• Published 22nd Sep 2023
  • 1,061 Views, 76 Comments

Doubt Itself - Casketbase77



They're supposed to be inspiring, Sunset's stories of ponies with familiar names and faces. But to Cozy Glow, her other self is a warning she's grimly taken to heart. Too bad about the whispers still in her head. And the urges.

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25m

"A weirdo kid who smiles too much?" Rainbow Dash put her elbows on the lunch table. "That's the new threat you're stressing about? Sunset, you've been in the trenches too long. Eat your lunch before homeroom starts."

Confident in her assessment, Dash followed her own advice by biting into a school cafeteria dog. Sunset scowled across the table. Her lunchbox stayed unopened and her voice stayed quiet to not be overheard.

"I'm serious, Rainbow. Checking in with Cozy this morning was supposed to ease my suspicions, not give me new ones."

"Sounds like a personal decision. Your worries are only as high as you want 'em to be. Chill out and eat like the rest of us."

There was in fact no "rest of us," since no other friends had arrived yet. The two of them were seated alone for now. Unless, Sunset realized, Dash had meant the entire lunchroom. All around was idle chatter, broken up by chewing and crinkling of wrappers. Sunset sighed and pulled out her sandwich. But she didn't bite into it yet.

"You know, I almost used Empathy Touch on her. At the curb, at the stop sign."

Dash politely swallowed. "Yeah? So why didn't you?"

"Shows of trust are a big deal," Sunset stated firmly. "Remember when none of you trusted me back when I was trying to change?"

Dash squirmed. "Erm... hey, on the topic of trust, you said you've been on Cozy's case for what, a couple weeks now?"

Sunset nodded.

"How come you didn't clue me in earlier? What made you decide to start spilling her secrets?"

"Hey girls!" Pinkie Pie plopped down a tray and slid in next to Sunset. "You talkin' about Cozy Glow?"

"The cat's kind of already out the bag."

"You were right about this swipey-swipe, Sunset! Waaaay more convenient than hoofing over a stack of Bits." Pinkie presented Sunset's borrowed credit card. "And lookit, I'm getting the hang of these finger things." To demonstrate, she picked up an apple and bit into it. Her tray had six more, all stacked in a clumsy pile.

"Oh wow," Dash observed. "Sunset, you didn't mention that... um... that another pony wandered out of the zoo."

"I know I didn't. She begged to do introductions herself."

"Ahm Puhinkie Pfie!" the doppelgänger announced through a mouthful of apple. "Frohm Equvesthria!"

Rainbow Dash laughed and offered a fist bump. Pinkie accepted.

"Nice to meet ya formally, horse girl. I'm guessing my band's drummer is out galloping around some magic pasture?"

"Nah, she's sick with Senioritis."

"Pff. Aren't we all?"

Testily, laboriously, Sunset inhaled and exhaled through her nose. "I'd appreciate you taking something seriously today, Rainbow."

"Hey now," Rainbow Dash leaned forward, obviously hurt. "This is me taking stuff seriously. We've been dealing with wild magic mishaps for what, three school years now?"

"Longer," Sunset corrected.

"Ah, right. There were the summers in between. Point is, we're seniors now. Seasoned veterans. Way past having freakouts when horse people visit. As Rarity would say, a lady's gotta learn composure."

Pinkie had finished her first apple and moved on to her cookie. "Dashie makes a persuasive point, Shimsham."

Sunset glowered at the laxness of her friends.

"Speakin' of Rarity, is she gonna be along soon? I grabbed one of these for each of us." Pinkie rolled two of her remaining apples at Sunset and Dash. Consequently, she had four left on her tray, ready and waiting for the absent members of their group.

"Rarity..?" Dash palmed her apple dismissively. "She's off at technical school this year. For fashion design."

Pinkie looked like she'd been slapped in the face. "No Rarity?? Is... is anyone else not gonna show up?"

"AJ got lumped in the lunch period before ours," Dash groused. "Real gyp. She always brought baked goods to share."

Pinkie looked down at her plain offering of humble fruit. For the first time since sampling humanity, she felt out of place and small.

"Oh!" Dash snapped her fingers. "Fluttershy is in trades just like Rarity. But for animal care. Not dresses."

The blows just kept coming.

"And Sci-Twi..?"

Sunset Shimmer put her hand on Pinkie's. "That Twilight doesn't go here. She's enrolled at Crystal Prep."

Pinkie sniffled. She wasn't naive. She understood friends moving away. After all, Twilight Sparkle was back in Canterlot, fresh off coronation. But that was just one pony. Here, half the friend group was missing. Four ownerless apples sat on Pinkie's tray, and ownerless was how they'd stay. Their shiny skins reflected her, showing tearful eyes and a trembling lip. Was this what Sunset meant? That humans led tougher lives than ponies? Pinkie's eyes widened.

Was this the incompleteness Cozy Glow felt?

"Pinkie? Earth to Pinkamena?" Rainbow Dash nervously scooped up some remaining apples. "Y-you didn't buy too many if that's what you're fretting over there. I burn plenty of energy at soccer practice. I can eat two apples for lunch." She looked at the pile in her arms. "Uh... four is a tall order, though. Might need to run some laps to work those off."

Sunset picked up the last apple. "If you're sad about the friend group, Pinkie, remember that we still all practice as a band together."

"Ohmigosh, that's such a relief!" Pinkie's spark was back, and her squeal of delight turned several heads from adjacent tables. Sunset's arm was on her shoulders, both to reassure and to quiet her down.

"Extracurriculars," Pinkie babbled in a whisper. "That's how humans find and keep friends. Sports, fashion, animals, and rock bands. That's how we help!"

Rainbow Dash leaned into the impromptu huddle. "Help?"

"Cozy Glow needs an extracurricular like you guys! That'll be what keeps her from turning evil!"

Dash groaned and slumped back from the huddle. "Sometimes," she announced, "I wonder what the girls at other lunch tables talk about. Maybe boys or clothes or other normal high school things."

"Shame on you, Dash." Sunset scolded. "Cozy is a student at Canterlot High. And until the school year ends, we are too. So it's our job to help her."

Rainbow Dash tapped her half-eaten hot dog. It was tepid and unappetizing, much like the prospect of bothering some freshman who'd done nothing wrong yet. Lunch period was nearly over, and all around them, other students were dumping trash and heading to homeroom.

Dash rubbed her nose in resignation. Then made one last appeal to the ponies.

"Sunset... do you remember being a demon?"

"Ouch. I know I was the school's top Mean Girl, but calling that demonic is overselling it."

"I meant literally. When you put on Twilight's crown."

Sunset flinched and Pinkie tilted her head quizzically. Like most ponies, she knew Sunset Shimmer, ex-student of Princess Celestia, once stole the Element Of Magic. And also like most ponies, she didn't know what happened between then and Twilight getting it back. Wearing a taken crown, feeling the corruption from the delicious wrongness... this was news to Pinkie, but it wasn't an alien concept. She thought back to the time she held the Bewitching Bell. How... proudly dangerous she'd felt. Maybe the problems of this world were familiar after all.

"I was in a funk for a long time," Sunset mused. "Shaken up, scared to relapse."

Rainbow Dash stood up. "And did you?"

Sunset slowly grinned. "No... I didn't."

"How 'bout Twilight after the Midnight Sparkle incident?"

Sunset was chuckling with relief. "Huh-uh. She didn't either. And she was way more paranoid than I'd been."

"Exactly." Rainbow Dash sat down again, satisfied. "In both cases, the problem was 1% magic, 99% self doubt. And Cozy Glow doesn't have magic. Things worked out for you, things worked out for Twilight, and things'll work out with Cozy. We just gotta sit tight and stop with the doubt."

Sunset nodded enthusiastically. Pinkie's arm dropped away, and the weight off her shoulders was mental just as much as literal. Maybe she had been in the trenches too long. Maybe she was overestimating the threat. Cozy knew of her counterpart, and because of that, didn't want to lie and thieve. Perhaps Sunset's job truly was done.

Sunset picked up her sandwich and bit it at last. The lunch meat tasted like relief. How savory it truly was, to be an unburdened senior. To be someone whose problems were just in her head.

Pinkie however, stayed quiet. She wasn't good at critical thinking. Wasn't good at holding onto bad feelings like doubt and fear. They were spiky and slippery, like a rainy harvest of shale at her family's farm. And yet, the Pinkie Sense told her to not let go. To not lose track of some missing rocky puzzle piece.

Her hand snaked towards her blouse pocket.

"And on the off chance something does happen to Cozy..." Dash's voice had renewed cockiness. "We have our geodes to fall back on."

Sunset nodded and touched her necklace. Rainbow grinned and brandished her jeweled fitbit. Pinkie's empty fingers dropped from her blouse pocket. She sprang to her feet, paler than used bubble gum.

"Pinkie, what is it?"

The powerless pony slapped her hand onto Sunset's. Memories poured between them, replaying the curbside encounter.

"Guys?" Rainbow Dash's wrist was clasped by Sunset's free hand. She didn't see the full scene, only Cozy Glow reaching at a shirt button.

"Spread out and find her," Sunset rasped. "Now!"

The trio ran off through the exit of the nearly empty cafeteria. The bell for homeroom rang, but none of them heeded it. Nor did they note the silver-haired girl with bespectacled purple eyes. The last one left in the lunchroom, seated alone at a corner table.

The girl stared after them, expressionless.

Then she got up and followed.

Author's Note:

I know, I know; Sci-Twi staying at Crystal Prep only happens in a deleted ending that never aired. But hey, if EqG Cozy can struggle against the confines of canon, so can the author penning her.

:twilightsheepish: Youtube clip of the deleted ending in question.