• Published 27th Aug 2018
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The Winning Formula - Bookish Delight

Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer have a leisurely talk on the couch. It is the most important–and dangerous–event in the history of both their worlds.

  • ...

[001] Opening Pandora's Box

Sunset Shimmer entered her apartment, took five steps into her living room, and promptly encountered her two most favorite things in any universe.

Twilight Sparkle sat on the couch, eating a bowl of ice cream. The tub that the ice cream came from sat on the coffee table, housed in a cylindrical metallic device that Twilight had assured Sunset could cleanly, efficiently and safely harness the properties of liquid nitrogen to keep it at optimal temperature, even better than conventional freezers, in any environment or climate. After a year, it still hadn't exploded, so Sunset gave Twilight the benefit of the doubt.

Twilight's attention, meanwhile, was fixated on the large flat-screen television in front of her, wall-mounted next to the living room doorway. Sunset knocked on said doorway, then turned and propped her back against it. She turned her head, giving Twilight a beckoning gaze—eyes lidded, smile slanted.

Twilight snapped to attention upon hearing the knocks, looking towards their source—just in time to see Sunset lazily lick and bite her lips towards the lab-coated loveliness in her field of vision.

In seconds, that loveliness was off of the sofa and pressed against Sunset's body, wrapping her arms around her longtime girlfriend in a warm, cradling embrace.

"Hi, honey," Sunset whispered, caressing a finger through Twilight's hair as Twilight nuzzled her head against Sunset's shoulder. "I'm home."

"Welcome back, Sunny," Twilight whispered back, before shifting herself to face Sunset head-on, and bringing her lips close.

Twilight tasted like vanilla right now, naturally. It was always nice to kiss her whenever she'd been cheating on her diet, which was why Sunset never, ever teased her about it. Though it was also more empathy than anything; Sunset had wrestled for years with her "new" human physiology and metabolism ever since arriving in Pedestria. Maintaining her figure, and monitoring her body and diet for any changes that could arise from repeated mirror travel that was now part of her life, would have been impossible without the help of her friends—Twilight most of all.

Though it was interesting that, even though Twilight was wearing her lab coat, for once she didn't smell like traces of various chemicals, or chemical reactions. Sunset was about to ask Twilight about that, when Twilight beat her to the punch.

"So, end of your first transfer week!" Twilight stepped back, looked up into Sunset's eyes, and bounced on her toes with a wide, toothy smile. "How was it?"

Sunset sighed as they walked back to the couch. It was a contented sigh, but fatigued as well. "About as eventful as any educational week can be, I guess?" She counted on her fingers. "Five days of magic studies with Princess Twilight and Starlight until lunch, then Equestrian politics with Celestia until evening, and finally shadowing the first couple of Luna's dreamwalking hours, until I finally feel like dreaming myself."

Sunset flopped onto the cushions with a loud, groaning exhale. "One week, and I already feel like I could pinch-hit for any of them. In fact, I'm sure I could—I've sat in on enough territory disputes, friendship school classes and, uh, inventive subconscious creations to make my head spin." She shook her head and chuckled. "To think, I once wanted to take over Celestia's position without knowing any of this stuff. Or even getting a degree here. Seriously, what was I on about back then?"

Twilight plopped down on the sofa next to Sunset with her own sigh. "I know how you feel. Up until a few years ago, I always dreamed that I'd have my own multinational multi-billion-dollar technology corporation by now, with robots automating my every task and fulfilling my every need. But even working at full mental capacity, I've only managed to make it one-third of the way there at best!"

"And at the ripe old age of twenty-five, no less." Sunset chuckled again, and rolled her eyes. "A more humbling dose of perspective, there never was."

"I know, right?" Twilight turned to look at Sunset, tapping her index fingers together and shifting in her seat. "So, uh, is it a bad idea to remind you about your scheduled courses on this side of the mir—?"

Twilight cringed as Sunset let out an even louder groan.

"Guess not," Twilight said with a sheepish titter. She took out her phone, pulling up the schedule she'd helped Sunset set up. "Psychology, public relations, international studies... honey, I know I science almost 24/7, but even I'm shocked at how deep you're diving into this. Are you sure you don't want to slow down? Even just a little?"

Sunset exhaled through pursed lips... then shrugged, her smile returning. "Nah. What can I say? I always knew I liked magic. But finding out that I love seeing how people tick, and manipulating social situations, came as a complete surprise." Sunset's smile slowly faded, and she stared past the wall beyond her. "Though maybe it shouldn't have been, given what I did when I first came he—"

Twilight darted over, and pressed her index finger against Sunset's lips. "Ah, ah, ah. Rule #1."

"Right, right. Sorry," Sunset said, her focus slowly returning.

"No apologies, love." Twilight shook her head, curling her arm behind Sunset's neck, and meeting Sunset's eyes with concern and sincerity. "Just say it."

Sunset huffed, the corner of her lip turning up the slightest bit. "'No more pasts—only present and future,'" she quoted, from the very first promise the two had made to each other when they'd moved in together.

Twilight smiled wide. "And I love the future you're making for yourself." She pecked Sunset on the lips, instantly chasing away any uneasy feelings Sunset might have had. "And that you've made me a part of it."

Sunset's cheeks tinted as her full smile returned, and she stared back into Twilight's eyes. "It really is uncanny," she said, her voice regaining its jovial lilt. "Princess Twilight said that exact same thing, word for word. Including the last sentence."

Twilight perked up, with an excited gasp. "Really? Wow, that's wonderful! That lends extra credence to my Theory of Interdimensional Similarity—" She tilted her head. "Wait, hold on. Now I'm scared of how deep this runs. She, uh, didn't try to kiss you at any point, did she?"

"No, no," Sunset giggled... then twisted her lips and slanted her eyebrows into a wily, teasing expression. "Course, if she ever tried, it might be hard for me to resist. I mean, what with her being you, but with a ton of added abusable royal power attach—ow!" Sunset yelped as Twilight elbowed her. "Kidding, kidding, I swear!"

Twilight winked. "You'd better be. I don't care how much magic she wields, I'll invent something to make that a non-issue faster than you can say 'alicorns are overrated'."

Sunset laughed. "I'm so telling her you said that. Anyway, even if either of us were into the idea, we'd never get the chance to act on it. It always seemed like any experiment we were working on would inevitably start sparking, and we'd have to act fast to keep from blowing up an entire wing of the castle," she mused, her fingers cradling her chin. "Heck, it took me, Princess Twilight, and Starlight to get things back under control on Wednesday, when we almost turned the whole place into a shock hazard." She rolled her eyes. "Last time we experiment with weather magic indoors."

"I could have told you that," Twilight said. "From personal experience. Honestly, after hearing all that, I think I wanna come now."

Sunset turned to lay on her side, giving Twilight a lazy, longing stare that looked as if she was two seconds away from giggling uncontrollably.

It took mere moments for Twilight to realize her mistake. "...oh, no. Any chance I can get a do-over on that last sentence?" she asked with a deep, sheepish blush.

Sunset inched towards Twilight, her grin squiggling.

"Or, you know," Twilight said, inching backwards, "we could just forget it ever—"

"I can arrange that," Sunset said, with all the maturity of a girl's locker room.

"Argh!" Twilight pounced on Sunset, repeatedly tapping her with clenched fists as both girls crumpled from uncontrollable, guilty giggles. "You know what I meant! You never let me get away with anything! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you—" She gripped Sunset's shoulders, looking at her with hungry eyes. "And I need you to kiss me right the hell now."

Sunset said nothing, instead leaning in and granting Twilight's request, with a smoldering kiss that communicated just how much she'd missed her girlfriend over the course of an entire week. Her tongue slipped against Twilight's, massaging, caressing, staying close, just as her arms and hands did with the rest of Twilight's body.

With their lips still pressed together, Sunset pushed Twilight down onto the cushions, laying her on her back, only parting when they both had to come up for air. Green eyes met violet in a locked, loving stare, before Sunset cast her gaze lower, to the buttons of Twilight's lab coat.

She'd unbuttoned dozens of lab coats since becoming girlfriends with Twilight. She was sure she'd unbutton hundreds more in her lifetime. She looked forward to every single one.

"Keeping your beautiful face at the forefront of my mind was the only thing that let me survive being away all week," Sunset whispered, slowly unfastening each button from the top down. As she did so, she noticed to her delight that, instead of a standard outfit or even some kind of nightwear, only lavender skin greeted her, along with the slightest of bra fabric.

"Really?" Twilight said, her voice light and airy, containing all the joy and anticipation of a girl about to go on her favorite ride.

"Really. Two expressions in particular, though." Sunset relished the sight of Twilight's heated blushes, and her lips slowly parting to take deeper breaths. "One is that smile you're struggling to maintain right now."

"And the other?" Twilight asked.

With all of the buttons undone, Sunset pulled the sides of the lab coat apart, and splayed her palm across Twilight's stomach, causing her girlfriend's breath to catch. Twilight bit her lip with an appreciative, whimpering moan.

"Well," Sunset said, leaning over Twilight one more time, "I'm sure we'll both know when you make it."

Two hours later, Sunset walked back into the living room, carrying two glasses of water. Twilight still lay on her back, lengthwise across the sofa cushions. She stared past the ceiling, her eyes glazed, her expression equal parts relaxed and euphoric. Slowly, she turned her head towards Sunset, waving one arm.

"Ice cream," Twilight demanded in a lazy voice. "Gimme."

Sunset shook her head. "Water first," she said, sitting next to Twilight's head.

"I said ice creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeam," Twilight said, mock-pouting and kicking her legs.

"Not until we're sure you're hydrated," Sunset said in her most motherly voice. "I need you alive, and I'm sure you want the same."

"Pfft. Like this isn't totally all your fault," Twilight said—but sat up, took the glass, and downed it in one gulp anyway. "You do this to me every time I say anything remotely resembling an innuendo."

"Hmmmm. Does it really bother you?" Sunset asked. "If it does, all you need to do is ask, and I'll stop."

"I know." Twilight scooped a new bowl of vanilla ice cream, sat back, unmuted the television, and scooted next to Sunset, who kissed her on her cheek. "One day," she added, giving Sunset a devious grin. "When you least expect it."

Sunset rolled her eyes, and cuddled Twilight close. "Anyway, how was your week? I'll admit to being a little worried—you've got fewer science battle scars than usual today. Even your lab coat's clean—" Sunset did all she could to keep her face from overheating, and failed miserably. It was, however, a small solace to see Twilight fail as well, with her cheeks going full crimson. "Uh, was clean."

"One day," Twilight said, taking a spoonful of ice cream. "But yeah. I took a day off."

"Huh." Sunset blinked. "Still worried, then. That's... not entirely like you."

"We had some excellent breakthroughs yesterday in the field of atomic physics," Twilight said, "but I'll only be able to tackle their possible ramifications with a clear, rested mind." She idly picked up her Starswirl Research badge from the coffee table, twirling it around in her fingers. "So yes, I decided to put a new personal life strategy into practice. Specifically, of 'rewarding myself' when I do good work, instead of just pushing myself harder. In other words, I took your advice." She looked at Sunset, tilting her head. "Which makes me worried that we both seem to have switched work ethics without telling each other?"

"Sorry," Sunset said with a sheepish giggle. "But oh gosh, Twilight, that's wonderful." She squeezed her girlfriend lightly. "I'm so happy for you! I mean, I knew you'd do that laboratory proud in no time, but I'm always happy when you can see it for yourself."

Twilight nodded, snuggling back into Sunset. "Me too. I'd always wanted to work at Starswirl at some point—use their facilities for even better things than they already had going. I'm just glad it happened so soon." Twilight looked back to the television, which played a program featuring an older man standing in the midst of a planetarium, the solar system swirling around him. "And on a selfish note, maybe it'll fast-track me to being able to meet him."

Sunset looked at the television as well. "Huh. I've seen you watching this guy before. He even looks familiar, which is strange because I know I've never met him."

"Even if you don't know him, you know of him," Twilight said. "Everyone does—that's Neil deGrassefed-Bison!" Twilight's eyes fittingly sparkled, and she clasped her hands. "He's one of the foremost experts on how our world works, and beyond! Electromagnetism, physics, space travel..." Twilight sighed, the dreamy sigh of the sort that Sunset only ever heard when Twilight encountered a beloved scientific concept, or, well, Sunset herself. Naturally, Sunset appreciated being in such exclusive company. "I can only dream of achieving the heights he has."

"Don't sell yourself short." Sunset smirked. "If he knew what you and I did about certain... phenomena, I'm pretty sure he'd have to question his entire worldview."

"Well, bringing interdimensional pony magic into things is sort of cheating," Twilight said.

"Less than you'd think," Sunset said. "When you said his name, it finally clicked with me. Neil's totally a name in Equestria, too. I've heard Princess Twilight talk about him—though he's more of an up-and-comer over there. He's the world's most famous bovine magic practitioner, since there's... uh, just him, really? Yeah, he's making history all by himself."

Twilight giggled. "Hee. It's funny because names. Though, now that we've brought all of this up..." Twilight trailed off, growing suspiciously quiet.

Sunset grew concerned in kind. "Hey, hon. Everything all right?"

Twilight remained quiet for several moments before finally muting the television again, and saying, in a voice that was almost a whisper: "Sunset? Can I ask for your help?"

"Always," Sunset said.

Twilight shifted, turning her body around to face Sunset. "I have an idea," she said, playing with her girlfriend's hair. "Well, lots of ideas, but they all orbit a single concept. It's a pretty out-there concept, even by my standards, but if I can put it into practice..."

Sunset nodded. "Totally listening."

"What I've been doing at Starswirl is great," Twilight continued, "and I wouldn't stop for anything. But honestly, any 'breakthroughs' there are child's play compared to what I really want to do."

"And what's that?" Sunset asked.

"I..." Twilight's face scrunched in momentary silence before she replied, "I want to see just how compatible our two worlds are."

Sunset smiled. "Well, you and I made things work well enough."

Twilight smiled back. "True. Though you and I are individuals who were committed to overcoming any hurdle to be together—and that's sort of what I mean here, too. I truly believe that if we combine your world's magic with my world's science and technology, we could forge new fields of study, of knowledge, of reality itself! Not to mention, help so many people and ponies in the process."

And there were Twilight's sparkling eyes again, right on cue—however, they faded in mere moments as her expression sobered. "But if there's one thing I've learned from CPA, CHS, from university, and even Starswirl Research... it's that I can't do everything alone. In fact, trying to do things alone is usually when they go badly. You know much more about Equestrian magic than me. You grew up with it. I want your help. I need your help."

Sunset's mind raced through a hundred scenarios, starting with the Friendship Games almost ten years ago—and the time Twilight's first technological brush with magic indeed almost ended badly for several people—until Sunset figured out how to use Twilight's invention constructively. "You might have a point there," she said. "But... I'm not sure what the benefits would be to justify something like this."

Twilight smiled wide and cackled. "So glad you asked, Miss Shimmer! Imagine cracking the code to creating real, self-renewing power through magical means! Or, remember when you told me about Starlight actually being able to bottle and study her emotions?" Twilight gasped in excitement. "Think about the boons that could bring to mental health!"

Twilight's words worked. Seeds of possibility planted themselves in Sunset's mind. "Your world does have faster and more varied modes of transportation," Sunset mused. "Even the trains are faster. Yet that doesn't take into account Equestria having teleportation spells..."

"Yes, yes, you get it!" Twilight squealed, hugging Sunset close and kissing her on the cheek. "Have I told you that I love you so much?"

"Oh, how quickly they flip," Sunset chuckled. "You're winning me over, but I definitely still have my reservations about this. I mean, we're talking about messing with two completely disparate sets of universal laws. Even for Science Goddess Twilight Sparkle, that's got to be a challenge. A risky one, too. And that's just me thinking of trying to pitch this idea to Princesses Twilight and Celestia."

Twilight nodded. "I agree. Which is why, I figure, we should work with just little tiny bits of both. Equestrian magic already found its way into our world long ago anyway. We've even still got sources of our own. We can just work with that."

"Another fair point." Sunset nodded slowly. "How long have you been practicing this pitch?" she asked.

"You truly don't want to know," Twilight replied. "I've wanted to ask you this for years, but I've just been too scared after... well, CHS. But recently I remembered—you've lived with magic as part of your personal world almost all your life, and, well, vice versa with me and science. We're masters of our fields. Let's do something with that. Together. The way it should be."

Sunset sighed, hugging Twilight back. "No fair invoking the Togetherness Clause."

"It's true, though," Twilight said. "I can't do this without you. So many times over the years, I've repeatedly learned: I can't be all of me without you. So I don't want to be without you anymore."

Sunset's heart melted at the words, and it was her turn for her eyes to shimmer as she gazed at her years-long girlfriend.

"Me, either," she said, leaning in for a kiss.

The moment their lips met, the world shook.

And an all-consuming explosion promptly destroyed Sunset's tranquil universe.

Sunset's eyes snapped open as the explosion jolted her to consciousness. She ignored the throbbing in her head as she looked around, trying to get her bearings.

It wasn't long before she made those bearings out to be the demolished remains of Sugarcube Corner. Specifically, the second one across town where Pinkie Pie used to work, that had the faux-retro vibe and the car sticking out of the top. That car had already collapsed after a magic blast from an hour ago had left nothing supporting it, and was now laying inside the diner proper.

Sunset huffed. Right.

She'd been dreaming of better times.

She heard a loud, unearthly roar outside, hollow and grating, malevolent and mournful. Sunset gasped and scooted back against the remains of the bar counter, doing her best to avoid splinters, broken glass, and wrecked shelves—and mostly succeeding.

Intense tremors, which required Sunset to brace herself with both hands, followed soon after. When they died down, Sunset gathered her nerves, crawled to the window, and looked outside.

The monster outside looked the way its howl had sounded: not of this world, and barely possessing a form. If Sunset squinted, she could barely make out the limbs which allowed it to amble around the roads of a mostly-demolished downtown Suburban Canterlot. Meanwhile, if Sunset didn't squint, if she looked enough at the shining, silvery membrane that made up its exterior, she could swear she could see the universe itself, with all of its stars and phenomena, buried inside of it.

A "spectral", Twilight had dubbed it. Given the range of colors that appeared in the vastness of its displayed cosmos, before blinking out of existence just as quickly, Sunset was inclined to agree. Twilight had also called it "fascinating". Sunset agreed less on that one.

As she did her best to avoid panicking, Sunset felt a heat radiating close by. She looked around. Nothing was on fire, thank goodness, though now she was wondering if her body was playing tricks on her, or worse, malfunctioning—

Then it hit her.

She darted towards a nearby piece of wreckage, seeing an orange glow emanating from it. As she tore through said wreckage, Sunset now remembered just how she'd gotten here.

A shining orange gauntlet, bearing her sun-shaped cutie mark, greeted Sunset at the bottom of the pile. She picked it up. A spark flew from its housing. At the same time it did so, Sunset felt a pang in her side.

It didn't matter. She would still have to use it. After all, she was the only one standing between that thing outside, and... everyone else.

The only one with any power at all.

She rose to her feet, looking at the spectral again, as it played with dismantling a nearby building. Her eyes narrowed with determination and purpose.

"All right," she said. "Time for Round Two."