned sad as she added, “I’m just not sure I should.”

“If you’re worried about him turning you down…”

She waved a hoof in the air for emphasis as she responded, “No, no, I’m fine with that.” Twilight took a moment to consider her thoughts, then asked, “Let’s say you met a pony who was like Cadance in every way, and fell for her, and then went somewhere else and met somepony exactly like her, and felt the same way about them? Would the feelings for the second Cadance be legitimate, or would they be because you’d met the first one and just transferred them to the second? And if you ended up dating the second one, despite knowing you still had feelings for the first…”

“Twilight, stop right there.” His expression was now serious, his tone devoid of humor, as Shining Armor asked the obvious question. “You met and fell for the Flash Sentry from the other world, didn’t you?”

A nod. “He was every bit the gentlecolt, er, gentleman, I promise.”

“I’ll take your word on that.” His tone became more empathetic as he added, “But I’m starting to get your problem here.” Glad that he hadn’t returned to his chair behind his desk, Shining approached his sister and laid a comforting hoof on her shoulder. “This isn’t something I’ve been through, sis. It’s your choice how you handle this, not mine, but you remember when Cadance and I were first dating?”

Now it was Twilight’s turn to smirk. “How you were falling over your own hooves trying to impress her when the two of you were already a perfect match?”

“Exactly. If either of us had decided otherwise, then I wouldn’t be the stallion I am today. Bare minimum, I wouldn’t even be able to talk to a girl who wasn’t you or Mom.”

“Or Poindexter in drag.”

A mild glare, and Shining continued, “My point is that we both chose each other. Nopony made the decision for us.” He smiled encouragingly. “Whatever you decide, I’ve got your back.” He gave her an encouraging nudge and added, “Now go on. You’ve got better things to do than get in the middle of my boring routine. Like deal with your own boring routine.” Twilight blew a playful and silent raspberry and made her way out, the stallion watching her go and hoping that he had indeed pointed her in the right direction. Love was complicated enough, but something like this was way out of his league.

-

“Alright, I’ll let her know. Thanks, Fluttershy.” Rainbow Dash entered her bedroom to find her houseguest already dressed for bed, waist-deep in her sleeping bag with her message journal open in her lap and bathed in moonlight. “Good news and bad news. Good news is that Flutters can take you in tomorrow night. Bad news…”

“Only one night?”

“Got it in one. Sorry about that, Sunset.”

“Hey, I’m just glad to have what I’ve got.” A few more quick words jotted down, and Sunset closed the book. “Twilight sends her best, by the way.”

“Awesome. Didn’t think she’d forgotten about us.” Rainbow sat on her bed and asked, “So, how are you going to handle things after tomorrow night?”

A shrug. “I guess I’m gonna have to take my chances with Applejack and hope I don’t get a repeat of what happened at Rarity’s. Or worse.” Sunset rubbed her forehead with one hand. “Bad enough I’m beating myself up over what happened, even worse that I’m not getting a chance to let it go. I’m starting to think I’m never going to live the Fall Formal down.”

“Eh, give it time. I mean, we know you’ve turned things around, and the rest of the school will come around to it too. Worst case, you just gotta last until the portal opens again.”

“Which won’t be until two years from next spring.”

“Nothing worth doing’s easy.” Her cell phone buzzed, and Rainbow checked the caller ID before answering. “Hey squirt. What’s up? Yeah, she’s right…whoa, now hang on. You cool those jets a second, Scoots. Yeah, I remember all of it, and I’m giving her a chance.” A groan. “Look, you know who you’re talking to, right? She tries anything, I won’t need rainbows and lasers to beat her sorry bacon-haired butt. So don’t worry, alright? I’ll catch you tomorrow.” She hung up and explained, “Scootaloo.”

“I figured.” As her host sat down on her bed, Sunset smiled. “She really looks up to you. Just observing.”

“Yeah, the squirt’s got spunk. Hard not to see her being another me in a few years, and it’s pretty awesome thinking of her as a little sister.”

“Enjoy it while you can. I missed my chance, and I don’t think I’ll ever get it back.” Sunset set her journal aside and leaned back, supporting herself with her arms. “Dash, you want to know something? I haven’t dreamed since Friday night, not that I can recall. I’d call that a good thing, but…”

“But you feel like you should be having nightmares after what you’ve been through, right?” At her guest’s nod, Rainbow offered, “I’m no egghead like you or Twilight, but I figure, you’re only going to have a nightmare if you keep stuff bottled up. You’re doing the healthy thing, letting it out there and talking about what’s happened. If anything’s keeping ‘em away, that’ll be it.”

“I hope so. It’s not like Princess Luna can pay me a visit in my dreams and keep the really nasty nightmares at bay.”

A disbelieving look crossed Rainbow Dash’s face. “She can do that? Seriously?” At Sunset’s nod, she added, “I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Maybe both. Anyway, get what sleep you can.” She settled underneath her blankets and shut off the light on her nightstand. “And don’t be so down on yourself, huh? I’ve got your back.”

Sunset smiled and covered herself up. “Thanks, Dash.” A small part of her still didn’t think she deserved it, given everything she’d done, but she was glad for it all the same. Still, her regrets were with her, including not being there for her own surrogate sister.

-

If there was anywhere that Sunset Shimmer didn’t want to be, it was here. Compared to Canterlot, Indianapoloosa felt like a cheap knockoff. It didn’t even have a castle – what city worth being called a city didn’t have a castle? She wanted to…no, she had to go back. Her mommy and daddy might be gone, but she wasn’t going to forget them, not like how her aunt had forgotten them. The house was still there, and she could get back to it, and it’d be just like they hadn’t left. The question was how.

Earmuffs secure over her ears and a scarf about her neck, she stepped out of her aunt’s house and onto the front porch, snow softly crunching beneath her hooves. It was sunset, Celestia’s sun starting to dip into the horizon in the distance. The streetcars weren’t running, and probably wouldn’t until the snow was cleared away. Why they didn’t have teams of unicorns clearing the streets, she didn’t know. Another reason to get back to Canterlot as quick as she could; they were a lot better about weather work there. Just a bit of magic, and the weather cleared up properly.

She’d prepared for this, however. A few tentative steps forward into the snow, and she stopped and closed her eyes. It would be a little bit yet before she started going to the same foal school as her cousin, which gave her plenty of time to hunker down and study magic. Time that would’ve been wasted building a snowmare. She concentrated, and could feel her magic building up and charging in power.

“Come on, horn!” she urged. “Work!”

She focused, and visualized the spell she wanted to cast. It wasn’t one for beginners, but if she wasn’t going to aim high, then what was the point in trying at all? A warmth radiated from her horn and from her hooves, and she could feel the snow around her melting into water and then evaporating, leaving only the cold concrete of the front walk. So far, so good, and she opened her eyes, ready to go with the next part.

A buildup of magic at the tip of her horn, and a bright cyan fireball was formed and fired, two more following and orbiting about her, widening the clear area at her hooves to a circle measuring about a yard in diameter. She smiled in satisfaction and stopped the circling fireballs in front of her one at a time. With a final push, she’d send the fireballs…

“Mommy! Come look!”

That little distraction was enough to turn her attention away from her spell. The fireballs to her left and right were released, slower than intended but going along their planned trajectory, running out as they reached the street. The third had its intended speed, but went shooting upwards towards the sun. She snarled. “Nice going, featherbrain! I almost…!”

“Sunset Shimmer!”

Hearing her aunt’s voice, she turned, expecting to be admonished, but instead found her aunt, uncle and cousin looking upon her with awestruck looks on their faces. “What are you looking at?”

“Sunset, did you do all of this?” Solar Flare approached with amazement as she looked about at her niece’s handiwork, her hooves carefully stepping on the concrete at her feet as her eyes inspected the odd bits of grass that had been uncovered from the melted snow. “This is amazing! Glint tried pulling spells like that off when she was your age, but this much control? With no damage to anything beneath the snow?”

Sunset barely processed those words as the remaining fireball exploded in the distance. She turned back, birds flying away in surprise, only to find that the sunset had taken on a glowing, shimmering look. As she saw it, she smiled, and remembered. The someday that she’d be better than her mommy and daddy at magic? It had come at last. And she was gonna get better at it, and make sure that nopony forgot her or what she’d done. Sunset Shimmer would be remembered.

“You see that, Sunset? You did that. And your…” Solar Flare looked to her, her proud expression augmented by pleased surprise as she added, “Sunset, look!”

The filly looked at her with surprise, then followed her line of vision to her flank as a shimmering light vanished, leaving in its wake an eight-pointed stylized sun, bisected down the middle and colored the same as her mane.

Sunrunner approached and eyed her cousin’s flank nervously. “Mommy, what does this mean? Is Shims sick?”

“Of course not, dear.” Solar Flare turned and indicated her own flank with a wing, a picture of a horizontal streak of flame upon it. “She’s earned her cutie mark. Every colt or filly does someday, you included, and it’s the rare pony that has one they share with another.”

“Only ones I know of that share them are in legends, like the Order of Gallopfrey. At least, the natural ones.” Blue Streak approached and added, “I’ve also heard stories about…”

“Honey, let’s wait on that until we get dinner on the table, hmm?” She beckoned everypony back inside and called, “Come on, you two, I made spaghetti.”

Sunrunner eagerly dashed back inside, Sunset following much more carefully, the odd glimpse going back to her flank. Had she really earned her cutie mark this early? If so, then this was something incredible, and it showed her that she was right. She was going to be amazing. And all of Equestria was going to see it.

Author's Note:

Whew! Decided to go ahead and post this, though I probably should've waited for the weekend. I have work tomorrow!

Anyway, credit where credit's due. Rainbow Dash's abode is borrowed with permission from the story "Otherworldly Advice" as well as it's expanded edition, "Rainbow Reflections", both by Bookish Delight. I recommend both, though if you're going to read one, I'd say go with the latter. I omitted some details, added a few more, mostly where it suited my purposes. Oh, and I added Dashie's assumed daddy, because why not?

Sunset Shimmer's reflections with Rainbow Dash are, I admit, greatly influenced by her appearances in Reality Check's excellent 'fic "The Great Alicorn Hunt". I won't deny, the man is a serious influence on my works. I'm not using his exact words, mind, and I like to think I've addressed at least one issue he had with the first film in this chapter, but I seriously hope he doesn't object too much, especially as he wasn't the only one to raise such concerns. I only brought up a vengeful big brother, which no one else seemed to notice.

Twilight's talk with Shining Armor owes it's influence to the works of Jay-The-Brony, who's written a lot on the romance between Twilight and Flash Sentry.

And, of course, Sunrunner's song is an adapted version of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" from Disney's "Frozen". Original lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, used totally without permission.