• Published 11th Dec 2022
  • 399 Views, 8 Comments

Chasing Shadows - astrolatryy



Flash Sentry is used to weird magical mishaps by now. The guy his age sprawled unconscious in his backyard, however, is a new one.

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I.

There is a dude lying unconscious in Flash Sentry's backyard.

He knows for sure that there wasn't a dude lying unconscious in his backyard about two minutes ago, because he'd glanced out the window while he was sprawled over the couch playing video games on his Switch and there was definitely nobody there.

But then there was—this weird whooshing sound like a big gust of wind, and a horrible kinda clattering sound that made Flash wonder if the raccoons got into the trash can again, and he looked outside and the guy was just. There.

And he's definitely never seen him before. He thinks he'd recognize seeing a guy like him before; he's got this long, dark black hair that flows over his shoulders, mullet-length, and he knows he'd remember a hairstyle like that.

Flash also knows there's probably some weird magic shit involved in this guy's appearance. Like, look, the first time when he saw his ex turn into a demon he'd had an existential crisis for a whole week wondering if that shit was real or not, and if he really had been crushing on a princess from another world. Like, he knows he's got a thing for authority, power, presence, but shit, man, actual royalty? No wonder that never went anywhere, girl was way outta his league.

But by the fourth time, when he'd gone to that summer camp with the rest of Canterlot High and weird magic shit went down because of course it did, he was mostly glad that the Rainbooms were competent at what they did. Also glad that Sunset was on their side now, because, damn, even without the demon thing that girl could kick ass.

All that to say that there's definitely something not… right about this guy being here. If he's lucky, he'll just have been transported here from the other side of the city or something. If he's unlucky…

…well, his memories of that time with the actual, literal sirens are kinda vague, but the example still stands tall in his head. For all he knows, the moment he touches this guy's hand he's gonna get zapped into a demon himself or something.

But also. There's a guy his age just kinda lying in his backyard, hair all askew, eyes closed (and shit, at least he's still breathing), and he can't just leave him there. Poor guy's gonna be totally confused if he wakes up in someone else's backyard with nobody around to explain what the fuck just happened to him.

Flash rests a hand on his hip and sighs internally. Fine. He does sports, and the guy looks kinda skinny in that I don't go outside unless I'm forced way, so he shouldn't be that heavy. He'll carry him inside, put him on the couch, and hopefully this guy doesn't end up being a vampire or whatever shit.

-—-

The dude startles awake with a sudden, sharp breath that Flash can hear all the way from the kitchen. He leaves the ham sandwich he was making forgotten on the counter as he jogs into the living room, mentally crossing his fingers and hoping the guy doesn't zap him with a mind control beam as soon as he looks him in the eyes.

Said guy seems to be just sitting up on the couch when Flash gets his eyes on him, running a hand through his dark hair to neaten it like he's got all the time in the world. He glances around, looking at the television's dark screen, the glass doors leading outside, the potted plant in the corner that Flash always forgets to water, the open wall between the kitchen and the living room…

…finally, his eyes rest on Flash, and he holds his breath despite himself. One moment passes, two. The dude doesn't say anything; he just kinda looks at him, eyebrows furrowing a little like he's trying to figure something out.

Flash looks back at him, rocking back on his feet, waiting for the dude to say something.

The dude looks at him.

Eventually Flash decides—well, he hasn't tried to mind control him yet, and he honestly looks more lost than anything, so. Might as well speak up.

"Hey, uh…." Fuck, how does he explain this to him? He leans on the doorway and slides his hands in his pockets, trying to come off as more casual than awkward. He doesn't think it's working. "So, you just kinda? Showed up? Outside? I don't know how you got here, or why you ended up unconscious in my backyard, but I figured you wouldn't want to wake up in the dirt, so I brought you inside."

The dude blinks a couple times. "...ah," he says. "I suppose I should thank you."

His voice is much deeper than Flash expected out of a guy who looks like that, rolling like a thunderstorm with its presence. He sounds like the kinda guy he'd hear leading the debate team—not the kind of guy who'd show up unconscious in his backyard with nothing but some clothes to his name.

"So, do you…" He rubs the back of his neck. "Where were you before you showed up here? Do you have a name or anything?"

"Sombra," he says at once, and hey, cool, at least Flash can stop calling him 'that guy' in his head now! "I… I don't know."

Oh boy. "You don't know? Do you have some place you came from, or something? Like a hometown?"

The way this is going, Flash is starting to suspect this guy might be from 'out of town' in the other way. Though, to be fair, he doesn't seem to be acting like he remembers Twilight (the princess) was the first time he met her. 'Sombra' seems to be moving pretty naturally, and he seems like he knows what his hands do and how to work them.

"...no," Sombra says, looking down at the floor, eyes narrowed. "I don't know. I don't… remember."

Well, fuck. "Do you remember anything?" Flash says, a bit worried. He doesn't know next to anything about how magic works, but he's pretty sure the portal everyone knows is in the base of the Canterlot High statue doesn't take memories.

"I know my name," he says. "...nothing else."

That doesn't leave him with very many options. He was thinking about letting Sombra hang out here for a couple hours while he tried to figure out where he came from, maybe call a few people to let them know that their friend showed up suddenly at his house… but now he doesn't have anywhere to return him to. Nobody to track down, either. Sombra's all alone in a strange place, with no memory, and there's a good chance he isn't even in the same universe he started in.

"Well…" Flash says, scratching the back of his head. He sighs. "I'm going to be honest, I have no idea what happened to you. You probably don't have anywhere else to go, and my parents aren't here for the weekend, so… you can crash here for now, alright?"

Sombra looks at him curiously. "You'd let a stranger with no memory sleep in your own home?"

Flash huffs. "What else am I supposed to do? I'd be a real dick if I left you out there on your own."

He walks over to the couch, offering Sombra a hand. "So come on. Let me show you around."

-—-

Sombra may not be as… obviously unfamiliar with the world around him as Twilight was, but it doesn't take a genius to put two and two together as Flash sees the way he eyes pretty much anything with a screen and a plug. So he starts explaining as he goes—that's the television, it displays images and videos when it's on. That's a digital clock, it's the same as your regular circular one, just looks a bit different. Oh, the hall's lit up by electrical lighting—pretty neat, huh?

Is it weird to have some kid show up in his backyard and the first thing he does is show him around the house? Maybe. Maybe another person would've taken him to the police by now, let them sort everything out. But this town has like, three cops, total—and Flash knows for a fact none of them knows shit or fuck about the weird magical bullshit that's spread into his daily life in a fine, sparkly mist.

In fact, if he took Sombra to anyone, it would probably be… probably Sunset Shimmer. It's been weird interacting with her again on friendship terms, but it's… it's been nice. It reminds him of all the things he loved about her during their relationship, the fire in her eyes, how damn smart she was—but without the constant hanging heavy dread above it, the thought that she might turn on him again for some small perceived mistake, as vicious as a viper. As vicious as the she-demon she really did turn into at the end of that Fall Formal.

As much as he enjoys her friendship, he can't see himself ever being in a relationship with her again. Too many bad memories. She's moved on, become better, and he's just happy to have her for advice and a good laugh.

It's so weird to think about the fact that she's totally actually really a unicorn from another dimension, even though he's seen her and the girls' magical transformations at least twice by now. Seeing the horn spiraling from her forehead and the elegant, cow-like tail she has in that form does nothing to offset the fact how human she is the rest of the time.

But it is a reminder that if anyone at Canterlot High knows what to do about weird magic shit, it's her.

Unfortunately, since it's the weekend, he knows that she and the girls are probably out in any number of places doing any number of things, which makes it really difficult to find her without calling her. And he's been wanting to get Sunset's number again, it's just the kind of question that he finds impossibly awkward to bring up. Like, they're just friends and all, but the question always has that certain implication and he doesn't want her to feel pressured by it.

Oh, well. He'll just wait until Monday—by then he'll have to figure something out about where Sombra is going to stay, too, since he can't hide him in a closet for a whole week. Obvious dumb jokes aside about how Flash is supposed to be the only one in the closet in this household, the thought of Sombra just hiding from his parents in his house while he's away at school would stress him out too much.

Sombra seems to not be too offended by Flash explaining the obvious to him, at least; by the time they get the rest of the way through his house to Flash's bedroom, Sombra actually takes the lead in walking inside, gesturing to his electric guitar with a curious tilt of his head. "What is this?"

Do ponies have guitars? is his first, ridiculous thought; he'd think a pony couldn't strum the strings with their hooves, but then again, he'd thought a pony couldn't do a lot of things before he learned what Equestria was.

He decides to just roll with it. "Oh, that's my guitar!" he explains, plunking himself down onto his bed and pulling the guitar from its stand. "It's an electric one, that means you have to plug it into an amp so it sounds good. Makes it sound different from an acoustic—that's the name for a guitar that doesn't need to be plugged in."

Sombra seems interested, nodding along as he explains, and Flash keeps his guitar plugged in nearly all the time so it's easy enough to bring his fingers to the strings and strum a few notes.

He makes a face—one of the strings is out of tune—and reaches up to fiddle with the pegs, strumming experimentally as he hears the sound change. "I'm the lead guitarist in my band, Flash Drive," he says. "We do mostly electric rock stuff, some pop sometimes, but the Rainbooms kinda have 'pop' nailed, so…"

He laughs softly to himself. "Sorry, you're probably not getting any of that." He strums out an experimental chord or two to check the tuning. "Sounds good, though. What do you think?"

Sombra brings himself down to sit beside Flash on the bed, feather-light. "May I try?" he asks, extending one hand out towards the neck of the guitar. He's wearing nail polish—black—Flash notices. Kinda goth, or maybe punk.

He shrugs a shoulder. "Sure, just be careful with it," he says, handing it over.

Sombra holds the guitar well enough for someone who just learned what a guitar is. Not perfect, though, and Flash leans over to correct his handiwork. "Here," he says, his hand nearly brushing against Sombra's, "Put your hand a little higher on the neck, like—yeah, like that."

Sombra hums to himself appraisingly. His fingers strum gently over the strings, once, producing a soft gradient of notes.

"Yeah, like that!" Flash says, smiling. "But, hey, are you left or right handed?"

Sombra pauses for a moment. "...left."

"Oh, yeah, so it's easier if you flip the guitar so you're holding it like…" Flash reaches over and gently takes the guitar from Sombra's hands, turning it so that the neck is in his right hand instead, "...this."

Sombra nods, once again brushing his fingers over the strings with just enough tension for them to make a sound.

"Yeah, you've got it! Okay, so do you see those bars on the neck the strings are running over?"

Sombra makes a soft sound of acknowledgement.

"So, to make different notes, you put your fingers in between the bars to hold down the strings. Try it with one?"

Sombra's brows furrow a little as he places his pointer finger down high on the fretboard, his thumb stroking over the strings gently. He does it a few more times to hear how the note's changed, then switches to strumming just the one string he has trapped beneath his finger, head tilting in thought.

It's nice watching him figure out how to play. There's something elegant about it, surprisingly; Sombra is completely unfamiliar with the instrument, Flash knows that, but he approaches it with a kind of intelligent precision that he likes watching. He's so deliberate about it.

"You've got a good instinct for that," Flash says, smiling.

"...thank you," Sombra says, looking at him oddly. "Do you play often?"

"Oh, yeah, all the time. My band's not the biggest, so we don't get gigs that often, but Canterlot High does a lot of music-related events, and I like practicing. It's fun to learn new songs."

Also, the literal music-is-magic thing. He's never had a transformation himself—and isn't sure how to feel about the idea of it—but he swears he can feel some kind of power behind the notes when he really gets into it. Something about playing in harmony with the rest of his bandmates, getting into the flow during a performance and becoming one part of a whole…

…it sounds silly, but in those moments he can understand why the girls transform when they sing.

"So, uh," Flash says, rubbing the back of his neck. "Do you want to hear me play something?"

"Sure," Sombra says, handing the guitar back to him, and he can't help but smile a little at the shine he sees in his eyes.

-—-

Sombra settles in well enough, all things considered. Flash still isn't really sure what to make of him—or even what to think about what he might be. The most likely option is that he's a pony, right? Some poor guy who stumbled through the portal and managed to get his memories taken in the process or something, he doesn't know.

The problem with that is that the portal has always dropped ponies off at Canterlot High. And he seems to remember something Sunset mentioned offhandedly about the other side—something about it being in Princess Twilight's library or something? Whatever the case, he doesn't think random ponies are about to stumble through into the land of the apes anytime soon.

And why would he be missing his memories? And, and—Sombra may be totally unfamiliar with the world around him, but he doesn't seem to be having any trouble with his body. Hell, he can play guitar, and he can play it pretty well for someone who just had a guitar handed to them for the first time.

Could he be just another human like him? That's a possibility. It's more possible than the first option, Flash thinks. But then where does that leave him? Why would he have appeared so suddenly in his backyard, of all places?

Ugh. He needs answers, and as much as he surprisingly doesn't mind the guy living in his house, he knows he's not going to get them from just hanging around him. Sombra said he remembers nothing, and he's inclined to believe him on that front. So that just leaves asking Sunset.

Which leaves an entire weekend to kill, and since Flash didn't really have anything planned for the weekend besides hanging around his house playing video games, he ends up spending a lot of time around Sombra. And it's… nice. It's surprisingly nice.

Sombra's the quiet type, and also the type to accidentally sneak up on people without meaning it, as he realizes when Sombra shows up behind him in the kitchen to ask for something and he nearly drops his plate.

He's quiet—quietly calculating, with a kind of sharp intelligence behind the eyes that makes Flash stop for a moment each time he sees it. Sombra might not remember much about this world, if he's even from here at all, but he's determined to learn everything about it he can no matter what. Flash takes to letting him use his computer to research stuff—he doesn't know how to type properly on the keyboard, but he picks up how to use it pretty quickly, another sign that he's probably not a pony stuffed into a human body.

But beneath that kind of nerdy surface is a surprising type of fire, as he finds out when he's playing video games on the couch one day and Sombra leans over and asks if he can try.

He loads up Mario Kart because it's one of the quickest pick-up-and-play video games he owns, and he figures it's easy enough to learn.

And Sombra gets—he gets really into it. There's that first moment where he's just figuring out what the controls do for the first time, Flash lets him take a few laps around Baby Park to let him get used to it; and then Flash gets into a match with him, loads up a pretty casual cup, thinking he'll go easy on him 'cause it's not like he even knew what a video game was before this—

—and the look on Sombra's face when Flash inevitably beats him for the first time and Sombra turns to him and grins threateningly, all sharp and cocky, this kinda I won't let you do that again? It makes his heart skip a beat.

Also, apparently the guy has fangs. Like, real-ass long, sharp canines that look like they go down far enough to touch his tongue when he has his mouth open, and Flash knows that's probably a warning sign of something but. Wow. He's surprised it took him this long to notice.

Sombra is also apparently a huge night owl, which Flash learns when he wakes up in the morning the first day to see Sombra still sleeping on his couch, his hair practically a dark cloud covering the pillows. This is further proven when Flash shuffles into the living room at nearly midnight and gets whiplash from seeing a dark figure standing outside just past the sliding glass door, only for his tired brain to catch up and recognize the guy he invited to live in his house until he could figure out what the hell is going on with him.

Sombra looks over his shoulder when he slides open the doors, acknowledging him with a soft nod before turning back to… stargazing?

"Hey man," Flash says, rubbing his eyes. "I'm going to bed soon, are… are you going to still be up?"

"Mm. For a few more hours. I won't be tired for a while yet," Sombra says, which is just… kind of ridiculous, considering it's nearly twelve already.

"Huh. Well, don't stay up too late." He laughs softly to himself. "Or do, I guess. It's not like you have school tomorrow."

It's not like the guy has school at all, actually. He doubts he's registered for any classes—not like that matters, Canterlot High has a history of taking new students without asking too many questions about paperwork. Same line of thought as their free meal policy, anyone who shows up in the cafeteria has the right to two free meals a day even if they don't go to class. But Sombra doesn't seem like the type to let himself be confined to a classroom that easily.

Flash looks up at the stars himself, watching the few little lights twinkling in the sky. They're prettier out on the road, he knows, farther away from town where there aren't as many lamps to block out the darkness. But the view isn't half-bad here, and in late August there's barely even a chill.

"The stars…" Sombra starts, drawing Flash's attention back to him. "...they are different here. Somehow, I know that much."

One more point for the 'not from around here' column, then. Or maybe he is from this world, just from a bigger city. Hell, it doesn't clarify much.

Flash glances up at the stars again, thoughtful. "I'm glad you remember something. Does anything else come to mind?"

Sombra's quiet for a long moment. "...it is supposed to be colder, the night. I—I remember snow… crystals."

A sigh so soft Flash nearly misses it. "It is difficult. I believe… whatever I have… the memories come easier when there is something to remind me of them. I have a feeling such things will be in short supply."

Another reason why he should go see Sunset as soon as possible about this. "Well, tell me if you remember anything else, yeah? I'm going to bed."

As Flash turns to go back inside, he reaches out to pat Sombra on the shoulder without really thinking about it. "Night."

Sombra fixes him with an unreadable look. "Good night, Flash Sentry."

-—-

Late on Sunday, Flash Sentry sits himself down on the couch next to Sombra. "So."

Sombra turns to him from where he's been watching—some sort of nature documentary? Huh. "...so."

"My parents are going to be back tomorrow," Flash says. "And I'm going to be in school, so you won't be able to stay here any more for the week."

Sombra doesn't seem surprised by this; he just raises his eyebrows a little at him. "I assume you have some sort of plan?"

"Uh, yeah," Flash says, kicking his legs. "I was thinking, we have two problems, right? You don't have anywhere to go once my parents get home, and you don't remember anything about who you are or where you came from."

Sombra inclines his head, nodding once for him to continue.

"I know a girl who I think can help solve both problems. Her name's Sunset Shimmer, and she's…" He rubs the back of his neck, laughing to himself a little. "She's one of the smartest girls I know. She's got experience with stuff like this. If anyone can figure out what's up with your memories and set you up with a place to stay, it's her."

"You speak like I'm going to meet her," Sombra says.

"Yeah," Flash replies. "I was thinking… my parents aren't going to be home until tomorrow afternoon, so we still have some time. You'll just get up with me and I'll take you to Canterlot High so we can talk to her. Does that sound good to you?"

"It sounds as good a plan as any," Sombra replies neutrally. "I'll admit, I'm interested to see the kind of company you keep."

"Ah, well." Flash rubs the back of his neck. "Honestly, I'm not that close with anyone at school. I mean, I hang out with the sports guys, and my band members are alright, we just… don't have anything in common besides the sports or the music?"

He huffs to himself. "I guess Sunset's the one who really gets me, but we've only started being friends again recently. I, uh…"

He gives Sombra an awkward smile. "We've got some history together, let's just say."

Sombra tilts his head, making a small, curious noise, but he doesn't say anything further on the topic. Which is great, because Flash feels like he'll melt into a puddle if he ends up telling Sombra any more about his supremely awful social life. He'd start hanging out with Sunset's group—he's sure the girls would be happy to have him—except they're kind of a huge trouble magnet and he already has enough weird magical shit in his life as is. Pinkie Pie alone gives him headaches if he tries to think about her for more than a couple minutes.

After a beat, Flash leans back on the couch and starts watching the nature documentary Sombra's got his eyes on with him for lack of anything better to do. It's not that bad, surprisingly, even though the documentary isn't really his thing. There's just something about just hanging out with Sombra on the other side of the couch, stealing glances at him every now and then when he thinks Sombra won't notice that's… nice.

It's stupid, he should be glad that Sombra will have someplace of his own to sleep (hopefully) after this, but… he'll miss the company.

-—-

Flash shivers as he walks down the sidewalk with Sombra at his side, rubbing at his forearms. "Brr," he murmurs under his breath. This is ridiculous. Summer's not even over but this morning seems determined to make his arms into popsicles.

It's even more ridiculous that Sombra beside him seems unfazed; the red, fur-collared jacket that Flash didn't know he had (apparently he'd found it where he'd shown up) is draped over his shoulder rather than being worn.

Sombra's eyes linger on him, amused, as another shiver runs through his body. Flash can see a little uptick at the corner of his mouth and can't help but roll his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah, not all of us are immune to the cold like you are."

"You should have brought a coat with you when you noticed the chill, then," Sombra comments, sounding far too smug. Flash rolls his eyes at him again, harder.

"Look. One, it's August. In case you didn't know, it's not supposed to be this cold. Two, I was halfway out the door by the time I noticed, and if I ran back inside to grab a jacket we were going to be late."

And here Sombra is prancing around with bare arms in what must be fifty degree weather.

Which reminds Flash of that comment he made the other day, and now he's curious. "Hey, the other night… you said it was colder where you came from?"

Sombra takes a break from looking smug at him to narrow his eyes in thought. "...yes. This air feels… more familiar, but not quite right. I…"

His eyes trace up to the stars, their expression distant, like he's looking a thousand miles away. "Lights in the sky… they would be fading by now in the sunrise. How do I know this…?"

Flash blinks. "Do you mean the aurora borealis?"

Sombra snaps his fingers. "Aurora! That sounds familiar, yes."

Flash shoves his hands into his jean pockets, wishing again that he'd thought to bring a jacket. Instead he's stuck looking enviously at the perfectly warm jacket that Sombra has uselessly slung over his shoulder. He's not even using it.

The aurora, though… if he's used to seeing auroras, he's got to be from somewhere up north, right? Some kind of arctic conditions. Which both does and doesn't help narrow things down. He's from somewhere arctic, yes—but where does Flash even start with that? He doesn't know where people live up there.

Hopefully Sunset will have more answers than he can figure out on his own, because all he knows is that it's freezing, and he really wishes he did run back in to grab his jacket even if it might have made him a bit late, and—

A heavy bundle of fabric hits him with a flump, and Flash startles. only barely catching the coat that Sombra has apparently seen fit to dump into his arms.

"Wha—?"

He shuffles the red fabric around in his arms to see Sombra looking at him expectantly.

"You want me to put this on?" Flash huffs. "I'm not that cold—"

Sombra raises his eyebrows at him. "You look like a pathetic little thing left out in the snow."

Flash would cross his arms if they weren't occupied by Sombra's coat. "We can't all be from—what, from the arctic? Come on, give a guy a break."

"I could simply take the coat back."

Even just bundled up against his chest, the coat does an excellent job at blocking out most of the chill, it's definitely made for the winter. Flash's arms tighten around the fabric.

"Well?"

Flash huffs. "This is going to be big on me," he says, turning Sombra's coat around in his arms to find the armholes.

It is very warm. It is kind of big on him, but not as big as he expected; it's more too long in the torso than anything else, and he finds that the slightly too-long arms are perfect to protect his hands from the chill. The fur collar is snug and soft around his neck and the coat is lined on the inside in a similar way, immediately blocking out most of the cold as he pulls it tight around him.

Sombra shoots him a smug look.

"Shut up," Flash says.

Sombra hums innocently, sing-song, as he tucks his hands behind his back and continues walking like they didn't just have that whole exchange.

Flash rolls his eyes, but pulls the coat tighter around him anyway.

-—-

"...and, yeah, her band's got great sound and I'm not even a hip-hop kind of guy, but her lyrics are super repetitive. I don't mind the ego, that just comes with a girl like her, but she should—oh, hey, we're here." Flash blinks out of a conversation about his fellow bands upon noticing the Canterlot High statue rising high up ahead.

He glances over his shoulder curiously at Sombra, wondering if he'll have any kind of reaction to the giant horse statue at the front of the school. Maybe the sight of the portal will spark recognition?

No luck. Sombra appraises the statue like he usually does with unfamiliar surroundings; a sweep of the eyes, a bit of a nod, and then his eyes trace back to meet Flash's. He tilts his head at him.

Flash tries not to feel awkward about the way he's been caught looking. There's not even anything to be embarrassed about, he's just curious. "Sunset and her friends will probably be in the cafeteria. Come on, I'll lead you in."

"The faculty won't mind my presence?" Sombra asks.

"Nah," Flash says, waving his concerns off with a hand as he walks up the front steps to the school. "Canterlot High has always been kinda fast and loose about that stuff. If a kid starts attending here and they aren't officially on the record, they've got a reason to want to be here, right?"

Even more so now that the principals are well aware that there is a portal to another world on their front lawn. He supposes the ratio of evil monsters to lost ponies looking for a safe haven is good enough that they haven't seen a reason to be more strict about their attendance policies. Although he guesses maybe being stricter about it would have stopped that whole mess with the sirens…

…maybe not. He's pretty sure they used their magic to brainwash the principals too, in hindsight. How else would that whole Battle of the Bands mess have happened?

Sombra takes his words in stride, though he does notice the guy keeping a little close to him as they walk through the halls. He can't blame him; everything must be so unfamiliar and weird to him. He's been taking it all in surprising stride—Flash knows he wouldn't do nearly so well if he was suddenly dropped into another world.

Huh. They're as weird to the ponies as the ponies are to them, aren't they? The other world has sparkly magic as an everyday thing, and they have public school and electronics.

At least they don't have actual monsters. Flash is still certain he'd end up captured by some weird mind-control vampire or whatever within five minutes of stepping foot into the other world.

Flash only makes it a couple steps into the cafeteria before Sombra stops suddenly beside him.

"What's up?" Flash asks, turning to see that distant, thousand-yard stare look on Sombra's face again.

"Those girls, over there at the table…" Sombra says, looking unfailingly at the table where Sunset and her friends are sitting, because of course he is. "There. The one with the star in her hair. She seems familiar, as if I should know her somehow."

He's of course talking about the—other Twilight, which Flash has only just started to get used to. And of course, Sombra recognizes Twilight of all people. The chance that Sombra is from around here in any sense has dropped to basically nothing.

Sunset has noticed the two of them by now, sharp-eyed as she always is. She stands from the table and walks across the cafeteria to them, curiosity bright in her eyes. "Hey, Flash, new guy." Her eyes linger on Flash for a moment. "Nice jacket."

This is the point where Flash remembers that he is, in fact, still wearing Sombra's jacket. Fuck he hopes he's not blushing.

"Thanks, it's, uh, it's his," Flash says, wrapping it tighter around himself and refusing to acknowledge the way that Sombra's looking down at him with a lopsided smirk, smug about it as seems to be his default emotion for these kinds of things.

"Speaking of which, who's this? I've never seen you around before," Sunset says, thankfully not lingering on the topic of his jacket as she turns eyes to Sombra.

"My name is Sombra," he replies, and Flash takes that moment to cut in.

'He's actually… something I was hoping to talk to you about," Flash says, rubbing the back of his neck. "...not here. I'm pretty sure he's from… 'out of town', but it's a bit more complicated than that."

"Oh," Sunset says, suddenly looking at Sombra with a much more appraising look. "Okay. Let me go tell the girls, and I'll meet you outside."

-—-

"So," Sunset says after Flash has explained everything he knows to her. The two of them are standing just outside the Canterlot statue, out in the cold—again—and Flash refuses to feel embarrassed about the way he's still wearing Sombra's coat. At least Sunset has a nice leather jacket to her name. "He showed up in your backyard three days ago, with basically no memory, and no clues except for the fact that he's from the arctic and recognizes Twilight Sparkle?"

"Pretty much," Flash says, shrugging. Sombra is standing beside him with his arms crossed, looking down at Sunset with an unreadable expression. He's been quiet for most of this explanation. "And he doesn't have anywhere to go."

"Right." Sunset says. "Well, the good news is, I have a good guess for where he's from. Do the words 'Crystal Empire' ring any bells?"

That sounds familiar. Flash thinks he remembers Sombra mentioning something about crystals during the weekend.

Sombra's eyes widen with recognition, then narrow. "That is… that is why I appeared where I did."

"What?" Flash asks.

Sombra looks at him. "Your counterpart in the other world, he lives in the Crystal Empire. I recognized you—only slightly, but enough that…"

Sombra goes quiet again, one fang peeking over his lip as he worries at it in thought. It'd be endearing if Flash wasn’t so concerned about the implications of his words. "I have the feeling I chose to appear near you. But why? What does this mean?"

"This portal is the only way I know of to cross between the two worlds," Sunset says. "And it's always kept memories intact. You must have lost your memory some other way…"

She sighs. "I don't know. I have about as many answers as you do, Flash. I'll…" She twirls a strand of hair around her finger in thought. "I'll write to Princess Twilight. She's been to the Empire more recently than I have. Maybe she'll know something I don't."

She laughs a little to herself. "At least I can help with one thing. I remember what it was like when I came through the portal for the first time… not having anywhere to go was the worst of it. I live alone in an apartment now—there's enough space for two people if you sleep on the couch, Sombra."

"And as for now?" Sombra asks.

"How about you come to school with the rest of us, since you already know Flash?" Sunset asks. "I can introduce you to the other girls. Maybe talking to Twilight will jog your memory."

"I would like to stay close to Flash," Sombra says, nodding. It's an unexpectedly nice comment and Flash has to look away to hide the dumb smile that's decided to appear on his face. Pull yourself together, Flash.

"Then it's settled. Come on," Sunset says, turning back towards the doors and gesturing for Flash and Sombra to follow. "Let's get back inside. It's cold out here."

-—-

And that's that, for a few weeks. Sombra settles into school life as quickly as he's adjusted to everything else about the human world. He's a little weird around other people, Flash notices, tends to sit alone in the cafeteria unless one of the girls specifically invites him to sit at their table, and he doesn't seem to have made any other friends… but to be fair, Sombra never struck him as the sociable type, anyhow.

That makes it feel even nicer when Sombra always seems happy to see Flash around. Knowing that Sombra doesn't particularly reach out to his peers, just stays in the corner reading books or staring out through the cafeteria window, and yet the guy still wants him around.

They talk a lot in between classes. Mostly it's Flash doing the talking, catching him up on school gossip, talking about the next game he has or the next gig he's going to play over the weekend. Sometimes he's just being a music nerd—he's pretty sure Sombra doesn't completely understand what he's talking about a lot of the time in that regard, but it's nice that he listens anyway. Sometimes Sombra will prompt him with a question or two about the human world, something he's been researching, and Flash will answer his questions the best he can. More and more now Sombra's started getting into stuff that even Flash can't answer, so he has to ask one of the girls—Twilight or Sunset, usually—instead. He really is kind of a nerd, but, hey, Flash likes nerds.

Sombra seems to be getting along well enough with Sunset, which is nice considering he's currently living in her apartment. Sunset says he's pretty quiet, keeps to himself. She mentions that she asked him a few things about Equestria, wondering if he'd pick up on something, but considering she was only in the Crystal Empire… once… (She says this in the particular tone of awkward she gets when she's talking about the person she was before the whole Fall Formal incident. Flash doesn't pry.) it's difficult for her to ask any particular questions that might spark his memory.

"What is the Crystal Empire, anyway?" Flash asks her at some point, curious. The name keeps popping up.

"Oh, it's a city-state located north of Equestria," Sunset answers. "I don't know much about it, to be honest. It was still cursed when I was Princess Celestia's student, and she never really brought it up. The most I've heard about it is from Princess Twilight's letters to me. Her sister-in-law is princess there."

Flash blinks at her. "Is royalty a… family thing over there, or…?"

Sunset laughs. "It's totally coincidence, can you believe it? She actually ascended after her brother married Princess Cadence."

That brings up so many more questions than answers. Flash settles for, "Cadence? Like, the Dean at Crystal Prep… High…"

The name suddenly clicks in his mind. "This is giving me a headache," Flash declares. Like every time he chooses to ask about Equestria does.

Sunset pats him on the back consolingly. "You'll get used to it. Eventually."

Flash murmurs something unintelligible as he puts his head in his hands.

The magical land of the pretty pastel ponies is a mystery Flash will leave to people who don't still reel every time someone he knows personally decides to sprout wings because they got really into the song they were playing.

That's a great idea, because soon after that there's another mystery that falls directly into his hands—

—the day he looks outside on a crisp summer morning and there is snow falling from the sky.