• Published 15th Nov 2018
  • 5,122 Views, 146 Comments

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun - Dee Pad



When a newly-crowned Twilight Sparkle finds an old book hidden away in the royal archives, she discovers a piece of her mentor's past she had never been told about. And the more she read, the more questions arose. Just who was Sunset Shimmer?

  • ...
5
 146
 5,122

Chapter 16 - Star-Crossed

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
=====================================================================

Chapter 16: Star-Crossed

=====================================================================

Starswirl scratched his head as he scanned the many tomes open in front of him, an exasperated groan escaping his lungs. It seemed no matter how long he studied, no matter how many books he looked through, his research wasn't going anywhere. It was honestly frustrating, but more than that, it was disheartening. It wasn't uncommon for the subjects of his research to hit dead ends, but in most cases that would simply eliminate an incorrect approach and put him closer to the right path.

Of course, one first had to enter the maze in order to make progress.

While it hadn't been long since Princess Celestia had requested that Starswirl find out anything he could on this so-called "magic of friendship," it was still quite discouraging that he had yet to find anything even remotely related to the subject. Even something that simply suggested that this power existed as a tangible force would at least provide a starting point. The closest thing he could find were children's books, but he highly doubted that the magic could be restored to the Elements of Harmony merely by sharing your lunch with a new classmate.

But his frustration didn't necessarily stem from his lack of information. The whole reason for this endeavor was to help Princess Celestia. When Luna's one thousand year banishment expires, it won't actually be Luna that returns, but Nightmare Moon. And if the power of the Elements hasn't been restored by then, Celestia will be forced to do battle with her once more, but this time, she may have to do to more than just banish her. The princess had already told him that she doesn't expect him to be able to crack this mission within his lifetime, and a thousand years is a long time, but he'd at least like to contribute something to help his dear friend save her sister.

Starswirl closed the book he was currently perusing, letting out a long, defeated sigh as he rubbed his forehead in aggravation. As much as he didn't want to give up for Celestia's sake, he decided it may be for the best to shelf this subject for the day. The princess did suggest that he needn't focus all of his time to the topic, but given the implications, he still felt bad about putting it on the backburner. Maybe what he needed right now was a distraction. He may have hit a wall with his time travel spell, but he also had theories about inter-dimensional travel. Perhaps that was something worth looking into...

As he got up from the reading table to replace the books he'd taken out back onto their respective places on the shelves, the door to the royal archives opened up. It was his own daughter Sunset, and she entered with purpose. So much purpose, in fact, that she didn't even give her father a passing glance as she wandered over to one of the archives shelves and began looking over the spines of the books available.

Starswirl would have normally greeted her heartily and asked what she was doing, but the sheer focus on her face had him too curious to interrupt. He opted to observe her silently as she pulled out a book, glanced at the cover, put it back, then did the same with another, repeating the process ad nauseam.

By the time Sunset had quietly pulled out her tenth book, Starswirl's curiosity had devolved into annoyance and he finally voiced his confusion. "What are you doing, Sunset?"

"Huh?" The focused mare looked over her shoulder, finally noticing her father standing there watching her. "Oh, hey, Dad. Looking for something?"

Starswirl quirked a concerned eyebrow. "Er, I was just preparing to leave, actually. And I asked you first."

Sunset blinked, a blank look on her face. "Oh. Really? Sorry, guess I didn't see you there."

"Are you alright, dear? You seem... distracted. No, rather the opposite."

Sunset's ears drooped when she realized that. "Oh, shoot, I'm doing it again, aren't I? I'm sorry, Dad, I know what you said to me last night, and I've taken it to heart, I swear, but—"

Starswirl held up his hoof to stop her, giving her a comforting and reassuring smile. "I'm not trying to lecture you, Sunset, I'm simply wondering what has you so focused right now."

Sunset hesitated, breaking eye contact with her father and a blush brightening her amber cheeks. "Um... It's... kind of embarrassing..."

Starswirl only continued to smile at her. "Sweetheart, you know if there's anything bothering you, you can always talk to your dad."

Somehow, his words only caused her blush to deepen. "I was... just looking for books about... dating..."

The stallion stared in silence for a moment, trying to make sure in his head that he'd heard correctly through her mumbling. But it didn't take long for him to make the connection, letting out a hearty and somewhat relieved chuckle. "Oh, yes, that's right. You have a date with Halberd tonight, don't you?"

Her blush persisted, and she shuffled her hooves awkwardly.

Something about her posture and demeanor had Starswirl a tad worried. "You're not having second thoughts about this, are you?"

"Huh?"

"I know it was a heat-of-the-moment kind of thing, and there were a lot of onlookers... You didn't just say yes to spare his feelings, did you?"

"No! If anything, I didn't even have to think about. It was like I knew the answer before he even asked..."

Starswirl breathed an internal sigh of relief, his smile returning. He'd have felt bad for poor Halberd if his daughter were playing with his feelings like that, and also rather disappointed in Sunset.

"I just... don't know what to do on a date," Sunset continued, an unsure and ashamed expression on her face.

Her father had to fight back the mild amusement of his daughter's innocent naïveté. "And you were hoping to find a book about dating in here?"

Hearing it out loud, Sunset admitted to herself that it did sound a tad odd; why would the royal archives have books on dating of all things? "Well, there's all kinds of books here, I just thought..."

The way she trailed off indicated to Starswirl that she hadn't exactly thought this through very thoroughly. "I'm sorry to say, Sunset, but I think you may need to look elsewhere for information regarding that."

She sighed in resignation. She had a feeling from the beginning that it wouldn't be so easy.

"Are you really that concerned about your date with Halberd?"

"I just want to make sure I don't screw this up," Sunset replied rather sheepishly. "Hal's kind of a... sensitive guy, you know? I don't want to make him feel like he made a mistake asking me out."

Starswirl chuckled, an utter lack of worry in both his voice and expression. "Personally, I believe you're overthinking this."

Sunset's ears perked up, an idea coming to her. She gave her father a hopeful look. "Do you think you could give me some advice, Dad?"

His smile fell slightly, though not entirely. There was a mixture of apology and shame in what was left of his smile. "Given my past experience, I don't think I'm in much of a position to be giving dating advice."

His daughter gave him a sympathetic grin, feeling a little bad to have reminded him of her again. "Right, sorry."

"You know, if you're really dead set on getting advice, why not ask Lance? I hear he's quite active on the dating scene," Starswirl suggested.

"Uh, I don't know. Don't you think it'd be kinda weird to ask him for advice for dating his brother?"

Starswirl laughed off her assumption. "I'm sure he'd be happy to share his knowledge with you."

Sunset grinned gratefully. "Well, if you say so. I'll see what he has to say. Later, Dad."

Starswirl gave his daughter a wave as she headed for the door again, but she was gone too quickly for him to wish her good luck.

Sunset hurried down the hall of the castle to go meet up with Lance. He should have been at his post at the castle entrance, so she knew he wasn't too busy.

Honestly, Sunset surprised even herself with how eager she was about her date with Halberd. She wasn't even entirely sure why. She had considered the possibility that she was just grateful to him for standing up for her at the Gala, but the fluttering in her chest that she felt when she thought about the date seemed to suggest that it was more than that. It was hard for her to believe that the whole ugliness with her mother had happened just the previous night considering she was in such a good mood this morning.

That being said, as her exchange with her father no doubt made clear, she was also somewhat nervous. Sunset didn't know the first thing about dating. It was honestly not something she'd ever thought about. Even all throughout high school, when her peers were all getting lovey-dovey with their sweethearts, Sunset was too engrossed with her studies or the princess's teachings to even bother thinking about romance. Even then, Halberd was really the only person her age that she spent any time with, inside or outside of school. So she was a little worried about saying or doing something that might put him off.

Sunset arrived at the throne room through one of the doorways flanking the throne platform, but she didn't slow down, making a brisk pace toward the entrance.

"Good morning, Sunset."

The amber mare screeched to a halt, turning back to see Princess Celestia giving her a friendly smile from atop her throne. Somehow, Sunset hadn't even noticed her sitting there; a first for the unicorn. "Oh, uh, good morning, Princess," she greeted back, though in a somewhat hurried tone.

"You seem to be in quite a hurry. Why the rush?"

"Um..." Sunset hesitated. Though Princess Celestia knew about her date with Halberd, she still found it a little embarrassing to talk about. "I was just, uh... going to talk to Lance."

"Oh, I see," Celestia responded with a coy giggle. "This wouldn't have anything to do with your date tonight, would it?"

Sunset looked away with a blush. "Well... yeah..."

The alicorn simply continued to smile. "Then don't let me hold you up. Carry on."

Sunset was about to do just that, but paused, looking back at the princess again. Celestia reacted to her hesitance with a cocked eyebrow. With her focus on her upcoming date and her current search for advice on the subject, a question came to mind. "How much experience do you have with dating, Princess?"

Celestia's cheeks suddenly flushed red, the unexpected question catching her quite off guard. "M-Me?"

"Oh, sorry. Is that a little too personal?" Sunset apologized, worried her inquiry might be prying a little too deep and making the princess uncomfortable.

Celestia cleared her throat awkwardly, her blush lightening slightly, but still leaving a tinge of pink that was especially noticeable on her ivory cheeks. "No, no, it's fine. I suppose it's a perfectly reasonable question to ask. To be honest, it isn't uncommon for the media to attempt to pry into my personal life in hopes of a scandalous scoop."

"Well, I just figured, what with how long you've been around, you must've seen and done all sorts of things. I wouldn't think it'd be a stretch to think that you've had a romance or two. N-Not that I want to imply anything about you or your lifestyle."

Celestia's blush deepened once more, finding it hard to look Sunset in the eye due to how awkward this felt. However, her student appeared to be seeking solace in her wisdom, so she'd feel bad about not helping out in any way she could. "Truth be told, I have been in a few romantic relationships over my many years, though I can't say I allowed myself to get too invested in them. This goes back to the conversation you and I had last night."

Sunset let her ears fall back. Suddenly she regretted bringing the subject up. "You mean about how you said your relationships are fleeting..."

Celestia let out a wistful sigh. "Yes... While I count myself lucky that I've never had to watch my partners pass away, that's only because I was too scared to see it happen. So I'd always break it off at some point. I haven't actually had any romances that have lasted for more than a year."

Sunset found that rather shocking, taken aback by this revelation. "Really? That's... kinda sad."

"Eventually, it got to the point where I just didn't bother seeking out romance anymore. For somepony like me, relationships like that could only end in heartbreak. I haven't actually been on a date in nearly an entire millennium. So I may not be able to give you the advice you're looking for. Even with the experience I do have, times have changed since I was young. I'm not entirely sure what the young people of today do on dates," Celestia admitted with an embarrassed chuckle.

"That's okay. I was just curious that's all," Sunset said with an apologetic smile. However, her curiosity piqued once more as something else came to mind, though given everything that happened the previous night, she was a little reluctant to bring it up. "Um... I can probably guess the answer to this but... what about Luna?"

Much to Sunset's surprise, Celestia smiled fondly, and there was even a hint of amusement in her eyes. "Oh, Luna was utterly hopeless. When we were in the prime of our youth, before the gravity of our long lives had really hit us, I was quite actively seeking companionship. Though I think perhaps my status may have intimidated many potential suitors, which would be why I've had so few relationships despite my interest, but I digress. What I'm trying to get at is that Luna was quite the opposite, but you've seen that for yourself. She was rather reclusive, not to mention almost entirely oblivious to the many eyes that fancied her."

Sunset stared quietly. Her words sounded strangely similar to something else she'd heard recently.

"I tried to get Luna to go out and meet a nice pony to have a romantic evening with on a few occasions, but she always rejected the idea. Sometimes I wonder how much she may have changed if she had agreed to go on a few dates." She cast a proud smile to her student, who still looked to be feeling a little bad for bringing up Luna. "I suppose that's where the two of you differ."

"Huh?"

"Despite never showing any prior interest, you're at least willing to give the whole dating thing a go. And I look forward to hearing how things turn out for the two of you."

Sunset's face went flush, a goofy grin dimpling her cheeks. "Oh, uh, thanks."

"Now, rather than listening to this old fuddy duddy go on and on about her nonexistent love life, you go and experience it for yourself first hoof, alright?"

Sunset had nearly forgotten what she'd been doing up until now, already starting to creep toward the door now that the princess had reminded her. "R-Right, sorry. Thanks for sharing, Princess. And sorry again if it felt like I was prying." With that, she hurried out to go meet up with Lance, leaving the princess to ponder curiously about her former love life.

As she suspected, Lance was at his post by the entrance, along with Scabbard. While the unicorn guard was staying attentive to his duty as usual, Lance was actually engaged in idol conversation with a smile on his face, which seemed to indicate that he was starting to get back to his old self.

But the pertinent fact here was to whom Lance was talking: his younger brother. Sunset slowed her pace in the entrance hall upon seeing the silver stallion. She'd feel more than a little awkward asking Lance for his advice with Halberd standing right there. Maybe she could try again later.

But that idea was out the window once Lance caught sight of her standing there watching them. He waved to her, beckoning her over with a big grin. Against her better judgment, Sunset apprehensively sauntered over.

"Morning, Sunny," Lance greeted with a coy smirk.

"Uh, h-hey..." While Sunset's response was directed at Lance, her eyes were locked onto Halberd. The two of them suddenly had goofy, crooked smiles plastered on their faces, accompanied by bashful blushes.

Lance observed their awkward expressions with both fondness and amusement. "So, lovebirds, what's the plan for tonight?"

Halberd scratched his head. "Uh, we... haven't really discussed that yet."

"Great," Lance said with a chipper smile. "Wingin' it's always more fun anyway. Nothing's more romantic than spontaneity."

"Lance, cool it, will you?" Halberd complained, his blush deepening. "It's just a first date. It doesn't have to be super romantic."

Lance draped a hoof over his brother's shoulder, pulling him close, much to the younger stallion's chagrin. "Come on, you two have known each other for practically your whole lives. Nopony would blame you for wanting to skip a few steps."

"Maybe leave that up to us," Halberd deadpanned insistently.

The older pegasus backed off, though his playful grin never faltered. "Alright, whatever you say."

Halberd looked back at Sunset. Despite the awkwardness of the situation, he managed a genuine smile when he looked at her, as though he still couldn't believe she'd said yes. "So, what're you up to, Sunset? Heading out somewhere?"

"Um, well, no." She glanced briefly at Lance. She didn't want to outright admit that she was going to ask his brother for dating advice. "I need to talk to Lance about something."

Halberd looked a touch confused, glancing between her and Lance. His brother seemed equally confused.

"Really? About what?" Lance asked curiously. Sunset simply gave a discreet tilt of her head toward Halberd. Lance caught on to her meaning pretty quickly and decided to play along. "Oh, right! Uh, hey, Hal, you mind giving me and your lady friend a minute?"

Halberd was still just as puzzled by their odd exchange, but didn't bother digging into it. "Yeah, sure. I'm just gonna head back home for now." He passed another smile to Sunset as he waved goodbye. "See you tonight, Sunset."

"Yeah, looking forward to it," she said back with an eager grin of her own as he took off into the sky.

With his brother out of the way, Lance gave the younger mare a sly smirk, but didn't say anything. His silence and knowing grin made her a tad uncomfortable, but she came out here for a reason.

"I... want some advice..." she muttered with embarrassment.

Lance chuckled, finding the situation pretty amusing. "You know, I expected Hal to ask me for pointers, but you? Color me surprised."

"Yeah, well, no offense or anything, but you weren't my first choice. Unfortunately, Dad's track record isn't exactly going to be helpful..."

"No kidding," Lance grumbled with a grimace as he recalled the previous night. "I don't think I've ever been so relieved to be shot down by a mare before."

"And I was just talking to Princess Celestia about her dating experience, but she hasn't been in a relationship in around a millennium, so any advice she could give might be a little dated."

"Hey, I'm not saying no," the pegasus assured her. "It just might feel a little weird sharing my wisdom with a girl, you know?"

"And especially if it's about your own brother, right?" Sunset inferred.

Lance gave her another grin. "Actually, I'm more than willing to help you because it's Hal."

Sunset stared at him in mild surprise. "Really?"

"Of course. I'm just as excited about this as you two."

She just continued to stare. While she couldn't exactly wrap her head around why Lance was so excited, she wasn't going to question it as long as he was willing to help. She gave him a grateful smile. "Great. Thanks, Lance. So, uh... I don't know what I'm supposed to do on a date. Can you give me some notes?"

Lance couldn't help but laugh. "Sunny, come on, we're not sharing our homework here. This isn't really something you can just study, you know? Dating is a little different for everypony. Like, some of my advice might not apply to you two because I have my own approach."

Sunset was a little disappointed to hear that. "So you can't help me?"

"I said 'some of my advice.' There's general tips I can share, and I'll give you whatever I can to help this go as smoothly as possible."

Her spirits lifted once more, gazing earnestly, not unlike she'd look at Celestia during her lessons with her. "Okay, then give me whatever you've got."

"That's the attitude I was looking for," Lance said with a big grin. "Alright, so—"

Lance was brusquely interrupted by the sound of Scabbard clearing his throat. The unicorn was casting him a rather disgruntled, sidelong glance.

"There a problem?" Lance asked him in mild annoyance.

"While I've got no issue with you helping Sunset, do you have to do it with me standing here?" Scabbard inquired.

"Their date's tonight, so there's really no better opportunity for me to talk to them other than now."

"Couldn't you just take this talk somewhere else?"

Lance quirked an eyebrow, having to force back a surprised and amused snort. "I'm sorry, are you, of all people, suggesting that I leave my post for personal business?"

"I just don't want to inadvertently eavesdrop on what should probably be a private conversation. Just don't be gone too long."

Lance gave his fellow soldier a smile and a grateful pat on the shoulder before turning back to Sunset. "Alright, then. Come on, Sunset. Let's go for a walk."

Lance lead Sunset down the short steps and around the outside of the castle, the two heading toward the sculpture garden. Sunset took a moment to think about the short exchange between the two guards, smiling with relief to see that Lance appeared to be getting back to his old, laid back self. But there were more pressing things on her mind right now, and she was admittedly getting a little impatient.

"Okay, so lay it on me. What do we do tonight?" asked the mare as they passed under the archway in the garden's hedges.

Lance took a moment to think it over, humming to himself, though it sounded rather forced. "Let's see... Well, Hal probably had a point. This is your first date, so it's probably best not to over-complicate things. Like I said, winging it is probably the way to go; just do whatever you think feels right in the moment. You understand?"

"Um, I guess," she responded, though the look on her face gave the impression that she was still unsure.

Lance sighed at her indecisive reaction, but couldn't keep the knowing smile off his face. "Alright, then how about this: let me lay out exactly what I think you should do."

Sunset nodded, listening intently. "Okay."

"First, just go for a relaxing stroll through town, walking side by side and chatting the whole way."

"Sounds simple enough."

"Then, you guys can probably stop for a bite to eat somewhere, preferably somewhere you both like."

"I know a few good places."

"And if you wanna keep things going, you can come back to the castle and just hang out."

Sunset stopped walking, giving Lance a confused and uncertain look. "Hang on. All of this just sounds like stuff me and Hal do all the time."

Lance's smile only widened. "Exactly."

The amber unicorn blinked uncomprehendingly. "Huh?"

"Come on, don't you get it, Sunset? You came to me looking for dating advice, but you two have basically been dating for years at this point. You just didn't realize it."

Sunset was silent as she thought about that.

"You really don't have to do anything special. Like I said earlier, you two have been friends practically your whole lives. The whole point of the first date is usually to get to know your partner better, but you guys know each other pretty well already. If you want my advice: just do what your heart tells you. Whatever you choose to do tonight isn't going to affect how you feel about one another, because you already care about each other. Come on, you know that, right?"

"Um..." Sunset took a moment to let that sink in. "I guess... you have a point."

Lance leaned in with a coy smirk. "You want me to let you in on something? When I was talking to Hal earlier, he was asking me for advice, too."

Sunset stared in surprise. "Really?"

"Yeah. It's all he's been able to talk about since last night."

Sunset felt her heart flutter in her chest. Somehow, knowing Halberd was just as distracted by the idea of their date made her feel much more comfortable.

"And, look, if you feel weird about dating your best friend, don't be. You guys have felt like this about each other for a long time, right? It's only natural to take the next logical step. To be honest, I was actually starting to worry that Hal had given up on you last night."

"What?"

Lance observed the puzzled look on her face, fearing that he'd maybe said something he shouldn't have. "Uh, maybe it wasn't my place to say that, but—"

"What do you mean we felt like this for a long time? I thought it was completely out of nowhere when he asked me out. I had no idea what I was feeling or why when he came out and asked me."

The pegasus was quiet as he looked over the genuine confusion on her face. "Seriously? You... didn't have feelings for him at all before now?"

"Not romantically, no."

Lance practically had to take a step back as this revelation hit him. "Huh. Wow, I guess I misread the situation this whole time. I was hoping from the get-go that you two'd wind up together."

"Really? Did Hal know?"

"What? Know what?"

"That you wanted us to go out?"

Lance blinked. He wasn't entirely sure what to say. He'd been helping his little brother vie for Sunset's affection since the two of them were kids, so it was a little shocking for him to just now come to the realization that Sunset hadn't actually shared Halberd's feelings this whole time. Halberd may have been right: this mare was just oblivious. But it wasn't like that was important now. What was important was that Halberd had finally asked her out, and now they could pursue that relationship like Lance had been hoping all these years.

Lance breathed a sigh. "Alright, look. What I wanted isn't really the point here. I'm happy for you two, and I have no doubt you'll be happy together. But don't worry about what I think. You two just go out and be you. Like we discussed, you don't have to do anything special—I have little doubt this thing's gonna go off without a hitch either way, because I know you two. Just enjoy your date, alright?"

Sunset was still a bit unsure about some of the things Lance had said, but still gave him an affirming nod and a grateful smile. "Alright. Thanks, Lance."

"No problem," he replied with a grin. "And if either of you need any real pointers, hit me up, alright?"

"Sure thing."

With a zealous skip and a hop, Sunset trotted eagerly out of the garden. Lance let out a sigh. He felt a little bad that he'd pegged Sunset wrong all these years. He'd been trying to convince his brother for ages that Sunset felt the same way about him all this time, and he was a little disappointed to find out that that wasn't actually the case. Still though, like he'd told her, they've known each other a long time; it wasn't unreasonable to think that she could develop those same feelings for Halberd. Or maybe she already had and just didn't recognize it. Either way, Lance had no reason to believe that anything other than good could come from their date. Now, he was just eager to find out how everything went.

***** ***** *****

Halberd stood impatiently at the castle gates, tapping his hoof on the stone path underneath him. Perhaps "impatient" wasn't the right word; eager, excited, anxious, maybe even a little apprehensive. But one thing was for certain: he couldn't get the smile off his face.

This was it. The moment for which he'd been waiting for practically his whole life. He was finally going on a date with Sunset Shimmer. Just thinking those words made him think that this may have just been a dream—he'd had similar dreams before—but no matter what he did to try and prove that to himself, he never seemed to wake up, which was definitely a good sign.

Halberd stared up at the sky. The sun was setting and the sky was an incandescent orange. It reminded him of the very mare he was waiting on: beautiful and comforting. While it wasn't his intention to try and make this date as romantic as possible, the atmosphere of the dusk sky was just too soothing to pass up.

They also didn't put too much thought into what they'd be doing tonight, but they did set a time. However, even though it had now arrived at that time, Sunset had yet to show. Halberd would have assumed in this sort of circumstance that he would think something had gone amiss, or that Sunset had forgotten or outright changed her mind. But it didn't bother him for some reason. Even though he had to wait a little longer despite Sunset usually being pretty punctual, he didn't make any assumptions. He just stood there in anticipation with a smile on his face.

And eventually his patience rewarded him. Even from the castle gates, Halberd heard the entrance doors closing. He spotted the distant, amber silhouette of his company quickly trotting down the path towards him, and his smile grew wider.

Sunset walked up to him with a smile of her own. The moment their eyes met, the two couldn't help but blush—something that had become a regular occurrence throughout the day. After a brief silence, Sunset finally spoke up. "Sorry I'm a little late. I wanted to make sure my mane was presentable."

"It's fine. And you really don't have to go to those lengths for me," Halberd told her with a fond grin.

"So, uh... Should we go?"

Halberd stepped aside, gesturing for her to start down the road into town alongside him.

Admittedly, the air felt a touch awkward. Obviously, neither of them knew what they were doing, so they were expecting things to be a little uncomfortable. Still, though, they never let that affect their enthusiasm. Sunset and Halberd still shared occasional glances as they walked into town, smiling the whole way.

For as much as Sunset had been anticipating their date, there was this nagging question at the back of her mind; one she wasn't quite sure she should voice or not for fear of sending the wrong message to Halberd. But she decided it was probably better to get it out of the way now rather than later.

They had entered the city proper by now. It wasn't an odd sight for the citizens to see the two walking down the street together, which only reinforced Lance's words to Sunset earlier that day. They were so used to seeing both Sunset and Halberd accompanying each other that none of them would likely even give it a second thought, let alone assume they were on a date.

That thought just made Sunset's question all the more pertinent.

"Hal," she started pensively as the two made their way to the town square, finally breaking the silence between them.

Halberd turned to her, still wearing a smile. "Yeah?"

Sunset swallowed. She wasn't sure if his smile was going to make her question easier or harder on them. "Is this... weird?"

Halberd scratched his chin and looked up at the amber sky. "Well, I kinda thought we'd strike up a conversation sooner, but I expected it to be a little awkward at the beginning."

"That's not exactly what I mean."

Halberd raised an eyebrow.

"I mean... is it weird to be going on a date with your best friend?"

Halberd stared at her, his smile faltering, but responding with assurance. "Not really. Why? Do you think it's weird?"

She shied away slightly, feeling a little ashamed. "Well... If I'm honest, a little."

Halberd's expression fell slightly. "Sunset, I hope you didn't feel pressured to say yes when I asked you out. I know there was a crowd of people, and you were in an emotional place, so—"

"No, it's nothing like that," Sunset cut him off with a shake of her head. "Actually, Dad was worried about the same thing. And, honestly, I've been thinking since you asked if maybe that might have been the case. But I think I've come to a conclusion on that. When I said yes, it wasn't my brain that was talking." She looked Halberd in the eye. "It was my heart."

Halberd's smile returned. Unbeknownst to Sunset, he felt his own heart beat faster upon hearing her say that, but he tried to dismiss any concerns she might have with a bit of playfulness. "Heh, never thought I'd hear you say something so romantic," he commented with a smirk. He expected her face to flush at least a little at his words, but her expression didn't seem to shift at all.

"But it was just kinda out of nowhere, right? I certainly never expected you to just ask me out out of the blue like that. I don't regret agreeing to it or anything, but I was just wondering where this came from all of a sudden. You didn't think it was weird to look your childhood friend in the eye and ask them on a date?"

Halberd gazed into her uncomprehending, teal eyes. He sighed. He had a feeling he'd have to pour out his emotions at some point, though he didn't expect to have to do it so soon. He turned his gaze to the cobblestone street they walked on as he spoke. "I never thought for a second that it was weird. Actually, it's just the opposite. It might have been out of the blue for you, but for me, I've been thinking about this for years."

Sunset's eyes widened slightly. "Years?"

A slight tinge of red appeared on Halberd's cheeks. "Being completely honest, I've had a crush on you since we were little kids. I just could never work up the courage to tell you, and whenever I thought I had, something would interrupt us."

Sunset's mouth dropped open a bit, in awe of this news. "I... I had no idea. I've just always thought of you as a good friend. It never occurred to me at all until last night that we could be any more than that."

"I was starting to believe that myself, especially recently."

Sunset thought back to something else Lance had said to her: something about Halberd 'giving up.'

"If it weren't for that rush I got from telling off your mo—that woman—I probably would have resigned myself to being just your friend. I've been going to Lance for advice about this pretty much since I met you, and he always insisted that you had to feel the same way, but I could never be sure."

Pretty much everything Lance had said was starting to come together in Sunset's mind now. Lance had been trying to help Halberd ask her out all these years. It was no wonder he was so receptive when she asked for his advice. But this revelation was concerning to Sunset; not for Halberd, but for herself. How could she have never noticed? Was she really so blind that she couldn't see it? Now the things that her father had said to her at the Gala were starting to make a lot more sense.

Halberd tore his eyes away from their path, looking at her again with another smile. "I kinda wish I had asked you sooner than I did, especially knowing now that you'd've said yes. But, hey, better late than never, right?"

Sunset was touched that he wasn't hurt by her ignorance, but at the same time, she couldn't bring herself to smile back. She'd essentially been unknowingly stringing him along all this time, and despite that he still managed to be happy, yet she suddenly felt like dirt.

Seeing as Sunset was being quiet, Halberd decided to turn his sights on the town around them. "So, wanna get a bite? I could go for some hay fries. What about you?"

Having been asked a question, Sunset finally managed a smile, though it was admittedly a little forced. "Sure, hay fries sound good."

Sunset was intimately familiar with Canterlot's many dining establishments, a trait that most people wouldn't have expected from a pony like her. It's always been known that Princess Celestia was a bit of a connoisseur of good eats, much to the dismay of her personal dietitian, but not many would have expected her fondness for food to be a trait that Sunset would have picked up from the princess. In truth, Sunset was actually a rather skilled cook, though didn't often exercise her culinary talents as the castle's kitchen staff were much more reliable and efficient.

It was just too bad that Sunset also picked up Celestia's table manners—or lack thereof. Despite being the picture of elegance and grace, the princess was actually a rather sloppy eater, at least in private. Behind closed doors, she was rather overzealous with her meals, but managed to maintain her poise and dignity when she dined with company.

Sunset, not so much.

The young couple had chosen a restaurant near the town square, close enough to the cliff side to give a good view of the Everfree Forest and Canterlot Valley from the outdoor dining tables, at which they currently sat as they enjoyed their meals. Halberd had opted to eat his hay fries plain, while Sunset had ordered a hefty serving of ketchup for dipping.

Halberd watched Sunset fondly as she dug into her fries, ketchup smearing her lips whenever she would scoop far more than was necessary for a single fry and chomped into it. Obviously, Halberd took no issue with her lack of table manners; he'd dined with her many a time over the years, as friends just hanging out, so he was used to her questionable eating habits. But as familiar as this scenario felt to him, for some reason, it also felt different. He didn't feel like it was necessary to hide the admiring smile on his face. And whenever Sunset would take a second to look up from her food and see him staring at her like that, she'd shy away cutely with a blush as she remembered that this was a date.

At some point, it felt to Sunset like Halberd was spending more time staring at her than eating his food. It was starting to make her feel like she was doing something wrong, like she was supposed to be doing the same. She'd been anticipating this date all day, but now that they were out and about, she was beginning to lapse back into the mindset that this was just a casual outing with a friend. That's basically what Lance had told her to do, but something in mind told her she should probably be doing more, she just didn't know what.

Conversely, she knew now that Halberd had been looking forward to this for far longer than she had. Was he expecting her to act a certain way? Was this date going the way he'd imagined it thus far? Was he going to regret asking her out if they didn't do something special? The feelings that Sunset had started experiencing in the wake of this were still very new to her, confusing even. But Halberd had had so long to think about this because he'd been staring at her the way he was now for years, Sunset had just never noticed. The question on her mind now was: why did she never notice?

"Hal..." Sunset started quietly, adding more to the ambiance than just the sound of them chewing food. "I want to apologize."

Halberd sighed through his nostrils. He could already tell by the shame in her tone and expression what this was about. "You don't have anything to apologize for. I should've let you know how I felt sooner. I could've saved myself a lot of worrying and stress. I brought it on myself with my cowardice."

Sunset's ears drooped, her apologetic frown not lifting at all. "I just don't know how I couldn't've noticed. You and me spend so much time together. There must have been some point where I noticed something, but no matter how much I think back, I'm coming up with nothing. I know it's probably not what you want to hear, but I guess I didn't feel the same way about you as you did for me until last night. And even now..."

Halberd stared at her. Her implication as she trailed off was as clear as day. A part of him was scared of what that meant, but he nodded in understanding. "You're still not sure, right?"

She turned away from him, unable to look him in the eye.

Halberd closed his eyes, inhaling deeply through his nostrils. While he was worried about where this train of thought was going, he felt it was his responsibility as the one who's been invested longer in their relationship to try and remedy any doubts that either of them might still have. "I can't blame you. Like you said, it was out of the blue. I guess I can't expect you to return my feelings just like that, even if you said it was your heart that said yes."

"I'm just kind of kicking myself knowing that I've been inadvertently hurting you just because I've been completely oblivious. I definitely like spending time with you—we probably wouldn't have been friends for as long as we have if I didn't—so I'm just a little confused as to why I couldn't see it before now."

Halberd leaned back in his chair. "Well, let's be honest, you've always been pretty obsessed with Princess Celestia."

Sunset blinked. She certainly wasn't expecting him to bring up the princess. "Princess Celestia?"

"Yeah, I mean, let's face it, you've basically dedicated your entire life to being like the princess, right? Everything you've ever done, the person you are today, is all thanks to Princess Celestia."

"Well, yeah, but what does that have to do with you and me?"

"It's just been what you've focused most of your life on. I don't know if you've noticed, but when you get invested in something, you kind of have a tendency to tune out everything else. You were so excited when Princess Celestia made you her student after you moved the sun that you put all of your attention towards your studies and didn't really make time for much else."

Sunset just stared, as though she had realized that she had done something horrible. It only dawned on her now the number of times Halberd had asked her to hang out when they were kids, only for her to brush him off so she could study and train with Princess Celestia.

Halberd could see the visible guilt on her face. Maybe this wasn't the sort of topic he should have brought up; they were supposed to be on a date, but Sunset had barely smiled at all since the date started. "Hey, I'm not saying it's a bad thing to have a goal and give it your all. I was pretty devoted to becoming a royal guard."

"Yet you had time to try and get closer to me... Meanwhile, I couldn't spare a single second of my time for you."

"That's not true. You and me spent plenty of time together after Princess Celestia cut back on your lessons."

"Yeah, and what did I do? Got on her case about it right after she had to banish her own sister..."

"Hey!"

Sunset's eyes shot up from the table. It wasn't often that Halberd raised his voice like that, so it caught her off guard. He was gazing at her rather intensely.

"Stop beating yourself up. This is supposed to be a date, right? If you really feel bad about not knowing how I felt about you, then make it up to me by giving me a smile."

Sunset stared at him silently. There was no hint of pain in his hazel eyes, no indication that he felt hurt by her ignorance. Maybe she was overthinking this and taking it too seriously.

"You don't know how much I've been kicking myself over the years for not asking you out, but now that we're here, all of that doesn't matter. It's not about how long it took me to ask you, it's that I did it at all."

Again, Sunset could only gaze into his eyes. She finally managed the genuine smile he had requested of her. "Wow, now that you've finally worked up the courage to ask me out, you've gotten a lot more bold and passionate. Guess that's the side of you I needed to see to finally notice, huh?"

Halberd smiled back, simply happy to know his words were helping. "Or maybe I'm just trying desperately to make sure this goes well. I don't know how well I'm hiding it, but I'm still crazy nervous over here," he admitted with an awkward chuckle.

Sunset tapped her hooves on the table bashfully. "If either of us are gonna ruin this date, it's me. I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing."

"Neither do I. I might have had a crush on you all this time, but it's not like I've had any other girlfriends to practice with."

"Guess we'll just learn as we go, huh? Now I feel kinda silly trying to find dating books to prepare for this," Sunset said with an embarrassed grin.

Halberd had to stifle his laughter. "Why am I not surprised that you, of all people, would turn to books for dating advice?"

Sunset puffed out her cheeks indignantly. "Hey! You sure you wanna tease me like that? Like I said, I can ruin this date pretty quick."

Halberd didn't even flinch at her threat, mostly because he could see her forcing back a smile through her forced pout. Now this was starting to feel like all the other times they'd hung out. He looked down at his plate of fries, noting that they were both almost finished their meals. "Wanna order some strawberry shortcake for dessert?"

Sunset smirked as she popped another ketchup-smeared fry in her mouth. "You say that as if I were going to let us leave without having cake."

***** ***** *****

Their date had gone on for hours, though Sunset and Halberd wouldn't have even noticed if it weren't for the absence of Celestia's sun. By now, the moon had been raised, the imprisoned Nightmare Moon's visage visible in the sky.

The pair had been happily chatting the whole time, no longer wearing the burdens that weighed them down when the date had begun. They were simply enjoying themselves, as they had any other time they hung out. The knowledge that this particular outing was meant to be something more emotional, more romantic, was still in their minds, but not necessarily at the forefront. It just meant that there were times when one or the other would find themselves staring at their partner without thinking, an involuntary smile on their lips.

At this time, Canterlot was relatively quiet. Barely another pony was meandering around the city's streets other than the new, young couple. It almost made it feel even more romantic, like everypony else had purposely left to give them privacy. In reality, it was simply due to the late hour. Unbeknownst to Sunset and Halberd, it was approaching midnight, yet they had no interest yet in heading home.

"...so Lance hid it under his bed thinking that Mom and Dad wouldn't find it," Halberd chuckled as he regaled another story to his companion.

"Right, because you can just hide a stray cat like that," Sunset giggled.

"Yeah, he was found out within ten minutes, but not before that cat tore his bedsheets to shreds. Our parents were furious."

"Couldn't be any more furious than Scabbard was the day I snuck into his room," Sunset laughed.

"Oh, yeah, Lance mentioned that to me," said Halberd with a barely restrained grin. "He said Scabbard's blue coat was burning red the rest of the day, but from embarrassment rather than anger."

"He is pretty defensive about his collection of wooden sculptures, and, boy, does he have a lot of them," Sunset snickered. "For somepony who takes his job so seriously, he seems to spend a lot of time making those things. Although, to be fair, those sculptures were pretty well made. Scabbard's got some talent."

Sunset glanced up at the sky for a moment, noting the blanket of twinkling stars shining above them. It was only now that she realized how long this date had been going on, not that she was in a hurry to end it. But the time did bring something else to her attention. She lifted a hoof, shaking it with a quiet groan. "Ugh, my hooves are aching."

Halberd gave her a sympathetic look. In truth, he wasn't in such great shape himself, what with his still-healing injury and all. But being so engrossed in their conversation, like Sunset, he didn't really notice the pain until it was brought up. "We've been walking around Canterlot for a while now." He turned to a bench positioned near the cliff side in Canterlot Square that allowed for a beautiful—not to mention romantic—view of the landscape below. He gestured toward the bench. "Wanna take a break?"

The two sat down, their previous conversations being put on hold. A comfortable silence fell over them as they stared out over the black-veiled countryside. While the sky was dark, the light of the moon illuminated the land enough to be visible, even from this distance and despite the celestial pearl's surface being darkened by the face etched upon it. One would think that the view before them was made somewhat somber given everything that's happened in recent weeks. The ruined Castle of the Two Sisters in the distance, the knowledge that the once awe-inspiring Everfree Forest was now home to vicious beasts, and the face of the transformed moon princess gazing down upon them were all reminders of the hardships everypony—especially Princess Celestia—have had to deal with.

One would think so, but one would be wrong.

At this moment in time, the view before them possessed a melancholic beauty. It wasn't that Sunset and Halberd weren't thinking about those things, but that they were managing to enjoy the view in spite of them. And it was all because of what this day meant for them, and the pony sitting beside them. It was a thought that had crossed their minds multiple times throughout the evening. They were advised to simply treat this date like a normal outing between the two, yet at the same time, they knew it was different.

Sunset found herself once more gazing at Halberd as he stared off into the darkened distance. It was still hard for her to wrap her mind around the fact that he'd had these feelings for her pretty much from the moment they met, and she had no idea. She'd already agreed not to harp on it anymore and just enjoy the date, but there was still a question that lingered in her mind.

"Hal?"

Halberd tore his eyes away from the captivating beauty of the horizon to look at the captivating beauty seated beside him. "Yeah?"

She hesitated for a moment as she stared into his hazel eyes, an involuntary blush tinting her cheeks. "Why me?"

Halberd cocked a puzzled eyebrow at the question. "What?"

"Of all ponies you could have fallen for, why did you fall for me?"

Halberd could still see the shame in her expression, the regret in her eyes. He gave her a smile to quell her worries. "Well... I guess because you're you."

Sunset rolled her eyes. "I wasn't trying to prompt a sappy answer. I'm being serious." Her ears flattened as she continued. "You knew I never noticed the way you looked at me, and knew I probably didn't feel the same way, at least not consciously. But you still pursued me. You still stuck by my side in the hopes that I'd eventually notice. Don't you feel like you wasted a lot of time on somepony as ignorant and oblivious as me?"

Halberd watched as the guilt filled her face. He honestly felt bad. Had he had the courage to ask her much sooner, then these concerns wouldn't even be a thing. He knew it was his own fault that she was having to struggle with these emotions right now, so he also felt it was his responsibility to put her at ease.

"If I'm being perfectly honest, there were plenty of times where it was painful to look at you the way I do knowing that you weren't looking at me the same way. Every day I put it off just made it more and more difficult."

"Then why not look for some other girl? Somepony who'd be better at catching on to your signals?"

An awkward grin creased his silver muzzle. "Come on, you know me. Even if I wanted to ask another girl out, I'm a shaky mess. Lack of courage would still be a thing." He looked at Sunset more softly. "But—and I know this gonna sound cheesy—no other girl is like you, Sunset."

Sunset felt her face become hotter, fending of the coolness of the night air.

"You know, I've thought about it a lot; why I chose you over any other girl. I think it's because you were everything that I wasn't. I was always quiet, subdued, nervous, never really stood out." Halberd gazed deeper into Sunset's teal irises, a profound respect in his hazel eyes. "You were the total opposite. Energetic, optimistic... lively. I almost felt like being around you would help those traits rub off on me. And even though I was disappointed sometimes whenever you'd choose to head straight back to the castle to get to your lessons with the princess, I always admired your devotion to the things that were important to you."

Halberd smiled fondly at Sunset. "I guess that was the one thing we had in common. I was always pretty dedicated to my dream of being a royal guard, like my brother. But I guess that same dedication was the reason why I kept my focus on you. The more fervently you chase your dream, the more satisfying it'll be when you finally achieve it. Sure, there was a lot of disappointment that resulted from trying to vie for your affection, and there may have even been times where I thought about giving up to spare myself the heartbreak. But now that we're here—now that I've finally done what I set out to do—I can say with certainty that it was worth it."

Sunset could only stare back at him, her jaw slacked slightly as she silently absorbed every word. Her hooves were trembling, her face was burning, and her mind was a typhoon of thoughts and emotions. She unknowingly put him through so much torment, and she wondered if a relationship between them could last. She'd gone so long without knowing how he felt, and she was still trying to figure out for herself if she really felt the same way. If they chose to pursue this relationship, would she simply lapse back into her hyper-focused mindset and let him slip to the back of her mind? Would he feel neglected if she spent too much time with the princess instead of him?

Would she ultimately break his heart?

A part of her wanted to tell him that they couldn't do this, that if they dragged this out, she'd only end up hurting him. But at the same time, that thought—that fear of causing him that kind of pain—was why she continued to stare into his eyes. She didn't want to hurt him, and now she understood why. It was the same reason he had been chasing her for all these years.

Sunset's heart pounded almost audibly. She turned her gaze down, tearing her eyes away from Halberd's, but not because of shame, or guilt, or regret. As though it were a natural reflex, Sunset let her head rest against Halberd's shoulder, nuzzling lightly into his neck, a smile more genuine than any she'd had that day gracing her lips as she nestled into him. She felt the feathers of Halberd's wing wrap around her midsection, holding her tighter against him.

This entire day was a mess of emotions for Sunset. From her eager anticipation of being asked out, to the nervousness about doing it the right way, the questions and doubts that arose as Halberd made his feelings clear to her. As the date had proceeded, she found herself wondering if agreeing to it was the right thing to do. But as she sat there within her best friend's embrace, letting the cool, night air calm the heated worries in her heart, she was pretty sure she knew. This...

This felt right.