• Published 9th May 2020
  • 1,346 Views, 223 Comments

Magica Ex Dolori - Posh

A wave of suicides sweeps through Canterville. Sunset and the girls can't stop it. But maybe Wallflower Blush can. She just needs someone to show her how. A crossover with Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

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2. Blow Out the Candles

Officer Peacemaker finished scribbling on his notepad, and looped his pencil behind an ear. The red pulse of the ambulance's strobe lights highlighted the deep lines on his face.

"So," he said, "that's everything, then?"

Sunset folded her arms and nodded, resisting the urge to scratch at the bandages wrapped around her cuts. She glanced down the sidewalk, where Officer Peacemaker's partner quietly grilled Wallflower Blush. Wallflower seemed anxious, shockingly, but she was talking – actually talking to the police officer.

Peacemaker coughed, catching Sunset's attention again. "Nothing you want to add? Details you've remembered that slipped your mind before?"

Sunset blinked. "Like what?"

Officer Peacemaker raised an eyebrow. "You tell me."

Sunset bit back an acerbic retort, breathing deep and letting the air out slowly. "It's like I said. We were waiting for the bus. Principal Cadance got off acting funny, and went into the alley. We followed, she snapped and tried to hurt herself, and we stopped her."

"Which doesn't explain the cuts on your arm and leg."

Sunset allowed herself one quick scratch. "There was a lot of glass. She broke a window, remember?"

"The ones on your hand? Your palm and your fingers?"

"She was trying to cut herself with a big chunk of glass. I had to wrestle it away from her, and I cut my hand on the edge—"

"Yes, I know. She has injuries corresponding to yours. Except yours are deeper." Peacemaker narrowed his eyes. "What were you trying to do, exactly, that gave you worse cuts than hers, in the same locations, to boot?"

Sunset smiled thinly. "I don't know what you're trying to accuse me of—"

"Sunset, please. We all know your days of lifting menthols from the bodega are well and truly behind you. Hell, there've been four suicides in this neighborhood over the last two weeks, and there would've been a fifth if it weren't for you. Way I see it, you're a hero." Peacemaker cast a quick look toward the ambulance, then leaned toward Sunset, lowering his voice.

"But to be blunt, your story doesn't add up. And Miss Cadenza's memory lapse means I can't take her as a credible witness. If I'm missing something, or if there's something you're not telling me..." He dropped his voice even lower. "If she did something else that you didn't mention..."

Sunset tried to clench her hands. The bandages around her right got in the way, the cuts itching worse under their wrappings. "She didn't attack me, if that's what you're suggesting."

Officer Peacemaker's gaze bored into Sunset. "That bruise around your neck tells a different story."

Her breathing hitched. Unconsciously, her left hand drifted to the purple ring marking the spot where Briar Rose's hands had tried to crush the life from her.

"You played dumb to the paramedics," Peacemaker continued, "but that doesn't mean they didn't notice. Doesn't mean they didn't tell me about it."

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Sunset, monotone.

Peacemaker gave a long, deep sigh. "Maybe you think you're being noble, trying to protect someone – whether it's Cadance, or if there was another person in the alley with you, I don't know. But if you are, then the right thing to do is—"

"I've answered your questions as clearly as I possibly can." Sunset braced her knuckles on her hips. "I don't have anything else to add, and I don't want to change my story."

Peacemaker's jaw worked in a slow circle, his teeth grinding audibly. His voice dropped even lower, to a murmur. "Is this one of those problems?"

For a fleeting instant, and not for the first time, the geode around Sunset's neck felt like an albatross.

"Just tell me if I'm free to go or not," she said firmly.

She heard footsteps from behind, then – Peacemaker's partner coming to join them. A look passed between the two officers; his partner shook her head.

"...We have all we need for now," said Officer Peacemaker, "and we won't keep you any longer. Thanks for your cooperation. It's a pleasure as always."

Sunset kept her eyes on them until they were back in their squad car and on the road.

Wallflower waited until they were gone before shuffling over, biting her lip, and indicating the ambulance with a glance. Understanding her meaning, Sunset nodded.

"Did it go okay?" she said to Wallflower as they walked toward the ambulance.

Wallflower nodded. "I stuck to the script. I think she knew I was holding something back, but she just said to call her if I 'remembered' anything."

"That's oddly generous for a cop," said Sunset. "It sounds like she went easy on you."

"I've talked to Officer Killjoy before." Wallflower's next step dragged against the concrete. "She was nice to me then, too."

The girls found Cadance lying on a gurney, quietly talking with the paramedics. They'd removed her suit jacket and cut away her shirt sleeve, wrapping her right arm from the hand to the elbow in gauze and bandages. Seeing Sunset and Wallflower approach, she said something to the paramedics, and they cleared out of the ambulance, moving a respectful distance away.

"Did you come to see me off?" said Cadance. Her smile didn't reach her eyes. "They're taking me to the hospital after this. Called my fiance, and everything. Funny – so this is how it feels to get tattled on."

"I should apologize, then,” said Sunset, laughing politely. “I tattled on you to Twilight when I saw you go into the alley."

Although she hadn't heard back from her, yet. Unusual, but it wasn't impossible that Twilight was simply busy. It was a school night, after all.

"But apart from that,” Sunset continued, “how do you feel?"

"Oh, marvelous. I've been made a southpaw against my will." Making a face, Cadance flopped her mummified arm once. "Fortunately, I'm ambidextrous, but I enjoy having options, you know?"

Sunset smiled thinly at Cadance’s humor. The woman was probably holding on by a thread. And that was a problem in itself, but in the here and now, Sunset needed information if she and the girls were going to stop what happened to her from happening to anyone else.

She wanted to wait before pressing her with questions. But the sooner she could get the answers she needed, the better.

Cautiously, Sunset said, "Do you remember anything about what happened tonight?"

Cadance’s smile, already forced, wore a little at the edges, and her gaze drifted far away.

"I remember all of it," she whispered. "Leaving the school, getting on the bus, talking to you... what I said to you in the alley... but I don't remember why, or what I was thinking when I..."

Sunset took a breath. "I used my powers on you, just for a second. Do you remember that, too?"

"I... I'm sorry, but I just... don’t." Cadance broke off, cupping her face with her uninjured hand. "God, I actually tried to... to..."

"It's okay," Wallflower whispered. "It's over now. You're safe."

Sunset looked at her, mildly surprised that she'd spoken up. Wallflower looked back.

Ease up, she mouthed.

She was right, and Sunset knew it. Maybe the answers could wait after all.

Cadance took a moment to steady herself, breathing slowly and deeply, before lowering her hands and plastering that fake smile back on her face. "I'm glad that you came to say goodbye, you know. I wanted to thank you – both of you – for showing up tonight."

Sunset shook her head. "We were just in the right place at the right time."

"That wasn't what I was referring to, Sunset. I wanted to thank you for..." Cadance's smile wavered. "For showing up at the vigil."

"...Ah." Sunset drew her lips together. "It was the least I could do. And I mean, I was only there because Twilight—"

"The least you could have done was not show up at all for her." Her smile broke completely, and Cadance pressed her hand against her mouth, squeezing her eyes shut. "No one ever did."

Biting her thumb, Sunset glanced at the paramedics – they were diligently looking away. Wondering if she was going to get in trouble for this, she climbed into the ambulance, crouching low. Then she placed her hand on Cadance's back, rubbing softly.

To her surprise, the older woman turned into her embrace, burying her face in Sunset's neck and clinging to her shoulders.

"I couldn't save Moondancer," she whispered. Her tears, warm and wet, tickled Sunset's skin. "But you saved me, and I'll always remember that."

Sunset wrapped her arms around Cadance, and held her in return.

After a moment, Cadance broke away with one final squeeze. Sniffling, she straightened out her shirt, trying to give herself a semblance of poise. "Thank you, once more, both of you. I hope we can meet again under happier circumstances."

"Me too, Principal Cadance." Sunset climbed out of the ambulance, accepting Wallflower's hand to guide her down.

Cadance piped up one more time. "And Wallflower?"

Wallflower stiffened, and quirked her head at Cadance.

"Seeing you again was a lovely surprise." The smile Cadance gave her wasn't forced this time. "Don't forget what I said before, okay?"

Swallowing, Wallflower nodded, and mumbled in acknowledgement. Then she awkwardly shuffled back, behind Sunset.

At that, the paramedics approached, gently urging Sunset and Wallflower out of the way. Cadance waved one last time as they closed up the ambulance. Then they boarded, and a moment later, the ambulance revved to life and pulled away.

Sunset returned Cadance's wave, and didn't stop waving until the ambulance had vanished in the fog. "I didn't know you met Cadance before," she said to Wallflower.

"Yeah, at the Friendship Games. She visited the garden a couple times." Wallflower hugged herself tightly. "When I saw her at the vigil, I didn't think she'd remember, but she came right over to talk to me. She asked how the gardening club was doing, and she said... 'Canterlot High wouldn't be half as pretty and peaceful without you.'"

"She really is one of the good ones, isn't she?" Sunset stuck her hands in her vest pockets. "We should make some time to see her. She'll be held at the hospital for twenty-four hours. "

"Forty-eight." Wallflower's voice was a whisper, faint as the wind. She looked at Sunset from the corner of her eyes, but glanced away as soon as she met Sunset's gaze, pulling a curtain of hair over her face like a hood.

Biting her lip, Sunset looped an arm around Wallflower's shoulders, and held her loosely.

"Finally. I thought they'd never leave."

Sunset released Wallflower and spun, memories of Briar Rose fresh in her mind. It was only Lorelai, leaned back comfortably on the bus stop bench, legs crossed.

Sunset didn't relax. "Where'd you come from?"

"I never left – I was just staying out of sight until the cops and paramedics took off," said Lorelai. "The lady's okay, right?"

"The 'dead weight' is just fine," Sunset said acidly. "Thank you for asking."

"C'mon, don't make me sound heartless. I wouldn't have let anything bad happen to her." She gave Sunset an easy smile. "Anyway, I appreciate you not mentioning me to the police. The authorities and I don't have the most positive relationship. I assume you can relate."

The menthols. Sunset flushed, remembering Peacemaker's remark. You shoplift once, try smoking once, and you never live it down...

"Whatever," Sunset muttered. "Not like I did it for you. Cops complicate things, that's all."

"Heh. Somebody's a bad girl.” Lorelai rose from the bench and approached Sunset, her hands in her coat pockets, her eyes tracing along Sunset's bandages. "Well, since you kept your mouth shut..."

She withdrew her hand from her pocket, her fist clenched. Then she opened it, palm-up, to reveal the egg-shaped gem that had lit the alley before.

Sunset looked suspiciously at it. "What are you—"


A light sprang from the gem, washing over Sunset. She recoiled, a warm tingling sensation spreading down her arm and her leg, over her palm, and her neck. Gradually, it faded – and with it, the itches that'd been plaguing her.

Lorelai flexed her fingers, one after the other, clenching them into a fist. The gem vanished in a flash of light, and the ring materialized around her finger, set with a stone that shone, albeit faintly, with the same green light.

She grinned, fanning her fingers back out. "Beats bandages and aspirin, huh?"

Sunset turned her hand over, slowly, running her fingers over the bandages. "What did you do...?"

Instead of answering, Lorelai reached for her hand before she could protest, and took it with both of her own. Her fingers deftly undid the bandages, letting them fall to the ground. The skin beneath was pristine. There were no scars, not a shred of evidence that the cuts had ever even been there.

"Impressed yet?" Lorelai said. She traced her thumb along Sunset's palm, where the cut had been, the stroke like a line of fire on Sunset's skin.

Red-faced, Sunset yanked her hand away and took a step back, holding her hand self-consciously. Ignoring Lorelai's chuckle, she looked down at herself, flexing her fingers experimentally. No pain. That ring, that gemstone, the light it gave off, healed her wounds completely.

She used that thing in the alley, too, Sunset thought, glancing at the ring. Doesn't look Equestrian, though.

"Thank you," said Sunset, her voice somewhat stiff and awkward.

"Don’t mention it." Lorelai flicked her gaze away from Sunset. "Anyway, that's actually not why I stuck around. Not entirely."

Sunset tilted her head quizzically.

"...I was actually wondering if you knew anywhere good to eat around here." With one hand, she tugged on a springy coil of blonde hair, pulling it straight and letting it bounce back into a ringlet. "Since you saved my bacon back in that labyrinth, I figure that it's only fair to treat you to some in return."

"'Labyrinth?'" Sunset echoed.

"No, bacon. Treat you to some bacon." Muttering, Lorelai added, "Keep up, would you?"

"No, I was asking what you meant by—" Sunset smacked her forehead. "Whatever. Look, I can point you to a good diner, but you don't owe me anything, so. Thanks, but no thanks."

"Yeah, well, I feel like I do. And I'd rather not be indebted to you." She looped the ringlet of hair around her finger, looking directly into Sunset's eyes. "Besides which, there's one or two things I'd like to ask you about, and I'm sure I'm not the only one with questions, so... c'mon, lemme feed you already."

Sunset fumed, but knew that Lorelai had a point. Things had been strange around town recently. Up until Cadance's episode, she didn't have any reason to suspect a malign, magical influence behind it, but Briar Rose and Lorelai changed all of that.

It wasn't something she admitted to herself gladly, but she was caught flat-footed. She wanted... needed to know more about the situation, about this girl, and about what she represented. Cadance was too traumatized to answer any questions, which made Lorelai her only reliable source of information by default.

Even still, Sunset was on the fence about spending more time with this girl. Then her stomach growled audibly, drawing a sheepish laugh from Wallflower, and a knowing smirk from Lorelai.

Blushing, Sunset looked at Wallflower.

"You got time for brinner?"

Pinkie Pie’s skates squealed as she skidded to a halt beside the booth, somehow managing to avoid upsetting any of the platters balanced on her hands and head.

"Get it while it's hot," she proclaimed, bowing her head. The platter resting on her skull dropped, fully upright and without spilling, in front of Lorelai. "Corned beef hash and eggs for the stunning young blonde."

Lorelai undid the belt and buttons holding her coat closed, unfolded a paper napkin over her lap, and smiled thinly at Pinkie Pie. "I'm not paying for this if I find hair in it."

"If you find hair in it, I'll pay you." Pinkie dropped a second platter in front of Sunset. "Garden State Garden Omelette for Sunny Bunny."

"You don't gotta call me that, Pinkie," Sunset said, her cheery sing-song belied by her vexed grin.

"And a big ol' heap of spaghetti and meatballs for Miss Wallflower Blush," Pinkie finished, ignoring Sunset. She dropped a bowl in front of Wallflower, produced a pair of breadsticks from somewhere, and stuck them in a V-shape in the middle of the noodles.

Wallflower leered at the breadsticks, but didn't question them. She muttered her thanks and dug a fork in, twirling a bunch of noodles around the prongs.

Cupping her hands in front of her skirt, Pinkie said, "Get'cha anything else?"

"No, thank you, Pinkie," said Sunset. "We're good."

"I'll have a little more coffee," said Lorelai, smoothing out the napkin on her lap. "If that's okay."

Sunset responded with a flat stare that Lorelai never looked up to see. Maybe Lorelai wanted coffee; maybe she just liked contradicting Sunset. Maybe both. Either way, she was irksome.

"Comin' up, miss!" Pinkie zipped closer to Sunset, leaning in to stage-whisper at her. "I like this one. Nothin' against old Flashie, but she's a cut above."

"Wha— Pinkie!" Sunset straightened, her face going crimson. "You've got the wrong idea, okay? We're just having brinner. That's all."

"Sure about that?" Pinkie leaned back, clicking her heels together. "Might wanna make sure she knows, Sunset. She can't take her eyes off'a you."

Giggling, she zipped away, singing to herself. "Coinky-dink, coinky-dinky-doo-wah..."

Sunset looked at Lorelai, her face still uncomfortably warm. The other girl was calm and poised, her elbows braced on the table, her hands folded in front of her mouth. Blue eyes tracked Pinkie as she skated away.

"She’s certainly a character, isn't she?" Lorelai murmured.

"And a half," Sunset groaned. She dug into her omelette, slicing off a cheesy hunk of egg and mushroom with the side of her fork, and spearing it. Eyeing Wallflower's meal, she said, "That isn't brinner. I specifically asked if you wanted brinner."

"I didn't want brinner; I wanted spaghetti and meatballs. What even is brinner?"

Sunset raised an eyebrow. "It's breakfast for dinner. You go to a diner after dark, you order brinner. How have you never had brinner?"

"Maybe because I'm not a weirdo who hangs out in diners after dark." Wallflower pouted, and added, "'Sides, not like I got anyone to go with."

"If you want to be pedantic, 'Sunny Bunny,'" Lorelai interjected. "I specifically offered you bacon, and you ordered the one omelette on the menu with zero bacon." She snapped her fingers and pointed at Wallflower. "You, I didn't invite at all, so don't expect me to pay for your food."

"And that's the last time you're going to talk to her that way," Sunset snapped, clenching her fist. "Saving our lives doesn't give you the right to patronize us."

Her vehemence seemed to pierce Lorelai's smugness. She froze, and stared back at Sunset, an icy smile on her face. Wallflower just stared at her, emitting a weak, rattling noise in the back of her throat.

Before anything else could happen, Pinkie Pie rolled back over to their table. In one hand was a coffee pot; Lorelai raised her mug without looking, and Pinkie dutifully filled it. In her other hand was a milkshake, piled high with whipped cream and topped with a cherry. She slid that toward Wallflower Blush.

"On the house," said Pinkie. Her smile softened. "This looks like a 'free milkshake' kind of night for you."

Then she disappeared again before Wallflower could stammer out a reply.

Pinkie's interruption seemed to give Lorelai enough room to recover from Sunset's tongue-lashing. Raising the mug to her lips, she drew in a breath of hot steam, closing her eyes to savor the smell of her drink. "It was a joke. Lighten up, okay?"

"It wasn't funny." Reigning herself in, Sunset continued, in a voice that nevertheless still simmered with anger. "You wanted to talk. So get to the point, already."

Lorelai took a long, deep sip of the coffee. Finishing, she sighed with satisfaction, set the cup on the table, and opened her eyes.

"I guess I'll go first." A stern look swept over her face, all business, no levity. "Most people who wander into a labyrinth never come out again. The ones who do tend to be more than a little shaken up by the experience. Not to say you weren't, but you handled it surprisingly well. Almost like the situation didn't surprise you all that much."

She paused, narrowing her eyes.

"Was that the first witch you've encountered?"

Sunset's fingers clenched. She stuffed another bite of omelette into her mouth to stall, chewing slowly. Magic may have been an open secret at Canterlot High, but few people knew how it really worked, let alone that it was Equestrian in origin. She wasn't going to just start gabbing about it with anyone who asked.

Especially not Lorelai, who she didn’t know, didn't trust, and certainly didn't like. She'd have to tiptoe through this conversation.

But for that to work, she'd need to keep Wallflower on the same page.

Wallflower had disengaged since Lorelai posed her question. Her hands were on her lap and her lips around her straw as she slurped her free milkshake. As inconspicuous as she could, Sunset draped a single finger over one of Wallflower's hands. Then, concentrating on her magic, she cleared her mind of everything, except a single thought.

Follow my lead, and don't say a word about Equestria.

Wallflower's eyes shot open. She choked mid-sip, sputtered, and flailed reflexively, partially upending her spaghetti, and spilling a meatball and a knot of spaghetti onto the table.

Lorelai recoiled, hastily lifting up her plate as Wallflower shot flecks and droplets of milkshake toward her booth. "Is she alright?"

"It's just brain freeze; she's fine." She grabbed a spare napkin and mopped up the spillage, mindful of the glare that Wallflower was sending her way.

"'Brain freeze,' huh?" she rasped. She righted her bowl, jammed her fork into one of her remaining meatballs, and bit a hunk out of it, chewing angrily.

Sunset mouthed sorry, before wadding up the soiled paper and tossing it aside on the table. Then she returned her attention to Lorelai.

"To answer your question, that wasn't the first encounter either of us has had with the supernatural. With magic, specifically."

Lorelai worked her jaw, thoughtfully. "So, it's all old hat to you?"

"In a way." Sunset hesitated as she thought about her answer. "It's an open secret that there's magic in this city. My friends and I have been dealing with it for a while now."

"Dealing with it how?" said Lorelai.

"Containing it, mostly. Fighting it, if necessary. Hugging it, sometimes. " Sunset looked pointedly at Wallflower. "It's very situational."

"Are you putting me on? You'd better not be putting me on."

Sunset took a long drink of water, smacking her lips.

"...Hmph." Lorelai shook her head and glared at Wallflower. "Don't tell me you're in on this."

Wallflower looked up, a mouthful of spaghetti dangling from her lips, and mumbled something.

"You don't need to know the specifics," said Sunset. "And I'm definitely not naming any names. But I'm used to dealing with magical problems. Up until tonight, I thought I'd seen just about all there was to see, but your 'labyrinth,' and your 'witch,' and everything that happened to Cadance..."

Lorelai stayed silent for a long moment, taking a delicate bite of her beef hash, chewing thoughtfully, and swallowing. "So, she was your first witch, then?"

Sunset paused to nibble on her omelette, chewing over her response. The vaguer she could be, the better; if Lorelai hadn't caught on that her magic and Sunset's weren't the same, then Sunset wasn't about to clue her in.

"I've never encountered anything like that before," she said, finally. "Anything like you, either, for that matter."

"Guess you have a lot to learn." A smirk oozed across Lorelai's face. "Want me to fill in the blanks for you?"

"If you'd be so kind." Sunset leveled her fork at Lorelai. "Start by explaining whatever the hell a Magnum P.I. is."

"'Puella Magi.'" Lorelai's grin tightened. She tapped her chin with her index finger. "How can I put this...?"

With an ah, she reached for the pepper shaker at the end of the table, and held it up to the light. "This is a witch." She gave the shaker a little wave.

Sunset raised an eyebrow. "That is pepper."

"It is a metaphor. And it is a witch." Lorelai sighed theatrically, dangling the shaker between her fingertips. "A witch is an entity that's born from human misery. They exist in pocket dimensions known as 'labyrinths.' From within their labyrinths, they inflict curses on people."

She sprinkled out a helping of pepper on the table, creating a little pile of black grains between herself, Wallflower, and Sunset.

"These curses stoke people's negative thoughts, feelings, and impulses. People act on them. Their actions cause more misery, which the witch feeds on in turn, all to grow more powerful."

"Come to think of it, I’ve seen something like that before. Not quite in the same form, though." Sunset found herself picturing Briar Rose with Adagio Dazzle’s face, and shuddered. "Cadance said she deserved to die before she broke the window. Is that what witches do? Curse people to make them kill themselves, feed on the misery that causes?"

"Oh, suicide's just one of many fruits that a curse can bear. Beatings, domestic abuse, homicide... hell, plain, simple road rage. You name it. Thing is, most people can't perceive witches directly, so they don't know where the impulses and emotions that drive those acts come from. A witch who goes unnoticed, and unfought, is free to spread curses, and reap more misery from a population."

Sunset gnawed the edge of her thumbnail. "So, the suicides in town lately – Cadance's attempt, and all the others – that was Briar Rose's doing?"

"Not just hers," said Lorelai, shaking her head. "Where there's one witch, you're bound to find lots more. This little wave of suicides is a collaborative effort – a bunch of witches, all on the prowl."

She set the pepper shaker down on the table. Wallflower quickly reached across the table, grabbed it, shook some out on her spaghetti, and mixed it together.

"Needed seasoning," she muttered.

Caught off guard, Sunset stared at Wallflower for a moment. Then she shook her head. "So, witches curse people, and feed on their misery. And you Paella Mages, your job is to stop them? What does that make you, exactly?"

Lorelai's eyelid twitched. She took the salt shaker in hand and sprinkled a helping of salt on the table, beside the pile of pepper.

"So, physics time. For every action, there must be an equal and opposite—"

"Thanks, but I know all that already."

"Rude." Lorelai set the salt shaker down and waved her hand dismissively. "Witches exist to spread misery and grief. Puella Magi... or 'magical girls,' if you prefer... live to fight them; through fighting them, we spread hope. We are the universe's equal, and opposite, reaction to witches' existence."

Using her butter knife, she drew the salt and pepper into two long, parallel lines.

"In short, we save people, and we make the world a better place. It's generally pretty thankless, but it's not without its perks—"

"My friend, Moondancer. You didn't save her. Didn't make the world a better place for her."

Wallflower's interruption, the sheer, seething bitterness in it, froze Sunset. Lorelai's face drained of color, and she stared, blankly, across the table.

Sunset rested her hand on Wallflower's shoulder, cursing herself silently. She'd been so focused on Cadance that she'd all but forgotten about Moondancer.

"Her friend took her own life not long ago," said Sunset to Lorelai, and let the implication hang between them. If Cadance's grief was a meal to a witch, then Moondancer – socially isolated and depressed as she was – would've been a banquet.

She didn't know what response to expect. A sarcastic comment. A condescending quip. Something that would make Sunset snap, reach across the table, and shake Lorelai, crossbow magic be damned.

Instead, Lorelai set down the salt shaker and slumped against her backrest. A great weight seemed to settle on her shoulders, and she sighed, hard.

"When I heard about the suicides in this city, I knew it had to be witches. And since there was nobody cleaning up after them, I came as quick as I could.” Lorelai sounded older, and more tired, than she looked. "I'm sorry I wasn't quick enough to save your friend."

Wallflower squeezed her eyes shut and let out a breath. She nodded shakily, and picked up her fork, digging listlessly through her spaghetti.

The three girls settled into an awkward, silent lull, focusing on their meals, and little else. Sunset had enough room for a few more bites of omelette, but the discussion had sapped her appetite, and she pushed her brinner away half-finished. Resting her chin on her palm, Sunset turned her head and looked out the window. The fog had thinned out, creating a beautifully tranquil Sunday night. Traffic and pedestrians passed intermittently, citizens caught up in the steady cadence of big city night life.

She wondered if anyone out there would meet another of Lorelai's witches tonight.

"Weird-lookin' cat."

Wallflower's voice shook Sunset from her reverie. She blinked, and peered more closely out the window. "Cat? Where?"

"Out there, across the street." Sunset felt Wallflower's chin hovering above her shoulder; Sunset had to shift aside to make room for her. "Come to think of it, it's more like a rabbit, or fox, or something."

Sunset squinted. "Sure you're not just seeing things?"

"It's there, trust me." Wallflower pulled back, settling into the booth again. "Or... it was there. I think it ran off."

"Hmm." In the dining room's reflection cast on the window, Sunset caught a glimpse of Lorelai's face. She was ashen, even given her normal pallor.

Turning to face her, Sunset said, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I just..." Lorelai shook her head and dug her hand into her coat pocket. "I gotta take off."

"Thought you wanted to talk?" said Sunset, raising an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you're done already."

"I've got a life outside of you. Got a city full of witches to scour." She rose from the table, pulled a wad of money out of her pocket and tossed it onto the table. "You thinking of going after them, too?"

Sunset's heart skipped. "If they're behind the suicides in town, then yes, of course. Handling magical problems is sort of what I do."

"Word of advice: Don't bother." One by one, Lorelai fastened the buttons on her coat. "This isn't the kind of problem you can hug away."

"Thanks for the concern," Sunset fired back as Lorelai turned to leave. "But, with all due respect, mind your own business."

"You should take your own advice. Witches are my business." Lorelai paused, and tilted her head, angling it back in an unsettling manner. "You've got guts, I won't deny it. But you're out of your depth."

"You have no idea what you're talking about."

"And you have no idea what you're dealing with. Make no mistake, you saved me tonight, and I'm grateful. But from here on out, leave the witches to a professional." Lorelai straightened, swept a hand through her hair, and popped her collar. "Tell your friends."

Without another word, she made for the exit, and headed out into the night.

A sharp whistle startled Sunset, and made Wallflower yelp. It was only Pinkie; she'd wheeled herself up to the table as Lorelai left.

"Y'know what, I take it back," Pinkie said. "You can do better than her, Sunset."

Wallflower leaned across the table and picked up the cash that Lorelai left behind, fanning it out with awe. "Pinkie, there's like, fifty bucks here."

"Huh." Pinkie blinked. "Well, shoot, never mind. Now I kinda wanna date her."

Wallflower's apartment wasn't far from the diner, so Sunset elected to walk her the rest of the way. They circumvented the street where they'd encountered Briar Rose; it added a few more minutes to the trip, but better safe than sorry. Eventually, they arrived at her neck of the woods – a block of low-rent housing that many of Canterville's blue collars called home. Not the ritziest part of town, but not a bad neighborhood at all. Sunset felt safer here than she did waiting for that bus.

She felt a tug on her wrist as they emerged onto Wallflower's street. "What's up?" she said.

"Open your hand?" said Wallflower.

Sunset did as she was asked, and Wallflower dumped a few dimes into her palm.

"For all the 'sorries,' earlier. You said you would start charging." Her lips twitched in an almost imperceptible smile.

"Thanks for reminding me," Sunset said, laughing a little. "You holding up okay? I know it's been kind of a busy night."

"'Busy' doesn't cover half of it. I found out you have telepathy tonight, and it wasn’t even nearly the weirdest part." Wallflower quirked her head at Sunset. "Speaking of, isn't your thing just reading memories?"

"Memories, thoughts, visiting mental landscapes. Holding conversations, although that part's kinda new." Sunset rubbed the back of her head. "Mostly, I use it to gossip with Twilight during class."

"Is that why I always see you two holding hands in physics?"

"We do not 'hold hands.'" Sunset blushed; she coughed, and cleared her throat. "Anyway, sorry for not really easing you into it. I needed to make sure we were on the same page about Lorelai, and I figured texting would've been too conspicuous."

"There's whipped cream on my nose hairs, Sunset."

Sunset cringed. "Yeah, uh... I guess the subtle approach kinda backfired."

"'Kinda,' she says. Sunset Shimmer – master of understatement." Wallflower brushed her bangs out of her face, and shrugged. "I guess I'm okay, overall. Tonight was just a lot to take in."

"Yeah, I hear you. You think you've seen it all. Then a vine-monster sucks you into the staircase dimension and tries to strangle you." Sunset chuckled. "Least I know what I'm up against now. Tomorrow, I'll fill the rest of the girls in. I'm sure we can figure out a way to put a stop to all of this."

Biting her lip, Wallflower laced her fingers together behind her back. "About what Lorelai said, though, just before she left... You really think this is something you can handle?"

"Why wouldn't it be?"

"You almost died tonight, Sunset," said Wallflower, quietly. "You almost died twice."

"Well, I'm still here, and that thing isn't." She spoke a little more sharply than she intended, and she softened her voice. "Look, I'll admit that I was kinda caught flat-footed tonight. I wasn't ready for a fight, and I didn't have any back-up—"

"Don't rub it in."

Sunset stopped in her tracks, Wallflower's bitterness again catching her off guard. She took the other girl's sleeve as she passed ahead, drawing her to a stop. "Hey. That's not what I—"

"I know what you meant. It still sucks to hear." Wallflower pulled her arm away and hugged herself. "You know, when you said you were gonna fight that thing off and give me and Cadance time to get away? That really sucked to hear. And when I saw Briar Rose choke you... I think you can see where I'm going with this."

"I didn't realize it was that hard for you." Sunset caught herself raising her hand to touch her neck. Immediately, she balled up her fists and held them stiffly at her side. "I'm sorry."

Mustering her courage, Wallflower looked at Sunset. "That thing, or something like it, made Moondancer kill herself. And just tonight, it almost killed you. I could've lost my only two friends in the world, within just a couple of days of each other, and what did I do about it?"

"The only thing you could do, Wallflower," Sunset said, softly.

"That part sucks most of all." Wallflower tugged on her hair. "If there are more witches out there, then you and your friends are gonna do everything you can to stop them. I know that. And if stopping them means no more Moondancers and Cadances, then I'm all for it. But I can't stand you putting yourself in danger while I just sit on the sidelines and hope for the best."

"I have to, though. I don't have a choice."

"Sure you do," said Wallflower softly.

"I don't. If I have the power to make a difference for people, then I have a responsibility to use it, no matter the danger." Sunset raised her arms and let them fall, limply, against her side. "After all the bad I've done in my life... it's only fair, you know?"

Wallflower's breath caught, and she turned to regard Sunset in silence, eyes misty.

Before things could get any more somber, Sunset took a deep breath, reached for Wallflower's shoulders, and squeezed gently.

"How about this: If and when I go up against another witch, I promise I won't do it alone. The girls'll be with me, and they'll protect me – and I'll protect them too. As long as we're together, nothing's gonna take us down. So don't be scared, okay?"

Wallflower bit the inside of her cheek, not answering immediately. "I wanna believe you, I do. It's just... I don't want to keep losing people."

"I understand. But you gotta have faith in me.” Smirking, she added, "I'm literally a magical unicorn-lady. Are you really gonna disagree with me?"

Wallflower snorted. She rolled her shoulders, shaking Sunset's hands off of them, and pointed to an apartment building halfway up the street. "That's my place. Guess we made it."

She took off ahead of Sunset, who stared after her for a moment before following.

Wallflower lingered at the entrance for a moment, peeking shyly at Sunset from behind her bangs. "Hey, um... maybe it's dumb of me to ask, after everything you did for me tonight, but I could use a favor."

"Anything, Wallflower."

"I talked to Moondancer's mom earlier. She knew who I was – I guess Moondancer had told her about me." Wallflower rubbed her arm anxiously. "She invited me over to her house, tomorrow, after school. I'm not sure if I really have it in me to do that alone, and she said I could bring someone with me, if I wanted. So, I was thinking..."

She looked at Sunset shyly.

"Maybe you could be my emotional support unicorn-lady?"

Sunset chuckled. "Sure, alright. I'll catch up with you after class."

Wallflower sighed. Then she lunged toward Sunset in a quick, awkward hug.

"Thank you. And thanks for everything tonight," said Wallflower. She pulled away, smiling enigmatically. "This was the best birthday I've had in years."

She was gone before Sunset could ask if she was kidding or not.

Sticking her hands in her pockets, Sunset stared up at the building for a moment, before turning to trudge home.

"What a girl," she mused, shaking her head.

It was dark in the apartment when Wallflower got inside, but she could hear the TV from the living room. Mom was home, which probably meant she was sleeping. Quiet as she could, Wallflower slipped out of her shoes and tiptoed into the living room.

As expected, Mom was passed out on the couch, dressed in a rumpled blue vest and grey slacks. There was an open glass bottle and a paper bag on the coffee table in front of her. It was unusual for her to be home so early – Mom was out late most of the time, even on weekends. It must've still been bright when she got home, too, if she just flopped on the couch and fell asleep before turning on any lights. She hadn't even grabbed the throw blanket draped over the backrest.

At least she'd remembered to take off her nametag, if not the rest of her uniform. The little piece of plastic sat on the coffee table in front of her, the name "Kudzu" just barely visible in the TV's glow.

Wallflower reached for the bag; it was faintly warm, and rolled up at the top. Unraveling it, she was immediately hit with the strong, cloying scent of Chinese take-out, a smell that would've made her mouth water if she hadn't already stuffed herself with spaghetti and milkshake. Inside were four big paper cartons, packed to the brim and still sealed. Mom hadn't touched them yet. Wallflower's heart sank as she realized that Mom was probably waiting until she got home, so they could eat together.

Wallflower picked up the bag and took it into the kitchen, leaving the half-finished cola where it was. It was one of those Mexican sodas that came in the glass bottle; there was no getting the cap back on. Mom would have to drink it flat when she woke up.

When she opened the fridge, she found something that hadn't been in there that morning – a cheap, store-bought cake, a wheel of white frosting and rainbow sprinkles. On the top, the number eighteen was written in frosting, surrounded by thick dollops of red, blue, and yellow, shaped like balloons.

Wallflower squeezed her eyes shut, and willed herself not to sob. She packed their uneaten dinner – take-out was always better the next day, anyhow – and returned to the living room to wrap the throw-blanket around Mom.

Mom smacked her lips, but didn't stir.

Wallflower whispered a word of thanks and headed to her room, opening and shutting the door as gingerly as she could. She moved toward her bed, sank back on her mattress, and let her eyes flutter shut.

"Wallflower Blush?"

The voice cut through the stillness in the room like a knife, and Wallflower bolted to her feet.

"Who's there?!" she stammered. "Where are you? What do you—"

"Please, calm down, Wallflower Blush. There's no reason to panic."

Wallflower scrambled for the door, fumbling for the light switch on the wall. "My mom is in the other room. You stay where you are, or I'll scream, and she'll call the police!"

"That won't be necessary." The voice was gentle and soft, placating. "I mean you no harm, Wallflower. I promise."

From the window, a four-legged shape materialized, some alien amalgam of a fox and a cat, with long ears and a bushy white tail, and appendages she didn't recognize growing out of its head. It arced through the air and landed on the bed, enveloped in a gentle, pinkish aura that painted the room in warm hues.

With beady red eyes, it stared at Wallflower.

Wallflower stopped trying to find the light – the room was bright enough that she really didn't need to. "I recognize you. You were outside the diner tonight."

The creature's mouth didn't move when it talked; its voice filled the room all the same. "I apologize for frightening you. Such was not my intention. Having watched you for as long as I have, I really should have known better."

"Watched me?" Wallflower pressed her hand against her chest, and felt her heart hammering. "Why? Just who... or what... are you? And what do you want from me?"

"I'm called Kyubey. I've come only to talk with you – nothing more."

"You're like a cat-fox thingy; how the hell are you even able to talk?"

"Do you ever wonder why you're capable of speech, or do you just accept what evolution has given you?" Kyubey sighed. "It doesn't matter, either way. I'm here to congratulate you on the outcome of tonight's events."

Wallflower's eyes narrowed. "You're talking about what happened with that thing, aren't you?"

"Indeed," said Kyubey. "I'm sure you have questions. I'd be more than happy to answer them. That's one of my many duties, after all."

"And what duties are those?"

"Chief among them? To make you an offer. You survived a trip into a labyrinth. That's a feat few humans can boast of. It makes you special."

Wallflower thought back to the fight in the labyrinth, the memory of Sunset driving the blade through Briar Rose's chest... while she cowered in the background, struggling underneath Cadance's weight.

"I didn't do anything, let alone anything special. Just waited for Sunset and Lorelai to save me."

"'Lorelai...?'" Kyubey tilted his head. "Ah, I see. At any rate, that's not true. When one is confronted with a hopeless situation, surviving at all can be an achievement. You know that quite well, don't you?"

Something about the way he said that made Wallflower's stomach lurch, as if she'd been socked in the gut. She hugged herself tightly. "You're pretty easily impressed, aren't you?"

"If I were, I'd be speaking to your friend, not to you. Your worth is nowhere near as obvious and prosaic as hers." Kyubey hopped off the bed and padded closer to Wallflower, pausing with a few feet between them. "I know you struggle to see it, Wallflower Blush. But make no mistake, deep within you is the potential to be more than what you are – to make a difference in a way that none of your peers could. Not even Sunset Shimmer."

Wallflower's breath caught. She sank to the ground with her back against the wall. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that you, too, can become a Magical Girl." Kyubey's eyes glowed, piercing Wallflower to the core.

"All you need to do is make a contract with me.”

Author's Note:

"Waflowa, become meguca!" -FanOfMostEverything, 2020

Special thanks to Soup Boy and Dubs Rewatcher for editing.