Firebird Dahlia

by The Albinocorn

First published

Sunset goes home to Equestria to reconcile with her family. But ten years is a large bridge to gap, especially between sisters.

Life is looking up for Sunset Shimmer.

With her grandstanding at the Battle of the Bands, Canterlot High has taken a new approach to her. Amends have been made, friendships have been restored, and Sunset is on the fast track to becoming a better person.

But even now, there are still apologies that have to be said.

For her Spring Break, Sunset returns to Equestria to make up with her estranged family: the parents that raised and provided for her, and the sister she left behind. But a lot has changed since then, and some wounds won't heal by just saying 'I'm sorry.'

Fixing friendships is one thing. Sunset will be put through her hardest test yet when she tries to bring her family back together.

Another one edited by Cerulean Voice.

Stunningly amazing cover art drawn by Ayemel!

Featured on Equestria Daily.

Listen to the audio book here!

Homecoming

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Firebird Dahlia

Dear Twilight,

How have you been? Sorry I haven’t written in a while; midterms were crazy this year. Other than studying and tutoring some students, life is still pretty good. I think everyone in school has forgiven me for you-know-what (except for Trixie, but you know how she is), and the girls and I are practically inseparable.

Hard to believe we were enemies half a year ago, huh? I’ve come a long way from who I used to be... which actually brings me to why I’m writing this to you now. I kinda need a favor. A big one.

I’ve been doing a lot here to fix what I broke, but I still have things back home in Equestria that I need to deal with. You know that Celestia and I didn’t part on the best of terms.

But there’s even more to the story than that.

Twilight, I haven’t seen my family since before I left. It’s been ten years in Equestrian time since we’ve seen each other. I can’t even imagine what they think of me right now. I guess that depends on what Celestia told them.

But I’m rambling now; I’ll tell you the whole story if I see you. Basically, what I’m asking is for you to open up the portal again to let me come home. Spring Break is in three days, so that would give me a good opportunity to disappear for a bit. I’ve already told the girls I might do this and I’ve got their support.

Please, Twi. I’ve made up with everyone but my own family, and I can’t ignore them any longer.

Your friend,

Sunset Shimmer

******

Gaudy.

That was Sunset Shimmer’s first thought as she stumbled out of the mirror, her friend’s fond farewells and cheers of good luck still playing in her ears.

Part of her self-reformation program was to think of something positive to say about anything before making one of her usual negative or snarky comments. But this library was an eyesore: purple floors with blue walls and assorted crystals growing over the doorframes and in other random areas, while different colored tapestries hung from the ceiling.

Still, Sunset put on her best smile and stared ahead at the alicorn in front of her. She nearly fell over again when she tried to approach Twilight, her legs still wobbly after her cross-dimensional transformation. Luckily, Twilight Sparkle jumped forward and caught her before Sunset hit the ground.

“Hehe, first step’s a doozy,” Twilight said, helping Sunset stand upright again.

“Yeah.” Sunset shook her legs out and hopped up and down a few times. “All right, I think I’ve got it again. Just don’t ask me to perform any tricks.” They both stared at each before breaking into laughter and throwing their hooves around each other’s neck.

“It’s good to see you again, Twilight. Although it’s really weird seeing you as a pony again.”

“I could say the same thing about you,” Twilight said, leading Sunset away from the mirror. “I’ve only seen you in your pony form once, and it was kinda dark.”

“Heh, yeah.” Sunset looked away, her face red as her mane. “Did I ever say I was sorry about that?”

“Eleven times if we want to count now.”

Twilight sat on a cushioned chair at a waiting table, whereupon a tea set and a plate of cookies rested. “Tea?” She held up a decorated pot and two cups in her lavender glow.

“Love some.”

Sunset sat down across from Twilight and watched as the princess filled their cups, steam rolling off the top, following the rich aroma. She fidgeted in her equine body; her tail did not seem to want to cooperate. I don’t remember it being this hard last time.

“Mmm, is this Jasmine?” Sunset asked, nose twitching in delight.

“Yep, I told Spike you were coming, so he made your favorite.”

Sunset smiled. “He’s quite the conversationalist, you know—some of his letters got pretty detailed when he took over, those few times you were busy. Is he as ferocious and fire breathing as he claims he is?”

Twilight giggled. “Not quite.”

Sunset looked down at the cup in front of her and closed her eyes, feeling her dormant magic awakening and flowing through her again. When she opened her eyes, the cup was levitating an inch from her mouth. “Wow. I have to remember how to walk, but magic is still second nature.” She blew off the steam and took a sip from her tea, making a soft moan of delight as the flavor touched her tongue.

“Funny how things work like that, isn’t it?” Twilight asked playfully.

They sipped their tea in silence for a moment. Sunset’s eyes wandered around the room, steadily growing used to the poor interior design. She shuffled again, finding her current position on her haunches to be too odd for her liking, and opted to just lie on her stomach; unfortunately, that left her barely able to see Twilight.

“Uuuuuugh!” She pressed her forehead into the table.

Twilight sipped her tea with faux grace, her cheeks pudging and her shoulders shaking slightly. “Having trouble?” she asked after swallowing, still suppressing a giggle.

Sunset got to her hooves. “You know what? I think I’ll just stand.”

“Right.” Twilight set her tea cup down. “Well, I hate to pressure you into anything, but would you like to discuss the reason for your visit now?”

Sunset felt her ears pin back, a very odd sensation yet so instinctively familiar. “Right. That.” She was about to sit down again, until she remembered her recent struggle and decide to just practice walking as she told her story. “Well… it’s like I said in my letter. I’m… pretty estranged to my family by now. Time moves different between the two worlds. Two-and-a-half years human side is almost ten years here.”

Sunset stopped pacing and looked at her hooves. “Either way, it feels like I haven’t spoken to them in centuries. Once I started studying under Celestia, I kinda just… pushed them aside. Don’t get me wrong—they were great. I just felt… more at home under Celestia.”

Twilight nodded once and rolled a hoof for Sunset to continue.

Sunset resumed her pacing again. She browsed some of the books lining the shelves, finding many she recognized from the library in Canterlot Castle. “The day I ran away… it had been, I don’t know… almost two months since I had seen them.”

It hadn’t been a long visit either. Sunset remembered the short clips of conversation she shared with her parents: they had asked her how school was. She had said ‘fine.’ They had asked her if she was learning a lot. She had said ‘yes.’ They had asked if she had spoken to her sister lately. She had said ‘no.’

“Honestly…” Frost gathered in the pit of Sunset’s stomach. “I don’t even know if my parents are still alive.” Crying was something she couldn’t stand, no matter how soft she let her heart get. However, she allowed a few tears to slide down her cheeks at the idea of returning to Canterlot only to find headstones. It hung over her thoughts like the Grim Reaper himself.

She kept her back to Twilight. “Two-and-a-half years felt like a long time to me. I can only imagine how ten years have felt for them. Not seeing or hearing anything about your own daughter… not knowing if she was alive or not... I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t want to see me again.”

I’ve been a terrible student and daughter. She finally wiped the tears from her eyes and let out a disgruntled sigh. Sometimes, I wish I was still selfish. It sucks to feel guilt.

A soft clip-clop echoed through the library; Sunset stiffened at the unexpected touch of a hoof on her back.

“You know, Sunset, I’m really proud of you,” Twilight said. “You’ve come a long way from when I first met you.”

Sunset smiled weakly. “Yeah, well… I couldn’t have done it if you hadn’t hit me with a giant rainbow and buried me in a crater.”

“Heh heh…” Twilight blushed. “Did I ever mention I was sorry about the crater part?”

“Eleven times if we’re counting now.”

Both mares laughed, and a warmth flowed through Sunset’s body, melting the ice. She watched Twilight walk over to another bookshelf with larger tomes.

“I’m sure your parents are doing fine. And I’m positive they’ll be delighted in seeing you again. Family is still family no matter what.” She levitated a selection of books down and brought them over to the table. “Here’s a record of last year’s census. Just give me their names and I’m sure we can find them.”

Sunset’s smile widened, and she joined Twilight at the table, still opting to stand. “Well, my mom’s name is Dawn Glider, and my dad is Zephyr Spark.”

Twilight opened the book, then paused with a quizzical look on her face. “I’m sorry if this sounds… out of line, but those sound awfully like pegasus names.”

“They are. My parents are pegasi. Actually, most of my immediate family are.”

“But... you’re a unicorn,” she said like she was noticing for the first time.

“Umm, yeah?”

Twilight stared, wearing an expression Sunset recognized in her history teachers back on earth. “That’s so fascinating! That’s just like the Cake twins: they’re a unicorn and a pegasus but their parents are both earth ponies! Tell me, do you know where you got your unicorn traits from? How far back does it go and how many generations did it skip? Do you have any pegasi magic at all, like walking on clouds or weather manipulation? Does your cutie mark—”

“Oi! Twi! Calm down!” Sunset said loudly, flailing her hooves in Twilight’s face. “My grandfather on my dad’s side was a unicorn and so was his whole family. He married a pegasus, they had my dad and he got married to a pegasus too. That’s all I know about that.” Sunset massaged her head. “I try not to think about it too much honestly. And no, I cannot walk on clouds. That’s why we lived in Canterlot,” she said bitterly.

“Sorry,” Twilight said taking a deep breath. “I got carried away for a second. Pony genealogy is just something I’ve been exploring since the Cake twins were born. But you’re right—we have more important things to do.” She leaned over and flipped through the census with such determination, Sunset was sure she was just trying to make up for her earlier outburst.

She looked up at Sunset with a bright smile. “I found your mom, Sunset. She’s alive and healthy according to the book.”

Sunset crammed her face closer, pushing Twilight aside. There it was on the page in tiny font: Dawn Glider—Canterlot City. Marital Status: Married. “They’re still in Canterlot,” Sunset whispered. “They never left… even after I was gone.”

Twilight’s glare relaxed into a warm, empathetic smile. “I bet they were hoping you would come back.”

A lump swelled in Sunset’s throat and her eyes stung again. No. Don’t you dare. Stop being such a baby! She stepped back from the book and breathed deeply, keeping her eyes closed. “Thanks, Twi,” she said after regaining her composure. “This means a lot to me.”

Twilight picked up her tea cup. “Of course.”

Sunset looked up at the high ceiling. The thought of seeing her mom and dad again sent a warm wind through her heart.

“Umm, Sunset? Do you… have any siblings?”

The warm wind was snuffed out and replaced by an arctic gale. “Uhh, no.” Sunset shifted her gaze around the library. “No, why would you think something like that?” She laughed nervously.

“Because it says your mom has two children,” Twilight deadpanned.

Sunset opened her mouth, closed it and bowed her head. “Yeah… I have a sister.”

“Really?” Twilight asked excitedly. She frowned at the guarded stance Sunset had taken up. “You don’t want to see her?”

“No, it’s not that.” Sunset sat down, briefly pleased that she had landed in a comfortable position. “Well… I guess it kinda is. But…” She wrung her hooves together. “It’s more like she doesn’t want to see me.”

Twilight lifted the tea pot and poured Sunset another cup. “I’m sure that’s not true.”

Sunset brought the cup closer and stared into the murky liquid. “I… we tried to…. We had a fight before I left and we never made up. I mean, we had a rocky relationship while we were growing up, but that time…” Sunset raised a hoof to her cheek. “We actually came to blows.”

“Sunset...”

“I said some things, she said some things—one of them being she never wanted to see me again.” Sunset cringed, as she fought to suppress the memory. However, she could still feel the wounds on her heart, old and scarred.

She raised her cup and guzzled down the hot tea, chasing the pain away. She coughed then said, “My parents… I can handle seeing them. But her... and Celestia… maybe it’s best if I just stay out of their lives.”

Twilight drapped a wing over her. “Sunset, that’s ridiculous.”

With the touch of feathers on her back and the warm but stern tone of voice, Sunset was certain when she turned her head she’d find Princess Celestia. Instead, Twilight smiled at her, but the resemblance was uncanny. Sunset saw so much of Celestia that she was filled with hope. It was immediately covered by shame a moment later, and she bowed her head again.

“Sunset, you should know better than most ponies that Celestia forgives and forgets.” Twilight wrapped her wing tighter. “I already told her of what you did in the human world—how you helped us defeat the Sirens, and all the hard work you’ve been doing. She’s proud of you.”

“I know, but I still messed up. I walked out on her. I walked out on all of them.” Sunset stared down the slippery slope, knowing it only ended in self-loathing. Still, her emotions outpaced her thinking, and she started to regret coming back at all.

She stood up, startling Twilight who jerked her wing away. “On second thought, this is a bad idea. They’ve all gone this long without me, they can keep going.”

She turned for the mirror, but a hoof pinned her by her tail.

“Sunset Shimmer, you’re not going anywhere until you see your family again,” Twilight said in a firm voice.

Sunset stood in place until Twilight removed her hoof. “You’re right. Sorry, I panicked for a second.” She turned and sat down again next to Twilight. “It’s just… I put so much distance between us. Physically and emotionally. What if they all just moved on?”

“Celestia is proud of you,” Twilight said confidently. “The first thing she asked me when I came back from the human world the first time was how you were doing. She never stopped caring. And if she never stopped caring, then I bet the rest of your family never stopped either.”

“But—”

“And it’s like you said,” Twilight continued, speaking over her, “ten years is a long time. Maybe you and your sister had a bad fight, but time heals all wounds. I’m sure she wants to see you again just as much as you want to see her. I bet when she sees you, the only thing she’ll want to do is make up for lost time.”

Sunset wiped away a stray tear. “You really think so?”

“I know so!”

Sunset reached for her tea again. She took one more sip to melt the ice in her stomach again and raised her head with newfound confidence. “You’re right. I have to at least try! I need to see them again. And I’ll start…” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “I’ll start with my sister. I messed up with her first, so our relationship will be the first one I fix!”

Twilight patted her on the shoulder and beamed with approval. “Sounds great. Just give me her name and we can find her.” Twilight approached the book again, pausing to take a sip of tea.

“Spitfire.”

Trailblazer

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“I can’t believe it! Spitfire has a sister! And you’re her!”

“Yes, Dash, we all heard you the first ten times,” Sunset deadpanned.

Rainbow Dash swooped under the golden chariot again, coming up on Twilight’s side. “She never told me she had a sister! It’s not on any of the official Wonderbolt trading cards!” She squished her hooves against her face. “That’s gotta be so awesome, right? Being related to a Wonderbolt must be like being friends with a princess, huh?”

Sunset rested her chin on the chariot railing. Below her, a river snaked its way from Ponyville and across the plains before reverting back into the waterfall that cascaded up the mountain.

“Maybe you missed the part where I was gone for her entire career up until now!” Sunset took a controlled breath. Honestly, she’s just as bad as the other Dash.

“Oh yeah.” Rainbow rolled onto her back, yet still managed to keep up with the two pegasi pulling the royal carriage.

Canterlot loomed ever closer, shining brilliantly in the morning sun. A light mist gathered around it, giving it a mythical look. It added to the surrealism Sunset felt. She was going home. Canterlot had never looked more beautiful sitting on its mountain perch. It reminded Sunset of one of those elven cities she had read about in a human fantasy novel.

“Still, you gotta know some cool stuff about her, right?”

Sunset groaned as Rainbow dragged her out of her romanticism.

“And hey, you said you’re pretty cool with that other me, right? Maybe you could, you know, ask Spitfire to speed up the whole becoming a Wonderbolt thing? I mean, I wanna work for it as much as the next pegasi, but it’s taking forever!”

“Yes, I know some stuff about her. Yes, you and I are pretty cool in the other world. No, I’m not asking her for anything.” That’d be a great conversation starter. ‘Hey, sis, I’m back! You’re a Wonderbolt, congrats! By the way, can you make my friend by technicality a Wonderbolt too?' Sunset almost cracked a smile.

“All right, that’s cool.” Rainbow flipped around again and zipped over to Sunset’s side. “But maybe you could just casually mention how good of a friend the other me is? Just kinda toss it in there.” She gave Sunset a toothy grin.

Sunset groaned again and turned towards Twilight who was consumed in the book she had brought along. “Remind me why you brought her along?” Compared to Rainbow’s reaction, Twilight had been quite tame when she found out who Sunset was related to.

******

Twilight jerked her head from the book and sprayed tea all over Sunset’s face. “Sp-Spitfire!” she sputtered out through a fit of coughs. “Did you say Spitfire—Oh! I’m so sorry!”

Sunset levitated a napkin and wiped the tea and spittle from her face. “It’s fine,” she growled. “At least the tea wasn’t scalding anymore.” She kept the napkin over her eyes for another moment so she wouldn't kill Twilight with her glare. “And why are you so surprised Spitfire is my sister?”

“Right. You haven’t been here for a while.” Twilight set her saucer down. “Sunset, Spitfire is captain of the Wonderbolts.”

“Really?” She laughed and clapped her hooves together. “I can’t believe it! She actually did it! Even after—” Sunset cut her voice off.

“After what?”

“Nothing.” Sunset waved it away and forced a smile. “Doesn’t matter if she’s a Wonderbolt! And she’s captain? She must have been over the moon when that happened! Oh man, now I need to go talk to her!”

******

Sunset tapped her hoof impatiently, waiting for Twilight to respond.

“She asked to come with me the next time I got Wonderbolt tickets,” Twilight said without raising her nose. “Actually, she’s the only reason I knew there was going to be a derby today.”

“Yeah, so in a way, I’m kinda responsible for bringing you two back together,” Rainbow said, puffing her chest out. “So, maybe you could return the favor…?”

Twilight fixed an eye on her. “Rainbow, quit badgering Sunset or I’ll conveniently lose your ticket.”

Rainbow held her hooves up. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I’ll stop.” There were thirty seconds of silence before, “I can’t believe Spitfire has a sister!”

“Auuuuugh!” Sunset threw her hooves in the air. “Are we there yet?”

“Yes, ma’am,” one of the pegasi answered her. “We’re beginning our descent into Canterlot.”

The city was alive and festive, just as Sunset remembered. Gold flags waved proudly from tall, pointed spires painted in royal majesty. Perfectly sculpted buildings arranged themselves in organized arrays that sprawled out over the mountain.

The chariot circled closer, skimming over the market place where savory aromas of baked pastries and steamed vegetables rose up to caress Sunset’s nose. They glided over verdant parks where foals played with shrieks of laughter that made the very air thrum with vital spirit. They finally came to rest on an empty strip of polished marble near the castle.

Sunset tentatively took her first steps off the chariot and onto her home soil. Nostalgia permeated her every pore the moment she made contact, and tears started to well up in her eyes.

Knock it off, you big baby! It’s just a city!

But it was her city.

“Whoa, you okay?” Rainbow’s voice broke into Sunset’s thoughts.

Sunset nodded, wiping the tears away and looking up at the majesty that was the castle. “Yeah. I’m just glad… I’m home.” Memories, good and ill, made Sunset’s heart flutter. Somewhere inside those walls, Princess Celestia was still orchestrating all the affairs of Equestria, even when she said she had little influence on how the country progressed.

“Is Celestia-ahem—” Sunset cleared the crack in her voice, “—is the Princess going to be at the derby?”

Twilight rubbed her chin. “That’s a good question. I know she likes a good Wonderbolt race—”

“Pssh, who doesn’t?” Rainbow said behind her.

“—but I doubt she goes to all of them. So, we’ll see.”

The knot in Sunset’s stomach tightened. She couldn’t decide who she was scared of seeing again the most: the parents she had left, the sister she had blocked out, or the mentor she had betrayed. It was like Sunset was standing at the center of three pointed swords wondering which one would strike her first.

Canterlot was a little dimmer as they walked through the city; Sunset’s dark thoughts formed a cloud over her head. Over and over, she tried to rehearse what she’d say to each pony she had left behind, yet all of it seemed either devoid of real emotion or just plain stupid.

Hi, Mom, hi, Dad! Sorry I was gone for so long. But the good news is, I’m not dead!

Princess Celestia, I’m really, really sorry about… everything...

Hey, Spits, long time, no see, right? We didn't leave off on the best terms, but maybe we can start over?

Not even the offers of fresh grilled vegetables or cinnamon buns straight out of the oven could keep Sunset’s spirits up. She knew it was utterly ridiculous to think her own family would slam the door in her face, yet the fantasies kept playing in her head.

Daughter? I’m sorry, but we only have one daughter and she’s a Wonderbolt.

Ah yes, Sunset Shimmer, my least favorite and least faithful student. I hope you were packed for a long visit, because you’ll be spending the rest of it in the dungeons. Guards!

“I don’t ever want to see your face again, you horned freak!”

Sunset stopped dead in her tracks, ice pumping from her heart to flood her veins. That last one had actually happened. The last words Spitfire had said to her.

“What’s the hold up? We’re gonna miss the race because of your slow walking!”

With one blink of her eyes, Sunset found Rainbow hovering in front of her face. “Hello, Equestria to Shimmer?”

“Oh, uh, sorry. Just got caught up in some memories, you know?” Sunset tried to grin but her face refused to work right and it came out as a lopsided grimace.

“Everything’s going to be fine, Sunset,” Twilight said. “I promise.” The gleam in her eye was all Sunset needed to know that Twilight could read her like an open book.

Stupid friendship princess.

Firefly Memorial Stadium hung on the backside of the mountain. It was a humble construction that sat mostly unchanged from its completion centuries ago. A few small buildings and concessions sat on the cliffside with only the marble bleachers packed into the mountain face to separate them from the open sky.

Twilight led them up to the top box, completely empty save for an attendant who asked them if they wanted anything to eat or drink.

Sunset passed on the food. She couldn’t get her stomach to stop backflipping. She kept looking at the door every few seconds, expecting Celestia to walk through. She sat down and fiddled her hooves for a few minutes before pressing herself over the edge of the box. She couldn’t resist looking for her family amongst the crowd, even with her stomach launching a rebellion against her.

Pony after pony filled the stands, the chatter and cheering growing louder with each passing moment. Sunset’s eyes dug through the crowd, and her heart jumped to her throat whenever she found a familiar coat or mane style... only to drop back down in disappointment—and admittedly, a little relief—when she realized it wasn’t them.

Calm down, she berated herself. Getting worked up like this isn’t going to help. She took a seat, only to jump back up when a chorus of trumpets blared.

“All right, showtime!” Rainbow said, tossing a hoofful of popcorn into the air.

Sunset found herself on the edge of the box again looking at the track, or rather, the two rings of clouds forming an oval in midair. This time, her heart stayed in her throat, almost choking Sunset when she spotted the wild orange and amber mane and tail—flames of victory against the blue tracksuit.

“I’m gonna be a Wonderbolt someday!” Spitfire cheered. She spiraled up and around the park tree and dive-bombed Sunset, pulling up just before a collision. “I’ll go so fast, there’ll be fire behind me!”

Sunset laughed. “Yeah right. The most you’ll make is smoke.”

Spitfire settled down next to her and stuck her tongue out. “Oh yeah? And what do you wanna do when you grow up?”

Sunset looked at the golden wings on her sister’s back. “I dunno yet.”

Five pegasi were lined up shoulder to shoulder at the starting line. Spitfire had moved her goggles to cover her orange eyes, but Sunset could still the determination on her face.

“Come on, Spits,” she whispered. “Show me the fire you promised.”

Bang!

The pegasi rocketed out of the gate, neck and neck with each other. The sound of the crowd was deafening, but Sunset could hear herself screaming louder than even Rainbow. “Come on, Spits! You can do it! Show them who's boss!”

Spitfire and Soarin had pulled ahead by only mere feet by the fifth lap with Fleetfoot nipping at their hooves. Soarin tried to get on the inside, but Spitfire fanned her wings out at the top of the turn and pushed him back.

Sunset let out a whoop of delight, ignoring the shower of popcorn Rainbow had released in her own excitement. On Sunset’s left, Twilight enjoyed the spectacle with a silent smile.

By the fifteenth lap, Soarin had fallen behind, and it was now Fleetfoot who kept pace with Spitfire. Fleetfoot was ahead by a nose, but Sunset could see Spitfire would not have any of it today. The tension in the last five laps was palpable; Sunset was shaking with adrenaline from just watching. She had not gone to any of the sporting events at Canterlot High, and had forgotten just how exciting something as simple as spectating could be.

The two ponies became a blur racing down the last stretch. Sunset’s throat was raw from cheering; yet like her big sister, she put everything she had into one more push, hoping her yell would make all the difference. The rational part of her brain told her it was unlikely and pointless. The irrational half said, shove off! and cheered anyway.

“And, yes! It’s Spitfire across the finish line first! Spitfire wins!” the announcer proclaimed.

Yes!” Sunset punched a hoof in the air. “She did it! My sister won!” She cracked an eye open to see Twilight and Rainbow giving her wide smirks of amusement. Sunset ran her hoof through her mane, and put on a nonchalant expression. “I mean, you know, I didn’t expect anything less from the Wonderbolt captain.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah, nice save there.”

Twilight giggled and gestured to the door. “Come on, let’s go bring you two back together.”

Sunset’s euphoria drained out of her hooves and pooled at the floor around her. No. No, it’s going to be fine. She heard you cheering for her. She must know you still care. She has to want to fix this as much as you do. The gravity intensified to ten times its normal amount, anchoring her hooves to the floor. But Sunset pressed forward, teeth grit and heart set on fixing her last mistakes.

Twilight led Sunset and Rainbow to an open pavilion where a crowd of fans had gathered. A group of burly security ponies were trying to keep them separated from the press, who were snapping photographs and shoving microphones into the small circle of breathing room the Wonderbolts had been given.

They stood together, hoods down, goggles up and lines of sweat still clinging to their brows. Spitfire stood a little taller than the rest of them, victory dancing like fire in her eyes, matching her mane.

Sunset found herself walking through a particularly long tunnel. The noise of the crowd filtered away, and all she could see at the end of it was her sister. She was older now: even more lean than when Sunset had last seen her, the grin on her face even more confident from over ten years ago.

“Miss Spitfire.” Twilight’s voice echoed in Sunset’s mind from the other end of the tunnel. “Excuse me, Miss Spitfire? There’s someone here to see you.”

Sunset stepped around Twilight, fully presenting herself. It was then she realized they had made it to the front of the crowd, even past the security.

Still laughing at whatever had been previously said, Spitfire turned her head to Sunset. The laughter died in her throat and she stared unfocused at Sunset.

Sunset raised a weak hoof. “H-hey, sis. I uhh… saw your race. Congrats!”

Spitfire’s eyes were larger than the track she had just raced around, yet her pupils had almost sunk into their vast whiteness. “S-S-Su-Su…”

“Spits, calm down,” Sunset said, seeing Spitfire’s chest heaving up and down. “It’s okay, it’s just me—”

“Security!” Spitfire screeched.

“Wait!” Sunset was grabbed on both sides by two of the largest security pegasi. “Wait, Spitfire!”

Get her out of my sight!” A vein bulged on the side of Spitfire’s neck. I don’t want to see her ever again! Make sure she doesn’t come within a hundred yards of any of my races!”

“Spitfire, please!” Twilight tried to get closer, but security blocked even her off.

“Wait, Boss!” Rainbow tried to fly over, but Spitfire had already taken off and was a distant speck in the sky.

Sunset continued to watch the speck until it vanished completely. Even then, she stared at where it had been while the guards dragged her away.

“Sis…”

******

Three ponies sat outside the stadium, now silent save for the whistle of the wind. Sunset leaned against the wall, unable to do anything but groan, and punch herself in the shoulder whenever she felt tears coming on. Rainbow sat a little ways from her, poking a stick at the ground.

“Well… that could have gone better.”

Sunset only nodded weakly, the rest of her body still too numb to convey much action.

Twilight paced the road in front of them, stopping every few minutes to say, “I’m really sorry, Sunset,” or something of that variation.

Sunset would just nod again, then punch her shoulder, feeling the sting of tears against her eyes. The look on Spitfire’s face… the hate in her voice… even after the amount of time put between them, Spitfire was still mad. Well, mad might be an understatement.

“I don’t ever want to see her again!”

Sunset flinched and slammed her head against the wall. She counted the tears coming out of her eyes as ones of pain, not sadness.

"Sooo, what now?" Rainbow asked as she tossed her stick away.

"Nothing," Sunset grunted. She stood up and started for the castle. "I'm going back to the other world.”

Twilight ground her hooves to a halt. "Wait, you can leave yet! You haven't seen your mom and dad!”

“What’s the point? You saw how Spitfire treated me.” Sunset flinched again as her sister’s words punched her in the gut. “My parents probably never want to see me again either.”

“Wait, wait, wait!” Rainbow soared over Sunset’s head and blocked her path. “You don’t know that for sure.”

Sunset looked up at her with a cold stare. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not find out the hard way.” She tried to move around Rainbow but found a hoof pressed against her forehead.

“Listen, Shimmer, I kinda know what you’re going through.”

“You do?” Sunset asked skeptically.

“You do?” Twilight asked with surprise.

Rainbow shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, when I got kicked—uhh, I mean when I left flight school, my mom and dad threw a fit. We screamed at each other for days until I finally flew the coop.”

Her air of nonchalance and lofty arrogance was replaced by the most serious and pained expression Sunset had seen on either of the Rainbows she knew. She was a cumulus that had become a thundercloud in the blink of an eye.

“I thought we were never going to speak to each other again.” Rainbow lifted her head to the sky. “But, a few years later, I decided to go back for Hearth’s Warming. Didn’t even tell them I was coming. And do you wanna know the first thing they did when they saw me?”

“What?”

Rainbow broke into a wide smile, dissipating the thundercloud. “Practically hugged me to death and sobbed all over my shoulder. I mean sure, Mom still gives me that look whenever flight school is brought up, but other than that, everything’s cool.”

“How come you never told us about this?” Twilight asked, a little hurt.

Rainbow shrugged again. “It was never important. You know I don’t like baggage weighing me down.” She wrapped a hoof around Sunset’s neck. “Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is: your mom and dad will forgive you for just about anything.” She shifted an uncertain glance to Sunset. “You didn’t kill anyone, did you?”

“No!” Sunset said indignantly. Though I came close.

“Then they’ll forgive you! That’s what parents do! Just because Spitfire’s a little miffed doesn’t mean your parents will be too.”

“Rainbow’s right,” Twilight spoke up. “I mean, you did say you and Spitfire had a fight before you left. Maybe… maybe she still needs time to cool off.”

“Yeah…” Sunset said with downcast eyes. “Maybe.”

“Hey, tell you what?” Rainbow clapped her on the back. “I’ll go talk to her for you. No, I’m not doing this for any favors,” she added, seeing Sunset’s thin frown. “I wanna help make things right.”

Sunset searched Rainbow’s eyes and found that spark of loyalty and good intentions she had come to admire in the other Rainbow Dash.

“Well… if you think you can get her to at least talk to me,” Sunset said slowly.

Rainbow sprung into the air. “No problem! Spitfire’s a hothead, but I can make her see reason. I’ll have you two hugging and junk in no time!” She shot off like a rocket, leaving a colorful contrail in her wake.

Sunset watched her fade away, then turned to Twilight. “Uhh, just in case something else… goes wrong… would you mind…?”

Twilight smiled. “Of course I’ll come with you, Sunset.”

******

The Canterlot suburbs were serene and quiet compared to the rest of the city. Two-story houses sat in tidy rows behind well-manicured lawns. They were not as extravagant or large as the mansions a few blocks over, but they boasted a warm and welcoming charm.

Sunset and Twilight walked down the sidewalk, watching a group of foals race by on their scooters. Amidst the tranquility, Sunset’s stomach alternated between warm with nervous excitement, and freezing from dread.

They’re not going to scream at you. They’re not going to shut the door in your face. Sunset took a shuddering breath. Why did I start with Spits? Why did I start with the pony who hates me the most? Now I’m just paranoid. She nodded to herself. That’s right! You’re just being paranoid. Everything’s going to be fine.

She bumped into Twilight’s backside and almost fell over. “What?”

Twilight pointed to the house in front of them. “This is it, right?”

Stone steps led up to a tan home with a darker brown roof. A porch swing hung next to the oak door. The lawn was green and looked freshly cut, and the garden under the porch was filled with blooming flowers of varying shades and hues.

Sunset saw the pink flamingo ornament standing behind a hydrangea and snorted. “Dad never got rid of that stupid thing. Mom always hated seeing it in her garden.”

Twilight laughed. “It does look pretty tacky.”

And yet, you continue to live inside the worst decoration to land on Equestrian soil. Sunset smirked to herself and ascended the stairs, pausing to look at the porch swing.

“So, girls, what should we read tonight?” Dawn Glider asked her two daughters. They were nestled up on either side of her, trying to make the swing rock.

“The Legend of Starswirl the Bearded!” Sunset cheered.

Spitfire stuck her tongue out. “We read that last night. Let’s read about Commander Firefly and how she fought a dragon!”

“She never fought a dragon, that’s just made up!”

“So is the stuff about Starswirl the Bearded!”

“Is not!”

“Is too!”

“Girls, enough!” Dawn chastised. She took a calming breath and smiled at Sunset. “We read your story last night, so it’s only fair we read Spitfire’s. And keep that tongue inside your mouth, young lady,” she added to Spitfire.

Sunset crossed her hooves and pouted. “Fine.”

Sunset turned away from the memory and faced the door. This is it. She looked back at Twilight, standing at the foot of the steps.

Twilight nodded her head and waved a hoof forward.

Sunset nodded in turn and lifted a hoof to the door.

She knocked.

Smoldering Ashes

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The seconds were hours: long enough for Sunset’s nerve to leave her, take a lap around Canterlot, and come back again with her lunch. Her stomach churned from the mixed vegetable plate she had snacked on and briefly contemplated on returning it to the garden.

Sunset swallowed hard. That would be the poorest way to greet her mother.

The knob on the door turned, and Sunset froze—a deer in the headlights as the humans said.

The door opened, revealing a thinning pegasus mare with a dull yellow coat that Sunset knew used to be much brighter, and an orange mane with grey roots. Her blue eyes were wide with disbelief as she held Sunset in her gaze.

Sunset gave her a guilty smile. “H-hi, Mom. I—”

Whap!

“Ow!”

“Sunset!” Twilight cried.

Changeling!” Dawn Glider screeched.

“What? Mom, it’s—ow!” Sunset threw her hooves over her face to block the relentless broom her mom was brandishing.

“How dare you! How dare you impersonate my daughter! Take that, and that!” She hovered in the doorway, swinging the broom repeatedly at any part of Sunset she could get to. “Help! Changeling!”

“No! No, she not a changeling!” Twilight yelled, flying up and taking the broom away with her magic. “Everything’s fine, I swear.” She looked over her shoulder to an elderly mare who had been trimming her rosebush. “There are no changelings!”

Sunset lay pressed against the floorboards of the porch, keeping her face guarded. When the broom failed to hit her again, she chanced a peek up; her mother stared down at her with shock and longing.

Dawn looked up at Twilight. “P-princess?” She looked down at Sunset again. “So… then, you’re really…?”

Sunset climbed to her hooves. “Yes, I’m—oof!”

Dawn threw her entire weight onto Sunset and almost sent them both to the ground. “S-Sunset Shimmer!” she sobbed. “My baby girl! You’re alive! You’re here! I-I-I didn’t think—but you’re here—I missed you—I love you so much!”

She broke from her hug with a watery gasp. “And I hit you with the broom!” She rained kisses down on Sunset’s head. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“Mmmf! Ack! Mom, agh! Stop, I get it! Mommy, stop it!” Sunset flailed her hooves in a weak attempt to repel Dawn from kissing her face. Eventually, she stopped fighting and let her mom continue her nurturing onslaught.

Once she had kissed Sunset all over, Dawn pulled her into a hug again. She stroked Sunset’s hair and whispered, “I love you,” again and again into Sunset ear.

Sunset’s dam broke and she wept into her mother’s greying mane. “I know,” she said. “I kn-know. I lo-love you too. I’m s-so s-sorry.”

They stayed wrapped in each other’s forelegs until a loud trumpeting scared them apart. Mother and daughter turned to see Twilight with a handkerchief over her nose.

“Oh, sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I’ll just… I’ll be going now.”

“Nonsense,” Dawn said. “Princess Twilight, you brought my daughter back to me. There has to be something I can do to repay you.”

Twilight shook her head furiously. “No, really. I just wanted to help Sunset find her family again.”

“Well, I insist you at least come inside. Come, come, I’ll put some tea on.” She grabbed Twilight by the hoof and pulled her through the doorway.

Sunset followed, feeling a wave of nostalgia wash over her as she stepped across the threshold. The scent of cinnamon and flowers filled the hall, reminding Sunset of evenings spent studying in the kitchen. Family pictures were lined up on both sides of the hall.

She stopped at one: a family photograph in front of Neighagra Falls. Perhaps it was just her imagination, but her and Spitfire’s smiles looked a little forced. Had we already started fighting by then?

She continued into the square kitchen where Twilight was already seated at the table. Dawn busied herself putting a pot of water on the stove and rummaging the cupboards for herbs and tea leaves.

Before Sunset could take a seat, a familiar color scheme caught her eye. She walked over to the back door and looked through the glass into the backyard. Outside grew a collection of tall, bright, yellow-and-orange flowers with long, pointed petals that turned red at the tips.

“Firebird dahlias,” Sunset whispered.

“Hmm?” Dawn looked over from the boiling water. “Oh, yes! I… well, I still grow them every once in a while. I know they were yours and Spitfire’s favorites.”

“Yeah…” Sunset slid the door open and stepped outside like she was in a trance. She took a whiff of the sweet aroma and couldn’t help but smile.

“Hey, what’s this thing?” Sunset brushed her nose against the bright flower growing in the sunlight.

Spitfire fluttered over and examined it. “I dunno. Looks cool though.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty.”

“Dare you to eat it,” Spitfire said with a wide smirk.

Sunset sniffed the flower again. It smelled really good, but… “What if it’s poisonous?”

Spitfire rolled her eyes. “It’s not poisonous. Why would they grow poisonous plants in the park?”

“I dunno.”

“Then eat it. Unless you’re chicken.”

Sunset puffed her cheeks out. “I am not a chicken.”

“Bawk, bawk, bawk!” Spitfire ruffled her feathers and walked in circles around Sunset. “Sunny’s a chicken!”

“Says the one with wings,” Sunset muttered. She bent down and ripped off a mouthful of petals. She chewed them quickly, then her eyes bulged and she spat them out onto the ground. “Gaaaaahh!” She ran her hooves over her tongue.

“What’s wrong?”

“They taste horrible!”

Spitfire gave the pretty plant a dubious look before nibbling a single petal. After a second of chewing, she quickly joined her little sister in trying to scrub the taste out of her mouth.

Sunset levitated a petal off and held it before her. Perhaps her taste buds had matured from the last time she had eaten a firebird dahlia. She placed the petal on her tongue and rolled it into her mouth.

She puckered her face and spat it into the dirt. “Nope. Fun to look at, not to eat.”

After blowing a few raspberries, Sunset moved back inside and sat across the table from Twilight. Dawn came over balancing three cups of tea on her wings. She slid them to their respective owners, then took a seat next to Sunset.

“Thanks, Mom,” Sunset said, smiling over her cup.

The three of them drank in silence for a time. Sunset savored the rich aroma of her mom’s tea, having a hard time drinking it with the wide smile plastered on her face.

There was the clang of a saucer on the table; before she could react, Sunset found herself in her mother’s death grip again.

“My baby! Oh, my sweet, sweet, Sunset! I missed you so much! Where have you been! You never wrote—you never told anypony where you went!”

The grip around Sunset tightened and a wing beat against her the back of her head.

Where—have—you—been—young—lady!” Dawn screeched with every wing slap. “I—have—been—worried—sick! Ten years! I haven’t seen your face in a decade! You could have been killed for all I knew! Tartarus! I thought you were dead so many nights! Your father and I cried ourselves to sleep! Sweet Celestia, your father—and your sister!”

Dawn was hyperventilating now, sobbing while her hold on Sunset weakened and her attacks slowed.

Sunset just held on to her and let her cry. Her throat was dry and empty of any words that could console her mother. How could Sunset explain that she had run off to another world out of petty dreams of power and glory? How did she tell her mom that she had barely given her family a second thought when she jumped through the portal?

There are no words good enough, Sunset concluded. There wasn’t anything in the world that could justify her actions.

Through the desert in her throat, she managed to choke out, “I’m sorry.”

Dawn sniffled and unwrapped herself from Sunset. She looked at her with puffy, red eyes. “Where did you go? P-Princess Celestia j-just said you went on some p-personal journey.”

“Yeah… something like that.” Sunset rubbed the side of her face. “I… well…” She turned to Twilight, silently pleading for help.

Twilight gave her a confused shrug.

Thanks for the help! Sunset looked back at her mom. “I’m… not sure I can tell you where I went right now. And in the end… I guess it doesn’t really matter. The point is, I left for all the wrong reasons. I was a selfish, self-entitled brat.”

“Sunset—”

“No, Mom—” Her mother tried to talk her down, but Sunset held a hoof up “—it’s true. And it isn’t your fault—it’s mine. I was trying too hard to become perfect. I was greedy and ambitious and… a whole lot of other things.” Sunset paused and exhaled heavily. “I… messed up. A lot. And, I did go on a journey of self-discovery.” Sunset chuckled bitterly. “It was a long journey, and I learned a lot of things about myself that I didn’t like.

“But, it was after confronting those things—after reflecting about who I was—did I realize that I needed to come home and see all of you.” Sunset scrunched her face up, unable to hold back a fresh wave of tears. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for being a terrible daughter. I’m sorry for running away. I’m sorry—”

Dawn placed a wing-tip on Sunset’s lips. “You are not a terrible daughter, Sunset. You’re my daughter. And the fact that you came home is the only apology I need,” she said in a croaky whisper before hugging Sunset again.

Sunset thought they probably should have drowned in their combined tears by now, but decided to get it all out of her system. Her mother was the only pony she wasn’t afraid to cry in front of. Both her dad and Spitfire would have told her to suck it up.

When the two mares let go of each other, Sunset found Twilight had excused herself from the table and was admiring the flowers in the backyard. Sunset thought to call her, but knew Twilight would refuse, encouraging more mother-daughter time.

Sunset sipped more of her tea, now lukewarm. She glanced about the kitchen, finding very little had changed while she had been away. There was the same white tile along the floors, and the same brown cabinets. Along the ceiling, little clouds were painted on the molding.

“So,” Dawn spoke up, sitting her mug down. “Have you… spoken to anypony else yet?”

The image of Spitfire retreating into the sky danced behind her eyes. “No. You and Dad were the first ones I wanted to see.” She looked back down the hall, wondering at the absence of hoofball reports on the den radio. “Speaking of which, where is Dad?”

Dawn nibbled on her lip and looked down at her hooves. “Sunset… sweetie…”

Sunset’s heart froze. No… but the record said… she was still… he can’t be. She tried to take in breath, but nothing passed into her lungs. The cup of tea wobbled in her magic then crashed to the floor, spilling its dregs across the tile.

Twilight leaned into the kitchen from the back door. “Is everything all right?”

Sunset barely heard her; her attention was focused solely on whatever her mother was about to say next. “Mom… please tell me Daddy isn’t…?”

Dawn looked up with her with confusion and surprise. “What? No! No, no, no, no! He’s not dead!”

Air rushed back into Sunset’s lungs and she slumped in her chair with a hoof on her chest. Thank you, Celestia.

“No, he’s fine,” Dawn continued. “We just… don’t live together anymore.”

Sunset’s stomach flipped and her body jolted upright. “You… you got a divorce?” she shouted.

Dawn wrung her hooves. “Well, not really. There was never any official paper work. We just decided to… live apart for a while and… we never got back together.”

“Oh.” Sunset shifted in her seat. “But why? Why’d you break up?”

Dawn looked at one of the family pictures hanging on the wall. Spitfire and Sunset were playing with their dad in the front lawn with the hose. She took a deep breath and sighed.

“We just… kept arguing over the smallest things. After you… after we became empty-nesters, we just kind of… lost the spark we had for each other. We agreed it might be better if we went our separate ways. We still send letters sometimes, but, well… not every love lasts.”

Twilight took her seat again. “I’m sorry to hear that, Ms. Glider.”

Dawn waved her hoof but had a distant look in her eye. “It’s fine. We’re both doing all right now. I’m here with my flowers and he has an apartment in Cloudsdale. We’re both fine.”

Guilt continuously punched Sunset in the gut. She knew her mother was anything but fine, and knew she was also too sweet to tell the whole story.

She stood up and collect the pieces of her broken cup in her magic, then dumped them in the trash can.

“Mom, is it all right if I… I mean, I can sleep here tonight, right?”

“Sunset Shimmer,” her mother said with a cross look. “What kind of question is that?” It softened into a smile. “Of course you can stay here. I haven’t touched your room save to dust it occasionally.”

“Right.” Sunset rubbed the back of her head. “Dumb question. Twilight, do you want to see my room?”

“Sure,” Twilight said as she stood up.

“I’ll start dinner,” Dawn called after them as they headed back into the hall and up the stairs.

Sunset led Twilight down the upstairs hall, past a door with the Wonderbolt’s insignia taped to it. Sunset’s room door had a sign that read: ‘Warning! Magic at work!’

She rolled her eyes as Twilight gave a light snicker. “What?”

“Oh, nothing,” Twilight replied, her hoof over her mouth. “I just had the same plaque on my door at my parent’s house.”

The knob turned with a flick of her magic, and Sunset stepped inside her room for the first time in a decade.

The carpet was a rich shade of red that matched her mane. A bookshelf took up an entire wall, crammed to the brim with thick texts. Across from the door was a desk with beakers and test tubes on the surface. To Sunset’s left was her bed, a blue blanket with Starswirl’s cutie mark folded neatly over the sheets.

Sunset jumped onto her soft bed, bouncing a few times and letting out a warm sigh. She then crawled up to her pillows and buried her face, letting out a muffled groan.

“Why? Why? I’m such an idiot!”

Twilight walked towards the window over the desk and opened it so the evening vespers could shine through. “Sunset, I know what you’re thinking—”

“It’s my fault! They broke up because I left and they blamed each other!”

“Yep, I was afraid that’s where that was going.” Twilight blew her bangs out of her face. “Sunset, you can’t necessarily blame yourself for your parents’ separation. There could have been a number of contributing factors.”

Sunset rolled over and stared at the stars painted on her ceiling. “Sure. And one major factor was the fact that I ran out on them!”

Twilight's silence gave Sunset the proof she needed. Perhaps her departure hadn't been the only domino, but it was certainly the one that started the chain.

Sunset put her hooves over her face. I can't believe this. My sister still hates me and my parents barely speak to each other. Her insides squirmed with fresh guilt.

She pulled down on her eyelids and groaned again. Stupid. Most of this could have been avoided if you hadn't turned into a megalomaniac.

"Sunset, it's going to be okay," Twilight said in a gentle tone.

Sunset sat up in her bed. "You're right! Because I'm going to fix it! My relationship with my sister and my parent’s relationship!"

"Are you sure trying to get your parents back together is a good idea?"

Sunset gave a fierce nod. "I broke this family, and I'm going to put it back together again! One way or another!"

******

The sun began to melt into the horizon when Rainbow arrived at Wonderbolt Headquarters. The plateau rose above the orange seafoam clouds, like an island in a coral sea. Rainbow sailed down the black runway in an easy glide. She hit the asphalt and cantered to a stop, listening to the wind whistling around her.

The silence made Rainbow question if anypony was even there. She headed for the office building, hoping Spitfire was inside.

Would it be too weird if I showed up at her house? Rainbow wanted to help Sunset but wasn’t sure if getting fired for being a stalker was worth it.

“Hey, Rainbow Dash!”

Rainbow whipped her head around and looked up. Coming down for a landing with only his goggles on his forehead was Soarin. He grinned goofily at Rainbow as he touched down.

“I thought I might find you here,” he said.

“Hey, Soarin.” Rainbow gave him a high-wing. “What are you doing here?”

“Same as you—trying to see if Spitfire has cooled off yet.”

Rainbow looked at the office door. “Yeah. Really didn’t expect her to fly off the handle like that. We thought she’d be thrilled to see her sister.”

Soarin shook his head solemnly. “You just found out Wonderbolt secret number one: never mention Spit’s sister. Was pretty easy since she never even told us her name.” He walked forward and pushed the door open for Rainbow. “But yeah, I’ve never seen Spitfire so mad.”

Rainbow walked into the dimly lit hall, briefly admiring the collection of medals and trophies in the case across from her. “So, I’m guessing you don’t know what happened between them?”

“Nope. Wasn’t dumb enough to ask.”

“Well…” Rainbow raised her head and marched down the corridor. “They haven’t spoken in over ten years. It’s time for them to make up!”

Soarin trotted to catch up. “Hey, I’m all for it, but let’s remember who our boss is.”

Rainbow tried to ignore him, and the jolt of fear that shot through her.

They arrived at the furthest door with a brass plaque that read, ‘Captain Spitfire.’ Rainbow knocked and waited on bated breath.

“...Come in.”

Rainbow pushed the door open and approached the oak desk. The chair behind it was turned towards the window, but Rainbow could see the orange tips of Spitfire’s mane sticking over the top.

“Evening, Captain.” Rainbow cleared her throat. “Listen, I—”

“If you even say her name, Miss Dash, I will demote you so hard, you won’t become a Wonderbolt even in your next lifetime,” Spitfire said in a quiet and dangerous tone.

Soarin spoke up. “Spitfire, that’s not—”

“That goes for you too!”

Rainbow and Soarin shared a hesitant look.

“Okay,” Rainbow said slowly, “we won’t say her name. But, Boss, don’t you think you’ve held a grudge long enough? I mean, she’s family, right? I had a falling out with my parents once—”

“Did I ask you for your life story, Private?”

Rainbow swallowed. “Uhh, no, ma’am.”

The tips of Spitfire’s mane swished. “Didn’t think so. My life was perfectly fine without her in it, and I want to keep it that way.”

“Aw come on, Spitfire,” Soarin urged. “She looked like she was ready to make up for whatever happened. Don’t you think you could at least meet her halfway?”

Spitfire’s chair creaked as she spun it around. There was a shadow across her face that would have made Nightmare Moon flinch. “The last time I tried to ‘meet her halfway’ she nearly killed me.”

Soarin took a step back. “Don’t you think you might be… exaggerating just a little bit?”

The next look Spitfire gave him would have sent Tirek back to Tartarus in tears.

“Or… you know, not. I don’t know, I wasn’t there…” Soarin dissolved into quiet babble while he slipped his goggles over his eyes.

Rainbow took a deep breath, knowing she was on her last rope, both to help Sunset and possibly remain a Wonderbolt recruit. “Listen, Boss, I know you’re mad—and maybe you have every reason to be. But I came on behalf of Princess Twilight, who was there when S-S—you-know-who turned over a new leaf. She was out there cheering her heart out for you today. She just wants a chance to talk,” Rainbow said desperately. “Can’t you at least give her that?”

Spitfire turned her unholy gaze on Rainbow. She placed her forehooves in front of her face and burned her eyes into Rainbow’s.

Rainbow took a step back to Soarin but didn’t look away. Don’t back down, don’t back down. Get ready to beg if she fires you, but don’t back down!

Spitfire stood up and pushed passed the two of them. “Fine. I’ll go talk to her.”

Soarin and Rainbow broke into wide grins.

“So I can tell her to go fall off a cliff and die.” Spitfire marched down the hall, leaving her subordinates alone in the room.

Rainbow placed a hoof over her eye. “This can’t end well.”

Walking on Sunshine

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“Girls, we’re home!” a deep voice boomed through the hall.

Sunset watched her mother get up from the couch and hurry to the front door. After taking an extra minute to brace herself for what was to come, Sunset dragged herself after her mom.

Rounding the corner, Sunset saw not one, not two, but three medals around Spitfire’s neck—all of them gold.

Seeing Sunset walk in, Spitfire gave her a haughty and superior look, and she tipped her nose up a few inches.

“Oh my goodness!” Dawn gushed. “I can’t believe you got first place in all your races! I’m so proud of you, sweetie!” She gave Spitfire a peck on the cheek.

“You should have seen her,” Zephyr said, ruffling Spitfire’s mane. “Speed demon here left them in the dust all three times. One of the fillies chucked her silver medal off the cloud, she was so mad.”

Spitfire gave a quick giggle like it was no big deal, but Sunset knew she was soaking up every drop of praise. Look at me, I’m Spitfire, and I can go to Cloudsdale and fly really fast. Sunset bit down on her tongue to keep it in her mouth.

Her dad and Spitfire continued to go on about the race in Cloudsdale while Sunset excused herself to her room. She would have slammed her door if not for the fear of punishment later.

“It’s not fair! There has to be a spell that can let me go to Cloudsdale.” Sunset ran a hoof across her bookcase, scanning the titles. Her parents rotated taking Spitfire to her competitions, while each and every time, Sunset was forced to stay home.

Just because she hadn’t been born a pegasus.

She faced the full-body mirror and examined the horn protruding from her forehead, then looked at the lack of wings on her back, or cutie mark on her flank.

“She’s got everything. And what do I have?” A few sparks jumped out of Sunset’s horn, but quickly faded. “Just some dumb magic tricks.” She could feel the tears coming on again.

“Sunset?”

******

“Huh? Wah?” Sunset snapped her head up and looked around.

“We’re almost there,” Twilight said, pointing the floating mass in the distance. “You okay? You zoned out again.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Sunset waved a hoof. “I’m fine.” She looked over the side of the chariot to the sprawling world below. “I just hope I cast the cloudwalking spell properly.”

“Want me to put one on you just in case?”

“Pfft.” Sunset felt her pride swell like a balloon. “I’m perfectly capable of producing a cloudwalking spell on my own.” She looked over the side again and felt the balloon pop. “But… I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have a backup.”

Twilight’s spell settled over her like a blanket just as the chariot descended into Cloudsdale. Sunset remembered the first time she had visited the city in the sky, after she had first mastered the cloudwalking spell. She finally got to see Spitfire race in the Cloudiseum. At the time, she had been aloof, playing off the sheer amazement that had gripped her. She was in the sky! She was walking on clouds!

Those feelings of awe and wonder returned to Sunset as she took her first step onto the soft, plushy clouds. A slight feeling of vertigo quickly followed, but she shook it off and gazed at the ancient architecture rising before her. Apart from Canterlot, Cloudsdale had always fascinated Sunset: its design, its history, everything.

Perhaps it’s the pegasus blood in me.

She and Twilight set off across the open cloud they had landed on and crossed the bridge into the main city. Finely crafted nimbus columns held up decorated abacuses and archways. Open pavilions bustled with shopping pegasi.

The jovial and easygoing atmosphere of the city eased some of the tension Sunset had been carrying since she woke up. Having to face her parents on two separate occasions was not something she had foreseen. She could barely handle the idea of making three different apologies; now she was making four—five if Spitfire would even talk to her again.

Sunset sucked in a breath and stuck her chest out. She could do this. It would be just like apologizing to her mom, only with way less crying. The last thing she wanted to do was cry in front of her dad.

‘Pegasi are tough. Pegasi don’t cry. You’ve still got pegasus blood in you, so you’re tough, just like the rest of us.’ Yeah, Dad, I’m tough! I’m a fighter!

She ignored the urge to turn and run the other way.

Sunset and Twilight left the market district and entered the suburbs. It was like Canterlot’s in many ways: well-organized with rows of houses that steadily grew larger and more lavish the further one went in. Foals buzzed around the nimbus streets, racing or playing hoofball. Their cheers and shrieks of laughter loosened Sunset’s tight chest.

******

Spitfire’s voice cracked. “Blue, forty-two!”

Sunset set the ball in between her legs, and placed her tongue between her teeth. She glared at the muscular stallion crouched in front of her.

Her father crossed his eyes and puffed his cheeks out.

Sunset bit down on her lip to stop herself from laughing. She wouldn’t let him distract her this time.

Spitfire tapped the ground. “Set, hike!”

Sunset hiked the ball then ran around her father, towards the traffic cones set up across the park field. She waved a hoof. “Now, Spits, now!”

Spitfire jumped into the air and lobbed the hoofball as hard as she could. It sailed a good ten yards before Zephyr Spark plucked it from the air.

“Intercepted!” he yelled, flying low to the ground. “He could go all the way!”

Sunset skidded to a stop and reversed direction, sprinting as hard as she could to the other endzone. Spitfire had already tried to tackle their dad, and was now hanging on to his side, trying to close his wing.

If there was one thing Sunset prided herself on, it was her sprinting. It came in handy whenever Spitfire was trying to give her a noogie. Sunset had already closed the distance between her and her father, with only ten yards before the endzone. She jumped and clutched his back leg, dragging him down to the grass.

Zephyr hit the ground; the ball popped out of his hoof, flying into the air. Sunset watched it rise in slow motion, and tiny sparks popped out of her horn. A teal aura flickered around the hoofball, stabilizing itself just before it touched the ground.

“The ball’s still in play!” Spitfire yelled. “Go, Sunny, go!”

Sunset tore down the field, the hoofball hovering just over her head. Behind her, she could hear a pair of wings flapping, but dared not turn around.

The wingbeats got closer, and a distant voice screamed, “Dive, Sunset!”

With five yards to go, Sunset threw herself across the goal line, the grass scratching against her stomach. “T-touchdown,” she panted.

Zephyr landed next to her and patted her head. “I’m sure that was an illegal use of magic, but I’ll give it to you because that was an amazing sprint. We’ll make an athlete out of you yet.”

Just as Sunset got to her hooves, Spitfire tackled her back to the ground. “Way to go, runt!” She dug her hoof into Sunset’s mane.

“Aaaaah! Spitfire stop it!” Sunset flailed, trying to dislodge her. Her father just laughed.

******

The Cloudy Condos sat a little too close to the edge of Cloudsdale for Sunset’s liking. It overlooked the Smokey Mountain, and if one tried hard enough on a clear day, they would see the ocean as well.

It was an open-gate community, so Twilight and Sunset showed themselves in. They passed through the courtyard and climbed the stairs up to the third floor. Zephyr Sparks’ room was at the end of the corridor.

Sunset stopped at the door. The same trepidation she experienced before reuniting with her mother was eating her alive again. Her sister had flown away and rebuked her. Her mother had welcomed her home with open hooves. On which end of the spectrum would her father fall?

Sunset raised a hoof to knock, but paused. She looked over her shoulder to Twilight. “Stay close, in case he thinks I’m a changeling.”

They shared a weak laugh, then Sunset knocked against the door, a deep bassy thump echoing throughout the apartment.

She could hear a shuffle of movement inside. The lock clicked, and the door opened, revealing a beige pegasus with a mane that had once been as red as Sunset’s. It was now flecked with grey hairs and thinning near the top. He was still quite muscular, though Sunset could see where it was starting to turn to flab.

Zephyr Spark cleared his throat. “C-can I help you?”

Sunset could see the recognition in his eyes, along with the disbelief. She could only imagine how many times he had dreamed this moment. “Daddy, it’s me. It’s Sunset.”

Her dad continued to stare at her, his lips quivering. He reached a hoof out and gently rubbed her cheek. “You’re real.”

Sunset pressed into his hoof and nodded. “Yeah. I’m really back.”

Zephyr blinked furiously. He scrunched his face and took a deep breath. “It’s been so long. I… I was starting to think… but here you are. Alive and healthy.” His voice broke and he flung his hooves around Sunset.

Sunset could feel him shaking; his tears slid onto her back. Her eyes welled up and she said in a quivering voice, “Please don’t cry, Daddy. Because if you cry then, dammit, I’m going to start crying again.”

Zephyr sniffled loudly and said in a stern voice, “What did I tell you about cursing?”

“Sorry, Daddy.” She smiled in spite of the scolding and squeezed him tighter.

They broke apart, and Zephyr placed his hooves on Sunset’s shoulders. “I… I just can’t believe I’m seeing you again.” His water smile slowly melted away until there was only an angry scowl on his face. “Where in Celestia’s name have you been, young lady?” he yelled.

Sunset pinned her ears back. “I, uhh—”

“You get into the house right now! You are in so much trouble!”

“Yes, sir!” Sunset ran into the building, eager to get out from under her father’s harsh glare, even if it was only for a second.

Zephyr turned his glare to Twilight. “You too, Princess. I know you’re a part of this somehow.”

“Eeep!” Twilight jumped at the sudden address and snapped to attention. “Yes, sir!” She hurried after Sunset, the door slamming shut behind her.

******

Spitfire’s disdainful glare at her silver medal sadly wasn’t enough to turn it into gold. She narrowed her eyes, wondering if she could melt it instead. Much to her disappointment, it just sat in her hoof unchanged.

It wasn’t the first time Spitfire had come in something other than first, but it burned her all the same. “Half a second,” she grumbled. “Half a second my hoof—we tied!”

Zephyr patted her on the head. “They can’t all be gold, Spits.”

“I know that!” Spitfire whined. “But we tied! We should have both gotten gold!”

“Well, it’ll give you motivation to go even faster next time. Now, quit pouting or we’ll go straight home instead of going for ice cream.”

Spitfire sighed and dropped the medal against her chest. Her dad was right—it would give her motivation. She wasn’t going to lose to anypony. In fact, she was going to be the youngest and fastest Wonderbolt of all time!

They lazily made their way through the streets of Cloudsdale. The sun fell behind them, basking the clouds in a soft orange glow. A pleasant breeze blew through the city, drying the last beads of sweat clinging to Spitfire’s forehead.

As they rounded corner to the ice cream parlor, a loud voice rang out, “Hey, Zephyr Spark!”

Spitfire followed her dad’s gaze to a blue stallion with a short rainbow mane and tail. He was still wearing his Weather Factory coat, stained with splotches of rainbows.

Zephyr grinned. “Hey, Rainbow Blaze. Just getting off work?”

Rainbow Blaze landed in front of them and gave a tired sigh. “Yeah. They had me pull a double shift at the rainbow pools today.”

Spitfire tuned the stallions out, her attention falling on the menu in the parlor window. A sky blueberry with caramel sounded heavenly. She licked her lips and fidgeted towards the door.

A hoof gently thumped her shoulder. “Spitfire,” Zephyr said curtly, “say hi to Mr. Blaze.”

Spitfire gave a halfhearted wave. “Hi.”

Zephyr smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “Forgive her, she’s a little out of it right now. Took second in her race today.”

“It was a tie!” Spitfire said through clenched teeth.

Rainbow Blaze just nodded. “I remember races like that. Defeat always stings, but you’ll bounce back soon.”

Spitfire bit her tongue to stop herself from snapping.

“So, Zephyr,” Blaze continued, “how’s your other daughter, the unicorn… Sunset, right?”

Spitfire’s stomach turned while her dad’s face lit up. Oh boy, here we go again.

“You’re not going to believe this, Blaze. Not only did she get into Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, she’s the princess’ personal student!”

“No way!”

“I’m serious, it’s incredible!”

And like that, Zephyr was off, praising Sunset’s magical abilities and intelligence. Spitfire bit harder on her tongue to make sure she didn’t make a face. But that was all her parents talked about now to anypony who would listen.

‘Oh look, our special unicorn daughter is Princess Celestia’s protégé. She got an A on her Intermediate Spellcasting test.’ So what? I got a B on my Equestrian History test, but nopony seems to care about that!

Spitfire took a seat, catching bits of whatever accomplishment Zephyr was praising about Sunset. Spitfire’s own elation had worn out a month ago. She had honestly been happy for her sister, and she might still be if her parents didn’t bring it up every two seconds!

I win dozens of races, and they treat them as just passing events. She gets to be friends with the princess, and that’s all they can talk about!

Spitfire shook her head. This wasn’t a competition; she should be happy Sunset found something she was good at. It made up for all the years Spitfire had outshined her.

She shook her head again. It’s not a competition!

The silver medal hanging around her neck said otherwise.

******

Spitfire soared over Canterlot, free from her suit and goggles. Sometimes she forgot what the wind felt like against her bare fur.

She yawned, long and loud, while rubbing at her eyes. She had spent all night tossing and turning in bed, memories and thoughts chasing after one another. The more she thought about her coming talk with Sunset, the more she remembered their shared past; and the more she remembered, the angrier she got.

The only reason I’m going to enjoy this is so I can finally get this off my chest.

She circled lower over the familiar suburban houses, coming in for a landing on the paved walkway of her childhood home. She stepped onto the front porch and glanced at the swing, remembering the stories her mother read to her and Sunset. Spitfire smiled, then quickly frowned and knitted her brow.

Facing the door, she took a deep breath, holding it for five seconds before she rang the doorbell.

The door creaked open and Dawn Glider stuck her head out before gasping and leaping out to hug Spitfire.

“Oh, sweetie, it’s so good to see you!”

“Hey, Mom,” Spitfire said with a sheepish grin. “How are you?”

Dawn kissed her on the cheek and stepped back, tears lining her eyes. “I-I’m fine. I-I… yesterday… oh, Spitfire, you won’t believe it! It’s the most amazing thing!”

“Sunset came back.”

Dawn hesitated at Spitfire’s deadpan answer. “Y-yes.” She sniffled, head cocked to the side. “How did you know?”

Spitfire opened her mouth, then decided against her first answer. She shrugged and said, “Sisterly instinct.” She craned her neck over her mother’s head and looked inside. “Is she here?”

“No. She left this morning to go see your father.”

Spitfire grunted. “Of course.” She raised a hoof and yawned.

Dawn held a hoof to Spitfire’s face and scrutinized the bags under her eyes. “Dear, are you getting enough rest? You look exhausted.”

“I’m fine, Mom.” Spitfire gently lowered her mother’s hoof. “Listen, I have to go—”

“What? But, sweetie, you just got here.” Dawn gestured into the house with a wing. “Come inside, please, I’ll make tea. We haven’t sat down and talked in a while.”

“I know, and that sounds great but…” Spitfire bit her lip, detesting what she was about to do. “I just remembered I… have new recruits I need to go inspect. But I promise, I’ll come back and visit real soon.”

Dawn gave her a scrutinizing look. “Spitfire.”

She kissed Dawn on the cheek. “I promise.” With one more forced smile, she turned to go, but a hoof tightly gripped her shoulder.

“Spitfire… please. I think it’s time you two made up.”

Spitfire stopped herself from pointing out the hypocrisy in that statement and said simply, “I’ll think about it.” Dawn’s hoof stayed firmly in place, however.

“It’s been ten years, Spitfire—longer than that since you two have spoken to each other. I know what you’re going to do, and I’m begging you not to do it.”

“I can’t forget what she did to me, Mom—what she did to us.” Something warm ran down Spitfire’s face. “She left us.”

“She came back.”

Spitfire felt the hoof leave her shoulder. She stood on the porch a moment longer, then spread her wings and took off.

******

“Never a note—didn’t say goodbye—could have been killed for all we knew—your mother cried for days—did we do something wrong—we’d never know!”

Sunset sat on the couch, making herself as small as possible. Twilight sat next to her, shifting uncomfortably, eyes flickering to the door every few seconds. Zephyr paced the carpet in front of them, ranting in short sentences, occasionally throwing his hooves into the air.

Whenever he took a breath, Sunset would squeak out a quiet, “I’m sorry,” that went unnoticed.

Zephyr halted his pacing and pushed a hoof against his temple. He then thrust it in Sunset’s direction. “Start explaining, young filly!”

“I ran away to a very faraway place because I was selfish and greedy and power-hungry and a spoiled brat, and I couldn’t contact any of you, but I learned my lesson and I’m really, really, really, really sorry!”

Zephyr’s expression softened while Sunset gasped for air. “Sweetie, we—”

“It wasn’t anything you did,” Sunset interjected, seeing the self-blame in his eye. “It was all me. You were the best parents I could ask for, but I… just wanted something more.” She stared down at the couch, but a hoof raised her head back up.

“Sunset,” Zephyr said, “I’m so glad you’re home, but I’m just trying to understand why you left in the first place.”

Sunset grimaced. “Yeah, so am I.”

“Did I put too much pressure on you?”

“What? No!” Sunset shook her head.

“Did you never feel included enough?”

Sunset’s heart hammered in her chest. “No, Dad, that’s not—”

“Because we tried our best—”

“I know you did—”

“You’re our daughter, no matter what you are—”

“Dad—”

“We treated you and Spitfire the same as much as we could—”

“I was born a unicorn in a family of pegasi! No matter what, I’m still on the outside!” Sunset took a shuddering breath and turned her head away. She tried to say something else, but no words came to mind.

Zephyr stepped back. He worked his mouth to say something, but like Sunset, came up short. He ran a hoof through his short mane and said quietly, “I’ll… go make some coffee.” He floated off into the kitchen, leaving Sunset and Twilight alone in the vacuum.

Somewhere, a clock ticked off the seconds at an increasingly slow rate. Twilight shifted on the other side of the couch, and Sunset felt bad she had dragged her into this. Still, Sunset didn’t say anything. She had already said enough. She flinched, not at the words but at the memories they brought.

******

Sunset levitated her tray in front of her, licking her lips in anticipation. She looked around the cafeteria for a place to sit, and spotted an empty table near the back.

She was halfway there, in between two of the larger tables when something caught her leg and she fell to the floor. Her tray crashed in front of her, sending her mouth-watering honeysuckle sandwich, apple and milk in separate directions. Laughter rang throughout the room.

“Watch out, featherbrain. Next time, why don’t you use your wings and fly?”

Sunset turned over and glared at the unicorn looming over her. “You’re a jerk, Jet Set.”

“And you aren’t a real unicorn, just some half-blood posing as one.” Jet Set shoved Sunset as she tried to get up. “What I want to know is how you got into this school in the first place.”

Sunset’s blood turned to magma, and her horn erupted. “Why don’t I show you!”

She lunged.

Twenty minutes later, she sat alone in the principal’s office, head bowed in shame. She had given Jet Set what for, but at what cost? She didn’t know what her parents would be angrier at: her fighting, or her getting kicked out of the most prestigious school in Equestria in her first week.

She dragged her hooves down her face. “My life is over.”

“Yes, she’s right through here,” said a voice from the other side of the door.

Sunset quivered in her chair. This was it. If it was her mother, she could expect the ‘I’m-very-disappointed-in-you’ stare. If it was her father, she could expect lots of yelling. If it was both… she hoped Tartarus was nice this time of year.

But when the door opened, it was not her parents that stepped inside. It was the last pony Sunset thought she’d ever be face-to-face with.

Long, slender legs, perfectly preened wings, glowing alabaster coat, and flowing rainbow mane. Princess Celestia was the most beautiful creature Sunset had ever laid eyes on.

The princess smiled and said, “You must be Sunset Shimmer.”

Sunset could only nod.

Celestia closed the door and pulled up a chair. “Well, Miss Shimmer, I think we need to talk…”

******

Sunset heard the clinking of glass coming from the kitchen, and the smell of fresh coffee greeted her nose. She rolled her shoulder blades, pretending she was flexing her wings.

“I didn’t leave because I felt excluded,” she said softly. She knew Twilight’s attention was back on her. “But… maybe it was a factor. They treated me perfectly. I was their daughter—horn, wings or nothing at all. But I still knew, deep down… there was a separation.”

She looked up at the ceiling. “That’s why I loved spending so much time with Celestia. She was everything. She had wings and a horn, and I just felt… this closeness to her. If I followed in her hoofsteps, then maybe I could have both. Then maybe I wouldn’t feel so…”

“Left out?” Twilight finished.

A knock on the door grabbed their attention. Sunset stood up to answer it, but her father hurried from the kitchen and beat her there. He pulled the door open.

Spitfire.

Sunset’s heart stopped, and nausea gripped her. Zephyr gave Spitfire a warm hug—which she returned—but her eyes were on Sunset the entire time.

“Sweetie, come in, come in! You’re not going to believe this!”

Spitfire held a hoof up. “I know, Dad. That’s why I’m here,” she said in a tightly controlled voice. She pointed at Sunset. “We need to talk. Outside. Alone.”

Overheat

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Neither Twilight nor Zephyr protested when Sunset walked out the door behind Spitfire. It closed behind the sisters with a soft thud, yet it echoed through Sunset’s ears like slamming prison doors.

Spitfire turned without a word and walked down the corridor. Sunset followed, slowly but surely. She was thankful her mouth had glued itself shut, because she was pretty sure if she opened it, she’d throw up.

They exited the apartment complex and turned down the street, towards the edge of Cloudsdale. Sunset’s stomach plummeted even further as she thought of all the things Spitfire could do to her here.

Spitfire stopped and turned around; her eyes burned holes into Sunset’s skull. She opened her mouth, closed it, shook her head, and tapped a hoof against the cloud. She repeated the process four times before she stepped forward and raised a hoof.

Sunset flinched, but made no move to defend herself.

Spitfire just pointed at her and said in a low whisper, “I ought to slug you.”

Sunset swallowed. “I… I’d probably deserve it.”

“No, you don’t. You deserve a lot worse than that.” Spitfire gestured to the edge of the cloud. “What you deserve is a swift kick off of Cloudsdale.”

Glue filled Sunset’s mouth again. She pinned her ears back, but didn’t do much else.

Spitfire raised an eyebrow. “What, no comeback? No insult?” When Sunset didn’t respond, Spitfire growled. “Don’t you dare try and play up that pathetic ‘I’m sorry’ act. If you think a sad look and an apology is going to fix what you broke, you’re dead wrong.”

“Spitfire, I am sorry. I messed up.”

“Really?” Spitfire said sarcastically. “Tell me, which part did you mess up? When you vanished off the face of Equestria overnight? Or not telling anypony where you were going? Or the part where it took you ten years to realize, ‘Hey, I think I might have forgotten something’? Am I getting warmer? Because I can keep going.”

Sunset said nothing. Silence crept up on them as the bustle of Cloudsdale faded into the aether. Sunset closed her eyes, unable to withstand Spitfire’s heated glare anymore.

“So, where the heck were you?”

Sunset turned and looked at the horizon. “Away. Very distant lands.”

Spitfire pulled her lips back into a snarl and jabbed Sunset’s shoulder. “Don’t give me any of that bull! I wanna know where you’ve been and why you freaking left! Why didn’t you at least tell Mom and Dad? I don’t give a mule’s behind, but you could have at least considered them!”

Sunset bit back a sharp retort and said, “It wasn’t exactly a planned trip, okay? It sort of just happened.” She met Spitfire’s eyes. “I went to another world.”

Spitfire looked at her like she had just eaten a bug. “You think I’m stupid? You seriously expect me to believe you went to another world?”

“No,” Sunset said bluntly. “But you asked for the truth and I’m telling it to you. Celestia had a mirror in her castle that was a gateway to an alternate dimension and… I ran through it... after she dismissed me.”

“...She dismissed you?” Spitfire asked quietly.

“Yeah… for being… well, you know.”

“A stuck-up little—”

“Yeah, for that!” Sunset huffed and turned away. “Contrary to what you think, not everything about being Celestia’s student was a cakewalk.”

“Well, you could have fooled me,” Spitfire said bitterly.

“I worked just as hard as you did, Spitfire.” Sunset fought to keep her voice level against her rising emotions. “I just happened to be really good at magic.”

“Yeah, I know. Everypony knew.” She spread a hoof through the air. “‘Sunset Shimmer, the unicorn prodigy from a family of pegasi—isn’t she amazing!’”

Sunset glared at Spitfire. “What? You think I like being the black sheep in the family? You think I enjoyed ponies always reminding me of my heritage?”

“Oh, so you’re ashamed of us now?”

Sunset recoiled. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Sounded a lot like it to me. Explains why you locked yourself in the castle most of the time.”

“I don’t know why you’re complaining. It gave you more time with Mom and Dad.”

“Yeah, and that would have been great if they weren’t gushing over you and your stupid powers!”

Sunset threw her hooves up. “Quit acting like you weren’t the center of attention! Every time I come home, it’s ‘Did you hear what new record Spitfire broke?’ ‘Guess how many medals Spitfire has now?’ Do you know what it’s like to grow up in your shadow?”

Spitfire copied Sunset’s movements. “Do you know what’s it like to be dwarfed by your baby sister?”

“Well, I’m sure you didn’t have that problem after I was gone!”

“You’re right—I had to deal with a whole new set of problems, all of them your fault!” Spitfire pushed a hoof against her muzzle. She scrunched her face, eyes glistening against her will. “It was all your fault.”

Sunset’s anger simmered. “Spits…”

“You know…” Spitfire began in a hoarse whisper, “I thought you were dead. Mom and Dad held onto to this ridiculous idea that you were alive somewhere, but I thought to myself, ‘No, if she was alive, she’d send a letter or note or something. She’s not that selfish. She’s not that heartless.’”

Sunset flinched. “I—”

“You being dead was the only way anything made sense,” Spitfire said in a louder voice. “So that’s what I told myself. And you know what? It actually hurt me to think that I would never see you again. I was an only child now—my sister was dead.” Spitfire pressed her teeth together. “And then you had the nerve to show up again ten years later with that stupid ‘I’m sorry’ look on your face. And in that instant, I realized, I’d rather you be dead.”

“Spitfire—”

“How could you just ditch your family like that?” Spitfire screamed. “I don’t care what happened between us! You just left Mom and Dad without one freaking word! They waited for years for something—anything from you, and it never came, you selfish little brat!”

Sunset didn’t even try to talk back anymore. She was trying too hard to keep her composure in check.

“You couldn’t write one thing—one little letter? Shoot some magic signal just to say, ‘Hey, I’m still here’? They cried over you, they searched for you, they fought over you—they broke up over you! And do you wanna know where I was? I was stuck in the middle of it the entire time, forced to pick a side! Comforting Mom, talking to Dad! ‘No, Mom, I’m sure she’s okay, she’ll send something soon.’ ‘No, Dad, it isn’t your fault, you spent as much time with her as you could.’ And now—now you want to come back and say ‘I’m sorry’ and make everything better?”

Spitfire finally took a deep, shuddering breath and slowly exhaled. She narrowed her eyes to dangerously thin lines. “There’s nothing you can do to make me forget everything.”

Sunset wiped her tears away and focused on Spitfire’s blurry heaving outline. Looking carefully, she could still see the faintest outline of a scar near the base of Spitfire’s wing.

“You’re not just talking about me leaving, are you?” Sunset asked slowly. “You’re still mad.”

“Of course I’m mad!” Spitfire stomped a hoof against the cloud. “My own sister tried to kill me!”

“It was an accident, Spitfire!” Sunset yelled back. “Why would I try to kill you?”

“Because you were always jealous! I saw it every time you looked at my wings.”

“Yes, I was jealous, but I would never try and kill you! I’m not a—” Sunset caught her words and cringed. She remembered the fireball, and six girls that would have perished if not for the magic of friendship.

But those were two different circumstances. It had been an accident. Just an accident. She would never strike her sister down intentionally.

“It was just an accident…” Sunset whispered.

“Accident or not, you nearly ruined my entire dream!”

Tears welled in Sunset’s eyes again. “Sp-Spitfire, I—”

“And don’t you dare start crying! That may have worked when we were kids, but it’s not going to help now!”

Sunset held her breath, holding back the sob that had been building. She sniffled and shook her head. Spitfire had a point: she was supposed to be tougher than this. She couldn’t cry in front of her sister… even if Spitfire hated her guts.

“Spitfire…” Sunset had stopped crying, but she couldn’t keep her voice from quivering. “I know there’s a lot of bad blood between us—” Spitfire gave a derisive snort “—but I want to change that. I learned a lot when I was… away.” Sunset ran her tongue across the desert in her mouth. “I know I messed up… a lot, but I came back to show everypony how sorry I am.”

Spitfire remained silent. She closed her eyes and twitched her ears, but in the end, just shook her head and continued to look at Sunset with loathing.

Sunset hated begging. No matter how much of a better pony she was, begging was something for the weak and helpless. It had never got her anything. She had begged for wings, and instead been dismissed by Celestia. From then on, she had decided to fight for everything.

But seeing the disdain in Spitfire’s eyes, feeling the rift between them… perhaps it was time to make an exception.

Shoving her pride down, Sunset kneeled and bowed her head. “Spitfire, please… if there’s anything I can do to show you I’m sorry, tell me what it is.”

Spitfire walked past her, and rested a hoof against a lamp post. “Nothing short of you dropping dead.”

Sunset grimaced as an idea came to her. “Fine.” She stood up and walked to the edge of Cloudsdale.

Spitfire stopped and looked back at her, trading her angry expression for a curious one. “What are you doing?”

Sunset turned her back to the open sky. “I’m giving you what you want. So come on.” Sunset gestured forward.

“What? You want me to push you?”

“If that’s what it takes to get you to listen…” Sunset took a deep breath. “Then yes. Push me out of the sky.”

Spitfire shook her head in disbelief. “I’m not going to kill you, Sunset.”

“Why not?” Sunset asked, a sharp edge to her voice. “That’s what you want, isn’t it? Me to drop dead. Here’s your chance. Make it happen.”

Spitfire clenched her teeth and marched forward. “I’m not going to stain my hoof with your blood. You just want me to do it so you’ll be a martyr.”

“No, I want you to do it so we’ll be even.”

“Aha!” Spitfire jabbed a hoof at Sunset. “So you admit it? You admit you did it on purpose?”

“It was an accident, Spitfire.” Sunset tried to keep the agitation out of her voice. “How many times do I have to say that?”

“It doesn’t matter how many times you say it—I know you’re lying!” Spitfire stopped an inch from Sunset’s face. “You know, I should just push you, just so you know what it’s like to fall without being able to save yourself.”

Sunset closed her eyes. I already know what that feels like. “Go ahead then.”

She felt Spitfire lean a hoof on her shoulder, but there was no pressure behind it. The shove never came, and Sunset briefly hoped that her plan was working.

A burst of pain exploded across her cheek.

Sunset staggered back, her hoof stepping out into nothing. She teetered back, but a hoof wrapped around her neck and threw her back onto the cloud. She rolled onto her back, and a hoof pinned her down by her chest.

Sunset looked up at Spitfire, both of them breathing hard. The look of hatred had left Spitfire’s eyes, replaced by one of indifference. Sunset dared to crack a small smile. “Sis—”

Wham!

Sunset clutched her snout and cried in pain, blood trickling down her face and across her hooves. She cracked her eyes open in time to see Spitfire speeding away through the skies. Sunset tried to call out to her, but the action made her entire muzzle pulse in agony.

She continued to lie still for minutes on end, unsure of what hurt more: her nose or her heart. Spitfire still hated her. Maybe she would always would. Maybe it was pointless to try and salvage their sisterhood.

Tears fell from Sunset’s eyes; she couldn’t stop them this time. She lay there, curled against the cloud, hooves still clutching her face.

A hoof rested against her shoulder. Sunset uncurled herself to see a face silhouetted by the sun looking down at her. The figure scooped her up into its muscular arms and began to carry her.

“Daddy?” Sunset winced at the sharp pain in her nose.

Zephyr smiled weakly. “Shh. Just rest, sweetie.”

Sunset did as she was told, letting both her blood and tears run down her face.

******

“Princess, I… I don’t understand,” Dawn said, having long since abandoned her cup of tea.

“Sunset has decided that her studies here were… insufficient,” Princess Celestia said slowly. She sat across the kitchen table from Dawn, Zephyr, and Spitfire. “Powerful magicians often go out into the world to seek greater wisdom… or power. A pilgrimage of self-discovery, you could say.”

Spitfire kept her eyes shut, afraid of being caught glaring at the princess. But she could hear it in the tone of Celestia’s voice; something was wrong.

Zephyr cleared his throat. “So… you’re just telling us… she’s gone? Just like that?”

Celestia nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“Without saying goodbye?” Zephyr’s voice rose. “Without telling anyone? I’m sorry, Princess, but I’m finding this very hard to believe.”

“I know that this is hard for you, Mr. Spark. I…” Celestia cleared her throat. “I’m having difficulty taking it in myself. All I can tell you is that she won’t be back for… a very long time.”

“And she didn’t leave anything at all?” Dawn asked.

“I’m afraid not.”

Spitfire heard her mother burst into tears and decided she could take no more of this conversation. She quietly excused herself from the living room and glided upstairs.

She only used her old room when she came to visit, and her last one had been some time ago. The air inside was stale, and still smelled of cleaning products. She sat on her bed, her blanket decorated with the Wonderbolts’ insignia.

Something wasn’t right. The feeling built in Spitfire’s chest, constricting her breath. Her sister was gone… just like that? She couldn’t bother to tell anyone, even the Princess? No, something else was going on, something the Princess didn’t want to talk about.

But it didn’t make sense. Wouldn’t Celestia tell them if Sunset had been banished or killed? It’d only be right, wouldn’t it? Sunset was a lot of things, but even she’d tell somepony, anypony, she was going off for a while.

Spitfire clenched her jaw. Why did she care in the first place? Her sister was gone, finally gone! The attention-seeking, glory-hogging, know-it-all, murderous brat was gone! Maybe it wasn’t permanent, but Spitfire intended to relish every moment.

She smiled. Then she frowned. “This is a good thing for me, right?” The constriction in her chest tightened further. From downstairs, her mother’s wails reached her ears.

Spitfire threw herself across her bed and jammed the pillow over her head, but could still hear it. Her mom was devastated, and Spitfire understood why; she’d be sad too if her daughter had mysteriously run off. But this was Sunset. Spitfire had broken all ties with her a year ago. She didn’t care if Sunset was gone. She could be dead for all Spitfire cared.

“I never want to see her again,” Spitfire whispered. “Never…”

Even as she said it, she couldn’t help but cry too.

******

Spitfire burst from the cloud tunnel, her slipstream tearing off bits of nimbus. She broke into a nosedive, plunging for the academy runway in a perfect vertical freefall. She approached the ground at horrific speeds, the wind tearing at her eyes. When she was a yard from the ground, she pulled up, the fur on her belly skimming the pavement.

Damn, still not good enough!

“Three minutes, nineteen seconds!” Soarin yelled from the sidelines.

Slow time too! I’m sloppy today! “I’m going again!”

She increased her speed and rose into the sky. Wingbeats on her left told her she hadn’t risen alone, and from her peripheral vision, she saw it was none other than Rainbow Dash.

Can’t you see I’m busy, Private? She met Rainbow’s smile with a cold glare and broke to the left, heading for the first cloud ring.

Rainbow, however, followed with apt precision. She was only a head behind Spitfire as the passed through the first ring.

Oh, you wanna race, newbie? Fine, let’s see what you’ve learned since the Games! Spitfire banked right, perfectly mimicked by Rainbow, then pulled into a steep climb to reach the next ring. They both shot through it and broke into a dive, Spitfire still leading.

Rainbow tried to pull ahead as they neared the narrow crevice in the ground, but Spitfire refused to give up any airspace. They were neck and neck as they approached the mouth. Spitfire knew they would collide if one of them didn’t give up, but Tartarus if she was going to be the first to flinch!

She tucked her wings in for maneuverability, but braced herself for impact. However, it never came. She slid into the crevice and made a sharp twist to avoid her wings getting snagged on a rock. Rainbow must have chickened out.

Better luck next time, kid.

Spitfire followed the tunnel until it let out on the side of the plateau, then picked her speed up again. She passed underneath the waterfall, keeping herself tucked against the rock face as she rounded the corner. Then, out of her periphery, she saw a blue head and rainbow mane approaching over her shoulder.

Her surprise must have been written on her face, because Rainbow mouthed, “Stayed inside your slipstream.”

Spitfire returned her focus to the track, but couldn’t hide her grin. I’ll make a Wonderbolt out of you yet.

They stayed neck and neck going into the cloud tunnel. Spitfire managed to pull ahead coming out into the last dive, but knew this was where Rainbow excelled. Both of them formed perfect vertical dives, their hooves stretched for victory.

Spitfire pressed her tongue between her teeth and tensed her body. A yard from the ground she snapped her wings open, this time pulling into a perfect ninety-degree turn. She and Rainbow shot down the runway, still within a hair’s breadth from one another.

Their hooves skidded across the pavement as the came to a stop at the end of the cliff, neither of them able to say anything between their gasps for air.

“Two minutes and fifty-nine seconds,” Soarin said as he walked over to the two mares. “Pretty sure that’d be an academy record if we were in session.”

Spitfire gave a weak grin and stretched her wings out; she was definitely going to feel it in the morning. “Nice flying, Private.”

Rainbow looked up and grinned. “Thanks, Captain.”

They stood in silence for a time, Spitfire and Rainbow stretching down while Soarin logged the times away on a clipboard. Spitfire tucked in her wings, gave her subordinates a sharp nod, and headed for her office. Unfortunately, she didn’t get very far.

“Sooo, Captain,” Rainbow said as she cantered to Spitfire’s side, “did you… you know… talk to S-S… your sister?”

Spitfire stopped and closed her eyes. “Yes, I talked to her.”

“Aaaaand?”

“I told her what I thought of her, and broke her nose.” She kept walking.

Rainbow stayed put, gaping behind her. “But… but… you were… I thought…”

Spitfire turned around. “What? Did you think we’d just kiss and make up? That we’d cry our hearts out and go on about how we missed each other?” Spitfire shook her head. “Life isn’t a fairy tale, Miss Dash. Sometimes there are no happy endings.”

“But she’s your sister! She came all the way from some freaky other dimension just to apologize!” Rainbow said, flailing her hooves.

Spitfire walked back over and put a hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder. “Your heart’s in the right place, Private. I’m happy that you care about me.” She looked over to Soarin. “Both of you. But I’m just not ready to forgive her for everything she did.”

Soarin shifted his weight from one hoof to the other. “Well… do you want to talk about it?”

Absolutely not! was Spitfire’s initial thought, but she held her tongue and thought it over. If I told them, it’d finally get them off my back. They’d know just how terrible Sunset really is.

Spitfire looked at Soarin. She had known him since they were both newbies at the academy all those years ago. He had a right to know. She moved her attention to Rainbow. Persistent and annoying, but she was only trying to help.

Turning towards her office, Spitfire gestured with a wing and said, “Come on. If it’ll get you two to leave me alone, I’ll tell you the whole story.”

******

Sunset woke up from her nap and cringed at the sharp pain. Everything that had happened flooded back into her mind, and she was tempted to just fall asleep again and pretend it had been a nightmare.

Instead, she forced herself up from the couch and wandered into the kitchen, where her dad and Twilight were talking.

Zephyr flashed a smile in her direction. “How are you feeling?”

“Uugh.” Sunset walked over to the counter and rummaged around in the cabinets until she found a mug. She brought it over to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup of stone cold coffee.

Twilight spoke up. “Your nose wasn’t broken too bad. I just had to realign a few things. It might still be sore though.”

Sunset inhaled and felt the sharp pain again. Yep. Gonna feel that in the morning. And next week. She took a sip of her coffee before saying, “Thanks, Twilight.”

Twilight smiled and looked about the kitchen, like she was searching for something. Meanwhile, Zephyr slowly tapped his hoof against the table while looking at Sunset expectantly.

“So,” he finally said, “Twilight told me where you’ve been.”

Twilight’s ears pinned back.

Sunset lowered her mug. “Y-yeah… Now you know why I couldn’t contact anyone.” Sunset glared at Twilight. You didn’t tell him anything else, did you?

“What was it like?” Zephyr asked.

Sunset swished her coffee around, staring into its murky depths. “Honestly, it was pretty weird. They stood on two legs and wore clothes all the time. They ate meat, and drove in these big metals things called cars. It took some time to get used to it all, but it wasn’t so bad. They’re a lot like us.” She smiled as she raised the cup to her lips. A lot like us.

“Well, I’m just glad you came back safe.”


Sunset drained the rest of her drink. “So what else did you talk about?”

Twilight fidgeted in her seat. “Well… I asked your dad about… what happened between you and Spitfire.”

“And what did he tell you?” Sunset asked, raising her eyebrow and hardening her voice.

“I told her she’d be better off asking you,” Zephyr said.

From the living room, a clock chimed four times before the apartment delved into silence again. Sunset placed her mug in the sink and stared out the window, watching the sun settle in the east.

Twilight said, “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. I just—”

“No.” Sunset held up a hoof. “It’s okay. You have a right to know, too.” She inhaled deeply and bowed her head. “It’s just been a while since I’ve talked about this. I try my hardest not to remember what happened. Hard to forget though.”

She ambled to the table. Pulling up a chair, she sat down and pressed her hooves together. “Why Spitfire hates me… why I cut myself off from any other social relationship… maybe even a part of why I ran away…

“It all started with the Firebird Dahlia.”

Afterburn

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Three loud thumps against her door disturbed the quiet sanctity of Sunset’s castle bedroom. She looked up from her book, wrinkling her nose in annoyance. Three-thirty in the afternoon on a Saturday; who could be bothering her?

“Yes?” she asked testily.

“Miss Sunset,” came the deep voice of one of the castle guards. “Your sister, Miss Spitfire, wishes to see you. Shall I send her in?”

Sunset sat up in bed and cleared some of the papers littered about. She rolled off, landed on the carpet, and started to pace. “Let her in… or keep studying?” Sunset rolled her eyes. She supposed it had been a while since she’d seen her sister. Though she was ready to bet five bits Spitfire needed something.

“Sure, let her in,” Sunset called.

The door opened up, and Spitfire sauntered in, racing goggles sitting on her forehead. “Hey, dodo, you remember me?”

“Yeah, you’re that one pony that shared a bathroom with me at my parent’s house. Hold on, your name’s on the tip of my tongue.” Sunset paused, pretending to think.

Spitfire punched her shoulder. “You know, you could come home once in a while. Just so Mom will stop flipping out.”

“I come home all the time,” Sunset said defensively. “I was there for Spring Bloom Day.”

“That was a month ago,” Spitfire deadpanned.

Sunset looked at the calendar. “Really? Are you sure?”

Spitfire walked over to the bed. “You have problems.” She shuffled some of the papers around, lazily eyeing them. “So what’s this, your Starswirl the Bearded fanfiction?”

“No! And stop touching it!” Sunset rushed over and swatted Spitfire away. “I’m doing some very important research.”

“Yeah, sure.” Spitfire gave an absent nod.

A growl rose in Sunset’s throat, but she pushed it down. She put on a smile and faced her sister again. “So, any particular reason you’re here?”

Spitfire wrapped a hoof around Sunset. “What, I can’t come and visit my baby sister?”

“Only when you want something.”

She put a hoof over her heart. “I am offended. I came here to see how my sister is doing since she neglects to come home or write letters to me. I wanted to make sure you were healthy, your grades were up, see what was going on... you know, if you had any colts in your life or anything like that.”

Sunset gave her a lidded stare.

Spitfire’s smile fell. She floated into the air and crossed her hooves. “Oh all right, fine—I wanted something.”

“Big surprise.” Sunset summoned her rolling chair and fell into it. She steepled her hooves. “So, what services do you require of me?”

A draft picked up as Spitfire beat her wings excitedly. “Ace is retiring from the Wonderbolts!”

Sunset didn’t react. Like she was supposed know who Ace was and why his retirement was a cause for celebration. She waited for her silence to clue Spitfire in.

Spitfire slapped a hoof against her face and groaned. “Which means they need to move up one of the reserves to a full time member! And I’m at the top of the list!”

Sunset laughed and clapped her hooves. “Congratulations, you’re finally going to be a Wonderbolt! Took you long enough.”

“Weeeeell, not yet,” Spitfire said, stopping in the middle of her loop. “See, I’m at the top of the list, but to make it, you know, ‘fair—’” she made air quotes with her hooves “—they’re going to have official tryouts for the top five. I’ve got an edge because I’m number one, but I still need to put on the best performance ever!”

Rolling to her desk, Sunset asked, “So, what does this have to do with me?”

Spitfire landed on top of her chair. “Well, I was hoping you could help me design some cool new ariel techniques for tryouts. You know, use your nerdy brain to make up some maneuvers and stuff.”

“What’s in for me?”

“Helping your sister become the youngest Wonderbolt in history!” She leaned over and smiled at Sunset.

Sunset pushed her out of the way, then leaned on the chair’s arm. On one hoof, this was Spitfire’s dream. Everypony knew how badly she wanted to be not just a Wonderbolt, but the youngest one ever. This would probably be the only chance she got.

On the other hoof, if she got in, Sunset would never hear the end of it. ‘Our oldest daughter is so amazing! She’s the youngest Wonderbolt in history! Look at me, I’m Spitfire and I’m Captain of the Wonderbolts!’ Of course, if everything went according to plan, Sunset was going to become a princess.

Which meant she would be an alicorn. With a horn and wings.

Sunset smirked. Sure, she could help Spitfire with this. Either way, she, Sunset, was going to win in the end.

“Fine, I’ll help you, Spits.”

Yes!” Spitfire started loop-de-looping. “I knew I could count on you! You’re the best, Sun!”

Sunset leaned back. “Yeah. I am.”

******

The pencil balanced between Spitfire’s hoof and her desk. Spitfire focused on it rather than Rainbow and Soarin sitting across from her.

“We were like any other pair of sisters.” Melancholy dripped from her voice . “Sometimes we fought like cats. Sometimes we leaned on each other for support. But we always had this rivalry going. Trying to outdo each other, see who could get the most praise from our parents.”

She dug the pencil into the desk until it stood upright. “Yeah, we didn’t always play fair.” She looked up at the rotating ceiling fan. “But we never tried to hurt each other. Was I jealous? Sure, maybe a little. Hard not to be when your baby sister is a prodigy.” Spitfire slid deeper in her seat.

“Come on, Spitfire,” Soarin said confidently, “you’re amazing too. Look at everything you’ve done.”

“I know, I know. I was young and dumb. It’s just… everytime I came home, my parents were always gushing about Sunset.” She knit her brows. “No matter what I did, she always tried to upstage me.”

******

Spitfire touched down on the porch and wrangled the house key from her saddlebags. As she inserted it into the lock, she could hear talk and laughter from the other side.

She beat me home. Great, maybe I’ll have missed the part where Mom and Dad gush over her.

The door creaked open, and Spitfire stepped inside, dropping her bags by the door. “I’m home!”

Dawn floated in from the kitchen and wrapped her hooves around Spitfire. “Hi, sweetie! How are you? How’s life at the academy? Oh, come into the kitchen, your sister’s here too!”

“Life’s good, Mom,” Spitfire said while Dawn pulled her into the next room. “I actually have some big news to tell you and Dad.”

“Really? Well, today’s just full of good news then!”

Spitfire raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

They stepped into the kitchen, already occupied by Zephyr and Sunset. Zephyr stood up to hug Spitfire and give her a good pat on the back, while Sunset just waved, flashing a knowing smile.

“How’s my little speed demon?” Zephyr’s voice boomed through the house. “Those drill instructors giving you a hard time?”

Spitfire laughed, remembering the scolding she and Soarin had gotten for being, quite literally, two seconds late for line up. “A little bit.”

“Good!” Zephyr clapped her back again. Not too long ago, the force would have made Spitfire buckle. “You rugrats need a little discipline.”

Both Sunset and Spitfire rolled their eyes.

Everyone sat down at the table, and in a few seconds, a cup of hot tea sat in front of Spitfire.

“Thanks, Mom.” Spitfire wouldn’t say it outloud, but she had become more of a coffee mare since joining the Wonderbolt Academy. Taking a sip, she remembered why: every tea tasted like bitter dirt compared to her mom’s. “So, what’s the good news Mom mentioned?”

Sunset lowered her cup and smiled. It was the devious smile that signaled to Spitfire they were about to start another match of ‘who can make Mom and Dad prouder?’

“Well, I’ve been talking to Princess Celestia, and as it turns out, I’m so far ahead in my advanced studies that if I keep it up, I could graduate a whole year early.”

Dawn clapped her hooves. “I’m just so happy for you, Sunny! All that studying is really paying off!”

Zephyr tapped his hoof on the table. “Of course, you still haven’t said what you’re going to do after graduation.”

Sunset’s smile slid into a mischievous grin. “The Princess said she has something ‘very special’ planned for me. I’m sure it’ll be something extremely important.”

Oh no, I will not let you top me this time!

Spitfire cleared her throat. “I have something very important to say as well. Dad, I’m sure you know Ace announced he was retiring soon, so the Wonderbolts need a new full-time member. Well, I’m one of the top picks!”

Zephyr threw his hooves into the air. “Yes! That’s my girl! Future Wonderbolt right here!”

“We’re so proud of you, Spitfire!” Dawn pulled her into a tight hug.

Spitfire’s eyes shifted to Sunset. “Yep, I’m going to be the youngest Wonderbolt ever!” She broke into a confident smirk upon seeing Sunset roll her eyes and return to her drink. Ha! One more point for me!

The family chatted for another hour before Dawn started on dinner. Spitfire and Sunset excused themselves upstairs to work on Spitfire’s upcoming routine. They entered her room, decorated with Wonderbolt posters and flags.

Spitfire closed the door, then rounded on Sunset. “What the heck was that?”

“What was what?” Sunset asked, looking as innocent as a wolf in a sheep’s pen.

“Don’t play stupid with me—I don’t care if you are the world champion—” Sunset scowled “—you really just tried to steal my moment down there!”

“What, I can’t come home with good tidings?”

Spitfire rolled her eyes. “Oh please, you just made that up to try and top my good news.”

“No I didn’t.” Sunset climbed onto Spitfire’s cloud-shaped bed. “Princess Celestia really thinks I could graduate early, and she has something special in mind for me.”

Spitfire rubbed her forehead. “Of course. The first time you come home in a month is just to rain on my parade. Do you even really want to help me do this, or are you just going to make me look bad?”

Sunset put a hoof on her heart. “As much as I love showing you up, I swear, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you get that Wonderbolt spot.”

“Really?”

“Really really. Besides, what Celestia has planned for me is far better than a flight jockey.”

Spitfire trotted over to her desk and pulled out some pens and paper. “You hold onto that pipedream, Sun.”

“Oh, I will.”

******

Sunset absent-mindedly nudged her coffee mug. “I shouldn’t have tried to outdo her that night,” she said, resting her chin on the table. “Maybe if I hadn’t, things might have turned out differently.”

Zephyr ran a hoof through his greying mane. “I don’t understand why you tried to outdo each other in the first place. Both of you know we don’t pick favorites. We were proud of both of you.”

“I know, I know. I was young and dumb. We both kinda were. I just thought I…” Sunset swallowed the rising lump in her throat. “I had to work harder to make my accomplishments mean something… since I wasn’t…”

Zephyr reached over and squeezed her hoof. “How many times do I have to tell you: it never mattered that you were born a unicorn. You’re still our daughter—we’re proud of whatever you do.”

Sunset released a puff of air through her nose. “I did mention how dumb I was, right?”

“You’re not dumb. And if you call yourself dumb again, you’re grounded.”

As tempting as it was to challenge the notion of whether or not her father could still ground her, Sunset kept her mouth shut. The answer was probably yes anyway.

Twilight nodded in agreement with Zephyr. “All siblings have some sort of rivalry going. Even Shining and I would compete sometimes. Yours just… escalated a little more than others.”

“That’s an understatement,” Sunset mumbled.

“Well, what happened next?”

Sunset straightened up and stared into her coffee. “We started drawing up ideas for stunts Spitfire could perform. She wanted something that could really impress the judges. She even wanted to try and pull off the Sonic Rainboom, but I told her that was nearly impossible.” Sunset grinned. “Guess Rainbow made me eat my words.” Her smile faded. “Instead, we went with the next best thing: our own modified version of it. We were going to create a couple of artificial explosions that Spitfire would come out of. It would look like she moved so fast, they exploded into life behind her.

“So naturally, we named it after our favorite disgusting flower.”

******

“The Firebird Dahlia. I love it!” Spitfire swooped over Sunset’s head, grinning from ear-to-ear. “If I pull this off, I’ll be in for sure!”

Sunset grunted. She lay on her belly in the middle of the wide, grassy field, a sheet of construction paper in front of her. “Yes, they’ll sing your praises for generations to come. Just don’t forget who helped you in the first place.”

Spitfire hoovered over Sunset and gave her a noogie. “I’ll try not to forget you during my acceptance speech.”

And I’ll try to remember you during my coronation speech. Sunset grinned to herself. Someday, I’m going to be your boss. Can’t wait to see the look on your face when your baby sister is the superior one.

Spitfire pointed to the calculations and diagrams Sunset was finishing up. “What’s with all the numbers and junk?”

Sunset rolled up the parchment. “Magic isn’t all just pointing and blasting. It requires thought.” She patted Spitfire’s head. “Not that I’d expect you to understand thinking.”

“Ha, ha, ha.” Spitfire slapped Sunset’s hoof away. “Are you ready or what?”

“Pretty much.” Sunset wagged the parchment in front of Spitfire’s face. “I should probably warn you that this could get dangerous.”

Spitfire pounded her chest with a hoof. “You know who you’re talking to, right? I do dangerous stunts all the time and ace them with flying colors!”

“Right, I forgot who I’m dealing with. Anyway listen up—here’s how this is going to work.” Sunset’s horn glowed; three red rings the size of a bit appeared between her and Spitfire. A fourth larger one appeared on Sunset’s end.

Curiosity overtook Spitfire’s confident smirk as she ran a hoof through one of the rings. It turned green at her touch, and the ring at the far end mimicked it. “Cool. What are these?”

“They’re like alarms.” Sunset gestured to the first three. “These are for you. When you pass through them, they glow green and send a signal to mine.” She pointed to the last one.

“Pretty sick.” Spitfire waved her hoof through one a couple of times, watching it light up. “Why do we need them?”

Sunset slapped her hoof. “Because, I need to know when you pass certain points in the air. The Firebird Dahlia works like this: I’m going to line the rings up in the sky, placing them about fifty feet apart. You’re going to fly through the rings at a downward angle of about forty-five degrees.” She unrolled the parchment and floated it over to Spitfire.

Spitfire examined it, rubbing her chin. “Mmkay. So what do the rings do?”

“Nothing. I’m doing most of the work.” She pointed to what looked like a firework. “Each time you pass through a ring, I’m going to set off a firework: red, then yellow, then orange. It’ll make a bloom effect, so when it’s done, you’ll appear to be—”

“Flying right out of a Firebird Dahlia.” Spitfire grinned. “Sounds great to me.” She looked at the schematics again. “But, with the velocity I’ll be going at, plus the momentum the fireworks are going to give me, shouldn’t it be more like thirty degrees?”

Sunset stared at Spitfire, looked at the plans, and blinked. “Wow, so there is a brain in there.”

Spitfire socked her in the shoulder, earning a laugh from Sunset. “Come on, dodo, let’s do this.”

“Right, right.” Sunset sent the rings off into the air. “And since you mentioned momentum, you should also know the fireworks might push you a little off course. If my calculations are correct—and, let’s face it, they usually are—you’re going to want to lean to the left a little after the first ring.”

Spitfire slipped her goggles over her eyes. “Roger.” She dropped into a takeoff position.

Sunset summoned a pencil, paper, and binoculars. “Firebird Dahlia test number one. Ready…”

Spitfire fluffed her wings.

“Set... “ Sunset looked through the binoculars to make sure the rings were in place. “Go!”

Spitfire took off like a bat out of Tartarus, ripping the grass from its roots. She arched into the air, reaching for the sun at breakneck speeds. She looped back and twirled around before lining herself up with the rings.

Sunset split her attention between Spitfire and the red ring beside her. She charged her horn and tensed every muscle in her body. In order for this to work, she had to be spot on with her magic, lest Spitfire get caught in one of her explosions. She raised her binoculars and found the first ring, with Spitfire closing in fast.

Sunset had designed the rings to be small to keep the judges from noticing too much. She knew how much presentation meant, and wanted the fireworks to appear to have been created by Spitfire’s raw speed.

The ring turned green, and Sunset flashed her horn, lighting off a red firework. Even in the daylight, it was incredibly bright.

Aaaaaagh! Hooooooot!” Spitfire screeched.

From the ground, Sunset could see a trail of smoke curling from Spitfire’s behind. She zigzagged through the air before coming in for a hard landing, kicking dirt up and running around in a circle.

“Tail’s on fire, tail’s on fire! Hot, hot, hot!

A jet of water poured from Sunset’s horn and doused Spitfire. She stopped flailing about and looked back at her burnt tail. “Thanks.”

Sunset nodded and picked up her paper and pencil. “Attempt one: failure. Slow reaction time leading to a burnt tail.”

“I wasn’t slow! You just surprised me!” Spitfire shook the water out of her wings. “Come on, let’s go again!”

“Fine.” Sunset scribbled on her paper. “Firebird Dahlia test number two. Ready? Set… go!” Sunset’s mane whipped across her face as Spitfire took to the skies once more.

After a few fancy moves, Spitfire dove for the rings again. Sunset’s ring flashed green, and she lit up the first firework. Spitfire made it through, but teetered to the right too much. She came in through the next ring crooked, and Sunset left it alone, not wanting to blow Spitfire sky high.

Sunset set off the last one once Spitfire passed through, creating an orange and red flower in the sky. Spitfire landed and admired her handiwork for a moment before frowning.

“Attempt number two—” Sunset said as she wrote in her notes, “—Two-thirds successful. Target came in crooked for the second ring.”

“Do you know how much force your fireworks have?” Spitfire protested. “Kinda hard not to get blown off course.”

“Sounds like whining to me. I didn’t think the Wonderbolts took on whiners.”

Spitfire narrowed her eyes behind her goggles. “Watch it, Sun.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll try to tone them down a bit.” Sunset made a few mental calculations in her head. “It would help if you didn’t flinch when they go off.”

“I do not flinch!”

“I can see you, Spits. You totally flinch.”

“Do not!”

“Do too!”

“Do not!”

“Do too!”

Spitfire threw her hooves up. “Whatever! Let’s just get it right this time!” She readjusted her goggles and got into her take off position. “Attempting test three.”

“Ready? Set… go!” Sunset watched Spitfire take off again, keeping her horn charged in the meantime. True to her word, she decreased the power of her explosions a fraction, but Spitfire still came in a little too crooked for the last one.

On the fourth run, Sunset had mistimed the second explosion and set it off too early,nearly catching Spitfire in the blast.

By attempt five, tempers were beginning to flare.

“Have you tried keeping your wings tucked all the way in?” Sunset asked sourly.

Spitfire put down her sports drink and pointed a hoof at her. “First of all, yes, of course. Second, I do not need flying tips from you.”

“You need them from somepony,” Sunset said under her breath.

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Let’s just give it another go.”

“All right.” Spitfire stretched her wings out. “How about you focus this time?”

Sunset grit her teeth. “I am focusing.”

Spitfire snorted. “I’ve seen telescopes with more focus than you. Go!” She raced off into the sky.

Sunset puckered her face, her blood boiling. “Oh, I’ll show you focus.” She gathered her magic, a devilish grin on her face.

When Spitfire passed through the first ring, Sunset returned the explosion back to its original size, startling Spitfire. As Sunset released the second explosion intending to scare Spitfire, her sister increased her speed to regain balance.

Sunset saw the result before it even happened. Spitfire’s speed… her preemptive strike...

Spitfire screamed, her wail echoing louder than the crack of the firework. She hung in the air for a moment, one wing desperately flapping to keep her aloft before plummeting to the ground.

Sunset didn’t know what to do. She stood with her mouth open, unaware that she had been screaming too. She watched Spitfire drop like a rock onto the hard ground a hundred yards away. Her legs regained feeling, and she sprinted after Spitfire, screaming her name over and over again.

Please don’t be dead… please, please please…

Spitfire had left a sizeable indent in the ground. Smoke curled off her body, and her left wing still had an ember trying to grow into a flame. Sunset slid next to her and put it out before looking over the rest of the damage. Spitfire had managed to take the brunt of the damage to her left arm. It looked dislocated in several places, including the shoulder.

Sunset saw the blood dribbling out of her wounds and cried out in horror. “Spits! Spitfire, say something!”

A small croak was her only response.

******

“She tried to blow you up?” Rainbow yelled.

Spitfire made a solemn nod. “Twice. Of course, the way practice was going, she might have been trying the whole time.”

Soarin shifted in his seat. “I dunno, Spitfire. I get you guys had a rivalry going, but trying to kill you seems, well, harsh. Maybe it really was an accident.”

Spitfire ran her hoof through her mane and took a deep breath, trying her hardest not to snap at him. “It wasn’t an accident. Maybe she wasn’t trying to kill me, but she was trying to do something.” Spitfire flexed her wings, feeling the phantom pain engulf them, and involuntarily locking them up. She traced the scar beneath her wing and said, “She ruined my dream. She nearly ruined my career.”

“Wait a sec.” Soarin held a hoof up. “That’s why you were out for so long!” He frowned. “You told me you tried to fly through a lightning storm.”

“Yeah, well…” Spitfire closed her eyes. “How do you go around telling everyone your sister tried to blow you up? Mom and dad asked us to keep it between ourselves.”

Rainbow blew a slow whistle. “That’s pretty heavy. Guess I’d still be mad too. But look at you now, Spitfire. Maybe you weren’t the youngest Wonderbolt ever, but you are the captain. And Sunset is trying to apologize. Don’t you think ten years is long enough to hold a grudge?”

Spitfire kept her voice as even as she could. “Dash, you try waking up in a hospital with your wings torn and your leg and shoulder broken. You try having the doctors tell you you may never fly right again. You try having your dreams ripped out from underneath you, then tell me ten years is long enough to hold a grudge.”

******

Pain.

The first experience Spitfire had upon waking up was a throbbing pain across her entire body. It was considerably worse at the base of her wings, and near unbearable across her left foreleg. She cracked her eyes open, and forced them shut again upon the glare of the florescent lights.

Hospital, she thought groggily. Through the haze in her mind, she began to remember what had happened before she wound up tucked in a bed. She could remember her and Sunset sniping at each other, narrowly dodging a large firework, only to be hit by another one, falling… she could remember falling. And then pain—nothing but pain.

Beside her, a heart monitor made rapid beeps, in time with the pulsing of her heart. How long had she been out? How badly was she hurt? Had she missed tryouts?

“Shhh, shhh, sweetie, it’s okay, calm down.” Her mother’s voice drifted into her ears. Spitfire opened her eyes to see both her mom and dad standing over her bed.

Dawn held Spitfire’s hoof. “It’s okay, Spitfire. You’re going to be fine.”

Spitfire smacked her lips a few times, finding her entire mouth dry. “Water, please.”

Zephyr leaned over to the table and grabbed a waiting glass. Spitfire took it with her good leg and drained it in one gulp. When she finished, Zephyr asked, “How are you feeling?”

“Everything hurts,” Spitfire groaned.

“You had quite an… accident,” Zephyr said carefully.

Spitfire tried to sit up, but was hindered by her bandaged wings and the pain they caused her upon the slightest movement. “Yeah, I remember.” She got a good look of the room now. It was nothing special, save for the fact that it was a single. The table was covered in dozens of flowers from well-wishers. “How long was I out?”

Dawn tapped her hooves together. “Five days.”

“Five days?” Spitfire bolted upright, ignoring the sharp pain in her back. “That means tryouts are tomorrow!” The heart monitor went crazy again.

Zephyr eased her back into lying down. “Spits, you have to keep your cool.” He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, baby, but… I don’t think you’re in any shape for flying. You’re banged up pretty bad.”

Spitfire’s heart was still pounding in her chest. “How bad?” Her fears were confirmed by her dad’s flinch.

“The doctor said you’d be out a few months at the least… and that…” He placed his hoof on top of hers and Dawn’s. “You tore your wings up pretty bad. You’ll be able to fly again,” he said quickly, seeing Spitfire’s look of horror. “You just… might not be as fast as you were.”

Spitfire leaned her head back, taking everything in. The fire in her heart—her drive to become a Wonderbolt… she could feel it slowly flickering out. She would never be the youngest pegasus to ever join. Her entire life’s work was slipping away before her eyes.

Her voice shook and tears ran down her face. “So, I’ll never be a Wonderbolt?”

Dawn squeezed her hoof. “Nopony ever said that. It’s just… going to be harder.”

“Let’s just focus on getting you fixed up first,” Zephyr said.

They both avoided Spitfire’s eyes. Not that she could see anyway; they were too blurred with tears. But she could hear it in their voice: the sympathy for somepony chasing after a pipedream. She tried to move her wings again, and almost cried out in pain.

In one day, her dreams had been turned to dust. Thanks to one pony, she’d never fly the same again. Spitfire gnashed her teeth together to stop herself from crying. She focused on her anger instead of her sorrow. “Where’s Sunset?”

“She’s at school right now,” Dawn said gently. “But, she sends her love.”

“I don’t want her love. I want her neck so I can strangle it!” Spitfire screamed.

“Sweetie, it was an accident—”

“Does this look like an accident to you?” Spitfire snatched her hoof back. “She did this on purpose!”

Zephyr gave her a stern glare. “Spitfire…”

“You can’t defend her on this!” Spitfire’s voice started to crack. “She gets to keep being the princess’ student, while I’m in a hospital missing my chance to be a Wonderbolt!” Spitfire broke into strangled sobs. “My dream… my entire dream is gone because of her!”

Her parents did their best to hug her without hurting her. But despite their warmth and words of comfort, Spitfire just cried harder.

******

Twilight frowned. “You didn’t visit her in the hospital?”

Sunset kept her head rested on the table. The coffee had long since run out, as had her tears. She was just exhausted now. The sun had fallen behind the world, making way for the moon and stars, and leaving the kitchen illuminated only by a few candles.

She poked her empty mug. “I did. Only because Celestia told me I should. She didn’t say a word when I saw her, just glared at me… and then threw a vase.”

Twilight pinned her ears back. “Oh.”

Zephyr massaged his temples. “It was a very tough time for all of us. They wouldn’t speak to each other and Dawn and I… well, I guess that’s when we started arguing a little. Between work, taking care of Spitfire, and trying to get Sunset to visit more often… things got a little testy.”

Sunset groaned and covered her eyes.

Zephyr quickly reached over and rubbed her shoulder. “It’s not your fault, sweetie.”

“Yes it is. If I hadn’t hit her with that stupid firework!”

Twilight tapped her hoof on the table. “It was…” She cleared her throat. “It was an accident… wasn’t it?”

Sunset hesitated. “It…” She buried her face in the table, wincing at the pressure on her sore muzzle. “I didn’t mean to hurt her. I just… I was mad and I thought it would be funny to give her a scare—throw her off-balance. Maybe it would take her off her high horse. Which made me a massive hypocrite because my superiority complex was much worse than hers.” She folded her ears. “It was stupid—it was so stupid! I let our stupid rivalry get the better of us and look what happened!”

Nopony said anything, which Sunset was grateful for. She didn’t want to hear it wasn’t her fault when it clearly was. She was going to take responsibility for her actions, no matter how many times she had to admit she had been a terrible pony.

She looked out the window, seeing the distant moon surrounded by a sprinkle of stars. The sight made her yawn. She was going to finish her story, then go off to bed.

“Spitfire and I didn’t talk until a week after she came home from the hospital. It was also the last time we would talk.”

******

Sunset reappeared outside her home and took the key from her saddlebag. She didn’t know why she had come home today; Celestia nagging her about making friends and being humble had already left her irritated. Still, she unlocked the door and stepped inside.

“Mom, Dad, I’m home!” Maker knows why.

Zephyr greeted Sunset first with a hug and a kiss. “Hey, little sun. How’s school?”

“Uggghh!” Sunset threw her saddlebag into the living room chair. “Everypony is an idiot except for me, but the Princess thinks I should go make friends with them. I have better things to do than socialize.”

Zephyr stroked her hair. “You’re a born prodigy, sweetheart. But maybe some friends would be good for you.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “They wouldn’t be friends. They’d be mooches trying to study off me.” She wandered into the kitchen, finding her mother cooking dinner. “Hi, mommy.”

“Sunset!” Dawn swooped over and kissed her on each cheek. Then she tugged on Sunset’s ear. “You need to come and visit us more than once a month, young lady.”

“Ow, ow, ow! I’m sorry, I’m sorry! You know how much I have to study.”

“You can do your studying here, too!” Dawn released her ear and kissed her again. “But it’s nice to see you again, dear.”

Sunset nuzzled her neck. “Nice to see you too. How have you been?”

Dawn sighed, but put on a smile. “Good, good. It’s been a little tough, but everything’s fine.”

“That’s good.” Sunset rubbed the side of her neck. “How… how is Spitfire?”

Zephyr and Dawn grimaced. “She’s…” Zephyr tried to smile. “She’s doing better. You know she came home from the hospital last week.”

“Yeah.” Sunset headed for the stairs. “I guess I should go try and talk to her.”

Dawn nodded. “I think that would be a good idea.”

Sunset’s stomach churned. Nothing had come of their last ‘conversation’ save for a broken vase. She didn’t know why she thought things might be different this time.

It took her ages to crawl up the stairs, and even longer to walk down the hall. She paused in front of Spitfire’s door, the image of her broken body flashing through Sunset’s mind. She pushed it away and knocked.

“Come in.”

Sunset opened the door and stepped inside. Spitfire was lying on her bed, staring out the window. Her foreleg was still wrapped up, and the feathers on her wings were still growing back, though they looked much better since the last time she had seen them. The joints were still bandaged as well.

Spitfire glanced at her, narrowed her eyes, and looked back to the window. “Get out.”

“Two words.” Sunset cracked a smile. “So, are we on speaking terms again?”

No response.

“Spitfire, I told you, I’m sorry. It was an accident.” Spitfire continued to ignore her. “Come on, what do you want me to say?”

“Goodbye.”

Sunset stomped her hoof. “Why are you being such a brat about this?”

Spitfire rolled off her side and sat up. “Excuse me?” she asked in a deadly whisper. “I’m being a brat, am I? I’m not allowed to be mad because you just destroyed my dream?”

Sunset flinched. “I said I was sorry. I said it a million times.”

“Say it a million more and maybe I’ll think about forgiving you! I may never get to be a Wonderbolt at all because of you!”

“It was an accident!”

“No it wasn’t!” Spitfire snorted. “You really expect me to believe this wasn’t on purpose?” She tried to flare her wings and yelped in pain. “You just couldn’t stand the fact that I was actually going to be more successful than you!”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Oh please, I’m Celestia’s personal student!”

“You’re a glorified teacher’s pet!

“And all you wanted to be was a stupid stunt flier! It’s really not a big deal!” Seeing Spitfire’s eye twitch made Sunset rethink her choice of words.

“Not a big deal?” Spitfire breathed. “Not a big deal? That was my life’s dream. I wanted that more than anything else. I wanted to fly, Sunset! I wanted to be the best flier in the world, but you wouldn’t understand that because you’re not a pegasus!”

Sunset barred her teeth, her sympathy gone. “I come from a family of pegasi—of course I know what that’s like! I’ve wanted to fly my entire life! How do you think I feel watching you flaunt your stupid wings?”

“Aha!” Spitfire jabbed her good hoof toward Sunset. “I knew it—you were jealous! You blew me up to bring down to your level!”

“It was an accident, stupid! I don’t need to blow you up to bring you down to my level! Wings or not, I’m a level above you! Celestia’s going to make me an alicorn—I’m going to have a horn and wings!”

Spitfire stared at her, then burst into laughter. “Why would the Princess make you an alicorn? Just because you can make a few stupid spells doesn’t make you princess material.”

“And just because you can do a few loop-de-loops didn’t mean you were going to be a Wonderbolt!” Sunset shot back.

“I would have if you hadn’t interfered!”

“You’re the one who asked me for help!”

“Yeah, and you sure helped me! Thanks a lot!”

Sunset bucked and tossed her mane. “I came in here to apologize, but if this is how you’re going to act, then forget it!”

Spitfire swiped her hoof through the air. “I didn’t want your apology anyway!”

“Fine!” Sunset turned for the door. “As far as I’m concerned, I hope you never fly again.” Sunset knew that was the worst thing she could have said. In the brief second between when it slipped out and what came next, Sunset regretted it with all her heart.

Something cracked against the back of her head, leaving stars in her eyes. Sunset staggered for a moment, then regained her footing and wheeled around. Spitfire was standing on her bed, breathing hard with tears running down her red face. Lying on the floor was an old trophy.

Spitfire reached for another one.

Sunset blasted it out of the air, then shot Spitfire across the face, leaving an angry welt on her cheek. They stared at each other with pure loathing.

Spitfire threw herself off the bed with a wild yell, tackling Sunset into the hall. She brought her hoof across Sunset face, then raised it to smash her nose. Sunset charged her horn, prepared to strike her again.

Zephyr raced up the stairs and pulled Spitfire off. She thrashed about, wincing every time she moved her wings or foreleg.

Get out!” Spitfire sobbed. “I hate you! I don’t ever want to see your face again, you horned freak!”

“Fine!” Sunset yelled, feeling her own face wet with tears. She raced downstairs to grab her saddlebag, ignoring her parents’ pleas to stay. She threw the bag over her shoulder and teleported as far away as she could.

******

Spitfire had her chair turned away from Soarin and Rainbow. She furiously wiped at her eyes, blaming the dust in the air.

“She really said all that?” Soarin asked.

“Every word.”

Rainbow whistled again. “Wow, she kinda was… a jerk back then.”

Spitfire nodded. “Now do you see why I don’t feel like wasting my time with her anymore? She nearly ruined everything for me, has the nerve to leave us for ten years, then expects to make up just like that.”

Soarin cleared his throat. “Look, Spits, I know she did some bad things… well, to be honest, both of you were kinda terrible to each other. But doesn’t the fact that she’s trying to make up for it mean anything?”

The word ‘no’ formed on her lips, but never left.

It was Rainbow’s turn next. “We’re not telling you to make up with her anymore—that’s totally on you now. But, when you think about it, the whole Firebird Dahlia thing—which I still think was mostly an accident—kinda helped you in the end.”

Spitfire turned her chair around. “What?”

Rainbow grinned at her. “The doctors all said you would never fly the same, right? But look at you now! You’re the captain—you still broke a whole bunch of records! You overcame adversity and proved everypony wrong! Maybe you didn’t become the youngest Wonderbolt in history, but you still did some incredible things!”

Spitfire placed her chin on her hoof. It was all true. After that fight, she had been determined—devoted—to proving everypony wrong, especially Sunset. Not only would she fly again, she would still become a Wonderbolt! She had pushed herself further than even she thought possible.

But was that reason enough to forgive Sunset?

Even if the Firebird Dahlia had been an accident, the physical and emotional pain Sunset had caused was enormous. Their parents were split up because of her!

And yet… Sunset had been willing to fall off of Cloudsdale just to get Spitfire to forgive her.

Something had indeed changed about her. She no longer carried that aura of vast superiority. Heck, she barely exuded confidence, just remorse and desperate determination.

Spitfire sighed and waved her hoof. “I’d like to be alone for the rest of the night, guys.”

Rainbow and Soarin nodded and stood up. “You gonna be okay?” Soarin asked.

“Yeah. Just going to do some thinking.”

When the door shut behind them, Spitfire waited several minutes, just leaning on her hoof before she reached down for the bottom drawer. She shuffled files and papers around until she found what she was looking for and hauled it up.

Inside a cracked picture frame was a photo of Spitfire and Sunset. They stood in the backyard with their hooves wrapped around the other’s shoulders. Both of them had their eyes crossed and were sticking their tongues at the camera.

Tears dropped onto the frame. “What am I going to do with you, dodo?”

Smiling Sun

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Sunset woke the next morning unsure of when she even fell asleep, although she was pleased to note that the couch was quite comfortable.

The aroma of freshly baked pancakes and crispy hay bacon drew her up from the couch. She stretched and flexed her fingers, only to remember she was in her pony form and had no fingers to flex. Her rumbling stomach told her to get a move on, so she rolled off the couch, only to step on something squishy.

Ow!”

“Aaghh!”

Sunset jumped back onto the couch and stared wide-eyed at Twilight as she rose from beneath the blanket. “Twilight, what are you doing here?”

“I was sleeping,” Twilight grumbled, rubbing her eyes.

“Why didn’t you go home?”

“It was late. Your dad insisted I stayed here. He tried to get me to take his room since you were already sleeping on the couch, but I didn’t want to put him out.”

Sunset facehoofed. “Come on, let’s just go eat.”

Two plates of breakfast were waiting for them on the table, with Zephyr at the stove making more. “Good morning, girls.”

“Morning, Dad.”

“Good morning, Mr. Spark.”

Sunset dug into her pancakes with gusto, realizing she hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday morning. Just as she finished her first stack, Zephyr laid another one on the table. Sunset beamed at him and piled more onto her plate.

“So, what are you going to do today?” he asked.

She slowed her chewing, drawing out the answer in the hope that she would change her mind. By the time her mouth was empty, her heart was sending her the same message it had when she first woke up.

“Well, I think… I think I want to see the Princess today.” She kept her eyes on her food while Zephyr and Twilight looked curiously at her.

“Not that I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Twilight said, “but it’s kind of sudden. What brought this on?”

Sunset took a small bite of hay bacon. “Last night, I had a dream. I can’t remember a lot of it, but I know she was there. We were sitting somewhere warm and…” Sunset let out a dreamy sigh. “It was just like when she first started teaching me. Ever since I woke up, I’ve just had this feeling that today is the day. I have to talk to her.”

Twilight looked ready to say something, then closed her mouth and smiled. “That’s great, Sunset. And I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

“Alone,” Sunset said. “I want to talk to her… alone.” She was going to regret it later, but she knew it needed to be done.

“O-oh, right.” Twilight looked taken aback, but smiled anyway. “Well, it’s your decision. The least I can do is get you into the castle.”

Zephyr sat down with his own plate of breakfast. “You know, I’m not sure I forgive Princess Celestia for lying to us about where you ran off to.”

“Dad, what would you have done if she told you I ran away through a mirror to another dimension?”

“Gone after you.”

Sunset blushed, then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Never mind that it would have been impossible—and if he had, it would have disrupted the balance between the two worlds even further—it was the sweetest thing her dad could have said.

******

Spitfire snorted awake, lifting her face up from the pool of spittle on her desk and blinking until the rest of the office came into focus. Her hoof was still resting on the old picture frame.

Perhaps it was all the reminiscing she had been doing recently, but her dream had consisted of her and Sunset playing together in the backyard like they had done so long ago. Sunset would make bubbles with her horn, which both of them would try to catch.

Spitfire wiped the drool off her chin and slumped back in her chair. Even her subconscious was telling her to forgive Sunset. But how could she just let go of ten years’ grief and hatred?

Well, maybe hatred was a strong word. Spitfire had said it, maybe even meant it the last time she had seen Sunset. But it had waned into animosity during her absence, dissipating completely at times when Spitfire realized she would never see her only sister again.

Her only sister.

She tried to kill me.

Maybe it really was an accident.

She left Mom and Dad.

She came back.

She’s a horrible sister!

But she’s trying to apologize.

Spitfire groaned and rested her head against her chair. This was worse than filing paperwork. She reached into another drawer and pulled out a small bottle. She twisted the cap off, popped out a small pill, and tossed it back before getting up to chase it down with some water.

“This is what you do to me, Sunset. Give me headaches at…” She checked the clock. “11:00 A.M. If we were allowed to have alcohol on site, I’d be so wasted right now.” She filled a plastic cup with water from the cooler and chugged it before filling it up again and splashing it on her face.

“So now what?” she asked herself. Half of her felt justified in her decision to avoid Sunset forever. But Rainbow had brought up a point Spitfire had never considered before: because of Sunset’s actions, Spitfire had become a stronger mare.

And on a smaller, more immature note, she had technically won the sibling rivalry because of it.

She shook her face clean of the water. “That’s neither here nor there.” Maybe Rainbow was right in saying that Sunset had indirectly helped her in becoming better. But that was just it, it was indirectly. Sunset’s goal had been to hinder her any way possible.

At least, that’s what Spitfire had always thought.

Over ten years later, Sunset still claimed it was an accident. If she really wanted to patch things up, wouldn’t she have admitted she had done it on purpose?

The more Spitfire thought on the problem, the more complicated it became. Maybe everypony was right; maybe she should give Sunset another chance. The question was, could Spitfire give her a second chance?

“I need to fly.” She crushed the cup and tossed it into the waste basket. Yes, a good fly always cleared her head.

When she opened the door, she was startled to see uniformed cadets wandering up and down the hall. She sighed and hung her head. “Right. I still have an academy to run.” She shut the door and reached for her aviators sitting next to her plaque.

It wasn’t flying, but scaring newbies until they peed was almost as relaxing.

******

Canterlot Castle loomed over Sunset, a monstrous behemoth with towering horns and a thousand reflective eyes judging her, demanding to know why she had returned to the site of her greatest failure.

Or maybe second-greatest. It was a tie between betraying Celestia and blowing up Spitfire.

I am a horrible pony, Sunset thought as she approached the open maw that was the front entrance. Two guards flanked the door, showing no emotion and staring only straight ahead. But Sunset knew they were eyeing her, asking what business she had bothering the Princess.

Twilight patted her shoulder. “You can do this. I have total confidence in you.”

“That makes one of us.” Sunset’s mouth was bone dry.

“I told you—Celestia isn’t mad. She’s proud of you, Sunset. You helped us beat the Sirens and proved you want to be a better person… pony… thing,” she finished lamely, invoking a laugh from Sunset.

It died away as quickly as it came. “I know. You think after saying sorry to everyone else, this would be easy. But…” Sunset brushed her hair from her face. “I was mad at Spitfire for not accepting my apology and thinking I hurt her on purpose. Celestia… I hated her for a long time. Denying me my dream… replacing me with you.”

Twilight blushed and looked away.

“It’s just hard, apologizing not only for being wrong, but for blaming her for everything.” Sunset squared her shoulders. “But I’m going to do this. I want her to know how sorry I am. She’s the last pony I need to apologize to.”

Twilight took a step back. “Go on then. I know you can do it.”

“Thanks.” Sunset swallowed her breakfast again and marched ahead, her legs shaking like jelly. The two guards shifted their eyes as she walked past them but said nothing, allowing her passage into the monstrous castle.

Princess Celestia was not waiting for her in the entrance hall. Instead, there was another guard with an even sterner face. “Sunset Shimmer?” he growled as she approached.

Sunset’s nerve faltered. “Y-yes?”

“This way, please. The Princess is expecting you.” He turned up the stairs without waiting for a reply.

Sunset hurried after him. He walked so quickly, Sunset didn’t have time to appreciate how little the castle had changed in ten years. She wanted to stop and recollect all the good times she had had within these walls, but her escort didn’t seem to be in the mood for a trip down memory lane.

When they passed the doors to the throne room, Sunset asked, “Wait, where are we going?”

“The Princess has decided to receive you within a private study.”

The cynical part of Sunset’s brain thought, Well, at least my reaming will be private.

They ascended a spiral staircase and hurried down a quiet hall. Sunset recognized it, and knew which study they were heading to. The guard opened up the predicted door and gestured Sunset inside.

It was a warm room that always smelled of springtime. Bookshelves lined the walls, filled with classic adventure tales rather than thick tomes of academic reading. The windows were open, letting the curtains drift in the breeze. Sunset had spent many days in here, meditating and reading, enjoying the peace and serenity.

On the other side of the room, with her back turned away from them was the one pony Sunset feared and respected the most. She had given Sunset something to strive for, told her anything—even having wings—was possible.

The door closed with a soft thud, and Princess Celestia turned around to face Sunset. She was just as Sunset remembered her: gleaming white coat, soft feathery wings, a rainbow mane that slow-danced in the wind, and a soft smile that could calm the harshest of storms.

Neither of them spoke. They merely observed each other while time slowed to a crawl around them. If they were having a staring contest, Sunset had lost repeatedly, trying to stop herself from crying.

“Sunset Shimmer,” Celestia said in her soft motherly tone. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Though I suppose not as long for you.”

Sunset swallowed the lump in her throat. “Time is relative, Princess. It’s been a very long time for both of us, I think.”

Celestia smiled. “You’re right. Any time away from the ones you love is too long.”

That tore it. Sunset was so sick of crying, sick of looking weak and foalish. But she ran at Celestia and threw herself into her embrace, bawling her eyes out.

“I missed you! I missed you so much, Princess! You were trying to teach me how to be a better pony and I didn’t listen and-and… I’m so, so—”

“Shhhh.” Celestia stroked her mane, folding her wings over Sunset’s back. “I don’t want to hear that, Sunset. I know you are. Yes, you hurt me, but I was more upset for you. I thought I had failed you as your teacher and drove you away from the light.”

Sunset rubbed her face into Celestia’s coat. “You could never fail me, Princess. You didn’t push me away, I just… I rejected everything about friendship. I didn’t think I needed it. I wanted to walk alone, but all I did was stumble.”

Celestia nodded, tears dripping off her face. “Yes, you stumbled and you fell.” She pulled Sunset away and smiled at her. “But look at you now. You stood up again. You found the light.”

Sunset wiped her tears away. “I had some help.”

“Something we all need from time-to-time.” She hugged Sunset again. “I’m so proud of you… my faithful student.”

******

Spitfire followed her dad through the hospital corridors, her cheeks puffed out in defiance. “But, Daddy, I don’t want a baby sister.”

“Don’t be like that, Spits. Think of all the fun you can have together.”

She stuck her tongue out. “I can have fun by myself. Can’t we give her back to the stork?”

Zephyr laughed. “It doesn’t work like that, sweetie.” He stopped and opened a door, gesturing little Spitfire inside.

Dawn was lying on the bed, a small pink blanket cradled in her forelegs. Her hair was still disheveled and she had bags under her eyes, but she smiled when the two ponies entered the room. “Do you want to meet your sister, Spitfire?”

Spitfire huffed. “Fine.” She climbed onto the bed and sat next to her mom. Inside the bundle of blankets was a sleeping foal with a tiny tuft of red and gold hair. Spitfire gave her a tiny poke. “She’s so… squishy.” She spotted the horn poking out from the foal’s head. “Hey, she’s a unicorn!”

“That’s right.” Dawn placed a kiss on her head, then kissed Spitfire. “She’s our special little unicorn. Her name is Sunset Shimmer.”

“Are you sure she’s my sister?” Spitfire poked Sunset’s pink, squishy cheek again.

Zephyr tasseled her mane. “Very sure. Trust us. You know how grandpa has a horn? Sunset gets that from him.”

Spitfire tried to wrap her head around it. Sunset took her horn from grandpa? That didn’t make any sense. Mommy had wings, Daddy had wings, and she had wings. So why didn’t Sunset have wings? She poked Sunset’s cheek again.

She opened her teal eyes and stared curiously at Spitfire. Then she smiled.

“Look, Spitfire, she likes you,” Dawn said.

Spitfire stared at the little smile her baby sister was giving her. And she smiled too.

******

“Uhh, should we say something?”

“Shut up. She’s probably testing us.”

Spitfire’s ears twitched.

“But we’ve been standing here for twenty minutes and she hasn’t said a word.”

She blinked a few times, coming out of her reverie. Had she really been staring into space for twenty minutes? It was a good thing she was wearing her aviators. Regaining her composure, she marched up to the mouthy cadet and raised her glasses.

“You got a problem with how I run things?”

The little green pegasus started trembling. “N-no, Ma’am!”

“You sure? Because if things aren’t cozy for you, just say the word.” She leaned in closer. “After all, this is supposed to be a five star resort. You’re supposed to be having fun. You’re having fun, right, cadet?”

“Uhh…”

“Answer the question!”

“Yes, Ma’am! I’m having tons of fun, Ma’am!”

Spitfire raised her voice a decibel. “Then clearly, I’m not doing my job right, because you’re not supposed to be having fun! You’re supposed to be on your knees, crying for your mommy! Why aren’t you crying for your mommy, cadet?”

The pegasus was sweating bullets now. “B-because I’m tough Ma’am!”

Spitfire bit her tongue to stop from smirking. He looked like he was ready to pass out. “You think you’re tough, huh? Well, clearly you’re not if you can’t stand at attention for twenty minutes!” She turned to the rest of the line and snapped, “What about the rest of you? Do you think you’re tough?”

“Ma’am, yes, Ma’am!”

“Then prove it! I want fifty laps around this place! Go, go, go!

They took off like bats out of Tartarus, leaving Spitfire alone with her thoughts again. The euphoria she got from picking on newbies was gone already. She had been spacing out a lot today. Memories of her and Sunset kept following her around; it was like her return to Equestria unblocked the dam she had built up.

She sighed. There was no point in playing drill sergeant if she got no pleasure from it. She lowered her glasses and made her way back to her office, only to find a fresh mountain of paperwork on her desk.

“Celestia, why?” She pulled on her eyelids, then backed out the door. Today was not her day. In fact, it wasn’t even her week. She moved two doors down and knocked until Soarin answered.

“Hey, Captain, what’s up?”

Spitfire took off her glasses and shoved them onto his face. “You’re in charge. Don’t burn my academy down.”

Soarin raised the glasses onto his head. “Uhh, where are you going?”

“Dunno.” Spitfire turned her back to him. “I’m going to keep flying until I figure it out. I’ve got enough vacation time saved up to circle the planet and still have some left over.”

“Oookay, but I can’t make any promises about keeping this place standing that long.”

“If you value me as a friend, you’ll try.”

Soarin lowered the glasses and grinned. “You know, I always thought of us as just acquaintances.”

Spitfire flicked a wing at him. “You’re not funny.” She walked out the door and took to the skies, letting her wings carry her wherever.

******

“…So then I picked up the mike and… I started to sing. I don’t even know where the words came from, I just sang whatever came into my mind.”

Sunset sat curled in front of Celestia, a cup of tea floating in her magic. On the table was a tray of Sunset’s favorite cookies, fresh out the oven.

Celestia looked down, shaking her head. “No, Sunset.” She placed a hoof over Sunset’s heart. “I think you sang from here.”

“R-right.” Sunset blushed and giggled. “After that, the other girls joined in, and I could feel real magic happening. Whatever happened to Twilight when she… stood up to me… happen to me too. I had pony ears and a tail! Then, we summoned this giant alicorn, and it hit the Sirens with a giant rainbow. I have to tell you, it’s much more fun not being on the receiving end of that.” Sunset laughed again. She felt like a little kid telling their parent about their dream.

Celestia laughed as well. “The fact that you could harness the power of Harmony proves how far you’ve come. And in a rather short time might I add.”

Sunset sipped her tea. “Yeah, but I’ve still got a long way to go.”

“It’s better to look how far you’ve come, than to see how far you have to go.”

Unsure how to respond, Sunset stuffed her mouth with a cookie. It was cinnamon and ginger; very strong, and always left Sunset thirsty. She chased it down with a large sip of tea.

“So, what happened after that?” Celestia sounded genuinely interested.

“Oh, well, the rainbow shattered their pendants into pieces. When they tried to sing again, it was just this horrible wailing mess. They ran off, everyone was free of their mind-control, and, well, here we are.” A rather lame way to end the story in Sunset’s opinion, but not much had happened other than Twilight almost kissing Flash. That was more Twilight’s business to tell.

“Did the school forgive you for your own misdeeds after that?”

Sunset tapped the side of her head. Duh, she had forgotten the best part! “Yeah, just about everyone sees me in a new light! No more shoving, no more glares…. It’s nice not to be despised.”

Celestia nuzzled her again. “Again, I’m so proud of you, Sunset. You showed perseverance, determination, and heart, three things a true leader needs. You’ve always had the first two, but I’m glad you’ve found the third.”

Sunset nibbled on another cookie. “So, how’s life here? Twilight’s told me some pretty crazy stories. Is it true you fought off a changeling invasion?”

A pained smile crossed Celestia’s face. “My fighting was… subpar that day. It was the bride and groom who ultimately saved Canterlot.” She looked up to the open window, watching a flock of birds flutter by. “These last few years have been quite eventful to say the least. My past seems determined to catch up to me, both good and bad.”

Sunset ran a hoof around the ring of her cup. “As I’ve recently learned, you can’t avoid your past forever.”

“No, you cannot. But in my lifetime, there are some things you don’t expect to run into again. It pains me to say that many of my millennia-old problems have fallen to Twilight to fix.”

Sunset curled closer, drawing Celestia from her thousand-yard stare. “We all need some help from time-to-time.”

Celestia closed her eyes. “Indeed we do.”

Several minutes went by where they simply enjoyed each other’s presence, neither saying a word. The mingling scent of cinnamon and spring flowers, combined with Celestia’s soft fur made Sunset’s eyes droop. She remembered all the naps she had taken nestled between Celestia’s forelegs.

Before she could nod off, Celestia asked, “So, how is your family?”

Exhaustion slipped away, leaving Sunset with a dull heartache. “They’ve… been better. My parents don’t live together anymore, and my sister hates me.”

“Sunset, that’s terrible! I’m sorry to hear that.”

After finishing her tea, Sunset said, “It’s my fault for leaving. If I had stayed, they wouldn’t have separated, and maybe Spitfire would have forgiven me after a while. I’ve tried apologizing twice, but she still doesn’t want anything to do with me.”

Celestia stroked Sunset’s mane. “Some wounds run deep, Sunset. You hurt her physically and emotionally. I know you said it was an accident—and I believe you,” she added before Sunset could protest. “But you have to look at it from her perspective as well. You jeopardized everything she was striving for, and I’m sorry to be honest, but back then, you didn’t show her too much sympathy.”

It was all true, but it didn’t stop Sunset from cringing. “I know, I was terrible to her. But I’m trying make up for it now. Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Yes it does. It takes a brave pony to admit their mistakes, and a braver one to try and fix them. You’ve said your apologies, now it’s up to Spitfire if she wants to forgive you or not.” Celestia hummed. “Your situation isn’t too far from Luna’s and mine. We… did some terrible things to each other. But in the end, we were able to reconcile and forgive one another.”

Sunset remembered reading the story Twilight had written about their reunion. She sincerely hoped it wouldn’t take Spitfire a thousand years to forgive her.

“Just give her some time. She’ll come around.”

“I hope you’re right.”

They lapsed into a brief silence. Sunset’s eyes grew heavy again.

“Before you take a nap, Sunset, I have one more question,’ Celestia said softly.

“Anything, Princess.”

“What are your plans for the future?”

Sunset closed her eyes and leaned into Celestia. It wasn’t the first time the question had come up. She had been asking herself more and more as the days went by. “I don’t know. I made my first friends over there, but I have my family here. I know I have to go back and finish school, but after that…”

Celestia lowered her head next to Sunset and closed her eyes as well. “I’m happy with whatever you decide. Just know there will always be a place for you here.”

“Thank you, Princess.”

******

Spitfire sat on the steps of the elementary school, wishing she could be anywhere else right now. She rested against her backpack and tried not to look at the clock sitting over the front door.

“Why can’t she walk herself home? She’s seven, and the house is only, like, three blocks away,” Spitfire grumbled. She kicked her hooves against the stone steps, willing time to go faster. “If it isn’t almost two, I’m going home and telling Mom she was just walking really slow.”

She turned around and was half-annoyed, half-happy to see the clock reading 1:59. “Finally!” When the clock struck 2:00, she stood up and faced the doors. They burst opened, releasing dozens of half-sized ponies, yelling and laughing as they climbed over each other.

Spitfire dove out of the way, not wanting to be trampled. She searched the crowd for a red and gold mane, usually easy to find. Something tugged on her tail, and she turned around to find Sunset.

“Hey, how’d you get behind me?”

Sunset shifted her eyes nervously. “Doesn’t matter. Can we just go home now, please?”

Spitfire tried to see where she was looking, but only found more students. “Yeah, sure, come on.” They started walking down the sidewalk, though Sunset was practically galloping, looking over her shoulder every three seconds. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Let’s just go home before—”

“Hey, featherbrain!”

Spitfire stopped and turned around, finding two unicorn mares with terrible haircuts. One was blue with enough freckles to make her look like she had the chickenpox. The other one was purple and would have been pretty if not for the haircut and the copious amounts of glitter she had applied to her face.

“Off to your nest, featherbrain?” the purple one asked.

“She’s probably going to try and grow her wings,” her friend said. “Might as well try since she can’t do any magic.”

Sunset scrunched her face up, trying not to cry. “Just leave me alone.”

“Aww, is the blank flank freak gonna cry? You wanna add crybaby on top of being talentless?”

“A unicorn who can’t use magic and a pegasus who doesn’t have wings, all rolled into one blank flank package!” Both of them burst into laughter.

Spitfire’s blood roared in her ears. Beside her, Sunset covered her flank with her tail and shied away, tears streaming from her eyes.

“Hey, you prissy little witches, knock it off!”

The blue unicorn rolled her eyes. “And who are you to make us?”

“I’m her sister,” Spitfire growled.

“So?”

Spitfire marched forward, spreading her wings wide so her shadow engulfed them. “So, you mess with her, you mess with me, and you do not want to mess with me.” She dropped her voice to a lethal whisper. “I don’t have magic, but I can fly. Odds are, you can’t. So, if I hear you picking on my little sister again, I’m gonna take both of you on a little trip over the side of Canterlot. Spoiler alert: it ends with the two of you flat against the ground! And if you think I’m lying, I dare you to do it!”

Both of them were shaking now, cowering in Spitfire’s shadow, lost in the intensity of her eyes. “Y-yes, Ma’am.”

“I can’t hear you!”

“Yes, Ma’am!” they shouted.

“Good.” Spitfire lowered her wings, revealing Sunset to them. “Now, apologize.”

“We’re sorry, Sunset.

“Yeah, we didn’t mean it, honest.”

Spitfire rolled her eyes. She had heard that one before. “Now, get out of my sight before I take you on a trip anyway.”

They both turned the other way and ran for it, never looking back.

Satisfied, Spitfire turned to Sunset, who was wiping her tears away. “If they bother you again, just let me know, okay?”

Sunset sniffed. “I can fight my own battles, Spits.”

“Of course you can, that’s why you were trying to run away.” Spitfire wrapped a wing around her. “How long have they been teasing you?”

“All month.”

Spitfire frowned. “Well, I guess you’ve got guts for sticking it out, but you gotta say something, Sunny. Nopony is allowed to pick on you ’cept me, got it?”

Sunset nodded, then buried her face in Spitfire’s coat. “Thanks, Spits.”

Spitfire wrapped her hooves around her. “Anytime, Sun.”

******

Drifting on a cloud above the world, Spitfire yawned and stretched herself out. The sun shone in her eyes, helping her wake up from her short nap. She groaned and flipped over onto her stomach.

Once again, a memory of her and Sunset had crept into her dream. And once again, it left Spitfire longing for a time long past. She buried her face in the cloud, like she could hide from her feelings. For so long, she had been telling herself she didn’t need a sister. And it was true: she didn’t need one.

But she wanted one.

She pulled her face out and looked at the horizon. “You really meant it, didn’t you? You really are sorry.”

Sorry isn’t going to fix what happened.

No, but it’s a start.

A small piece of her wanted to hold on and be mad, forever blaming Sunset for everything that happened. But she was tired of being angry, even passively. Her mom was right. Rainbow and Soarin were right. It was time to let go of the past.

Spitfire froze halfway to a sitting position. Yesterday, she had punched Sunset in the nose. She couldn’t just walk back up to her like everything was cool between them.

Still, she had to do something. An apology would probably be a good place to start. Even if the punch had been justified, she supposed it was only fair.

Besides, she wasn’t going to let Sunset show her up by being the bigger mare, was she?

Getting to her hooves, Spitfire gave her wings a few flaps. The sun was setting in front of her, lighting the world on fire. When she looked over the edge of the cloud, she was surprised to see Canterlot sitting beneath her. And somehow she knew Sunset was down there. Perhaps it was the thin remains of their sisterly bond pulling Spitfire towards her.

Spitfire brushed her hair back, pushing away her reservations and discomfort. Maybe they would never get back to where they were, or maybe they’d form an even better relationship. She wouldn’t know until she tried.

With her wings fanned out, she dived off the cloud. “Let’s try this one more time.”

******

A gentle nuzzle roused Sunset from her slumber. “Come, my faithful student. I’m afraid you must get up now.”

Sunset rolled her neck and yawned loudly. She looked up to see Celestia smiling at her. For a moment, Sunset was transported back in time, before she had made all of her mistakes; back when she a student with a caring teacher and a wonderful, whole family.

“Did you have a good rest, Sunset?”

“Yeah.” Sunset got up and popped her back. “That was the best rest I’ve had in a while.”

“I’m glad.” Celestia stood as well. “I’m afraid duties call me elsewhere now. I already cancelled day court today, and I’m afraid to see the mountain of paperwork waiting for me in my room.”

Sunset picked up the last cookie on the tray. “Guess being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, huh?”

Celestia chuckled. “It has its moments. I may be busy for the rest of the night, but you’re welcome to stay in the castle if you wish.”

Sunset’s heart fluttered in her chest. One of Celestia’s last remarks to her had been that she was no longer welcome in the castle. To hear there was a room waiting for her was like having every bridge between her and Celestia restored.

As much as she wanted to say yes, Sunset shook her head. “Thank you, Princess, but, I promised my mom I’d see her again after visiting my dad. She’s probably starting to wonder where I am.”

“I understand.” Celestia opened the door for Sunset and followed her out into the hall. “Likewise, I hope you’ll visit me again before you depart for the human world.”

Sunset gave a vigorous nod. “I will. I promise.” They walked together until they came to an intersection in the corridors.

Celestia reached down and hugged Sunset again. “It was wonderful to see you again, Sunset. I missed you so much.”

“It was wonderful to see you too, Princess. And I promise I’ll visit again.” They broke apart and shared one more smile before turning in opposite directions. Sunset carried on down the hall, her heart feeling like an inflated balloon. If she wasn’t inside the castle, she’d sing!

Turning the corner, she was startled to see a large blue alicorn with a starry mane walking towards her. Her brain clicked, and she realized who she was standing in front of.

Sunset bowed. “You must be Princess Luna. It’s nice to meet you.”

Luna acknowledged her with a smile. “It is nice to meet you too, Sunset Shimmer. My sister speaks very fondly of you.”

“Really?” Sunset felt her cheeks redden.

“Indeed. I’m glad to see you two have reconciled.”

“Yeah, it’s really a weight off my shoulders…” The wheels in Sunset’s mind turned again. She pointed a hoof at Luna. She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew. “You put that dream in my head last night telling me I should come see her.”

There was a mischievous twinkle in Luna’s eye. “I assure you, Sunset, I have no idea what you are talking about. You coming here to make up for your past actions was your choice, and your choice alone.”

“Uh-huh.” Sunset kept an eyebrow raised.

“Believe what you wish, Miss Shimmer,” Luna said, walking past with a smirk still on her face, “but I try not to meddle in other ponies affairs of the waking world. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am off to dine with my sister before taking on my nightly duties. Fare thee well, Miss Shimmer.”

Sunset grinned, watching her walk off. “Thank you, Princess Luna,” she said quietly.

Outside, the sun had almost set, and ponies were turning in for the day. Walking out, the castle no longer looked like a marble beast ready to devour Sunset. Instead, it was the most beautiful building she had ever seen. She smiled at the guards at the gates, and though it was probably her imagination, she thought she saw them smile back.

Sunset was a little hurt to see Twilight was not waiting for her, but remembered she had her own life to live. She was already taking a chunk of her time to help Sunset around.

Wanting to make good on her promise, Sunset started for her mom’s house. She considered stopping by Donut Joe’s to pick something up, but reminded herself that she had no bits to spend.

The more she wandered through the market, the emptier it got until Sunset was one of the last ponies milling about. A shadow flew over her, and she paid no mind until she heard it land close behind her. She looked over her shoulder, her heart skipping a beat when she saw Spitfire.

She rubbed the back of her neck. “Hey.”

Sunset faced her. “Hey.”

The sun teetered off the edge of the world, bringing about the twilight. Both mares continued to face each other, the air between them more awkward than tense.

Spitfire kicked a stray pebble. “So… you went to see Celestia?”

“Yeah. We made up and everything.”

“That’s cool… great actually.”

Silence.

Spitfire rubbed her neck again. “Look… I’m sorry I… you know… punched you in the nose.”

Sunset rubbed her muzzle and winced. “It’s all right. I deserved it.”

“Yeah.” Spitfire bobbed her head from side-to-side. “But I still shouldn’t have done it.”

More silence.

Sunset coughed. “So, what’s up?”

Spitfire opened her mouth, closed it, shook her head, and took a slow breath. “Sunset…” She shook her head again. “Let’s face it, we did some pretty messed up stuff to each other.”

“Yeah, we did.”

“But, you know, we’re sisters. We had each other’s backs when it came down to it, right?”

Sunset looked away. “We were supposed to. I didn’t do a good job on that front.”

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: that whole Firebird Dahlia thing sucked.” Spitfire stepped closer. “Honestly, I’m still a little peeved.” She relaxed her shoulders. “But, I want to believe it really was an accident. I gave it a lot of thought and… I want to be sisters again.”

Sunset stared at her, heart racing. “Really? You mean it?”

Spitfire rolled her eyes. “No, I just came all this way to punch you again.”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it past you.”

Both of them snickered, slowly growing into full-blown laughter that echoed through the empty streets and rose into the starry sky.

Sunset regained her composure and said, “I really am sorry, Spitfire. If I could take it back, I would.”

“Apology accepted. Though, to be frank, you’re still on thin ice.”

Sunset shrugged. “Fair enough.”

Spitfire tapped her shoulder. “And I’m sorry too. I could have been a better big sister to you.”

“Apology accepted.” There was an awkward pause as they both stared at each other.

“So… should we hug now?” Spitfire asked.

Sunset looked away. “You know, I’m still kinda against touchy-feely stuff.” Mostly because it leads to freaking tears.

“Yeah, same here.”

A moment passed.

They rushed forward and embraced each other in the tightest hug they could muster, nearly toppling each other to the ground.

“I missed you, Spits,” Sunset said, her voice cracking.

“I missed you too, Sun,” Spitfire said, her tears leaking onto Sunset’s shoulder.

Rekindled

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“Mom, I can’t breathe.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

Sunset and Spitfire’s complaints fell on deaf ears as Dawn continued to hug both of them in a strangling embrace. In fact, her hold on them tightened.

“I’m just so happy you two made up!” she cried.

“Yep, it’s great,” Sunset said. She tried to take a breath of air. “Would be a shame if we both died ten minutes later.”

Dawn released them, and they both dropped to the floor, gasping for breath. “You two are so dramatic,” Dawn said, watching them flounder about.

“No, Mom.” Spitfire got to her hooves and pounded her chest one more time. “You just hug like a bear.”

Crushed chest aside, Sunset couldn’t help but smile. A bear hug from their mom was the first thing she and Spitfire had shared since… Sunset couldn’t think of when.

After getting the air to flow properly through her lungs again, Sunset joined her mom and sister on the living room couch. She summoned three cups of tea from the kitchen and set them on the table. They all took quiet sips, savoring the taste, and each other’s company.

Dawn set her cup down, took a napkin and dabbed at her eyes. “Both my babies are home again!” She blew her nose like a clarinet.

Spitfire leaned to the side. “You’re not about to body check us again, are you?”

Her mother swatted a hoof at her.

Sunset snorted, sending tea up into her nose. She coughed and sputtered in between laughs while Dawn patted her on the back. The tea burning in her nostrils couldn’t dampen her spirits.

The absence of her father from this family affair, however…

How did she broach the subject? According to Dawn, they still sent letters to each other, but that spoke little of their actual relationship. And did Sunset have any right meddling with her parent’s love affair?

Well, since I broke it, yes!

She sipped her tea lightly, but it churned in her stomach. Perhaps it was just her, but the silence felt forced now. Sunset fought her churning tea and braced herself to pry her way into her parent’s personal business. Fortunately, Dawn beat her there and spoke first.

“So, how is your father?” she asked.

Sunset noted the lack of disdain or antipathy in her voice. There was one point in her favor. “He’s good,” she said, then realized how lame it sounded. “He was really happy to see me.”

“I’m sure he was. He cried for a week after you… disappeared. Of course, he would never show it. Proud as a buffalo, he is.” Sunset caught a flickering smile.

With that opening, Sunset decided to push her luck. “He said he misses you a lot.”

Spitfire leaned her head behind her mother’s shoulder and gave Sunset an inquisitive stare.

Dawn set her tea down and looked at an old stain on the table. “Really?” She cleared her throat. “Well, I suppose if I’m being honest… I miss him a little as well. It can get a little… quiet around here sometimes.” She looked at Sunset. “But no need to tell him that. He’ll get it into his head that I can’t take care of myself or something like that.”

“Don’t worry, Mom, my lips are sealed.” Sunset hid her smile by finishing her tea.

“So, what are you girls going to do now?”

Spitfire stood up and stretched her wings. “Well, the night is young. I was thinking Sun and I would go out for a little bit. Just catch up.”

Dawn clapped her hooves. “Yes, that sounds excellent! I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about. And when you get home, I’ll have a nice dinner ready.” She got up and went to the kitchen, searching for a cookbook.

Sunset looked from her to Spitfire. “Uhh, sure. Yeah, a night out sounds cool.” She got off the couch and followed Spitfire to the door.

“Be careful! And don’t stay out too late or your food will be cold!”

“Yes, Mom,” they said in unison. When they closed the door behind them, they both grinned.

Sunset followed Spitfire down the path and along the street. The suburbs were quiet, just the way Sunset liked them. “So, where are we going?”

“Out for a drink,” Spitfire said matter-of-factly. She stopped and looked back. “You can drink, right?”

“Well, technically I’m of age. So, yeah.” Truth be told, Sunset had never bothered to try any alcohol before. She never had the time. And drinking ages were different in the human world.

Spitfire saw the apprehension on her and smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get you wasted or anything. Just one or two to help get rid of any tension.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Something tells me this is a regular thing for you.”

“Don’t judge me.”

******

They entered downtown Canterlot, a bustle of late night ponies walking along well-lit avenues, the polished granite glowing underneath the gold lights of the city. As highbrow as the Canterlot nobility liked to make everyone believe, even they needed a simple place to escape to now and then.

But being the nobility, even the bars seemed high-class.

“So, what exactly changed your mind?” Sunset asked as they came up to ‘The Tipsy Princess.’ Sunset could hardly imagine Celestia getting tipsy ever.

“Hm? About what?” Spitfire asked.

“You know… staying mad at me forever.”

“Oh! Well... “ Spitfire started kicking a rock along the road. “I just gave it a lot of thought, you know? I started thinking of all the good times we had instead of the bad ones.” She kicked the rock a little too hard and watched it sail off the path. “And… I had a few friends talk some sense into me.”

Guess I owe Rainbow a thank you.

Spitfire pushed the door open and held it for Sunset. Inside was a wide space filled with multiple booths and small tables. The dim light made the dark wood appear almost black. It was like Sunset was walking on top of nothing. Against the back wall sat the bar.

The other patrons turned and stared as Spitfire and Sunset crossed the floor. Some of them waved to Spitfire, and she waved back with a wink or a grin.

The bartender, a thin green earth pony with a black mane and goatee, greeted Spitfire with a nod of his head. “Evening, Spits. The usual?”

“Nah, I’ll have a firecracker, Spirit. I’m kinda celebrating tonight.”

Sunset’s cheeks heated up.

Spirit looked between the two of them and gave Spitfire a supportive smile. “Well, I’m happy for you, Spits. Didn’t know you swung that way, though.”

The heat promptly died inside Sunset, replaced with a cold revulsion. Spitfire gagged and wildly shook her head. “No! Nothing like that! She’s my sister!”

Spirit tugged on the collar of his suit. “My apologies. Although, I wasn’t aware you had a sister.”

Spitfire sat down and patted the seat next to her. “Well, for a while… I didn't think I had one either.”

Sunset sat next to her, taking a deep breath to clear out her gag reflex. “We kinda just made up.”

Spirit smiled in earnest. “Well, that’s always good to hear. All right, how about first drinks are on me?”

“Ha, now you’re talking my language!” Spitfire said. “Give her a firecracker, too!”

With a grin and a nod, Spirit took two bottles down from the extensive selection behind him. He filled two glasses with the liquors and stirred them together, the combination turning the liquid a bright red. He then reached under the counter and pulled out two sparklers. A single swiped against the bottom of his hoof set them off, and he stuck them inside the drinks before sliding them to the sisters.

Sunset whistled in astoundment. For an earth pony, Spirit was quite nimble with his hooves. She lifted the glass in her magic and examined it for a moment, swishing it around and watching the juice slosh against the sides.

“Cheers,” Spitfire said, knocking her glass against Sunset’s before tipping it back.

Well, first time for everything. Sunset followed Spitfire’s example and tossed her drink back, regretting it immediately. The taste burned her mouth and throat, and tasted like sour grapes with the smallest undercurrent of fruit punch. She gagged and forced herself to swallow the mouthful, lest she spit it up on Spirit.

Once she got it down, Sunset took a great heave of air before dissolving into loud coughs while she slapped her hoof against the counter. Spitfire choked down her own drink before bursting into rancorous laughter.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, wiping her mouth. “Can’t handle it?”

Sunset made a small burp, getting a second helping of the caustic taste. “I don’t think me and alcohol mix well.”

Spitfire swiped Sunset’s glass. “Cool, more for me.” She drained it, then slammed it against the counter. “One more, Spirit. And get the kid over here some pomegranate juice.”

The barstool squeaked as Sunset readjusted herself, ignoring Spitfire’s jab. They embraced the murmur of the crowd around them while Spirit fixed their drinks. He slid Sunset hers, and she gave him a quiet “Thank you” before taking a sip, letting the juice sit in her mouth for a minute to rinse the firecracker out.

To her left, Spitfire was just taking small sips of her drink instead of chugging it like before. Her eyes were lidded in contemplation.

“So,” Sunset said slowly. “Uhh… listen—”

“It’s not going to work,” Spitfire said flatly.

“What?”

Spitfire tilted her head to Sunset. “You want to get Mom and Dad back together. It’s not going to work.”

“How did you…” Sunset shook her head. “How do you know it won’t?”

“Well, being there when they technically broke up gives me a good analysis of the situation for one thing.”

Sunset cringed and tapped her hooves together. “Right… yeah.”

Spitfire took a sip of her drink. “Listen, Sun, it’s… it’s just like high school, seeing your ex-boyfriend walk around. Maybe you wave hi to him, but it’s still awkward.”

Unfortunately, that was something Sunset could relate to. While Flash didn’t hate her guts anymore, they could hardly get through a conversation without one of them fidgeting before making an excuse they were needed somewhere else.

Still, neither of her parents had manipulated the other, then brainwashed them.

“Spitfire, I came here to fix my family. Mom and Dad still love each other, they have to.”

“Uugh.” Spitfire rolled her neck. “I didn’t take you for living in fairy tales. Sunset, you’re a good pony for trying, but love doesn’t always work like that, okay? I’m glad that you care so much, but maybe this is something you shouldn’t meddle in.” She saw the forlorn frown on Sunset and sighed. “I’m sorry, Sun. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, in fact, despite everything, they left on pretty friendly terms. But you’re not going to get anything by trying to push them back together.”

Sunset looked into her glass, watching the ice cubes slowly melt. Spitfire had a point, but this was something Sunset couldn’t let go of. Not without a fight. The guilt would eat her alive if she walked back through the mirror without trying something, anything. She set her mouth in a resolute line and raised her head.

“You’re going to give me some big speech about how you’re going to try anyway, aren’t you?” Spitfire said, a bored look on her face.

The wind left Sunset’s sails and she hunched over. “Well, I was.

Spitfire tossed back her drink. “Save it. This is probably going to end badly, but I’m in.”

Sunset’s ears perked up. “Really?”

“Maybe it’s the alcohol talking, but, yeah. Besides, if it does work, there’s no way I’m letting you take all the credit.” Spitfire grinned.

Sunset beamed at her. “Have I ever told you you’re the best sister ever?”

Spitfire snorted. “Not once.” She swiveled in her chair to fully face Sunset. “Seriously, what happened in whatever freaky land you went to that made you stop being such a prick?”

“A large dose of karma,” Sunset said, her stomach tightening. “I… did a lot of bad things, Spits. It finally caught up to me. Let’s leave it at that.”

The silence sat heavy between them before Spitfire made a slow whistle between her teeth. “Well, that’s ominous.” She hiccuped and reached a hoof to pat Sunset’s shoulder. “Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I haven’t been perfect either, as hard as it is to believe.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Yes, O golden child, what terrible thing did you do?”

“I tried to coerce Rainbow to fly for the Wonderbolts instead of her own team behind Soarin’s back.”

Having taken a sip of her drink, Sunset nearly spat it out, resulting in some of it going up her nose. She spluttered and stared at Spitfire. “Wow, I didn’t think you were capable of something like that.”

Spitfire put on a pained smile and shrugged. “Heat of competition, I guess. Wait ‘til you hear the whole story.”

For the next hour, Sunset and Spitfire sat at the bar, swapping stories of their lives during their disunion. While Sunset made sure to leave out her she-demon episode, she wowed Spitfire with tales of the human world and all their non-magical marvels. Sunset got to catch up on the pop culture and history she had missed, learning about a new book series called Daring Do, and the hit singers Sapphire Shores and Countess Coloratura.

Overall, Sunset just savored the warm feeling wrapped around her body from talking with Spitfire. She hadn’t seen her sister smile like this in years. Perhaps she was a little tipsy, but Sunset still saw it as a victory.

They paid for their drinks and headed home, Spitfire stumbling the first few steps.

“If Mom sees you drunk…” Sunset said in a tattle-tale voice.

“Please, it wouldn’t be the first time.” Spitfire walked in a straight line, using her wings to balance herself. “Besides, I’m fine. Unlike you, I can hold my liquor.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

They walked up the steps to their home, the smell of roasting vegetables greeting their noses. Inside, the air was still warm, marking the use of the oven. Dawn poked her head out from the kitchen, trying to look displeased despite her lips tugging upwards.

“I told you not to stay out too late. Your food’s getting cold.” Her muzzle twitched. “Spitfire, did you take your sister to the bar?” She asked in a warning tone.

“Yep,” Spitfire said proudly. She patted Sunset’s head with a wing. “Don’t worry, Mom, she’s a good little filly and doesn’t have a taste for anything.”

Sunset swatted the wing away. She made it a point to ask Applejack for an alcoholic cider when she got back to the human world.

Dawn sighed and walked back into the kitchen, muttering, “The first thing they do to make up is drink. Kids.”

Spitfire and Sunset snickered and followed, finding roasted squash and carrots, mashed potatoes, and buttered rolls sitting on the counter. Sunset licked her lips and quickly made herself a plate. The three mares sat together at the dining room table, with the fourth chair conspicuously empty. Sunset saw Dawn’s eyes linger on it every few minutes throughout the meal.

Sunset’s stomach squirmed in excitement. The spark was still there, at least on her mother’s end. She just had to hope her dad felt the same way, then find a way to turn that spark into fiery passion once more.

Dawn wiped her mouth on a napkin. “So, Sunset, what are you going to do now that you’re home?”

“Oh, uhh…” Sunset’s shoulder’s tensed. “Well… Celestia did offer to let me come back and be her student again, but—”

“Sweetie, that’s wonderful!

Sunset forced herself to smile. “Yeah.” The excited squirming in her stomach turned to churns of guilt and uncertainty. She would have loved to return to Celestia’s side, pick up where she left off.

But five human faces floated through her mind, smiling and waving at her. The human world was where she remembered to care and trust someone other than herself, where she first made friends. In the end, was she going to have to pick between her friends or her family?

Spitfire pushed her plate away and stretched. “Thanks for dinner, Mom, it tasted great.” She pointed a hoof upstairs. “Mind if we crash here tonight?”

Dawn gave her a plain look. “Why do my children ask if they can stay in their own rooms?”

Spitfire got up and started for the stairs. “You raised us to be courteous. You should be proud. Come on, Sun.”

Sunset flashed her mother her forced smile one more time before trotting after Spitfire. The clock in the hall read five till ten, but Sunset still felt wide awake.

Spitfire led them to her room and shut the door behind them, then faced Sunset with a shadow draped over her eyes. “You’re thinking about going back, aren’t you?” She asked accusingly.

Sunset’s ears stood up, then folded against her head. “How’d you know?”

“It’s written on your face.” Spitfire circled around her, eyes narrowed. “So was that your plan? Say sorry, then run off and do this all over again?”

“No! I…” Sunset pressed a hoof against her head. “Spitfire, I have obligations back in the other world. I… I have friends. Real, genuine friends that showed me how to be a better person. I can’t just leave them.”

Spitfire slowly nodded her head. “Yeah, I see what you’re sayin’. Would be pretty rude of you if you just up and left the people you cared about without saying goodbye.”

Sunset shrunk under her sister’s withering glare. “Okay, I deserved that. At least give me credit for not wanting to do it a second time.”

“I’m not giving you credit for anything,” Spitfire said, trying to keep her voice low. “I can’t believe you’re going to pick these ‘human’ things over your own family.”

“I’m not picking them over you!”

“Then what are you doing?”

I don’t know!” Sunset shouted. She took a shuddering breath. “I came here to make amends, okay? I didn’t… I didn’t plan for what would happen afterwards. I didn’t plan for what would happen if Celestia actually took me back or if…” She wiped a few tears away. “If you and I even made up.” Sunset turned her head away and began pacing the floor. “I’m a pony. I was born a pony, and my family and heritage is here. But the human world is where I learned to be a better person. It’s where my first real friends are. It’s so big and full of possibilities!” She stopped and slumped against Spitfire’s bed. “I just don’t know, okay?”

After a moment, Spitfire kneeled and put a hoof on Sunset’s shoulder. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have jumped down your throat like that. I can tell this is eating at you.”

Sunset leaned her head back. “I have to go back and at least finish school… but I don’t know if I’m ready to make a permanent choice.”

Spitfire joined her against the bed. “Well then, let’s just take this a step at a time. First, Mom and Dad. Then we can worry about your future.”

“Can’t we just stay in the present where it’s safe?” Sunset whined.

“Come on, dodo, you’re tougher than that.”

Sunset grinned. “Yeah, I have Dad to thank for that.” She scrunched her face and deepened her voice. “‘Suck it up, girl. It’s just a scratch.’”

Both of them giggled, and Spitfire followed up with her own impression. “‘Stop crying before I give you something to cry about.’” They leaned against each other and laughed, holding their sides. “He’s gotten pretty soft over the years.”

“Yeah, guess that runs in the family, too,” Sunset mused.

They fell silent, staring at the clouds painted on Spitfire’s walls. From downstairs, they could hear the radio playing old slow songs while Dawn hummed along.

“Well, genius,” Spitfire said, “what’s the plan?”

Sunset’s eyes drifted from the wall to the trophy case. She saw the dented trophy used so long ago as a weapon against her, and rubbed a hoof against the back of her head. It dawned on her that she and Spitfire were sitting in the same room they had fought and confessed their hate for one another. Sunset wasn’t sure if she should cry or laugh.

She shook her head and said, “I don’t know yet. I’m kinda making this up as I go along.” She took a deep breath. “Maybe… just tell me what… you know, went wrong?”

Spitfire bowed her head. “Well… after you left, they kinda blamed each other for how things turned out.”

Sunset flinched.

“Yeah. They said it was the other’s fault for not noticing just how bad our rivalry got. Mom always said Dad was pushing us too hard, and we thought we had to do super important things to get their love.”

Sunset shifted again. “Well… that might have been where my mind was. I thought I had to try extra hard to make up for… not being a pegasus.”

Spitfire looked away. “I thought I had to try harder to make up for not being a unicorn prodigy.”

“Spits, you’re a pegasus prodigy!”

“I worked hard, I wasn’t a born prodigy!”

“I had to work hard, too!”

“Stop!” Spitfire threw her hooves up. “Okay. We can see where some of the problem lies.”

Sunset leaned her head against the mattress. “It’s not Dad’s fault. He wanted us to be the best we could be. We just took it to the extreme. They love both of us. We turned it into a competition.”

Spitfire nodded. “Dad might have taken it to heart though. He kinda… shut down for a while. He was a lot less drill sergeant and a lot more…” Spitfire scrunched her nose. “Smothery.”

“Smothery?”

“He came to see me every three days. Took me out for ice cream. Wanted to know everything that was going on in my life. Stuff like that.” Spitfire ran a hoof down her face. “Then Mom started doing it too, and pretty soon, I didn’t have a life. I had to start lying about extra practice to get away from them. I’d rather sleep in the barracks then go home to my apartment and have one of them drop in on me.”

“I guess they didn’t want you to feel underloved. Or have a chance to magically disappear.”

“Some of column A, a lot of column B.” Spitfire rolled her neck. “I finally told them to knock it off—that they couldn’t use me as an excuse to hide from each other. I guess they sat down and talked after that. Mom apologized to Dad, but… afterwards, they just couldn’t agree on anything anymore. Dad finally said he needed some space for a little while and moved to Cloudsdale. That was five years ago.”

Sunset rested her hooves on her stomach and closed her eyes in thought. All of this stemmed from a rivalry born out of inferiority complexes. But if she and Spitfire could start making amends, her parents could too. They just needed something to rekindle their love.

“Do you remember how they met?” Sunset asked.

Spitfire rolled her eyes. “They met at the Hurricane Ball in Cloudsdale. Mom got stood up by her date and was about to leave when she bumped into Dad. The rest is history.” Her eyes widened. “Oh no.”

“What?”

“Nothing!” she said too quickly.

Sunset leaned into her. “What?”

Spitfire pressed a hoof into her forehead and groaned. “I’m going to regret this, I just know it. The Grand Galloping Gala is a week from tomorrow.”

“It is?” Sunset jumped to her hooves. “Wow, I haven’t been to the Gala since…” Her ears perked up and a smile stretched across her face. “Wait… I think I have an idea.”

“No,” Spitfire groaned.

“What if we got both of them to go to the Gala?” Sunset started pacing the floor.

“Please, no.”

“We get them together on the dance floor…”

“No, no, no.”

“And we play the first song they danced to at the Hurricane Ball! They’ll remember why they fell in love in the first place!”

Spitfire banged her head against the bed. “That plan is stupid.”

“You’re stupid!”

Spitfire stood up and stretched her wings. “Sunset, you and I both know that is the dumbest, most clichéd plan ever crafted, and we’ve come up with some pretty dumb ideas over the years.”

Sunset grinned, nostalgia washing over her. “Remember that time we tried to open a pet sitting business?”

Spitfire chuckled. “Yeah, that was a good one.” She shook her head and narrowed her eyes. “But seriously, this takes the cake. There is no way in Luna’s mane that you’re going to convince both of them to go to the Gala and have them magically fall in love with one song.”

Sunset frowned. “Well not with that attitude.”

“Uughh!” Spitfire facehoofed. “You’re hopeless. How do you plan on getting tickets anyway? It’s sold out by now.”

“Umm, hello? Princess Celestia’s personal protégé.”

“Ex-protégé.”

Former ex-protégé! The point is, I can get tickets.”

Spitfire raised a hoof. “All right, so you can get tickets. This plan is still based in fantasy. Do you really think having them dance will get them to start passionately making out?”

Sunset gagged. “I really hope not, for the sake of everypony there. Maybe they won’t declare their love for each other, but it’ll put them on the right path, right?”

Spitfire rose into the air and crossed her hooves, looking unimpressed.

“Come on, Spits, you said you would help me.”

“I am! I’m telling you, this plan won’t work. Or at least…” She rolled a hoof. “I don’t know, you need to be more creative. A song and dance won’t change anything.”

Sunset paced the floor again, grunting in half-hearted acknowledgement. Maybe Spitfire was right; maybe her plan needed a bit more pizazz, or passion. But what else could she do to make her parents realize they still had feelings for each other? Or at least move to the point where the events of the past didn’t cloud their view of each other anymore?

She stopped and cringed, berating herself for the idea that popped into her mind. Still, if it works… a little voice whispered.

“What is it?” Spitfire asked.

Sunset spoke slowly. “I might have an idea how to improve our plan.”

“All right, lay it on me.”

Sunset cringed again. “Maybe… we could… perform the Firebird Dahlia?” She looked at Spitfire through squinted eyes.

Spitfire just stared at her. “Okay, I was wrong. Now this is the worst plan you’ve ever come up with.”

“Spitfire—”

“You want us to perform the thing that drove us apart and nearly killed me?” she asked incredulously.

“Think about it like this,” Sunset said, straightening up. “Yes, it’s kinda the catalyst for why we’re all where we are now. But it was supposed to be beautiful. It was supposed to be your Sonic Rainboom. If we did it now—if we showed Mom and Dad that we can get past what happened and finally pull it off—show them that we can do anything together…” Sunset let out a dreamy sigh. “Maybe that’ll be enough to get them to come together too.”

Spitfire looked down at her, furrowing and unfurrowing her eyebrows like she was waging a loud argument inside her head. “Okay… ignoring how sappy that sounded, you might have a point.” She dropped her shoulders and gave Sunset a rare look of concern. “But, Sunset, I still remember what happened last time.”

“So do I.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have anything to lose if it goes wrong.”

Sunset shook her head. “I’d lose you. And I don’t want to do that again.”

Spitfire bit her lip and looked away. Then she flew down and wrapped her hooves around Sunset. “Thunderbolts, you’re such a sap.”

“I know.”

“This plan is stupid.”

“I know.”

Spitfire pulled away. “I can’t believe I’m going to agree to this. Fine, Sunset, let’s get Mom and Dad back together by doing the one trick we could never pull off, in front of thousands of ponies who could potentially see me crash and burn.”

Sunset frowned. “Well, anything sounds negative when you say it like that.”

Bond of Flames

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Sunset snuggled against her pillow and stared at her poster of Meadowsong hanging on the wall. She had been awake for over an hour, she just didn’t want to get out of bed.

Coming home and sleeping in her own bed was one of the best feelings she had experienced. It felt like she had never run away. The bed was still conformed to her shape, despite the long years of disuse. Still, she knew she had a lot to accomplish today, and forced herself to sit up. Her mane had become a tangled nest sitting on top of her head.

She rolled onto the carpet and stretched, popping all of her joints. The clock on her wall told her it was almost eleven. Sunlight warmed a spot on the floor, and birds took up a branch outside her window, singing merry songs. It all created a simple magic that stirred melancholy in Sunset.

In the end, was she really going to have to choose between her two worlds? She couldn’t keep popping back and forth between them forever, could she? Would she give up her family and magic? Or would she give up her friends and a new world of possibilities?

Sunset hung her head and sighed. “Too early for this.” Her lower body rumbled in agreement, and she made her way out her room and down the hall.

The bathroom door was closed, and Sunset could hear running water on the other side. She banged a hoof. “Spitfire, how long have you been in there?”

“I dunno,” Spitfire shouted over the shower.

“Well, I need to pee!”

“Buzz off, I’m not done yet!”

“Mom, Spitfire is hogging the bathroom!”

“Spitfire, let your sister into the bathroom!” Dawn shouted from the kitchen.

The water turned off. “You’re such a tattletale!” Spitfire yelled. Shuffling and the ruffling of towels could be heard, and a minute later, Spitfire stepped out the door, a cloud of fog in her wake. She stuck her tongue out at Sunset as she retreated to her room.

Sunset mimicked her as she walked into the fog. Closing the door, Sunset smiled to herself. “I love having a sister.”

******

Breakfast consisted of waffles, eggs, and hay, lovingly made by Dawn who greeted both her daughters with a hug and a kiss. “So, what are your plans for today?”

“Good question,” Spitfire said, drizzling syrup over her waffles. “Sunset, what are our plans for today?”

Cheeks bulging with waffles, Sunset could only give a muffled response.

“Don’t talk with your mouthful,” her mother admonished.

Sunset swallowed her breakfast. “Sorry. Spits and I were just going to go out for a walk. Maybe go to the park. Nothing too special.”

Dawn nodded. “That’s sounds like a wonderful idea. It’s a beautiful day out. I was actually thinking of doing a little gardening myself.”

Sunset passed a wink to Spitfire, who merely rolled her eyes and started on her own food. When breakfast was finished, they helped Dawn clean the dishes and countertops before embarking outside. Just as Dawn had said, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and a slight breeze kept Canterlot at the perfect temperature.

Spitfire took to the sky, stretching her wings with a few loops. “All right, genius, what’s the first part of this terrible plan of yours?”

“It’s not terrible, it’s just…”

“So desperate it might work?”

Sunset grunted. “Shut up.” She swatted as Spitfire pretended to dive bomb her. “Anyway, the first part of my plan is to get tickets for the Gala.”

Spitfire flipped onto her back, drifting just out of Sunset’s reach. “Well, being the Wonderbolts captain, I get in automatically.”

“Whoopdeedoo for you.” Sunset twirled a hoof. She sighed. “I feel bad about asking Princess Celestia for a favor when I only apologized twenty-four hours ago.”

“Hey, it’s for a good cause. You of all ponies know how understanding she is.”

“I mean, yeah, but still—” A shadow crossed over Sunset before doubling back and landing a few feet away with a stumble.

“Still have to work on landing,” Twilight muttered. She waved a wing at Sunset. “There you are, I’ve been looking for you all day.”

“Hey, Twilight,” Sunset said with an apologetic grin. “I meant to contact you yesterday, but…”

Twilight blinked, then looked up to Spitfire hanging lazily in the air. “Did…” She pointed a hoof at them and leaned forward. “Did you two make up?”

Spitfire nodded. “Yep. There was hugging and everything.”

Twilight’s eyes turned to stars, and she hopped up and down, squealing like a foal. She ran forward and gave Sunset a tight hug. “Yaaaay! I’m so happy for the two of you! I knew you’d make up eventually!”

Sunset patted her on the back. “Couldn’t have done it without you, Twilight.”

“I was just the catalyst.” Twilight pulled away, still smiling. “I bet you would have gotten here even without my help.”

Sunset playfully shook her head. “Let’s agree to disagree then. Speaking of help, do you think you can do me one more little favor?” Sunset couldn’t keep the guilt out of her smile.

“Sure! What is it?”

Spitfire hovered closer. “Dodo here needs tickets to the Gala.”

Twilight cocked her head. “The Gala? You want to go to the Grand Galloping Gala?”

Sunset nodded. “We—”

“Ahem.”

“... I came up with an idea to get our parents together again,” Sunset said, glaring at Spitfire.

Twilight fidgeted her wings and looked off to the side. “Sunset, I know we talked about this, but are you sure this is a good idea?”

“No,” Sunset and Spitfire said simultaneously. “But I told you before,” Sunset continued, “it’s my fault my family fell apart. I have to at least try to put it back together.”

“So, I’m guessing your plan involves getting your parents to dance together at the Gala?” Twilight asked.

Spitfire smirked. “Plus, she wants us to perform the Firebird Dahlia. I’m sure she’s told you that story.”

Twilight gaped at Sunset. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“No,” the sisters repeated.

“Then why…” Twilight covered her eyes with a hoof. “Nevermind. Attacking the problem head on can lead to good results sometimes.” She sighed. “Anyway, why don’t you ask Princess Celestia for tickets? You two made up, didn’t you?”

Sunset brightened up. “Yeah, it was great!” She blushed. “She even offered to let me be her student again. But I don’t want to go asking for big favors the day after we made up.”

“Apparently, asking me to perform the firebird doesn’t count,” Spitfire muttered.

“That’s a joint effort!”

“Okay, okay!” Twilight waved her hooves. “I’ll see what I can do. Just promise me you’ll be careful with this? You two just made up, I’d hate to see you fall apart.”

Sunset patted Twilight’s shoulder. “I appreciate that. We’ll try to be careful.” Twilight gave her a nervous but supportive smile before taking flight.

“So, now what?” Spitfire asked.

“Well, once Twilight gets the tickets, we’ll have to convince Mom and Dad to come to the Gala. In the meantime…” Sunset took a deep breath. “We should go practice.”

******

Sunset and Spitfire sat on a hill in one of the older parks on the backside of the mountain. The sounds of the city were a dull murmur, and only old couples or particularly adventurous ponies came through. The duo stared out over the eastern half of Equestria. They could make out the tallest buildings in Baltimare and see the blue line of the Celestial Sea on the horizon.

“So,” Spitfire said slowly, “we’re really going to do this.”

“Yep,” Sunset replied, her stomach beginning to knot up.

“You sure about this?”

“Nope. But do you have any better ideas?”

“Better? No. Safer? Yes.”

Sunset chuckled weakly. “We can do this. We just have to keep our heads cool. The rivalry’s over; we’re done trying to outdo each other.”

Spitfire got to her hooves. “Yeah.” She stretched her wings out and brought her goggles over her eyes. “But, just so we’re clear, I won, right?”

“Spitfire,” Sunset deadpanned.

“Heh, just kidding.” Spitfire rubbed the side of her face. “Competitive spirit, you know?” she said sheepishly.

Sunset waved a hoof. “Yeah, well, if it makes you feel better, than yes, you won.” She sighed. “It’s not like I did anything productive while I was gone.”

“Didn’t you beat up some freaky fish people trying to take over the world?”

“Yeah, but it was kinda my fault they got enough power to take over the world in the first place.” Sunset got up and brushed the grass out of her tail. “Anyway, we’re stalling now. Do you remember how this works?”

Spitfire jumped into the air. “Yeah. Simple concept, surprisingly difficult execution. You set up little magic checkpoints, I fly through them, you make some fireworks.”

Sunset’s horn lit up, and four rings appeared, three small and one large. Sunset then summoned a notepad and a pencil, and began doing calculations. “How’s the wind?”

“Twelve miles per hour, blowing east by northeast.”

The smaller rings floated up into the sky, while the larger one remained next to Sunset. “All right, I think I’ve got everything accounted for.” The knot in her stomach twisted tighter. “You ready?”

Spitfire nodded and headed up after the rings. She paused and looked back down at Sunset. “You… sure about this?”

Mouth dry and hooves wobbling, Sunset fought to smile. “Yeah, we can do this.”

With a deep breath, Spitfire resumed her ascent, shrinking into an orange dot in the sky.

We can do this. I can do this. I hope. Sunset took several deep breaths, bringing her hoof toward her chest and out again, like Twilight had shown her. This isn’t hard. We’re not trying to show each other up. This is for Mom and Dad. Sunset scooped up the pair of binoculars she had brought along. Spitfire was sitting on the only cloud in the sky, stretching.

The wind settled, raising the background noises of Canterlot. Spitfire leaned back, then leapt into the air, performing a long loop before diving forward.

Sunset set the binoculars down and readied her horn, keeping her eye on the ring. I can do this. Everything’s going to be okay.

“You two just made up, I’d hate to see you fall apart.”

We’re not going to fall apart! We can do this without losing our tempers.

...Spitfire lay in the crater, twitching feebly. Smoke curled off her body, burnt and broken. She was quiet now, but Sunset could still hear her scream echoing in her ears...

It was just an accident, and I won’t do it again! But if I do, then…

“I never want to see you again, you horned freak!”

“Sunset?”

Sunset opened her eyes, unaware she had closed them. Spitfire looked at her, goggles raised, eyes wide with concern and confusion.

Spitfire looked from the blinking ring to Sunset. “You okay? You missed every cue.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine! I just…” A tear found its way down Sunset’s cheek and she hastily wiped it away. She turned her back to Spitfire and took a shaky breath. “It’s only been three years for me, and I… I just don’t want to mess up and lose you again. I know it’s sappy, but…”

The wind picked up again, shaking the leaves of the nearby trees and drowning out the city noise. As Sunset wiped away another tear, a wing draped around her shoulder.

“I kept a grudge against you for ten years by playing this thing over and over in my head,” Spitfire said solemnly. “I never thought about how it affected you, because I always thought you did it on purpose.”

“I didn’t—”

“I know.” Spitfire tightened her wing’s grip around Sunset. “Maybe that’s why I’m going along with this. I want to trust you again. But, Sun…” Spitfire brought Sunset around and looked her in the eyes. “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

Sunset shook her head. “We have to do this. I want you to trust me again, and this is proof! Proof that we’re not hot-headed children! Proof that I can hold my ego in check long enough to help somepony! Proof—what’s so funny?”

Spitfire stopped snickering and smiled. “Nothing, just… heh, that pegasus pride is showing through.”

Sunset blushed. “Well, it is in my blood.”

Spitfire clapped her on the back. “Yeah it is! Now come on, if Rainbow can make a sonic rainboom, then we can make a lousy fire flower!”

That got a chuckle out of Sunset. She pulled Spitfire into a hug, in which Spitfire pretended to struggle and make grunts of protest. Sunset let go, and was treated to a noogie before Spitfire launched into the air again.

I can do this! Sunset reaffirmed. We can do this! We’ll give Mom and Dad something they’ll never forget!

******

“Hmm… I think something teal to match your eyes and compliment your mane. Perhaps a light and silky material.”

Sunset stood on a familiar stage in a familiar boutique, with a familiar voice speaking into her ear. If she closed her eyes, Sunset could pretend she was back in the human world with her Rarity circling and appraising her instead of the pony version.

The similarities between the two were uncanny: their refined voice, their graceful steps—be it on two legs or four—their eye for detail, and their love of fashion.

You could probably switch them and no one would notice, Sunset thought with a grin.

Rarity drew her measuring tape and a pair of red glasses from her workbench. Sunset didn't think it possible, but she looked like human Rarity now more than ever. “Do you have any input you’d like to share, Sunset dear?” Behind her, a pencil was already going to work on the design.

“No, I’m up for whatever you think will look good on me.”

“Very well.” Rarity levitated the tape over Sunset’s shoulder and began jotting numbers on a notepad. “You must be excited to be going to the Gala after such a long time.”

Sunset gave a noncommittal smile. The Gala hadn’t been one of her favorite events to attend. It was mostly stuffy nobles bragging about their money or kissing Celestia’s hooves. One of the only reasons Sunset was going was sitting in a chair off to the side, quietly reading a magazine.

“Do they have a Grand Galloping Gala in the human world?” Rarity asked.

“Well, we have dances, but nothing extravagant.”

Dawn set down her magazine. “Parallel worlds and two-legged creatures living without magic.” Her voice blended exasperation and amusement. “If anypony but you told me that’s where you had been, I would have called them crazy.”

Sunset made another half-smile. Two nights ago, she had sat down with her mother and told her almost everything that happened in the mirror world. She conveniently forgot to mention the part about the raging she-demon. Her parents didn’t need to know their daughter had turned into a literal monster.

Last night, Sunset had asked Dawn to accompany her to the Gala as a mother-daughter dance. The plan was for Spitfire to do the same with their dad and have them conveniently meet on the dance floor.

Sunset had planned on just pulling an old dress from her closet, but once Twilight had mentioned to her friends that Sunset was going to the Gala, Rarity sent a letter insisting that she made dresses for Sunset and her mom.

It was a little awkward for Sunset to be conversing with the pony doppelganger of her best friend, but she just had to remember that no matter how many similarities they shared, they were two different people.

“Believe me, Mrs. Glider, I know how you feel,” Rarity said, lining up different swatches of fabric in front of Sunset. “I would never have believed such a thing if I hadn’t seen Twilight walk through that mirror.” She selected a blue silk and sent the rest back into a cubby. “So, Sunset, does the me of that world have as much fashion talent as… well, me?”

“I’d say she does.” Sunset chuckled. “Although, I think she’d die if she found out you had gemstones to work with. Diamonds and rubies aren’t exactly commonplace in their world.”

Rarity politely scooted Sunset off the stage. “Well, the next time you come and visit, you should bring me some of her work. I’d love to see what I’ve come up with in such a different environment. All right now, your turn, Mrs. Glider.”

“Please, just Dawn is fine,” she said, heading up to the stage. Sunset noted that her mom didn’t correct Rarity to Ms. Glider.

As Rarity began her new sketch and measurements, Sunset asked, “So, what are you going to be wearing to the Gala?”

“Hmm, I’m not sure yet.” Rarity gave Dawn a scrutinizing look, then quickly scribbled an outline on a new piece of paper. “I’ll work on my dress after I finish my sister’s and her friends.”

Sunset arched an eyebrow. “You sure we’re not cutting into anything?”

“Pfft.” Rarity waved a hoof. “Honey, this is what I live for. Besides, this is the first Gala I get to attend since we were, ahem…” Rarity looked at the ceiling. “Banned.”

Sunset quickly threw a hoof over her mouth to cover up the snort she had made. “Banned?” she asked, trying to keep her voice level.

“Yes, banned,” Rarity deadpanned. “Ever since that debacle three years ago.”

“What happened three years ago?” Dawn asked.

Rarity’s eyes glazed over and she stared out into the distance. Her lips finally decided on a goofy smile. “It’s a long story.” She cleared her throat and resumed her work. “But, Twilight pulled some strings and got us unbanned, so I’m going to do my part and help make sure we stay that way by making everyone look fabulous.”

Sunset could only giggle in amusement. She was glad somethings didn’t change between worlds.

Half an hour later, Rarity had designs and measurements taken down, and promised the dresses would be ready the night before the Gala. She waved to Sunset and Dawn as they exited the shop, a jubilant gleam in her eye. Sunset had seen that look before and had a feeling the dresses might be done sooner than expected.

As mother and daughter walked the road back to the train station, Dawn gave Sunset a sidelong glance, worry lines creasing her face. “I’ll be honest, sweetie, I don’t want to ask this, but I have to know.”

Sunset stopped and gave her mom her full attention, ears pinning back preemptively.

“You said this world had a double of everybody, right?” She waited for Sunset to nod her head before continuing. “So, did you ever run into us? Me, your father, Spitfire… yourself?”

“No.” Sunset moved her eyes to the dirt. She knew this question would come up eventually. It ranked just below telling her parents about the demon. “I never saw them. I never looked for them.” Sunset closed her eyes, like she could hold back the flood of tears. “I want to say it’s because I was scared of creating some sort of spacial paradox, or that I didn’t want to try and replace you, but…”

She tilted her head back, hoping the tears would slide back to her eyes. “It’s because I was trying my hardest to ignore you. To ignore the feeling that everything I had done, everything I was doing was wrong. I was a whole world apart from you—I had no repercussions to face for my actions.” She covered her eyes with a hoof. “I was on a power trip and I didn’t want anyone to stop it.”

Two hooves gently cupped Sunset’s cheeks and pulled her down to meet Dawn’s eyes. “Sweetheart—”

“I’m sorry,” Sunset said, fighting back another sob. “I told you, I was a selfish brat. All I wanted—”

“Sunset.” Dawn moved a hoof over Sunset’s mouth. She waited patiently for Sunset to compose herself before speaking. “I won’t lie, I’m a little hurt to think that you didn’t care about us for a while. No, no!” she said over Sunset’s babbling apology. “You came home. And I told you before: you coming home is the only apology I need.” She kissed Sunset on the horn.

Sunset wrapped her hooves around her mother and buried her face in Dawn’s shoulder. I came from such a great family. How did I turn out so… uugh?

Dawn pulled away and took a handkerchief from her purse. She dabbed it at Sunset’s face. “Come on, now. Let’s get something to eat, my treat.”

“Okay.” Sunset smiled. “There’s a little pastry shop in town that I think we’ll both enjoy.”

******

“Come on, Dad, it’ll be fun,” Spitfire said. She zipped over to Zephyr’s other side. “It’ll be like a father-daughter dance. Just you and me.”

The two of them walked through a park in Cloudsdale, soaking in the sun’s afternoon rays. Foals flew through the air, kites of different shapes and sizes floating behind them.

“I don’t know, Spits. The Gala is pretty high class. You sure you want to take your old man along?” He smirked, but Spitfire could hear the hesitation in his voice.

“Of course I’m sure. We’ll have a great time! Well.. as great a time as we can, all things considered.” Spitfire shrugged. “The Gala is kinda boring sometimes. Though, a few years ago, things did get pretty wild.”

Zephyr broke into a full smile. “All right. I guess I’ll go to relieve you of your boredom.” His smile faltered a little. “Why didn’t you ask your sister?”

Spitfire stopped her victory lap around her father. “Oh, uhh, because she and Mom are already doing something that night. Some mother-daughter thing, you know?”

“All right then.” He reached up and pulled Spitfire into a headlock. “Just me and you then, speed demon.”

Spitfire laughed, pretending to feebly attempt to escape his grip. Part of her felt guilty for lying to her father, but it was for a good cause. If everything goes right.

Zephyr let her go, then joined her in the air. They made a lap around the park before beginning the lazily flight home. Zephyr drifted close to Spitfire and ruffled her mane. “I’m really happy you and Sunset talked things out.”

“Yeah, well…” Spitfire shrugged but turn her head to the side to hide her creeping smile. “Takes too much energy holding a grudge, you know?”

He nodded. “You’re right. I just wished you had realized that sooner. But, that’s behind us now. We can close that chapter of our lives.”

Spitfire hated to ask this and take away the relief he was surely feeling, but the words jumped out of her mouth anyway. She blamed Sunset. “What about you and Mom?”

Just as she expected, Zephyr’s easygoing smile made a complete one-eighty. “What do you mean? I don’t have a grudge against her.”

“No, but you guys don’t, you know, talk,” she said, making a flailing gesture with her hoof.

“We talk all the time.”

Spitfire gave him a flat look. “I meant face-to-face, not through letters.”

In a rare occurrence, Spitfire saw her father blush. He rubbed his hooves together and flew a little lopsided. “It’s just… I mean, I would love to see her again, but… well, you know your mother.”

With the defeat in his voice, Spitfire decided to drop the conversation. He wasn’t holding a grudge, but he was still upset.

Spitfire didn’t believe Sunset’s plan would make them fall head over hooves, but she hoped this sequence of events would get them to talk to each other again. So far, it was working pretty smoothly, seeing as Spitfire wasn’t lying in a crater. The Firebird Dahlia wasn’t perfect yet, but it was getting there.

Whether or not it would reconcile their parents was up to fate. But it was definitely going to be one heck of a show.

Firebird Dahlia

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Lanterns stood as glowing sentinels that lined the path to the castle, illuminating the freshly polished marble. Strings of lights hung between them, leaving no room for shadows. Ribbons were tied around the bases of trees, and multicolored streamers hung from the low branches.

Ponies came to the Grand Galloping Gala in pairs, in groups, or in full parties, taking their time up the road to the castle to admire the decorations and savor the feeling of attending Equestria’s most premiere event.

Sunset and Dawn were no different, arriving just as the sun settled behind the mountain. Both of them wore blue dresses that matched their eyes, Sunset’s being a light teal. Hers was a little more form-fitting and had a hole cut in the back to let her tail free. Dawn’s was closer to a traditional gown, with a short train that transitioned from sapphire to baby-blue, and puffy sleeves. Sunset hadn’t done much in terms of her hair, despite her mother’s protests. Dawn had rolled her mane into a neat bun held together by a gold clip, which complimented her pearl necklace.

“Oh, this is so lovely,” Dawn said, her eyes wide with wonder as she looked from the lights to the glittering castle before them. “I haven’t been to the Gala in such a long time.”

“Same,” Sunset said. Just as when she had left last week, the castle stood over her, not a carnivorous and judging beast, but a grandiose and lustrous beacon of hope. Tonight was going to be the best night ever.

Or an absolute travesty. Sunset made a slight shake of her head, trying to stay positive.

Just beyond the threshold was the line of ponies waiting to be greeted by Princess Celestia and Princess Twilight. Just as Sunset remembered, some of the better dressed, nobler looking ponies took the time to kiss Celestia’s hooves while they praised her name. Though she hid it the way only a ruler who had been subjected to this treatment a million times could, Sunset could see Celestia’s eye flicker away every time it happened.

When Sunset’s turn arrived, she settled for a smile and a deep bow. “Good evening, Princesses.”

Celestia’s eyes twinkled. “Good evening, Sunset, you look lovely tonight. As do you, Dawn Glider.”

Dawn neither bowed nor smiled. She gave the princess a rather withering glare and tipped her head in acknowledgement.

Sunset immediately tried to bring some heat back to the conversation. “So, Twilight, what was it like organizing the Gala?”

Twilight nickered in excitement. “It was so much fun! Of course, I had some help from my friends, and it was really to help Princess Celestia so she didn’t have to it all on her own this year. But I had a blast!” She finished with a little skip.

“I’m glad. Well, I guess we better get inside. Come on, Mom.” Sunset tried to steer her mother down the hall, but she remained resolutely still, eyes still fixed coldly on Celestia.

She met Dawn’s stare with firm patience. “Is there something wrong, Ms. Glider?”

Dawn inhaled through her nose, then said in a low, even voice, “You had no right to not tell me where my daughter went. You knew the entire time.”

Sunset’s ears flattened against her head. She took a step closer to Twilight, trying to escape the ring of frost her mother was exuding.

Celestia didn’t flinch. She didn’t raise her voice or look away. She kept calm and collected, though Sunset could see the smallest hint of regret in her eyes. “You’re right, I knew. I knew Sunset had gone through a mirror to a world I knew virtually nothing about. Would you have believed me if that’s what I had told you?”

Dawn grinded her teeth behind pursed lips. “I don’t know. But we still had a right to that information.”

“The knowledge of other universes is sensitive information, Ms. Glider,” Celestia said, keeping her voice soft. The chatter of the ponies waiting in line and the orchestral arrangement coming from the ballroom helped drown her out. “But perhaps I could have trusted you and Zephyr Spark to keep such a secret to yourselves. Regardless, I told you all that I could. Sunset departed for distant lands to seek something she felt I could not give her.”

Sunset involuntarily flinched. She straightened up and smiled at the hoof Twilight placed on her back.

“That being said…” Celestia’s calm facade broke, and the remorse spread from her eyes until her entire face was heavy with it. “I truly apologize for any additional grief I may have caused you.”

Dawn was silent, giving away nothing. Sunset moved a hoof forward, prepared to jump in if Dawn snapped or yelled. Instead, Dawn gave a bow of her head. “Apology accepted, Your Majesty.” The words were still wound tight, but Sunset knew they were sincere. Dawn turned on her hooves, sparing Celestia one last glance before heading to the ballroom.

“I’ll see you both inside,” Sunset said hurriedly, darting after her mother. When she caught up, she found Dawn fighting to rid herself of her scowl. “Mom, you okay?”

Dawn wrapped her hooves around Sunset in a surprise hug. “I’m sorry, baby. When you told me where you really went, I realized Princess Celestia had… not told us the full truth. When I stood in front of her, ten years of not knowing… I’m surprised I didn’t scream.” Her chest rose and fell, and she placed a hoof on Sunset’s cheek. “One day, you’ll understand. You’ll do anything, know anything if your baby is in trouble.”

Sunset blushed and looked at her hooves. “I’m sorry I caused all this. I’m sorry I ran away.” A wing gently swept across her mane.

“No more of that,” Dawn chided. “Come on before we waste the night talking about old wounds.”

They entered the main ballroom, painted in pink hues by the final light of the sun. Confetti sprinkled across the floor, trampled under hoof by ponies milling and dancing about. On stage, the Royal Orchestra performed, playing a fast tempo piece that still managed to sound graceful and dignified.

Sunset made out some faces she recognized. To her displeasure, she saw Jet Set over in a corner talking to Fancy Pants. To balance it out, she spotted Pinkie near the buffet table. Pinkie had been exuberant to meet Sunset and Dawn a few days ago and treated them to free cupcakes for Sunset being an ‘interdimensional-friend-who-was-once-a-demon-thief-but-is-now-super-awesome’ friend. Sunset had conveniently coughed when Pinkie reached ‘demon’.

Three school fillies that Sunset could only guess were Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo ran past, singing, “We’re at the Gala, we’re at the Gala,” at the top of their lungs.

Following not far behind were Applejack and Rarity. Rarity paused upon seeing Sunset and Dawn. “Hello, ladies! Oh, both of you look marvelous tonight! Enjoy yourselves; I have to make sure my sister doesn’t get into any mischief.”

Over by the windows, Sunset spotted Fluttershy in a peacock themed dress, with a pony she didn’t recognize at all. She had such a mellow expression on her face, Sunset wondered if she was paying attention to anything Fluttershy was saying.

“Hmm…” Dawn scanned the crowd as well. “I wonder where your sister is. She usually comes to the Gala with the other Wonderbolts.”

Sunset pointed to the door leading to the garden. “You know, I’ll bet she’s outside. Why don’t you go look, and I’ll get us some punch?”

Dawn nodded. “Sounds good.” She cantered off to the door. Sunset waited until it was closed before she bypassed the punch table and left the room.

She made a left down the hall and followed it until she reached the bathroom. Inside, the sounds of the party were completely muffled. Like the rest of the castle, the bathroom was immaculately polished, to the point where the sparkling white walls hurt Sunset’s eyes.

All but one of the stalls were open. Sunset made three short whistles, and Spitfire emerged from the only closed one, wearing her Wonderbolts uniform.

“What took you so long? I got a cramp sitting in there.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Is Dad outside?”

“Yep.”

“Good. Then Mom should run into him any minute.”

Spitfire stretched her wings. ”Well, what do you want to do in the meantime?”

Sunset pushed the door open and led her sister out. “It’s a party, right? Let’s mingle and have a little fun.” The ballroom had filled with more ponies in the short time Sunset had been gone. Among the throng of new ponies were Soarin and Rainbow. They spotted Sunset and Spitfire, and jetted over.

“Hey, Captain,” Soarin said, “I wasn’t sure if you’d be here tonight.”

“I’m here for more… social reasons than to stand on ceremony.” Spitfire pulled at her uniform. “I just, you know, don’t do dresses.” She narrowed her eyes. “How’s my academy?”

“Burned to the ground,” Soarin said cheerfully.

“You’re still not funny.”

Rainbow pulled Sunset off to the side. “Twilight told me you guys worked things out.”

“Yeah.” Sunset stuck a hoof out. “Something tells me I have you to thank for a big portion of it.”

Rainbow grinned and bumped Sunset’s hoof. “Anything for a friend of a friend. So, what are you going to do now?”

Something stupid. “Oh, you know. This and that.”

“That’s the answer of somepony with something to hide,” a deep, mischievous voice said from on high.

Sunset twisted her head up and nearly screamed at the sight before her. Dressed in an orange suit and top hat was a snakelike creature with mismatching body parts. It had a paw and a talon for arms, a goat hoof and a lizard’s foot for legs, the horns of a ram and a jackalope, and the wings of a bat and a bird. His eyes were yellow and full of diabolical devilry, and his sharp toothed smile only added in his impish design.

The creature was hauntingly familiar, and it took Sunset a fraction of a second to recall why. The statue in the garden, the ancient history texts. “D-D-Discord,” she squeaked.

Rainbow groaned. “What do you want, Discord?”

Discord floated down and coiled himself around Sunset, making her lock up in total paralysis. “What, I can’t just come by and say hi? I thought the point of this little…” He looked around, his smile replaced by a bored and agitated stare. “Sure, let’s call it a party. I thought that was the point of this little ‘party.’”

Oh, Celestia! The Spirit of Chaos is wrapped around me! I’m gonna die! Or turn into chocolate! Or start talking backwards! Or think pop songs are actually good!

Rainbow stomped a hoof against the floor. “Discord, you’re scaring her.”

Discord looked into Sunset’s eyes. Sunset immediately closed them. Never look into his eyes! You’ll only find madness and lose yourself!

“Oh, come now, Shim Sham.” Discord uncurled himself and settled for wrapping his paw around her shoulder. “I thought we could bond. You know, share stories from one reformed villain to another. I heard all about your little exploits and I must say, I’m quite impressed. You know, for an amateur's work.” He patted her on the head.

Sunset blinked. “What?”

Discord, however, was looking over her head. “In fact, let’s go talk about them over there.” He snapped his talons, and in a flash of light, Sunset found herself on the other side of the room with a cup of punch in her hoof.

“What?”

Hahahahaha!” Discord tossed his head back. “Oh, Sunset, that’s hilarious! What a great story! Oh, Fluttershy, didn’t see you there.”

Sunset turned her head, finding Fluttershy and the mellowed out mare she had been sitting with earlier. Sunset looked into her glass of punch, wondering if anypony had spiked it yet.

“Oh, Discord, you met Sunset Shimmer?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yes, yes, and you wouldn’t believe how we just hit it off!” Discord picked up Sunset in a one armed hug. “She was just telling me about the time she turned into a raging she-demon and almost took over Equestria! Funny stuff!”

Half of Sunset’s face twitched.

“Whoa, that sounds wild,” Fluttershy’s friend said, her voice raspy.

Fluttershy’s lips turned upwards in a small smile. “Oh, yes. Twilight told us that story. Um, I’m very glad you didn’t… do that, Sunset.”

“You and me both,” Sunset said. “Ooof!” Her punch miraculously landed back in the cup as she hit the floor. She glared up at Discord, who wore a scowl and a glare of his own, though it wasn’t directed at Sunset.

“Well, I must be off,” he said. “Plenty of other friends to talk to.” He vanished without another word. As the residual flash faded, Spitfire pushed through the crowd.

“You okay?” she asked, giving Sunset a quick once over.

“I think so?”

Spitfire looked back, trying to find Discord. “What was that all about?”

Sunset drained her punch. “Don’t know, don’t want to know. Let’s go find Mom and Dad.”

******

A second band filled the castle courtyard with music, aided by the ambient sounds of a bubbling fountain, and the chatter of the animals hiding in the private garden.

Dawn waited by the fountain of a prancing pony spitting water from its mouth. She cleared her throat, hoping Sunset would hurry with the punch.

Scanning the courtyard, Dawn couldn’t see any faces she knew personally. She recognized Roseluck from the Equestrian Flower Club, but had never really spoken more than friendly greetings to her. Close to the balcony were some of the press ponies Dawn saw every time Spitfire was being interviewed.

Turning her head in the other direction, Dawn gasped, her heart fluttering at the sight of the last stallion she expected to see here. He was sitting on a bench, fumbling with a blue tie that clashed with his red mane. His black tuxedo was looking tight around him, but he still managed to look handsome.

Dawn trotted over, unnoticed by Zephyr until she spoke. “Would you like some help?”

Zephyr jumped. “D-Dawn? You’re—I mean, when—how long…” he cleared his throat. “Yes, please.”

Dawn finished the knot he had been making and pulled the tie through before sliding it up and tucking it around his neck. “There. You look handsome tonight, Zephyr.”

“So do you.” Zephyr blanched. “Beautiful! You look beautiful, not handsome! Unless, you want to be called handsome, in which case, you’re very handsome.”

Dawn covered her mouth and laughed. “Don’t tell me you can’t talk to mares after all these years?”

Zephyr rubbed the back of his combed mane. “I may have lost some of my game.”

“Well—” Dawn patted his tie “—at least you still clean up nice.”

They shared a laugh, soft and familiar. As it subsided, Zephyr rubbed his front hooves together and said, “It’s good to see you, Dawn. I’m actually surprised you’re here. Spitfire said you and Sunset were doing… something else… tonight,” he finished, knitting his eyebrows together.

“Funny,” Dawn said, following his train of thought. “Sunset told me you didn’t want to come to the Gala. Said it was too girly.”

Zephyr’s sigh melted into a smile. “They’re plotting something.”

“Of course. But you know what? They could be plotting a coup of Equestria for what it’s worth. Sunset’s home, and they’re talking to each other.” Dawn felt her eyes growing wet.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d live to see the day. Either of them. But here they are.” Zephyr pulled the handkerchief from his breast pocket and gently dabbed at Dawn’s eyes. “Miracles can still happen.”

Dawn sniffled and nodded her head. She took a second to compose herself then asked, “How are you, Zephyr? We haven’t exchanged letters in a while.”

Zephyr stood, and they took a walk along the outskirts of the garden. Dawn breathed in the wild and exotic scents released by the hundreds of flowers. Their mingling smells helped calm Dawn’s nerves, though she hadn’t noticed she was anxious until her heart rate began to return to normal.

“I’ve been okay,” Zephyr said casually. “Just living life one day at a time. Picking up a few shifts at the Weather Factory whenever I get restless. Working out whenever I can.” He flexed his foreleg, showing off muscle slowly degenerating into flab.

Dawn playfully rolled her eyes. “Still full of machismo I see.” Just as she said it, Zephyr flew ahead and lifted a low branch hanging over the path. After Dawn had crossed over it and Zephyr had put it back down, Dawn saw it barely came to the tip of her head. She made a small noise in her throat but kept walking.

“How have you been?” Zephyr asked, falling back into step next to her.

“Sunset’s home and my babies are talking to each other again. I couldn’t be happier,” Dawn said, putting an extra spring in her step.

“Yeah, it’s great.” Zephyr nodded. “But how are you? Are you healthy? Do you need me to do anything around the house?”

Dawn rolled her eyes in earnest this time. It was the same in all of his letters; and while Dawn appreciated the gesture, she had to fight to keep the irritation from her voice. “No, Zephyr, I’m fine, everything’s fine around the house. There’s nothing there that I can’t handle.”

Zephyr kicked away some bramble that Dawn could have easily stepped around. “Are you sure? Because last time I was there, that faucet was still leaking—”

“You’re doing it again,” Dawn said, coming to a quick stop and pointing at the bramble.

“Doing what?” Zephyr looked to where she was pointing. “Being a gentlecolt?”

Dawn sighed. “No, you’re… doing too much.” She hoped she sounded more exhausted than annoyed. “You’re always doing too much.”

Zephyr kept staring past her into the bushes. He rolled his shoulders and started finishing the path back to the courtyard. “All right, well, I know where this conversation is heading.”

Dawn cursed under her breath and flew to catch up to him. “I wasn’t going to go there, Zephyr.” She put a hoof on his shoulder, stopping him. “I just meant that, you know full well I can take care of myself. I love that you want to help and still care, but I’m not helpless.”

A buzzard buzzed in the trees above them, making them both jump. It was enough to get Zephyr to turn around, and Dawn could see the hurt in his eyes.

She raised a hoof to his cheek. “Spark, I’m sorry about what I said. It was never your fault Sunset left. And you only pushed them because you cared.”

Zephyr placed a hoof over hers. “No, maybe you were right. Maybe if I hadn’t pushed them, they wouldn’t have been at each other’s throats.”

Dawn inwardly cringed. The one time I let my temper get the best of me. “Spark, listen to me…” Her eyes drifted past him and locked onto a pile of green jelly moving toward them. “Spark,” she said, her pupils shrinking, “what is that?”

The pile of green goo wore a top hat and a red bow tie, and almost appeared to be smiling. If Dawn didn’t know any better, she could have sworn it was focusing on her necklace. Zephyr put a wing in front of Dawn, blocking her view of the monster. “I don’t know, but I’m not letting it touch you.”

Dawn opened her mouth to protest, but as she looked over his wing and saw the trail of slime being left behind by the blubbering blob, her voice failed. Zephyr picked up a rock and hurled it, but it was merely absorbed by the creature. The blob halted for a moment, spat the rock out from what appeared to be its mouth, then ambled forward.

“Okay then.” Zephyr ushered Dawn into the air. “Let’s just get out of here.” But the goo moved at an impressive speed. Before Zephyr could get up, the creature’s mouth shot forward and wrapped around his hoof, encasing the silver watch he had been wearing.

“Zephyr!” Dawn wrapped her hooves around his middle and pulled. The beast let go, but took the watch with it, vanishing inside the gelatinous mass.

Both of them took to the skies before the goo could attack again. They soared over the garden and landed back in the courtyard, avoiding the trails of green slime crisscrossing through the grass.

Upon landing, Zephyr tried wiping off the slime on his hoof, running it back and forth through the grass. “What in Celestia’s name was that thing?”

“One of the Princess’ pets?” Dawn saw a hoofull of ponies that had come in contact with the monster, evidenced by the ooze hanging off them. “Or… perhaps not.”

Zephyr managed to get most of it off. He gave one last shake of his hoof, then sighed in resignation. “Uhh…” He smiled sheepishly at Dawn. “Thank you for the help.”

Dawn bowed her head, trying to hide her smile. “It was noth—”

A loud scream tore through the rest of her words. Behind the wail was Rarity, running across the yard and covered in green slime, the goo creature close behind. She pounded against the ballroom doors until they yielded, and threw herself inside. Moments later, Discord came out, put a leash around the blob, and returned to the main hall.

“Well, this has certainly been an… interesting evening,” Dawn said, still processing the events that had just unfolded.

******

Sunset could only stare as Discord led the Smooze past her and Spitfire, a bubbling trail of slime in its wake. Leaning her head out the door, she could see all of the guests mirroring her expression.

“What was that all about?” Spitfire asked.

“Still don’t know, still don’t want to know,” Sunset said. She gathered herself, pushing things to the back of her mind.

Outside, her mom and dad stood, recovering from the weirdness. They snapped out of their daze when their daughters approached, then fidgeted when they realized how close they were standing to each other. Sunset ignored the ice in her stomach and kept moving forward, smiling like nothing was wrong.

“So, having fun, guys?” Sunset asked.

Dawn gave her a pained smile. “Tonight has been… exciting. But I think I’ve had enough excitement for one night.”

What?” Sunset cleared her throat. “I mean, you can’t leave now.”

Spitfire stepped in. “Yeah, the slow dances are about to start. I mean, the extra slow dances, since slow music is all they seem to play here.”

Zephyr gestured to the slimy lawn. “I don’t think dancing out here is a sanitary idea.”

“Come on, it’s just a little slime,” Sunset said cheerfully. She looked at a bursting bubble and gagged. “Okay, well, I’m sure you guys could find a safe spot to dance in.”

“Or you could fly,” Spitfire offered, casting Sunset a ‘duh’ expression.

“Girls,” Dawn said softly, “we know what you’re trying to do—”

“No you don’t,” they said in unison.

Dawn stepped forward and kissed both of them on the head. “It’s very sweet, but tonight just isn’t a good night. Now, I’m going to go get some punch and return home.”

Sunset jumped in front of her mom. “Okay, maybe our plan is kinda obvious, but…” A shudder ran down her spine. “I have a distinct feeling that going inside right now is a really bad idea.”

Spitfire jumped into the air and threw her hooves out. “Besides, you’re at the Grand Galloping Gala. You can’t not have at least one dance. Just as friends,” she quickly added. “Come on, one dance won’t hurt.”

Both of them were quiet, immersed in their own thoughts. Sunset’s heart picked up speed as the silence dragged out. Spits was right, this plan is stupid! They’re going to leave and never get back together!

Zephyr took a step and offered his hoof out, then quickly switched to the other one. “She’s right, Dawn. One dance won’t hurt.”

Dawn looked away from the door and into Zephyr’s eyes. “Well…” She brushed out the hem of her dress. “One dance. For old time’s sake.”

Sunset resisted a hoof pump and settled for a vigorous nod of her head. One dance was all they needed. “Well then, we’ll just leave you two alone. Come on, Spits, let’s go for a walk in the garden.”

“Sure thing.” Spitfire nudged Zephyr in the shoulder before flying after Sunset. They rounded the corner, stepping out of the warmly lit courtyard and into the dark eaves of the trees. Behind them, the outdoor band began to play, and Sunset thanked Celestia that the Smooze hadn’t gone after their instruments.

They stopped in a wide clearing. Through a gap in the trees, Sunset could see snippets of the courtyard. “Well, this is it.”

Spitfire brought her goggles down. “Yep. Soon this harebrained scheme will be over and I can do my ‘I told you so’ dance.”

Sunset gave her a deadpan glare. “You’re a ball of sunshine, you know that?”

“Sorry, dodo, I just don’t believe in fairy tales.” She took a pause in stretching her wings and patted Sunset’s shoulder. “But hey, whatever happens, at least you tried.”

That was why Sunset was here: to try. She wanted to succeed, but knew deep down that her parents magically falling in love again was a long shot. But still, she had tried. “Yeah.” She looked at Spitfire. “And, we worked together. We finally pulled off the Firebird Dahlia.”

“Well, we’ve pulled off the practice versions. Now let’s see if we can do the real thing.” Spitfire crouched down, ready to spring at a moment’s notice.

Sunset lit her horn and produce four gold rings. Three floated into the air while the fourth remained with her. “Wind speed?”

“Fifteen miles per hour.”

“Direction?”

“Blowing east by southeast.”

Sunset pressed her tongue between her lips as she worked out the degrees for the rings. “Okay, the wind’s going to give you a little bit of a push coming down, and there’s a shorter distance between the last ring and the ground than there was at practice, so you’re going to have to bank as soon as you get through the last ring.”

“Easy-peasy.” Spitfire gave her feathers a ruffle. “We’ve got this down.”

“It only took us eleven years,” Sunset said, half-joking. She looked back through the gap in the trees. Her parents drifted by, circling each other in a slow waltz. Both of them were smiling. “Well, here goes nothing.”

“Ready?”

Sunset’s horn glowed a deeper teal, and Spitfire’s tail and mane began to glow a soft orange. “Ready.”

Spitfire whipped her head around, trying to get a good look at herself. “Whoa, this is new.”

“Thought it might make it easier to see you. And, you know, make it look flashier.”

“You’re just full of tricks, aren’t you?” Spitfire grinned and dropped into her takeoff stance. “Call it, Sun.”

Sunset looked up and found the glowing rings among the stars. I’m not going to mess up. I’m not going to mess up. She thrust her hoof to the sky. “Go for it!”

Spitfire burst through the trees, scaring away the buzzards and other exotic birds that had been hiding in the branches. Sunset quickly swiped the falling leaves away and kept her eyes trained on her glowing sister. She was like a comet soaring freely in the night, rising up through the atmosphere in loops and spirals.

Show off, Sunset thought, grinning in spite of herself. She watched her sister’s contrail rise above the first ring. The orange dot hoovered in the darkness coming forward, picking up speed. This was it. Time to put on a show.

Sunset widened her stance and breathed deep, feeling her magic course through her. Casting three spells at once was something she hadn’t done in a long time. Her eyes flickered between the ring next to her and the falling star that was Spitfire.

“It takes a brave pony to admit their mistakes, and a braver one to try and fix them.”

The ring went off, and Sunset let loose a burst of magic, creating a scarlet bloom in the sky that curled at the edges. Maybe I can’t fix everything I broke, but I can try!

“But, you know, we’re sisters.”

The second ring flashed, and Sunset created a second bloom, this time a bright yellow. It lit up the opening she was in, bathing it in a fiery glow. Sweat poured down Sunset’s face. She could see Spitfire racing down for the last ring. That’s right. We’re sisters. We can do anything together!

“Thunderbolts, you’re such a sap.”

Time slowed. Sunset tensed. It was always the third ring. The ring that Sunset had used to nearly destroy her sister’s hopes and dreams. They had pulled through in practice, but it always made Sunset’s heart race when they got this far. A second too soon, and history would repeat itself.

But Sunset refused to be sisterless again. Sparks ran up her horn, the last spell charged and ready. They would succeed tonight, in front of everyone—in front of their parents, and Equestria would bear witness to the Firebird Dahlia.

Maybe I’m a sap, but that’s what family does to you.

The last ring flashed.

******

Every key on the piano was soft, every string on the violin was tender. Zephyr would never listen to this music in his free time, but he admitted that it was very nice; perfect for dancing. He and Dawn drifted and turned slowly with the music, hovering just off the ground. Zephyr had tried his hardest to wipe the remaining slime off his hoof before they began, and hoped to Celestia that it wasn’t staining Dawn’s dress.

His green eyes stared into her baby-blues. He had missed waking up to that sight. It still made his heart flutter, but in the back of his mind, he could still see those eyes wet with tears while their owners yelled at him. He pulled himself away from them, averting his gaze to the other couples dancing in whatever clean space they could find.

‘This is nice,” Dawn said. “The girls were right. It would have been a shame not to have one dance at the Gala.”

“Yeah.” Zephyr chuckled. “Reminds me of the first time we met, at the Hurricane Ball.”

“You mean when you spilled punch on me?” A playful smirk pulled at Dawn’s lips.

“I would like to think the dance made up for it.”

Dawn fluttered her eyes at him, making his stomach spin. “I’m inclined to agree.”

Don’t read too much into it. We’re just reminiscing. Zephyr flashed his teeth, glad he hadn’t eaten before showing up. They made a few more rotations, moving with the violin. Dawn’s head drifted forward, like she wanted to rest it against Zephyr’s chest, but she caught herself at the last minute.

“We need to talk about this,” she said.

“About what?”

“About us.” She gestured between the both of them. “About what our daughters are trying to do.” She sighed and looked Zephyr in the eyes. “I miss you a lot, Zephyr Spark, I’m not going to lie about that.”

“I miss you too, Dawn.” Hope, anxiety, doubt, fluster. She was the only mare that could make him feel so many things at once. It was hard to keep his bravado when she stared him down like that.

Dawn’s eyes lit up for a moment. “But, we can’t just pretend nothing happened and go back to how things used to be. It’s been five years since we’ve shared a house… shared a bed.”

“I know.” Zephyr gave her a little twirl. When they locked eyes again, the light was gone. “We’ve both apologized though. We’ve both got some distance. Maybe this wasn’t about getting us, you know, together…” Zephyr found a smile crossing his face as his conversation with Spitfire drifted to the forefront of his mind. “Maybe it was just to get us to talk.”

“Talking is good.” Dawn opened her mouth to say more, but a bright flash and a loud boom cut her off. “Oh my…”

Zephyr turned and lifted his head to the sky, where a red firework was going off. Maybe his eyes were tired, but it looked like the tips of the explosion were curling like flower petals. A second explosion went off, and yellow filled in the spaces between the reds. It almost looked like…

He and Dawn gasped as the last firework went off, creating another, smaller red in the center of the blooming flower. It lit up the entire sky like the evening sun, drawing gasps of amazement from everyone. Then, from out of the flower, Spitfire came shooting overhead, her mane and tail glowing like she was on fire, and leaving a blazing trail behind her. She looped overhead and disappeared over the edge of Canterlot.

Cheers and applause went up through across the lawn, while Dawn stared at the flower, open-mouthed. “That was the…”

“Firebird Dahlia,” Zephyr finished. “They did it.” He pounded his chest as a lump formed in his throat. But with everything that had happened between them… to see it blossoming in the sky brought tears to his eyes.

Dawn sniffled and dried her eyes on her sleeve. “You know,” she whispered, leaning her head onto Zephyr’s shoulder, “we both made some mistakes… but we made some great children.”

Zephyr watched the Firebird Dahlia until it faded out, leaving wisps of red, orange and gold behind. He leaned his head on top of hers. “Yeah, we did.”

If they were quiet, they could hear two voices giggling in the bushes.

Everglow

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“Sounds like you had quite the eventful evening yourself,” Celestia said, smiling over her teacup.

“I’ll admit, it beat getting covered in Smooze goo.” Sunset and Celestia shared a laugh. They sat in the same room Celestia had received Sunset in when she first returned. It had been two days since the Gala, and though Sunset had heard the full story of Discord and the Smooze from Twilight, it was fun to hear her teacher’s perspective on it.

Celestia took a long sip of tea once their laughter subsided. “So, how did things turn out between your parents?”

Sunset made a lopsided smile, her ears pinned back. “Well, it’s no fairytale ending. But, they’re talking. I think they’re taking things slow and kind of starting over. Ultimately, I think I knew this would happen if everything went to plan, so…” She made a full smile. “Everything worked out in the end.”

“Indeed it has.” Sitting with her back to the window and the sun streaming through, Celestia looked like an angel outlined in gold. “I’m so very proud of you, Sunset. I told you, it takes a very brave pony to try and correct their mistakes. You’ve grown up so much since I last saw you. All I can say is, I’m proud.”

Sunset felt her cheeks might burn off. “Thank you, Princess.” She nibbled on a cinnamon and ginger cookie until the glow in her cheeks faded, her mirth going with it. “Princess, I still have a problem though.”

Celestia set her cup down. “What is it?”

The pillow Sunset was sitting on had become too soft, prompting Sunset to stand and pace the floor. “I made up with my sister and got my parents to talk. I couldn’t be happier about it.” Sunset stopped, shook her head, and kept pacing. “But, I still have friends and obligations in the human world. We can open the portal whenever we want, so I can pop over and visit my family, but…” Sunset looked at Celestia with wide eyes. “I can’t keep doing that forever, can I? I’m going to have to pick one world eventually.”

Celestia quietly stood and walked around the table to drape a wing over Sunset. “You don’t want to say goodbye to your human friends, but you’re worried about your family if you leave again.” It wasn’t a question. Celestia had always been good at reading Sunset’s emotions.

“Yeah. I can’t have it both ways. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to choose.”

“The time difference between our worlds is dramatic. It would be hard to keep up with both.” Celestia nuzzled the top of Sunset’s head. “I’m afraid I can’t help you make that choice. It’s one only your heart can decide. But, like I’ve told Twilight, friends and family stay with you, wherever you go.” She pressed a hoof against Sunset’s chest. “Your heart is big enough to carry love across two dimensions.”

Sunset crossed her hoof over Celestia’s. “Thank you.” She knew she wouldn’t get an easy answer, especially from Celestia. Still, Sunset missed hearing her advice. And Celestia was right, as she usually was; whichever world Sunset picked, her loved ones would still be with her. She was sure the choice would make itself clear in time.

“Well,” Sunset said, slowly pulling herself out of Celestia’s embrace, “I should probably head out. I’m supposed to be heading back this evening.”

Celestia nodded, gracing Sunset with one more radiant smile. “It was so wonderful to see you again, Sunset. I missed you so much.”

Sunset made an about face and threw herself back into Celestia’s chest, hugging her warm fur. “I missed you too, Princess. I’m sorry I ever ran away.”

“Shhh. No more apologies. I forgave you a long time ago.”

They stood there for what seemed like hours. Eventually, Sunset had to pull away and move on; they both had responsibilities to attend to.

As Sunset opened the door, Celestia called out, “Sunset, wait.”

Sunset turned back, ears lifted.

“I may not be able to make your choice easier, but perhaps there is something else I can do.”

******

The glass doors swung open, and Twilight led four ponies inside, making a sweeping motion with her hoof. “And this is the library.”

“Wow,” Dawn said breathlessly, “All of this is so amazing.”

“Looks kinda gaudy,” Spitfire whispered into Sunset’s ear. Sunset bit her lip to keep herself from laughing too loud.

They moved to the back of the library, where the mirror sat attached to its amplification device. Small hums and beeps bounced off the crystal walls. Sunset took a moment to appreciate the scientific and magical ingenuity that had gone into this device. Twilight had overcome space and time just to help her friends, and with incredible speed to boot.

Twilight picked up her journal and set it at the top of the machine, then flipped the main switch. The humming grew louder, and the glass flashed brightly before settling into a purple vortex.

Zephyr whistled. “That’s quite the contraption there.”

“Yep, this is the gate that connects our two worlds.” Twilight pointed to the receiver. “Initially, it only opened based on the positions of the moons in both worlds, but I was able to override that by creating a new foci—”

Sunset put a hoof on her shoulder. “Maybe later, Twilight.”

Twilight blushed. “Right, ruining a family moment. I’ll just—”

Before she could slip away, Sunset pulled her into a tight hug. “Thank you for everything, Twilight. I couldn’t have done this without you.”

“Yes you could have. You need to believe in yourself a little more.” Twilight pulled away and took a step back, leaving Sunset to face her family.

Dawn and Zephyr stood shoulder-to-shoulder, almost leaning into each other. They both looked at Sunset with a mixture of pride and dejection.

Sunset stepped up and hugged both of them, becoming crushed between their combined weight. “I love you both so much,” she whispered.

“We love you too, sweetie,” Zephyr said.

“And this isn’t goodbye. I’ll come back, I promise. Just think of this as… summer camp.” That got both of them to laugh. Sunset wiggled out from their hold and reached into her saddlebag, pulling out a lightly wrapped package. “Here, this is for all of you.”

Dawn took it and unwrapped it, revealing a brown journal with Sunset’s cutie mark stamped in the middle. “What is it?”

“It’s a magic journal. Princess Celestia made a second pair, and I have the other one. With this, I can stay in touch and talk to you whenever.”

Dawn clutched it against her chest. “Then we’ll take good care of it.” She wagged a hoof at Sunset. “You just make sure to check in often, okay? Or else I’ll send your father to go check on you.”

“And don’t think I won’t do it,” Zephyr said, his threat lessened by his smirk.

Sunset kissed both of them on the cheek. “I wouldn’t doubt it. I promise, I’ll write whenever I can.” She turned to Spitfire at last. “So…”

Spitfire waved a hoof. “Spare me the emotional stuff, we’ve done enough of that.”

“Agreed.” Sunset still pulled her in for a hug, which Spitfire quickly turned into a headlock and gave Sunset a noogie. “Okay, okay, I give!”

“Whoohoo!” Spitfire let go and threw her hooves up. “Still the champ!”

Sunset fixed her mane and massaged her scalp before punching Spitfire in the shoulder. “I can’t stand you sometimes.”

“Feeling’s mutual.” Spitfire wrapped a wing around Sunset and pulled her in for a half hug. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way. You did good, dodo.”

We did good.”

Spitfire lightly pushed her off. “All right, go on, get out of here. Just promise you’ll come back soon.”

Sunset walked up to the dais and looked back at the four ponies she loved. “I promise.” As she turned away, a chorus of goodbyes rose up behind her. She brushed the tears away before stepping into the swirling vortex.

******

Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s Sunset, writing you your first letter from another dimension. See? It’s just like summer camp. Or an interdimensional exchange program. I hope both of you are doing well.

There’s so many things I could tell you about the human world. You probably wouldn’t believe half the things I said though. I’ll try to stagger them so I don’t overload you guys.

I got here the day before school started, thankfully, so I didn’t miss anything. My friends were so happy to see me again, and were glad I made up with everyone. I wish I could introduce them to you. You’d know I was in good hands, er, hooves once you met them.

School’s going good. I get top grades as usual. That didn’t come out arrogant, did it? Anyways, everyone’s excited for the Friendship Games that start next week. It’s a competition between our rival schools. Well, maybe excited isn’t the right word to use. Everyone’s anxious for the games, since the Shadowbolts (our rivals) beat us every time the games happen. Maybe it’ll be different this year. Rainbow Dash thinks so.

That’s all for now, I think. Yes, I’m eating well, and I’m properly dressed for the weather (did I tell you that humans wear clothes like, all the time?). I miss you guys and I’ll try to visit soon. Tell Spitfire I said hi.

Love, Sunset.

Sunset closed the journal, the front showing off her parent’s and her sister’s cutie marks. She leaned back on the steps of Canterlot High, watching the sun sink behind the mountains. She bent her arms and stretched her fingers, still getting a feel for her second body.

More maneuverability and flexibility, less magic. It wasn’t the best trade off, but Sunset knew how to make it work. Her eyes fell to the portal housed inside the Wondercolts statue. Here or Equestria? The great unknown or home?

Before she could get carried away with her thoughts, her journal buzzed in her lap. Sunset made a small squee at the quick response.

Dear dodo,

Way to remember me at the very end. I’m touched.

Spitfire.

Smirking, Sunset uncapped her pen and began to write.

Sorry, I didn’t think you were around. I figured Mom or Dad would hang on to it. What’s up?

Nothing much. I’m crashing on Mom’s couch right now. She and Dad are cooking in the kitchen.

Really?

Don’t get all excited, they’re just cooking. Oh, and they say hi.

Tell them I said hi.

Done. So, you gonna kick flank at these ‘Friendship Games’? Lame name by the way.

Maybe?

Don’t ‘maybe’ me. You better go out there and win!

Ma’am, yes, Ma’am!

That’s better. You better come visit when they’re done, too. I wanna hear all about it.

I dunno. Are you gonna have security chase me away again?

Depends on if you win or not. Consider that an ultimatum.

You’re terrible.

Only to you. Well, gotta go, time for dinner. Good luck with those games.

Thanks. I love you.

Love you too, sis.

The End