• Published 14th Nov 2016
  • 5,538 Views, 1,072 Comments

Looking Glass - Krickis

When Sunset sees herself as an alicorn in a magical mirror, she goes looking for answers, eventually going through the mirror into another world. Some things are better left alone though, as she finds herself trapped in the other world as a child.

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12 – On Thin Ice

Chapter Twelve

On Thin Ice

Why did Rose Petal have to talk with her anyway? Didn’t she realize that Sunset had already been lectured by the overnight staff? Couldn’t she just leave her alone? God knew that none of the caretakers took as much interest in her as Rose did.

But she had known what would happen from the moment that she had seen the overnight caretaker pick up the bottle. The broken glass was bad, but Sunset could explain that. The cut would even serve as a distraction. It was deep enough that she was taken to the hospital and received four stitches in her right palm, and everyone assumed that would be enough to teach her a lesson.

But the alcohol? That was another story. While her caretakers didn’t press too much about the mirror, they simply wouldn’t leave the alcohol alone. After six hours and a hospital trip, she was still trying to figure out how to explain it. It wasn’t like she could even use the awful ‘I’m just holding it for a friend’ excuse, because she didn’t have any friends.

Her careful control over what the adults at the orphanage knew about her was gone. Sure, they knew she skipped school sometimes, and once or twice she had been caught shoplifting a few small things. But the bigger stuff? The drinking, the manipulation, the general apathy towards every aspect of her life? She had been very careful to keep that hidden. As far as anyone could tell, she was a genuinely nice girl going through a rough time because of childhood trauma and puberty.

But now she had jeopardized all that, since her drinking habit was decidedly not within the confines of normal puberty behavior. And so, she found herself sitting across from Rose Petal and staring at the floor. Rose had asked her to explain herself, and was fixing Sunset with an expression that read ‘I’m waiting’.

“I didn’t mean to break the mirror.”

“Well, I should hope not.”

Sunset winced at the tone. “I had a, uhm… I was angry.” It was better to blame mood swings than to ever admit she still regularly had nightmares, and admitting to the hallucination was completely out of the question. The last thing she needed was to be treated like she was crazy. “I threw a book, but I didn’t mean to hit the mirror, that was an accident.”

Rose waited a moment, as if contemplating her response. “And why, exactly, did throwing a book seem like a good idea in the first place?”

“Like I said, I was angry.” Sunset lifted her head a little so that Rose could see her eyes, but she still didn’t look directly at her. “I’m really sorry, I promise I’ll be better, and –”

“Sunset,” Rose interrupted gently. They had barely started the lecture, and she was already beginning to sound more exhausted than angry. “I’m not worried about the mirror. I’m worried about you. Why are you so angry? Why won’t you come talk to me when you’re having problems?”

“I…” Sunset found herself at a loss for words. Taken off guard, she forgot to maintain her carefully controlled body language and found herself looking directly into Rose’s eyes. She had to turn away, there was too much hurt there. “I’m sorry…”

Rose sighed. “Sunset, I’m trying to help you, I really am. But you’ve just been so distant lately. I understand that you need your space, but these days it’s like you’re not happy unless you shut everyone out completely. And by the looks of it, you’re still not happy then, either.”

Sunset stared at the stitches in her hand and reflected on how wrong Rose was. Sunset had always been a terrible person, this was really nothing new. She just used to hide it better, back when she believed in Eq– when she was younger. “I’m just… I don’t know what to say.”

“It may have been a long time ago, but I was young once. I remember what it’s like, probably more than you think I do.”

If there was one thing Sunset was sure of, it was that Rose did not know what Sunset was going through. All she saw was a girl dealing poorly with the changes in her life. What would she know about feeling like an alien? How could she understand what it was like to never be sure if the world around her was real or not? How could someone like Rose Petal, someone who was so loved and adored by all the children she cared for, how could she possibly know what it was like to feel so alone, no matter how many other people were around?

“I know that, it’s just… I really don’t have anything to talk about.” When Rose didn’t reply immediately, Sunset added, “I’m sorry.”

Rose hesitated a moment. When she spoke again, her tone became more desperate. “I’m trying, Sunset, but you’re not making this easy. And now you’re drinking, of all things? Where did you even get the alcohol from?”

It was a good thing that Rose had waited so long to broach that topic. Sunset had an explanation ready to go. She would still be in trouble, of course, but she didn’t have to admit she stole it. Just say she bought it off some kid who swiped it from their parents. She had a list of kids who would be presumed guilty based on their own difficult history. “I found it.”

“You found it?” Rose asked incredulously. Sunset flinched, both at the sudden shift in her tone and at her own pitiful excuse. “Where did you find it? On a grocery store shelf?”

Sunset opened her mouth, realized she didn’t have a response worth making, and closed it again. Why hadn’t she just gone with sharing the blame?

“Do you even realize what you’re risking?”

“I know.” Sunset bit back a harsher reply, just because it was Rose. “Alcohol is dangerous, I know all that.”

“Well, I should hope so, although I do have to wonder if you realize how dangerous it can be for someone your age. But there’s more to it than that. You do know that I’m not solely in charge of what happens to you.”

Sunset frowned, wondering what she was getting at. “Yeah, I know.”

“And neither is New Horizons itself.” Rose folded her hands on the table and spoke matter-of-factly. “You are a ward of the state. That means that if it’s decided that we are not giving you the proper care, you will be placed somewhere else.”

“What?” Sunset sat up straight and her mouth fell open. “That’s ridiculous, Violet would never –”

“Mrs. Dusk is one of the only reasons you’re still here,” Rose stated resolutely. “She’s been adamant that the stability of a home like this one is the best thing for you. But there’s only so much we can do when you make things so difficult for us. How can we continue to claim to be in your best interest when you’re stealing and drinking alcohol?”

Sunset rose to her feet. “So… that’s it then? ‘Sorry, Sunset, but you’ve screwed up too big this time! You’re just not our problem anymore!’ ”

Rose waited for her to finish before speaking. “Return to your seat, Sunset.”

Reluctantly, Sunset obeyed, although she continued to fix Rose with a harsh glare.

“If Mrs. Dusk is one of the people advocating on your behalf, I should hope that by now you know who else is.” Rose matched her glare with a stern expression until Sunset folded her arms and turned away. “Even before this, it hasn’t been easy. Between your grades slipping and you gaining a record of petty theft, there’s already been talk about sending you somewhere else. A military boarding school has been suggested.”

“Who in the…” Sunset facepalmed. “The cops from the other day.”

“If I have any say in it, that won’t ever happen. But if things keep going this way, I won’t have any say in it.”

Sunset sunk into her chair. She didn’t want to leave New Horizons. She really didn’t want to go to a glorified boot camp. “Okay,” she said in a defeated tone. “This won’t happen again. I promise.”

“It had better not, for your own sake.” The edge was fading from Rose’s voice, and by the time she spoke again it was gone completely. “You should get some rest. You’ve been up half the night and you’re hurt. We can worry about school tomorrow.”

Sunset waited a few more moments before rising. She shuffled to the doorway, but stopped before going through. It occurred to her that despite all the apologies, none of them had been completely authentic. She turned back to Rose, and found she was looking elsewhere. ‘Oh well,’ she decided as she went through the door. ‘It doesn’t really matter anyway.’

No one spoke to her on the way back to her room, but that wasn’t too surprising. When Sunset had first started living in New Horizons, there were three caretakers that lived on the grounds, all of whom were older women who had lived there since it was common practice. Over the years, one of the others moved down south to live with her daughter, and the other moved into a nursing home. Now Rose was all that was left, and it was understood that her word was final. On paper, she was equal to any other caretaker, but everyone knew better in practice. It was her home, and the kids were her kids; everyone else just worked there.

The glass had been cleaned from her room, and the frame removed. There wasn’t a replacement mirror yet, and Sunset found she liked it much better that way. She wondered if she imagined it, or if some of her stuff had been moved around from where she’d left it. Of course it had, they’d probably searched every inch of her room. Not that it mattered. Everything that could have gotten her in trouble had been hidden in that one pillowcase.

“So stupid…” Sunset muttered to herself as she collapsed on the bed. She’d only thought to hide the book, which had been given to her in the first place. What did she honestly expect would happen if someone else had found it?

There wasn’t anything she could do about what had happened, though. She looked at her right hand, wondering how school was going to go without the ability to use it. At least there were only a few more days until winter break, and she should be healed enough to write by the time school was back in session. Two days, almost felt like there wasn’t a point in going for the rest of the semester. Of course, there was no chance she was getting out of it. Still, she had one more day off. With nothing else to do, she covered her face with a pillow and went to sleep.

It wasn’t surprising that no one bothered to ask why she had missed school. After all, she did skip fairly frequently – why would this absence stand out? But she was a little surprised when she got on the bus in the morning and Summer Rain was the only person to ask about the bandages on her hand. Sunset suspected it wasn’t out of concern for her acquaintance, but rather out of the hope that it was related to some sort of drama with another student. It was obvious she was disappointed when Sunset told her that she had just been reaching for something on a high shelf and grabbed a knife by accident.

It was the same once she arrived at school. The white bandages stood out against her skin, and yet no one said a word. But then again, who would? She had never cared to make any friends, so it wasn’t like her fellow students had any incentive to care about her well-being.

She walked into her history class and didn’t bother to ask the teacher about what work she missed. There wasn’t a real chance of pulling up her grade, anyway. She’d just get it up next semester.

She leaned back in her chair and prepared to be bored for the class period. Even if she wasn’t worried about the assignment, she had to at least pretend to pay attention. Doing anything that might get her into trouble was out of the question.

That was true no matter whom she was stuck sitting next to, unfortunately. Applejack smiled at her as she walked in, as if they had any reason to be happy to see one another. Sunset just averted her eyes.

Applejack took the same seat again. Sunset could have tried to get her to move, but doubted she would be successful. It was probably for the best if she just ignored the annoyance.

“Hey, Sunset. You doin’ okay?”

“I’d be doing better if you left me alone.” Sunset shot her a quick disinterested look, then went back to ignoring her.

Applejack maintained her casual smile. “Well, I’m doing great, thanks for asking.” When Sunset didn’t say anything, Applejack continued. “You, uh, hurt your hand?”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “No, it’s a fashion statement.”

“Right, dumb question. Suppose that must be why you weren’t in class yesterday.”

Sunset made an affirmative noise, but didn’t offer any other explanation.

“Well anyway, I wanted to apologize for the day before.”

“Don’t care.” Sunset was marginally curious why Applejack felt the need to apologize, but saying so would open up conversation.

Which didn’t really matter because Applejack told her anyway. “I shoulda just been honest ‘bout rememberin’ you from the get go. I just thought ya might not appreciate the reminder, considering it wasn’t really such a good day.”

“Yeah, well, it didn’t stop you from reminding me anyway.” Nor had the reminder even been necessary since Sunset hadn’t had any problems remembering without it.

“Right, which is the other reason I’m sorry.” Applejack extended her hand to shake Sunset’s, offering her left hand so she wouldn’t agitate Sunset’s injury. “What d’ya say we just put all that behind us and start over?”

Sunset shot Applejack a sideways glance and ignored her hand. “ ‘Cause we got off to such a great start even before all that.”

Applejack remained quiet while the rest of the class filed in, although Sunset never suspected she was giving up. Since there were only two days left before winter break, Globe Trotter gave them a simple open book assignment that had similar questions to what would be on their test the next day.

And much to Sunset’s horror, he let them work in groups. Sure enough, Applejack turned towards her as soon as he had finished giving the instructions. But rather than begin on the assignment, she started looking through her backpack. After a moment, she pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Sunset. “Here, I got this for ya when I saw ya weren’t in class yesterday.”

Sunset took the paper and saw it was an assignment, likely the one she had missed the day before. She set it off to the side. “You shouldn’t have bothered.

Apparently misunderstanding her, Applejack smiled. “Aww, it wasn’t a big deal.”

“I mean, I’m not doing it anyway.”

“Oh. Well, uh, alright then.” Applejack scratched the back of her neck. “I’ve been working on our project. Maybe after school we could –”

“Applejack.” Sunset turned to face her. This was getting ridiculous. “I’m not doing the project. I have no idea why you decided to partner up with me on it, but you can just keep working on it by yourself. Or don’t, I really couldn’t care less. Hell, maybe Globe Trotter will give you extra credit for doing the whole thing alone. But in any case, it’s really not my problem.”

At least she didn’t look hurt by Sunset’s apathy, although she definitely was starting to lose her optimistic edge. It was almost a shame she had to be so cheerful all the time; when she folded her arms and adopted a scowl, Sunset had to admit she pulled off the tough look pretty well. “You like this with everyone?”

“Most people know well enough to just leave me alone.”

“Okay, so ya don’t care ‘bout me. Guess I really can’t take that personally ‘cause from the sound of it, ya don’t really seem to care ‘bout anyone. But don’t ya at least care what your grade is?”

Why was she so damn stubborn? Sunset sighed. “Counting the project and today’s assignment as a zero, I have a fifty-six percent F in this class right now. Once I ace the test tomorrow, I’ll have a sixty-two percent D, which is enough wiggle room that even if I miss some answers, I’ll be more than covered. Not that I’ve ever actually gotten a question wrong, but you know. Anyway, a D is a passing grade, so it doesn’t really matter, but let’s just say I do care about getting something better. If I had done a few other assignments I had skipped before now, I’d have a C easily enough. But at this point, if I did the project and today’s assignment, I’d wind up with a sixty-eight or sixty-nine percent D, depending on how he rounds it.”

“So you’re screwed either way, is what you’re sayin’.”

Sunset smirked. “You could say that. Of course, I also don’t care.”

Applejack turned to face forward. “That’s great and all, but you’re wrong.”

It had almost been enough. Sunset could feel it, Applejack had almost given up on her. “Save the ‘work ethic’ speech. I really don’t give a shit.”

“No, there’s a way ya could get a C, you’re just too dead set on not doin’ anything to see it.”

“Whatever.” Sunset rested her head on her chin and faced away from Applejack. She tried to not care, she really did, but her curiosity got the better of her. “What do you mean.”

It was clear Applejack knew she finally had something. She pointed to the paper still sitting on Sunset’s desk. “So what’ll ya have if you do the project, today’s assignment, and that?”

Sunset frowned at the paper, mentally cursing its existence. She quickly did the math in her head. “Son of a bitch.”

Applejack grinned. “So what do you say, partner?”

Sunset turned to Applejack slowly, staring at her with more malice than she realized she even possessed. No one had proved Sunset wrong since, well, ever. At best, people could catch her in the act of something she wasn’t supposed to be doing, or expose a lie she told to cover it, but she couldn’t recall ever being outright wrong about something. “Fine. You’re right. Happy?”

“Now, now, there ain’t no reason to be like that. Here, I’ll help.”

“I’ll do it all myself.” Sunset pulled a pen out from her backpack and started to write. The wound prevented her from holding the pen normally, so her handwriting was an absolute mess. She figured Globe Trotter could deal with it. At least she didn’t need to bother with a book, answering every question from memory.

It should have taken her less than ten minutes to finish, but it wound up taking fifteen. Unable to do anything else, she set it aside and prepared to start on the next task.

“So I got through these questions here,” Applejack said, showing Sunset what she had done.

“That’s great, but I really need to focus.” Sunset ignored Applejack to look at the clock. She was running out of time.

“Uh, Sunset? He said we could work in pairs.”

“And I said I’d do everything myself.”

“Now that just don’t make no sense.” Applejack also glanced at the clock. “You do realize we spent half the class bickering already, right?”

“Which means I really need to get to work.”

“No, it means we really don’t have time to keep arguing.” As Sunset tried to reply, Applejack held up a finger to silence her. “Now don’t even start with it. Ya know both of us are too hard headed to not argue ‘bout it, so the only options ya got left are to work with me, or to not get this assignment done.”

Sunset gritted her teeth. Applejack was undeniably right. “I hate you. So. Fucking. Much.”

“Right, you work on the odd questions, I’ll do the even ones.”

The worst thing about it was how Applejack seemed impervious to any hostility Sunset could throw at her. She fumed all the way through the assignment. She took some solace in the fact that she worked much faster than Applejack, even with her injury; Sunset finished her half, then answered a few questions of Applejack’s. Still, Applejack’s head start meant they each did around half, and they still finished just in time, leaving Sunset with no choice but to admit that she wouldn’t have finished quickly enough on her own. Applejack had been right. Again.

Globe Trotter was completely shocked when Applejack and Sunset turned in the assignment with both their names on it. He skimmed their paper, likely to make sure that they had both worked on it. But given the state of Sunset’s handwriting, there was no denying that each girl had done her fair share.

At the end of class, they walked out side by side. “So, where do ya wanna meet up for the project?” Applejack asked.

Sunset sighed. “Look. You were right in class. But I can still do this project on my own.”

“It’s a group assignment,” Applejack pointed out. “I have a stake in this, too.”

“Fine. If it’ll get you off my case, I’ll put your name on it too.”

“Nope, not cuttin’ it.”

Sunset shrugged. “Maybe you weren’t paying attention back there, but I really do know what I’m doing when I actually decide to do something. Relax, this is an easy ‘A’ for you.”

“It ain’t that, it’s just, well…” Applejack scratched the back of her neck. “It wouldn’t be honest, ya know?”

“So?” Sunset arched an eyebrow. “It’s not like Globe Trotter’s gonna give us an interrogation about it.”

Applejack watched as students made their way to their next class. Sunset knew she wanted to argue, but they were running out of time. “Just… do what ya want. But leave my name off it, I’ll just tell Mr. Trotter I didn’t work on it.”

Applejack started walking away, and Sunset could scarcely believe she was following after her. “What? No. I can’t do that.”

“Why not? It’s like you said, he might even give ya extra credit for it.”

“No, he might give you extra credit for it. I might get a phone call about my ‘anti-social behavior’. Again.”

Applejack stopped and smirked at Sunset. It was an expression she recognized completely, although it was usually Sunset who wore it. The smug expression of someone who knew they were getting just what they wanted. “Sounds like you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. I’m only taking credit for it if I actually helped with it, so we can work together, or you can risk that phone call.”

The warning bell went off, informing students they only had another minute to get to class. Sunset balled up her fist and clenched her teeth, but she was out of time, and she was out of options. “Fine. Meet me in the front courtyard after school.”

Applejack gave a friendly wave as she walked off. “Will do. See ya later, partner.”

There was always talk in the courtyard. Most of it was uninteresting – people discussing classes, or what their plans for the rest of the day were. But there were some interesting things to hear, if one knew where to look. Of course, no one would ever discuss their own secrets somewhere so public, but other people’s secrets? Lips were much looser where that was concerned. And there was one rumor going around that pleased Sunset more than anything else could.

“Did you hear about the new girl?”

“You mean about how she slept with her cousin?”

“I heard it was her brother.”

Sunset just smiled to herself. She knew by now Applejack must’ve heard the rumors as well, and she clearly hadn’t been able to stop them. As Applejack took her time meeting up with Sunset, she entertained herself by imagining what expression she’d have once they did meet up. Would she be embarrassed? Angry? Trying to maintain an air of indifference?

Out of all the possibilities, Sunset hadn’t expected blissfully ignorant. And yet, that was the only explanation for Applejack’s smile as she approached. Meanwhile, Sunset’s smile completely vanished. It seemed Applejack had to ruin everything.

As she approached, Sunset noticed she was holding something in each hand. She offered one to Sunset. “Figured we should probably start with lunch, seein’ as we’ll be workin’ all day to get caught up.”

Sunset looked down at the hot dog, then back up at Applejack. “I’ll pass.”

“I know school lunch gets a bad rep, but they really ain’t so bad.” To demonstrate, Applejack took a bite out of one of them.

“Good thing you like them so much, ‘cause it looks like you’re eating two of them.”

Applejack sighed. “You… really can’t accept someone trying to be nice, can you?”

Sunset frowned and looked away. “Whatever. Can we just get this over with?”

“Right.” Applejack took another bite from the hotdog, then continued talking as she ate. “So where ya wanna do this? Your place or mine?”

Even just imagining what everyone at New Horizons would do if Sunset brought a classmate home with her made her stomach turn. “My place is out of the question.”

“Alright.” Applejack nodded as she swallowed her food. “So we can go to my house.”

“No!” Sunset answered quickly. Even Applejack was caught off guard by how forceful her answer was. Embarrassed, Sunset put her hands in her jacket pocket and turned away. “We can go to the library.”

Applejack blinked away her confusion. “Uh… sure, I guess.” She gestured towards the front office and started walking, with Sunset following behind. “Suppose we ought to call home and let our families know where we’re at.”

On any other day, Sunset probably wouldn’t have bothered. No one ever really questioned where she was as long as she was back before dinner, so why bother updating them? But given the events of the past few days, she decided she would be better off if she went along with it.

As they walked to the office building, Sunset constantly expected Applejack to try and start a conversation. Perhaps it was just because she couldn’t think of anything to say, but the short walk remained blissfully quiet. Sunset could only hope the rest of the day would follow suit.

“Hello, girls,” the office secretary said as they entered the building. “What can I do for you?”

“Hello, ma’am,” Applejack said brightly. “We were hopin’ we could use the phone to call our families and tell ‘em we’re goin’ to the library.”

“No problem.” The secretary handed Applejack a corded phone, then typed in the phone number Applejack gave her.

“Big Mac? It’s AJ.” There was a pause that lasted longer than a simple greeting really warranted. “Can ya let Granny know that I won’t be comin’ straight home? I gotta –” Another pause, this one even longer. Applejack held the phone away from her mouth and sighed. From the few things Sunset could make out, it sounded like he was lecturing her about not being home to do her chores.

“Big Mac,” she said eventually, as he continued to drone on. It might have been a bad idea, as it only seemed to make him switch to lecturing her about interrupting. Applejack mouthed an apology to the secretary, who waved off her concerns. When he finally stopped talking, Applejack quickly took the time to add in, “It’s for a school assignment.” Whatever he said caused Applejack to facepalm. “I was tryin’ to say that the whole time! Anyway, just let Granny know, okay?”

“Real sorry ‘bout that,” Applejack said when she got off the phone. “I swear my brother never lets anyone get a word in…”

“No need to apologize.” The secretary turned to Sunset. “And for you?”

Sunset gave her the New Horizons phone number and waited as an automated voice came on “If you know your party’s extension, enter it at any time. To speak with someone about making an appointment, press –”

“Dial ‘three’,” Sunset told the secretary. She stared away from Applejack, aware of how odd it probably seemed to have to dial an extension when calling home.

The phone rang again, and shortly after a real person answered the phone. “You’ve reached the New Horizons Home for Children. How can I help you?”

“Hey, this is Sunset Shimmer.” She carefully avoided saying the name of the guy who answered so that Applejack would be less likely to ask any questions. “I’m going to the library to work on a project for school. Just letting you know so you don’t freak out about me or anything.”

Even over the phone, Sunset could tell the New Horizon’s secretary was hesitant. On the one hand, he couldn’t possibly deny her the chance to do something for school. On the other, he probably didn’t believe her after the other day. “A project this late in the semester?”

“It’s mostly done,” Sunset lied. “We just need to finish it up before tomorrow.”

“And you can’t work on it here?”

“No, it’s a group assignment.”

A notable pause as he weighed his options. “Well… Okay, I guess. I’ll let Ms. Rose know. Just be back before dinner.”

Sunset smirked. “Trust me, I don’t plan on being out later that I have to be.”

She handed back the phone and turned to Applejack. “Ready?”

“Yup.” Applejack nodded and turned to the secretary. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“You’re welcome. And good luck on your project.”

Applejack waved as they left the building. Sunset didn’t bother.

The fear that Applejack would try to start a conversation had only grown following Sunset’s phone call. It wasn’t exactly a secret that Sunset lived in an orphanage; four other kids from New Horizons did go to Everfree Middle School, after all. But since it wasn’t a secret, it wasn’t something that kids often talked about. It was unlikely that Applejack knew, and Sunset wanted it to stay that way.

When she inevitably did speak, it wasn’t about the phone call. “So what do you usually do for fun?”

Sunset shrugged. “I don’t know. Just stuff, I guess. I think my favorite thing to do is probably mind my own business.”

Applejack frowned. “Ya know, it really wouldn’t hurt ya to try and be friendly, seein’ as we’re doing this thing together one way or the other anyway.”

“We really don’t have to,” Sunset reminded her. “I can do it myself.”

“I never said ya couldn’t. But I ain’t backing down, so maybe we could just try and get along for the rest of the day?”

It was as if Sunset was a small child again. Somebody else had decided they should be friends, and she was expected to just go along with it. “Sounds like something you should’ve thought of before forcing us into this partnership.”

“Would ya feel better if I apologized for that, too?” Applejack sounded doubtful, so at least she was starting to learn better.

“Not really.” Sunset shrugged. “And since I’m not going to buddy up with you, we’d probably just be better off keeping to ourselves as much as possible.”

Applejack looked like she was going to protest, which was what Sunset had expected. But through some miracle, she didn’t. “Fine. Have it your way.”

The library wasn’t too far from the school in normal conditions, but trudging through the snow lengthened the process. The whole way, Applejack continued her stubborn silence while Sunset kept her persona as frigid as the weather. If they could just keep that level of interaction for the rest of the day, Sunset would accept it as a victory.

The situation could actually wind up working to her benefit, Sunset realized as they walked. At the rate things had been going, she would be forced to continuously deal with Applejack’s attempts to make some sort of connection between them, with no telling when Applejack might give up. But while being partners would be torturous, the extended time together would hopefully make Applejack realize that there was no way the two of them could ever be friends.

If Applejack was feeling anything like Sunset was, she might actually have a chance. By the time they arrived at the library, Applejack had become the second worst part of the experience, having been removed from the top spot by the winter wonderland all around them.

The library was warm and comforting. It was one of Sunset’s favorite places, especially in the winter. Without friends or money, her entertainment options were always limited, but the library was always an affordable destination that didn’t require anyone else to help her enjoy herself.

In fact, she was finding that being with someone else actively made her enjoy the place less. And unfortunately, Applejack also enjoyed the warmth. She grinned and stretched her arms out as they walked in. “Now that’s more like it. Not that I mind the snow, but there’s nothing like walking into a warm building after bein’ out in the cold.”

Although she completely agreed, Sunset just shrugged to maintain her air of indifference. “I guess.”

“Well if it isn’t the bookworm,” a librarian said, cutting off Applejack before she could reply.

Sunset turned and smiled at the librarian, waving as she walked over. “Good afternoon, ma’am. Keeping warm in here?”

“I’m managing alright.” The librarian smiled at Applejack, who was looking at Sunset as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Is this a friend of yours?”

“Yeah. We’re working on a project for school.” Sunset might’ve warned Applejack not to say otherwise, but she could tell there was no need. While Applejack might have some sort of ridiculous moral code that didn’t allow her to get a free grade, she was also so caught up on the idea of breaking through Sunset’s harsh attitude that she would jump at the chance to play at being friends.

“Pleased to meet ya, ma’am,” Applejack said.

“Likewise. I suppose you two will need access to a computer then?”

“Yes, please,” Sunset said in an overly sweet voice.

The librarian typed a few things on her keyboard, then turned back to the two girls. “You’re all set up for terminal two. Take as much time as you need.”

Sunset grinned. “Thanks a bunch. You’re the best, you know that?”

She chuckled and waved the kids off. “Oh, you. Alright then, you two better get to work.”

After thanking her again, Sunset led them towards the computers. She knew what was coming, and only hoped Applejack would be quiet about it.

“The heck was that about?” Applejack asked as they reached a table with a row of computers on it.

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Applejack, please. This is a library, so you’ll have to keep your voice down.” She sat down in front of the computer marked ‘2’ and folded her hands on the desk. “What, were you raised in a barn or something?”

“Ha ha,” Applejack deadpanned as she sat down next to Sunset. “Never heard that one before. But seriously, that didn’t even seem like you over there.”

“Have you used the library computers before?” Sunset asked.

“No way, you’re not changing the subject this time,” Applejack said, completely missing Sunset’s attempt at setting up her explanation. “Why were you so nice to her, but ya can’t hardly stand to be around anyone else?”

Sunset opened up a word processor on the computer and filled out the paper’s header as she talked. She made sure to put her name before Applejack’s. “That’s not entirely true. I’m completely indifferent to most people, just like they’re indifferent to me. You’re just special, and it’s because you can’t stop sticking your nose in my business.”

“Well, sorry for tryin’ to be friendly.”

The sight of Applejack’s increasing frustration caused Sunset to grin. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll forgive you, so long as you promise to never do it again.”

Applejack held her face in her hands and let out a long sigh. When she looked up, she no longer looked optimistic, or even upset. She just looked worn out, and Sunset knew she had won. “Let’s just get the damn assignment over with.”

Unable to resist, Sunset kept pushing. “Ooh, swearing. Sure your morals allow for that sort of thing?”

A frustrated glare was the only answer she got. It set the tone for their work, as neither girl said more than was necessary. Which didn’t turn out to be very much at all. Sunset barely needed to check references, even if history had always been her worst subject. For her, ‘worst subject’ just meant she excelled less than the others. At least the computer was slightly more manageable than a pen, since she didn’t need to bed her palm so much.

In fact, Applejack was really left with nothing to do. She would occasionally ask how she could help, but Sunset was never able to come up an answer. There really wasn’t a point, when she knew everything so well herself.

An hour passed, and Applejack had given up asking. She was idly flipping through a book as Sunset finished another page. “A third done,” she announced, more to herself than Applejack.

“That so?” Applejack muttered. She looked around and stood up. “Let’s go for a walk real quick.”

Sunset jerked her head away from the screen to give Applejack an incredulous look. “Are you serious? It’s freezing out there. Besides, I’ve still got to finish this.”

Applejack folded her arms. “Yeah, I’m serious. We gotta talk, and we can’t do it in here.” She smirked. “It’s a library, so we’d have to keep our voices down.”

Sunset was already turning back to the computer. “This again? Give me one reason why I should care.”

“ ‘Cause if ya do, then I’ll go home and leave you alone. I’ll find a new seat in class and everything. You can leave my name on the paper if it’ll help ya out, I won’t say a word.”

Well, that was one hell of a reason. Without saying anything, Sunset saved her work and stood up as well. She left her stuff by the computer as she walked off, stopping only to inform the librarian she’d be back shortly.

The cold hit her as soon as she stepped through the door, and she began shivering immediately. She turned to Applejack to get it over with. “So… What’s up?”

“Look, I get that you don’t want to be friends. Just…” Applejack shook her head and held out her arms. “Why are you so hostile about it?”

Sunset scowled. “I came out here for this? I literally just told you, it’s because you’re so damn pushy. I would’ve been perfectly fine with dropping things at any point if you would’ve left me alone.”

“I don’t believe that.” Applejack gestured back towards the library. “You can’t just pretend like you hate everyone when I just saw you can get along with other people just fine.”

“Because other people can stay out of my way. Really, what part of this are you not getting?”

Applejack folded her arms and stared her down for a moment. “Be honest with me here. This is about when we were kids, ain’t it?”

“No,” Sunset insisted through clenched teeth. “You’re perfectly capable of being obnoxious all on your own.”

“You sure about that? Because I –”

“I answered your damn question!” Sunset began losing sight of her end goal. She just wanted Applejack to leave. They were not discussing that.

Applejack lingered for a few more moments. At first she looked like she might argue, but eventually she sighed and walked off. “Fine. But, well… let me know if you ever change your mind.”

Why did she have to be so stupidly optimistic? Even as she was walking away, Applejack was still hoping they could be friends. Why couldn’t she just hate Sunset as much as Sunset hated her? Why did she ever have to come back into Sunset’s life in the first place?

Everything she did just made Sunset angry. Sunset hated the way Applejack wouldn’t leave her alone. The way Applejack acted like she needed help. The way Applejack reminded her of a part of herself she wanted to forget.

Without paying attention to what she was doing, Sunset grabbed a handful of snow. The cold stung her hand, but she ignored that. She balled it up, and threw it at Applejack. It broke apart on Applejack’s back, causing her to stop suddenly. By the time she spun around, Sunset had already made a second one, which she again threw at the other girl.

“Now that’s just childish!” Applejack snapped as she brushed snow off of herself. “I was leaving you alone, like ya wanted. Ain’t no need to –” A third snowball cut off her train of thought. “Alright, that’s it.”

When Applejack returned fire with a snowball of her own, Sunset finally lost whatever semblance of self-restraint she had maintained. She broke into a run, chasing Applejack down. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do once she caught her, but she knew Applejack was going to regret ever getting involved with her.

That is, if she could catch her. Applejack started running herself, and it was immediately apparent that she was faster. Cursing herself for not exercising more, Sunset pushed herself with everything she had. They ran around the side of the library, but Sunset never managed to close in.

Applejack noticed the difference in their speed as well, but she didn’t use it to make her escape. Instead, she would occasionally stoop down to grab handfuls of snow and make snowballs, which she’d lob blindly back at Sunset. The first two missed her completely, but she got lucky with the third one.

Certain that the momentary slowdown would be enough to let Applejack get away, Sunset still wouldn’t give up. If she couldn’t catch Applejack, she would do the only option available to her. As she ran, she scooped up some snow and formed another snowball. Since Applejack was in front of her, she had a much easier target.

Unfortunately, that didn’t improve the fact that she was growing exhausted on top of her already mediocre aim. The snowball flew past Applejack’s ear, and when she turned back, she was grinning. “You’ll have to do better than that!”

“Bitch,” Sunset muttered under her breath. Applejack rounded the corner to the back of the library, and Sunset put everything she had into catching up.

Instead, she ran right past Applejack, who had stopped as soon as she was out of view. As Sunset wheeled around to correct the mistake, Applejack took the time to throw a few perfectly aimed snowballs. Sunset began backing up, so Applejack advanced.

Deciding her best bet was to break away and form a strategy, Sunset turned and fled. Applejack gave chase, and proved more apt at throwing snowballs when running than Sunset had been. About half her snowballs hit Sunset, and she threw a lot of them.

But Sunset could tell she was making a mistake. Applejack was too concerned with hitting her, more so than she was with giving chase. Since Sunset wasn’t trying to throw any of her own, she was actually managing to build some distance between the two of them.

Sunset ran back to the front of the library, and used the parking lot to her advantage. It had been cleared of snow, so Applejack wasn’t distracted by making snowballs, but Sunset already had gained enough of a head start. She weaved in between cars, hiding her body as well as she could. She knew she was successful when the snowballs stopped coming, but looked back to make sure.

No sign of Applejack, so she made a mad dash towards a bush that would be the perfect spot. It would provide cover, while allowing her access to snow to make more ammunition. She dropped to her knees, sliding into place behind the bush.

Quickly skimming the parking lot showed no sign of Applejack, but Sunset knew she’d be around somewhere. Determined to be ready for her whenever she showed up, Sunset began making snowballs, piling them up so she could unleash a torrent of frosted fury.

When the pile contained maybe a dozen snowballs, she heard Applejack. Unfortunately, she was much closer than Sunset had expected, and hadn’t approached from the parking lot at all. “Gotcha!” Applejack said from right behind her.

Sunset spun around in time to get hit by a close range snowball. She tried to stand, but slipped on the snow underfoot. The snow cushioned her landing, but Applejack seized the opportunity, running over to Sunset and laughing as she shoved a pile of snow on top of her.

And Sunset laughed too. She had lost a contest that she had never meant to participate in, and yet she was laughing. She didn’t even know when her attempt to catch Applejack had turned into a game, but she wound up having more fun than she’d had in ages. Maybe more fun than she’d had in her entire life.

Applejack piled more snow on top of her, before she herself collapsed on top of Sunset.

“Applejack, what the hell?” Sunset said as she laughed. She tried to wriggle out, but it was hopeless. Whatever Applejack did to help out around Sweet Apple Acres hadn’t just made her faster than Sunset, she was stronger too.

“I’ll let ya up once you admit it.” Applejack looked down at her and grinned. “Ain’t nobody better at snowball fights than me.”

“Fine, you win. You’re the snowball champion of the world. Now get off!”

True to her word, Applejack got off of Sunset. When she offered her had to Sunset, she accepted it, allowing Applejack to help her up.

They both sat in the snow as Sunset brushed off her torso. Since Sunset hadn’t landed any snowballs in some time, Applejack was mostly snow free, with only a few stray flakes clinging to her hair and clothes.

They didn’t talk at first, each of them still catching their breath. While they sat in silence, Sunset grabbed one of her premade snowballs and threw it at a stop sign. She didn’t even come close to hitting it. Applejack picked up a snowball for herself, repacked it in her hand a bit, then took a shot for herself.

“Show off,” Sunset said once it smashed into the sign.

Applejack grinned and picked up another one, again repacking it. “You made ‘em too fast. If they’re not round, they won’t go straight.” She held the reformed snowball out to Sunset. “Try that one.”

Sunset took the snowball, aimed, and threw it. It still missed, but not by as much. She frowned until Applejack said, “See? That was much better.”

Adopting a cocky grin, Sunset shrugged it off. “Well, I didn’t exactly have the time to make them perfect.”

“I ain’t complainin’,” Applejack said with a wink. “You’re the one covered in snow.”

Sunset almost retaliated with her own comeback, but ended up just shrugging it off. “I guess that’s a fair point.” She grabbed another snowball and took the time to smooth out the worst of the imperfections. Once she was satisfied, she threw it.

“Nice shot,” Applejack said as it hit the stop sign.

Sunset grinned at the compliment, but it was short lived. What was she even doing? She hated the snow, and she hated Applejack. She had to clear things up, or else Applejack would keep insisting they spend time together. “Look, Applejack… I know you’re just trying to be nice, but I really don’t want…” That wasn’t exactly the point, was it? This wasn’t about what Sunset did or didn’t want. “You really don’t want to be friends with someone like me.”

“Oh yeah, I keep forgetting you’re this dangerous bad girl who I need to leave alone.” Applejack smirked. “Ya know, when you’re not being nice to librarians.”

Sunset looked down at the ground. She’d already tried to explain why she acted nice towards the librarian, but suddenly she found she didn’t want to. There was a part of her that no longer wanted to admit the worst parts of her personality to Applejack. Which was exactly why it was so important; if she didn’t make Applejack understand soon, she might lose the ability to do so.

“It’s because of the computers,” Sunset explained. “There’s supposed to be an hour time limit on using them, but it’s really up to the librarians. So if it’s not too busy and the librarian likes you enough, you can usually stay on as long as you want.”

“Huh.” Applejack considered it for a moment. “I guess that’s kinda smart.”

Sunset frowned. “Don’t you think it’s a little selfish?”

Applejack hesitated a moment, and Sunset could imagine she was choosing her words carefully. “I guess a little. But, well, you’re not hurting anyone, you know?”

No, but the same couldn’t be said for everything else Sunset did. “Why are you trying so hard to get me to open up, anyway?”

Applejack looked Sunset in the eyes, and didn’t show a trace of her stubborn optimism. “Because you really haven’t changed a bit since we were little.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“I can tell that you’re still hiding away from things that ya don’t like.”

“Okay, fine!” Sunset folded her arms and scowled. “I didn’t want to go to your house because I’m fucking scared of horses.”

Applejack scratched her neck and grinned sheepishly. “Well, that ain’t really what I meant, but I suppose that’s good to know. I thought it had something to do with that stupid rumor going around school.”

Sunset felt her throat tighten up. “I, uh… I guess you did hear about that then.”

“It’d be kinda hard not to. Everfree kids always gossip like that?”

“Yeah, it’s… kinda a problem.” More to the point, Sunset was a problem. Gossip was one of the ways she controlled secrets, and by extension, controlled her fellow students. “But, you know, winter break is coming up. Everyone will probably forget about it by the time school’s back in session.”

Applejack smiled. “Yeah, guess ya got a point there.”

Sunset considered admitting to starting the rumor. She wasn’t sure why, though. Did she want to drive the point home, to remind Applejack that they shouldn’t be friends? Did she actually want Applejack to forgive her? And if so, was there any chance of that actually happening? Maybe she just wanted Applejack to be as angry with her as Sunset was with herself.

No matter what Applejack thought, there were some things that were better off staying secret. Nothing good could come from telling the truth, so Sunset held it inside along with the guilt.

Applejack took no notice of Sunset’s internal struggle. “Anyway, when I said you’re the same as you were when we first met, I didn’t really mean that you’re actually hiding from anything. More so that you just don’t, well… Ya didn’t really want to let me help ya then, either. Back then, I didn’t really know anything ‘bout what ya might’ve felt like, but now… well, let’s just say now I know what it’s like to wanna just shut yourself away from everything. But… I also know that it doesn’t really help. I have no idea what your life is like, so I won’t try and say what ya should or shouldn’t do. Just… you don’t have to do it alone, ya know?”

Sunset looked into Applejack’s face. She was smiling, but she didn’t look happy. It took Sunset a moment to place the emotion, as it wasn’t something people normally showed her. It was reassurance, Applejack’s silent promise that things could be okay.

“Yeah, well, I’m not holding your fucking hand, if that’s what you’re after,” Sunset said as she stood up.

“Think I’ll manage okay without that part,” Applejack said with a smirk.

Sunset helped Applejack up. They brushed as much snow off of themselves as they could, then Applejack took a look at the sun. “I reckon you should probably get back to your assignment, if ya wanna get it done today.”

Sunset chuckled. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll get you that A, don’t worry.”

“Hmm?” For a moment, Applejack seemed genuinely confused. “Oh yeah, I never mentioned. I don’t have to do the assignment at all. Mr. Trotter said he’d mark it complete no matter what I did, seein’ as I wasn’t here for most of the semester, and, er… because I’m working with you.”

Although Applejack looked embarrassed to admit the last part, Sunset couldn’t care less about that. “So why the fuck are you even doing it?”

Applejack shrugged, as if it were the most obvious answer in the world. “Well, you still need to get it done.”

Sunset sighed. “You’re hopeless. Completely and utterly hopeless. You’re just going to let people like me walk all over you.”

“I’ll take my chances.” Applejack clapped her on the back. “Anyway, I’ll get out of your way now, like I said. See you in school tomorrow.”

Sunset watched as Applejack started walking away again. The day could have gone a lot better. Even though Applejack had said she’d leave Sunset alone in school too, Sunset had probably screwed that up. Now she was cold, and wet, and exhausted, and worst of all, she was considering giving Applejack another chance.

It would have been easier to just go into the library and deal with whatever consequences when they came. But when she turned to look at the building, then back at Applejack, she realized that wasn’t happening. Regretting it even as she did, Sunset called out to Applejack before she could get too far.

“What are you, stupid?”

Applejack stopped and turned around. She looked surprised at the question.

“Look, it’s not like I really fucking care, but you’re going to get hypothermia if you walk home cold and wet.” Sunset broke eye contact and muttered the rest of her response. At least the cold temperature would mask her blush. “You should, you know, come back to the library. Just to get warmed up before you go.”

Although she didn’t look up to see Applejack’s response, Sunset did hear the footsteps getting closer. “I suppose that sounds like it’d be a good idea. But I ain’t sitting around just to watch you work.”

“Fine,” Sunset relented, then led the way back to the library. The warm air was even more welcome than before, especially since their coats were too wet to keep on. At least the chairs were plastic, so they didn’t have to worry too much about their wet pants.

“So, what’s the best way to go about doin’ this?” Applejack asked.

Sunset examined the bandages on her hand. It didn’t hurt, but that was probably only because it was numb. “Can you type it? I’m probably better off not using my hand.”

“Sure thing. It’s not hurtin’ you too bad, is it?”

“No, it’s not a big deal. I shouldn’t leave the wet bandage on, though.” Sunset rifled through her backpack until she found a roll of self-adhering bandaging. Setting it aside, she unwound the bandage.

“Jesus, what happened?”

Sunset flexed her fingers and examined the stitching. It really didn’t even look bad. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Pretty sure they don’t go giving out stitches unless it is a big deal,” Applejack pointed out. “But if ya don’t want to say, you don’t have to.”

Before Sunset could do it herself, Applejack was already unwinding the bandage. Her first instinct was to protest, but she resisted it. It was hard enough wrapping the bandage one-handed, let alone with her left hand.

“I cut myself on a broken mirror. I was picking up something else, and didn’t notice the piece of glass.” When she returned to school, Sunset hadn’t planned on telling anyone what really happened. But once she actually said it out loud, she had to wonder why not. It was a perfectly reasonable explanation.

“Wish ya would’ve said something sooner. Could’ve had me doing more of the writing and stuff from back in class.”

Not that Sunset would have ever accepted. Sometimes even she wondered why she was so resistant to accepting friendliness. Applejack finished with the bandage, so Sunset stretched her hand out. Tight enough to stay in place, but not uncomfortable. “Thanks.”

The word felt odd coming out. It’s not that Sunset didn’t thank people, or even that she didn’t let people help her. But that was always through her manipulation, whereas Applejack just seemed to take it upon herself.

“No problem,” Applejack said. She turned her attention to the computer. “Well, let’s get to work then.”

Applejack wrote while Sunset dictated. With her hands free from writing, Sunset was able to flip through books for information. Meanwhile, Applejack used the internet to help check facts. Work progressed much faster than it had when Sunset was doing it on her own.

Even with the snowball fight interruption, they were finished much sooner than Sunset had anticipated. They thanked the librarian for her help, apologized for the wet chairs, then made their way back out into the cold.

“So, uh…” Applejack scratched at the back of her neck. “You wanna go out somewhere? Or are you just ready to get home by now?”

A change of clothes and her warm bed felt very appealing to Sunset. “I don’t know. Have something in mind?”

They began walking, with Sunset just following Applejack’s lead. “Well, ya never did eat lunch, so maybe we could get something to eat. Course, dinner’s right around the corner, so maybe we’d better not.”

“No can do anyway.” Sunset patted her empty pocket. “No money on me.”

“I have some money, I could pay. You did most of the work, anyway.” Applejack chuckled. “If ya can stand to accept some kindness, that is.”

“What do you…” Sunset frowned as she realized Applejack was referencing the hot dog. “I’m a vegetarian.”

Applejack started to laugh, then realized Sunset wasn’t joking. “You, uh, really don’t seem like the type.”

“Fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothin’.” Applejack shrugged. “Anyway, how about we go down to Sugarcube Corner? We can just get some hot chocolates or doughnuts or something.”

Sunset took a moment to answer. All she had wanted since the day started was to just relax in her bedroom, away from everyone and everything. But then again…

“Sure,” Sunset said. “If you’re really that desperate to hang out with me, I guess I’ll oblige.”

“Great! Ya ever been there before?”

“No, but I’ve passed by it a few times.”

Applejack nudged her playfully. “We’ve gotta get you out to more places than just the library.”

That was kind of a daunting thought, in its own way. Sunset had been anywhere within walking distance, but never with company. It had never occurred to her how comfortable she was in her solitude until she had someone threatening to take it from her. “Yeah, maybe.”

But then again, it wasn’t like she’d have to do it alone.

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