• Published 3rd Oct 2015
  • 5,105 Views, 627 Comments

Finding Home - Krickis



Sunset Shimmer returns to Equestria only to find that returning home is different than finding one.

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4 – Reflections

Author's Note:

I tend to hold the comics closer to canon than most authors, but there are a few places where the timeline between the comics and the show just don’t sync up. As a result, even though I did draw on “The Fall of Sunset Shimmer” as a Sunset’s official backstory I also changed some stuff to fit in with what I wanted to do the show better. Either way familiarity to the comic isn’t necessary since I summarize the relevant information.

Chapter Four

Reflections

“We’ll never get past this because you aren’t seeing how great I deserve to be. Is that really all you have to say to me?”

“No. The guards will escort you out.”

“This is the biggest mistake you’ll make in your entire life.”

Sunset sat staring out the window. She’d relived that moment countless times, especially in the past few days. It was the last conversation she had ever had with Celestia. It all seemed so distant now, and not just because of how long ago it was. Looking back on her actions, she almost felt like she was watching a different pony entirely – that is, until she remembered her former mentor’s eyes fixed on her. Even if it was just a memory, she could still feel those magenta eyes lingering on her.

Although the train ride was smooth, it did nothing to improve Sunset’s mood. She hated traveling in anything she couldn’t control because it felt like she was putting her life into somepony else’s hooves. As she watched the countryside roll past, all she could think about was how much better the trip would be if she were on her motorcycle. Most of her friends told her it was a death trap, but she never felt more in control than she did on her bike.

When she wasn’t worrying about meeting Celestia, she was irritated by being stuck on a train, and there was nothing to distract her from either thought. She’d borrowed a book from Twilight by one of her favorite Equestrian authors, but as much as she was looking forward to catching up on what she’d missed while in the human world, she couldn’t focus on the words. Twilight and Fluttershy had offered to come with her, but she insisted on going alone. She told them it was because they needed to focus on the wedding, but really she needed time away from them to collect her thoughts.

She’d had feelings for Twilight since the Fall Formal almost three years ago. After everything Sunset had done to her, she still extended her hand in friendship. In a way, Twilight had saved her life that day. Once her mind wasn’t clouded by the overabundance of magic from Twilight’s crown, Sunset knew her plan would never work. A school full of teenagers was no army, and even with the crown she was no match for Celestia. And while she doubted Celestia would have allowed her to die, whatever remained for her if Twilight hadn’t stopped her was hardly a life worth living.

Over time, her feelings grew from admiration to love once they began talking through the journal. But Twilight was a princess and Sunset was a traitor. There was no way things could ever work out. Besides, Twilight moving to the human world obviously wasn’t happening, and Sunset had been terrified of returning to Equestria.

She kind of still was. Fluttershy and Twilight spent months trying to convince her to visit, but she kept making excuses. Eventually she surprised them both by telling them she wanted to move back outright, and asking if she could stay with them until she found her own place. She couldn’t keep living somewhere that constantly reminded her of her.

“That’s a beautiful necklace.”

Sunset looked up to see a pegasus smiling at her. She had a brown coat with tan spots, and a lighter brown mane, which was done in a short cropped style. She was wearing the blue uniform of the train workers.

Sunset realized she’d been absentmindedly playing with her necklace. “Thanks.”

“Can I get you anything?” she asked.

Sunset chuckled. “Depends. What’s the strongest drink you’ve got?”

The mare smiled. “In my experience, alcohol’s not really the best thing for motion sickness.”

“I don’t have motion sickness, I just don’t really like trains,” Sunset said.

“Fair enough, but it’s still a bad idea. That’s why we don’t serve alcohol anymore, too many bad experiences. How about I get you some tea?”

Sunset sighed. “Coffee?”

“Sure thing. Be back in a second.” The mare disappeared and Sunset looked out the window again. She only watched for a moment before tearing her eyes away. Thankfully, the mare was true to her word and soon returned. “Cream and sugar?”

“Please.”

Once she handed Sunset her coffee, the mare took a seat next to her. “Ever been to Canterlot before?”

“Yeah, I was born there. Haven’t been back in a long time though.” Sunset took a sip of her coffee and her eyes shot wide open. “There’s rum in this.”

The mare and waved a hoof. “That’s ridiculous. And against company policy. We don’t serve alcohol, remember?”

Sunset stared reverently at the coffee before taking another drink. She smiled as she set the cup down. “I think I love you.”

The pegasus laughed. “You know, I get that a lot actually. I’d open up a coffee shop, but I like traveling too much.” She winked. “So what’s the real reason you’re upset?”

“What do you mean?” Sunset was taken by surprise at the sudden subject change. She tried for an innocent grin, but the mare’s expression made it clear she didn’t buy it.

“I know what ponies look like when they just don’t like trains. I mean, I’ve worked on one for a couple years now. Something else is bothering you.”

Sunset frowned. So much for using idle conversation to distract her from what was on her mind. “It’s complicated.”

“Trust me, I know a thing or two about that.” She stood up and returned to her cart to pour herself a cup of coffee as well before sitting back down. “Try me.”

Sunset was tempted to tell her the whole truth, alternate universe and all, but decided the fun in seeing her reaction wasn’t really worth the risk of getting committed. Besides, after sneaking rum into her coffee, Sunset couldn’t help but like this mare. “Basically, I’m meeting somepony who more or less raised me. But the last time I saw her, I kind of really disappointed her. I said some horrible things and ran away from home. Now I don’t know what to expect. I haven’t even told her I’m coming because I’m afraid she might just tell me not to bother.” She left out that the other reason she hadn’t written ahead was that getting thrown in jail was also a distinct possibility.

“She’ll probably just be happy to see you. I mean, if it’s been that long she’s probably ready to move on, and I think you’ve grown up a lot since then.”

“What makes you say that?” Sunset asked.

“I can tell. I mean, you seem sorry about whatever happened, and you’re going back, right? That says a lot already.” The mare smiled encouragingly and Sunset smiled back.

“That’s what my friends said.”

“Sounds like you’ve got some pretty smart friends then.” She winked.

“Yeah, I guess I do,” Sunset said. “So what about you? Where are you from?”

“Fillydelphia originally. Now I’m kind of a professional vagabond. I stay in whatever town I end my shift in, usually with some friends.”

“That’s pretty cool. Ever get tired of not having one place to call home?”

The mare shrugged. “I do stay in Canterlot more than anywhere else. That’s where my marefriend lives. She said I can move in with her if I ever want to stop roaming, but I dunno. She lives with her sister, and I get the feeling she doesn’t like me.”

“Why not?” Sunset asked.

The mare took a sip from her coffee before answering, and Sunset did the same. “Well… I guess it’s not really that she doesn’t like me. More that she doesn’t like me dating her sister.”

“Because you’re a mare?” Sunset asked.

“No, nothing like that. She’s very supportive of that type of thing, it’s just… I don’t know, really it’s just this feeling that I get. Maybe she thinks her sister can do better?”

Sunset sighed. “Yeah, I know what that’s like. I was in pretty much the same situation with my last marefriend.” Sunset inwardly celebrated the minor victory of remembering not to say girlfriend.

“Mind if I ask how that worked out?”

“Sorry, but I can’t really offer any encouragement for you there. I actually got along with her sister really well at first. But then we broke up for a while and when we got back together, things changed. Suddenly everything good I did mattered a whole lot less than the times I fucked up.” So much for remembering the pony terminology.

The pegasus didn’t seem to catch the slip in Sunset’s wording. “Here I am complaining and I don’t even know for sure that she doesn’t like me.”

Sunset shook her head. “It’s fine. She left town and I moved to Ponyville, where I’m staying with those smart friends I mentioned earlier.”

“There you go. It always helps to have friends around.”

Sunset nodded and finished her coffee.

“Well, I should get back to work,” the mare said. “There’s still a few hours before we reach Canterlot, try to take it easy. Maybe take a nap or something.”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll do that,” Sunset said. She handed the mug back to the mare who left to check on other passengers. She decided sleep sounded like the best way to pass the time, and if she didn’t get to it soon she’d be kept up by the caffeine for sure. As she stretched out across her seat and the one next to her, she found sleep came easier than she would have thought and soon she drifted off.


Sunset woke to a hoof gently shaking her shoulder. She opened her eyes to see the friendly pegasus from earlier smiling. “Congratulations, you managed to sleep the rest of the trip.”

Sunset rubbed her eyes and sat up. After taking a moment to stretch she grinned at the other mare. “What do you know. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of sleepy time coffee.”

The pegasus grinned back. “What can I say? I have a gift.”

Sunset stood up and levitated her saddle bag onto her back. “So if I hide out on this car, can I just go back to Ponyville now?”

The mare put a hoof on her shoulder. “Hey, it’ll be fine. Things will all work out, you’ll see.”

“I hope so,” Sunset said. Realizing she was being a downer, she held her head up and smiled. “Thanks for everything.”

“Don’t mention it,” she said. “Now go on, you’ve got a big day ahead of you.”

Sunset nodded. With a wave goodbye, Sunset left the train cart and began the slow walk to Canterlot Castle.

Along the way, every hoofstep brought her back to a time when she was younger, full of brash determination and so sure she was better than everypony else. Although Canterlot was a hub for all kinds of advancements in magic and technology, it also bred that sense of narcissism. Nearly everypony at the top of the city’s social ladder felt the same way Sunset had, but she had the talent to back up her sense of superiority.

At least, that’s what she felt back when she lived in it. Celestia had spent years trying to show Sunset a better path, but she had been too shortsighted to take it.

At least the castle was open to visitors, so Sunset didn’t have a problem getting in. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the audience chamber. As Sunset approached it, she was stopped by a white unicorn with a brown mane. “Hello there, do you have an appointment with the princess?”

Aware of how often the mare must hear the same tired old line, Sunset smiled, doing her best to not look like the overly cocky aristocrat she had been the last time she was in these halls. “I’m sorry, but I don’t. I know Princess Celestia will want to see me though.”

The receptionist smiled politely. “I’m sorry, but the princess has a full day today,” she said. She flipped through a notebook on her desk as she continued, “I’d be happy to make you an appointment for… Friday.”

There was no way Sunset could make it until Friday. “I can wait until all her other appointments are done. I just really need to see her today.”

“After her appointments are finished, Princess Celestia will be having dinner with Princess Luna before retiring for the night.” To her credit, the mare didn’t seem to mind Sunset’s insistence. She was probably used to far more obnoxiously demanding ponies.

“Could you maybe get a message to her? Tell her Sunset Shimmer’s here to see her.”

Sunset wasn’t surprised dropping her name did nothing to help her out. It wasn’t in Celestia’s nature to tell ponies more than was necessary, and even Twilight hadn’t known about her until she stole the crown.

“I’ll send your message through, but the princess does not deviate from her schedule.” The secretary wrote down a quick message and disappeared through the door. Sunset almost considered running in after her, sure that once Celestia saw her it wouldn’t matter; whatever was going to happen would happen.

Eventually the mare came back out and returned to her work. Sunset waited patiently, expecting another aide to eventually come get her, or bring a note telling her when the princess would be free. What happened instead almost stopped her heart. Within minutes, Celestia herself walked out of the audience chamber. “Sunset Shimmer.”

Sunset had never seen Celestia speechless before, and all she could do was stare. The princess was standing in the doorway, eyes slightly wide with her mouth just barely hanging open. Neither she nor Sunset seemed to be able to say anything.

“Uhm, Princess?” the secretary looked between the two ponies, seemingly at a loss from Celestia’s reaction.

Celestia turned to her and smiled. “Raven, I apologize, but I need to ask you to rearrange the schedule. I’ll have to meet with the Budget Committee another time. It seems something’s come up.”

Raven blinked and stared at Sunset. “Yes, of course, Princess.”

Celestia turned back to Sunset, apparently finding her voice again. “I’m sure we have a lot to catch up on. Come, let’s go to my solar.”

Sunset followed Celestia along the familiar path without saying anything. For the first time in days, her mind went blank, and they reached Celestia’s solar sooner than she’d expected.

Sunset wasn’t surprised to find it identical to how she remembered it. Celestia sat down and gestured across from her, so Sunset did the same. “I have to say, when I got Raven’s memo I could hardly believe it,” Celestia said.

Sunset nodded. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. If she couldn’t see her, it would be just like being back in Principal Celestia’s office. She’d definitely spent enough time there.

“Tea?” Celestia offered.

Sunset’s eyes shot open. “I’m so sorry, Princess, for everything! I was wrong, I never should have left, I should have listened to you more!”

Celestia glanced at her already full teacup before setting it down. “It’s okay. You don’t need to apologize, Sunset. Twilight has already told me more than enough to know that you’ve grown much since leaving me.”

Sunset stared down at her hooves. “Please don’t throw me in the dungeon.”

Celestia chuckled. “Sunset, you were my student for seven years. Did you ever know me to throw a pony in the dungeon?”

“No, but I also never knew another pony who tried to take over Equestria with an army of teenage zombies.”

“Yes, I think that was one of the more interesting invasion attempts I’ve heard of. But I have been told you were not in your right state of mind at the time.” Celestia poured a second glass of tea and added honey, then passed it to Sunset. “It hardly seems fair to hold that against you.”

Sunset took a sip from her tea. She’d long since switched to coffee, but drinking tea with Celestia was just so familiar that she wouldn’t have accepted coffee even if Celestia had offered it. “But I still stole the crown.”

“Yes, you did,” Celestia said. Her expression was serious, yet kind. “But I believe Princess Twilight is capable of deciding the appropriate response. It was her crown, after all.”

Sunset shook her head. “But she never even tried to punish me. She… she helped me. After everything I did, she still gave me a second chance. She left me with five people who became my first real friends. I was rewarded for being a terrible pony!”

“And if you had been punished? If you hadn’t been left with your friends, and were instead dragged back to stand trial? What do you think would have been the outcome?”

All these years, and Celestia was still testing her. “I don’t know. I guess I would have faced my sentence, then moved back in with my parents if they’d take me.”

Celestia frowned. “I suppose that may be. But along with that you would have grown more bitter. You would never have learned about friendship down that path.” She smiled as she continued, “Instead, you have come back to me. It took longer than I had hoped, but you have returned of your own accord.”

Sunset bowed her head. She should feel happy that Celestia welcomed her back, and she did, but she felt so many things all at once. She found it too difficult to process so many mixed emotions, so she just waited for Celestia to continue.

“Something has troubled me for the past few years, since that incident in the Crystal Empire,” Celestia said. Sunset looked up to see her face was full of concern. “When you left, you were brash, self-righteous, and antisocial. But you were not a thief, and you were certainly not a conqueror. What happened when you were gone? Before that first time you returned, I mean.”

Sunset had spent years distancing herself from that time, occasionally going so far as to lie about what her life in the human world had been like. But she couldn’t bring herself to lie to Celestia, and certainly not when she was asked a question directly. She sighed and steeled herself for the disquiet she always felt when reliving that part of her life.

“When I first came out the other side, I was scared. I was alone and surrounded by creatures I never could have imagined, and I didn’t even know if they were hostile. The first thing I tried to do was teleport to safety, and immediately realized I didn’t have my magic. That was by far one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced, and I knew right then that I should turn around and return home. That if I apologized you might forgive me, and even if not I’d still be better off than I was, stranded in a strange place without any magic. But something held me back, and although I couldn’t figure it out at the time, I later learned that it was because my mind was trying and failing to reconcile my seventeen-year-old pony brain with my five-year-old human one.”

“Five?” Celestia asked.

“Well, that’s what they assumed when they found me anyway. I’m getting to that,” Sunset said. She had been expecting that to cause some confusion.

“Sorry, please continue.” Celestia drank from her tea and sat in attention of Sunset’s story.

“When I realized I couldn’t use magic my instincts told me to hide, so I jumped into a bush and stayed there for hours. Eventually some people found me. Even though they seemed friendly, I couldn’t help but be terrified by them. Eventually, the rational part of my brain won and I answered some of their questions, until they asked me how old I was. I told them I was seventeen, and it was pretty clear they didn’t believe me. I don’t really understand how it works, but the mirror seems to age ponies down. But when Twilight came through at twenty-two, it only made her high school age, maybe seventeen or eighteen. I came out as a little kid, and it messed with my head. I had all the memories and knowledge of a practically full grown mare, but my instincts were basically a little kid’s.

“Anyway, once I stopped answering their questions, the people who found me called the police, who took me in as a lost child. I caught on that telling the truth was not going to do me any favors and feigned amnesia. It wasn’t that hard; no one really expected a little kid would be able to accurately fake symptoms of a mental disorder, after all. And it wasn’t like I could have come up with a plausible story anyway, since I didn’t really know the world yet. So while they conducted a search for some parents they’d never find, I wound up in an orphanage.

“From there I had to go through the whole school system again. I know it sounds like I’m bragging, but let’s be honest; I’m pretty much a genius at math by any standards, especially when basic division would be enough to impress the people testing me. Science there is similar to here, but they’re so far ahead of us that I didn’t even know how to use a lot of what’s considered basic technology by human standards. And of course I didn’t know their history at all. I probably could have gotten away with private studies, but they were quick to notice my antisocial behavior and decided I’d be better off with ‘kids my own age’. If you thought I was bad in Equestria, just imagine what I was like when my ‘peers’ were still learning to color in the lines.”

“That does sound frustrating,” Celestia said. “But why didn’t you ever try to come back?”

“I did. I spent every chance I could get trying to find my way home, but I couldn’t find the portal. Remember how I said my brain sometimes worked like a kid’s? Well that applied the most when I was scared or upset. My childish impulses would overrule my adult mind. That first day through the portal, everything was a blur. I didn’t even realize I was at a school, and no one at the orphanage knew where I was found, or rather, they wouldn’t tell me.

“Eventually, I just gave up on looking. I… I started to believe the lies I told everyone. That I didn’t know where I was from, that everything I remembered about Equestria was fake, something my mind made up to fill in the holes left by my amnesia. I can’t even begin to explain exactly how crazy it sounds over there to be a magic unicorn from another dimension. I really believed that I was crazy, or at least had been. It just made so much more sense than believing this world was real. And when I accepted it, that I had imagined the whole thing, that’s when I changed.

“I grew more impulsive. Once I accepted that I had vivid memories of a world that didn’t exist, I just felt like nothing mattered anymore. I kept finding myself thinking that I wasn’t even sure if anything was real anyway. Since I was the problem child and no one ever adopted me, I stayed at the orphanage, where all my caretakers just thought I was going through the whole existential teen angst thing. I racked up a pretty big criminal record that followed me around the entire time I stayed in the human world. So to answer part of your question, that’s when I became a thief.”

Celestia certainly didn’t look pleased to have her answer, but if she had any sort of judgement, she withheld it. “This behavior lasted until Twilight followed you through the mirror?”

Sunset shook her head. “Not exactly. That was all back when I was in middle school. When I started high school, I stumbled across the portal and recognized it immediately. I think I might have cried, it was like confirmation that I wasn’t crazy. I tried to get through it, but I couldn’t. Drawing on memories I had tried to forget, I recalled learning that the mirror worked every thirty moons. Using records from the orphanage I figured out when it would work again, and towards the end of my first year of high school I got through. I was back in Canterlot as a pony again. It was… I can’t describe it. I never wanted to leave again, but when I wandered the castle, I met a unicorn. The first pony I spoke to in ten years, and she told me she was your student.”

Celestia frowned. “Twilight never told me she’d met you before.”

“She doesn’t remember. She wouldn’t, we barely talked and she was preoccupied with something else. I didn’t say anything that would have made me stick out, I didn’t even tell her my name. And once I found out you had a new student, I ran back through the mirror. Ten years had passed, of course you had a new student. But at the time my mind was really fragile, and I couldn’t handle it. I think part of me thought everything would just be exactly the way I left it. It was easy to feel like all the time that had passed didn’t matter, because in ten years I was younger than when I first left Equestria. It was like I was frozen in time, so I guess I thought everypony else would be too, which is really dumb when I think about it now, but at the time… well, if you believe you’re crazy for long enough, I think you go a little crazy.

“When I got back to the human world, I turned malicious. I had already begun wrapping the school around my finger, but that was just because it amused me, and while I wasn’t the nicest girl, I wasn’t that bad. After my brief trip to Equestria, I was so angry, and I wanted everyone to hurt like me. I wasn’t happy with being the most popular girl in school, I wanted to break it. All the while, I figured out when the portal would open again, and made plans to get some kind of revenge on Twilight. Stealing the crown was kind of a last minute plan. I had no idea what I was going to do initially, but then I came back and found myself in the Crystal Empire. I stuck to the shadows and gathered information, and learned there was a new princess and that she was your former student. Obviously I realized it was the same mare I’d met, and it just seemed so perfect, especially when I learned her crown was also the Element of Magic. If I stole it, I’d have the most powerful and probably only magical artifact in the human world, and… I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I hoped stealing her crown would somehow cause her to lose her title. I hid in the castle until nightfall and… well, you know.”

Celestia bowed her head. “Oh Sunset. I’m so sorry. When you didn’t come back, I thought you were somewhere you had finally found happiness. I should have gone after you right away. I should have brought you back...”

In all the possibilities Sunset had thought through for this conversation, none of them involved Celestia apologizing to her. “It’s… I mean, it all worked out in the end, right? Like you said, I finally did make friends.”

“I suppose so,” Celestia said. She smiled slightly, and Sunset got the impression she often did: that the princess’s smile was a well-practiced façade. “Speaking of which, I trust things are going well in Ponyville?”

Sunset nodded. “Twilight and Fluttershy are the best. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have friends like them. And they introduced me to all their friends.”

“I imagine they must have been very interested in your friends on the other side of the mirror,” Celestia said, leaning in slightly.

Sunset chuckled. “Do you want to know about the other Celestia?”

“Well, one does wonder.”

“I’m sure Twilight told you she’s the principal of the high school I went to,” Sunset said. Celestia nodded. “Well, it’s not like I knew her personally or anything, but she definitely always reminded me of you. Aside from her appearance, I mean. She certainly has your lectures down.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “I hope that’s not the only thing you remember when you look back on those years when you were my pupil?”

Sunset grinned. “No, but you don’t normally get sent to the principal’s office unless you deserve a lecture. It’s pretty much the only side of her I know.”

“I suppose it’d be pointless to hope you didn’t give her too much of a hard time?”

Embarrassed, Sunset took a sip of her tea. “I did. The last semester of school, after everything with Twilight, we kind of got along a bit better, but I think it’d be safest to say we had a mutual understanding. Suffice it to say I doubt she’d offer me tea if I popped up out of the blue to visit her.”

“Well, I hope you know you’re welcome to visit me anytime. It has been too long that we’ve been out of touch. Unfortunately, I do have obligations though, and have to return to them. I’ll have a room prepared for you, and of course you’re always welcome to stay here whenever you’re in Canterlot.”

“Thank you, Princess,” Sunset said, rising once the alicorn stood and following her out of the room.

“You have not met my sister Luna, have you?” Celestia asked when they were out in the hall.

“No, although Twilight and Fluttershy told me a lot about her.”

Celestia nodded. “I think you two would get along well. You always did remind me of her, you know. She is usually up by this time, and her room is the second highest one in the astronomy tower if you feel like introducing yourself.”

Sunset suspected Celestia’s suggestion held some hidden purpose, but couldn’t see what. “I think I might do that.”

After saying their goodbyes, the two parted. Lacking anything else to do and curious why Celestia wanted her to meet her sister, Sunset made her way to the astronomy tower.

Since her memory of the castle was still a bit fuzzy, she had to ask for directions, but eventually she found herself in front of the Princess of the Night’s door. She knocked and the door opened ominously. Stepping in, she found the room was lit only by a few large torches, as heavy curtains blocked light from every window. She looked around and saw no sign of the alicorn. “Uhm, Princess Luna?”

“Greetings.”

Sunset wheeled around to see a pony who was unmistakably Luna, although she had definitely not been there a moment ago. Sunset maintained her composure though, and quickly bowed. “My name is Sunset Shimmer. Princess Celestia suggested I come meet you.”

Luna walked across the room and sat on a cushion. “Sunset Shimmer. I have heard much about you. You were my sister’s student before Twilight Sparkle.”

“Yeah. I guess she’s probably told you about me,” Sunset said, taking a seat across from Luna.

“Celestia? Not as much as you might think. My sister isn’t one for idle conversation about the past,” Luna said. Possibly noticing Sunset was upset that Celestia hadn’t even talked about her to her own sister, Luna added, “I trust she didn’t tell you about me in the years you studied under her?”

“No, not really,” Sunset admitted. If she hadn’t told her pupil about her long lost sister, why would she tell it the other way around? “So how do you know about me?”

“Twilight and Fluttershy. Fluttershy in particular. She’s very fond of you.”

Any concern about Celestia not mentioning her was erased. “She said that?”

Luna smiled. “It’s obvious enough. Now, you said Tia sent you?”

Sunset couldn’t help grinning. ‘Tia?’ She wondered what Celestia would do if she teased her about the nickname. “Yeah, she told me she thought we would get along.”

“I have no doubt that we will. But tell me, what do you think her motives for suggesting this were?” Luna asked.

Luna’s face remained impassive, leaving Sunset unsure how to answer. She was wary of letting Celestia’s own sister know that she suspected most things she did had some sort of hidden purpose, but everything Fluttershy told her suggested Luna was a pony she could always tell anything to. “To be honest I don’t know. I figured I’d find out once I met you.”

“You don’t think she simply wishes our friendship for nothing but our benefit?” Luna asked. She maintained a completely blank expression.

“Honestly? Not really.”

Luna finally let some emotion back into her face and chuckled. “Good, you aren’t as naïve as Twilight then. Yes, Tia has an ulterior motive to us meeting. Several, I’m sure. Likely she hopes I’ll keep an eye on you without having to directly acknowledge she has misgivings.”

“You know, I’m pretty sure she’d like that motive to remain a secret,” Sunset said. She had no doubt Luna was correct.

“Did you believe she genuinely trusted you?”

Now that she was asked out loud, the answer seemed obvious. “No. I don’t really think Celestia trusts anypony really,” Sunset answered, then realized what she had said. “I mean, I’m sure she trusts you, but I’m not sure about other ponies.”

“There are things she trusts me with wholeheartedly, there are others she does not. I would say you are correct, she trusts nopony completely.”

Feeling awkward with how the conversation was going, Sunset decided to change the subject. “So what does being Princess of the Night entail, anyway?”

“Largely, I serve as a guardian. I lead the Lunar Guard in keeping Equestria’s citizens secure, as well as protecting ponies from their nightmares.” Luna spoke casually, as if the ability to enter another pony’s dreams was the most natural thing in the world.

“I’ve always wondered about that. Is that an alicorn thing?” Sunset asked. “I’ve never heard of any other ponies doing that.”

“It is and it isn’t. It is a me thing,” Luna said. Twilight had complained about Luna’s penchant for confusing half answers before, and Sunset could see her point.

“I don’t really follow.”

“Of course, you know all ponies have natural gifts,” Luna said. “Alicorns’ tend towards being rather exceptional. Dreamwalking is a gift of mine, in much the same way that Fluttershy can talk to animals, or Twilight has an impressive knack towards learning.”

Sunset thought about what she might do with an ability like that. “You must learn some interesting things from that.”

Luna nodded. “At times, yes. And that is why it’s good that not all ponies can walk the dreaming.” She inclined her head and Sunset suddenly found the decor very interesting. “Even I do not enter just any dream, as what a pony experiences within their mind is their own business. Thankfully, I can tell a nightmare from a peaceful dream without having to enter.”

“You ever get tempted to see what kinds of things a pony dreams about though?” Sunset asked. “Like, say… Princess Celestia?”

Luna folded her forelegs. “I have lived with my sister for thousands of years. I have a deep respect for her and do not wish to soil our relationship with a breach in her trust.”

Sunset grinned. “Uh huh. That wasn’t a no.”

“I’m too afraid she’d be able to tell I was watching, to tell you the truth,” Luna said. They both laughed. “I’ve always wondered if her dreams reflect her repressed sexuality, or if they’re just as dull as her waking life.”

“Hmm… you sure about that repressed sexuality thing? I kind of always thought her and the captain of the guard had something going on,” Sunset said, then noticed the look Luna gave her and laughed again. “Not Twilight’s brother, the one before him. I think his name was Stout Shield?”

At that Luna sat up and grinned broadly. “Oh, please tell me you witnessed something between them. Did Celestia really change so much in my absence?”

Sunset shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, it’s just the impression that I got. She seemed to spend a lot of time with him.”

Luna tapped her chin. “I shall have to question her about this. Or maybe it would be better to ask him.”

“What happened to him anyway?”

“Once he felt he was too old to lead the guard proper, he transferred to Celestia’s personal guard.” As she finished, they both looked at each other excitedly. “What do you think of paying Stout Shield a visit?”

“Right now?” Sunset asked, a grin spreading across her face.

In answer, Luna stood up. “He’ll likely be around the audience chamber.” Sunset followed her out the door.

Luna led the way. Sunset felt a little guilty, but years of curiosity coupled with Luna’s enthusiasm made that easy to ignore.

“Do you think he’ll actually tell us?” Sunset asked.

“I would be very surprised if he did,” Luna said. “No, we’ll have to try and read his reaction.” As they rounded one last corner and approached a guard, her face became passive. “Greetings. We are looking for Stout Shield. Would you happen to know where he is?”

The guard bowed before answering. “He is off duty today, Princess. Is there anything I could help you with in his place?”

Luna smiled slightly and inclined her head toward Sunset. “No, my friend here was acquainted with Stout Shield some time ago. We were merely intending a social visit. As you were.”

“Yes, Princess,” the guard said as Luna led them away, though not in the direction of her quarters.

“So then where to?” Luna asked. “We could pay him a visit to his home.”

Sunset was tempted but decided against it. “I don’t really think he’d enjoy a visit from me. Let’s not ruin his day off.”

Luna nodded. “Very well. There isn’t much point in visiting the kitchen, as dinner will be soon enough. You will be joining Tia and myself, I take it?”

During her last few years as Celestia’s student, Sunset had been living in the castle and always had dinner with the princess. However, it didn’t escape her attention that Celestia hadn’t exactly invited her. “I don’t want to intrude or anything.”

Luna chuckled. “Sunset, I love my sister dearly, but I have all the time in the world with her. You are not intruding in the slightest.”

“I guess,” Sunset said. She felt bad accepting when she knew Celestia could have offered an invitation but didn’t.

“Good. Then how about we pass some time in the palace gardens?” Luna suggested. Although she was still having some trouble remembering where everything in the castle was, Sunset distinctly got the idea that Luna had been leading her to the gardens since they failed to find Stout Shield.

“Sure. It’s only been fourteen years since I’ve seen them.”

“When I first returned the gardens were one of the first places I visited,” Luna said. “I find their beauty is simply timeless. And perhaps while we walk, you could tell me why you would think Stout Shield would be unhappy to see you.”

Sunset had known this was coming from somepony eventually. At least it was easier than telling Celestia about her second childhood. “Stout Shield was one of the ponies escorting me out of the castle when I escaped and made it through the mirror. Princess Celestia never told you about that?”

“No. Only that you were once her pupil, and she only shared that much after you returned to steal Twilight’s crown.”

Sunset winced at how blunt Luna was, but Luna didn’t seem to be being unkind. Merely stating a fact that had happened. “Well, when I was Celestia’s student, I was kind of… difficult. One day she showed me the mirror. I… I don’t really understand why, but when I looked in it, I saw myself as an alicorn princess. I became obsessed with the idea, and eventually I demanded Celestia make me a princess. Instead she dismissed me from being her student. When Stout Shield and another guard tried to escort me out, I broke away. I made a beeline for the mirror, and found myself in the human world.”

Rather than being surprised, Luna seemed amused by the story. “Now, when you say you broke away, do you mean you outran them?”

Sunset frowned and stared at her hooves as she walked. “No, I… kind of overpowered them. I don’t think I really hurt them, but I’m sure I left a bit of an impression.”

At that Luna seemed positively elated. “So, Stout Shield was not only defeated by a filly, but it was two to one in his favor.” She grinned at Sunset. “Impressive.”

Sunset couldn’t help but grin as well. “Well, I wasn’t really a filly. I was seventeen, so at least he can say he lost to a full-grown mare.”

Luna rolled her eyes. “At a stretch of the truth, I suppose. Still, I’m sure it was his ego that you hurt the most.”

They arrived at the gardens and spent some time walking through them, admiring the scenery. Sunset had always been aware the gardens were beautiful, but had never found time to appreciate them when she was younger. Still, as much as she enjoyed them now, she couldn’t help but wish she had somepony other than Luna to share the view with.

“Sunset? You seem sad,” Luna said after a while passed in silence.

Sunset forced a smile. “Huh? No, I’m fine.”

Luna looked at her for a moment, then turned to face forward again. “You are thinking of somepony.”

Slightly unsettled, Sunset sighed. “She’s… not actually a pony. My ex-girlfriend.” She frowned and stared off to the side. “Morning Breeze.”

“From the human world?” Luna asked. Sunset just nodded. “Would I be correct in assuming she had something to do with your return?”

“Yeah. We were kind of an on again off again thing.” Sunset said. Why was she reliving so much of her past, anyway? “Eventually, I guess she just got sick of it and left town. We didn’t exactly end on a high note either. But she’d really like this place. And she always said she wanted to see me as a pony.”

Luna smiled sadly. “Even so far away, the heart always finds ways to be reminded of those we love.”

“Yeah,” Sunset said. She expected Luna to offer the same condolences everyone else had, but she didn’t. Instead they walked in silence, and Sunset just appreciated her company.

“So what about you?” Sunset asked eventually. “I’ve heard some different things about your love life.”

“It’s really not as complicated as I’m sure Twilight made it out to be,” Luna said. Sunset hadn’t meant to let on that Twilight was one of the ones who told her Luna had a marefriend. “Amber Glow is often referred to as my marefriend, but really we’re just friends. Occasionally we attend formal events together and are quite close, leading to some confusion.”

“Really? Twilight and Fluttershy made it sound like something was going on between you two.”

“They would,” Luna said, smiling and shaking her head. “I admit that to an outsider we do look like a couple, but we both share the same idea about love, which is to say neither of us are looking for it.”

Sunset didn’t see why that was at all hard to understand. “I guess I’ll meet her sooner or later, since she’s friends with Fluttershy.”

“Sooner rather than later. I believe she is staying in Canterlot tonight, which means she’ll likely be joining us for dinner,” Luna said. “Speaking of which, we ought to head back. Tia will be finished with her meetings, and soon I have my own duties to attend to.”

Along the way to the dining room, Luna kept a casual conversation running, keeping Sunset’s mind off her concerns. Leaving the gardens helped as well. They entered the dining room as Celestia was taking her seat.

The Solar Princess smiled as they walked up. “Hello, Luna, Sunset. I see you two have met.”

“We have,” Luna said. “I trust your day was satisfactorily dull?”

Celestia smiled. “Yes, it was.” To Sunset she added, “Anything but a dull day for me means that there was a problem that needs my attention. Status reports may not be the most interesting thing to listen to, but they are preferable to damage reports and arrest records.”

Sunset tilted her head. “You actually have to listen to every arrest record?”

“Not all of them, only when they involve suspected changelings,” Luna answered for her sister, no doubt aware that getting a complete answer from Celestia would be nearly impossible. “A little over a year ago changelings began popping up, but only one at a time. They’ve been consistent in this fact – a single changeling appearing from time to time in a major town.”

Sunset was quick to catch on to the implications. “They’re creating a panic, and reminding ponies they can be anywhere at any time. They want everypony on edge.”

Celestia looked surprised for a moment, then returned to her passive smile. “Yes, our thoughts exactly.”

Sunset’s mind reeled as she tried to figure out a motive. “But that’s counterintuitive. Changeling’s only real tactic is subterfuge. While they might disorganize ponies to an extent, they more or less give away the advantage of a surprise attack. And even in a worst-case scenario where it starts a riot, that’s still way too small scale to really offset the disadvantage they’d be putting themselves in.”

“While I appreciate your interest, I assure you the situation is under control,” Celestia said. Sunset got the impression that it wasn’t, and a glance towards Luna confirmed it. The Lunar Princess’s face was grim. “And in any event, the problem will not be fixed tonight. We should enjoy our dinner.”

Once Sunset and Luna sat down, ponies brought out trays of food. Sunset found everything delicious, and sampled everything that was available.

Noticing her former student’s appetite, Celestia chuckled. “I have to say I’m surprised. You never cared for meal time before You were always in a hurry to be somewhere else.”

“That’s because I never really knew what it was like to be hungry before,” Sunset said. Concern flashed across Celestia’s face, but it vanished when she noticed Sunset frown. She hadn’t really been thinking when she made the comment, and certainly wasn’t looking for sympathy.

“Did you know that when the kitchen prepares our meals, they make an abundance, with the majority going to a free cafeteria on the castle grounds?” Luna asked.

Sunset’s ears perked up as she turned away from her plate. “Really? I never knew that. Is that something new?”

“No, that tradition has been around for millennia. I’m sure I’ve told you before,” Celestia said.

Sunset stared at the bowl of soup in front of her. “Oh. I guess I just never really cared before…”

When she looked back up at Celestia she saw something that made her heart ache. Something she hadn’t seen in even longer than the fourteen years she spent in the human world. Celestia looked proud of her. “Well, I’m glad you care now.”

Unable to find anything to say, Sunset returned to her food. While everypony ate, Celestia caught Luna up on the events of the day. They had been correct earlier; they were extremely dull.

Everypony was nearly finished with their meal when the door opened. “Miss Amber Glow for dinner,” a guard announced, doing a quick bow before stepping back into the hall.

“Sorry, I know I’m super late, but there was a delay on the last train.”

As the mare approached the table, she stopped and stared at Sunset, who stared back at the mottled brown pegasus she’d met earlier. She was even still in the uniform.

Luna looked between the two. “Amber, I’d like you to meet Sunset Shimmer. Sunset, this is Amber Glow.”

Amber was the first one to break out of her surprise. “We met, actually. While she was on the train here, but I didn’t know it at the time.” She extended a hoof and bumped Sunset’s.

“Amusing,” Luna said. “Although I’m not surprised you two were on the same train. Ponyville to Canterlot is her main line, after all.”

“Nice to meet you,” Sunset said. “Again.”

“Ditto,” Amber said, taking a seat next to Luna. “So are you the same Sunset Shimmer from the other world?”

“That’s me, although I am actually from this world,” Sunset said. “Canterlot, like I said on the train.” She noticed Amber’s eyes dart towards Celestia as she was no doubt remembering what else they had talked about.

“That is officially the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” Amber said. “I seriously thought Luna made the whole thing up and somehow got Fluttershy to tell me, since she knows I’d never believe it coming from her.”

Luna pouted. “I tell the truth a shocking amount of the time.”

“Eventually Fluttershy convinced me she was telling the truth. Her going along with one of Luna’s tricks is just slightly less believable than being pen pals with somepony in another dimension.”

“Amber, you have officially become too difficult to trick,” Luna said. “I have therefore decided that Sunset shall replace you as my new best friend.”

Amber grinned. “You can try, but she already declared her love for me earlier.”

Luna laughed. “Well I hope you let her down easy.”

Refusing to let herself be embarrassed by becoming the subject of their banter, Sunset put herself into the conversation. “More like not at all. She just changed the subject.”

“Hey, you can’t just put a girl on the spot like that. I need time to figure out my feelings, okay?” Amber said.

Everypony laughed, and soon Amber was telling them about her day and why she was late. Sunset found it amusing that the day of a concessions clerk was more interesting than the day of a princess. She kept watching Celestia for any sign that she had any of the ill will Amber had mentioned earlier, but if she had any, she hid it well.

As late as it already was by the time Amber arrived, it didn’t take long for everypony to finish their meals. Soon they were pushing in their chairs while Celestia left for a balcony to lower the sun.

“I’ll visit you once the moon is raised,” Luna said once Celestia was out of earshot. “You have the day off tomorrow?”

“Yup. I’m all yours.”

“Excellent. And Sunset, will you be staying in Canterlot?”

“I didn’t really plan on staying very long,” Sunset said.

“Stay a few days, at least,” Luna said. “There’s no harm, and I’d like a chance to get to know you better. While I don’t share my sister’s motivations, I do think the two of us will be good friends.”

“Alright, I guess a few days wouldn’t hurt.”

“Good. Now, I bid you good night, Sunset Shimmer,” She turned to Amber and smiled seductively, pulling the pegasus in closer. “And you, I’ll see shortly.”

Amber made a noise of contentment as Luna kissed her. As Sunset waited uncomfortably for the kiss to end, she could suddenly understand why some ponies might be a little confused about the nature of their relationship. It went on for long enough that she was tempted to just sneak off while they were preoccupied. Eventually the two did break apart, and with a final wave Luna left to raise the moon, leaving Sunset and Amber alone.

“Thanks for not saying anything to Princess Celestia about what I told you,” Amber said.

“No problem. But you know, Celestia kind of likes everypony,” Sunset said.

“I get that. I don’t think she really dislikes me or anything, just… I don’t think she approves of whatever it is me and Luna are to each other.”

“About that. Are you sure you two are on the same page with your relationship?” Sunset asked.

Amber rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I know I called her my marefriend on the train and she’s really not, but it’s just easier than trying to explain the whole thing every time.”

Sunset frowned, unconvinced. “Really? ‘Cause you seemed pretty attached when you were talking about her earlier. I know it’s not really any of my business, but I’ve been there. It sucks when you both have different ideas about where you are together. Have you talked to her about it recently? Just to make sure you both know where you stand.”

Amber smiled and put her foreleg around Sunset’s shoulders. “Sunset, while I appreciate you wanting to help, we’re fine. Really. Our friendship is kind of crazy, but it works. We’re both happy with how things are.”

“If you say so, but at least think about it,” Sunset said. “I better go get settled in. Besides, it sounds like you have a pretty wild night ahead of you.”

Amber laughed. “Yeah, being with Luna you get used to weird hours. I’ll see you tomorrow then. Good night.”

“Night.”

Sunset and Amber walked off in different directions. Unsure where her room was, she wound up walking aimlessly until she ran into a guard. If there was one thing consistent about the castle, it was that there were guards everywhere. Thankfully, another was that they were always helpful.

“Excuse me. I’m staying as a guest of Princess Celestia, but I’m not really sure where my room is.”

The guard gave a friendly smile. “Are you Sunset Shimmer?”

“That’s me.”

“Princess Celestia informed us you’d be staying. Follow me, I’ll show you to your room.”

Sunset did as he requested. Along the way she noticed the walk seemed oddly familiar. ‘It can’t be,’ she thought. ‘If it is, we’d be turning left up here…’ They turned left. Hoofstep by hoofstep, Sunset would never forget this walk.

“We wouldn’t happen to be going to a room in the western wing, third floor?”

The guard looked at her in surprise for a moment, before turning back to the path ahead. “That is correct, miss. How did you know that?”

“That’s my old room,” Sunset said, more to herself than the guard.

“I’m afraid you must be mistaken, miss. That room’s been closed off for as long as I’ve had this job, some ten years now. You must have stayed in a room nearby it.”

Although he was no longer necessary, Sunset let him lead her the rest of the way in silence. When they reached the door she thanked him and he turned around, returning to his post.

Opening the door, she gasped as she saw the inside. Although it had been cleaned recently, everything was exactly as Sunset had left it. She walked in, and felt like she was walking into another time – fourteen years into the past, frozen in time. Her bookshelf was still filled with her favorite books on history and magic, her bed still had the same red sheet, her desk had… ‘Hang on, what’s that?’

On top of the desk was a small stack of paper. Grabbing the one on top, Sunset immediately recognized Celestia’s neat writing.

‘Dear Sunset Shimmer, if you’re reading this, you must have come back to me, although it seems like a lot to hope for right now. I’m writing this from the throne room, where I’ve been waiting since you left. I’ve had the mirror relocated here. I told the guards it was so I could keep an eye on it, but really I wanted it near me in case you decide to return. The portal is open for another two days. I tell myself I should leave it be, but how can I when you could return to me at any moment?

To be honest, I’m not sure what I should say. There isn’t much point in asking you to come back, even though it’s what I want the most. If you’re reading this, then you must already be back. Instead, I’ll try to find comfort in that – imagining you reading these words, here safe and sound.

I suppose the only thing there is to say is this: I’m sorry. I’m appalled with my actions earlier. I had hoped to scare you into leaving the mirror alone, but I was wrong. Maybe if I had explained it to you instead of refusing to answer any of your questions, maybe you might have understood how important it was to leave it be. I should never have said you are no longer my student. Even if I didn’t mean it, I should have considered how you’d feel. I was angry, but that is no excuse. You will always be my gifted student.’

‘Dear Sunset, so much time has passed since you left. Thirty moons and I’m at the mirror waiting again. I don’t believe you’ll come back anymore. You’re probably happy wherever you are, or else you would have returned already. That’s what I choose to believe, anyway.

I’ve taken a new pupil since you’ve left. I’m sure you wouldn’t like that, but I was left with little choice. She has a dangerous talent for magic, and if it’s not brought into her control, I fear what might happen. So I must ask you to forgive another thing; I was unable to wait for you.

Her name is Twilight Sparkle. I will try to learn from my mistakes as I teach her. I call her my faithful student, and I wonder if I had better taught you other virtues beyond your talent if you might be here to help me look over her. I like to imagine that you two would get along, and that if you do return she will be like a sister to you. I’ve always thought it was a pity you’ve never had any siblings. I think it would have been good for you, and although you try to hide it, I’ve always been able to see the compassion in you.

Sunset, please come home.’

‘It has been sixty moons since you left, and I broke a promise to an old friend today. I went through the mirror into another world.

Do you really live there now, in such a strange place? I was amazed to see my form changed as well, making me identical to the other beings in that place, so I know you can fit in, and I have no doubt you’re resourceful enough to do so. I take comfort in knowing the world you live in now does not seem dangerous. I looked for you, but I had to return before the portal closed.’

‘Dear Sunset, it has been a long time since I last wrote one of these letters. At first it was helpful to pretend I could still communicate to you, but eventually it became painful. I am hopeful I’ll never need to write one again. You came back tonight, but it was not to return to me. You’ve taken Twilight’s crown and returned to the world through the mirror. But I refuse to believe this is how it looks. I know that there must be a reason behind your actions.

I’ve sent Twilight through the mirror. I wish I could go myself, but I do not trust myself in this endeavor. I have failed you before, and I do not want to fail you again. I’m hopeful Twilight will bring you back with her, but either way I’m sure she will be able to help you with whatever it is that’s brought you back to Equestria.

When If you come back, I do not know what our relationship will be, but I shall always think of you as my gifted student. Wherever you are, Sunset, be safe.’

Sunset set the last letter down with the others and let what she’d read soak in. After a moment, she picked up the letters and read them all again, although it was difficult with the tears in her eyes. When she was done, she found herself staring into the mirror above her desk without seeing anything. Eventually her eyes focused on her reflection. Staring at her reflection was what had started the ordeal that her life became, but unlike then, Sunset only saw a unicorn whose eyes were red from crying. She smiled at herself nonetheless. It had taken her far too long, but she could finally see that she was exactly who she was supposed to be.

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