• Published 14th Nov 2016
  • 5,514 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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14 – Cracks in the Ice

Chapter Fourteen

Cracks in the Ice

It had not been a good couple of days. Ever since the incident at the mall, Sunset had been on edge. She had resolved to spend as much of the winter break as possible hiding away at New Horizons, but being confined was starting to get to her. It was with some reluctance that her caretakers even allowed her to go out at all, but they were eventually convinced to allow her to go to the library. At least Rose Petal seemed to understand that getting away from the other kids once in a while would actually be good for her well-being. That, or she just knew that if Sunset wasn’t given a long enough leash, she would eventually rip it off again.

To this end, it was fortunate that Sunset’s favorite place to be was the library. It had to be a lot harder to prevent a kid from going to the library than it would be to prevent her from going anywhere else. After all, she knew that she’d only been allowed to go to the mall because she was meeting with Violet, and then only allowed to stay because of Applejack.

Applejack. Every thought worked its way back to her. Sunset didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she knew that she only had another week to figure it out. Christmas was over, New Years was around the corner, and then soon after that they’d be back in school.

Every thought returned to Applejack, which was frustrating. But Sunset could handle that. It was what came after that was making her miserable, what thinking of Applejack reminded Sunset of. Because whether she liked it or not, Applejack had come dangerously close to something resembling a friend.

There were lots of people who had encouraged Sunset to make friends. They had all long since given up, but there had been plenty over the years. There was no real reason why one memory should stand out so much in particular. No reason that the basic idea of making an honest to goodness friend should remind Sunset so damn much of her.

Sunset took a deep breath and held the cold air in her lungs. She willed herself to not think about her false memories, then exhaled, imagining that she was letting them out with the breath. It was a silly trick, but sometimes it helped. Although when the thoughts came so quickly, and continued to come back to back… Well, it was impressive that Sunset was holding herself together as well as she was.

Sunset was sitting on a hill overlooking Mirror Pool Lake. It was always one of her favorite places, especially when it was empty. The day was unseasonably warm, which meant that the lake wasn’t suitable for ice skating, but was still far too cold for any sane person to be outside now that the sun was setting.

Although she hated being out in the cold, Sunset had specifically gone to the lake after leaving the library. She told herself that the fresh air would help clear her head, and it was close enough to New Horizons that the walk home at night wasn’t going to be a problem.

But the lake was only half of the appeal. The setting sun was really what Sunset was focusing on. It wasn’t exactly that she liked watching the sunset. It was just a thing that she did. She didn’t often think about it, but she suspected the ritual was just something that made her feel comforted because of the repetition.

“But it’s just a time of day, Princess. Being named after the sunset doesn’t mean I have to like it any more than any other pony.”

“True, but anypony can appreciate the sunset. Here, come and watch it with me. Maybe you’ll like it more than you think.”

Sunset frowned and squeezed her eyes shut. That was exactly what she was trying to not think about.

Inhale. Hold the breath. Exhale.

It still didn’t help.

‘She isn’t real.’ Sunset no longer wanted to watch the sunset. She just wanted to get back to her bedroom, where she would at least be somewhere safe if she had another episode.

‘She isn’t real.’ It was time to move on. Sunset had accepted that her memories were false years ago, so why were they still haunting her? Why were they so vivid?

‘She isn’t real.’ Sunset was frozen in place. She felt like she was being watched. If she turned around, what would be behind her? She wasn’t sure she wanted to find out.

“Sunset Shimmer.”

Everything stopped. Sunset didn’t move, she didn’t breathe, it didn’t even feel like her heart was beating. For one horrible second, Sunset’s world was replaced with her.

“Sunset Shimmer, I’m talkin’ to you. I know you can hear me.”

Everything rushed back into focus. It wasn’t her. Sunset turned around, and had never felt so relieved to see a real person in her life. Even if she wasn’t even remotely prepared to talk with the person in front of her. “Applejack.”

For once, Applejack lacked the confident grin she usually wore as she walked up to Sunset. Sunset had previously reflected that Applejack didn’t look half bad when she was going for the tough girl look; now, Sunset couldn’t think of anything she could possibly want more than Applejack’s positivity.

They held each other’s glares for a moment, each one waiting for the other to go first. Eventually, it was Applejack who folded. “Jesus Christ, Sunset. How long have you been out here? You’re so pale that it looks like ya seen a ghost.”

Sunset turned away, looking back towards the sun. It was barely peeking over the horizon. “I thought you were someone else,” she muttered. She knew, of course, that it had been Applejack speaking from the start. But that didn’t change what she felt. She could have sworn it had been a different voice that had said her name at first. “It doesn’t matter. What are you doing out here, anyway?”

Applejack continued approaching until they were side by side. “I was just passin’ by on my way home when I saw you.”

“You should have just kept walking.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Applejack said, but she gave no sign that she was moving. She stood in silence again, waiting for Sunset to do something. It wasn’t going to happen, though; Sunset knew she would be able to outwait Applejack, that she could just ignore the cold and the growing darkness and the silence, that she could ignore anything at all, because it was better than being alone.

Eventually, Applejack sighed and turned to Sunset. “Maybe I shoulda, but I didn’t. We got some things to talk about.”

Sunset didn’t move, but she pointed her eyes towards Applejack. “I told you, just talk to Golden Harvest about it.”

“I did, and she said not to worry about it, but that I should avoid you anyway.”

Sunset smiled, which made her feel colder. “You know, that’s actually really good advice.”

“Ya know by now that I don’t back down that easily.”

“Yeah, I know. So then, I guess you want to know what happened, right?”

Although there couldn’t possibly be anything else Applejack wanted, she hesitated. “I get that ya don’t really want to talk about it, and I hate to pry…”

Sunset laughed and turned to face Applejack properly. “Come on, you’ve been prying into my business for the past two weeks. Don’t pretend like you’re above being nosy now.”

Applejack’s features hardened, but she didn’t look upset. It was that stubborn determination showing through again. Sunset had hated it so much only a few weeks ago, but then it had wound up being the same thing that allowed Applejack the chance to become the first real positive change in Sunset’s miserable life.

“I wanted you to open up and talk to me. I wasn’t ever tryin’ to pry into the details of your life. Everyone has things they don’t want to talk about, and I respect that.”

“That so? Well then, what does the oh-so-honorable Applejack have that she doesn’t want to talk about?”

Sunset hadn’t really expected an answer, but it seemed Applejack was willing to give one. “Do ya really want to know? ‘Cause sure, if it makes ya feel better ‘bout talking to me, I’ll tell you the honest truth ‘bout anything.”

It was a tempting offer, but Sunset still hadn’t decided what she wanted out of Applejack. “No, I don’t really care. But since you can’t seem to bring yourself to ask about it, I’ll tell you what happened with Goldie.”

Sunset waited just a moment before continuing, giving Applejack the chance to back out if she wanted. She didn’t, and Sunset wasn’t surprised. She may be above admitting that she wanted to know the details of Sunset’s past, but she certainly wasn’t above wanting to know. “Well, it was last year, like I said the other day. Goldie was trying out for cheerleading at the time.”

Realization instantly crept onto Applejack’s face. It seemed she’d heard this story before after all. Sunset forced a grin as she continued. “The problem was that I had someone else in mind to make the team. I told Goldie to back down, but she didn’t. Maybe she didn’t know who she was messing with. Maybe all you country girls are just stubborn like that. Either way, I wasn’t left with a whole lot of options.

“But I did have photos of another girl cheating on her boyfriend. That’s kind of my thing, actually. I have enough dirt on enough people to make things happen. So I put the photos to good use, and long story short, Goldie didn’t make it to tryouts that day. Or to school for the rest of the week, if I recall. Hey, maybe you can actually answer a question I always wondered about. Were the injuries that bad, or was she just embarrassed to show up with her face all fucked up?”

It didn’t seem like she was going to get her answer. From the look she wore, Sunset could have sworn it was Applejack herself that had been attacked. “Sunset… What the fuck? That’s awful!”

“Wow, you don’t say? You really showed me the light, AJ, I’ve seen the error of my ways now.”

Applejack continued to stare in disbelief. “But why would you even want to do somethin’ like that?”

“Because the cheerleaders are popular. People like them, and they want to be liked by them. In short, they’re a useful tool for getting other things I want. And one of them is completely under my thumb because she knows I put her where she is and I can destroy her if I ever change my mind.”

In the silence that followed, Sunset found that there was one thing she wasn’t willing to wait out after all, and that was the look Applejack was giving her. “Hey, I did try to warn you to stay away. Not my fault that you’re just now getting the hint.”

“It’s just…” Applejack pressed her hand against the bridge of her nose and sighed. “I can’t believe you’d do something like that. But I also think you got it in you to be a better person than that.”

Sunset could hardly believe her ears. She had been sure that even Applejack would give up on her for that one. If not just for the action itself, then for the fact it had been against one of her real friends. “You really are an idiot.”

“Hey now!” Applejack scowled and took a step closer to Sunset. “I’m tryin’ to give you a chance here. After what you just told me, yeah, I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t. Honestly, I think I’d be pretty well justified in givin’ you a taste of your own medicine right now. But I also know that ya haven’t exactly made things easy for yourself by pushin’ everyone away, so I’m tryin’ to stick around and help you. It’s a hell of a lot more than what most people would do, so maybe you could try to watch your words just a bit more carefully?”

Applejack was bigger than Sunset, and was certainly stronger. If she had even the slightest bit of concern for herself, she probably would have been intimidated by the anger that was clearly working its way through Applejack’s friendly demeanor. Of course, Sunset hadn’t cared much about herself in years. “And what makes you so sure I want to be your friend, anyway?”

Applejack folded her arms and kept her scowl. “Everyone needs friends, Sunset,” Celestia said.

Sunset jumped back. Applejack. She was talking with Applejack. Her heart started pounding and she struggled to breathe.

“The fuck’s wrong with you now?” Applejack asked, her normal voice returning.

Sunset tried to focus on Applejack as a way of grounding herself, but it wasn’t working. She needed to get away. Without saying so much as a word, Sunset turned and started walking away. She would have run, but her legs were shaking far too much.

“Hey, don’t just walk away! We’re still talking!” Applejack ran up to Sunset and grabbed her arm.

Sunset jerked her arm away, falling down in the process. She looked up at Applejack, who was already holding a hand out to help her back up. But her gaze didn’t settle on Applejack, looking past her at the sun. The sun had already set, but she saw it in the sky. She knew that it wasn’t the same sun, though. The sun from this world had set, and the one she was looking at was her sun.

“Sunset, are you okay? I –”

“Get away!” Sunset scooted backwards before pulling herself up.

Applejack looked around for some sign of what was going on. “I, uh… Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you or anythin’.”

“I… I need to go.”

Sunset tried to leave as fast as her legs would take her, but Applejack was faster. She caught up to Sunset easily, but didn’t try to reach out to her again. “Don’t do this, Sunset! Come on, I’m sorry, I wasn’t really gonna do anything.”

Although she needed to get away, Sunset stopped. She couldn’t distance herself from Applejack if Applejack kept on following her. “It’s not like I’ve changed, you know. Yeah, that happened a year ago, but it could’ve happened anytime.” She turned back to face Applejack, trying to not pay attention to the sun that unnaturally hung in the sky. “I started the rumor, you know.”

“What are you talkin’ about?” All trace of anger had disappeared from Applejack’s face. Instead, she looked confused and concerned. “What rumor? You’re actin’ awful strange.”

“The one everyone’s been talking about. That you got caught having sex with your cousin, and that’s why you transferred schools.”

Applejack still looked more confused than angry. “You… you did? But why?”

Sunset laughed. “You know what? I don’t really know! I guess it’s just because I really fucking hate you.”

“You don’t really mean that.” That finally brought a little of the anger back. Sunset needed to make it grow.

“Really? What makes you say that? Was it the time I let you buy me hot chocolate? I wonder why I would’ve been playing nice then. Maybe you’re thinking of the mall, when I used you to make myself look good in front of my social worker. I even used you to get my grade up in history, not that I really made a secret of how obnoxious you were at the time.”

Applejack narrowed her eyes. She was getting there. “So then why would you tell me all this now?”

Sunset shrugged. “I guess I just decided you’re not worth it. Sure, I could probably get a few more things out of you, but nothing major. You’re not likely to become a big shot at school, so your social status is pretty useless to me. Thought about seeing if I could get you to rough up some kids for me, but you’re too damn honorable. I don’t think I could get enough dirt on you to get you to actually hurt someone, even if your muscle is probably all you’re really good for.”

Applejack was clearly trying to find some reason to not believe Sunset, but she was also clearly failing. Sunset just laughed. “Plus, to be honest with you? I thought it was a pretty good guess. So come on, be honest with me here. Was I close?”

“That ain’t what happened,” Applejack said through gritted teeth.

“Whatever you say. I don’t really care, if it makes you feel better. Keep it in the family, if you’re into that sort of thing.” Sunset tapped on her chin. “Actually, that would explain why you’re so stupid. So, what? Are your parents, like, siblings or something?”

Her anger escalating unusually quickly, Applejack closed the distance between them, grabbing Sunset by the jacket and pulling her closer still. “Do not talk about my parents like that.”

Although all she had been trying to do was get Applejack to give up on her, Sunset found herself getting caught up in the moment. It seemed that anything really was better than being alone. “What’s wrong, AJ? Hit a little close to home there?” Sunset saw Applejack’s offhand ball into a fist and just laughed. “So tell me, are you a daddy’s girl, AJ?”

Pain, it seemed, was very grounding. As Applejack’s fist connected with Sunset’s face, she lost the ability to focus on anything else. She fell backwards again and instinctively moved her hand to her nose. When she opened her eyes and pulled away her hand, she saw it was covered in blood.

Sunset stood up and laughed. She wiped the blood off her face and flicked her hand to get what she could off, leaving red spots in the white snow. “Guess that was pretty dumb of me.”

Applejack stood with both fists ready. Sunset stepped up to her anyway. “I mean, seriously? With how butch you are, you’re probably more into your mom.”

Applejack hesitated a moment before swinging again, which gave Sunset the chance to duck down and tackle her midsection. Applejack’s fist still connected, but it lost most of its momentum and hit Sunset’s side rather than anywhere on her front. Sunset pushed forward with as much strength as she could, knocking Applejack to the ground.

Knowing that she wouldn’t have nearly as much force behind any punches of her own, Sunset had to use other methods of attack. Since she was positioned on top of Applejack, she wrapped her hands around the other girl’s neck. “You stupid fucking bitch! Why couldn’t you just leave me alone!? This is all your fault! It’s your fault she’s still fucking with me!”

Applejack grabbed at Sunset’s arms, but couldn’t pry her hands away. After a moment, she pulled her hand back and swung it into Sunset’s stomach. It lacked the force of her first punch, but was enough to get Sunset to loosen her grip. Seizing the opportunity, Applejack pushed Sunset off of her.

She tried to pin Sunset, as Sunset had pinned her, but Sunset was ready and didn’t yield easily. They wrestled for dominance on the ground, but eventually Applejack managed to get Sunset face down in the snow. She kneeled on Sunset, forcing her arm behind her back. “You want to be a heartless bitch? Fine. I can take whatever stupid shit you want to say about me. But listen here, Sunset, and listen good. Don’t you ever talk about my parents again! Because I swear to God that I’ll make you regret it in more ways than you can imagine.”

With a painful shove, Applejack got off of Sunset’s back. She wanted to keep lying where she was, but she forced herself up. There was a large red spot on the snow where her face had been, and she heard the crunch of snow underneath Applejack’s footsteps as she walked away. It was exactly what Sunset had wanted, but it was no longer good enough.

“Aww, what’s the matter, AJ?” Sunset’s voice came out sounding thick. She grinned, even though it hurt her face. “I thought we were friends?”

Applejack kept walking away.

“Hey. Hey!” Sunset ran up to Applejack, who turned at the last moment to grab hold of Sunset’s arm.

“We’re done here,” Applejack said, before letting go.

Which was, of course, a mistake. Eager to repeat the only thing that had worked for her, Sunset lunged herself at Applejack. They both fell, tumbling down the hill. Sunset threw whatever punches she could as they rolled downwards.

“I hate you!” They reached the bottom with Sunset on top. “I hate your stupid voice!” Sunset threw her first real punch at Applejack’s face. “I hate that you never leave me alone!” Her hand stung, but she kept swinging. “I hate that I think about you!” The world seemed to shake, but Sunset was used to that.

“Sunset, stop!” Applejack’s words didn’t reach Sunset, who kept up the assault.

“I hate that you’re so fucking good!” There was a cracking sound, but Sunset ignored it. “I hate that you came back into my life!”

It happened so fast. Sunset pulled her fist back to swing again, but never got the chance. The ground below them opened up, and Applejack fell through it.

For one horrible moment, Sunset just stared. Then the reality struck her with more force than any punch ever could have: They had fallen onto the lake, and the ice had broken.

The water looked black, and Sunset already couldn’t see Applejack. It didn’t stop her. Without taking even a moment to think about it, Sunset dove in after her.

The cold was like nothing she had experienced. It felt more like fire than ice, burning her skin. It didn’t matter, so she ignored it.

Even with her eyes open, she was completely blind under the water. Even if the sun had still been up, it wouldn’t have penetrated the ice enough to see. That was worse than the freezing temperature, but she ignored it as well.

With no way of knowing where Applejack was, Sunset swam forward. Applejack was what mattered. She was all that mattered. Sunset had to find her, she had to get her to safety.

It felt like it took far longer than it should have, and if she hadn’t of seen where Applejack had fallen and dove in the same direction, she never would have found her. But she had, and when she felt something solid, she knew what it was. She wrapped her left arm around Applejack, who grabbed hold of her as well. Using her feet and right arm, she shifted course, and swam in the direction she thought was up.

The seconds dragged on for ages, and she just kept swimming. She was terrified that she was swimming in the wrong direction, but she kept at it. Thinking was difficult, but she was positive she had calculated the direction correctly.

She eventually felt something solid again, and knew she had reached the top. Too panicked to be thankful, she started groping around for the exit.

Solid. Everywhere she reached, solid. There was nothing but ice, and no light to show her the way out. She pounded her fist against the ice as hard as she could. It didn’t help. The ice was too thick to break from below, and they were trapped underneath it.

Sunset was sitting at her desk, books and notes spread out before her. Her tutor was explaining something, but Sunset wasn’t really listening. Something about how weather ponies used pegasus magic to control the weather and help all of Equestria. It was an interesting enough topic, but Sunset couldn’t focus. She was staring out the window.

The door opened without warning, and both heads turned to see a stallion walk in. He had a tan coat and dark blue mane. His name was Brass Badge, but Sunset only ever referred to him as ‘sir’. He was her father.

“I trust the lessons are going well?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he looked over the lesson plan.

Rosey Dawn was quick to explain. “We’ve been going over weather lessons. Next, I’ll be teaching Miss Shimmer a bit about Cloudsdale’s history.”

Brass Badge gave only a curt nod to indicate he had heard her. He walked over to Sunset’s desk to look at her notes. “This is all you have?”

Sunset blushed and looked down towards her desk. Why hadn’t she been paying more attention? “Yes, sir.”

“Speak up when you’re answering somepony, Sunset.” Brass Badge set the notes down and turned back to Rosey Dawn. “It’s hardly surprising. Sunset is not a pegasus, Ms. Dawn. Stick to the basics for that stuff and focus on her magic.”

It was hard to disagree with Brass Badge. He was a respected military strategist who expected soldier-like obedience from anypony beneath him. Which was to say, everypony. So it was with a meek voice that Rosey Dawn spoke up. “But sir, magic is already Sunset’s best subject. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to get a rounded education?”

“Magic is the cornerstone of a proper unicorn education.” Brass Badge looked at Sunset. “Being the only student her age to get into Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns doesn’t mean anything if she’s not also the youngest to graduate.”

For a moment, Rosey Dawn looked like she might continue her protests. Only for a moment, though. “Yes, of course, sir.”

Another curt nod, then Brass Badge turned to walk away. He stopped when he noticed the window, however. Outside, three foals were running around playing some game. “Hmph. You’d think parents would teach their children to stay off of private property.”

He left the room muttering to himself, and Sunset knew the foals outside were about to get lectured. She took one more longing look at the three of them, still playing blissfully. They looked like they were her age.

Rosey Dawn sighed. “Perhaps we should take a short break.”

“No, I’m ready to continue.” Sunset turned away from the window. She was six years old, and she was the youngest student at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. With enough dedication to her studies, Sunset would also be the youngest to graduate. Then her parents would care about her.

“My goodness, already?” Princess Celestia smiled down at Sunset, and at her new cutie mark. “This is very impressive, Sunset!”

Sunset smiled at the compliment, but didn’t betray how excited she was to hear the words. She was only nine years old, and she already had earned a cutie mark from her magical studies. Few foals her age had cutie marks already, and nopony ever earned one for an academic talent that young. “Thank you, Princess.”

“I bet your parents were thrilled to hear the news.”

“Yes, they were.” In reality, Sunset’s mother had seemed to think of it as a small point of interest, no more significant than a particularly good business deal. Meanwhile, her father had only said ‘Naturally’ when he had been told.

“And of course, you should be very proud of yourself.”

Sunset nodded. “It’s a sun,” she said. ‘Just like yours.’

“I see that. Perhaps it’s because your future will always burn brightly.”

It was getting hard to keep her excitement in check in light of Princess Celestia’s praises. But she wanted to look mature in front of the princess, so she held herself together. “I’ll do my best to live up to that, Princess.”

“I’m sure you will, my gifted student.” Princess Celestia gave a knowing smirk. “But I do hope you haven’t been flaunting your cutie mark in front of your friends too much.”

Sunset’s smile faded as she tilted her head to the side. But the confusion was short lived. After all, she had only been Princess Celestia’s personal student for a few weeks. It was hardly surprising that she didn’t know too much about Sunset outside of her academic talents. “I don’t have any friends, Princess.”

Princess Celestia’s smile disappeared as well. “Really? You don’t have any other foals your age that you like to play with?”


Many of Princess Celestia’s expressions were hard to place, and the one she was giving Sunset was no exception. But it only lasted a moment, then Celestia smiled and walked over to the little filly. “Well, I know one friend who’s very happy for you.”

Sunset furrowed her brow in concentration, trying to think of whom Celestia could be talking about. Nopony came to mind. “Who is it?”

“Me.” Princess Celestia extended a wing over Sunset and used it to guide her towards the door. “Now then, this calls for a celebration. Let’s go see if we can convince the kitchen staff to give us some ice cream and cake before dinner.”

“Sunny! Sunny! Wake up, it’s Hearth’s Warming!”

Sunset just groaned and mumbled something that vaguely resembled ‘go away.’

Cadance just giggled. “Come on, Miss Grumpy. It’s Hearth’s Warming, you can’t sleep in today!”

Ignoring her wouldn’t make her go away. It never did. So with great reluctance, Sunset pulled herself into a sitting position. She huffed and narrowed her eyes at Cadance, who was dressed in a pretty little Hearth’s Warming dress, complete with a bow. Worst of all, she seemed perfectly chipper despite the early morning chill. “Good morning to you too, Princess.”

Ignoring the obvious sarcasm in Sunset’s tone, Cadance just giggled again. “You know you don’t have to call me princess, Sunny.”

Sunset glared at her. “And you know I told you not to call me Sunny.”

“But it’s such a cute nickname.”

“If I wanted ponies to think of me as ‘cute’, then I’d just start hanging around with ponies like you, Cadenza.”

Cadance frowned. If there was one thing she hated being called more than Princess, it was Cadenza. Unfortunately, her bubbly spirit proved frustratingly resilient. “Okay, fine. But anyway, Sunset, we should head down to breakfast. Aunt Celestia is already up, and our parents are coming soon.”

“Yeah, fine, whatever. Just go, I’ll be down soon.”

Clearly, Cadance had been hoping they could go down together. “Okay, I’ll leave you alone. But here, I got you a present.”

Cadance left a box on the bed, which Sunset made no move to open. Eventually, the young alicorn admitted defeat and walked away.

Sunset hated her. No, hate wasn’t strong enough for how Sunset felt. Cadance had come into her life unexpectedly, and everything changed when she did. Before Cadance, Sunset had been the most amazing thing around. The words ‘most talented unicorn her age’ were very frequently used to describe her. But she was sixteen, while Cadance was fourteen, and only one of them was an alicorn princess.

Somewhere along the way, Sunset had messed up. She had always been the youngest to achieve anything she did, but she had lost the chance to become the youngest alicorn, or to be the first alicorn to ascend within the century.

Finally opening her present, she found it was a dress that matched Cadance’s. She could just imagine the little twit’s eyes lighting up, visions of Sunset finally warming up to her dancing through her head. They’d be such darlings in their matching outfits, and all the adults would compliment them for being such sweet little angels. Why, by the end of the day they might even be calling each other sisters!

It made Sunset want to gag. She shoved the box off to the side of the bed and approached the mirror. She levitated over a brush and watched her reflection as she began untangling her hair.

She saw a unicorn, because that was what she was. It was too late to become the youngest alicorn, but that was always an inevitability. Every year she grew older, her chances of being the youngest to do something began to disappear more rapidly. No, she could not be the youngest alicorn. She would just have to become the best one. She would be a better alicorn than Cadance ever was, and then she would be Celestia’s favorite again.

Sunset Shimmer was a pony. She was a real pony, no matter what she looked like. She was not like that abomination that they pretended was a pony. Sunset Shimmer was a unicorn from Equestria, the seventeen-year-old gifted student of Princess Celestia. She was not a five-year-old human child.

But then when she looked at her hooves, they were hands. Her forelegs had become arms. Her horn was gone completely. Sunset had never been further from her dream of being an alicorn, and she had no idea how to get herself back to her home.

And so, Sunset cried. It wouldn’t help, it never did. But there was nothing else she could do, so she cried. She had been told that crying was cathartic, although she had never found that to be true.

Never before, that was. There was something different this time, as her mind finally started shutting down from all the stress of the past few weeks, and only focused on the present. This second, this breath. The hardwood beneath her. The cool autumn air.

And, most of all, the person sitting beside her. Just a small child, with no idea of what was going on, but still willing to sit beside Sunset and hold her while she cried.

“I don’t think you’re pathetic.”

Sunset hadn’t been sure what to expect from Sugarcube Corner. At worst, she figured she could drink some hot chocolate and be on her way. Sure, she would have to put up with Applejack for a little bit longer, but there were worse things.

That had been the worst case scenario, but Sunset wouldn’t have been able to pick a best case one. She certainly wouldn’t have imagined it would be as enjoyable as it was.

“So then after spendin’ all day lookin’ for it, come to find that my little sister had it the whole time!” Applejack adopted an overly sweet voice. “I was just borrowin’ your new boombox while we paint our clubhouse! Don’t worry ‘bout all the purple spots on it now!”

Sunset laughed. “Geez, that sucks. Little siblings are the worst.”

Applejack chuckled. “Well, I was mad as heck at the time, but I do still love her as much as anything.” She took a sip of her cocoa. “So what about you? Sounds like you got some siblings of your own.”

That took the smile off of Sunset’s face. “Well… Sort of, I guess.”

“You guess?” Applejack arched an eyebrow. “How do ya sorta have siblings? You kinda either do or ya don’t.”

“It’s… complicated.” Sunset frowned. She wasn’t exactly in a hurry to let Applejack know she lived at an orphanage, even if she couldn’t exactly place why. “Let’s just talk about something else.”

Applejack clapped her on the back. “You got it, partner. So then, did you see that new space movie that came out last week?”

Sunset smiled again. She doubted Applejack realized exactly how casually she touched people. She was constantly nudging Sunset playfully, or resting a hand on her shoulder, or putting an arm around her in a half-hug. It was a normal sort of thing that friends did, but Sunset had never had any friends. To her, the attention was something completely foreign, and it made her a little uncomfortable every time. But there was some part of her that enjoyed it as well, that liked the constant reassurance that someone would want to be around her, would want to be that close to her.

She never said anything about the contact for the entire night. If she did, Applejack would have probably stopped, and that was exactly what Sunset was afraid of. Instead, she slowly got used to it. And not just that. The way she and Applejack joked together, the way Applejack smiled, the way she laughed, the way she made Sunset smile. It was all a little overwhelming, but not necessarily bad.

By the time the night ended, Sunset was left with the thought that maybe Applejack was something she wouldn’t mind getting used to.

Applejack was going to die. Trapped under the ice, they would freeze and drown. Applejack would die, and it was all Sunset’s fault.

Although Applejack had initially grabbed hold of her, she hadn’t moved since then. Sunset herself was losing strength fast, and couldn’t focus on any thought clearly. She kept moving as much as she could, constantly pressing her hand along the ice, looking for a gap that she might be able to get them through.

‘Don’t let her die. Don’t let her die. Please, Applejack deserves so much better than this, I’ll do anything, whatever it takes, just please don’t let her die.’

There was no answer to her silent prayer. Sunset stopped moving everything but her feet, just treading water to stay in place. Soon, even that would prove too much for her.

Sunset kept a close hold on Applejack. In part, it was just so she wouldn’t drop her, but also it was because Applejack was all she had. The only things she was aware of were the burning cold, the fact that everything was her fault, and Applejack’s motionless body in her arms. It wasn’t hard to pick which one of the three she would try to focus on.

How ironic it was that after turning away from it for her whole life, Sunset had managed to kill the only friend she’d ever had.

There was a light. Coming in from somewhere above and in front of her, a light was shining through the ice. Sunset knew she must have imagined it, but she swam towards it anyway. She would put her faith in anything, anything at all, if it gave her even a chance of saving Applejack.

Every muscle in her body wanted to shut down. It felt like it would be so easy to sink into those depths. Someone would find their bodies still stuck together in the spring. Even through the panic and the cold, part of Sunset was ready to leave that world behind. It never felt like her world, anyway.

But for Applejack if for nothing else, Sunset kept swimming. If there was going to be one thing Sunset did right in her lifetime, it was going to be this. Applejack would not die. Sunset would not allow it.

The light grew closer, until Sunset saw it right above her. Close enough to finally see it clearly, she could swear that it was a sun. She reached up and found only ice, but she kept trying. When she didn’t find any holes, she pushed with all her might.

At first she didn’t even realize she’d broken through the ice. She’d lost so much of the sensation in her body that she couldn’t tell the cold air from the cold water. But when she realized her hand had extended farther than it should have, she knew she had made it. Swimming up with as much force as she could, she finally was able to push her head through the water.

The first breath made her so dizzy that she almost sank back down. She braced an arm against the ice, which was clearly too thin to hold her. But before she could even attempt to get out, she had something more important to do.

She hoisted Applejack up as best she could, barely managing to get her head out of the water. Applejack! she tried to call, but no words left her mouth. And although her face was above the water, Applejack still wasn’t moving.

Sunset looked around frantically. She had swum a good distance from where they had fallen in, but had found their way back towards the edge of the lake. Choosing the shortest path towards dry land, Sunset swam ahead. At first, the ice just broke in her path. She ignored the broken ice and kept swimming ahead. Eventually, she reached a place where the ice held. Holding onto Applejack as best she could, Sunset attempted to climb on top of it.

The ice broke under the increased weight, and they were back under. Only for a moment though, then Sunset was able to get them back through the hole she had formed. She realized that she could reach the bottom, and used that to steady herself while pulling Applejack farther out of the water.

Breaking the ice in her path, Sunset waded to the shore. By the time she reached it, she was crawling on all fours, while barely dragging Applejack along with her. She collapsed onto the solid ground, snow and all.

After only allowing herself a few breaths, Sunset dragged her body close to Applejack’s. She rested her head on the other girl’s chest and listened carefully. She thought she heard a faint heartbeat, but it was hard to tell with how ragged her own breathing was.

She moved her head to Applejack’s face, placing an ear against her mouth. She didn’t feel any breath and Applejack’s chest wasn’t moving. Every inch of Sunset begged for rest, but she pushed herself onto her knees. Breathing hurt, and no matter how much she did it her lungs still felt empty. But Applejack wasn’t breathing, and if Sunset stopped now, then she would die on the shore.

Sunset’s mind snapped to academics. It was what she was good at, after all. Although no one had ever taught her how to perform CPR, she could distinctly remember learning about it in another world, from her false memories. There was no time to question the sensibility of relying on that information, though, so she followed along with the steps.

‘Open the airway.’ Quickly pulling off her uselessly soaked gloves, Sunset forced Applejack’s mouth open. She used her fingers to check it for anything that might be in the way, found nothing, and moved on to the next step. She forced Applejack’s mouth to open wider by physically moving her jaw, pinched her nose shut, and placed her own mouth over Applejack’s.

Her biggest worry became that she didn’t have enough air herself to start Applejack’s breathing as well. As soon as she started blowing, she could feel herself getting light headed. She kept it up. It would all be worth it. Even if she died, it would be worth it to save Applejack.

‘Check for a pulse.’ After a few breaths, Sunset took a quick break to try and catch her own breath. Meanwhile, she placed her hand on Applejack’s neck. Thankfully, there was a pulse, which meant no chest compressions were necessary. As difficult as breathing was, Sunset wasn’t sure she had the strength to maintain chest compressions.

Back to breathing. With how fuzzy her head felt, she had no idea for how long she kept it up. Logically, she knew it could only be for a few minutes at most, but it felt like much longer. Eventually, Applejack jolted and started vomiting. Sunset rolled her on her side and waited for her to finish. Once she was done, she audibly inhaled a deep breath.

It was the best sound Sunset had ever heard. Once she’d returned Applejack to her back and verified that she was still breathing, Sunset finally allowed herself to collapse. She rested her head against Applejack’s shoulder and smiled to herself. She did it. For once in her life, Sunset had done something good. Applejack was alive.

But she knew she still hadn’t done enough. Applejack hadn’t drowned, and now she was breathing again, but she still wasn’t conscious. If they didn’t get somewhere warm soon, Applejack would die of hypothermia.

Sunset forced herself up and noted her surroundings for the first time. Despite the light she had seen, it was dark out. The moon was barely rising though, so she knew it was still fairly early. The smartest thing to do would be to get help and go to a hospital. They would probably all celebrate her as a hero, and any bad blood that existed between Applejack and Sunset would be sure to wash away.

But the situation had finally made up Sunset’s mind about where she and Applejack stood. Although she would never take a chance on Applejack’s life, she also knew the worst was behind them. All that was left was for Sunset to get Applejack somewhere warm.

Kneeling next to Applejack, Sunset pulled her into an upright position. Her muscles protested, but she pulled Applejack up against her back, put her arms over her shoulders, and stood up. The weight of Applejack on her back was almost more that she could bear given how weak the ordeal made her, but she would persevere.

Although she stumbled at first, Sunset took a step. Then another. And another. It was slower than she would have liked, but she built speed as she grew used to the weight. The whole way, Applejack’s steady breathing gave her the strength she needed to keep going.

By some miracle, Sunset had returned to New Horizons before dinner time. She climbed in through her bedroom window and got both herself and Applejack into dry clothes before someone came to get her for dinner. Making sure Applejack was tucked safely in her bed to warm up, Sunset left to scarf down dinner a quickly as possible.

She returned to her bedroom to find Applejack shivering. The orphanage was kept warm in the cold months, and the kids were provided with comfortable and sufficient clothing, so she knew Applejack would warm up alright. Still, she knew recovery would take time.

Setting a thermos next to the bed, Sunset took a seat next to Applejack. “You awake yet?” she asked quietly.

At first it seemed like she wasn’t going to get an answer, but eventually Applejack muttered, “S-so c-c-cold…”

Even though she knew how miserable Applejack must have felt, Sunset smiled. Applejack was alive, and now she was awake. “Here, drink this.”

Applejack very slowly worked her way to a somewhat upright position. She took the thermos from Sunset, and began sipping.

“Slowly,” Sunset instructed when Applejack began going at it with a bit too much fervor. “I know you’re cold, but you’ll burn yourself if you’re not careful.”

“I don’t think I can ever get enough heat again.”

Sunset smirked. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

They sat in silence awhile. Sunset knew what was coming, but she wasn’t sure how to best get there. Additionally, she wanted to enjoy at least a few moments of peace with Applejack. Surely she’d earned that much?

‘No,’ she reminded herself. ‘I don’t deserve anything like Applejack. That kind of thinking is exactly the reason this needs to happen soon.’

“So, uh, is this your room?” Applejack asked after a while.

“Yeah.” Sunset looked around the room and frowned. At least the mirror was still gone; she really didn’t want to see herself. “Home sweet fucking home.”

“Aww, it ain’t so bad.”

The cheer returning to Applejack’s tone should have been a good thing, but it was dangerous. It threatened to change Sunset’s mind. “Can you get yourself home?”

Applejack looked at her in disbelief. “I… Sunset, I don’t even know where we are.”

“Keep your voice down.” Sunset glanced to the door. Most of the kids would still be eating dinner, but she couldn’t get caught bringing in company. Not under these circumstances. “I can tell you how to get back to your house from here. But can you walk?”

Applejack looked at her longingly, then turned to look back down towards the bed. “Don’t make me leave, I’m still freezing… I can just stay quiet if ya want, but let me warm up first.”

“Fine.” Sunset had been apprehensive about letting Applejack go anyway. It was probably for the best. She stood up and walked to the CD player, hitting play without thinking of what CD was in there. It would help cover any noises from whenever Applejack decided to forget her promise to keep quiet. “You have until the CD’s over.”

Applejack hesitated for a moment, but eventually she said, “Alright.”

The CD started, and it was aggravating how perfect the music wound up being. Daybreak, the only band she knew they both liked. She had been listening to them a lot since the day at the mall.

To her credit, Applejack lasted through four of the ten songs before she spoke. “Uh, Sunset?”


“I just… thank you.”

Sunset winced. She knew that might have been coming, but she hated to hear it all the same. “For what?”

“Well, I mean… You saved my life.”

Sunset turned to face Applejack. “You’re remembering wrong.”

Applejack feebly shook her head. “I remember what happened. I remember the fight and everything, but, well… That doesn’t matter. You still came in after me, I remember that too.”

Sunset thought back to her own memories. The way it had felt like it had taken forever to reach Applejack, even though she knew it was only a few seconds. “Do you remember how long you were under there?”

“Well, no. I have no idea, I know it felt like a while, but –”

“That’s because it was.” Sunset folded her arms and turned away. She didn’t want to see Applejack’s reactions anymore. “When you went under, I walked away. I was ready to just leave you there, but then I changed my mind.”

Silence while the information sank in, then she rationalized it. “Well, you still came back. Ya didn’t have to, but ya did.”

“You don’t get it.” Sunset’s voice was getting too loud as she found herself trying to fight back her emotions. She didn’t want to say what she needed to, but she forced the words out anyway. “What happened, you going into the ice… That wasn’t an accident. I didn’t save you, I tried to kill you. And then I changed my mind.”

Another moment of silence, and the CD moved onto the fifth track. “I don’t believe that.”

“Yeah, I know. Hard to believe I would decide to keep someone like you around in the end. Really though, I was just worried someone in one of the houses around saw what happened. Even if I got away with pretending it was an accident, the fact that a fist fight resulted in someone’s death would be enough for me to get sent to a military academy.”

Applejack waited patiently through Sunset’s explanation, but then just shook her head. “I mean, I don’t believe that you were tryin’ to… do that on purpose.”

“That’s because you’re an idiot.”

Although Sunset had expected another reply, Applejack kept quiet. The CD moved to the sixth track, then the seventh before she spoke up again.

“I know that you’ve got some stuff goin’ on that ya don’t want to talk about. And I know you’ve done some pretty rotten things. But I don’t think you’re a murderer.”

“Well, congratulations, you’re right.” Sunset turned to show a cocky grin. “I didn’t kill you, so I’m only an attempted murderer.”

Applejack wasn’t looking at Sunset. She was staring down at her hands, folded in her lap. At some point, she must have finished the cocoa because the thermos was sitting on Sunset’s bedside table. “Do… do ya really hate me that much?”

Sunset wasn’t sure if Applejack really believed her about the attempted murder, but she also realized she didn’t want confirmation. She didn’t want to know that Applejack could think that low of her, even if that was the picture Sunset was trying to paint. But Applejack seemed to finally believe that Sunset genuinely hated her, and that realization hurt enough on its own.

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

By the time the eighth song came on, Sunset decided it was time to focus on getting Applejack home safely. “Anyway, you’re at New Horizons Home for Children. To get to Sweet Apple Acres, you just go –”

“Hold on, you’re an orphan?”

Sunset scowled. “Don’t give me any of that ‘it all makes sense now!’ crap. I know a lot of orphans, and believe me, none of the others are as fucked up as I am.”

Applejack shifted to a more upright position. “No, I was just… Well, I never knew that.”

Sunset arched an eyebrow. “Want my fucking life story while we’re at it? In case you didn’t realize, there’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.”

“Well yeah, but…” Whatever gears had been turning in Applejack’s mind, they seemed to die out on their own. “Never mind.”

More than happy to drop the subject, Sunset returned to giving directions. The ninth song came on, meaning their time was almost at an end.

“See, even you can figure it out. Soon you’ll be back with mommy and daddy in no time.”

Applejack looked like she was going to say something, but held her tongue.

The final song was torturous. On the one hand, they were certainly not having a good time. On the other, once Applejack walked away, she would probably be out of Sunset’s life for good.

“Ya know, I do know some of what you’re going through,” Applejack said, only minutes before the end.

“Uh huh. Sure you do.”

“Sunset, I…” Applejack sighed. “My parents are… they died, Sunset.”

Sunset’s head snapped towards Applejack. She thought back to the things she had said during their fight. Suddenly, she felt sick.

“It was just before middle school. I… I pretty much locked up, kinda how you are. I moved to live with my mom’s side of the family for a bit. That’s why I transferred schools, I only just moved back to town. But, well… Ya can’t keep livin’ like that. You need people in your life, and I… I want to be one of ‘em, if you let me.”

“Oh, AJ.” Sunset filed away her emotions. This was no time to change her mind. She placed a hand on her heart and gave a sentimental look so over the top that no one would be able to take it seriously. “I’m touched. Did you read that off a greeting card?”

“No, I –”

“Here’s the thing, AJ.” Sunset grinned and placed her hands behind her head. “I really just don’t fucking care. My parents? I don’t know if they’re alive or not because I haven’t seen them since I was five. But it doesn’t matter, because I don’t give a damn about them. So no, you really don’t understand me.”

Applejack sighed. “Okay.”

Sunset had probably gone far enough, but she needed to make sure. She needed Applejack to know that this newfound common ground wasn’t a good reason for them to be friends. “And you can definitely be sure that I don’t care about your parents. You can go cry on their graves or something if it makes you feel better, but leave me out of it.”

That had hurt, and Sunset could see it. She thought back to all the times Applejack had mentioned her home life. She was very fond of talking about her family, but her parents had never come up. Sunset had to wonder if Applejack had told anyone about her parents yet. Maybe Sunset was the first, and she had been motivated to finally open up because she earnestly believed having some common ground would help.

The CD came to an end. Sunset picked up a bag of Applejack’s wet clothed and tossed it to her, then pointed at the window. “And that’s all the bonding we have time for today. Now get out, and don’t let anyone see you go.”

Applejack looked like she was going to protest, but she didn’t. Without a word, she walked over to the window and opened it up.

Sunset took a seat on the bed. “Hey, Applejack?”

“Yeah?” Applejack didn’t look back, but Sunset could hear the strain in her voice.

“Try to look on the brightside. At least they don’t have to deal with a daughter like you anymore.”

Without a word, Applejack climbed through the window and closed it behind her. And just like that, she was gone. Sunset had finally gotten exactly what she wanted.

She leaned her head against the wall. Now that Applejack was gone, she finally stopped holding in her emotions. The tears came silently, and she slid down the wall, sinking into the exact place Applejack had been moments before.

She had gone too far, and she knew it. She could imagine Applejack crying on the way home. Hell, she’d probably have some issues of her own after everything that happened, on top of what she was already dealing with because of her parents.

But in a way, that was good. Sunset felt absolutely horrible for what she said, but it would serve its purpose. Sunset had goaded Applejack into a physical fight, and then outright attacked her. Worse still, Applejack had almost died. That had been Sunset’s fault, even if it hadn’t been what she wanted.

They would never be friends, and that was a good thing. It wasn’t safe to be friends with someone like Sunset, and Applejack deserved so much better.

Author's Note:

Pasu-Chan, cover artist for this story and official artist for Who We Become in general, drew a scene from this chapter, and it's pretty amazing :raritystarry:

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