• Published 16th May 2016
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A Shimmering New Year - EchoWing



Sunset Shimmer and her friends struggle to deal with recovering from Anon-A-Miss as they move forward. New friends and a doctor, thankfully, can help them along.

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Chapter Four - Rainbooms on the Couch

Like many schools of its size, Canterlot High had one or two conference rooms, meant either for formal meetings between teachers or for the odd special occasion like a government-mandated hearing and vision check. They allowed for greater space than an office, and helped to create a sense of neutrality whenever a student and/or their family entered. They were also not as formal as the offices of the principal and vice principal, and thus without the looming peril of disciplinary action.

Some students, however, joked that when called to the conference room, a student stood a chance of getting it from the entirety of their teachers, but such a thing had never happened. To their knowledge, at least.

It was right outside of the larger of CHS’ conference rooms that Celestia and Luna stood waiting for their charges, who arrived in a group with Rarity taking the lead. “Good afternoon, students. I assume you had a pleasant lunch?”

“Hard not to with Granny Smith’s cooking.” Despite her best efforts, a nervous chuckle escaped Rainbow Dash’s lips. As Luna looked upon her with an arched eyebrow, she amended, “Yes, lunch was good.”

Celestia offered a comforting smile. “It’s perfectly alright if you’re nervous, Rainbow Dash. None of us will think less of you for it.”

“I’m not nervous, I just…” A shrug. “I’m not crazy about talking to shrinks is all. Eggheady know-it-alls and everything.”

“Ah ain’t exactly crazy about this either Dash, but we all know why we’re doin’ this.” Applejack looked to Sunset with a rueful expression. “Tryin’ not too repeat past mistakes and all that.”

“Indeed.” Luna looked among them and explained, “Now then, you’ll all understand if we don’t want the lot of you in there together. The doctor would rather speak with each of you individually, at least for the time being.” Her gaze fell upon Sunset as she finished, “And she’d prefer that Sunset Shimmer be the last of you that she speaks with. Beyond that, however, it’s up to you who goes first.”

None of the five seemed eager to volunteer until Rarity stepped forward. “Well, if it’s going to be any of us, we may as well start with myself.” Celestia opened the door into the conference room, and the fashionista entered.

As the door was closed behind their friend, Luna gestured towards a room adjacent to the conference room. “We’d like the rest of you to wait in here for now. No sense having you loitering in the hallway.”

“Sure thing, Vice Principal Luna.” Applejack led her friends into the indicated room, and the door was closed behind them as the two administrators traded anxious expressions. With any luck, this would work, and they could finally put Anon-A-Miss behind them.

If not, then they were out of useful ideas.

-

“Rarity, I presume?” The psychologist stood up from her chair and offered a hand. “I’m Doctor Hope. It’s good to finally meet you, I’ve heard a great deal about you from your principal.”

“Oh, thank you, ma’am.” Rarity accepted the offered hand and warmly shook it. “And if you don’t mind my saying, you look rather splendid. Not at all what I expected.”

The doctor smirked, taking the comment on her looks as a compliment. She was dressed semi-casually, light-colored pants and long-sleeved shirt with a crystalline broach over the left side of her chest. “We aren’t all eccentric old men with little glasses and beards.” She gestured for Rarity to take a seat, then took up a notebook and began. “Now then, if all of this is right, you’re currently sixteen?”

“Due to turn seventeen in June.”

“Happy Early Birthday. Have you given any thought to college?”

“Yes, though I haven’t thought of any particular schools. Whatever one I want to go to, however, I intend to major in both business and fashion design.” A smile crossed her face as she admitted, “And I wouldn’t object to taking whatever courses I need to become a certified gemologist. As wonderful as it would be to open my own boutique and sell my own designs, being able to work with jewelry sounds like a wonderful fallback.”

“Well, from everything I’ve heard, you’re off to an excellent start here at Canterlot High. From what I’ve been told, you turned quite a few heads from day one.”

The young fashionista did her best to hide an embarrassed blush. “Well, a lady does seek to impress.”

“And I’m also told that you applied to take part in last summer’s Junior Fashion Week in the city.”

That caused Rarity to turn nervous. “Yes, I did. Unfortunately, I had to pull out at the last minute.” She turned downcast as she admitted, “It’s a rather long story, and one in a rather long string of disappointments starting last spring.”

“Well let’s start there then, shall we?” A few notes were quickly jotted down, and Hope queried, “You put your hat in the running for Princess of last year’s Spring Fling, going up against the reigning princess of Canterlot High.”

“Sunset Shimmer. She and I get on much better now, but back then…” Rarity considered her next words, then quietly continued, “Back then, Sunset was rather terrible. It hadn’t started that way, of course, but over time, she showed herself as more and more of a shrewd manipulator, and rather possessive of her title. And there had been rumors of her engaging in more than a few unsavory actions in order to maintain her crown at the Fall Formal that year. Nothing that could be substantiated, of course, but still…”

“I’m not here to pass judgment on anyone, Rarity. I’m just here to listen.” She smiled and prodded, “Now, you were saying?”

“Yes, forgive me.” She took a quick breath and continued, “Anyway, I put my hat into the ring for the Spring Fling crown, mostly because I thought that of anyone in the school, I stood the best chance of defeating her. My friends were certainly onboard and willing to provide support, but then, things started happening, and the five of us began to split up.”

“Such as?”

“Well, my application to compete in Junior Fashion Week had come in, so I had to cut time for the odd commitment here and there; helping Fluttershy out at the animal shelter, for one. I still tried to find time to help the others out, but then communications started breaking down with the rest, and then I found myself getting messages from Pinkie Pie telling me my help wasn’t needed with events around the school, only to find out she was doing it all on her own.”

“She actually told you that?”

“No, we texted. And with the benefit of hindsight, I should have confirmed it with her directly, but alas, I didn’t.” She sighed and admitted, “I later found out that Sunset had falsified the messages as part of an effort to sabotage my bid. A rather successful one at that. I ended up not even going to the dance, rather than see the inevitable smug expression upon her face.” She took on a rueful expression and noted, “And that wasn’t even the worst part. I planned on announcing my acceptance for the Junior Fashion Show at the dance, as part of my acceptance speech. I even planned on asking the girls to come with me; it would have been a marvelous time for all of us!”

“You must have been distraught.”

“I was, but not as much as I was after I was forced to pull out of the fashion show.” She drew her arms in close and admitted, “It was one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. And that wasn’t the worst of it.”

“Oh?”

Rarity looked at the psychologist and asked, “Doctor, from what you’ve been told of me, what do you think is one of my defining characteristics?”

Hope glanced through her notes and offered, “Your tendencies towards altruism, I’d think.”

Rarity shook her head. “Forgive me, but I must correct you. I don’t practice altruism, I practice generosity. There’s a critical difference between the two. With the former, one is expected to give up everything, and I see no sense in doing something like that. With generosity, one gives of what one is able to give; time, energy, money, whatever. One can’t expect a tree to continue bearing fruit if it has been chopped down for use as firewood, now does one?”

“No, it would be a little pointless by then. So, your generosity proved to be your undoing?”

“Yes, in a sense. After it had been cast aside despite clearly needed, well, I was all too happy to lend someone a hand. And then it was taken advantage of, and I was forced to withdraw as a result.” She slumped and admitted, “As I said, embarrassing.”

“I’m sorry.”

Rarity waved it off. “It’s water under the bridge now, don’t worry. Still, once the new school year came along, I found myself more adrift than I cared for. I still had the odd activity with one or two of my old friends, mind, but I didn’t see them as often as I’d liked. Much like the rest of the school by that point, I’d gravitated towards my own kind.” She shook her head. “Which was less than pleasant. As much of an artist as she can be, Photo Finish does grate the nerves at times with her insensitivity.”

“But that’s changed now.”

“Yes.” Rarity smiled. “I assume, of course, that you’ve heard of what happened at the last Fall Formal, and about Twilight Sparkle?” At the doctor’s nod, she continued, “Oh, her coming was a breath of fresh air! Granted, how we came to meet could have been under better circumstances; I’m rather ashamed that I didn’t give her a proper greeting, simply swept her up, but time was of the essence. Sunset was doing to her what she’d done to me, after all, and naturally, Twilight needed my aid. I didn’t expect her to continue with her bid, but I was happy to help, especially once she helped us to realize that we’d all been tricked by Sunset.” She groaned. “Again, hindsight is twenty-twenty.”

“Sounds like you’ve got quite a lot of reasons to resent Sunset Shimmer.” Hope regarded her curiously. “Which makes it rather surprising that the two of you are friends now.”

“Yes, well, circumstances changed after the Fall Formal. Perspectives shifted and all, on her part and mine.” A sad smile crossed her lips as she noted, “Were you aware that Sunset is an able artist? I’ve seen her sketches, they’re quite good. And many are straight from memory. I found myself rather envious when I found out, I’m ashamed to say.” The smile faded as she continued, “And once I found out that she’d been evicted from her home after what happened at the Fall Formal, and worse, that she was an orphan, I had to do something to help her. Especially after her apologies, and her giving me the crown she’d won against me.”

“Very generous of you.”

“As I said, giving what I was able to give. My family had a spare room, food enough, and despite everything, I was open to giving her comfort.” She proudly sat up and declared, “And I don’t regret that for one second, and nor have I been given a reason to do so.”

“Until just before Christmas.”

That took the wind out of Rarity’s sails, and she amended, “Yes, I thought that you would get to that.” She pulled her hands into her lap and noted, “The Anon-A-Miss incident is not one that I’m proud of. Again, I was tricked and fooled, and my trust betrayed. That I lashed out against the innocent party only makes it worse, even if I did think that I was justified.”

“Once burned, twice shy?”

“I suppose. I trusted her, and I thought that she’d betrayed that trust, and acted accordingly.” A sad sigh. “And making it even worse was the fact that it was my own sibling framing her for it, all out of petty spite. Sweetie Belle regrets it now of course, but still, it’s going to be a sore point for her for some time. And for me as well.”

“And you’re not angry with her?”

“Whatever makes you think I wasn’t angry with her? I’m simply angrier with myself, even after all this time, for how I treated Sunset. As I said, I trusted her.” She noticeably slumped and noted, “Or at least, I thought that I trusted her.”

“Hmm. Well, that leaves you with an important question.” The doctor set aside her notes, leaned forward and asked, “Do you trust her?”

-

“It’s really nice meeting you too, Doctor Hope!” Pinkie Pie enthusiastically shook the doctor’s hand, then sat herself down and noted, “You’re the first therapist I’ve ever met! Well, professionally, anyway!” She paused, and then noted, “By the way, there’s something I’ve always wondered. What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and while I’m asking, which one are you?”

The doctor laughed and explained, “I’m a psychologist, not a psychiatrist. As for the differences, well, that isn’t too difficult. Both require doctorates and years of study, but psychologists focus mostly on talking issues and problems out with their patients. I can’t fill out a prescription for medication or whatever, but a psychiatrist can.” She made a small shrug and noted, “That said, I have taken some medical courses. I’m at least qualified to give you first aid if you need it, but something tells me that won’t come up.”

“Probably not, but it’s nice to know you can still try and help the ouchies to go away.”

A sad smile crossed her face. “Well, one tries. And from what I’m told, you try to do the same around here. You’re practically a one-student Glee Club.”

“Yep! Everyone deserves to smile!” The enthusiasm faded as Pinkie admitted, “Of course, sometimes I don’t do too good a job at it. If I’d been a little better about it a couple weeks back, then you wouldn’t be here.”

“Probably not.” Hope regarded her notes and asked, “But since you brought it up, is there anything you want to say about the Anon-A-Miss incident?”

Her hair visibly deflated as Pinkie admitted, “That I still feel really bad about it. Sunset knows, but still…” She pulled herself into a hug. “It’s no fun, y’know? Knowing that you hurt someone and they didn’t deserve it. Knowing you did something bad. What really hurts is how Maud reacted to it.”

“Maud Pie. Your older sister.”

“My older older sister. I’ve got a younger older sister, but she’s homeschooled with my twin back on the farm. It’s bad enough that Maud knew about what happened, but Limestone and Marble finding out? Or worse, Mom and Dad? None of them would be happy.” As if anticipating the concerned reaction from the therapist, she quickly amended, “Oh, it’s not what you’re thinking. My family isn’t abusive, we all love each other. My folks are just the sort to go with tough love, y’know? They don’t smile a lot, but when they do…” Pinkie’s eyes lit up. “It’s magical.”

“Which is why you enjoy making people happy. You want to spread that magic as much as you can.”

A nod. “But I wasn’t spreading it with Sunset back before Christmas when I turned on her. I hurt her, because I thought that she’d hurt the rest of us. I got caught up in the moment, but that’s no excuse. And Maud told me that too, the morning after we said what we did, the day we almost…” She sniffled, and the doctor handed her a box of tissues, one of which was plucked and promptly used to loudly blow her nose. “Thanks.”

“You needed it.”

“And the thing is, I should’ve known Sunset wouldn’t do that kind of thing, not after the Fall Formal. She was scared that, after all the bad she’d done, she’d, y’know, be killed. She even thought Maud might do it one morning, just because she saw Maud with a big knife about to cut up some sausage for breakfast. A part of her probably thought that she deserved it too.” Pinkie set the box aside and whimpered. “I was such a dummy-head. How can she trust me again?”

Hope looked upon her with an uncertain expression on her face. “There’s no way of knowing. But did Maud forgive you for your mistake?”

“I didn’t hurt Maud though.”

“She still wasn’t happy about it, from what you’ve said.”

“No.” Her tone lightened by just a tiny bit, and she remarked, “But she did forgive me. And she’s not gonna stop loving me.”

“Well that leaves you with these questions regarding Sunset; will you trust her to trust you again? And will you trust her the next time?”

-

A tense silence had held since Rainbow Dash had taken her seat, neither her nor Dr. Hope saying anything to one another. The doctor finally broke the silence and asked, “You know, nothing’s going to get done if you don’t say anything.” She then smirked and asked, “Or are you hoping you can stretch this out and get out of all your classes tomorrow too?”

The athlete looked at her with eager surprise. “Can that really happen?”

“No. Sorry to disappoint you.”

Dash chuckled nervously. “Kinda obvious I didn’t want to be here, huh?” Her resolve rattled, she admitted, “I’m not really one for all this touchy-feely crap. I mean, I get it, you kinda need people to whine about this stuff, or you don’t have a job, but talking about this sorta thing really isn’t for me.”

“Keeping it bottled up inside really doesn’t do a lot of good either, even if you have a positive outlet with your athletics. Which are very impressive, by the way.”

Normal surprise flashed across her eyes. “You’ve heard about me?”

“It’s my understanding that this school has you to thank for the closest thing it’s had to a victory over Crystal Prep in anything in almost a quarter of a century.”

A triumphant laugh. “Darn right! And it would’ve been a real victory if that bit-!” Dash caught herself in time and corrected, “If that big sore loser headmistress of theirs didn’t have a stick up her butt and insist on drug tests. We didn’t take drugs, obviously, but Fleetfoot ate some bagels with poppy seeds and…”

Hope stopped her. “You don’t have to justify anything to me, I’m not here to talk about all of that. I’m more concerned with more recent events. Still, it’s obvious you have a lot of loyalty to your school.”

A proud grin crossed Dash’s face. “No kidding. You can’t get it if folks don’t give it to you. That’s what my parents taught me, and they know what they’re talking about.” She turned nervous as she admitted, “Of course, sometimes I’m better at following their example than others. Did Rarity tell you that Sunset spent a night with her the week after the Fall Formal?” She was answered with a nod, and continued, “Same with me. Dad wasn’t too crazy about seeing her there, but he let her stay, though just for that one night. Said he was proud of me for having her over too, even if I’d gone behind his back.” She turned downcast as she admitted, “Mom would’ve too, if she’d been there.”

“Your mother isn’t in the household?”

Dash shook her head. “She’s not dead or anything, I just haven’t seen her in a while. A long while. Her job, and all.” She gestured with one hand as if it were a jet and explained, “Air Force. Serving overseas. Came home from one deployment last spring just to get shipped back out less than a week later. Caught me right at the same time that Sunset was pulling us apart at the seams.”

“Sounds like she made things worse for you.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t her fault. Sunset didn’t know about my mom or what was going on with her.” She bowed her head and added, “Still doesn’t.”

“But you’re still carrying a grudge over it.”

“No! Well, kinda, but…” Rainbow Dash groaned. “This is why I don’t like shrinks. Just a bunch of eggheads messing around in your head poking and prodding at how you think and talking about your feelings and junk, and getting things all confused. Folks should be able to figure things out for themselves!” She quickly amended. “No offense.”

“None taken, and you’re right. Ideally, people would be able to figure things out for themselves. Sometimes, however, they can’t, for whatever reason, and someone like me has to come along to help them sort themselves out. Sometimes you need an outside perspective to point you in the right direction.” She smiled and offered, “Sort of like a coach helping players to perfect their maneuvers on the field and work with their teammates. They can see the big picture, while the players just get a small bit of it.”

A shrug. “I guess that’s one way to look at it.” She sat up. “Alright, Coach. What’s your outside perspective telling you?”

“Well, I’m still listening to what you’re telling me. Right now, however, it sound like you’ve got some conflicted feelings left with Sunset.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Dash leaned back into her seat and explained, “Before the Fall Formal, getting the school excited about something was hard. She didn’t help that, being the way she was. Kinda hard to take pride in yourself or someone else if you’re getting pushed around or pushed down all the time, and besides, I never liked bullies. Had to put up with too many myself, and that’s ignoring all the times someone was a jerk to Fluttershy or any of my other besties. After, well, I was still kinda sore, but I gave her a shot.” A sad expression crossed her face. “Turns out she wasn’t so bad. Had a bigger heart than I thought she did, even if it was buried under a bunch of junk. And I believed her about it. Still do.”

“And yet…?”

“Yeah, I know. Dash stupid, Dash hypocrite, Sunset sad, us nearly lose Sunset, us all go talk to shrink.” She groaned. “You know, I actually let myself think that all of what she said and did was an act? For all of one day, yeah, but still, an act. She could’ve done it, she’d been playing folks for years, but…” She turned morose and continued. “But it wasn’t an act. And we almost lost her, and I’ve been stewing over that for the last couple weeks.”

“We choose whom we’re loyal to, and it’s our decision to maintain that loyalty.”

“Yeah, but loyalty doesn’t mean turning your back on those who trust you, or on whoever you trust.” She grumbled softly, “I wish I’d learned that the first time.”

“Some lessons take a while to stick, Rainbow Dash. Still, all of this raises the important question. Do you trust her?”

-

An uncomfortable silence had taken over the room after Fluttershy had greeted Dr. Hope and taken her seat. This wasn’t so much one fueled by distrust and hostility like the talk with Rainbow Dash, however, as it was by anxiety and discomfort.

“Fluttershy, if it makes you feel any better, you aren’t in any trouble. No one is in trouble here, and no one is going to get in trouble for what we talk about. Anything specific you bring up with me will remain squarely between us, regardless of the fact that you aren’t officially my patient.” A small smirk appeared upon the therapist’s face as she added, “And that includes your little stowaway.”

The shy girl looked up in surprise. “How did…?”

“Educated guess.”

With some relief, Fluttershy opened her backpack and freed her passenger. The little white rabbit shook his head and flicked his ears as she explained, “I’m sorry. I sometimes bring one of my little animal friends to school with me. They’re very good about keeping quiet, especially Angel. I used to bring more, but that was mostly to keep myself company.”

“Really? I’d think you’d have little trouble finding yourself company. People would probably like to be with you most of the time.”

“Well, I guess, but…” She gently petted Angel as she reflected, “Talking with other people isn’t really easy for me. It’s a big world, and there’s so many of them, and just one little me, and it gets really scary sometimes. I don’t have that problem with animals, though.”

“No wonder you’re so anxious to talk. But you being here in the first place is a very brave thing.”

A small smile spread across Fluttershy’s lips as she admitted, “Well, it’s easy to be brave when you have a friend with you. And I do better with people once I get to know them.” She looked up and admitted, “Them being nice to me doesn’t hurt, either. That’s how Rainbow Dash and I first met, her standing up for me.”

“Yes, the two of you went to Cloudsdale Junior High together for sixth grade. Right before the school district changed everything around, Cloudsdale closed and Canterlot High became a six year school.” A nod from Fluttershy, and the therapist continued, “That must have been very scary for you, barely getting used to one new school after one year before going on to another one. Having a friend come along with you must have helped a lot.”

“It did, even once I got to know the rest of the girls. It was wonderful.” She turned downcast as her thoughts led to the inevitable. “Until we were broken up, anyway.” Angel nuzzled her from his perch in her lap, all too familiar with his mistress’ tendency to feel sad about bad times, as she continued. “I was so mad at Pinkie Pie over what happened at the silent auction, and I barely talked to Applejack after she started saying so many mean things about Rainbow Dash. I only saw Rarity a few times here and there, like our spa visits, but we barely talked about anything, and Rainbow was always so busy with one sports team or another.”

“And you were alone.”

A sad nod. “And that’s never fun. And I’ve always been so nervous around the other students, so talking to them was never easy. It didn’t get any easier once Sunset started showing her true colors. Especially once…” Her voice dropped low as she admitted, “Once she started to single me out. By the time she beat Rarity for the Spring Fling, the entire school was scared of her. Some of them might still be scared of her. I’d probably be with them, if it hadn’t been for what happened after the Fall Formal, and for that night she spent with me.” She smiled and noted, “Sunset has a beautiful singing voice. And it turns out her mother and mine both sang us the same lullaby when we were younger.”

“She stopped being scary then, huh?”

“Yes. And seeing her at the animal shelter afterwards, volunteering her time and playing with the dogs, it was so wonderful.” She giggled as she remembered the first time. “She took a shine to one dog in particular, Ellie. And she was so sad to see her go when she was adopted, but it was a happy sort of sad.” The laughter faded as she thought of another dog. “I wish I was feeling that right now.”

Another round of nuzzles, and the therapist noted, “I take it what happened with the Anon-A-Miss incident is still a big part of your thinking right now.”

A whimpering nod. “We shouldn’t have… I shouldn’t have…” Fluttershy immediately reached for the box of tissues and started to weep. It was a good minute before she regained control of herself, and doubtless would have been more if Angel hadn’t been attempting to hug her. Several tissues were blown before she managed to speak again. “We didn’t even try to give her a chance to explain. We didn’t even think… We just… And we almost lost her…”

Fluttershy then squeaked in surprise as she felt a warm embrace about her. She looked to find that Doctor Hope had given her the hug. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” She stepped back and noted, “Forgive me, that was amazingly unprofessional. You needed it, the way you were acting, and I can tell you meant all of that, but my job still requires me to keep some distance.”

“It’s alright. It was my fault.” A tense silence followed, neither sure where to go from there. This time, it was Fluttershy who broke it. “Can she ever trust me again?”

“Can you trust her? Did you trust her?”

-

“Apologies if Ah come across a might nervous, ma’am. Never really talked with a therapist before over much.” Applejack grinned nervously as she admitted, “Tell ya the truth, Ah’m usually the one my friends come to when they need advice or somethin’.”

Dr. Hope smiled reassuringly. “No need to apologize, Applejack. Though I’d assume you’ve gone to someone about some issue troubling you in the past?”

“A few folks here and there. Usually mah Granny or mah big brother, sometimes this one gal I got close with years back at summer camp. Course with her, has to be by e-mail; she lives out east. Still, Rara’s family, or close enough to it. All mah close friends are.” She slumped. “Makes all this all the worse.”

“How so?”

The farmgirl looked to the therapist and asked, “You ever had a client who lost a parent? Or are you not allowed ta say?”

A tilt of the head, and she admitted, “Doctor patient confidentiality doesn’t really apply to general things like that, so long as I don’t go into specifics. Yes, I’ve known many people who lost a parent at some point in their lives. One, not a patient, I know quite well.” She gestured to the files and noted, “Obviously, you’re among them.”

A solemn nod. “Ah was eight when mah folks passed. Mom was the first one ta go.” A sad smile formed on her face as she recounted, “Pear Butter was her name, but you’ve probably got that in your notes there. Daddy always called her ‘Buttercup’ though. Sweetest woman you’d ever meet, biggest smile all around. She stood out from the rest a’ us Apples easy, thanks to her not havin’ our little twang to her voice, but Daddy always said it gave her character. Might not’ve sounded like it save when she sang, but she had the heart of a country girl. Made the best pies ever, without a doubt.” The smile faded as she finished, “Her heart is what did her in, though. Aortic tear, the doctors called it. Happened all of a sudden; she was laughin’ with me an’ mah siblins’ one second, and the next, she was on the ground and Big Mac was callin’ for an ambulance. They lost her ‘fore she even got to the hospital.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Ain’t yer fault. Was her time, I suppose. Didn’t help that we lost Daddy right afterwards, though.” Another sad smile, this one warm with pride, crossed Applejack’s face as she took off her hat and examined it. “Bright McIntosh, mah daddy, was a big mountain of a man, with a heart bigger’n any mountain you could name. Taught us the value’a hard work, to respect the soil and the animals that help us work it. Taught us to value life, especially when he gave me and Big Mac shootin’ lessons. Always wore a Stetson, just like this one.” The hat was set in her lap as she finished, “Died in a car accident, same day we lost Mom. Some drunk driver missed a light and crashed into him. The other guy walked away from it, still don’t know if’n he was ever charged for vehicular homicide or whatever. Not a lot of comfort in it, but at least the two of ‘em went on to Heaven together. And both taught us the value a’ family.” She sighed. “Ah wish Ah’d learned it a little better, though.”

“You think that you’ve failed them on that regard?”

“Some ways, yes.” Applejack put her hat back on and explained, “After mah parents passed, the farm felt kinda…empty. And that emptiness hurt somethin’ fierce. Granny wasn’t happy ‘bout it, but she let me go off and stay with one a’ mah daddy’s sisters, mah Aunt Citrus Orange and her family up in the city. Kinda became clear pretty quick that Ah didn’t fit in too close with ‘em, though, and as painful as it was not havin’ mah mom and daddy ‘round, it was even more painful not bein’ at the farm, not seein’ Granny and Big Mac and Apple Bloom every day.”

“You think you abandoned them.”

“And that’s the biggest thing about family; you don’t abandon it and you don’t turn on it.” Applejack looked to the therapist and asked, “You know Sunset’s an orphan too, right? Lost both her mom and dad when she was a tiny little thing, not even out of kindergarten. Back in the bad old days, she’d give me nuthin’ but grief about bein’ a country bumpkin, but she never once gave me grief about mah parents bein’ dead. Ah didn’t find out until the mornin’ after the Fall Formal, right when Ah started thinkin’ a her as a friend. As family.”

“Which no doubt made things hurt all the more when you thought that she’d gone back to her old habits.”

“Not as bad as it did when the real culprit was revealed.” She sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Ah yelled at Sunset. Took everythin’ Ah had not to do worse’n that. Time passed, though, and Ah started to feel bad about it. Then when Ah found out Apple Bloom and her friends had been behind it, that they’d done it all to hurt her, that stung the worst. Ah was mad. Mighty disappointed, too. Actually…” She sank as she noted, “Actually did strike her. Slapped her in the back a’ the head. No lastin’ harm, but Ah still feel plenty bad about it, both because Ah did it and because Ah was lettin’ her off easy.”

“She’s your little sister, though.”

“Didn’t make me feel any less like a hypocrite, treatin’ her one way on account’a her bein’ blood and treatin’ Sunset another cuz she wasn’t. Especially considerin’ I thought of her like she was.” Applejack shamefully rubbed one arm and noted, “And considerin’ Sunset thinks a’ me and the gals the same way. Or she did, at least.” She bowed her head. “We trusted her. But we didn’t trust her enough.”

“Did you trust her? Really?” As Applejack looked at her with a pained expression, Dr. Hope asked, “Can you trust her now?”

-

“Hello Sunset Shimmer. I’m Doctor Hope.” Greeting and handshake out of the way, the therapist gestured for her to take a seat and began. “Now then, I…” She noticed a distant expression on Sunset’s face and asked, “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no, it’s just…” Sunset shook her head and sighed. “For some reason, I feel like I’ve seen you before somewhere.”

The older woman flashed an enigmatic smile. “It might be that I just have one of those faces.” She picked up her notebook and noted, “Now, it probably won’t surprise you that I’ve done my homework with you and your friends. Out of the six of you, however, you’re probably the one that’s the most…well, putting it politely, complicated. You’re easily one of the best students of your year academically, if not one of the best that Canterlot High has ever seen. Outside of that, however, well, there isn’t too pretty a picture over time.” She flipped through some pages and noted, “You had a fair rise in popularity for your first year at CHS, culminating in becoming the Spring Fling princess in the eighth grade and maintaining that title through the following Fall Formal and Spring Fling, but aside from a brief stint on the school newspaper, you mostly kept to social functions. And that ignores the odd reports of snide remarks and aggressive behavior towards your fellow students, as well as the rumors surrounding last year’s Spring Fling.”

Sunset bowed her head regretfully. “If those rumors are about me sabotaging Rarity’s bid against me, then those are true. But you’ve probably figured that out by now.”

“I can neither confirm nor deny that.” The therapist quickly got back on track and noted, “And all of that leads us to this year’s Fall Formal, and the incident there.” She locked eyes with Sunset. “The gas explosion.”

“Yeah, that.” Sunset nervously considered her next words. Telling the complete truth obviously wasn’t an option; one word about magic and there was a chance she’d be in serious trouble, either because she’d attract unneeded attention to the school or because she’d give Dr. Hope an excuse to call someone in to have her locked away in an asylum. Did they even still have asylums, or did they call them ‘mental hospitals’ now? Best not to go into too many specifics about it. “That definitely wasn’t a good night for me.”

“It’s a small miracle that you and your two accomplices weren’t expelled, or arrested. One would almost think that Principal Celestia was looking out for you.” She looked up from her notes and added, “Now, I’m not here to judge you, and I don’t have the authority to take you away from here, but I would like to know what prompted something that extreme. Were you really that incensed about losing the title to this mysterious ‘Twilight Sparkle’?”

“Yes, and no.” Sunset sighed and carefully picked her next few words. “Getting that title, becoming the effective queen of Canterlot High and staying at the top, it meant a lot to me. Way more than it should have. Obviously I went a little crazy about keeping it. Crazy enough that people nearly got killed.” She frowned and noted, “Suffice it to say, it was a wake-up call.”

“I’d think so. There hasn’t been a complaint about you from a teacher or administrator since then, and the five girls who were instrumental in Twilight’s victory over you have been at your side ever since. Especially telling, considering one of them was your rival barely six months prior.”

“Yeah, I’m still grateful for all of that.” Sunset quietly tucked her hands together on her lap and explained, “I’d been in a bad place for a long time. I didn’t realize how bad until after the Fall Formal, after I was forced to see what I’d become. I didn’t like it.” She forced herself to look at the doctor as she continued. “I lost my parents when I was young. Ever since, I ended up pushing people away, either because I didn’t want anything to do with them or because they refused to give me what I wanted. Without realizing it, I became a monster.”

“And you think that was because your parents died?”

Sunset laughed mirthlessly. “No, their deaths were a factor, but everything I did after losing them was my choice. One bad decision after another up until the Fall Formal.”

“And since then?”

A shrug. “I haven’t deliberately caused other people trouble. Got a new place to live, a job, started to live an honest life. I have tried to fix what I could, though it hasn’t been much. Bare minimum, my ex and I are at least amicable.”

“Your ex. Flash Sentry.”

A nod. “He broke it off with me. And I don’t blame him.” A sad smile crossed her lips as she added, “Things were actually looking up for me. And then Anon-A-Miss happened and, well, no doubt you’ve heard all about that.”

“I’d be very confused about why I’m here if I hadn’t. Given what I’ve been told, you obviously didn’t take the experience too well.”

Sunset opted against pointing out how much of an understatement that was. “I’d spent months trying to rebuild my life into something new, something better, and it just came crashing down around me all over again.” She gently examined where her jacket had been patched up months prior. “I spent a week, between the Fall Formal and getting my own place, going from one of their places to another to stay. I talked with each of them, about one thing or another. Rarity insisted on fixing this up, and Fluttershy…” A sad sigh. “She had so little room. She felt so terrible about only being able to have me for one night. But they all took me in. And then they just tossed me away because of Anon-A-Miss, like all of those months had never happened.” Her hand gripped her arm as she mournfully said, “And I was alone again.”

“And you think that it was your fault.”

Sunset looked at the therapist in surprise. “What? No! I mean, I get why they did what they did, I would have…”

“Only you didn’t. You said so yourself that you’d spent months doing what you could to avoid being who you were before the Fall Formal. Are you saying that it’s your fault that they left you?”

“Well, no.”

“That it’s your fault that their sisters chose to post all of that information and make it look like you’d done it?”

“No, they did that on their own…”

“Then why are you acting like it was your fault? It clearly wasn’t, and you know that.”

“No, and they…”

“And they accused you of it, after several months of getting to know you. Did they know about how you felt after the Fall Formal?”

“Yes!” Sunset sat up alert and exclaimed, “They saw me at my lowest point! They know how I feel about what I did!”

“And yet, they still accused you of being Anon-A-Miss.”

“Not until…”

“Whether they did it first thing or a day later, it doesn’t matter. They still did it, and you almost took your own life because of it. Do you really think that you deserve to die for something that you didn’t do?”

“No, but…”

“Then why do it?”

“Because I’d lost them!” Sunset surprised even herself at how she was suddenly shouting. “They were all I had, the closest thing to family, and they threw me away like trash! Despite everything, they still look at me and see the thing that almost killed them and Twilight that night! And so do I!” After several deep breaths, she calmed down, sank back in her seat, and mournfully said, “And I don’t want to. But how can I not see that thing if that’s all anyone else sees?”

“So you don’t think they trust you?”

“…I thought they did.”

“Well, you’re left with an important question then.”

-

Waiting for Sunset’s session with Doctor Hope to end felt like an eternity as her friends waited outside of the conference room. “Anyone else feelin’ anxious about this, or is it just me?”

“Nope, not just you.” Pinkie’s answer was delivered in an uncharacteristically saddened tone. “I don’t think any of us is looking forward to what’ll happen when Sunset comes out of that door.”

“She knows we all feel bad about what happened though, right?” Dash looked among her friends and asked, “I mean, she wouldn’t have come to Sweet Apple Acres if she didn’t, or accept the gifts, or…?”

“She does, Rainbow Dash.” Rarity’s tone turned uneasy as she amended, “At least, I assume that she does. But that hardly changes what happened, or what we did.”

“Or the consequences.” Applejack took off her Stetson and studied it for a moment. “Girls, there’s somethin’ ah…”

Applejack turned silence as Sunset emerged from the conference room and closed the door behind her. The flame-haired girl looked to her friends and softly, weakly said, “Hey.”

Rarity smiled hopefully. “Hello Sunset. I hope…” She turned silent as she took sight of the distant, almost blank expression on her friend’s face. The other girls also picked up on this hint, and remained silent.

“Girls, there’s something I need to say.” Sunset stood up as straight as she could, and made as strong an effort as possible to look all of them in the eye. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I haven’t been able to keep what happened a couple weeks ago out of my head. The talk I just had with Doctor Hope has helped, a lot, but there’s still one thing left in all of this. Just at the end, she asked me a question.”

Pinkie came within a hair’s breadth of interrupting before Applejack clamped a hand over her mouth.

“Thanks. She asked me if I could trust you. And the truth is…” Her lips pursed as she visibly struggled to continue, her hands trembling slightly as they started to curl into fists. Finally, she let it out. “…The truth is that the five of you know what you did. I’ve spent so much time trying to justify it in my head, but I can’t. Not after everything that’s happened. Not after spending so much time with all of you and everything we’ve shared. Even after all of that, you didn’t trust me.” Her eyes finally closed as tears, fueled by sadness and anger, welled up and she finished, “And I can’t trust you either.”

Fluttershy gasped, but it went unheard among her other friend’s protests as Sunset turned and ran away. As they turned silent, one by one, she finally spoke up. “We did this. This is our fault.”

Pinkie’s hair went totally limp and lifeless as the bell rang, and students started filing into the halls, blissfully unaware of what had transpired. Unable to hear the other shoe dropping at last.

Author's Note:

This part, especially, was very much due to FinalLegendZero's suggestions and assistance. Not easy to write, but it needed to be done, so here you are.

The funniest things happen when I write a story - sometimes someone comes along with a similar idea, but goes in a totally different direction. Oroboro, for example, put out a one-shot while I was working on this chapter focusing on Rainbow Dash's family situation called "One Step Away". Totally different from what I had in mind here, of course, but I'll link it anyway.

Rarity's situation with the Junior Fashion Show, of course, is adapted from what her pony counterpart faced in "Rarity Takes Manehattan", written by Dave Polsky. Rainbow Dash's mention of a victory against Crystal Prep is adapted from the first Equestria Girls annual; I think I've provided a serviceable retcon. The order of birth given for Pinkie's siblings is, aside from the fact that Pinkie's older than Marble, totally my invention - I like the idea of Limestone being a middle child, and the idea of Maud being the eldest, as it maintains G. M. Berrow's intended pattern of M-L-P for the Pie sisters. Only now it's more like M-L-P-M, but that's what late additions do for you.

The names and personalities of Applejack's parents are adapted from this piece of artwork by Graystripe64. Hopefully, they won't object. As for their relationship with the Oranges (as well as the headcanon there), that comes from this piece by UtopianPeace.

Oh, and the names of the two dogs in this story? Ellie and Wiley? Both are named after dogs from my family; Ellie is very much alive, while Wiley sadly passed on long before I began writing MLP 'fiction. Figured this story would give me a chance to make a good tribute for her, and let me fulfill a tradition of squeezing in the names of my dogs into my work at the same time.

Edit on 7/7/2017 - I changed some details to reflect the revelations from "The Perfect Pair".

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