Finding Home

by Krickis

First published

Sunset Shimmer returns to Equestria only to find that returning home is different than finding one.

This story is a sequel to Playing House

After discovering the magic of friendship, Sunset Shimmer's senior year was one of the happiest times of her life. But it's been almost two years since graduation; all her friends have moved on to studying abroad, to promising careers, to new lives.

Sunset decides that with nothing left to keep her in the human world, it's time to go back where she belongs, only to find that returning home is different than finding one.

A story set in the Who We Become series.

Although this story could be well understood without knowing anything about Who We Become, this comment will explain what happened in previous stories if you want to get caught up.

Content warning: This story contains depictions of polyphobia. The narcotics tag is included for heavy alcohol use, no hard drugs.

Thanks to ArchAngelsWings, elmago02, Eddie Grammar, and Dessert, known on Fimfiction as Mouch30 for editing/pre-reading. This text would be much uglier without them :ajsmug:

And another thanks to Dessert for the wonderful cover art, which I'm sure is the biggest reason anyone notices this story in the first place :raritywink:

1 – Left Behind

View Online

Act I

From a Distance

Chapter One

Left Behind


Sunset tumbled to the ground. Her first moments back in Equestria were spent wildly flailing around in a mess of clothing.

“Sunset? Hold still, you’re making it worse.”

She did stop moving, but not because of the command. She stopped because the voice that spoke was one she’d missed, more so than she had realized.

As someone – probably Twilight – began working on freeing her from the outside, Sunset grabbed hold of her shirt. Or rather, she tried to. Realization struck her as she held her hand in front of her to find it wasn’t a hand at all. She pressed it against her cheek. It was hard, but that was to be expected; it was a hoof, after all. She stretched out her arm – or rather, her foreleg – to try and get a better view, but hit something on the other side.

“Ow! Sunset, please, stop moving!” Twilight said, her voice sharpening.

“Sorry!” Sunset did as Twilight asked. She could barely see what she was doing and had lost all her instincts for this body.

Once they were no longer working against each other, Twilight quickly freed Sunset from her outfit. Her smiling face was the first thing Sunset saw properly in her return to Equestria. “Welcome home!”

Able to look around for the first time, Sunset took in her surroundings. She was in a library in what was obviously Twilight’s crystal castle. But far more interesting to her was Twilight herself, who was directly in front of her. While she looked very different from how Sunset knew her, the most surprising thing was how little she was surprised. She had seen Twilight as a pony before, but that had been brief and before they were friends. She had expected seeing someone she knew so well as a human to be shocking, but it seemed entirely normal.

“Twilight!” Sunset said, the name bringing a smile to her face. She awkwardly lunged forward and wrapped her forelegs around her friend.

“Hey, watch the hooves,” Twilight said as Sunset accidentlly dug one into her back.

“Sorry! Again… This is gonna take some getting used to.” Sunset chuckled. She took a good look at her foreleg and hoof for the first time. Strange, yet familiar. She didn’t even notice she was still holding on to Twilight as she examined herself.

Twilight returned the hug. “It’s fine, just be careful. I missed you too, Sunset.”

While the two mares hugged a third giggled and walked up to them. “Hello, Sunset.”

Sunset stared at the smiling yellow pony. She knew, of course, that it was Fluttershy. Next to Twilight, she was Sunset’s closest friend in Equestria. They had only met face to face once, when she came into the human world with Twilight to visit Sunset some time after the couple’s tour of Equestria, but they’d been talking through the journal for over a year. But despite the familiarity, seeing her as a pony again was… odd. In a way that seeing Twilight as a pony wasn’t. It wasn’t just her appearance that caught Sunset off guard though. ‘They have the same voice.’

“Hey, Shy,” Sunset said, a little dumbfounded.

Fluttershy’s expression changed from general happiness to amusement. Sunset wasn’t exactly sure why until Twilight tapped her on the shoulder, which reminded her she was still hugging the alicorn. Who was Fluttershy’s marefriend. Embarrassed at how long the hug had gone on for, Sunset let go and instead hugged Fluttershy, keeping it to a much more acceptable length.

When she let go, she noticed the little purple and green dragon waving from across the room. “Hey, Sunset.”

“Hi, Spike.” Sunset waved back, wondering if the dragon kept his distance because he was wary of the hugging.

Sunset had never seen a dragon before. Or rather, never got a good look at a dragon before. She had seen him the first time she returned to Equestria, but that was years ago and he had been asleep. Not to mention she had been much more interested in other things at the time. Since then they had met a few times, but he had been a dog while in the human world. Still, aside from her general interest in getting a good look at a dragon, she didn’t find it that weird.

Spike grinned. “You know, you’re still a bit tangled up.” He pointed to her legs and looking down she saw he was right, her pants hung loosely from her waist.

At that moment several thoughts occurred to her. The academic side of her was fascinated by the differences in both general size and body proportions to both her human and pony forms. While it looked like her head would still fit comfortably through the shirt Twilight had managed to get off her, which now lay forgotten on the ground next to her, the rest of her body was much smaller, which resulted in the entanglement earlier. Likewise, she found it interesting she even came through the mirror with clothes at all.

Meanwhile the more impulsive side of her had only one thought. She shrunk back into her pants as much as possible. “Uhm… I know this is gonna sound really dumb, but I’m kind of naked.”

The others all looked at each other. Fluttershy seemed lost, probably forgetting that humans always wore clothes. Twilight understood though. “You’re a pony again, that sort of thing doesn’t really matter here.”

“I know, but… I just feel weird. Do you think maybe I could borrow something?” Sunset asked, blushing.

“Of course. I’ll go find you something to wear.” Twilight turned and walked towards the door. “Come on Spike, girls only.”

Spike followed Twilight out. “But everypony’s naked all the time. What does it matter?”

“It matters because it’s important to Sunset,” Twilight said as the door closed and cut off the rest of the conversation.

She must have still looked uncomfortable, because Fluttershy picked up Sunset’s jacket and draped it over her like a blanket, leaving only her head sticking out. She immediately felt better being covered up.

“Is it weird being a pony again?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yeah, and I haven’t even started yet. Walking around, grabbing things without hands… This is gonna be a pain.”

“It’ll be okay,” Fluttershy said. “We’ll help you.” Her charming smile and good nature got Sunset to smile back.

“Thanks, Fluttershy. I’ll be fine, just have to get back in the swing of things.”

“I’m sure you will be,” Fluttershy said. She fidgeted in place and Sunset could tell she was trying to fight her anxiety to find something to else say.

In the journal, Fluttershy was far more outgoing. At first, Sunset thought it was a difference between the pony and human Fluttershy, but when she visited Sunset through the mirror, she realized how eerily similar the two were. Fluttershy often relied on Twilight to hold the majority of the conversation, sometimes even when people directly asked her questions. With Twilight out of the room, it fell to Sunset to keep the conversation going. Not that she minded, of course.

“So what do you think? Weird seeing me as a pony?” Sunset asked.

“Oh, no,” Fluttershy said. Although Sunset had never seen this Fluttershy lie before, she recognized the overly large smile immediately.

“Really?” Sunset asked doubtfully.

“Okay, a little,” Fluttershy said. “But it’s not so much that you being a pony is weird. It’s more that, uhm…”

“Makes it even weirder that you met me as a human?” Sunset asked. Fluttershy didn’t say anything, but the way she looked away and blushed said plenty. “I know what you mean. You wouldn’t believe how long it actually took to get used to looking at humans. Then I finally do get used to it, and I come back here. Go figure.”

Fluttershy smiled. “So do ponies look weird now?”

“Not really. To be honest, it is a little weird to see you as a pony, but I think that’s just because I’m so used to the human Fluttershy.”

“So how is everypony doing in the human world?”

Sunset grinned. “Everypony… that’ll take some getting used to.”

“Oh, uhm, I meant everybody,” Fluttershy corrected.

Sunset chuckled. “I know. I’m sure I’ll be making that mistake a lot too. Everyone’s doing fine, even if they are all over the world.” Sunset hesitated a moment before continuing, wondering how much she wanted to say. “I haven’t actually talked to Fluttershy in a while.”

Fluttershy noticed Sunset’s hesitation and rolled her eyes. “It’s fine, Sunset. Once I actually met her, it stopped feeling strange to hear you talk about her. It’s just like… you have two friends with the same name.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Sunset said. ‘And face. And voice.’

The door opened and Twilight came back in, levitating several dresses behind her. “I’m not sure if dresses are really your thing, but I figured you’d want something a little more covering than a jacket.” Twilight laid out several dresses on a table. “My clothes might be a little too big for you, so I brought some of Fluttershy’s too, although they might be a little small. I hope you don’t mind, Shy?”

“Of course I don’t,” Fluttershy said. She stood up and walked to the door. “We’ll give you some privacy.”

Once they left the room, Sunset threw off the jacket she was hiding under. She looked down and couldn’t help but laugh when she saw the bra still around her torso. It was a hassle to get off with hooves, and she didn’t even consider trying to work the clasp, opting to shimmy it over her head instead. The pants were far easier; they were only loosely hanging on, so she only needed to kick her hindlegs to shake them off.

Actually standing up and walking proved to be another matter entirely. At least she wasn’t at much risk to fall over, since she was already on all fours and had such a low center of gravity, but walking required her to consciously think about what leg she needed to move. Before even examining the clothes she walked a few laps around the library, slowly growing accustomed to having four legs again.

Once she was a little more sure on her hooves, she walked back to the clothes. She wasn’t particularly concerned with being fashionable, just covering up, so she just picked one that looked like it would cover her backside and had sleeves. She stared at her hooves for a moment and sighed. “This is gonna be a bitch…”

She began by sliding her front hooves through the bottom of the dress, followed by her head. She lifted up her forelegs and tried to shimmy into the dress while standing on her back legs. It worked well enough, at least until she fell over. “Aah!”

Once again on the floor tangled up in clothing, she had the feeling of déjà vu. There was a knock on the door and Twilight’s voice called, “Are you okay in there? Do you need any help?”

Sunset sighed. She was getting nowhere by herself. “Yes…”

The door opened for a moment then closed, and she heard Twilight chuckle. “You do remember you have magic, right?”

Sunset facehoofed, entirely too forcefully as she forgot how hard hooves actually were. Rubbing her forehead, she felt her horn and wondered how she could have forgotten about it. She had been devastated to lose her magic in the human world, but had been so preoccupied with everything else that she hadn’t even spared it a thought since returning, even when she saw Twilight use her magic.

“Actually, to be perfectly honest, I’d feel more comfortable if you practiced on something other than Fluttershy’s dress anyway,” Twilight said. “Here, start by getting your foreleg through this hole.”

With Twilight’s help, she finally managed to get the dress on properly. She wasn’t sure what was worse, the fact that she needed help with something as simple as putting on a dress, or the fact that Twilight had seen her naked. She tried to remind herself that she was the only one who thought of herself as naked, but it didn’t help too much.

As Twilight had predicted, it was a snug fit; Sunset was quite a bit bigger than Fluttershy. But at least ponies didn’t have as much size variation as humans did, so the dress still covered everything it needed to.

Twilight levitated all of Sunset's clothes over to the backpack she had brought with her. She made a mental note to get proper saddlebags later, once she was able to get her own wardrobe.

They walked out of the library together and joined Fluttershy in the hallway. “You look nice,” she said.

“Thanks,” Sunset said, a little embarrassed by the compliment. “Any non-magical mirrors around here I can use?”

“Sure, right over here.” Twilight led the way to a bathroom down the hall.

It was a little strange walking through Twilight’s castle. Sunset had lived in Canterlot Castle for years before her escape through the mirror, so the regal aspect was nothing new to her. But Twilight and Fluttershy both lacked Celestia’s regal demeanor, and it was strange to think of them as living in a castle.

And judging by the decor, it was strange to them as well. There were signs pointing to the castle’s various rooms posted around, no doubt from Twilight. That was amusing to see in a castle, but not terribly surprising. What really made Sunset smile was the network of shelves and walkways that lined the wall, clearly set up for small animals to use and play with. As they made their way down the hall, a squirrel scurried along a rope bridge in the opposite direction, and nopony seemed to pay it any mind. Sunset was pretty sure she even saw a few bird nests in the rafters.

Once in the bathroom, Sunset examined her reflection, actually getting a good look at herself as a pony for the first time in years. She turned to better see her tail and it dawned on her that her cutie mark would be back, but it was covered by the dress. She might have checked, but Fluttershy and Twilight were still in the doorway, and she would feel more than a little ridiculous if she asked them to leave just so she could look at the picture on her butt.

She took a second to admire the dress. It was nice, but she certainly could have coordinated with her coloring a bit better. The simple green dress would definitely have looked better on Fluttershy. She was glad to see her necklace still fit, something she probably should have considered before stepping through the portal. It was one of the few accessories she wore, a loose hanging strand of red and yellow gemstones. Except it no longer hung so loose, as her neck was much thicker now. Still, it wasn’t tight, and it probably suited her better anyway.

Finally, she looked at her horn and grinned. If she had any doubts left about being a unicorn again they were gone as she channelled some of her magic, causing her horn to give off a teal glow. She meant to just light it up, but as soon as she saw her will taking form, she couldn’t help herself. Looking around for something to practice on, she noticed a bar of soap and extended her magic to it, lifting it up before making it fly around the room.

“Sunset that’s great!” Twilight said, clapping her hooves together. “With how much control you have already, in a few days you’ll be as good as anypony.”

Sunset set down the soap and shook her head. “That’s nothing.” Her horn glowed and she disappeared, reappearing next to Twilight. “You know, I was Celestia’s student before you.” She teleported again to the other side of the couple, appearing next to Fluttershy. “You’re not the only magic prodigy. In a few weeks, I bet I’ll be teaching you a thing or two.”

Twilight grinned. “I hope so, it’d be fun to practice together. But for now, maybe we can dial it down a notch?”

Sunset was reluctant but agreed. “Fine. So what’s the plan?”

“Well, all our friends would love to meet you, if you’re feeling up to it,” Twilight said.

“Sure, why n– Wait, is Pinkie gonna try to throw a party?”

“Do you even have to ask?” Twilight asked. “No matter what world, Pinkie’s still Pinkie.”

“No parties,” Sunset said. “I don’t mind meeting your friends, but until I talk to Celestia, I don’t want to make a big deal about anything.” Twilight had assured her their former mentor would be thrilled she returned, but until they actually spoke, Sunset couldn’t help but feel there was a distinct chance she was going to wind up getting arrested. If not for leaving, then for trying to return with a zombie army.

“I’m sure we can convince Pinkie to not throw a party,” Fluttershy said. “And I just know everypony really would love to meet you.”

“Alright, I trust you guys,” Sunset said.

They quickly made plans, then sent Spike to get their friends, specifically instructing him to make sure Pinkie knew they couldn’t do a full party. Meanwhile, Fluttershy made snacks for everypony, and Twilight offered to give Sunset a tour of the castle. She turned it down, as she was still more than a little uncertain on her hooves. Instead, they waited in the sitting room and Twilight told her about some of the most interesting magical theories from the past few years.

“But if that’s true, then it’ll mean Clover’s entire classification of magical elements was wrong, and only works because of dumb luck!” Sunset said, astounded.

“I know! But the traditionalists say that it can’t possibly be true because it leaves Star Swirl’s discovery of transdimensional rifts unexplained.” Twilight was practically leaping out of her chair with excitement. Sunset wondered how long she’d been waiting to find somepony who could possibly understand what any of this even meant, let alone the implications.

“You know, humans have their own theories on that sort of stuff, using science as a base instead of magic,” Sunset said.

At that Twilight really did leap out of her chair, using her wings to hover sightly as if the prospect of knowledge no other ponies would have even thought of physically pulled her into the air. “Really? I’d love to hear them!”

Sunset took some guilty pleasure in how much she enjoyed being the only one who could possibly share that knowledge with her. But before she could answer, Spike walked into the room, followed by four ponies whom Sunset recognized immediately. Still she waited patiently for introductions, not wanting to make anypony feel weird since she knew about them but they didn’t know her yet.

“Hello everypony, I’d like to introduce you all to my friend, Sunset Shimmer.” Twilight gestured to Sunset who waved and smiled nervously, wondering if they would still hold the last time they saw her against her. “Sunset, this is Rarity, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie.”

“Silly Twilight, Sunny already knows who we are!” Pinkie said, hopping over to Sunset. “We’re already really good friends, we just don’t know it yet!”

“Well, yeah I guess that’s one way of looking at it,” Sunset said, grinning and rubbing her neck. At least nopony seemed upset with her. “But, uhm, I don’t really like that nickname, actually…”

“Okie dokie, Sunset!” Pinkie said as she continued to hop around the room.

“I gotta admit, the idea that there’s another me out there has always been a bit much to take in,” Applejack said.

“At least the other you isn’t a dog…” Spike grumbled.

“Well, it’s not exactly like it’s you at all, really,” Sunset said. Fluttershy joined them, walking over to sit next to Twilight.

“Yes,” Twilight said. “Your counterparts just share your name, general appearance, personality traits, and familial connections to the human equivalent of your respective family members. But I assure you everyone is entirely their own individual.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah, ‘cause that totally doesn’t sound like us at all.”

“We did tests and everything,” Twilight said, as if that put the whole case to rest.

“By the way, when she says ‘we’, she means herself and the other Twilight,” Sunset said, shaking her head at the memory. “Imagine how Twilight is when she sets her mind to something, then double it…”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Twilight said.

“Uhm… that sounds like a little much,” Fluttershy said. Twilight swatted the pegasus with her tail.

“Really though, Twilight’s right,” Sunset said. “While there is a lot in common, there are also some big differences between you all and my friends in the human world.”

“Ooh! Does Pinkie have superpowers!?” Pinkie asked.

“Uh, not quite that different,” Sunset said. “Things most people – er, ponies – wouldn’t notice immediately.”

“I must admit I’ve also been quite curious about that,” Rarity said. “What might the differences between me and the other Rarity be?”

“Well, I’ll really need to get to know you all better before I can say for sure, but I can think of one thing. Twilight told me you opened another shop in the fashion district of Canterlot, but still decided to stay in Ponyville even though business over there has been huge.”

Rarity looked puzzled, like she couldn’t understand why anypony might think she’d ever move away. “Well of course. I do love Canterlot, but I never even considered leaving my family and friends in Ponyville.”

“Well, the other Rarity isn’t even in the same country anymore. She moved to study foreign fashion, and now she works as a high profile designer for celebrities.”

Whatever confusion Rarity had felt before was replaced with outright disbelief. “Surely you don’t mean only the celebrities?”

“Well, yeah, but you have to understand it’s an entirely different world. Things just work differently over there.” This was why she knew she had to be selective with what she told her new friends about her old ones. She wanted everypony to understand that their human counterparts really were entirely separate, but she knew their first instinct would be to think of them as an extension of themselves.

“If she designed clothes for everyone, then the wealthy wouldn’t want to be seen in them. And while that may be a horrible and stuck up way of thinking, working with the rich has also made her a lot of money, almost all of which she donates to charity. And I don’t know about here, but over there the fashion industry has a huge problem with ruining people’s self-image by forcing them to compare themselves to unattainable ideals of beauty. Well, working with only a few clients gives her time to try and change that. She spends more time visiting schools and holding free workshops to show how people can use fashion to feel good about themselves, instead of just feeling like they can’t compare with some model.”

“I see.” Rarity tapped her chin as she contemplated what Sunset said. “I can certainly see your point. And while I wouldn’t say it’s what I would choose to do, I can see the merit in it.”

Applejack nudged her. “Aww shucks, Rare, it sounds to me like you’re a gem in any world. So what about me, what am I like over there?”

Sunset considered what she knew about this Applejack. “Well, from what Twilight and Fluttershy have told me there’s nothing I can really say for sure is different between you two. Well, except maybe the way she does business.”

At least Applejack didn’t look upset, just confused. “I know ya can’t mean she does dishonest business.”

“No, nothing like that.” Sunset tapped on her chin while trying to think of how to explain. “Over there a lot of agricultural work is either done with machines or in foreign countries where it can be done much cheaper. Sweet Apple Acres still does everything traditionally, and because of that the competitors’ products are all cheaper, even though the quality suffers.”

Applejack scrunched her nose. “I reckon I know a mite about that. But we proved there’s no substitute for hard work.”

“And I’m sure that’s true in any world,” Sunset said.

Out of everything she left behind, Applejack had been the hardest. As everyone else started drifting further apart, she and Applejack had been drawn closer together. She’d wondered if talking to the pony Applejack would help, but mostly it just made her feel sad. No matter how similar they were, they would never be the same, after all.

“I guess it’s not so much how she does business, it’s how everybody else does, but it affects her too. Sweet Apple Acres products are all natural and grown locally. It’s a brand people buy because they trust it, but it’s expensive compared to its competitors, which means fewer people in a given area can buy it. So now she spends most of her time marketing it to neighboring cities, trying to expand her business just so they can get enough clients to get by, which cuts into the time she can actually work on the farm, not to mention adds a lot of delivery time. Apple Bloom and Big Mac just can’t do it by themselves, which means it’s no longer only family members that work there. Granny Smith was not happy about that fact.”

Applejack let out a low whistle. “Boy, I’d hate to be in her place. I don’t rightly know what I’d do if everypony did business like them Flim Flam Brothers. And I hope I never live to see the day I have to tell Granny we need to hire extra help on the farm.”

“Sounds like your world has a lot of problems with money,” Rainbow said.

“Yeah, that is true. That’s one thing I missed about Equestria.” Sunset shook her head, not really wanting to get into a full course on economics when the only pony who would possibly care would be Twilight. “But it’s a complicated situation.”

Rainbow grinned. “I was gonna ask about the other Rainbow Dash, but I don’t think I even want to know anymore. Not like she could ever be as awesome as me anyway.” Sunset rolled her eyes. It was almost a shame; she was sure Rainbow would like hearing about her double, the rock star.

“Ooh! Ooh! I wanna know! Tell me about Pinkie Pie!” Pinkie said, bouncing in her seat.

Sunset smiled. “I think you two seem mostly the same. She’s probably off doing something fun right now.”

That wasn’t really true, but she couldn’t bring herself to say so. As everyone moved away, Pinkie grew sadder and sadder. With Twilight studying abroad and Fluttershy touring with Rainbow’s band as their manager, it was just Sunset and Applejack left in town with her, and now Sunset left too. The last time she’d seen Pinkie was at her going away party, where she excused herself for an hour and came back with her eyes red from crying.

“That Pinkie.” Pinkie laughed and shook her head as if she was talking about an old friend. “She’s such a party animal!”

“Yup, good old Pinkie.” Sunset looked down for a moment before she remembered to keep her head up. She wasn’t supposed to look sad, she was starting a new life in Ponyville! This was supposed to be a happy day for her.

“Uhm, Sunset, would you mind lending me a hoof?” Fluttershy asked. “I think it’s time to check on the snacks, and I could use some help getting everything out.”

“Oh, I’ll help,” Twilight offered.

Fluttershy smiled in the way the other Fluttershy always did when she wanted to wordlessly ask someone to trust her. “I think Sunset could use the practice with her magic.”

“I’m happy to help. Lead the way.” Sunset followed Fluttershy into the kitchen.

Something definitely smelled good, but Fluttershy didn’t go to the oven. Instead she put a hoof on Sunset’s shoulder. “You know, it’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it, I’m sure everypony would understand.”


“Well, I… I saw how you looked when you were talking about Pinkie. Nopony would blame you if you said you didn’t want to talk about your friends.”

Sunset smiled. She was happy Fluttershy was looking out for her, even if she didn’t need her to. “Thanks, Fluttershy. But it’s fine. I knew they’d want to know, and I really just want to get it out of the way.”

Fluttershy frowned. “If you say so. But remember, everypony wants to be your friend. Even if they’re curious, they don’t want to upset you.”

“I know,” Sunset said. “I promise if it gets to be too much I’ll say something.” It seemed to be enough for Fluttershy, who finally checked on the food.

Sunset levitated a pan of stuffed mushrooms back to the sitting room. Soon everypony was eating and praising Fluttershy for the delicious food.

“Sunset, it’s only just occurred to me you must not have any of your own clothes,” Rarity said while everypony ate. “You simply must let me design you a few ensembles.”

Sunset looked at Fluttershy’s dress. Of course Rarity probably made it and realized it was Fluttershy’s. “It’s fine, I…” Sunset stopped short as she realized that if she didn’t let Rarity make her something, she would either have to keep borrowing Fluttershy’s clothes or go naked.

“Oh, I insist, darling. Perhaps something that goes with that lovely necklace of yours?”

Sunset chuckled. She realized the necklace was the same colors as her mane, so Rarity was basically offering to make her a dress that would actually look good with her colors. “It’s okay, I know I’m a little mismatched.”

Rarity clearly thought it was more than a little, but did a good job at maintaining positive composure. “It’s just that green doesn’t seem to be your color, darling.” She walked over and leaned a bit to get a better look at Sunset’s necklace. “May I?”

“Sure.” Sunset lifted her mane and held it aside so Rarity would have a clearer view of the necklace. “Sorry, I’d take it off, but I’m still getting used to magic again, and I’m even worse with my hooves.”

“It’s quite alright darling, I can see it well enough.” Rarity inspected it for a moment before turning her attention upwards to look back in Sunset’s eyes as she talked. “It’s quite lovely, and it suits your coloring exquisitely.”

“Thanks.” Sunset let her mane fall back onto her neck. “It’s not much really, and all the gems are fake. But I like it.”

Rarity looked at her quizzically. “Darling, I assure you they are completely genuine. They may not be the rarest of gems, but they aren’t the most common either. And in any event, they are most definitely real gemstones.”

Sunset’s mouth hung open slightly as she tentatively reached out a hoof to touch the necklace. “They are?”

Rarity grinned. “I assure you I’m quite good at this sort of thing. You mean to say you did not know?”

Sunset gingerly held the necklace up in one hoof, trying to look down and see it only to find that her muzzle was in the way. “No, I… well, somebody told me it was costume jewelry when I got it.”

Before she could dwell on it anymore, Pinkie said, “Somebody? That’s a weird word. Do humans call each other bodies?”

Sunset couldn’t help but smile as she let the necklace rest. “No, but nobo– they don’t say somehuman either.”

As they talked about the differences between the two worlds and what life in Ponyville was like, Sunset sometimes forgot that these weren’t her friends from CHS. Even though they just met, everypony was so friendly it was easy to believe they’d known each other for years. But every now and then somepony said something she knew their human counterpart wouldn’t, and she remembered what she’d left behind.

It was the most apparent with Fluttershy. The pony Fluttershy was much happier, and even a little more outgoing. It all seemed to be because of Twilight’s influence. She wasn’t sure if either of them even noticed, but Fluttershy would first glance towards Twilight whenever she wanted to say something. When she did, Twilight would never fail to encourage her with a hug, a nuzzle, or a kiss on the cheek. It was clear how perfect they were together. Sunset couldn’t help but feel a little jealous.

When the differences between her pony and human friends proved to be too much, Sunset excused herself to the bathroom. She left the room, but wound up sitting in a hallway. She idly played with her necklace while wondering if she even knew what she was doing.

“You know, they’re all still there, and the portal works anytime.”

Sunset looked up to see Twilight smiling from the doorway. She sighed and let her gaze fall back to the floor. “Geez, is it that obvious? Fluttershy noticed too.”

“I don’t think it was so much that it was obvious, just that we’ve been expecting it.” Twilight sat down next to her. “I don’t think anypony else noticed, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I guess a little. I mean, I do want to make a good first impression. But mainly I just wish I didn’t feel so torn.” Sunset shook her head and gestured to the other room. “I really want to be here, but I already miss everyone back home.”

“I understand. Change is always hard.” Twilight looked up, seeming to stare at nothing in particular. “Especially when it feels like it’s forever. But it can be for the best, too.”

Sunset waited a moment but Twilight kept her distant look. “Uhm… Twilight?”

Twilight shook her head and grinned. “Sorry, just thinking out loud. Anyway, it doesn’t have to be forever. You’re welcome here as long for as you want, but you’re also free to go whenever you want. You can even go back and forth if that’s what you want to do.”

“I don’t think that’s gonna help. I came here for a reason, after all.”

Twilight put a hoof on her shoulder. “Have you talked to her recently?”

By ‘her’, Twilight meant Sunset’s ex-girlfriend – the person she had to go to a whole different world just to escape the memory of.

“No. But the memories are still there. I just… I don’t know what to say to her. I don’t even know if I want to say anything to her.”

“It’s okay. You don’t need to decide anything now. And if you do decide to talk to Morning Breeze, I’m sure things will go better than you think.”

“Maybe.” Sunset didn’t really want to talk about her, so she retreated back to safer ground. “I have another month before the rent’s due again, then I should have at least one more before the landlord evicts me, maybe two.”

“You have as much time as you need,” Twilight said. “I’m sure you can stay with any of our friends, even if you do lose your house.”

It was easy to see why Twilight became a princess. Even though she was just saying things Sunset herself had already thought of, hearing them in Twilight’s voice was oddly comforting. She decided to stop moping around so much. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry for being such a downer; let’s go back to the party.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Twilight stood up and held out a hoof to help Sunset up.

Sunset had a flashback to another time Twilight helped her when she was down, during the lowest point in her life. As Sunset accepted her hoof and stood up, she felt emotions she’d tried to bury for years come rushing back. “Thanks…”

“What are friends for?” Twilight smiled, that same radiant smile she had stuck in her head constantly before she was dating someone. Even after, sometimes.

‘Yeah, friends.’ Sunset reminded herself. Twilight and Fluttershy were happy together, and they were both her friends. And that’s all they could ever be. As she followed Twilight back to the sitting room, she wondered if she was really better off here, spending every day with the mare she’d been in love with for years but could never tell.

2 – Forever

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Chapter Two


“What about this one?”

“Looks good.”

Twilight examined the dress she was levitating. It did look nice, but she didn’t really think it was perfect. “I don’t know. Don’t you think it’s a little… flashy?”

Sunset let her head fall into her hooves. She was lying on Twilight’s bed while the alicorn went through her closet and looked like she regretted ever agreeing to help. “Twi, you said the last one wasn’t flashy enough.”

“No, I said it was too plain.” Twilight ignored Sunset’s irritation and went back to moving clothes around. She tried to find some new way that she could still use them to look her best for a mare that had already seen her in every one of them time and again. “I’m starting to reconsider this one.”

“That looks nice.”

“Sunset, I haven’t even shown it to you yet!”

Sunset groaned and lifted her head. “Are you like this before every date? No wonder Spike’s hiding.”

“Not every date, but tonight is special,” Twilight said. Tonight was very important, although she couldn’t say why.

“She’s going to love whatever you wear,” Sunset said. “You might have noticed she’s kinda already crazy about you. Seriously, how long have you two been together?”

“It’ll be two years in a couple of moons.”

Sunset threw her hooves up dramatically. “Then why the hell are you still worried about what to wear on a date? What, are you afraid Fluttershy’ll break up with you if you don’t look perfect?”

Twilight’s ears folded back and she cast her eyes towards the ground. “No, I just… Sunset, please. This is important to me.”

Sunset sighed and got off the bed, and for a second Twilight thought she was going to leave the room. Instead she walked to the closet. “Go wait on the bed.”

“But I –”

“Sit your ass on the bed. You wanted my help, you got it.”

Twilight skeptically agreed, mostly out of curiosity to see what Sunset was going to do. After a minute, Sunset walked out levitating a deep purple halter dress. “Put this on.”

“Are you sure? I think it might be a bit much.” It was certainly more seductive than what Twilight normally preferred. In fact, although Rarity had designed it especially for her, Twilight had never worn it out.

“Humor me.” Sunset turned away to give Twilight some privacy while she dressed. Twilight rolled her eyes and wondered how much longer Sunset would keep up the human ideal of clothing.

“Okay, it’s on. But I’m really not sure about this one.” Twilight examined her reflection. She didn’t look like herself.

“That’s because we’re not done yet, go sit on that stool.” Sunset pointed to Twilight’s small vanity table.

Twilight suppressed a laugh. “Sunset, are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

Sunset flipped her mane over her shoulder. “Come on Twi, do you really think my mane is just naturally this flawless?”

“I guess I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t usually style mine.” Twilight couldn’t help but feel apprehensive as Sunset stepped closer, especially when she ignored the hair supplies in favor of looking through Twilight’s makeup.

“I’ve noticed.” Apparently satisfied with what she saw in Twilight’s makeup, Sunset levitated a hairbrush over to them. “Now, hold still.”

‘What did I get myself into…’

Sunset kept Twilight facing away from the mirror, leaving her imagination to run wild with thoughts of what the unicorn might be doing to her. To her horror, Sunset really was hell-bent on doing everything, including makeup. She would trust Sunset with her life, but not this date. But she only had herself to blame, since she had been the one who decided that since Fluttershy was already having Rarity help her get ready it would be better if she just figured something out on her own, that way she could keep her appearance a surprise. As Sunset pinned part of her mane in place, she couldn’t help but wonder if this was some sort of plan to make sure she’d never ask Sunset to help her get ready for another date.

“Done.” Sunset finally allowed Twilight to turn around.

She had to do a double take at her reflection. She thought she didn’t look like herself in the dress, but now she could honestly believe she was looking at a different lavender alicorn. Sunset stood next to her looking smug. “Sunset, this is…”


“I just… where’d you learn to do this?”

“Humans value appearance a lot more than ponies do. When I was trying to get to the top, I needed to look the part. It was a little different applying makeup with fur, but it mostly works the same.”

Twilight turned away from the mirror to properly give Sunset an incredulous look. “Tell me you don’t mean I was the first pony you ever put makeup on.”

“Does it matter? Look at the results and tell me you don’t look fucking fantastic.” Sunset grinned and batted her eyelashes. “Besides, my unobservant friend, you’re the second pony. I was the first.”

Twilight turned back to the mirror. “While this is certainly amazing, I’m not sure… I mean, it’s not really… me.” Twilight usually tried for elegant, not sultry.

“Twilight, you look beautiful. Trust me, the second Fluttershy sees you in that dress she won’t be able to think about anything but getting you out of it.”

Twilight blushed furiously. “I, uh… don’t think that’s quite the effect I’m going for.”

Sunset sighed. “Look, Twi. What do you have to lose? On one hoof, she could love it. On the other, she thinks it’s ridiculous and you can share a laugh about not letting me anywhere near your makeup again. It’s a win-win situation.”

“I’m not going to laugh at it! You did a really good job, and I do like it.” Twilight caught sight of Sunset’s grin. “And you just baited me into saying that.”

“Twilight, here, stop looking in the mirror and look at this.” Sunset levitated a picture off the wall and brought it over to Twilight. It was Twilight, Fluttershy, and all of Twilight’s family gathered around from their first Hearth’s Warming together. Twilight had turned to kiss Fluttershy’s cheek right as the camera snapped the picture. She had expected once the picture developed that Fluttershy would look surprised, maybe even that she would be blushing. Instead, she looked happier in that picture than she did in any other that Twilight had seen, smiling so big her eyes were scrunched up.

“I promise you, no matter how you show up, she’s just going to be happy because she’s with you. She really loves you, Twi. And if you really want tonight to be special? Then have a little fun, break out of your comfort zone! As long as you roll with it and don’t focus so much on every little detail being perfect, you can turn any situation into a good one.”

Twilight smiled contentedly. Maybe Sunset had a point. There wasn’t actually any reason it had to be tonight anyway; if things went badly she could just wait until next time. “Thank you, Sunset. You’re right. There’s no reason I can’t try something new once in awhile.” She took another look in the mirror while Sunset replaced the picture. There was no denying that even if it wasn’t in the way she wanted, Twilight did look good. ‘Maybe I could get Sunset to do Fluttershy’s outfit sometime…’

“Thinking naughty things already?” Sunset asked, breaking Twilight away from her thoughts. She realized she had been blushing even before Sunset said anything.

“No,” Twilight lied. “Anyway, Fluttershy will probably be back anytime now, so let’s wait downstairs.” She didn’t wait for an answer before leaving, leading the way to the foyer while Sunset snickered behind her.

“So why do you two even still have separate houses?” Sunset asked while they waited. “Since I’ve been here, she’s stayed every night in the castle.”

“We never actually stay at separate houses anymore, although occasionally we do sleep at her house. At first keeping the cottage seemed to make sense with it being closer to her work, but lately we’ve been staying at the castle more and more. The castle is too important to ever actually give up, so I’m sure we’ll move everything over here eventually. But I could never ask her to give up her home, especially since we basically live together already, like you said.”

“It just seems like more trouble than it’s worth, having to maintain two houses when you barely stay in one of them,” Sunset said, then shook her head. “I’m probably just thinking about it like a human though. Besides, it’s not like you’ve really got to worry too much about paying for both places.”

“Yeah…” They never talked about it, but Twilight knew Sunset had been poor back in the human world. It always made Twilight feel guilty for how much she had, especially since she always had to rely on her human friends to pay for things over there. Bits didn’t exactly go very far outside of Equestria.

“So are you planning on coming back here tonight?” Sunset asked. The change in her tone was noticeable as she backpedaled to less awkward conversation.

“Probably. The restaurant is closer to the castle after all.”

“Great! Make sure you do.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side. “Why?”

Sunset grinned. “You’ll see. Just tell her you have to come back here because you have something planned.”

“But I don’t have anything planned,” Twilight said, trying to figure out what Sunset was talking about.

“Yes you do, it’s just a plan you wisely delegated to me. Of course, as far as she needs to know, you did everything. It’s also a surprise for you though, so don’t bother asking.”

“Sunset, you can’t expect me to take credit for something you did, especially without even telling me what it is!”

“Oh trust me, you’ll want to take credit for this one.” Sunset thought for a moment before continuing. “Tell you what. If Fluttershy doesn’t love the dress, then go back to her cottage. But if she does, and she will, then trust me and bring her back here.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, I just really don’t feel comfortable taking credit for something you did,” Twilight said.

The door opened and Fluttershy stepped in, then stopped in place when she noticed Twilight. “Twily, you look gorgeous.”

Sunset grinned. “So will I be seeing you later tonight?”

Twilight looked at Fluttershy and wished she knew what thoughts were making her blush like that. “Yes, we’ll definitely be back here tonight.”

The short exchange snapped Fluttershy out of her stupor. “Oh, hello, Sunset. Is that one of the dresses Rarity made you?”

“Yeah, what do you think?” Sunset turned to the side to show off her new dress. In the past three days Sunset had worn a different outfit every day. Twilight was beginning to wonder how many dresses Rarity had made for her, but didn’t want to ask since she knew Sunset already felt guilty for accepting them. She had been against Rarity’s offer to work for free, but also wasn’t happy with Twilight stepping in to pay for everything.

“You look nice,” Fluttershy said.

“Thanks, you too,” Sunset said.

Twilight immediately felt guilty for not complimenting her marefriend, who was wearing an elegant flowing black dress. She walked over and kissed her. “Absolutely beautiful.”

Fluttershy smiled and nuzzled against her. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yes.” Twilight looked around and realized she had left her purse upstairs. “Er, give me one second.”

Not wanting to ruin her mane by running, Twilight walked briskly up the stairs. Once she reached her room, she looked around frantically but didn’t see it. It took several hectic minutes before she found it on the bed, buried in several outfits she had considered. She sighed with relief and made her way back downstairs, where Sunset and Fluttershy were talking.

“That’s a great idea, but what if she wants me to stay in Canterlot?” Sunset said.

“Who wants you to stay in Canterlot?” Twilight asked.

“Oh, Fluttershy was saying I should ask Celestia for a job as a magic researcher,” Sunset said. “But I really don’t think living in Canterlot would be a good move for me, not to mention I’d just rather stay in Ponyville…”

Fluttershy looked confused. “Why would you have to move to Canterlot? Twilight studied magic in Ponyville.”

“I was assigned to study the magic of friendship in Ponyville,” Twilight said. “Anypony can apply for a grant if they have a field in mind to study, and can provide a convincing report that it could benefit Equestria. But general researchers usually live in Canterlot where they can work directly with the princesses and have access to the Royal Canterlot Archives.”

“What if I apply for a grant to study the portal?” Sunset asked. “I mean, she couldn’t possibly say I don’t have enough knowledge on it, and it would give me an excuse to stay here.” She looked up suddenly. “I mean, if you’re okay with that, of course!”

Twilight smiled and looked to Fluttershy, who nodded. “Of course we are,” Twilight said. “But is studying the portal really what you want to do?”

“Well… no, not really.” Sunset sighed, then turned away with a distant look in her eyes. “I mean, I would like to know more about it, but I’d really like to do some research on human technology and how it can interact with magic. I kind of studied the reverse at CHS, trying to study magic with technology, and the results were certainly interesting. But it’s a completely new field of study, so Celestia would probably want to oversee it herself.”

“Well then, I see the problem,” Twilight said sarcastically. Sunset gave her a confused look and she smiled and rolled her eyes. “If only you knew another pony with the authority to oversee a project like that. Say, a princess who can hire her own magic researchers.”

Sunset stared with her mouth hanging open and shook her head. “But… I can’t accept that! I mean, being able to support myself is exactly why I’m trying to find a job, this is just another way for me to take advantage of you.”

Twilight frowned. “You know Sunset, I am a princess. I’m responsible for doing anything I can to help Equestria, which is something your research definitely has the potential to do. Putting aside the fact that we’re friends, you’re still Princess Celestia’s former protégé, I’ve personally seen that you have an extensive knowledge of theoretical magic, and you have an unprecedented knowledge of human technology. You are indisputably the best mare for the job.”

Fluttershy giggled. “You know, Twilight doesn’t want to say it, but I think she also wants you to accept so she can help you with the research.”

Twilight didn’t bother to disagree. “Not to mention that as an expert in magic myself, and the only other pony with even a limited understanding of human technology, I highly doubt Princess Celestia will have a problem with the arrangement. Really Sunset, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t hire you.”

“I just…” Sunset seemed to run out of excuses. “I’ll think about it.”

Twilight nodded. “Okay, we’ll talk about it later. Right now we have a dinner reservation.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Sunset said. “Sorry, I’m holding you up.”

“It’s fine, we’re not in a hurry,” Fluttershy said. “We’ll see you later, Sunset.”

“Yeah, have fun!” Sunset waved as they left the castle.

Along the way Fluttershy asked about the technology from the human world, but Twilight had a difficult time explaining. Although she kind of tried to talk up her understanding of human technology to Sunset, in truth she really only had a tentative grasp on it. Even if they couldn’t find a way to combine it with magic, bringing some of that technology to Equestria could provide amazing benefits on its own. Thankfully, the restaurant wasn’t far from the castle, so she didn’t have to struggle for too long.

The restaurant, Le Petit Cheval, was a recent addition to Ponyville. It had a reputation as the finest restaurant around, but that was almost awarded to it by default since there were hardly any fine dining establishments in the relatively small town.

As soon as they approached, they were greeted by a stallion in an exquisite tuxedo. He smiled broadly at the celebrity couple but maintained his professional composure. “Princess Twilight, Lady Fluttershy. It is an honor to have you dine with us tonight.” He held the door open for them and Twilight wondered if they greeted all their guests at the door. Twilight had made reservations months in advance, so they certainly had time to pull out all the stops.

“Thank you, sir,” Twilight said, inclining her head in a small bow. As they entered they were greeted by the regular receptionist who showed them to their table, where their waiter brought them their menus.

Once he left to give them some time to look over the menu, Fluttershy giggled. “We’ve never been somewhere they needed three ponies just to get us seated.”

Twilight was a little disappointed that Fluttershy didn’t seem too impressed, and was going to explain that they probably just wanted to create a welcome environment to let every patron know how important they were, but remembered Sunset’s advice. ‘Just roll with it.’ Instead she grinned and said, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m pretty sure we could have managed the door by ourselves, at least.” Fluttershy laughed and Twilight felt a bit less nervous. “Even dinner with Princess Celestia isn’t this fancy.”

Fluttershy flipped through her menu. “That’s kind of funny. Imagine what these ponies would think of an actual royal dinner.”

Twilight chuckled. “What, you think they might not appreciate Luna starting a food fight?”

“I think Amber actually started it.” Fluttershy smiled wryly. “You seemed to enjoy yourself though.”

“Well you know, I do enjoy the simple things in life. Like getting frosting in the Princess of the Night’s nose,” Twilight said proudly. Originally she had tried to stay out of the catastrophe, but Luna forced her hoof by getting pudding on Fluttershy’s dress. Somehow they had divided into teams with Celestia, Luna, and Amber banding together against Twilight, Fluttershy, and a surprisingly large number of both the Celestial and Lunar Guards.

Remembering the unexpected dinner fondly, the couple looked through their menus for a few minutes. “Uhm, Twily? I don’t know what any of this stuff is.”

Twilight sighed. “Neither do I.” She set down her menu and looked up, laughing as she saw Fluttershy mocking a horrified expression. “Well, I mean I do know what everything is, but it doesn’t help much. Like this dish, it says it has truffles and celeriac. Truffles are a fungus, kind of like mushrooms, and celeriac is a type of celery. But I’ve never actually had either of them, so I have no idea what it tastes like.

“Uhm, should we just ask the waiter?”


Once they were no longer looking through their menus, it didn’t take long for their waiter to notice and return. “Have you decided what you would like?”

“Actually, we’re having a little trouble deciding,” Twilight said. “We were hoping you could make a recommendation.”

The waiter smiled and nodded. “Of course. I personally recommend Les Fruitis Tropicaux, as it is perfectly in season with the recent change to warmer weather. If you would prefer something a bit richer, then Le Chocolat Épicé is also an excellent choice.”

“Tropical fruit sounds lovely,” Fluttershy said.

“And I think I’ll try Le Chocolat,” Twilight said, doing her best to pronounce the foreign name.

“Very good. And might I recommend a white wine to go with the meal?”

Fluttershy glanced to Twilight. “We won’t be drinking alcohol tonight.” While Fluttershy didn’t drink at all, Twilight normally drank wine when they went out to eat, but the last thing she needed was to nervously drink too much and wind up intoxicated.

“We do also offer non-alcoholic wine if you would prefer, although I’m afraid the selection is far more limited.”

Twilight looked to Fluttershy. “What do you say, Shy?”

“Uhm, there’s really no alcohol?” Fluttershy asked.

“I guarantee it,” the waiter said. “It is a genuine wine, fermented and aged in the traditional way before the alcohol is separated. It maintains its flavor, but is as mild as juice.”

“I… I guess that would be okay,” Fluttershy said. “But uhm, why don’t you get regular wine, Twi?”

Twilight smiled. ‘Because then I’ll just blurt out the surprise.’ “To be honest, I’m actually a little curious now. I’d like to try the non-alcoholic wine as well.”

“Very well, I will be right back with your beverages.” The waiter nodded and took their menus.

Once he was out of earshot Fluttershy leaned closer. “I still don’t know what our food is.”

Twilight chuckled. “I don’t either, but this place has some amazing reviews so I’m not too worried. Besides, it’s tropical fruit and chocolate. It can’t be that bad.”

The waiter soon returned with two wine glasses, which he filled with a bottle chilled in ice. “If you need anything at all, please do not hesitate to call me.” He bowed his head again and made his exit.

Fluttershy eyed her glass suspiciously, sniffing it before turning to Twilight. “Are you sure it’s okay? It, uhm… really smells like wine.”

“It’s supposed to, Shy.” Twilight took a sip of hers while Fluttershy waited patiently. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure. But give me one second and I’ll find out.” She bowed her head and concentrated, casting a spell to no effect. “Yup, definitely no alcohol.”

“What would have happened if it was alcoholic?”

“It would have combusted, probably causing the glass to explode and possibly getting us kicked out,” Twilight said, taking another sip. It wasn’t bad, but she certainly didn’t believe it maintained its flavor like the waiter promised.

“You’re joking, right?” Fluttershy asked, although her expression made it clear she knew better.

“Well, it would have been their fault for lying.” Twilight shrugged.

Fluttershy sighed but she was smiling. “Oh Twily, what am I going to do with you?” She finally seemed content to trust her drink and took a sip. She scrunched up her nose. “Is this what wine usually tastes like?”

“Actually, this isn’t as strong as regular wine,” Twilight said, amused by Fluttershy’s expression.

“Really? I’m… actually kind of glad. This is, uhm, it’s a little much.” She took another drink and set her glass down off to the side where she could easily forget it.

“Do you want to have the waiter switch it for something else? I’m sure we could get cider or juice or something.”

“No, it’s fine. Maybe it’ll be better with the food?”

“Maybe,” Twilight said, but she doubted it. While they waited for their food they talked about the restaurant. Everything about the place was immaculate. And from the crystal chandeliers to the gold accents, everything about the place felt wrong for Ponyville. Ever since Twilight’s castle appeared, high-class ponies had been moving to the small town, likely hoping that being close in proximity to the newest princess would give them a chance to also become close friends with her. Unfortunately, if ponies kept moving to Ponyville, it would inevitably become a cultural hub. Twilight worried about her quiet town and felt guilty, knowing that if it became a second Canterlot, it would only be because of her.

The waiter returned with two platters, which he set in front of them. Twilight and Fluttershy exchanged surprised looks for a moment before politely smiling. “Will you be needing anything else? More wine, or some bread perhaps?”

“No, thank you. I think we can manage from here.” Twilight said.

“If you want for anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.” After another bow, the waiter left them to what looked like some sort of appetizer for their real meals.

“Well, it looks, uhm…” Fluttershy stared at her mostly empty plate. In the middle was a small pile of fruit, most of which looked both exotic and unappetizing. There was some sort of red wrap with a white pudding-like substance inside it in the middle of the fruit. “Is… is this it?”

Twilight’s own plate had even less. There was a small pile of what looked kind of like granola with a dollop of white ice cream on top. Off to the side was some sort of brown strand which she assumed was the chocolate.

Wanting to keep making the best of the situation, Twilight grinned. “You know, most of these ponies probably never leave their office. They need these small portions to keep their figures.”

“Twily, that’s not nice,” Fluttershy said, but she smiled all the same.

“Well, we might as well try it. It might be enough to hold us over until we get a real dinner.” Although she had only been trying to keep Fluttershy from caring about the so far unimpressive restaurant, she had also managed to raise her own spirits. Her good mood lasted all the way until she actually took a bite of her ice cream. “…This is spicy.”


“The… the ice cream is spicy.” Twilight looked at her food as if it had betrayed her. Which it had.

Fluttershy tentatively took a bite from one of her fruits at random, avoiding the wrap in the middle. “Well, mine is okay.”

Twilight moved on to the chocolate. Taking a bite was difficult as it was one long stand. The first thing she noticed was its oddly soft consistency, as if it was partially melted already. The second was the flavor.

Fluttershy giggled. “I, uh, take it that wasn’t any better?”

“It’s spicy too.”

“But it’s chocolate.” Fluttershy leaned in and took a small bite and her face scrunched up as soon as she did. “Oh.”

Fluttershy offered some of her fruit, which Twilight accepted. Fluttershy’s description proved accurate; it was okay. Not great, but okay. It certainly wasn’t spicy at least.

Twilight sighed and looked back at her plate. “Uhm, maybe you could request a different meal?” Fluttershy suggested.

“Maybe if I try the ice cream with this stuff.” She took another bite, this time scooping up some of the crumbles underneath. It was improved marginally. Or maybe she was just expecting it the second time around.

As she took a third bite Fluttershy laughed. “Twily, stop. You obviously don’t like it.”

“Well I don’t want to be rude,” Twilight said. She was actually glad the servings were so small. Two more bites and she’d be home free.

“Well, uhm, every time you take a bite?” Fluttershy leaned in and smiled. “You kind of look disgusted.”

Twilight glanced around and saw nopony was watching, thankfully. She turned back to Fluttershy, who was frowning while prodding the wrap. “Do you want to just get out of here?”

“Uhm… Yes, please…”

It was all too often that the couple found themselves in situations they’d rather not be in, usually because of overly zealous reporters. They had long since come up with an escape plan that had yet to fail. After double checking to make sure nopony was watching, Twilight levitated a scroll out of her purse and then made a big flash while she let it fall to the table, alerting everypony nearby. She unrolled it, pretended to read, then gasped.

“Fluttershy, we have to go. There’s an emergency at the castle.” She looked around and spotted the waiter. “I’m sorry, but something’s come up and we need to leave. How much do I owe you?”

The waiter sat dumbfounded for a moment, clearly not used to ponies leaving early, or maybe he was specifically instructed to make sure the royal couple had no problems with their dinner. He shook his head and composed himself. “Your Highness did not even finish her meal. Please, there is no charge.”

“Nonsense, I can’t leave without paying,” Twilight insisted.

Before the waiter could object Fluttershy cut him off. “Twilight, we need to go.”

Twilight nodded and grabbed her purse. “Right. I’ll, uhm, I’ll come back after everything’s taken care of. But I definitely will be back to pay for this.

The two mares made a quick escape, taking to the air as soon as they were out of the restaurant just in case anypony was watching. They landed a few blocks away.

“I’m sorry that didn’t go so great…” Twilight sighed.

“It’s fine, Twily. Actually, it was kind of fun. In a ‘we’re never doing that again’ kind of way.” Fluttershy nuzzled her. “So, do you want to go back to the castle or the cottage?”

“Uhm, well, I kind of have something planned back at the castle,” Twilight said, feeling guilty for the lie. “But there’s somewhere else I want to go first.”

Fluttershy grinned. “I know what you want.”

Twilight blinked. “You do?” How could Fluttershy know? Twilight hadn’t told a single pony what she had planned.

“You want to go get some ice cream to make up for that lousy dinner,” Fluttershy said, smiling innocently.

Twilight laughed and nudged her. “And I take it you also want ice cream?”

Fluttershy gasped. “Twily, that’s a great idea!” Fluttershy began to lead the way with no hesitation.

“Hey, Shy, can we go to the one by your cottage? It’s closer to the other place I wanted to go.”

Fluttershy turned around. “Sure thing!” They walked side by side along the familiar path to the ice cream shop. “So where else are we going?”

“It’s a surprise,” Twilight said.

“Okay. Uhm, so what’s at the castle?” Fluttershy asked.

“Oh… that’s a surprise too.” Twilight grinned sheepishly. She could only hope that would be a good one.

Fluttershy leaned against her. “Twily, what’s going on? Our anniversary is two moons away. Why is this night so special?”

Twilight kissed her cheek while they walked. “Because you’re special, and I want to do something to show you how much I love you.”

“I love you too. You don’t need to do all this to show me that. Two surprises, going to such a fancy restaurant, this.” Fluttershy gestured to Twilight’s outfit.

“It’s too much, isn’t it? I knew it was too much.” Twilight frowned. “I’m sorry, but Sunset insisted and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, besides I couldn’t figure out what to wear, and I thought –”

Fluttershy stopped her rambling with a kiss. “No, it’s not too much. You look… well, to be honest I almost wanted to cancel our dinner plans, and keep you all to myself tonight.”

Both mares giggled. After a moment they started walking again. Fluttershy’s comment made Twilight wish Sunset’s plan was just to clean their room for her. But if it had been that simple she would have just said so, not to mention she wouldn’t even need to insist they return to the castle at all. Considering the mess she left their room in, they would have to do some mood ruining cleaning to do when they got back.

When they entered the shop the pony behind the counter popped her head up from behind a book. “Princess, Fluttershy, how’s it going?” she said, smiling.

“Hello, Cherry Topped,” Twilight said as they took a seat at the counter. “We just got back from Le Petit Cheval.”

“No kidding? Well, you’re certainly dressed for it.” Cherry Topped said. “How was it?”

Twilight and Fluttershy exchanged looks and laughed. “Well, it was… interesting.” Fluttershy said.

“That bad, huh?” Cherry Topped asked. “I guess your being here is for more than to fill me in on the details. Well, I’m sure I can get you something better than that stuffy nonsense they’ve got over there. What’ll it be?”

Twilight chuckled. “Whatever the exact opposite of ginger is.”

“Ginger… ice cream?” Cherry Topped asked, seeming to wonder if she had heard correctly. “Well, I definitely guarantee that anything I’ve got will be better than that. How about orange sorbet?”

“That sounds good,” Twilight said.

“Hmm… I think I’d like a hot fudge sundae, if you don’t mind,” Fluttershy said.

“You’ve got it.” Cherry Topped disappeared behind the counter and came back up with three desserts, including a Rocky Road for herself. “You caught me just in time. I was about to close up for the night.”

Since there was no one else in the shop Cherry Topped walked around the counter to eat with them. They all laughed as Twilight and Fluttershy recounted their experience with fine dining.

Once everypony was done, Twilight paid for all three desserts. “Thank you, but you really don’t have to pay for mine,” Cherry Topped protested.

“It’s no problem. In fact…” Twilight left a few extra bits on the counter. “I don’t even want to imagine what they’re going to charge for the food at Le Petit Cheval, and it didn’t even taste good!”

“Thank you, Princess. I’d tell you not to be a stranger, but I know I’ll see my best customers before too long.” Cherry Topped winked. They waved goodbye and stepped outside as she turned the sign in the door from ‘open’ to ‘closed’.

“So where to?” Fluttershy asked.

“Follow me,” Twilight said. She began walking in the direction of Fluttershy’s cottage.

As they left Ponyville behind Fluttershy looked confused. “I thought you wanted to go back to the castle tonight?”

“I do. We’re not going to the cottage.” Twilight smiled reassuringly. “Just trust me on this, Shy.”

Fluttershy nuzzled her. “I trust you with everything.”

Twilight smiled at Fluttershy’s words and affection, but she couldn’t make her heart stop racing. She didn’t even try to make conversation as they walked, she was too busy focusing on not hyperventilating.

“I think I know where we’re going,” Fluttershy said as they passed her house. Twilight just nodded. Fluttershy walked closer to her, so their bodies pressed together as they walked.

After what felt like an eternity they reached a field of wildflowers. It was where Twilight had first told Fluttershy that she liked mares, and in fact had feelings for her. It was somewhere that was only for the couple, near and dear to both of them.

“Well, this is where I thought we were going, but to be honest, I kind of expected something to be here.” Fluttershy smiled as she waited for Twilight to explain.

“Fluttershy, I…” Twilight tried, but her mouth dried up as she spoke. Her heart was beating so hard and so fast she could barely focus over the feeling as it beat against her tightening chest.

Fluttershy nuzzled her. “Silly, you can’t tell me yet. We’re not all the way there.” Fluttershy pointed to the tree they had sat under when Twilight first confessed her feelings.

“Oh, yeah.” Twilight followed Fluttershy to the tree, where the pegasus sat down and patted the ground next to her.

Twilight sat down, doing her best to not mess up her dress. She opened her mouth to try again, but Fluttershy cut her off. “The stars look nice tonight.”

“Yeah,” Twilight agreed, looking up.

“Remember our first date, when we sat under the stars like this?” Fluttershy put her hoof on Twilight’s.

“Of course I do. I’ll never forget it. I was so nervous, I kept worrying about when the right time to do anything was. I think I passed up a few chances at our first kiss just because I wasn’t sure if it was okay to kiss you. I couldn’t believe it when you did it first.” Twilight smiled at the memory and realized there was something she never did figure out about that night. “Why did you kiss me first?”

Fluttershy leaned in and kissed her before answering. “I’ll tell you, but I don’t know if it’s the answer you want. I love you so much now, but back then I only thought of you as a friend. I wanted things to work between us, but I didn’t know if it was really what was right for me. I thought that if I kissed you, I’d just know what I wanted. Like in a story where the characters kiss and realize that they’ve been in love all along. But I was just as confused.” She scooted closer and leaned against Twilight. “It took a lot longer than it does in the stories, and I don’t even know when I knew I was really in love. But you were always so perfect, I couldn’t help falling for you. And now… you’re everything to me. I just have to look at you and feel like I’m home, no matter where I am.”

Twilight smiled. “I know what you mean. I… Fluttershy, I’ve been thinking and I…” She’d written a whole speech for this moment. Several, actually. She’d planned to pick whichever one felt right when the time came, but couldn’t remember a single word from any of them. Fluttershy looked confused but kept smiling, as if trying to puzzle out what Twilight was trying to say. She opened her purse and levitated a small box out of it. Pulling off the lid, she presented Fluttershy with a necklace of emerald and silver. “Fluttershy, you’re the only pony I ever want to be with, the only pony I could ever love. Will you marry me?”

Fluttershy stared, her eyes flicking between Twilight and the necklace. Suddenly she broke into a smile and flung herself at Twilight. “Yes! Yes yes yes yes!”

Twilight lost her balance and the two rolled over, laughing. When they stopped Fluttershy kissed Twilight and giggled. “Twily, I’m… I’m just…” She shook her head and tears rolled down her cheeks. “I love you so much!”

“I love you too, Shy,” Twilight said, tears running down her face as well.

“Will you put my necklace on me? I can’t stop shaking.” Fluttershy giggled.

“Yeah, I…” Twilight looked around. “I, uh… I dropped it.”

Fluttershy laughed and threw her forelegs around Twilight. “I have the clumsiest fiancée ever.”

Twilight couldn’t help but start giggling, and soon Fluttershy joined in. ‘Fiancée!’ Twilight felt weightless. “It can’t be too far.” She illuminated the area with an orb of light and with a little bit of searching they found it. Fluttershy could barely sit still long enough for Twilight to get it on, and as soon as it was in place she wrapped herself around Twilight again.

“How do I look?” she asked as if she was somewhere Twilight could actually get a good look at her.

“Beautiful,” Twilight said. Rolling around had ruffled her dress, probably stained it, her makeup was smudged from the tears, and Twilight was pretty sure there was grass in her mane. “Absolutely beautiful. You’re the most gorgeous mare in the world, and I love you. I love you so much.”

“I love you too,” Fluttershy said. “Forever.”

Twilight held her tightly, never wanting to let go. “Forever.”

3 – Mixed Feelings

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Chapter Three

Mixed Feelings

It was getting harder to remember why this had ever felt like a good idea. Sunset had spent the better part of an hour cleaning Twilight’s room, and was finally placing the last pillow on the newly made bed. It had been tempting to just throw all the clothes in the closet and be done with it, but while Twilight would be in no position to complain, Fluttershy still needed to believe Twilight was the one who had planned everything. Even if they’d only been living together for a few days, it was pretty obvious the perfectionist would never throw her clothes in a pile in the closet. Just all over the bed, and the floor, and the tables, and… actually, maybe it wouldn’t be so unbelievable after all.

‘Oh well. It’s done anyway.’ Sunset looked around the room for anything she might have missed, but it was spotless. Thankfully, Twilight actually did keep it pretty clean, so it was mostly a matter of cleaning up the mess they had made earlier. ‘Now onto the fun part.’

After a quick trip to her room to grab the saddlebags Rarity had made for her, she walked downstairs. Unfortunately, she’d have to spend some of the money Twilight had loaned to her, which she hated doing. At least she was spending it on something for Twilight and Fluttershy.

“Hey, Sunset. Heading out?” Spike asked as she reached the bottom of the stairs. He was lounging around, reading one of his comic books.

Sunset gave him a nonplussed look. “Yeah, I’ve got some shopping to do. You’ve been scarce today.”

Spike grinned. “Yeah, you learn to get out of the way when Twilight gets in her moods.”

“Yeah, and leave me to deal with her! Three hours, Spike. I spent three hours helping her pick out a dress.” She pointed a hoof at him accusingly before dramatically throwing it into the air. “Why does she have so many fucking clothes anyway? She’s always naked!”

“Sorry about that… I guess I could’ve given you a warning…” Spike said. He set down his comic and folded his claws guiltily.

“Yeah, you think?” Sunset shook her head. It was good that she supported her friend, she reminded herself.

“Uhm, what does ‘fucking’ mean?” Spike asked.

Sunset snorted. “Don’t worry about that. Human swear word.”

“Oh, okay,” Spike said, although if Sunset knew anything about kids his age, he was already planning on adding the foreign swear to his everyday use. She briefly considered telling him not to, but decided she really didn’t care so long as he had enough common sense not to say it in front of Twilight. “Well, let me make it up to you. I can go with you and show you where all the shops are.”

“Well…” Spike would be a big help navigating Ponyville. She planned on going to the Carousel Boutique to ask Rarity where the best stores were for what she wanted, but she wasn’t actually sure if she could find it on her own. “Wait, how old are you again?”

Spike almost answered then narrowed his eyes. “Old enough. Why?”

“Because I have to pick up some adult things,” Sunset said.

Spike rolled his eyes. “I’m not a little kid. I can show you where the liquor store is.”

Sunset opened her mouth and closed it. She hadn’t planned on buying alcohol, but now that he mentioned it… “Actually that would be nice to know. But that’s not what I meant.”

“So then what are you getting?” Spike asked innocently.

While she certainly didn’t expect him to know too much about anything sexual, she would have thought he’d at least catch on to the general idea of what she was talking about. He must be even younger than she thought; it was making her feel kind of guilty for even bringing it up at all. “Okay, really though, how old are you? Seven? Eight?”

Spike folded his arms and frowned. “I’m twelve. What about you? You were in high school a few years ago, so you can’t be that much older than me.”

Sunset narrowed her eyes. “I’m old enough.”

“Whatever. Have fun getting lost, and looking for the stores on your own.” Spike picked his comic back up.

Sunset sighed. She didn’t really have a choice, unless she wanted her big surprise to amount to cleaning Twilight’s room. “Oh well, I never claimed to be a good influence. It’s not like any of it’s really bad anyway.”

“So where are we going?” Spike asked, jumping out of his chair, leaving his comic forgotten.

“Well, I need candles, flowers, some bath stuff, and chocolate strawberries. Probably some champagne too.”

Spike looked at her incredulously. “Besides the champagne, how is any of that adult stuff?”

“It’s all for setting the… you know what, if you don’t know I’m not gonna be the one to tell you.” Sunset realized she probably wouldn’t have any trouble passing all this off as just some girly stuff she wanted. She made a mental note to pay more attention to what she said around kids in the future.

“You know, we already have a bunch of candles,” Spike said.

“Yeah, but they all smell like wax. I want to get some scented candles.”

Spike shrugged. “Okay. I guess we should get those and the bath stuff first since everything else is fragile.”

“Good thinking,” Sunset said.

The two set off into Ponyville. Sunset kept them moving quick, trying her best to get them home before Twilight and Fluttershy.

Although she’d spent some time with Spike before, she had never really spent any one-on-one time with him. She was always nervous around kids, which was another great reason to hurry their shopping along.

At least it was easy to move through the list quickly. It seemed Spike knew every store in Ponyville, and he never bothered to ask what Sunset was planning on doing with any of their purchases. He was probably used to Twilight not filling him in on why they needed any of the stuff they bought.

Eventually they came to their final stop, a candy store where they’d pick up the chocolate covered strawberries. “I was expecting Sugarcube Corner, honestly,” Sunset said. Not that she minded. Running into Pinkie would be sure to delay them, and they didn’t have long if she wanted time to set everything up.

“They usually do baked goods,” Spike said. “Trust me, this is the best candy store in town.”

“Huh. Back in the human world it’s more a general sweets and coffee shop,” Sunset mused. The little differences between the two worlds took a lot to get used to. She had been prepared for most of the big ones, but every day she found something was different that she’d never even noticed before. It made her a little homesick.

A bell chimed as they walked in and a pale yellow mare greeted them. “Hey, Spike, how’s it going?”

“Hi, Bon Bon. Got any chocolate covered strawberries?” Spike asked, though his eyes wandered elsewhere.

“I can probably help you with that,” Bon Bon said. She disappeared into a back room and Sunset took a look around. This was definitely a better choice than Sugarcube Corner. Every candy she could imagine lined the walls, not to mention many she couldn’t recognize. When Bon Bon returned she brought a box of strawberries with her. “How many would you like?”

“I dunno. You want some?” Sunset asked Spike.

“Nah, not really my thing,” he said.

“Me either. So maybe a dozen?” Sunset said.

“You got it.” Bon Bon brought the strawberries to a stove where she melted chocolate and dipped the berries.

“Wow,” Sunset said, “talk about fresh.”

“That’s because I’m the best candy maker around. So are you new in town?”

“Yeah. My name’s Sunset Shimmer. I’m staying with Twilight.”

Sunset noticed a slight change in the expression on Bon Bon’s face. Her smile grew a bit wider, but Sunset didn’t like the look of it. “You don’t say. You two must be close if it’s not Princess Twilight. So, how do you two know each other?”

“We’re friends. We were… pen pals until recently.” Sunset was trying to be careful and watch what she said. She got the feeling anything she told this mare was likely to wind up being spread around town. She already regretted using her name.

“Oh, from the Unity program,” Bon Bon said. Sunset had forgotten that ‘pen pals’ was a term used in Twilight and Fluttershy’s charity organization. Ponies who needed support for whatever rough times they were going through could keep in touch with their ‘pen pals’ using journals based on the one Sunset and Twilight used. “My marefriend and I had a pen pal. You do get to know each other quite well.”

“Yeah, that’s definitely true,” Sunset said. She caught what Bon Bon was implying and decided to play the same game back. “It’s nice that you and your marefriend did it together. I’m definitely glad I have both Twilight and Fluttershy as two of my closest friends.”

Bon Bon looked a little down at hearing Fluttershy was also Sunset’s friend, but persisted in her attempt to weasel some sort of gossip out of Sunset. “Of course. So are the strawberries for Princess Twilight then?”

Sunset didn’t allow her smile to falter even if Bon Bon was getting a little too close to the wrong idea. “What makes you say that?”

“Well, you said you and Spike don’t want any, and you and the princess are such good friends,” Bon Bon said as she drizzled white chocolate on top of the strawberries.

“You got me. Twilight and Fluttershy are such gracious hosts I wanted to give them something, and Fluttershy was just saying that she wanted some.”

Bon Bon’s smile made it clear she’d believe what she wanted to, but at least Sunset didn’t think anything she said would incriminate her. She walked up to the counter while Bon Bon boxed up the strawberries. Looking around, she noticed Spike was staring at something.

“What is that, rock candy?” Sunset asked, looking at the large blue shard Spike was staring wantingly at.

“In a very literal way,” Bon Bon said. She looked at it disdainfully. “I started practicing gemstone candy once Ponyville got a resident dragon. I ordered so much to get the bulk discount, but Princess Twilight barely comes here…”

“She says I eat too many sweets already,” Spike said, not taking his eyes off the treat. “Not my fault Pinkie always brings them over…”

“We’ll take it,” Sunset said. Spike jerked around to face her, wide-eyed and smiling. “And maybe I’ll stop by once in a while to buy more.”

“Really? Thank you!” Spike said. As Bon Bon boxed up the candy, he looked like he might start bouncing up and down at any moment. Sunset couldn’t help but smile at his excitement.

“No problem. But we’ve got to get going or they’ll be back before us.” Sunset paid while Spike grabbed the boxes and excitedly ran to the door. Sunset thanked Bon Bon, even though she wasn’t sure she really trusted the candy maker to not start rumors about her.

“Well, she was a treat,” Sunset said once they were far away enough from the candy store.

“She just likes to gossip, she’s harmless,” Spike said dismissively. Sunset suspected that as far as the little dragon was concerned, the difference between ‘nosey busybody’ and ‘harmless gossip’ was the ability to make gem based candy. “Besides, Lyra Heartstrings, her marefriend, is an old friend of Twilight’s. She usually keeps Bon Bon in check.”

Sunset shrugged. “Not like she got anything on me, unless she wants to start blatantly making things up.”

“Yeah.” Spike looked at the boxes and licked his lips. “Thanks again for the candy.”

“Don’t mention it.” Sunset smiled. “Like seriously, don’t. Last thing I need is an earful from Twi about giving you candy behind her back.”

Spike chuckled. “You got it.” He looked at the second box, filled with strawberries. “Are these really for Twilight and Fluttershy?”

“Yeah,” Sunset said. “All this stuff is for them, actually. Which is another thing you shouldn’t mention.”

“Sure, but… why not?”

“Well, you can tell Twilight. But Fluttershy’s supposed to think all this is from Twi, not me.”

If anything Spike looked more confused than before. “But why?”

“Because it’ll mean more coming from her than from me, and… look, do you really want to know what all this stuff is for?”

Spike shrugged. “I don’t know.” He did his best to look impassive, but overdid it and looked so disinterested it was obvious he was faking. Sunset arched an eyebrow and he cracked. “Okay, kind of.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Sunset gave him a moment to back out if he wanted to, but he just looked at her expectantly. “For whatever reason, Twi’s going out of her way to make tonight special, so I wanted to make it special when they got home too. All this stuff will help set a romantic mood, if you catch my drift.” By the way he squirmed as she said it she guessed he did. She just grinned and rolled her eyes. “And while I’m happy to help their date finish well, that’s not normally something a friend does. So I’ll let Fluttershy think Twilight did it.”

Spike blushed a little and fidgeted, but all things considered didn’t seem as disturbed as Sunset expected. “So then why can Twilight know?”

Sunset chuckled. “Well, somepony’s got to be in on it. I doubt I could get them to both believe the other threw the surprise.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Spike said.

“Besides, if there’s one thing I know about Twilight, it’s that if a book isn’t telling her to do something, she isn’t going to do it,” Sunset said. Another was that Twilight was far too much of a prude to read those kinds of books, and probably was oblivious even to most basic tricks for setting the mood. On the other hoof, Fluttershy was surprisingly the more open one when it came to exploring her sexuality. She even used the journal to ask Sunset a few things, though she said she usually talked to Luna about stuff like that, with whom she had a similar journal that Twilight was less likely to see the entries of.

“Yeah, that’s true,” Spike said, his grin returning

Sunset was impressed. She expected him to be grossed out by the subject of his sister’s sex life, but it didn’t seem to bother him too much. “I’m kind of surprised how mature you’re being about this.”

Spike stood up as tall as he could, which was still a head shorter than Sunset. “Yup. That’s me. Mature.”

Sunset laughed. “Well, I guess I’ll have to cancel my plans for tonight. I figured we could give Twilight and Fluttershy some space and make ourselves a pillow fort downstairs.” Spike’s stance faltered, and Sunset went in for the kill. “With all the couches in the castle, we could probably build a pretty big one, multiple rooms and everything. But if you’re too mature for pillow forts, well…”

Spike suddenly seemed to remember his age and grinned excitedly. “Well, maybe I’m not that mature yet.”

Sunset smiled and shook her head. “I’m just messing with you. You can still be mature and like pillow forts. Actually… back when I was living with Morning Breeze, my ex, we used to make pillow forts sometimes.”

“You did?”

“Yup! You’re never too mature to have fun.”

Spike snickered. “Try telling Twilight that. All she does is read all day.”

“Ah, so reading’s only fun if there are pictures all over the place to help tell the story?” Sunset asked wryly.

“Hey, comics can tell serious stories too!”

“I never said they couldn’t,” Sunset said. “I read comics too.”

“Ever read the Power Ponies?” Spike asked.

Sunset shrugged. “Superheroes aren’t really my thing. Besides, I haven’t been back to Equestria in years, so I’m not exactly up to date on any comic right now.”

Bringing up comics might have been a mistake, as Spike wouldn’t talk about anything but his favorite heroes the rest of the way home. Still, there was something to be said about his enthusiasm.

“Any idea when they’ll be back?” Sunset asked once they were back in the castle.

“Probably pretty soon if they’re just eating dinner,” Spike said. His stomach grumbled. “Speaking of which, I’ll go get started on ours.”

“Thanks, Spike, but you don’t have to worry about me. I’m sure I can figure something out for myself.”

“It’s not a problem. Before Fluttershy was around I did all the cooking myself anyway.” Spike was already making his way toward the kitchen.

Sunset began walking up the stairs when Spike ran back out. “Sunset, wait. You do know Fluttershy doesn’t drink alcohol, right?”

“Really?” Sunset glanced at the bottle of champagne she had bought.

“Yeah, something to do with her dad, I guess,” Spike said.

Sunset knew exactly why, but she couldn’t help but be surprised. “I guess I assumed she did ‘cause the human Fluttershy does. Whatever, it’s not exactly romantic if only one pony’s drinking it, so I guess I’ll be keeping that bottle for me. Thanks for the heads up, that would have blown the whole thing.”

“You got it!” Spike ran back to the kitchen and Sunset made her way upstairs.

She was glad Spike was off doing something on his own. He might have been surprisingly okay with talking about the general subject, but she was happy to minimize his involvement to the shopping.

Since she and Spike were staying downstairs, Twilight and Fluttershy would have the upstairs all to themselves. Capitalizing on that fact, Sunset left a trail of rose petals at the top of the stairs leading into the bathroom, where she left the bath salt on the edge of the tub and a few well-placed candles around the room. From there, the rose petals led to the bedroom, where she left the strawberries on the bed and placed the rest of the candles. She’d just have to hope Twilight would notice and have the sense to use them when they got home. She stopped by her own room to drop off the champagne, then went back downstairs.

Sunset wasn’t a great cook when she had hands to work with and internet to lookup step-by-step directions, so she decided to leave Spike to handle that while she got started on their fort. She gathered every pillow and couch cushion she could find and brought them to a small room that she couldn’t actually figure out the purpose of. Within fifteen minutes it was too full to work in, so she brought the small mountain of cushions into the sitting room where she first met Twilight and Fluttershy’s friends. She stepped back and admired the sheer number of cushions they had to work with. ‘This is going to be glorious.’

“Spike! Sunset! We’re home!” Twilight called.

“Perfect timing,” Sunset said. She and Spike had just put the finishing touches on their fort, a word their collection of cushions certainly lived up to. It was almost as tall as the room, and Sunset had reinforced it with a few small enchantments so it was sturdy enough that she could stand on top of it without worrying about it collapsing. Nodding to Spike, she teleported to the door.

As she approached the foyer, she heard laughter. ‘Guess tonight’s gone pretty well so far,’ Sunset thought. She stepped into the hallway and stopped in her tracks, gasping at the appearance of the two mares. They were both covered in dirt and grass, not to mention their dresses were probably ruined. She almost wondered if they’d been attacked.

“Sunset!” Twilight said, beaming. “You won’t believe what happened!”

Fluttershy giggled and nuzzled Twilight. “Twily, we should get Spike too. We can tell them together.”

The couple looked into each other’s eyes and began laughing giddily again. Sunset just tilted her head to the side. “You two seem pretty happy, considering how you look.”

Both mares looked at themselves. “We, uhm, kind of fell,” Fluttershy said.

“Only because you jumped into me,” Twilight said, nuzzling her cheek.

“You were supposed to catch me,” Fluttershy said, wrapping a wing around her.

“I love you, Shy.”

“I love you too, Twily.”

Sunset took a step back. “Do… do you two need a minute?”

Fluttershy giggled and blushed. Twilight just smiled. “Sorry, we’re just… well, do you know where Spike is? We’d like to tell you together.”

“Yeah,” Sunset said. “Actually, we have something to show you too. Follow me.”

She led them to the living room where they stared in awe at the tower. By the time they turned to look at Sunset, she was already teleporting to the top.

“You foals! You fell right into our trap! Private Spike, unleash the swarm!” Sunset yelled, pointing down at the bewildered ponies.

“Yes ma’am, Commander Shimmer!” Spike popped out from the hiding spot they left for him and opened fire.

“Aah!” Twilight was soon lost under a barrage of origami animals.

“Did you two make all these? They’re really nice,” Fluttershy said, admiring the pile on top of her marefriend.

“Yes we did!” Sunset announced proudly. “Round two, fire!”

“Meep!” Fluttershy was soon buried as well.

Sunset stood victorious. “We’ve done it! We have vanquished the enemy! I hereby claim this castle in the name of Sunspike!”

She waited to hear Spike join in with her cheers, but it never came. After a moment, Fluttershy’s head popped out of one pile, but the other didn’t move. Sunset eyed it carefully and realized it was smaller than it should be.

Sunset spun around, but it was already too late. Twilight was behind her, Spike being held tight in one forearm.

“Sorry, Commander… she was too fast,” Spike said, then mimed his death.

“Damn it! How did you escape?” Sunset demanded.

Twilight set the immobile dragon down and grinned. “You never had me at all. While you were gloating, I timed a teleport spell to disappear as soon as you were distracted.”

“Monologuing! My one weakness…” Sunset fell to her knees. “Fine, you have me. Do your worst, Sparkle.”

Twilight walked over to Sunset. “Sunset Shimmer. You have infiltrated my home, stolen my pillows to build this atrocity, and caused the death of my lover and brother.”

“Uhm… I’m okay,” Fluttershy said.

Twilight stood at her full height and flared her wings out. “There is no fate I could give you that you would not deserve.” Sunset turned her head away, but nothing happened. When she looked back she saw Twilight holding her hoof out. “But I forgive you.”

Sunset smiled. “Twilight…” She reached out her hoof and took hold of Twilight’s. “You foal!” She threw Twilight over the edge, cackling madly.


“I’ll save you!” Fluttershy dived for Twilight but only succeeded in getting crushed by the falling alicorn.

Sunset looked over the edge and facehoofed. “Twilight, you can fly!”

“I… forgot,” Twilight said as she got off Fluttershy and helped her up.

Sunset expected Fluttershy to be upset, but she just laughed it off. “Are you okay, Twily?”

“Yeah, are you? I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking…” Twilight said.

“I’m fine. I’m not hurt, and it’s nice to see you having fun.”

Sunset teleported herself and Spike to the others. “Sorry, I guess I kind of overdid it at the end there.”

“It’s fine,” Twilight said. “Now, if neither of you are going to attack us again, there’s something we’d like to tell you.”

Sunset and Spike exchanged glances. “What’s up?” Spike asked.

Twilight stood next to Fluttershy and put a wing over her. Fluttershy leaned her head against Twilight’s. “I asked Fluttershy to marry me. And she said yes!”

Sunset’s mind raced with so many fractions of thoughts and emotions that she couldn’t even fully form one, let alone say it out loud.

Thankfully, Spike didn’t seem to have that problem. “That’s fantastic!” he said as he ran up to hug the couple.

Sunset finally brought her emotions into control. “Yeah! Absolutely, that’s amazing! I’m so happy for you two.”

“Thank you,” Twilight said, smiling from ear to ear.

“Alright, so I want to know what happened,” Sunset said. “Tell me she didn’t do it in the restaurant. She’s not that boring, is she?”

Fluttershy giggled. “No, she was very romantic. She took me to where she first told me that she loved me.”

Twilight and Fluttershy told the story together. Sunset was again amazed at the effect Twilight had on Fluttershy, as she was just as enthusiastic in speaking as Twilight was.

“Wow, I still can’t believe it,” Sunset said, leaning against the wall of pillows. “Never mind, I can totally believe it. It’s like you two were just made for each other. Oh! Are you gonna try to have the wedding on your anniversary?”

“Well, we haven’t talked about a date yet,” Fluttershy said.

“I don’t think our anniversary would work out too well though. It’s only two moons away, and I don’t want to rush this.” Twilight smiled and leaned against Fluttershy. “Our wedding is going to be perfect.”

“Yeah, that would be pretty short notice. A royal wedding’s sure to have a big turn out, after all.” Sunset grinned as an idea occurred to her. “But it would be pretty great if you just sprung it on everyone. Imagine the press trying to figure out what was going on, and you two would be unavailable for comment ‘cause you’d be on your honeymoon.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Where do you think we should go for our honeymoon?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight said. “To be honest, I barely thought of anything past ‘will you marry me?’”

“Well, I think you should figure that out later. Just take it easy for tonight.” Sunset smiled. “And then when you are thinking about it, I think that you should go to Las Pegasus. And bring me. I won’t even be in your way! Just leave me at the biggest casino and by the end of the night, I’ll be rich enough to land in some lucky pony’s hotel room.”

Twilight laughed. “Or drunk enough to land in the street when you lose all your bits.”

Sunset crossed her forelegs. “While that is a distinct possibility, I prefer to remain optimistic,” she said. “But you’ll note that I still wouldn’t be in your way if I’m passed out on the street.”

“Oh, I couldn’t bear to think of you like that,” Fluttershy said. “I’m sorry Sunset, but we’ll just have to leave you here where it’s safe.”

Sunset tried to snap before remembering she didn’t have fingers. “Well, you can’t blame me for trying. Now I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you two should probably get washed up. You both look pretty, uh, disheveled.”

“You’re right,” Twilight said sheepishly. The couple said their goodnights and made their way upstairs. Sunset sat in a daze watching even after they were gone.

“Well, I guess now we know why Twilight was making such a big deal about tonight,” Spike said.

“Yeah,” Sunset muttered quietly. Eventually she shook her head and smiled. “So, excited for the wedding?”

“Yeah! It’s gonna be great, and this time I’ll definitely get the bachelorette party right,” Spike said confidently.

There were several questions running through Sunset’s head. It took her a moment to pick one. “Okay, first off, this time? When have you ever had anything to do with a bachelorette party?”

“Well, last time it was a bachelor party. I threw one for Shining Armor when he married Cadance.”

“Shining Armor let you throw his bachelor party?” Sunset tried to imagine what that must have been like. Between the groom, the guests, and Spike, someone must have been really disappointed.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t he?” Spike asked, giving her the same innocent look he did when she first mentioned her shopping trip.

“No reason. Anyway, what do you mean you’ll get it right this time?”

Spike scratched at the back of his neck. “Well… I kind of didn’t realize the bachelor party was supposed to be before the wedding.”

Sunset didn’t even try to hold back her laughter, which she felt guilty about when she saw how embarrassed he looked. “Alright, so then what happened?”

“He still let me throw the party. Uhm… after their honeymoon…”

Sunset decided to let him down easy. “Well, if you did throw a bachelorette party, I’m sure things would go much better. But the thing is, those parties are usually thrown by somepony the same gender as the betrothed. They’ll probably have Pinkie Pie or Rarity throw the parties.”

“Oh… Okay.”

Spike looked so disheartened that Sunset couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. “Tell you what, I never really cared about traditions and stuff, so if I ever get married then you can throw my bachelorette party.” Not that Sunset ever planned on getting married, but she left that part unsaid.

Spike rolled his eyes, but didn’t look quite so down. “Alright, but I’ll hold you to that.” He looked over at the pile of origami. “I guess we should clean all this up, huh?”

“Probably. You want to leave it for tomorrow?”

“Definitely.” Spike ran back into their fort, with Sunset following close behind.

The rest of their evening was spent eating junk food and reading comics. While she wasn’t thrilled with The Power Ponies, Sunset did wind up enjoying some of Spike’s other comics.

Eventually, Sunset found herself reading issue fifteen of Flashfire with Spike curled up at her side, asleep. The little dragon was snoring, but Sunset still found him oddly adorable. Fluttershy had once told her that their whole group kind of saw Spike as a little brother, and Sunset could see why. Although, to be fair, she was probably more like the cool babysitter than an older sister so far.

With Spike asleep, Sunset found the comic much less distracting, and by the time she finished reading it she didn’t bother getting the next one. ‘They’re getting married. They’re getting married and I’ll never have a chance to be with… Sunset stood up and shook her head. She felt horrible for even thinking something like that. Twilight and Fluttershy were her friends and she was happy for them. They deserved each other; everypony could see how much they loved one another. Even if it weren’t for the wedding, she would never do anything to get between them.

Sunset walked out of the fort and made for the kitchen. She got herself a glass of water and sat at the table, eyeing the wine rack. Unfortunately, all the bottles were sealed, leaving no easy way of getting any unnoticed. She thought about the champagne, but she didn’t want to pass by their room at the moment. She wondered how late the bars in Ponyville were open, but that would mean spending Twilight’s money so she could drink away her feelings about Twilight’s wedding. ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’

Since sleep was out of the question and it wasn’t likely she was going to get drunk, she decided to just go for a walk. She could easily find the castle from anywhere in Ponyville, after all. She got as far as the front door before she was stopped by a soft voice.


She turned to see Fluttershy at the stairs. “Hey, Fluttershy. Too excited to sleep?”

“Something like that,” Fluttershy said, but even in the dim light Sunset could see her blush. After the big announcement Sunset had completely forgotten about the surprise upstairs.

She grinned, happy to have something other than the wedding to focus on. “Hmm, that blush says otherwise. I’m guessing a little celebration was in order?”

Fluttershy blushed more, which Sunset couldn’t help but enjoy. The shy pegasus averted her eyes. “Maybe a little.” She started laughing and smiled despite her embarrassment. “Okay, a lot of celebrating.”

“Naturally. Taking a little break then?” Sunset winked.

Fluttershy still didn’t face Sunset, but she also didn’t retreat into her mane like Sunset expected. Instead she just twirled a strand of it idly around her hoof. “Well, Twily fell asleep.”

“Ah, so you got her all worn out already? Go, Fluttershy!” Sunset said. She managed to remember herself before she tried to give a thumbs up.

Fluttershy walked over to her. “I tried sleeping too, but I just couldn’t. Usually I’m asleep before her, but I’m just not tired tonight. I guess I’m too excited after all.”

“I’ll bet. You nervous at all?” Sunset asked.

Fluttershy shook her head and looked up, finally meeting Sunset’s eyes and smiling serenely. “I’m so happy. I never knew I could be this happy. I can’t believe she wants to stay with me forever, and there’s no other pony I’d rather be with.”

“You’re both really lucky. I’m not surprised Twilight would want to be with you at all.” Sunset placed a hoof on her shoulder. “You’re pretty amazing too, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy blushed again, though not as much. “Thanks, Sunset. So what are you doing up?”

“Aw, I’m just kind of a night owl. I was thinking about taking a walk. You know, see Ponyville by moonlight.”

“Would you mind if I come with you?” Fluttershy asked. “I think a walk in the night air sounds nice.”

“That’s fine with me,” Sunset said, opening the door while Fluttershy stepped through. She began walking, and Sunset wasn’t sure if she was walking aimlessly or had somewhere specific in mind, but followed either way.

“It’s so lovely at night,” Fluttershy said, staring up at the stars.

“I forgot how clear the sky is here. The stars are all so bright.” Sunset was briefly mesmerized by the sight. Small moments reminded her of all the things she had missed about Equestria, and yet even though she was right where she was supposed to be, she still felt the same feeling she did whenever she thought about the things she missed from Earth.

“What’s the sky like in the human world?” Fluttershy asked.

“Some places are kind of like this, in the country where there aren’t any buildings. There are too many lights in the city, it blocks out the stars.”

“Really?” Fluttershy asked. “I love the night sky. I can’t imagine not being able to admire it.”

“Nowhere compares to the sky in Equestria though. There’s just something… magical about it.” Whenever she would look at the sky in the human world she found it amazing because it was so vast and she knew space was so empty. Here it seemed even bigger, but she didn’t feel like it was empty at all. She felt almost like she could be part of it.

Fluttershy smiled as she looked back towards the road. “I think it’s been even more beautiful since Luna came back.”

Sunset couldn’t tell. This sky was undeniably the most beautiful one she could remember, but she couldn’t tell if that was because she’d never seen a better one, or because it had been so long since she’d seen an Equestrian sky at night that she could only compare it to the human one. “It’s strange how much has changed since I’ve been gone. When I left there were only two princesses, Celestia and Cadance. I never thought I’d be alive to see Luna return.”

“I never even knew Princess Celestia had a sister,” Fluttershy said. “I don’t know if Twilight and I would have made it without Luna; she helped us through some of our worst times. She really knows a lot about relationships.”

Sunset tilted her head. “I’d have thought Cadance would be the go-to princess for that type of thing. Princess of Love and all that.”

“Oh, Cadance is great too, but I feel a little weird talking to Twilight’s sister-in-law about us. And, uhm, there are some things I’d just rather not talk about with Twilight’s family.” Fluttershy’s blush made it apparent what type of things she meant.

“For whatever it’s worth, I like to think I know a thing or two about sex too. I’m happy to help if you ever want advice from somepony else.”

“Oh, uhm…” Fluttershy blushed deeper and grinned. “I’ll… keep it in mind. Anyway, I think you and Luna will be good friends when you meet.”

Sunset quietly watched the houses as they passed. Most had their lights out as the town slept. After a while she sighed. “I might meet her sooner than I thought I would. I’m going back to Canterlot.”

Fluttershy stopped walking and frowned. “Already? Why?” Her eyes widened. “Is it because of the engagement?”

“Yeah, I –”

“Sunset, you don’t have to go anywhere! You only just got here, and we both love having you around. Just because we’re getting married doesn’t mean you have to move out.”

Sunset chuckled. “It’s not like that, and I didn’t say I was moving there. Trust me, staying in Canterlot is the last thing I want to do.” Sunset put a foreleg around Fluttershy’s shoulders. “But there is an important wedding coming up, in case you didn’t know. That means some ponies from Canterlot might be coming to make arrangements – probably even Celestia herself. I want to meet her on my terms, not because she pops in for a visit.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy looked a little embarrassed at her outbreak. “But I don’t think that many ponies will be coming. For the wedding of course, but why would ponies from Canterlot come before then?”

Sunset rolled her eyes. She wasn’t really too surprised that Fluttershy hadn’t realized yet. It was one of the things she admired about her after all; unlike Sunset, Fluttershy was always content with what she had. “Well there is going to be a fifth princess, you know.”

Fluttershy’s eyes went wide and her mouth started moving without saying anything. Eventually she let out a nervous chuckle. “Sunset, just because Twilight is a princess doesn’t mean I’ll be one.”

“Uh huh. Is Shining Armor a prince?”

“Well… yes, but…” Fluttershy looked like she might faint. “No, oh no…”

“Okay, take it easy. Here let’s sit down a second.” Sunset led her off the road where they could sit in the grass. “You okay?”

Once they were sitting down, Fluttershy seemed a little better. “Yes. I think.” She shook her head. “I don’t know. Sunset, what am I going to do? I never wanted to be a princess! Everypony’s going to expect me to be somepony special and I’m just going to let them down…”

Sunset smiled and nudged her. “Fluttershy, you’re already somepony special. You’re the Element of Kindness, and more importantly, you’re the embodiment of it. Even without the title, you’re the type of pony to look up to.”

Fluttershy stared at her hooves. “All I do is hide behind Twilight. Ponies look up to her, not me.”

“That’s not true,” Sunset said. Fluttershy looked at her pleadingly, eager for some kind of reassurance. “Whose idea was it to make the journals for Unity?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “That wasn’t anything special. Anypony would have done it, I’m just the one who thought of it first.”

“Twilight told me you were the one who insisted you two visit every town in Equestria and meet everypony that wanted to meet you.”

“I just… I didn’t want anypony to feel alone.”

“Exactly! That’s what makes you so special.” Sunset blushed a little. “That’s why I look up to you.”

“You… you do?” Fluttershy looked at her in disbelief.

“Yes, Fluttershy. You care about everyone, whether or not you’ve even met them. You go out of your way to help everypony and never expect anything in return. Ponies already look up to you. You’re going to be a great princess.”

“Do… do you think anypony will expect me to do anything huge?” Fluttershy asked.

“Not really. Actually, you have the best of both worlds. When a pony marries into royalty, nopony actually expects them to do anything, aside from a few public appearances. But at the same time, you will be a princesses, so you’ll have a lot of power to do a lot of things to help other ponies, but only if you want to.”

Fluttershy nodded and stood up. She still looked worried, but at least she looked like she was steadier on her hooves. “Uhm, would you mind if we went back to the castle?”

“Of course not.” Sunset stood and walked side by side with her. “You know, there have been a lot of ponies who married into royalty. I could tell you about them, if you want. Or you could ask Twilight if you’re ever in the mood for a four-hour lecture. Actually, next time you feel too awake for bed, that’s probably not a bad way to get to sleep.”

Fluttershy chuckled. Seeing her look a little better brought a smile to Sunset’s face. “Uhm… I’d like to hear about some of them, if you don’t mind.”

“No problem. You know, I actually used to tell Equestrian history stories to the other Fluttershy all the time. I promise I’ll stick to the interesting stuff.”

As they walked back under the starlight, Sunset told her about the different princes and princesses that married into royalty. She talked about ones that didn’t do anything with their title, just to show Fluttershy it was an option, but mostly she talked about the ones who used their newfound authority to help Equestria grow into something better. With each story she could see Fluttershy grow a little more confident.

By the time they reached the castle, it seemed the worst was behind them. “Sunset?” Fluttershy said as they reached the stairs and were about to part ways for the night.


“Promise you won’t stay in Canterlot for too long?”

Sunset smiled and blushed a little. “Yeah, I promise. I’ll be back before you know it.”

Fluttershy smiled and hugged her. “Good night, Sunset.”

“Good night, Shy.” Sunset shook her head. “Fluttershy. Good night, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy looked at her quizzically. “You know you can call me Shy if you want.”

“Uh, yeah. Well anyway, good night.”

Fluttershy chuckled and walked upstairs. Sunset walked back to the couch fort where she found Spike still sleeping peacefully. She was about to lie down when she noticed issue sixteen of Flashfire. ‘Just one more.’

Sunset levitated the book over, letting the dim light from her horn illuminate the pages as she read.

4 – Reflections

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Chapter Four


“We’ll never get past this because you aren’t seeing how great I deserve to be. Is that really all you have to say to me?”

“No. The guards will escort you out.”

“This is the biggest mistake you’ll make in your entire life.”

Sunset sat staring out the window. She’d relived that moment countless times, especially in the past few days. It was the last conversation she had ever had with Celestia. It all seemed so distant now, and not just because of how long ago it was. Looking back on her actions, she almost felt like she was watching a different pony entirely – that is, until she remembered her former mentor’s eyes fixed on her. Even if it was just a memory, she could still feel those magenta eyes lingering on her.

Although the train ride was smooth, it did nothing to improve Sunset’s mood. She hated traveling in anything she couldn’t control because it felt like she was putting her life into somepony else’s hooves. As she watched the countryside roll past, all she could think about was how much better the trip would be if she were on her motorcycle. Most of her friends told her it was a death trap, but she never felt more in control than she did on her bike.

When she wasn’t worrying about meeting Celestia, she was irritated by being stuck on a train, and there was nothing to distract her from either thought. She’d borrowed a book from Twilight by one of her favorite Equestrian authors, but as much as she was looking forward to catching up on what she’d missed while in the human world, she couldn’t focus on the words. Twilight and Fluttershy had offered to come with her, but she insisted on going alone. She told them it was because they needed to focus on the wedding, but really she needed time away from them to collect her thoughts.

She’d had feelings for Twilight since the Fall Formal almost three years ago. After everything Sunset had done to her, she still extended her hand in friendship. In a way, Twilight had saved her life that day. Once her mind wasn’t clouded by the overabundance of magic from Twilight’s crown, Sunset knew her plan would never work. A school full of teenagers was no army, and even with the crown she was no match for Celestia. And while she doubted Celestia would have allowed her to die, whatever remained for her if Twilight hadn’t stopped her was hardly a life worth living.

Over time, her feelings grew from admiration to love once they began talking through the journal. But Twilight was a princess and Sunset was a traitor. There was no way things could ever work out. Besides, Twilight moving to the human world obviously wasn’t happening, and Sunset had been terrified of returning to Equestria.

She kind of still was. Fluttershy and Twilight spent months trying to convince her to visit, but she kept making excuses. Eventually she surprised them both by telling them she wanted to move back outright, and asking if she could stay with them until she found her own place. She couldn’t keep living somewhere that constantly reminded her of her.

“That’s a beautiful necklace.”

Sunset looked up to see a pegasus smiling at her. She had a brown coat with tan spots, and a lighter brown mane, which was done in a short cropped style. She was wearing the blue uniform of the train workers.

Sunset realized she’d been absentmindedly playing with her necklace. “Thanks.”

“Can I get you anything?” she asked.

Sunset chuckled. “Depends. What’s the strongest drink you’ve got?”

The mare smiled. “In my experience, alcohol’s not really the best thing for motion sickness.”

“I don’t have motion sickness, I just don’t really like trains,” Sunset said.

“Fair enough, but it’s still a bad idea. That’s why we don’t serve alcohol anymore, too many bad experiences. How about I get you some tea?”

Sunset sighed. “Coffee?”

“Sure thing. Be back in a second.” The mare disappeared and Sunset looked out the window again. She only watched for a moment before tearing her eyes away. Thankfully, the mare was true to her word and soon returned. “Cream and sugar?”


Once she handed Sunset her coffee, the mare took a seat next to her. “Ever been to Canterlot before?”

“Yeah, I was born there. Haven’t been back in a long time though.” Sunset took a sip of her coffee and her eyes shot wide open. “There’s rum in this.”

The mare and waved a hoof. “That’s ridiculous. And against company policy. We don’t serve alcohol, remember?”

Sunset stared reverently at the coffee before taking another drink. She smiled as she set the cup down. “I think I love you.”

The pegasus laughed. “You know, I get that a lot actually. I’d open up a coffee shop, but I like traveling too much.” She winked. “So what’s the real reason you’re upset?”

“What do you mean?” Sunset was taken by surprise at the sudden subject change. She tried for an innocent grin, but the mare’s expression made it clear she didn’t buy it.

“I know what ponies look like when they just don’t like trains. I mean, I’ve worked on one for a couple years now. Something else is bothering you.”

Sunset frowned. So much for using idle conversation to distract her from what was on her mind. “It’s complicated.”

“Trust me, I know a thing or two about that.” She stood up and returned to her cart to pour herself a cup of coffee as well before sitting back down. “Try me.”

Sunset was tempted to tell her the whole truth, alternate universe and all, but decided the fun in seeing her reaction wasn’t really worth the risk of getting committed. Besides, after sneaking rum into her coffee, Sunset couldn’t help but like this mare. “Basically, I’m meeting somepony who more or less raised me. But the last time I saw her, I kind of really disappointed her. I said some horrible things and ran away from home. Now I don’t know what to expect. I haven’t even told her I’m coming because I’m afraid she might just tell me not to bother.” She left out that the other reason she hadn’t written ahead was that getting thrown in jail was also a distinct possibility.

“She’ll probably just be happy to see you. I mean, if it’s been that long she’s probably ready to move on, and I think you’ve grown up a lot since then.”

“What makes you say that?” Sunset asked.

“I can tell. I mean, you seem sorry about whatever happened, and you’re going back, right? That says a lot already.” The mare smiled encouragingly and Sunset smiled back.

“That’s what my friends said.”

“Sounds like you’ve got some pretty smart friends then.” She winked.

“Yeah, I guess I do,” Sunset said. “So what about you? Where are you from?”

“Fillydelphia originally. Now I’m kind of a professional vagabond. I stay in whatever town I end my shift in, usually with some friends.”

“That’s pretty cool. Ever get tired of not having one place to call home?”

The mare shrugged. “I do stay in Canterlot more than anywhere else. That’s where my marefriend lives. She said I can move in with her if I ever want to stop roaming, but I dunno. She lives with her sister, and I get the feeling she doesn’t like me.”

“Why not?” Sunset asked.

The mare took a sip from her coffee before answering, and Sunset did the same. “Well… I guess it’s not really that she doesn’t like me. More that she doesn’t like me dating her sister.”

“Because you’re a mare?” Sunset asked.

“No, nothing like that. She’s very supportive of that type of thing, it’s just… I don’t know, really it’s just this feeling that I get. Maybe she thinks her sister can do better?”

Sunset sighed. “Yeah, I know what that’s like. I was in pretty much the same situation with my last marefriend.” Sunset inwardly celebrated the minor victory of remembering not to say girlfriend.

“Mind if I ask how that worked out?”

“Sorry, but I can’t really offer any encouragement for you there. I actually got along with her sister really well at first. But then we broke up for a while and when we got back together, things changed. Suddenly everything good I did mattered a whole lot less than the times I fucked up.” So much for remembering the pony terminology.

The pegasus didn’t seem to catch the slip in Sunset’s wording. “Here I am complaining and I don’t even know for sure that she doesn’t like me.”

Sunset shook her head. “It’s fine. She left town and I moved to Ponyville, where I’m staying with those smart friends I mentioned earlier.”

“There you go. It always helps to have friends around.”

Sunset nodded and finished her coffee.

“Well, I should get back to work,” the mare said. “There’s still a few hours before we reach Canterlot, try to take it easy. Maybe take a nap or something.”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll do that,” Sunset said. She handed the mug back to the mare who left to check on other passengers. She decided sleep sounded like the best way to pass the time, and if she didn’t get to it soon she’d be kept up by the caffeine for sure. As she stretched out across her seat and the one next to her, she found sleep came easier than she would have thought and soon she drifted off.

Sunset woke to a hoof gently shaking her shoulder. She opened her eyes to see the friendly pegasus from earlier smiling. “Congratulations, you managed to sleep the rest of the trip.”

Sunset rubbed her eyes and sat up. After taking a moment to stretch she grinned at the other mare. “What do you know. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of sleepy time coffee.”

The pegasus grinned back. “What can I say? I have a gift.”

Sunset stood up and levitated her saddle bag onto her back. “So if I hide out on this car, can I just go back to Ponyville now?”

The mare put a hoof on her shoulder. “Hey, it’ll be fine. Things will all work out, you’ll see.”

“I hope so,” Sunset said. Realizing she was being a downer, she held her head up and smiled. “Thanks for everything.”

“Don’t mention it,” she said. “Now go on, you’ve got a big day ahead of you.”

Sunset nodded. With a wave goodbye, Sunset left the train cart and began the slow walk to Canterlot Castle.

Along the way, every hoofstep brought her back to a time when she was younger, full of brash determination and so sure she was better than everypony else. Although Canterlot was a hub for all kinds of advancements in magic and technology, it also bred that sense of narcissism. Nearly everypony at the top of the city’s social ladder felt the same way Sunset had, but she had the talent to back up her sense of superiority.

At least, that’s what she felt back when she lived in it. Celestia had spent years trying to show Sunset a better path, but she had been too shortsighted to take it.

At least the castle was open to visitors, so Sunset didn’t have a problem getting in. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the audience chamber. As Sunset approached it, she was stopped by a white unicorn with a brown mane. “Hello there, do you have an appointment with the princess?”

Aware of how often the mare must hear the same tired old line, Sunset smiled, doing her best to not look like the overly cocky aristocrat she had been the last time she was in these halls. “I’m sorry, but I don’t. I know Princess Celestia will want to see me though.”

The receptionist smiled politely. “I’m sorry, but the princess has a full day today,” she said. She flipped through a notebook on her desk as she continued, “I’d be happy to make you an appointment for… Friday.”

There was no way Sunset could make it until Friday. “I can wait until all her other appointments are done. I just really need to see her today.”

“After her appointments are finished, Princess Celestia will be having dinner with Princess Luna before retiring for the night.” To her credit, the mare didn’t seem to mind Sunset’s insistence. She was probably used to far more obnoxiously demanding ponies.

“Could you maybe get a message to her? Tell her Sunset Shimmer’s here to see her.”

Sunset wasn’t surprised dropping her name did nothing to help her out. It wasn’t in Celestia’s nature to tell ponies more than was necessary, and even Twilight hadn’t known about her until she stole the crown.

“I’ll send your message through, but the princess does not deviate from her schedule.” The secretary wrote down a quick message and disappeared through the door. Sunset almost considered running in after her, sure that once Celestia saw her it wouldn’t matter; whatever was going to happen would happen.

Eventually the mare came back out and returned to her work. Sunset waited patiently, expecting another aide to eventually come get her, or bring a note telling her when the princess would be free. What happened instead almost stopped her heart. Within minutes, Celestia herself walked out of the audience chamber. “Sunset Shimmer.”

Sunset had never seen Celestia speechless before, and all she could do was stare. The princess was standing in the doorway, eyes slightly wide with her mouth just barely hanging open. Neither she nor Sunset seemed to be able to say anything.

“Uhm, Princess?” the secretary looked between the two ponies, seemingly at a loss from Celestia’s reaction.

Celestia turned to her and smiled. “Raven, I apologize, but I need to ask you to rearrange the schedule. I’ll have to meet with the Budget Committee another time. It seems something’s come up.”

Raven blinked and stared at Sunset. “Yes, of course, Princess.”

Celestia turned back to Sunset, apparently finding her voice again. “I’m sure we have a lot to catch up on. Come, let’s go to my solar.”

Sunset followed Celestia along the familiar path without saying anything. For the first time in days, her mind went blank, and they reached Celestia’s solar sooner than she’d expected.

Sunset wasn’t surprised to find it identical to how she remembered it. Celestia sat down and gestured across from her, so Sunset did the same. “I have to say, when I got Raven’s memo I could hardly believe it,” Celestia said.

Sunset nodded. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. If she couldn’t see her, it would be just like being back in Principal Celestia’s office. She’d definitely spent enough time there.

“Tea?” Celestia offered.

Sunset’s eyes shot open. “I’m so sorry, Princess, for everything! I was wrong, I never should have left, I should have listened to you more!”

Celestia glanced at her already full teacup before setting it down. “It’s okay. You don’t need to apologize, Sunset. Twilight has already told me more than enough to know that you’ve grown much since leaving me.”

Sunset stared down at her hooves. “Please don’t throw me in the dungeon.”

Celestia chuckled. “Sunset, you were my student for seven years. Did you ever know me to throw a pony in the dungeon?”

“No, but I also never knew another pony who tried to take over Equestria with an army of teenage zombies.”

“Yes, I think that was one of the more interesting invasion attempts I’ve heard of. But I have been told you were not in your right state of mind at the time.” Celestia poured a second glass of tea and added honey, then passed it to Sunset. “It hardly seems fair to hold that against you.”

Sunset took a sip from her tea. She’d long since switched to coffee, but drinking tea with Celestia was just so familiar that she wouldn’t have accepted coffee even if Celestia had offered it. “But I still stole the crown.”

“Yes, you did,” Celestia said. Her expression was serious, yet kind. “But I believe Princess Twilight is capable of deciding the appropriate response. It was her crown, after all.”

Sunset shook her head. “But she never even tried to punish me. She… she helped me. After everything I did, she still gave me a second chance. She left me with five people who became my first real friends. I was rewarded for being a terrible pony!”

“And if you had been punished? If you hadn’t been left with your friends, and were instead dragged back to stand trial? What do you think would have been the outcome?”

All these years, and Celestia was still testing her. “I don’t know. I guess I would have faced my sentence, then moved back in with my parents if they’d take me.”

Celestia frowned. “I suppose that may be. But along with that you would have grown more bitter. You would never have learned about friendship down that path.” She smiled as she continued, “Instead, you have come back to me. It took longer than I had hoped, but you have returned of your own accord.”

Sunset bowed her head. She should feel happy that Celestia welcomed her back, and she did, but she felt so many things all at once. She found it too difficult to process so many mixed emotions, so she just waited for Celestia to continue.

“Something has troubled me for the past few years, since that incident in the Crystal Empire,” Celestia said. Sunset looked up to see her face was full of concern. “When you left, you were brash, self-righteous, and antisocial. But you were not a thief, and you were certainly not a conqueror. What happened when you were gone? Before that first time you returned, I mean.”

Sunset had spent years distancing herself from that time, occasionally going so far as to lie about what her life in the human world had been like. But she couldn’t bring herself to lie to Celestia, and certainly not when she was asked a question directly. She sighed and steeled herself for the disquiet she always felt when reliving that part of her life.

“When I first came out the other side, I was scared. I was alone and surrounded by creatures I never could have imagined, and I didn’t even know if they were hostile. The first thing I tried to do was teleport to safety, and immediately realized I didn’t have my magic. That was by far one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced, and I knew right then that I should turn around and return home. That if I apologized you might forgive me, and even if not I’d still be better off than I was, stranded in a strange place without any magic. But something held me back, and although I couldn’t figure it out at the time, I later learned that it was because my mind was trying and failing to reconcile my seventeen-year-old pony brain with my five-year-old human one.”

“Five?” Celestia asked.

“Well, that’s what they assumed when they found me anyway. I’m getting to that,” Sunset said. She had been expecting that to cause some confusion.

“Sorry, please continue.” Celestia drank from her tea and sat in attention of Sunset’s story.

“When I realized I couldn’t use magic my instincts told me to hide, so I jumped into a bush and stayed there for hours. Eventually some people found me. Even though they seemed friendly, I couldn’t help but be terrified by them. Eventually, the rational part of my brain won and I answered some of their questions, until they asked me how old I was. I told them I was seventeen, and it was pretty clear they didn’t believe me. I don’t really understand how it works, but the mirror seems to age ponies down. But when Twilight came through at twenty-two, it only made her high school age, maybe seventeen or eighteen. I came out as a little kid, and it messed with my head. I had all the memories and knowledge of a practically full grown mare, but my instincts were basically a little kid’s.

“Anyway, once I stopped answering their questions, the people who found me called the police, who took me in as a lost child. I caught on that telling the truth was not going to do me any favors and feigned amnesia. It wasn’t that hard; no one really expected a little kid would be able to accurately fake symptoms of a mental disorder, after all. And it wasn’t like I could have come up with a plausible story anyway, since I didn’t really know the world yet. So while they conducted a search for some parents they’d never find, I wound up in an orphanage.

“From there I had to go through the whole school system again. I know it sounds like I’m bragging, but let’s be honest; I’m pretty much a genius at math by any standards, especially when basic division would be enough to impress the people testing me. Science there is similar to here, but they’re so far ahead of us that I didn’t even know how to use a lot of what’s considered basic technology by human standards. And of course I didn’t know their history at all. I probably could have gotten away with private studies, but they were quick to notice my antisocial behavior and decided I’d be better off with ‘kids my own age’. If you thought I was bad in Equestria, just imagine what I was like when my ‘peers’ were still learning to color in the lines.”

“That does sound frustrating,” Celestia said. “But why didn’t you ever try to come back?”

“I did. I spent every chance I could get trying to find my way home, but I couldn’t find the portal. Remember how I said my brain sometimes worked like a kid’s? Well that applied the most when I was scared or upset. My childish impulses would overrule my adult mind. That first day through the portal, everything was a blur. I didn’t even realize I was at a school, and no one at the orphanage knew where I was found, or rather, they wouldn’t tell me.

“Eventually, I just gave up on looking. I… I started to believe the lies I told everyone. That I didn’t know where I was from, that everything I remembered about Equestria was fake, something my mind made up to fill in the holes left by my amnesia. I can’t even begin to explain exactly how crazy it sounds over there to be a magic unicorn from another dimension. I really believed that I was crazy, or at least had been. It just made so much more sense than believing this world was real. And when I accepted it, that I had imagined the whole thing, that’s when I changed.

“I grew more impulsive. Once I accepted that I had vivid memories of a world that didn’t exist, I just felt like nothing mattered anymore. I kept finding myself thinking that I wasn’t even sure if anything was real anyway. Since I was the problem child and no one ever adopted me, I stayed at the orphanage, where all my caretakers just thought I was going through the whole existential teen angst thing. I racked up a pretty big criminal record that followed me around the entire time I stayed in the human world. So to answer part of your question, that’s when I became a thief.”

Celestia certainly didn’t look pleased to have her answer, but if she had any sort of judgement, she withheld it. “This behavior lasted until Twilight followed you through the mirror?”

Sunset shook her head. “Not exactly. That was all back when I was in middle school. When I started high school, I stumbled across the portal and recognized it immediately. I think I might have cried, it was like confirmation that I wasn’t crazy. I tried to get through it, but I couldn’t. Drawing on memories I had tried to forget, I recalled learning that the mirror worked every thirty moons. Using records from the orphanage I figured out when it would work again, and towards the end of my first year of high school I got through. I was back in Canterlot as a pony again. It was… I can’t describe it. I never wanted to leave again, but when I wandered the castle, I met a unicorn. The first pony I spoke to in ten years, and she told me she was your student.”

Celestia frowned. “Twilight never told me she’d met you before.”

“She doesn’t remember. She wouldn’t, we barely talked and she was preoccupied with something else. I didn’t say anything that would have made me stick out, I didn’t even tell her my name. And once I found out you had a new student, I ran back through the mirror. Ten years had passed, of course you had a new student. But at the time my mind was really fragile, and I couldn’t handle it. I think part of me thought everything would just be exactly the way I left it. It was easy to feel like all the time that had passed didn’t matter, because in ten years I was younger than when I first left Equestria. It was like I was frozen in time, so I guess I thought everypony else would be too, which is really dumb when I think about it now, but at the time… well, if you believe you’re crazy for long enough, I think you go a little crazy.

“When I got back to the human world, I turned malicious. I had already begun wrapping the school around my finger, but that was just because it amused me, and while I wasn’t the nicest girl, I wasn’t that bad. After my brief trip to Equestria, I was so angry, and I wanted everyone to hurt like me. I wasn’t happy with being the most popular girl in school, I wanted to break it. All the while, I figured out when the portal would open again, and made plans to get some kind of revenge on Twilight. Stealing the crown was kind of a last minute plan. I had no idea what I was going to do initially, but then I came back and found myself in the Crystal Empire. I stuck to the shadows and gathered information, and learned there was a new princess and that she was your former student. Obviously I realized it was the same mare I’d met, and it just seemed so perfect, especially when I learned her crown was also the Element of Magic. If I stole it, I’d have the most powerful and probably only magical artifact in the human world, and… I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I hoped stealing her crown would somehow cause her to lose her title. I hid in the castle until nightfall and… well, you know.”

Celestia bowed her head. “Oh Sunset. I’m so sorry. When you didn’t come back, I thought you were somewhere you had finally found happiness. I should have gone after you right away. I should have brought you back...”

In all the possibilities Sunset had thought through for this conversation, none of them involved Celestia apologizing to her. “It’s… I mean, it all worked out in the end, right? Like you said, I finally did make friends.”

“I suppose so,” Celestia said. She smiled slightly, and Sunset got the impression she often did: that the princess’s smile was a well-practiced façade. “Speaking of which, I trust things are going well in Ponyville?”

Sunset nodded. “Twilight and Fluttershy are the best. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have friends like them. And they introduced me to all their friends.”

“I imagine they must have been very interested in your friends on the other side of the mirror,” Celestia said, leaning in slightly.

Sunset chuckled. “Do you want to know about the other Celestia?”

“Well, one does wonder.”

“I’m sure Twilight told you she’s the principal of the high school I went to,” Sunset said. Celestia nodded. “Well, it’s not like I knew her personally or anything, but she definitely always reminded me of you. Aside from her appearance, I mean. She certainly has your lectures down.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “I hope that’s not the only thing you remember when you look back on those years when you were my pupil?”

Sunset grinned. “No, but you don’t normally get sent to the principal’s office unless you deserve a lecture. It’s pretty much the only side of her I know.”

“I suppose it’d be pointless to hope you didn’t give her too much of a hard time?”

Embarrassed, Sunset took a sip of her tea. “I did. The last semester of school, after everything with Twilight, we kind of got along a bit better, but I think it’d be safest to say we had a mutual understanding. Suffice it to say I doubt she’d offer me tea if I popped up out of the blue to visit her.”

“Well, I hope you know you’re welcome to visit me anytime. It has been too long that we’ve been out of touch. Unfortunately, I do have obligations though, and have to return to them. I’ll have a room prepared for you, and of course you’re always welcome to stay here whenever you’re in Canterlot.”

“Thank you, Princess,” Sunset said, rising once the alicorn stood and following her out of the room.

“You have not met my sister Luna, have you?” Celestia asked when they were out in the hall.

“No, although Twilight and Fluttershy told me a lot about her.”

Celestia nodded. “I think you two would get along well. You always did remind me of her, you know. She is usually up by this time, and her room is the second highest one in the astronomy tower if you feel like introducing yourself.”

Sunset suspected Celestia’s suggestion held some hidden purpose, but couldn’t see what. “I think I might do that.”

After saying their goodbyes, the two parted. Lacking anything else to do and curious why Celestia wanted her to meet her sister, Sunset made her way to the astronomy tower.

Since her memory of the castle was still a bit fuzzy, she had to ask for directions, but eventually she found herself in front of the Princess of the Night’s door. She knocked and the door opened ominously. Stepping in, she found the room was lit only by a few large torches, as heavy curtains blocked light from every window. She looked around and saw no sign of the alicorn. “Uhm, Princess Luna?”


Sunset wheeled around to see a pony who was unmistakably Luna, although she had definitely not been there a moment ago. Sunset maintained her composure though, and quickly bowed. “My name is Sunset Shimmer. Princess Celestia suggested I come meet you.”

Luna walked across the room and sat on a cushion. “Sunset Shimmer. I have heard much about you. You were my sister’s student before Twilight Sparkle.”

“Yeah. I guess she’s probably told you about me,” Sunset said, taking a seat across from Luna.

“Celestia? Not as much as you might think. My sister isn’t one for idle conversation about the past,” Luna said. Possibly noticing Sunset was upset that Celestia hadn’t even talked about her to her own sister, Luna added, “I trust she didn’t tell you about me in the years you studied under her?”

“No, not really,” Sunset admitted. If she hadn’t told her pupil about her long lost sister, why would she tell it the other way around? “So how do you know about me?”

“Twilight and Fluttershy. Fluttershy in particular. She’s very fond of you.”

Any concern about Celestia not mentioning her was erased. “She said that?”

Luna smiled. “It’s obvious enough. Now, you said Tia sent you?”

Sunset couldn’t help grinning. ‘Tia?’ She wondered what Celestia would do if she teased her about the nickname. “Yeah, she told me she thought we would get along.”

“I have no doubt that we will. But tell me, what do you think her motives for suggesting this were?” Luna asked.

Luna’s face remained impassive, leaving Sunset unsure how to answer. She was wary of letting Celestia’s own sister know that she suspected most things she did had some sort of hidden purpose, but everything Fluttershy told her suggested Luna was a pony she could always tell anything to. “To be honest I don’t know. I figured I’d find out once I met you.”

“You don’t think she simply wishes our friendship for nothing but our benefit?” Luna asked. She maintained a completely blank expression.

“Honestly? Not really.”

Luna finally let some emotion back into her face and chuckled. “Good, you aren’t as naïve as Twilight then. Yes, Tia has an ulterior motive to us meeting. Several, I’m sure. Likely she hopes I’ll keep an eye on you without having to directly acknowledge she has misgivings.”

“You know, I’m pretty sure she’d like that motive to remain a secret,” Sunset said. She had no doubt Luna was correct.

“Did you believe she genuinely trusted you?”

Now that she was asked out loud, the answer seemed obvious. “No. I don’t really think Celestia trusts anypony really,” Sunset answered, then realized what she had said. “I mean, I’m sure she trusts you, but I’m not sure about other ponies.”

“There are things she trusts me with wholeheartedly, there are others she does not. I would say you are correct, she trusts nopony completely.”

Feeling awkward with how the conversation was going, Sunset decided to change the subject. “So what does being Princess of the Night entail, anyway?”

“Largely, I serve as a guardian. I lead the Lunar Guard in keeping Equestria’s citizens secure, as well as protecting ponies from their nightmares.” Luna spoke casually, as if the ability to enter another pony’s dreams was the most natural thing in the world.

“I’ve always wondered about that. Is that an alicorn thing?” Sunset asked. “I’ve never heard of any other ponies doing that.”

“It is and it isn’t. It is a me thing,” Luna said. Twilight had complained about Luna’s penchant for confusing half answers before, and Sunset could see her point.

“I don’t really follow.”

“Of course, you know all ponies have natural gifts,” Luna said. “Alicorns’ tend towards being rather exceptional. Dreamwalking is a gift of mine, in much the same way that Fluttershy can talk to animals, or Twilight has an impressive knack towards learning.”

Sunset thought about what she might do with an ability like that. “You must learn some interesting things from that.”

Luna nodded. “At times, yes. And that is why it’s good that not all ponies can walk the dreaming.” She inclined her head and Sunset suddenly found the decor very interesting. “Even I do not enter just any dream, as what a pony experiences within their mind is their own business. Thankfully, I can tell a nightmare from a peaceful dream without having to enter.”

“You ever get tempted to see what kinds of things a pony dreams about though?” Sunset asked. “Like, say… Princess Celestia?”

Luna folded her forelegs. “I have lived with my sister for thousands of years. I have a deep respect for her and do not wish to soil our relationship with a breach in her trust.”

Sunset grinned. “Uh huh. That wasn’t a no.”

“I’m too afraid she’d be able to tell I was watching, to tell you the truth,” Luna said. They both laughed. “I’ve always wondered if her dreams reflect her repressed sexuality, or if they’re just as dull as her waking life.”

“Hmm… you sure about that repressed sexuality thing? I kind of always thought her and the captain of the guard had something going on,” Sunset said, then noticed the look Luna gave her and laughed again. “Not Twilight’s brother, the one before him. I think his name was Stout Shield?”

At that Luna sat up and grinned broadly. “Oh, please tell me you witnessed something between them. Did Celestia really change so much in my absence?”

Sunset shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, it’s just the impression that I got. She seemed to spend a lot of time with him.”

Luna tapped her chin. “I shall have to question her about this. Or maybe it would be better to ask him.”

“What happened to him anyway?”

“Once he felt he was too old to lead the guard proper, he transferred to Celestia’s personal guard.” As she finished, they both looked at each other excitedly. “What do you think of paying Stout Shield a visit?”

“Right now?” Sunset asked, a grin spreading across her face.

In answer, Luna stood up. “He’ll likely be around the audience chamber.” Sunset followed her out the door.

Luna led the way. Sunset felt a little guilty, but years of curiosity coupled with Luna’s enthusiasm made that easy to ignore.

“Do you think he’ll actually tell us?” Sunset asked.

“I would be very surprised if he did,” Luna said. “No, we’ll have to try and read his reaction.” As they rounded one last corner and approached a guard, her face became passive. “Greetings. We are looking for Stout Shield. Would you happen to know where he is?”

The guard bowed before answering. “He is off duty today, Princess. Is there anything I could help you with in his place?”

Luna smiled slightly and inclined her head toward Sunset. “No, my friend here was acquainted with Stout Shield some time ago. We were merely intending a social visit. As you were.”

“Yes, Princess,” the guard said as Luna led them away, though not in the direction of her quarters.

“So then where to?” Luna asked. “We could pay him a visit to his home.”

Sunset was tempted but decided against it. “I don’t really think he’d enjoy a visit from me. Let’s not ruin his day off.”

Luna nodded. “Very well. There isn’t much point in visiting the kitchen, as dinner will be soon enough. You will be joining Tia and myself, I take it?”

During her last few years as Celestia’s student, Sunset had been living in the castle and always had dinner with the princess. However, it didn’t escape her attention that Celestia hadn’t exactly invited her. “I don’t want to intrude or anything.”

Luna chuckled. “Sunset, I love my sister dearly, but I have all the time in the world with her. You are not intruding in the slightest.”

“I guess,” Sunset said. She felt bad accepting when she knew Celestia could have offered an invitation but didn’t.

“Good. Then how about we pass some time in the palace gardens?” Luna suggested. Although she was still having some trouble remembering where everything in the castle was, Sunset distinctly got the idea that Luna had been leading her to the gardens since they failed to find Stout Shield.

“Sure. It’s only been fourteen years since I’ve seen them.”

“When I first returned the gardens were one of the first places I visited,” Luna said. “I find their beauty is simply timeless. And perhaps while we walk, you could tell me why you would think Stout Shield would be unhappy to see you.”

Sunset had known this was coming from somepony eventually. At least it was easier than telling Celestia about her second childhood. “Stout Shield was one of the ponies escorting me out of the castle when I escaped and made it through the mirror. Princess Celestia never told you about that?”

“No. Only that you were once her pupil, and she only shared that much after you returned to steal Twilight’s crown.”

Sunset winced at how blunt Luna was, but Luna didn’t seem to be being unkind. Merely stating a fact that had happened. “Well, when I was Celestia’s student, I was kind of… difficult. One day she showed me the mirror. I… I don’t really understand why, but when I looked in it, I saw myself as an alicorn princess. I became obsessed with the idea, and eventually I demanded Celestia make me a princess. Instead she dismissed me from being her student. When Stout Shield and another guard tried to escort me out, I broke away. I made a beeline for the mirror, and found myself in the human world.”

Rather than being surprised, Luna seemed amused by the story. “Now, when you say you broke away, do you mean you outran them?”

Sunset frowned and stared at her hooves as she walked. “No, I… kind of overpowered them. I don’t think I really hurt them, but I’m sure I left a bit of an impression.”

At that Luna seemed positively elated. “So, Stout Shield was not only defeated by a filly, but it was two to one in his favor.” She grinned at Sunset. “Impressive.”

Sunset couldn’t help but grin as well. “Well, I wasn’t really a filly. I was seventeen, so at least he can say he lost to a full-grown mare.”

Luna rolled her eyes. “At a stretch of the truth, I suppose. Still, I’m sure it was his ego that you hurt the most.”

They arrived at the gardens and spent some time walking through them, admiring the scenery. Sunset had always been aware the gardens were beautiful, but had never found time to appreciate them when she was younger. Still, as much as she enjoyed them now, she couldn’t help but wish she had somepony other than Luna to share the view with.

“Sunset? You seem sad,” Luna said after a while passed in silence.

Sunset forced a smile. “Huh? No, I’m fine.”

Luna looked at her for a moment, then turned to face forward again. “You are thinking of somepony.”

Slightly unsettled, Sunset sighed. “She’s… not actually a pony. My ex-girlfriend.” She frowned and stared off to the side. “Morning Breeze.”

“From the human world?” Luna asked. Sunset just nodded. “Would I be correct in assuming she had something to do with your return?”

“Yeah. We were kind of an on again off again thing.” Sunset said. Why was she reliving so much of her past, anyway? “Eventually, I guess she just got sick of it and left town. We didn’t exactly end on a high note either. But she’d really like this place. And she always said she wanted to see me as a pony.”

Luna smiled sadly. “Even so far away, the heart always finds ways to be reminded of those we love.”

“Yeah,” Sunset said. She expected Luna to offer the same condolences everyone else had, but she didn’t. Instead they walked in silence, and Sunset just appreciated her company.

“So what about you?” Sunset asked eventually. “I’ve heard some different things about your love life.”

“It’s really not as complicated as I’m sure Twilight made it out to be,” Luna said. Sunset hadn’t meant to let on that Twilight was one of the ones who told her Luna had a marefriend. “Amber Glow is often referred to as my marefriend, but really we’re just friends. Occasionally we attend formal events together and are quite close, leading to some confusion.”

“Really? Twilight and Fluttershy made it sound like something was going on between you two.”

“They would,” Luna said, smiling and shaking her head. “I admit that to an outsider we do look like a couple, but we both share the same idea about love, which is to say neither of us are looking for it.”

Sunset didn’t see why that was at all hard to understand. “I guess I’ll meet her sooner or later, since she’s friends with Fluttershy.”

“Sooner rather than later. I believe she is staying in Canterlot tonight, which means she’ll likely be joining us for dinner,” Luna said. “Speaking of which, we ought to head back. Tia will be finished with her meetings, and soon I have my own duties to attend to.”

Along the way to the dining room, Luna kept a casual conversation running, keeping Sunset’s mind off her concerns. Leaving the gardens helped as well. They entered the dining room as Celestia was taking her seat.

The Solar Princess smiled as they walked up. “Hello, Luna, Sunset. I see you two have met.”

“We have,” Luna said. “I trust your day was satisfactorily dull?”

Celestia smiled. “Yes, it was.” To Sunset she added, “Anything but a dull day for me means that there was a problem that needs my attention. Status reports may not be the most interesting thing to listen to, but they are preferable to damage reports and arrest records.”

Sunset tilted her head. “You actually have to listen to every arrest record?”

“Not all of them, only when they involve suspected changelings,” Luna answered for her sister, no doubt aware that getting a complete answer from Celestia would be nearly impossible. “A little over a year ago changelings began popping up, but only one at a time. They’ve been consistent in this fact – a single changeling appearing from time to time in a major town.”

Sunset was quick to catch on to the implications. “They’re creating a panic, and reminding ponies they can be anywhere at any time. They want everypony on edge.”

Celestia looked surprised for a moment, then returned to her passive smile. “Yes, our thoughts exactly.”

Sunset’s mind reeled as she tried to figure out a motive. “But that’s counterintuitive. Changeling’s only real tactic is subterfuge. While they might disorganize ponies to an extent, they more or less give away the advantage of a surprise attack. And even in a worst-case scenario where it starts a riot, that’s still way too small scale to really offset the disadvantage they’d be putting themselves in.”

“While I appreciate your interest, I assure you the situation is under control,” Celestia said. Sunset got the impression that it wasn’t, and a glance towards Luna confirmed it. The Lunar Princess’s face was grim. “And in any event, the problem will not be fixed tonight. We should enjoy our dinner.”

Once Sunset and Luna sat down, ponies brought out trays of food. Sunset found everything delicious, and sampled everything that was available.

Noticing her former student’s appetite, Celestia chuckled. “I have to say I’m surprised. You never cared for meal time before. You were always in a hurry to be somewhere else.”

“That’s because I never really knew what it was like to be hungry before,” Sunset said. Concern flashed across Celestia’s face, but it vanished when she noticed Sunset frown. She hadn’t really been thinking when she made the comment, and certainly wasn’t looking for sympathy.

“Did you know that when the kitchen prepares our meals, they make an abundance, with the majority going to a free cafeteria on the castle grounds?” Luna asked.

Sunset’s ears perked up as she turned away from her plate. “Really? I never knew that. Is that something new?”

“No, that tradition has been around for millennia. I’m sure I’ve told you before,” Celestia said.

Sunset stared at the bowl of soup in front of her. “Oh. I guess I just never really cared before…”

When she looked back up at Celestia she saw something that made her heart ache. Something she hadn’t seen in even longer than the fourteen years she spent in the human world. Celestia looked proud of her. “Well, I’m glad you care now.”

Unable to find anything to say, Sunset returned to her food. While everypony ate, Celestia caught Luna up on the events of the day. They had been correct earlier; they were extremely dull.

Everypony was nearly finished with their meal when the door opened. “Miss Amber Glow for dinner,” a guard announced, doing a quick bow before stepping back into the hall.

“Sorry, I know I’m super late, but there was a delay on the last train.”

As the mare approached the table, she stopped and stared at Sunset, who stared back at the mottled brown pegasus she’d met earlier. She was even still in the uniform.

Luna looked between the two. “Amber, I’d like you to meet Sunset Shimmer. Sunset, this is Amber Glow.”

Amber was the first one to break out of her surprise. “We met, actually. While she was on the train here, but I didn’t know it at the time.” She extended a hoof and bumped Sunset’s.

“Amusing,” Luna said. “Although I’m not surprised you two were on the same train. Ponyville to Canterlot is her main line, after all.”

“Nice to meet you,” Sunset said. “Again.”

“Ditto,” Amber said, taking a seat next to Luna. “So are you the same Sunset Shimmer from the other world?”

“That’s me, although I am actually from this world,” Sunset said. “Canterlot, like I said on the train.” She noticed Amber’s eyes dart towards Celestia as she was no doubt remembering what else they had talked about.

“That is officially the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” Amber said. “I seriously thought Luna made the whole thing up and somehow got Fluttershy to tell me, since she knows I’d never believe it coming from her.”

Luna pouted. “I tell the truth a shocking amount of the time.”

“Eventually Fluttershy convinced me she was telling the truth. Her going along with one of Luna’s tricks is just slightly less believable than being pen pals with somepony in another dimension.”

“Amber, you have officially become too difficult to trick,” Luna said. “I have therefore decided that Sunset shall replace you as my new best friend.”

Amber grinned. “You can try, but she already declared her love for me earlier.”

Luna laughed. “Well I hope you let her down easy.”

Refusing to let herself be embarrassed by becoming the subject of their banter, Sunset put herself into the conversation. “More like not at all. She just changed the subject.”

“Hey, you can’t just put a girl on the spot like that. I need time to figure out my feelings, okay?” Amber said.

Everypony laughed, and soon Amber was telling them about her day and why she was late. Sunset found it amusing that the day of a concessions clerk was more interesting than the day of a princess. She kept watching Celestia for any sign that she had any of the ill will Amber had mentioned earlier, but if she had any, she hid it well.

As late as it already was by the time Amber arrived, it didn’t take long for everypony to finish their meals. Soon they were pushing in their chairs while Celestia left for a balcony to lower the sun.

“I’ll visit you once the moon is raised,” Luna said once Celestia was out of earshot. “You have the day off tomorrow?”

“Yup. I’m all yours.”

“Excellent. And Sunset, will you be staying in Canterlot?”

“I didn’t really plan on staying very long,” Sunset said.

“Stay a few days, at least,” Luna said. “There’s no harm, and I’d like a chance to get to know you better. While I don’t share my sister’s motivations, I do think the two of us will be good friends.”

“Alright, I guess a few days wouldn’t hurt.”

“Good. Now, I bid you good night, Sunset Shimmer,” She turned to Amber and smiled seductively, pulling the pegasus in closer. “And you, I’ll see shortly.”

Amber made a noise of contentment as Luna kissed her. As Sunset waited uncomfortably for the kiss to end, she could suddenly understand why some ponies might be a little confused about the nature of their relationship. It went on for long enough that she was tempted to just sneak off while they were preoccupied. Eventually the two did break apart, and with a final wave Luna left to raise the moon, leaving Sunset and Amber alone.

“Thanks for not saying anything to Princess Celestia about what I told you,” Amber said.

“No problem. But you know, Celestia kind of likes everypony,” Sunset said.

“I get that. I don’t think she really dislikes me or anything, just… I don’t think she approves of whatever it is me and Luna are to each other.”

“About that. Are you sure you two are on the same page with your relationship?” Sunset asked.

Amber rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I know I called her my marefriend on the train and she’s really not, but it’s just easier than trying to explain the whole thing every time.”

Sunset frowned, unconvinced. “Really? ‘Cause you seemed pretty attached when you were talking about her earlier. I know it’s not really any of my business, but I’ve been there. It sucks when you both have different ideas about where you are together. Have you talked to her about it recently? Just to make sure you both know where you stand.”

Amber smiled and put her foreleg around Sunset’s shoulders. “Sunset, while I appreciate you wanting to help, we’re fine. Really. Our friendship is kind of crazy, but it works. We’re both happy with how things are.”

“If you say so, but at least think about it,” Sunset said. “I better go get settled in. Besides, it sounds like you have a pretty wild night ahead of you.”

Amber laughed. “Yeah, being with Luna you get used to weird hours. I’ll see you tomorrow then. Good night.”


Sunset and Amber walked off in different directions. Unsure where her room was, she wound up walking aimlessly until she ran into a guard. If there was one thing consistent about the castle, it was that there were guards everywhere. Thankfully, another was that they were always helpful.

“Excuse me. I’m staying as a guest of Princess Celestia, but I’m not really sure where my room is.”

The guard gave a friendly smile. “Are you Sunset Shimmer?”

“That’s me.”

“Princess Celestia informed us you’d be staying. Follow me, I’ll show you to your room.”

Sunset did as he requested. Along the way she noticed the walk seemed oddly familiar. ‘It can’t be,’ she thought. ‘If it is, we’d be turning left up here…’ They turned left. Hoofstep by hoofstep, Sunset would never forget this walk.

“We wouldn’t happen to be going to a room in the western wing, third floor?”

The guard looked at her in surprise for a moment, before turning back to the path ahead. “That is correct, miss. How did you know that?”

“That’s my old room,” Sunset said, more to herself than the guard.

“I’m afraid you must be mistaken, miss. That room’s been closed off for as long as I’ve had this job, some ten years now. You must have stayed in a room nearby it.”

Although he was no longer necessary, Sunset let him lead her the rest of the way in silence. When they reached the door she thanked him and he turned around, returning to his post.

Opening the door, she gasped as she saw the inside. Although it had been cleaned recently, everything was exactly as Sunset had left it. She walked in, and felt like she was walking into another time – fourteen years into the past, frozen in time. Her bookshelf was still filled with her favorite books on history and magic, her bed still had the same red sheet, her desk had… ‘Hang on, what’s that?’

On top of the desk was a small stack of paper. Grabbing the one on top, Sunset immediately recognized Celestia’s neat writing.

‘Dear Sunset Shimmer, if you’re reading this, you must have come back to me, although it seems like a lot to hope for right now. I’m writing this from the throne room, where I’ve been waiting since you left. I’ve had the mirror relocated here. I told the guards it was so I could keep an eye on it, but really I wanted it near me in case you decide to return. The portal is open for another two days. I tell myself I should leave it be, but how can I when you could return to me at any moment?

To be honest, I’m not sure what I should say. There isn’t much point in asking you to come back, even though it’s what I want the most. If you’re reading this, then you must already be back. Instead, I’ll try to find comfort in that – imagining you reading these words, here safe and sound.

I suppose the only thing there is to say is this: I’m sorry. I’m appalled with my actions earlier. I had hoped to scare you into leaving the mirror alone, but I was wrong. Maybe if I had explained it to you instead of refusing to answer any of your questions, maybe you might have understood how important it was to leave it be. I should never have said you are no longer my student. Even if I didn’t mean it, I should have considered how you’d feel. I was angry, but that is no excuse. You will always be my gifted student.’

‘Dear Sunset, so much time has passed since you left. Thirty moons and I’m at the mirror waiting again. I don’t believe you’ll come back anymore. You’re probably happy wherever you are, or else you would have returned already. That’s what I choose to believe, anyway.

I’ve taken a new pupil since you’ve left. I’m sure you wouldn’t like that, but I was left with little choice. She has a dangerous talent for magic, and if it’s not brought into her control, I fear what might happen. So I must ask you to forgive another thing; I was unable to wait for you.

Her name is Twilight Sparkle. I will try to learn from my mistakes as I teach her. I call her my faithful student, and I wonder if I had better taught you other virtues beyond your talent if you might be here to help me look over her. I like to imagine that you two would get along, and that if you do return she will be like a sister to you. I’ve always thought it was a pity you’ve never had any siblings. I think it would have been good for you, and although you try to hide it, I’ve always been able to see the compassion in you.

Sunset, please come home.’

‘It has been sixty moons since you left, and I broke a promise to an old friend today. I went through the mirror into another world.

Do you really live there now, in such a strange place? I was amazed to see my form changed as well, making me identical to the other beings in that place, so I know you can fit in, and I have no doubt you’re resourceful enough to do so. I take comfort in knowing the world you live in now does not seem dangerous. I looked for you, but I had to return before the portal closed.’

‘Dear Sunset, it has been a long time since I last wrote one of these letters. At first it was helpful to pretend I could still communicate to you, but eventually it became painful. I am hopeful I’ll never need to write one again. You came back tonight, but it was not to return to me. You’ve taken Twilight’s crown and returned to the world through the mirror. But I refuse to believe this is how it looks. I know that there must be a reason behind your actions.

I’ve sent Twilight through the mirror. I wish I could go myself, but I do not trust myself in this endeavor. I have failed you before, and I do not want to fail you again. I’m hopeful Twilight will bring you back with her, but either way I’m sure she will be able to help you with whatever it is that’s brought you back to Equestria.

When If you come back, I do not know what our relationship will be, but I shall always think of you as my gifted student. Wherever you are, Sunset, be safe.’

Sunset set the last letter down with the others and let what she’d read soak in. After a moment, she picked up the letters and read them all again, although it was difficult with the tears in her eyes. When she was done, she found herself staring into the mirror above her desk without seeing anything. Eventually her eyes focused on her reflection. Staring at her reflection was what had started the ordeal that her life became, but unlike then, Sunset only saw a unicorn whose eyes were red from crying. She smiled at herself nonetheless. It had taken her far too long, but she could finally see that she was exactly who she was supposed to be.

5 – A Night Out

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Chapter Five

A Night Out

Sunset was lying awake in bed, surrounded by scattered possessions she’d long forgotten about. She had spent hours going through everything in her old room, losing herself to her memories. For the moment, she was letting her mind take a break from the events of the day.

A soft knock on the door brought her mind back into focus. She sat up, fixed her dress, and took a quick look in the mirror. Sure enough, her eyes were bloodshot, but there was nothing she could do about that. She answered the door and wasn’t surprised to see Luna.

“Good evening, Sunset. I hope I did not wake you?”

“No, I was awake. What’s up?”

Luna nodded. “Amber and I were wondering if you’d like to accompany us to a moonlit art exhibit. I have committed myself to make a small appearance, but have much to do elsewhere as well. Of course, if you are too tired, it is understandable, but I speak for both of us when I say we would very much enjoy your presence, as otherwise Amber would be left alone should she choose to remain at the event once I leave.”

Sunset chuckled. “You know, I was Celestia’s student for seven years, and that is still the most formal invitation I’ve ever heard.”

Luna stared blankly for a moment before speaking in a tone of forced politeness. “Dearest Sunset Shimmer, allow me to begin by apologizing for the late hour and short notice of my request. However, as my newly appointed best friend, I would like to humbly extend an invitation for you to join myself and Miss Amber Glow for –”

“Yes, fine, I’ll go to your thing.”

Luna frowned and folded her ears against her head. “Sunset, I was still speaking. Surely in seven years my sister has taught you better manners than that.”

“Says the pony who’s thousands of years old and still a smartass.”

Luna tilted her head to the side. “Smartass? Is that a human term?”

Sunset facehoofed. “Yes it is,” she answered quickly, hoping she could avoid explaining what it meant. She was getting a little tired of explaining herself every time she let a human phrase slip out. Not to mention any insult with ‘ass’ potentially held racist undertones in a world with sapient donkeys. “Anyway, is this okay?” She gestured to her dress, wondering what Rarity would say about her wearing the same outfit she arrived in.

“Sunset, as my guest you would be permitted entry no matter what you chose to wear, if you choose to wear anything at all. As it stands, I’m sure the dress you chose to wear for Tia should be perfectly adequate by the standards of the Canterlot elite, should such a thing matter to you.”

“Not really, I just didn’t want to make you look bad since I’m your guest and all.” Sunset shrugged. “And I didn’t specifically choose this for meeting Celestia, I just always wear clothes.”

“All the time? How odd,” Luna said, then shrugged it off. “In any event, we can head out whenever you’re ready.”

Sunset glanced back to her mirror and was more or less satisfied with her reflection. “I’m ready. Let’s go.” She followed Luna into the hall.

“There will be a lot of influential ponies there. Have you considered what you might like to do now that you’re back in Equestria?” Luna asked.

The idea of networking brought back memories of being a filly, waiting around a punch bowl while her parents mingled with the other adults. “Twilight and I are gonna work on bringing some human technology to Equestria.”

“Is human technology vastly different than Equestrian?”

“It is. We’re also going to run some experiments to see how it reacts to magic. It’s an entirely new field, unexplored by both ponies and humans!”

Luna chuckled. “Yes, I see it now.”

“See what?” Sunset asked, her smile fading as soon as she became aware she was on the verge of completely geeking out.

“My sister’s student,” Luna said. If she noticed Sunset blush, she tactfully ignored it. “It is never enough for her that a foal be bright, they must also have the drive to learn. It is good to see that drive hasn’t left you. Tia will be pleased as well. If you haven’t told her your plans then I suggest you do so.”

Sunset nodded. She wanted Celestia to take an interest in her life, more than she’d ever be willing to admit to anypony, but she was also afraid. If Celestia didn’t trust her with something so potentially dangerous, she could probably put an end to the project before it began. Even if Twilight had a lot of authority, it wouldn’t outweigh Celestia’s. Not to mention that Sunset wasn’t sure if Twilight would even try to make a stand against their former mentor.

She followed Luna in silence, realizing along the way that they weren’t going back to her room like she expected, but rather out into the castle courtyard. Once outside, Luna turned towards the astronomy tower. She lit her horn and Sunset watched as a form lifted into the air from the tower and flew over, landing next to them.

“Hey Sunset, glad you’re joining us,” Amber said as she bumped Sunset’s hoof. “Hope we didn’t wake you.”

“Nah, I’m usually up pretty late. So where is this place?”

“Further into the city,” Luna said as she began walking. “Come, I have a chariot waiting.”

She led them to the front of the castle where two of her lunar guards stood waiting by a black and silver chariot. They bowed as Luna approached and she nodded in response. The three mares climbed in and the guards pulled them into the air.

Noticing Sunset was gripping the sides tightly, Amber wrapped a foreleg around her. “I take it you don’t like flying either?” she asked, speaking up over the roar of the wind.

Sunset shook her head, her eyes not leaving the ground so far below them. “Not especially.”

Although she was seated at the end of the chariot, Luna reached her wing around Amber to drape it over Sunset, covering both smaller ponies and pulling the three of them close together. Although she had to let go of the ledge Sunset found being so close to the others helped her relax a little.

Luna leaned in so she wouldn’t have to yell, resting her cheek on Amber’s head. “My apologies, I did not realize you are not fond of heights. Would you like us to land?”

“No, I’ll be fine,” Sunset said. With her eyes forced away from the ground as her new friends embraced her, she was able to show a genuine smile.

“I assure you that you are perfectly safe. Not only are the guards expert flyers, but I would never allow anything to happen to you.”

Sunset made a small noise of contentment, but it was carried away by the wind. “Thanks, but it’s not like I’m actually afraid of heights. I just don’t like not being in control.”

Luna nodded, although with her head still against Amber’s it was more of a nuzzle. “Understandable. Although I’m sure if it came down to it, you’d be able to cast a shield spell if something were to happen.”

Although she hadn’t practiced shield spells since she’d returned, Sunset still found comfort in the thought. “Maybe.”

“Oh yeah, aren’t you like some kind of super magic prodigy?” Amber asked. She used her free hoof to nudge Sunset, which left her with only her back hoofs to balance on, causing her to lean on the unicorn for support.

Sunset chuckled. “I was, but that was a long time ago. Now I’m just a regular unicorn.” She thought for a moment then added, “Well, maybe slightly more magically gifted than your average unicorn.”

“Only slightly?” Luna asked.

“Until I get back into practice anyway.”

As much as Sunset didn’t care for being pulled through the air, she couldn’t deny it had a certain amount of appeal. The flight from the castle to the park where the exhibit was being held was a short one, then she was back on the ground and in her element.

Examining her surroundings, Sunset found them to be about what she expected: high-class ponies mingling with high-class artists. There was more press than a simple art exhibit warranted, but it wasn’t really surprising with a princess in attendance.

“Did you warn her about the gossip?” Amber asked Luna. Sunset turned to see the princess frown slightly.

“No, although I probably should have.” She glanced at the reporters who hadn’t seemed to notice them yet. “I fear you may become the subject of gossip in some of the less reputable news sources. These days most ponies seen with me are.”

“How come?” Sunset asked.

“Because of me,” Amber said. While she didn’t seem too down, she was missing the smile that Sunset had come to expect from her. It was replaced as Luna wrapped a wing around her.

“Because some ponies do not realize the private lives of other ponies are indeed private,” Luna said. She kissed the pegasus on the top of her head. “Truthfully, I have always been the subject of gossip. Lately the nature of mine and Amber’s friendship causes confusion, and many don’t believe we are not in a traditional relationship. They see hidden signs that we have broken up or gotten back together every so often. Meanwhile, anypony I’m seen spending time with is viewed as my next replacement for her.”

“Really? Even though you’re both here together?”

Amber shrugged. “Maybe. It doesn’t matter to us, but we can leave if it bothers you.”

Sunset always used to think she’d be the center of conversation throughout Canterlot, but not just because she was seen hanging out with her friends. Still, it didn’t seem so bad. A few weird looks and stupid questions were pretty low on her concerns. “I suppose if they do make a story out of it, that’ll be the first thing my parents see about me coming back to Canterlot.”

Luna nodded. “Right. I’ve already committed myself to going, but Amber, would you mind taking Sunset back?”

“No problem. Sorry we dragged you all the way out here, but we can take the scenic route back. Canterlot by night’s still a cool sight, and that way we’ll avoid flying.”

Sunset grinned. “No way, I want to go. The only problem is that I won’t be there to see the looks on their faces when they find out.”

Amber opened her mouth and closed it. She turned to Luna with a puzzled look on her face. “You do not get along with your parents?” Luna asked.

“Well, I’ve been back in Equestria for about a week now, and I still haven’t let them know I’m alive. Then I even came back to Canterlot, but decided it was more important to see Celestia than visit my foalhood home. I think that about sums it up.”

Amber and Luna seemed to be at a loss for words. Eventually the pegasus stepped forward and put a hoof on her shoulder. “So, uhm, you want to talk about that?”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Not really. And even if I did, it wouldn’t be here.”

Amber still looked concerned, but Luna nodded. “Fair enough. So then you do wish to join us still?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Sunset said.

Luna led them into the gallery where they were immediately surrounded by other ponies, snapping pictures and trying to get in good standing with the princess. Nopony paid much attention to Sunset, although a few did approach Amber. After posing for a few pictures with Luna she managed to join Sunset on the sidelines.

“Ever feel overwhelmed by it all?” Sunset asked.

“I really don’t mind,” Amber said. “Sometimes they can be obnoxious, and there’s been a few awkward conversations with ponies who recognized me when I’m not even in Canterlot, but for the most part it’s all pretty harmless.”

Sunset smirked. “Are you sure somepony doesn’t just like being the center of attention?”

“If by ‘somepony’ you mean Princess Moon Butt then yeah, I’d have to agree,” Amber said. Luna did seem to be enjoying herself. “Although I guess I like it a little. But it’s not really the attention, it’s more that, well, she makes it fun. She likes playing games with the reporters to keep them guessing about us, and I like going along with her schemes I guess.”

Luna seemed to handle the crowd just as well as her sister. As everypony laughed at some joke she told, Sunset got the idea that Luna might even be the more social of the two. Or at least the more approachable princess.

“You know, I didn’t really know what to expect from her,” Sunset said. “Fluttershy and Twilight both spoke really highly of her, but it’s almost like they were talking about different ponies.”

“Yeah, she tones down the playfulness around Fluttershy. A lot of times Fluttershy’s the only one who can get a straight answer from her, and I think Luna would feel a little guilty playing tricks on her. On the other hoof, she really likes messing with Twilight.”


Amber waited to answer, pretending to stop and admire a painting while some ponies walked by. “Because she’s got a pretty huge crush on Twilight and she likes watching her overreact.” Noticing the look on Sunset’s face Amber smiled. “And no, it doesn’t bother me.”

“I wasn’t… yeah, okay, I was going to ask.”

Amber chuckled and shook her head. “Everypony does.”

“Everypony? Do a lot of ponies know?” Sunset asked.

“Well, everypony who does, I mean. Luna’s pretty liberal with her secrets, so she’s actually told a lot of ponies, but it can be pretty hard to figure out when she’s telling the truth, so I don’t know how many actually believed her.”

Sunset laughed. “I can see why they wouldn’t.” They further distanced themselves from the group at the entrance and began to walk around and admire the art. Amber favored old-fashioned period pieces, while Sunset prefered surrealist paintings. However, they both equally hated the majority of what was on display.

“It looks like something my little brother might’ve done back in kindergarten,” Amber said.

“I hate to say it, but it sounds like your brother might have failed kindergarten,” Sunset said. “Pretty sure even a foal could do better than that."

Amber snickered. “You know, I wouldn’t be able to say what it really looks like around a kindergartner.”

The painting in question looked like somepony covered themselves in paint then rolled around the canvas. In fact, Sunset would have bet a fair amount of money that’s exactly what happened.

“So is this better or worse than the chair nailed to the wall?” Sunset asked.

“I’m gonna say worse. The chair could be taken down and used as a chair still. This is a wasted canvas no matter how you look at it.”

“A wasted canvas worth a few thousand bits,” Sunset said. She’d seen paintings like this one plenty of times before.

“Probably, judging by the way the crowd’s eating this stuff up,” Amber said, looking around them. Everywhere, ponies were all gathered around the worst art to talk about it.

As the two wandered around looking for the few decent pieces hidden among the bad ones, Sunset had one thought keep returning to her. “So what do you think Twilight and Fluttershy would do if they knew how Luna felt?” she asked once she was sure they were alone again.

Amber looked puzzled by the sudden return of the topic, but answered nonetheless. “Well, Fluttershy doesn’t care. Luna told her ages ago, and I’m sure it’s not something they talk about a whole lot, but Fluttershy’s good at picking stuff up like that. I’m sure she knows Luna still feels that way.”

“You don’t think she’s just holding it in? Like, not saying what’s really on her mind?” Sunset asked. Years of getting information from other students at CHS had taught her how to keep her tone casual, and she kept looking around at the artwork while she spoke, but really she was focusing intently on Amber’s answer. Not just her words but her tone as well, making sure she gave nothing away subconsciously.

“Not really, but I don’t know,” Amber said. The only thing Sunset could pick up from her tone was that it was probably not the most amiable subject they could talk about. “I mean, if she doesn’t want Luna to know why would she tell me?”

Although Sunset hated to push a sensitive issue, there was still one more thing she needed to know. “Has she told Twilight?”

“Yeah,” Amber said, “At least I think she has. I don’t know how that went, but they’re still friends, so there’s that.”

“Good point,” Sunset said. She dropped the subject and hoped Amber would as well. “This one’s kind of cool.”

“Yeah, you said that the last time we walked past it,” Amber said. Sunset winced as she realized the sculpture did look familiar. “Is something wrong? You seem out of it.”

“Yes, indeed. Is there something you’d like to get in the open?”

Sunset wheeled around to see Luna was right behind them. Amber merely glanced over to her, likely used to the trick.

“No, everything’s fine. How do you do that anyway?” Sunset asked. She was positive they’d been a good distance from everypony when they began talking and she hadn’t heard Luna’s approach.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Luna said. “In any event, Sunset, there is somepony whom I would like to introduce to you.”

“Are we networking?” Sunset sighed. “Could we maybe, you know, not do that?”

“Networking can be important, and you two might be able to help each other quite a bit,” Luna said.

Reluctantly, Sunset followed her while Amber lingered by the sculpture. Sunset might have protested more, but she suspected this was part of a plan for Luna to get some time alone with Amber before she had to leave. Rather than lead her to a pony though, Luna seemed to lead her away from them.

“They’ll both understand if you tell them,” Luna said quietly.

Sunset stopped walking. “What?”

Luna stopped as well. “Twilight and Fluttershy. Which one do you have feelings for?”

Sunset felt her face growing hot, so she turned away. “What are you talking about? I don’t have –” She stopped short as Luna placed a hoof on her shoulder.

“Then humor me,” Luna said. When Sunset didn’t protest, she continued. “You are staying with them, it is likely only a matter of time before these feelings come to somepony’s attention. It will reflect better on you if you are open from the beginning, I should think. Begin by telling Fluttershy.”

Sunset gave a humorless laugh. “Yeah, that’ll go over great. ‘Hey, Fluttershy, I’m in love with your marefriend. Who I live with, and will be working closely with. We’ll probably be alone together like, all the time.’ That’s really going to go over great, Luna!” She had meant it to sound hypothetical, like she was just pointing out how ridiculous Luna’s suggestion was, but as she finished she realized it was painfully obvious Luna had guessed correctly.

Luna smiled and bowed her head. “I understand your concern, and that is not the approach I would recommend with most ponies. I only suggest it because I know Fluttershy will not hold your emotions against you.”

“Even if that is true it’ll just make me feel awkward whenever I’m around her. And even if Fluttershy doesn’t care, Twilight’s still a whole other story. She’s really insecure about that kind of stuff.”

“I assure you she’s very level-headed about other ponies having feelings for her. In fact the only times I’ve known her to be insecure was when Amber had feelings for Fluttershy,” Luna said. Her eyes went wide for a moment. “Unless you mean –”

“There you are, Princess.” The two ponies turned to see a pegasus walk up to them. She had a yellow coat and a black mane with a green stripe through her tail. Like most of the ponies in attendance, she was dressed formally. For interrupting that particular conversation, Sunset silently thanked the newcomer. “Is this the pony?”

Luna nodded. Her face showed no sign that they had been in the middle of a discussion. “Metal Circuit, this is Sunset Shimmer. Sunset, Metal Circuit runs Canterlot’s primary plant for generating electricity, and oversees research into new ways to use it.”

The fact that one company could handle both generating raw electricity and inventing new technology said a lot about how early Equestria still was in its technological development.

Sunset bumped Metal Circuit’s hoof. “Nice to meet you.”

“I hear you’re some kind of technological prodigy,” Metal Circuit said.

Happy to skip the pleasantries and get straight to the point, Sunset grinned. “More so than you can imagine.”

“I’ll leave you two to get to know one another,” Luna said.

Metal Circuit nodded to the princess, who made her way back to where they had left Amber. She turned back to Sunset. “I can imagine quite a lot, actually. I don’t generally hire ponies with no experience to show, but Princess Luna’s recommendation does count for something.”

Sunset smiled. Time to let her down easy. “I’m not sure what Luna told you, but I’m not looking for a job. I’m working in Ponyville with Princess Twilight, actually.”

Metal Circuit raised an eyebrow. “Then you’re wasting your time. Sure, Princess Twilight’s a genius, but she studies magic, not electronics.”

Sunset chuckled. She wondered what Metal Circuit would think if she could see some of the contraptions Twilight had built. “Twilight studies everything. And I do mean literally everything. And I studied magic too – seven years under Princess Celestia, to be specific. After that I spent about fourteen years self-teaching myself technology, both electronics and mechanics. And anyway, we’re exploring the possibilities of magic and technology working together.”

Sunset could practically feel the warmth coming from Metal Circuit as her face lit up with the thoughts of all the potential Sunset could bring her. “Well I hope you at least plan on putting those inventions to good use. I have the resources to make that happen.”

Truthfully, Sunset didn’t care. She had too much personal stuff going on to worry about her professional life. Still, she knew that once she had something built, the temptation to go into large-scale manufacturing would be pretty great.

“Well, it’ll pretty much be up to Twilight what we do with anything we make, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you get word from us.”

Metal Circuit grinned. “Smart choice.” She took off her top hat and pulled a business card out of it. Sunset tucked it into her sash, making a mental note to either get Rarity to make her something with pockets or start carrying a purse.

“Well, it was nice meeting you, but I’d better get back to my friends,” Sunset said.

“Alright, I look forward to hearing from you." Metal Circuit winked.

Sunset left and searched around for Luna and Amber. At least when she wasn’t sneaking around, Luna stuck out, and it didn’t take long to find them. They were staring at an all black painting. She walked up next to them but neither looked away. “Uhm… am I missing something?”

Amber glanced towards Sunset before looking back to the painting. “We’re seeing who can find something actually artistic about the most pictures. This one has us both stuck.”

Sunset sighed. “It’s the Crystal Empire during the Summer Sun Celebration as seen by a blind pony.”

Amber and Luna both looked at each other before turning to Sunset. “Cool, point to Sunset,” Amber said.

“Are you a fan of this style of art?” Luna asked.

“Nopony actually likes this stuff, they just pretend like they do because it makes them seem fancier. They can show off the painting they bought for some ridiculous amount of money, and since nopony understands it, it makes them look educated. Clearly they must be able to see something in it no one else can, or else they wouldn’t have bought it. The ‘artists’ come up with something that’s easy to make, and sometimes they make up some deep symbolism to it. Usually the buyer is the only one who the artist reveals the meaning to, which means they can feel superior by making fun of others for not getting it.”

“You know, I remember when art was held in high regard for its beauty, not merely used as a status symbol,” Luna said, looking disdainfully on the canvas.

“Careful, your old mare’s showing,” Amber said, patting Luna on the shoulder.

“Yes, well, this old mare has had more than enough of what passes for art in these times, and I need to fulfil my nightly duties. I trust you will be okay without me?”

“We’ll be fine, go watch over the sleeping nation,” Amber said. Luna leaned down so Amber could reach her cheek to kiss it.

After waving goodbye to Luna, Sunset turned back to the all black painting. “So, uh, you want to hang around here?”

Amber tried to grin but it deflated as a group of ponies walked up to marvel at the originality of the piece. “To be honest, not really. But I’m totally down to go somewhere else if you want.”

Sunset nodded and they began walking towards the street. “So what else is there to do this late?” In all the years that she lived there, Sunset had never experienced Canterlot by night, although she got the feeling it was going to become something she’d see a lot more of now.

“Psh, in Canterlot?” Amber rolled her eyes. “Only everything. There’s a pretty great play starting at midnight we could probably catch.”

“Sounds good,” Sunset said. The two mares walked side by side into the night, laughing about the gullibility of the ponies they’d left behind.

6 – From Different Perspectives

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Chapter Six

From Different Perspectives

Aside from the balance between magic and technology, the biggest difference between the two worlds seemed to come from Luna and Celestia; having two benevolent and eternal rulers allowed for a sort of political consistency that was simply not possible in a world where no one lived forever. Not to mention they had a bigger focus on long-term solutions since they knew they’d be around to see the results of any decision they made.

But even under the diarchy, some problems were inevitable. And while few ponies actually lived on the streets, especially in Canterlot, there were still those who couldn’t afford to feed themselves or their families.

During her time spent as a human, Sunset had learned firsthand what that was like. Being as stubborn as she was, she had always refused to ask for help. Fortunately, Applejack noticed and was equally stubborn in offering it. She’d spent so many nights eating dinner with the Apple family, and they never asked for anything in return. Applejack had always said Sunset would do the same thing in different circumstances, and Sunset was glad to finally have a chance to prove her right, spending most of the time she spent in Canterlot working in the free cafeteria that Luna had told her about during her first night back in the city.

While she spent her days volunteering, Sunset still made sure to leave her evenings open. Celestia was always so busy during the day that dinner was generally the only time that Sunset could see her. So every evening was spent rebuilding her connection with Celestia while getting to know Luna better. Amber would often join them – more often, in fact, than was statistically probable, unless she was going out of her way to end her days in Canterlot, something she denied doing.

And so it didn’t come as a surprise when Sunset ran into Amber on her way to the to the dining room. “Oh hey, Sunset, I was just looking for you.”

“Hi, Amber. What’s up?” Sunset asked as the pegasus wrapped her in a quick hug.

“Dinner plans have changed. Princess Celestia’s stuck with some representatives from Yakyakistan, and they can be a pretty temperamental bunch. She said to just go ahead without her.”

“So it’ll just be the three of us?” Sunset asked.

Amber nodded. “Uh huh. But we figured it’d be a good chance to go out and do dinner on the town. What do you say?”

If she was being completely honest, Sunset didn’t want to go out to eat. After the day she’d had, she barely wanted to eat at all, and she could practically hear her bed calling out to her. But it always proved impossible to turn down that smile, so Sunset fixed her face with a smile of its own. “Sure, where do you have in mind?”

“Only the best restaurant in Canterlot! You’ll see when we get there.” Amber steered her around and led her to the front of the castle where Luna was already waiting.

Luna nodded as they approached. “Greetings Sunset. I hope this evening finds you well?”

Sunset shrugged. “Well enough. I suppose you aren’t going to tell me where we’re going either?”

Luna led them out to the chariot. “And ruin the surprise? I wouldn’t dream of it.”

After their first trip together, they had offered to keep the chariot on the ground, but Sunset insisted they didn’t need to. Besides, it wasn’t so much that she was afraid, but more so that she was just a little uncomfortable.

“So how’d everything go in the cafeteria today?” Amber asked once they were all seated. Nopony acknowledged it, but they seated Sunset in the middle where she’d feel the most secure, surrounded by her friends.

“Not so great. Somepony left the cooler door open last night, and today everything was a soggy mess, not to mention how much of the food was spoiled. Wanna guess who got stuck cleaning it up?”

As the chariot lifted into the air, Sunset felt Amber’s hoof wrap around hers. “Well at least now you’re here with us! Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “It’s volunteer work. I don’t have to work at all. What about you?”

“Yeah, going to Manehattan in the morning,” Amber said. “Finishing the day in Ponyville.”

“Staying with Fluttershy and Twilight?” Sunset asked.

“Yeah. They say ‘hi’ by the way. They’re thrilled everything is going well here, but I think they’re starting to worry you won’t make it back to Ponyville after all.”

It was true that Sunset’s stay was lasting much longer than she had planned. Not having any obligations anywhere had a tendency to slow life down. Still, she knew she couldn’t keep putting it off. She’d promised Fluttershy.

“I’ll go back soon,” Sunset said.

“Not too soon, I hope,” Luna said. She smiled as she nudged Sunset playfully. “I shall miss the evenings the three of us spend together.”

“Aww, do you get lonely when I’m gone?” Amber teased.

“Oh yes, more than you can imagine,” Luna said, laughing. “But in all seriousness, I do enjoy having you two around. Did you know you are the only ones in recent times who decided to drop the ‘princess’ title while addressing me? All my other friends only did so on my insistence. Sunset did not even keep the title for a full day.”

“That’s a good thing?” Sunset asked. She had a tendency to drop titles, probably a lingering side effect of spending so long thinking she was better than everypony, but she always considered it a bad habit.

“It is hard to be friends with somepony who insists on putting you on a pedestal,” Luna said. “I would rather my friends consider me an equal, not a princess.”

“Luna, you’re like twice my size and I’ve seen you wear your crown to bed,” Amber said. “It’s kind of hard to forget you’re a princess.”

“A fair point. I can do little about my size, but if it’ll make it easier to consider us equals, then I hereby decree I am no longer your princess. I will hold no authority over either of you.” As usual Luna spoke as if completely serious.

Sunset chuckled. “I’m sure Celestia will love that one.”

“I can think of no reason why she would be bothered,” Luna said with a shrug. “I shall have the law passed tonight.”

“She might actually be serious you know,” Amber said.

Sunset cocked her head to the side. “You know, I can think of literally no way that’ll change our relationship.”

Luna turned up her nose. “Fine. If you are going to be ungrateful then I shall retract my previous statement. I am still Sunset Shimmer’s princess, but not Amber’s.”

“Ha!” Amber nudged Sunset.

“What? Luna, that’s not fair,” Sunset said, not really sure if she actually cared.

Princess Luna,” she corrected, causing Amber to laugh hard enough she had to grab hold of Sunset to keep from falling out of the chariot.

Deciding to go along with Luna’s game, Sunset plastered a sarcastic smile to her face. “As you wish, Your Majesty.” Sunset did the best mock bow she could manage under the circumstances. Luna gave a content nod.

Soon they landed, although Sunset was left confused by their location. “A doughnut shop?”

“Quite possibly the finest establishment in all of Equestria,” Luna said.

“If you say so,” Sunset said.

“They have other things if you don’t want doughnuts,” Amber said, grinning. “But trust me, you want doughnuts.”

“I don’t even know why I expect anything else from you two anymore,” Sunset said. As they approached the shop she smiled and ran ahead, holding open the door. “Allow me to get that for you, Princess.”

Luna nodded. “Thank you, my subject.”

Amber followed Luna inside, shaking her head. As Sunset brought up the rear, a gruff stallion greeted them.

“Evening, Princess, Amber.”

“Good evening, Doughnut Joe,” Luna said. “Allow me to introduce my friend Sunset Shimmer. I have reason to believe she doubts that this is indeed the finest restaurant in all of Canterlot.”

“That so? Well take a seat, I’ve heard that one before. Always before ponies actually try my doughnuts, mind you.”

The shop was packed despite it being dinner time, but they managed to find an empty booth. They sat with Luna and Amber on one side and Sunset on the other. The princess did draw some attention, but ponies respectfully kept their gossip to hushed whispers, which the trio ignored.

“So I’m back to being your friend?” Sunset asked.

“Well I never said we weren’t still friends,” Luna said. “That would be excessive.”

“Like you never do anything excessive,” Amber said.

“I suppose I might at times,” Luna said. She offered Sunset an apologetic smile. “Perhaps I was a bit harsh. You were merely making an observation after all. Very well, I return to my original proclamation. I am neither Amber Glow nor Sunset Shimmer’s princess.”

Sunset tapped her chin. “Well that’s nice and all, but if you can just go back and forth whenever you want there’s not much point is there?”

Luna nodded. “Yes, I see what you mean. Very well, I shall build it into the law that I can not remove this particular law from effect, or alter it in any way.”

“But who’s to say there won’t be another loophole?” Sunset asked. “I think it’s only fair that since this law is about us, Amber and I should get a chance to look over the wording.”

“Sunset, don’t encourage her!” Amber said. “You two are ridiculous.”

Luna held up a hoof. “No, no. This is very serious Amber. We’re discussing a whole new law, and the wording is very important.” She glanced around until she saw a quill and sheet of paper sitting behind Doughnut Joe’s counter and levitated them over.

Luna and Sunset began drafting the new law. Amber seemed amused by the ridiculousness, but didn’t participate in the writing. While they worked, Doughnut Joe brought a platter full of a large variety of doughnuts.

“I didn’t even notice you order these,” Sunset said, helping herself to a jelly doughnut.

“Joe just knows us,” Amber said. “We always get some of everything because somepony can’t help herself around them.”

“True, but I admire you all the same,” Luna said. She nuzzled Amber’s cheek and in the process caused the pegasus to drop her half-eaten eclair on herself.

“Great, now my fur’s gonna be sticky all night. Jerk.”

Luna smiled and leaned in closer. “Oh I don’t know. I think when we return to the castle I’ll be able to clean you up. I’ll be very thorough.”

Amber snorted. “Okay, I walked into that one.”

Sunset chuckled while she finished her jelly doughnut. “Okay, so that might have been the best doughnut I ever ate.”

Luna smiled and nodded. “Naturally. Believe me, I’ve eaten many doughnuts in my lifetime, but Joe’s are simply the best.”

“You got that right!” Doughnut Joe called from somewhere behind them.

The three mares laughed and joked with one another while they ate. Citing her alicorn metabolism, Luna managed to eat most of them herself.

Amber was telling them about the pop star she’d met earlier in the week when the bell jingled, signaling another customer had come in.

“Hey there, Paint Splatter! How you been?” Doughnut Joe greeted the newcomer.

“Doin’ alright,” a stallion’s voice answered.

Sunset wouldn’t have thought anything of it if she hadn’t noticed Luna’s eyes flicker towards the newcomer and linger just a moment too long. Sunset had spent years scrutinizing every minor detail in Celestia’s reactions, and the skill carried over to her sister just as well. She still might have shrugged it off, but she noticed the slight slouch as the alicorn tried to subconsciously make herself smaller to avoid being seen by the stallion talking to Doughnut Joe – a futile effort, given her size.

Sunset’s mind began cycling through possibilities of how she could distract this pony for long enough to allow Luna to escape whatever awkward situation she saw coming, but it was too late. “Princess Luna? Fancy running into you here.”

Any sign that she was unhappy to see him vanished without a trace, although Sunset remained convinced of what she saw. “Paint Splatter. It is nice to see you. I trust that you are well?”

Turning around to look at him, Sunset saw he was a forest green earth pony. “I can’t complain.” He noticed Amber, who didn’t seem to have caught on that anything might be wrong. “So would you be Amber Glow?”

“That’s me,” Amber said.

“Princess Luna’s told me a lot about you,” Paint Splatter said.

Amber grinned. “Aww, were you talking about me?”

Luna smiled. “You do tend to come up in conversation.”

“So how do you two know each other?” Amber asked.

Paint Splatter chuckled. “I see you haven’t been talking about me then? Can’t say I’m surprised, we weren’t ever anything serious. We had sort of a casual thing going a while back.”

Of the three mares, only Sunset looked offput by the information. Luna’s expression didn’t falter from the polite interest at meeting an old acquaintance. Amber actually grinned broader. “Gotcha. Geez, Luna, do you ever actually date anypony?”

“Not typically. And since my return, I have not been in a traditional relationship.”

Amber and Paint Splatter both chuckled. “Well it was good seeing you again,” Paint Splatter said. “And I’m glad I finally got to meet you, Ms. Glow. You ladies enjoy yourselves.”

“Likewise,” Luna said. He ordered his food to go and left.

“I apologize if that was awkward for you at all,” Luna said once he was out the door.

“No, it’s fine. He seems nice,” Amber said.

“He was. Or rather, he still is, I’m sure,” Luna said. The two returned to their doughnuts.

Sunset finally let out a nervous chuckle. “Sorry, I guess I’m still not used to how you two do things. I really thought that was going to turn ugly there.”

Amber rolled her eyes and took a bite out of a chocolate cake doughnut. “Why should I care about some stallion Luna slept with years ago?” she said through a mouthful of doughnut, a few crumbs falling out.

Luna froze in place and stared wide-eyed at Sunset, who was again getting the feeling that things were about to go south. After a moment, the alicorn swallowed and set down her glazed doughnut. “Amber. We are in agreement about the nature of our relationship, correct?”

Amber looked at her quizzically. “Of course. Why do you ask?”

Luna turned to face her properly. “Which is to say that nothing has changed since our original agreement as far as what we are to one another?”

Amber tried for a casual smile, but by this point it only made her look more nervous. “Luna… what are you getting at?”

Luna closed her eyes for a moment before opening them to look directly into Amber’s. “I did not sleep with Paint Splatter years ago. I did not even know him years ago. We met around five months ago, and for about a month afterwards we occasionally were sexually involved.”

Although she knew this was not a discussion she should be around for, Sunset remained seated. She was almost afraid to move as she watched the scene in horror.

Any plan Amber had at not looking upset was forgotten. Her breathing was short and shallow, and her mouth started quivering as she tried working words out of it.

“But that’s… five months ago we were… why didn’t… Luna, why didn’t you ever tell me?”

Luna’s ears folded back and she cast her eyes down for a moment before again meeting Amber’s.

“I didn’t want to make you feel jealous. I expected that you would not wish to know the details of my love life.”

Amber shook her head slightly. “Yeah, why would something like that matter to me…”

“Amber, I’m truly sorry to have upset you, but we had agreed from the beginning that we were nonexclusive.”

Amber finally broke eye contact. She folded her hooves on the table in an attempt to keep them from shaking. “Yeah. Of course. I’m not… I mean, it’s not like I’m not your marefriend or anything.”

Luna tentatively reached for Amber’s hoof. She didn’t react, so Luna just left her hoof on top of Amber’s. “I thought… when you’re in other cities I always assumed there must be somepony with whom you –”

Amber cut her off with a mirthless laugh. “No. Just you.”

Luna hesitated for a moment and nopony moved. “I see.”

More silence. Sunset began to realize everything had gone silent, as all the other customers had also stopped their own conversations.

“Amber, please understand. I care about you very deeply, and never wished to hurt you in any way.”

“I understand,” Amber said. She nodded and kept her eyes focused on her hooves. “Of course I do. I mean, you said it all the time. We both did, right? We’re friends. You never pretended we were anything else. I… I just…”

Without warning, Amber stood up and ran out the door. Luna and Sunset stared at each other wide-eyed and blank-faced for a moment, neither knowing what to do. Only for a moment, however, then Sunset stood up and ran after her.

“Amber, wait!” She looked around once she got outside. She thought she saw movement and followed it. At some point she began making turns at random while calling out Amber’s name.

“Amber! Amber where are you? Please come out!” She turned down a street, then another. Lefts and rights, everything blurred together in the dark. “It’s just me, Luna’s not here! Come on, Amber, I just want to talk! Please?”

She took a good look around her and sighed. She gave up walking and kicked at the ground, wondering what to do. “Amber, I don’t know where I am, so if you could come out that’d be really great right about now…”

Sunset decided to catch her breath before turning around and trying to find her way back to the doughnut shop. She wasn’t sure if she could and wasn’t sure what she’d do if she did. She could tell Luna felt horrible about everything, but she still wanted to yell at her all the same.

While she was resting, she heard hoofsteps coming from an alleyway next to her. She turned to see Amber, who was staring down at the ground. At first neither one spoke, but eventually Amber wiped her eyes and looked up with a smile on her face. “Hey, weren’t you born in Canterlot? How are you lost in your own –” Her voice caught in her throat as she struggled to keep from crying.

Sunset walked over to her and pulled her into a hug. She couldn’t find any words to say, so she just waited for Amber to open up.

“I just… I thought that… I’m so stupid…” She buried her face into Sunset’s mane and began crying uncontrollably.

Sunset stroked Amber’s mane. “No you’re not. It’ll be okay.”

They stood in the entrance to the alleyway for a while, Amber crying into Sunset’s shoulder. Slowly Sunset lowered them so they were leaning against the building they were next to and Sunset held her as Amber cried, occasionally trying to form words but never managing whole sentences.

A few ponies passed by, but it was late enough that the streets were mostly empty, and nopony stopped to talk to them. They remained on the corner of the alleyway for longer than Sunset could say. Eventually, Amber pulled herself away and rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry I’m so pathetic.”

If there was one thing Sunset hated to hear, that was it. “You’re not. Amber, you’re an amazing pony.”

“You were right, you know,” Amber said. Even though she was grinning, she still looked miserable. “The first time we met, you could already see it. That me and Luna thought about each other differently.”

“Only because I’ve been there,” Sunset said. “I know what it’s like to love someone so much but then find out they don’t feel the same way about you.”

Amber chuckled and shook her head. “I always tell everypony I don’t love her. That’s what I told all my friends, that’s what I told her, I tell myself that I don’t love her every day. But I guess if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t need to repeat it all the time. It wouldn’t hurt this much…”

Amber looked like she might start crying again so Sunset moved closer to her, wrapping a foreleg around her shoulders. “Well, if you ever want to do what I did, I know this other dimension you might be interested in moving to.”

It was only a small one, but Amber’s smile looked genuine. She stood up and began walking and Sunset followed. As far as she could tell they were wandering aimlessly.

They didn’t speak at first, but eventually Amber broke the silence. “I guess I just thought she’d talk to me about it first.”

Sunset was reluctant to ask the question on her mind, but couldn’t see how to advise her friend without knowing. “So what was your agreement with Luna anyway?”

She had a pretty good idea that the answer would justify Luna’s side of things, and by the way Amber stopped walking, she could tell she was right. “She told me what she was looking for after our first date. She asked me out the first time we met, you know. I couldn’t believe somepony like her would even notice me. Even though I was really into her right from the start at the time, everything made sense. We barely knew each other, why would we rush into some big committed relationship? Everything she proposed was so matter of fact that only an idiot could have gotten it mixed up…”

Sunset closed the gap between them and kept their bodies pressed together while they walked. “Well I guess I’m an idiot then, because I really thought the whole ‘just friends’ thing was Luna not wanting to use labels.”

Amber just shook her head. “That’s just because she didn’t explain everything to you. It was all crystal clear, she even said we were nonexclusive from the start.”

Going by what she knew of Luna, her rules were probably pretty well thought out, so Sunset changed her approach. “She doesn’t act like you’re just friends.”

Amber sighed. “No, I don’t act like we’re just friends. She just reacts to how affectionate I am.”

Sunset doubted that was all there was to it, but she didn’t say so. Convincing Amber that Luna did want a real relationship didn’t necessarily seem like it would be a good thing.

“I always knew what we were, I just thought… Over time I just thought we were getting closer and I guess maybe I thought we were getting more serious.” Amber stopped to kick at a rock and watch it roll down the street. “I mean, I thought she’d at least tell me if she wanted to do something with somepony else before she actually did it!”

While they walked, Sunset noticed fewer and fewer homes with lights in their windows. Sunset didn’t even want to guess what time it must be, but the moon was already high in the sky. Looking up, Sunset couldn’t help but feel the night sky lacked a lot of its usual beauty.

“So, uhm… what do you want to do from here?” Sunset asked.

“About Luna? I don’t even know.”

“I, uh, I meant about tonight,” Sunset said.

“Oh.” Amber looked around, seeming to notice their surroundings for the first time. “I… I dunno. I don’t really want to go back to the castle.”

Like most ponies, Amber usually opted to not wear clothes. Sunset was dressed but didn’t have pockets or a purse. Carrying bits was normally not something they had to worry about with Luna, who had a running tab with most establishments, and anywhere she didn’t was always happy to accept payment later on credit. Sunset doubted that would get them a hotel room.

“Got any friends in Canterlot that might be willing to take us in?” Sunset asked.

“Not at this hour. Us?” Amber asked. She had the faint hope of a smile on her lips, as if she was afraid Sunset would realize what she said and correct herself.

“Yeah, us. What, you think I’m just gonna leave you all alone?”

“Thanks, Sunset,” Amber smiled, then threw herself around the unicorn.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m the best,” Sunset said. She smiled, mostly just happy to see Amber happy.

“You sure you want to stay with me though? I mean, it won’t be the first time I’ve slept on a park bench, and let me tell you, it’s nothing compared to the beds at the castle.”

Sunset chuckled. “Trust me, I know. Done that before too.”

Amber grinned. “Geez, Sunset, is there anything you haven’t done?”

Sunset shrugged. “I’ve lived an interesting life. In the human world, I did the dumb teenager thing and ran away for a while. And like most dumb teenagers, I learned it’s nicer to sleep in a bed with a decent meal in your stomach, so I went back to the orphanage.”

“I didn’t know you lived in an orphanage,” Amber said, giving her a concerned look.

“Well I didn’t exactly have anywhere else to live over there,” Sunset said. “Got a job and my own place before I even graduated high school though. Anyway, that’s a long story. What about you though?”

“You know how I live,” Amber said. “I travel around a lot and rely on other ponies to have somewhere to sleep. Occasionally plans fall through and I have to make do. It’s fine though, it’s just part of the whole vagabond experience. Besides, it’s not so bad, sleeping under the stars.” Most of the headway Sunset had gained in cheering Amber up was lost as she stared sadly at the night sky.

“So why did you start traveling anyway?” Sunset asked. She knew that might be a touchy subject, but it seemed like a sure way to keep her mind off Luna.

“My parents kicked me out when I told them I’m a lesbian,” Amber said.

‘So much for picking a better topic.’ “Okay, so that’s probably not something you want to talk about,” Sunset said. She grinned sheepishly. “So, uh, nice weather we’re having.”

Amber chuckled. “It’s fine. I’m not… I mean, I won’t lie, it sucks, but that was years ago. I moved in with my marefriend until that fell through. She decided that she wasn’t really into mares after all. After that, well, I’m sure Twilight and Fluttershy told you about the whole Tirek thing. I thought I was gonna die, and I realized how little I’d really done. I decided I want to see Equestria, and now I’ve been to most of it. It’s been great, I really do like my life now.” She glanced back at the sky again. “Generally.”

“That’s pretty horrible though. I mean, not all the caretakers at the orphanage were thrilled when I came out, but they didn’t kick me out or anything.”

“I think the worst part is not being welcome around my brother. He’s ten now, and I haven’t seen him in three years,” Amber sighed. “I bet my parents use me as a bad example all the time too. I wonder if he’d even want to see me now…”

“Come on, he’s a kid,” Sunset said, grinning. “Of course he does. I’m sure you’re always gonna be his big sister to him, no matter what your parents say. Besides, nopony could ask for a cooler big sister than you.”

Amber laughed and nudged her. “I dunno, I bet you’d make a pretty great big sister. Got any siblings?”

“Only child, thankfully. Maybe I could be a cool sister now, but growing up I was a huge bitch.”

“I’m sure you weren’t that bad,” Amber said, smiling naïvely.

“I was pretty bad,” Sunset insisted. Talking about her childhood made her realize there was another option to where they could stay, but she wasn’t sure if she prefered it to sleeping on a park bench. Still, Amber would probably appreciate it. “You know, we could go to my parents’ house.”

Amber frowned, but it was pretty obvious the idea of a bed was welcome to her. “Don’t you not get along with them though?”

“No, I don’t,” Sunset said, “but I mean that in the most literal way. We’re pretty much indifferent to each other, but we don’t actively dislike each other.” Amber still looked apprehensive, so Sunset smiled encouragingly. “Come on, I wouldn’t suggest it if I wasn’t sure it’d be alright.”

With some reluctance, Amber nodded. “Okay then. Where to?”

Sunset looked around. Unfortunately she wasn’t exaggerating when she said she wasn’t sure where she was earlier, and walking around since then hadn’t helped any. “Do you know where we are?”

Amber shook her head. “Hold on a second.” She flew into the air and surveyed their surroundings before returning to the ground. “Okay, so we’re not too far from the Canterlot Royal Theater.” She gestured in the direction of the theater.

“Alright, I think I can find it from there,” Sunset said.

Amber was able to lead them to the theater easily enough, and from there Sunset took point. It took a while and there were a number of wrong turns, but eventually they found themselves in front of a large manor.

“Anything I should know?” Amber asked as they stood in front of the door.

Sunset thought for a moment. “Not really. They’re rich, full of themselves, and generally unpleasant. Don’t expect a tearful family reunion.”

Sunset knocked on the door and they waited. When there was no answer she instead tugged sharply on a rope nearby, ringing a bell throughout the house that couldn’t be ignored. Eventually the door swung open to reveal an irritated stallion. “Do you have any idea what time…” He froze and stared at Sunset.

“Hello, Dad, can we come in?” Sunset asked, a confident smile on her face.

“Hmph.” He stepped aside and allowed them into the foyer. In the light of the house, he examined his daughter. If he was happy with what he saw, his face didn’t reflect it. “You’re alive, then.”

“I am.” Sunset looked over the stallion. He looked mostly how Sunset remembered him. Same tan coat, but with gray starting to show in his dark blue mane. “I’m assuming Princess Celestia told you where I was?”

“Of course she did,” he said.

Attracted by the noise no doubt, a golden yellow mare entered the room. She had a green mane, which unlike her husband’s contained not a single gray hair. “Sunset?”

“Mom.” Sunset nodded. “Let me get to the point. My friend and I were hoping to stay here for the night.”

Brass Badge, Sunset’s father, looked over Amber, seeming to notice her for the first time. “Just one night?”

“We’ll be gone in the morning,” Sunset promised.

Sunset’s mom, Golden Lace, also scrutinized Amber. She did not look pleased with what she saw. “I thought you were dating Princess Luna.”

“Why would you…” One glance at Amber reminded her. “They actually printed that stupid story. No, I’m not dating Luna.”

When Luna and Amber first told her that she might appear in some magazines, she imaged the conversation with her parents would be a lot more humorous. But given what had just happened earlier, there was nothing Sunset wanted to talk about less. “I am bisexual though, if you care about that sort of thing.”

Neither of her parents’ expressions changed at the revelation. “I can’t see why that should interest me,” Brass Badge said. “There is a legacy behind your name, and so long as you court somepony worthy of it, nothing else matters.”

Sunset didn’t need to ask to know that when he said ‘nothing’, that it included her happiness as well. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

“So tell me, now that you’re back, what do you plan to do with your life?” Golden Lace asked.

Sunset decided she might as well give her parents the answer they wanted. “I’m going to be working with Princess Twilight on a new field of study. Combining magic with technology. There’s a lot of potential for some huge breakthroughs.”

Golden Lace and Brass Badge looked at each other before nodding their approval at the news. “Very well,” Golden Lace said. “I’m sure you’re quite aware what time it is, so you’ll excuse us if we leave you to yourselves. I trust you can find the guest rooms?”

“I’m sure we’ll manage,” Sunset said.

“Very well then,” Brass Badge said. He left the room with Golden Lace following behind. Nopony bothered to wish one another a good night.

When they were gone, Sunset turned to Amber, who seemed to be in shock. She almost found it amusing, but was still feeling too sympathetic to laugh. “Not what you were expecting?”

Eventually, Amber shook her head. “Not really. At least they let us stay though.”

Sunset shrugged. “It wasn’t because they care or anything. If word got out that they turned away their own daughter, it would reflect poorly on them. That’s all there is to it.”

“Geez… that’s harsh.” Amber looked at her sympathetically.

“I know this can be hard to understand, but I really don’t care. I never actually wanted their affection because they never gave me a reason to want it. I don’t love my parents and they don’t love me, and it’s fine. More than anything, it’s just social obligations that bind us together.” Tired of talking about her parents, Sunset began leading them to a guest room before an idea occurred to her. “So, you tired?”

“No, but it’s cool. I know you were exhausted before we even left for dinner. Just show me where I can crash and I’ll get out of your hair.”

Sunset pretended to consider the suggestion. “Yeah, I could do that. Or we could check out what my parents have in their private bar.”

Amber frowned slightly. “Is that really a good idea? I don’t want to abuse their hospitality.”

“I’m not saying we’re gonna go down into the wine cellar and pop open a four-hundred-year-old bottle,” Sunset said. She recognized the look on Amber’s face as the same one she had whenever she was trying to figure out if Luna was serious about some ridiculous claim she made. “Yes, there really is a wine cellar, and yes, there really are centuries old bottles down there.”

“Do I even want to know how much something like that costs?” Amber asked.

“I don’t know, to be honest,” Sunset said. She glanced around and noticed a small painting which consisted entirely of sixteen identical black dots. “They bought that when I lived here though. It cost six thousand bits. Then they hung it in the hallway leading to the guest rooms, which barely ever get used.”

Amber looked around and noticed a number of other likely expensive things. “So your parents are like super rich.”

“Yeah, pretty much. My point is that I don’t think they’ll care if we help ourselves to some of their booze.”

Sunset shifted course and led Amber into the parlor. As soon as she saw the room, Amber looked nervous. Everywhere they turned there was something that looked expensive and quite possibly fragile. Sunset paid it no mind as she ducked behind the counter and looked through bottles.

“So, on a scale of one to ten, how fucked up are we getting tonight?” Sunset asked.

“You know,” Amber said, “I don’t think I really want to get drunk in this house.”

“Counting that as a seven.” She grabbed a couple of shot glasses and a bottle of whiskey and popped up from behind the counter. She looked at Amber and sighed. She was still in the doorway and every muscle on her body seemed tense. She set the bottle and glasses on the counter and walked around, taking a seat and jerking her head to signal Amber to do the same.

Slowly Amber made her way over, giving a wide berth to everything and sitting on the stool gingerly, as if it too might have cost thousands of bits. She smiled nervously once she was safely sitting down.

Sunset filled only one glass and drank it herself. “Alright, let me explain something. My parents don’t like any of this crap. I mean, I guess I have no idea what they like, but that’s not the point. They bought all this stuff so they could host parties and show off how wealthy they are. Everything they own is a status symbol first and foremost.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t really make it any easier to replace,” Amber said. She was looking at a tribal zebra mask hanging on the wall above the bar.

“But you’re not responsible for it, I am. See, you’re my guest, which means I took full responsibility for you. Basically as far as my parents are concerned you’re just the pony who came with me, so whatever you do reflects me, not you. You could chuck that thing out the window and nopony would expect anything from you.”

Amber didn’t look any more at ease. “Putting you in debt doesn’t really sound much better, you know.”

“But you can totally just let me worry about that.” She refilled the glass and set it in between the two of them where either one of them could reach it. “Look, you don’t have to drink, we can just do something else. But don’t worry about that stuff, because I’m not.”

Amber hesitated and took one more look at the room before grabbing the glass and drinking it in one gulp. She scrunched up her face at the taste. “That’s disgusting!”

Sunset laughed. “Would you prefer something that didn’t put hair on your chest?”

Amber squinted her eyes. “What does that even mean?”

Realizing she did it again, Sunset grinned. “Sorry, human expression. Males are hairier over there, so really masculine things ‘put hair on your chest’.”

“Oh. Well, I’m at least as masculine as you. Give me another.” Amber grinned confidently.

Sunset filled both glasses this time, and they both drank together. Amber’s face was even worse the second time, while Sunset just grinned at the familiar sensation. Amber rubbed a hoof across her chest. “Hey, it works!”

Sunset laughed. “Seriously though, they’ve got a ton of stuff if you’d rather have something else.”

Amber shrugged. “Actually it’s not so bad. Just stronger than I was expecting.” At least she seemed to be beginning to loosen up. “It’s so weird though. I mean, you lived in a whole other world! How could they not ask about that?”

Because it was a whole other world.” Going back to talking about her parents meant it was time to fill the glasses again. “Anything that happened there doesn’t really matter here, you know? If it can’t improve my standing in Equestria, it doesn’t matter to them.”

Amber managed to get the shot down with only a small grimace. “Okay, I guess I see that, but it’s kind of dumb. So don’t take this the wrong way, but why did they even have you? Were you like an accident or something?”

The idea had occurred to Sunset before. “I doubt it. They managed to go the rest of their marriage without foals, can’t see why I’d be the only screw-up. I think they just wanted somepony to carry the family legacy. It’s kind of a big deal to them. Or maybe they just thought it was expected of them.”

“That’s kind of really sad.” Amber looked over to see Sunset staring at her empty glass. “Sorry.”

Sunset smiled. “It’s fine. Whatever, you know? I never really needed them.” ‘I don’t really need anypony,’ a voice echoed in her head, but she pushed it away. That was the old Sunset.

“I think even my parents would ask what I’d been up to if I was living in another world for… how long were you there for?”

“Fourteen years. And while I’m normally fine talking about it, that subject is not open for discussion when I’m drinking.” Talking about humans while she was drunk would inevitably lead to talking about one human in particular.

Amber barely seemed to notice the second part of Sunset’s statement. “Fourteen years? How old are you anyway?”

“Thirty-one,” Sunset said, frowning. She filled their glasses once more and drank. When Amber didn’t immediately drink her own Sunset filled hers again and drank the second one as well.

Amber grinned as she drank, finally getting it down without making a face. “Aww, don’t look so down Sunset! I like older mares.” She nudged Sunset, who chuckled, then held out her glass again.

Sunset filled it. “I can’t be that much older than you.”

Amber smiled. “Go on. Guess my age.”

“I don’t know. Please tell me you’re old enough to drink.”

Amber rolled her eyes, the alcohol causing her to exaggerate the motion. “Yes, I’m twenty-one.” She shook her head. “I mean, I’m at least twenty-one. ‘Cause you haven’t guessed my age yet, so it’s twenty-one or up.”

“Are you twenty-one?”

“Yes.” Amber giggled.

Sunset levitated the bottle away. “Okay, so this probably wasn’t a good idea.”

“What? But I just said I’m old enough!” Amber said, looking at the bottle longingly.

“Old enough to drink, not old enough to get wasted. At least not when I’m supposed to be the responsible one.”

Amber scooted her stool closer to Sunset’s and put her foreleg around the unicorn. “Aww come on, Sunny! Everything’s fine!”

Sunset sighed and grabbed the bottle again, filling both glasses. She’d take a drunk Amber over a sad one. “Okay, so I’m horrible at being the responsible one. And don’t call me Sunny.”

As if afraid Sunset would take it away, Amber drank hers immediately. “Why not? It’s a cute name.”

“I just don’t like people calling me Sunny.” Sunset drank and refilled.

Amber giggled. “But I’m not a people.”

Sunset tried to give her an exasperated expression but she couldn’t help but laugh when she looked at Amber’s cheerful face. “People, ponies, whatever. Just don’t use that name.”

As they drank their way steadily through the bottle, they kept the conversation positive, alternating between jokes at the expense of one another and reminding each other that they both really liked being friends.

Eventually it was Amber who changed the tone back to a serious one. “What do you think Luna’s doing?”

“I dunno. Working I guess. What does she do when she’s at work?” Sunset had seen Celestia at work countless times, but she found it impossible to imagine Luna doing the same things.

“A lot of stuff. Helping ponies in their dreams, keeping dangerous creatures out of towns, investigating all the changeling stuff going on lately. Just... so much stuff. She’s incredible.” Amber stared ahead of her as she spoke, not really focusing on anything.

“You should tell her you want to be together,” Sunset said. “Like really together, I mean.”

Amber smiled. “No. She wouldn’t want to. She’s not really into the whole ‘traditional relationship’ thing. Besides…” She looked Sunset in the eyes, and as far as appearances went, she seemed perfectly happy. “I’m just some mare from Fillydelphia. I’m practically homeless, I work on a train. I’m nopony special and she’s, well, she’s Princess Luna! If she wanted to settle down with somepony, it’d be somepony else. I’m just… I’m happy I got a chance to be at least a small part of her world.”

Sunset reached a hoof out to put it on Amber’s shoulder, but wound up instead putting her whole foreleg around her, while leaning against her body for support. “Amber, I don’t think Luna cares about any of that stuff. You two get along so well, it’s like you were made for each other! If she’s willing to pass that up because she doesn’t want to commit to one pony, then she’s the one with a problem. I mean, what’s not to like about you? You always put others first, you’re funny, you’re beautiful.”

“Aww.” Amber reached a foreleg around Sunset as well and kissed her on the head. “You’re pretty great too, Sunny. Sunset! I said Sunset!”

Sunset laughed in spite of the slip in the name. “Amber, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re coming on to me.”

Amber held her tighter. “Maybe. I am single, I guess.”

Unsure if she was serious, Sunset chuckled and looked up to see Amber smiling. She got her answer when the pegasus leaned in and kissed her. Before she could even consider what she wanted to do, Sunset was already kissing her back.

When they pulled apart the two mares just looked at one another for a moment. “So, uh… you want to take this to a bedroom?” Amber asked.

Sunset wondered why the room felt so hot all of a sudden. “Yes.”

Leaving the bottle and glasses where they were, Sunset got off her stool and took a moment to steady herself.

Amber followed suit and stumbled as she stood up, falling on Sunset who barely held them both up. The two mares laughed and Sunset kissed her again. Amber interrupted the kiss by swatting at Sunset with her tail. Since Sunset’s tail was covered by her dress, she nipped at Amber’s neck instead. Before the pegasus could retaliate, she ran off, stumbling a little as she did.

Laughing, Amber chased Sunset out of the room and down the hall. Sunset made it all the way to the guest room before Amber caught her as she fumbled with the door. They tumbled into the room together and fell into a heap on the floor giggling, until Amber began kissing Sunset and clumsily working on removing her dress.

Once it was finally off, which took a good deal of effort from both of them, Sunset levitated Amber on to the bed.

“Hey, that’s cheating!” Amber protested, but laughed all the same.

“Shush,” Sunset said. The last thing she removed was her necklace, which she took a great deal of care with, setting it off to the side on a vanity table.

She looked back to the bed to see Amber looking at her expectantly. Sunset grinned, then jumped into bed herself, using her magic to shut off the lights.

7 – Homecoming

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Chapter Seven


The first rays of Celestia’s sun were the type of thing poets wrote sonnets about. Gentle beams that brought warmth to the land and brought sleepy ponies into the day.

Sunset knew better. The sun shared its secret with her, one that nopony else seemed to aware of. As it gently filtered in through the window next to the bed, it only said one thing: Celestia was pissed.

As far as she could tell, there was no other explanation. Celestia was pissed, and she was specifically directing her fury at none other than Sunset herself.

She sat up and groaned, letting the night before replay in her head. She found no noticeable gaps in her memory, so she decided she must be doing pretty good. Aside from the obvious, of course. She turned to see Amber was still asleep next to her. With a sigh, she allowed herself to fall back on the bed.

‘What am I going to do now?’ Sunset wondered, although she knew there was really only one option. She had to wake Amber up and talk about what happened. She tried to collect her own thoughts about it, but her aching head made that difficult.

She decided that even after the night they’d spent together, she’d still be more comfortable having that conversation clothed. Sighing again, she began climbing out of bed when her shifting caused the pegasus to stir.

Sunset froze in place, not sure if she was ready for the inevitable conversation. She knew it was too late when Amber let out a groan. “Luna, I’m sick. Take care of me…”

Sunset pulled the covers back over herself. “Sorry, not likely.”

Amber bolted up at the sound of Sunset’s voice, but then promptly fell back down. “Oh… Why did I think that was a good idea?”

Sunset wasn’t sure how to even begin the conversation. She decided it would be okay to put it off a little bit. “So, uh… coffee?”

Amber groaned in response.

Deciding she was being absolutely ridiculous, Sunset pulled off the covers and stepped out of bed. While she assembled her dress, she couldn’t help but regret her choice of clothing. Like many of the dresses Rarity made, it was a full ensemble, made up of multiple pieces interwoven just so. At the moment, Sunset was sure this meant Rarity hated her as well. It had seemed like a minor nuisance the night before when trying to remove the dress, but trying to put it back on felt like an ordeal.

“Do you know what happened to that lacy thing?” Sunset asked.

Amber groaned and gestured towards the corner.

“Thanks,” Sunset said, grabbing the piece and putting it in place.

Amber risked opening one eye, which she fixed into a glare at Sunset. “Why are you so bucking cheerful?”

‘Cheerful’ may not have been the word Sunset would use, but she was certainly holding herself together better than Amber. To be fair, she was probably the more experienced drinker, and Amber was a fair amount smaller than her. “Because some of us can handle our booze,” she said.

Her dress complete, she walked over to the vanity. Looking at her reflection, she realized what was missing and frowned at the necklace on the table.

“Okay, I’m up,” Amber said. She seemed to be using a very literal definition of the word – she was sitting upright in bed, although she hardly looked any closer to leaving it.

Sunset allowed herself one last moment of self-pity, then put on the necklace. “You’re an inspiration to us all.”

“Buck off.”

Sunset chuckled, wondering if the drastic change in Amber’s personality was typical of her in the morning, or if it was just because she was hung over. Although it could also have something to do with a relationship altering revelation, followed by a drunken hook up with somepony she’d only known for a few weeks. It was probably the last one.

“Look, do you want coffee or not?”

“Fine.” With obvious effort Amber finally got out of bed and followed Sunset as she led the way into the kitchen.

Sunset didn’t bother to try talking along the way, and they remained silent as Amber took a seat and Sunset began going through cabinets. She pulled out a couple mugs and a pot, which she filled with water and set to boil. As she waited, she resolved that the first new technology she brought to Equestria was going to be instant coffee pots. Making do without for the time being, she filled their mugs up with water and gave one to Amber. “Drink.”

Amber looked at it skeptically but drank anyway. “I think you forgot some of the ingredients.” The ghost of her usual smile began to show.

“You need to rehydrate yourself,” Sunset explained. “Hangovers suck so much because the alcohol dehydrates you, which is the actual cause for you feeling like crap. So start with water, then we can have coffee.”

“Mmhmm.” Amber didn’t seem to be paying much attention, so Sunset just drank her own water quietly while she finished making the coffee.

Once it was done, she levitated Amber’s mug over and was pleased to find she’d followed her advice and drank it all. She filled their mugs with the steaming liquid and set them down on the table. “There, coffee. All the ingredients.”

Amber blew on her mug and took a sip. She smiled. “All the ingredients? I don’t know, I think you forgot one. Or I’m just better at making coffee than you.”

Sunset laughed. “You might have me there, but I don’t think your coffee is a smart move, all things considered.”

Slowly Amber’s general positivity had been returning, but the reminder caused her smile to fall a little. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Sunset just drank her coffee for a bit, allowing them to sit in silence while they both recovered. She knew Amber wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up, though. “Just so you know, we’re not doing the whole ‘let’s pretend that never happened’ thing.”

Amber looked at her pleadingly. “But that sounds like such a great idea!”

“But it’s such a bad one,” Sunset said.

Amber sighed and let her head rest on the table. “Fine. It happened. Can we just blame the alcohol and be done with it?”

“Nope,” Sunset said, although she was at least a little tempted to agree to that one. “Alcohol doesn’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. It lowers your inhibitions so you do things you know you shouldn’t do.”

Amber grinned. “So what you're saying is you wanted to do me.”

Sunset almost spit out her coffee. “Apparently,” she managed to say while coughing, the heat from the drink making her eyes water. Amber seemed to find it amusing.

“So since we’re talking about last night, what was that pink spot on your shoulder?” Amber asked. Sunset was grateful she wasn’t drinking that time, because at that she definitely would have spit it out. Amber either didn’t notice Sunset’s expression or didn’t seem to care, as she persisted anyway. “At first I thought it was a birthmark or scar or something, but then after you fell asleep I was looking at it and it looks just like Fl–”

That is the result of another night of drinking, as well as something we are definitely pretending never happened.” Sunset glared at Amber, silently conveying that this was absolutely not a topic they could reopen later.

“Fine. So since you don’t feel like talking about that, why don’t you go first? Why did last night happen for you?”

Sunset took a deep breath. “Okay, full disclosure, lust and curiosity. Don’t get me wrong, you’re really cool, and under different circumstances I’d probably be interested in dating you. But no, last night was not some big secret love thing.”

“Fair enough,” Amber said. If she felt any kind of way about what Sunset said she didn’t say so. “What do you mean curiosity though? What, did you often find yourself wondering what I’m like in bed?”

“Nothing like that,” Sunset said, chuckling. “I meant lust in the general sense, by the way. I never really thought about you like that before. Even if you are sort of my type.”

“Oh, so what’s your type then?” Amber asked, grinning.

Sunset shrugged. “I have a few. Cute little pegasus is definitely one of them though.”

Amber didn’t look amused at being reminded of how small she was. “So, what? You were curious what pegasi are like?”

“If I said yes, would that be racist? I can’t even tell,” Sunset said. Amber just shrugged. “Anyway, no, I didn’t mean pegasi specifically. I’ve never actually slept with a pony before.”

Amber’s jaw dropped. “What? Last night was your first time? Like, ever?”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Pony. I’ve never slept with a pony before. What, did you forget I mostly grew up with humans?”

“Oh, okay then,” Amber said. She let out a relieved sigh. “I mean, that would have been pretty weird, right? Your first time’s supposed to be special.”

“I guess, but mine wasn’t,” Sunset said, then wondered if she was being too tough. “I mean, he was okay I guess, but I definitely didn’t love him or anything.”

“Yeah, me either,” Amber said.

Worried that a potentially touchy subject was about to come up which could derail the already touchy conversation she was trying to have, Sunset decided to lighten the mood. “That’s good. I mean, if you loved Flash Sentry that’d be pretty weird.”

Amber laughed, which almost made Sunset not want to ask the question she knew the pegasus was trying not to answer.

“So, your turn. What was last night for you?”

Amber frowned. “I, uhm, I don’t suppose you’ll reconsider that ‘not pretending like it never happened’ stance?”

“What, after I just admitted my reasons? No way,” Sunset said. “Understand, I just want us to still be great friends after this. But we need to air out what happened or else it’ll just be sitting in the back of our minds and could cause problems later.”

“I know. It’s just… it’s really dumb…” Amber said. She stared at the table rather than look at Sunset.

“Come on, it can’t be that bad.” Sunset smiled encouragingly. “You can tell me whatever it is. I won’t judge you or get my feelings hurt or anything. What, was I like revenge sex or something?”

“No, I…” Amber sighed. “I guess I thought… If I did it too, it was okay, you know? How can I be upset with Luna if I also slept with somepony else?”

“And did it work?” Sunset asked, although she was pretty sure she knew the answer already.

Amber shook her head then rested it on her hoof. “No. I know she didn’t really do anything wrong, but I’m still mad at her. And now I’m mad at myself too. It feels… And this is ridiculous, but it feels like I cheated on her.”

Sunset slouched in her chair and idly moved her necklace around. She felt the same way. “I’m sorry, for whatever that’s worth. I knew better. I never should have let things get that far.”

Despite looking like she might cry, Amber picked her head up and gave Sunset a genuine smile. “Don’t worry about it, It’s not your fault. I can’t blame you for my own stupid mistake. And you know, it doesn’t even matter anyway. Like, nopony even cares, right? I could go and tell Luna right now! I could tell and… and she wouldn’t even care…” At that, Amber did start crying.

Sunset reached out a hoof and set it on top of hers. “I don’t know, I think Luna’s pretty upset too. I bet if you talked with her about it, you could work all this out.”

“I’m not even sure I want things to work out,” Amber said, wiping the tears away from her eyes. “Sorry, I’ve got to pull myself together. What would everypony at work say if – oh sweet Celestia, I’m supposed to be at work!” She jumped up and began hurrying to the door.

“No way. You’re not going to work today.” Sunset frowned at the idea. “I’m sure they’ll be okay without you.”

Amber looked at her like she was crazy. “What? No, Sunset, I have to go to work! Trust me, I love my job, everything will be fine.”

“Uh huh. And where’s your uniform?” Sunset asked. She knew the answer already, and knew that it was a low blow. Still, Amber was in no condition to go into work, even aside from the lingering hangover.

Forgetting her panicked rush for a moment, Amber gazed at her hooves. “In the castle. In Luna’s room.” She shook her head and looked at Sunset. “It’s fine, I’ll just borrow one.”

“And when they ask why you don’t have yours? Or if somepony asks what you were up to last night, or realizes you seem out of it and want to know why? Are you really ready for that conversation?” She felt bad for pushing Amber, but if she was gonna break down, it’d be better to do it before going to work.

“No.” Amber sighed. “But I don’t want to cause problems for anypony, you know? If I don’t show, somepony else will get stuck picking up the slack.”

“Because every time somepony misses work, you blame them for making your day harder?”

Amber frowned, clearly seeing Sunset’s point. “No. I usually assume they have a good reason.”

Sunset arched her eyebrow. “And this is a bad one? Besides, when was the last time you missed work?”

Amber grumbled something to her hooves.

“Have you ever missed work?”

“No. I’ve never actually missed a day of work,” Amber answered begrudgingly. “I more or less live on the train and have schedules planned out weeks in advance for where I’m sleeping, so it’s generally not an option. In fact, I don’t know what I’m going to do if I stay in Canterlot again. I’m supposed to be in Ponyville tonight. You told your parents you were only staying one night, so it looks like my hooves are tied anyway.”

Sunset stood up and walked over to Amber. She put a hoof around her shoulder. “Oh no, we’re definitely not staying here again. You’ll be in Ponyville tonight as planned, but we’ll be arriving together.”

“We… we will?”

“I never said that the train was off limits, just that you wouldn’t be working on it,” Sunset said, grinning. “I’m ready to leave this city too, so why not? I mean, unless you feel weird spending the day with me after, well, you know…”

As Sunset pulled her hoof away, she gave Amber a nervous look. She felt guilty for manipulating her friend, but when Amber’s ears folded back, Sunset could tell she had her right where she wanted her.

“Of course not! Fine, you win. I still need to explain myself to the station manager at least, then we can go.” Amber pulled Sunset into a sideways hug to show there was no awkwardness between them.

“So, uh… should we get your stuff from the castle?” Sunset asked. She also wanted to say goodbye to Celestia, not to mention that she still needed to get her own things. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to talk to Luna.

Amber sighed and let go of Sunset. “Yeah, we should.”

After cleaning up after themselves, they left the house. Sunset’s parents were nowhere in sight, but that didn’t particularly surprise her. They were probably already at work. Since they still had no money, there was nothing to do but walk to the castle. Thankfully, the richer neighborhoods tended to be closer to the palace, and Sunset’s foalhood home was no exception. Besides, it was a nice spring day outside, so the walk wasn’t so bad.

Along the way, Amber seemed to be in fairly high spirits, probably because of how many other ponies were around. Of course neither brought up any touchy subjects. They were able to find a lot to talk about just by looking around Canterlot. Not for the first time, Sunset found herself marvelling at how little she’d noticed the city when she actually lived in it.

Once they reached the castle though, Amber grew apprehensive. “You know you don’t have to talk to her or anything,” Sunset said.

“I know. And she’d be asleep now anyway, so it’s not like I’ll run into her. It’s just… memories.”

Sunset nodded her understanding. “I could just go in myself if you want.”

Amber smiled. “No, it’s fine. Let’s go.”

Figuring Celestia might be busy, they decided to start with her, that way if they had to come back later they’d have other things to do in the meantime. Approaching the throne room, they found the same white unicorn sitting outside at her desk.

“Hello, Raven. I don’t suppose Princess Celestia is free?” Sunset asked.

“Sorry, Sunset, full day today,” Raven answered. Since their initial meeting the two had run into one another a few times. Although they were hardly friends, they remained amicable with one another. “Would you like me to pass a note along?”

“I’ll just check back in a bit, it’s nothing important or anything,” Sunset said. “I’m gonna be heading back to Ponyville today, and I wanted to say goodbye is all.”

“No, wait here. She’ll want to know that, and I’m pretty sure she’ll be able to spare a few minutes.” Raven set aside her paperwork and entered the throne room.

To be honest, Sunset had been hoping for more than a few minutes, although she knew that was unlikely. When Raven returned she was followed by Celestia.

“Hello, Sunset, Amber,” Celestia greeted them, smiling brightly.

“Good morning, Princess,” Sunset said. Amber echoed the greeting a little more nervously, as if afraid Celestia would tell her off for leaving Luna alone.

“Raven tells me you are leaving for Ponyville,” Celestia said.

“Yeah. As much as I’ve enjoyed staying in Canterlot, I think it’s time I go back,” Sunset said.

Celestia nodded. “Very well. I certainly enjoyed your visit though, and I hope you know you are always welcome back here.”

“Yes, Princess,” Sunset said. She searched for something meaningful to say, but found nothing. Even after Sunset read the letters Celestia had written her, the two had difficulty making more than idle conversation with one another.

“I look forward to seeing what you and Twilight are able to do together,” Celestia said. “Be sure to say hello to her for me, and to Fluttershy and all their other friends as well.”

“Of course,” Sunset said.

“I wish I had time for a proper goodbye, but I’m afraid my day is going to be another long one.” Celestia turned back towards the throne room. She took a step, then stopped. “Sunset…” She turned back towards her former pupil and there was no trace of her usual polite smile. It was as difficult as ever to read her expression, but she looked almost sad.


“Perhaps you could find the time to write, once in a while?”

In as long as they’d known each other, Sunset couldn’t remember Celestia ever making a personal request of her. And she was certain she’d never made one back. “Of course. Do you think maybe you’ll have the time to write back?”

Celestia smiled. Not her usual one, which Sunset had seen thousands of times and she’d long since accepted as a practiced facade. It was a genuine smile, one Sunset barely recognized. “Yes, my gifted student. I’m sure I’ll find the time to write back.”

Celestia returned to the throne room, leaving Sunset behind with a slight smile lingering on her face. She replayed the small exchange in her head.

Eventually, Amber nudged her. “Touching.”

Sunset shook off her daze and nudged her back. “Hey, I don’t judge your family relationships.” She led the way towards her room.

“Oh geez, don’t say that,” Amber said. “That’d make Luna your family too.”

“I don’t think it works like that,” Sunset said, shrugging.

Although they hadn’t specifically agreed to save Luna for last, Amber never questioned their destination as Sunset led them to her room. Once there, she took time to change into clean clothes and repack her saddlebags, taking a few extra memories with her. When she left for the human world, she never even considered she was leaving behind her home, and back then she didn’t plan on ever coming back. Now she was welcome any time, and she still left with a heavy heart.

Eventually they ran out of excuses and had no choice but to make their way to Luna’s room. They stood outside the door, wondering how to proceed.

“I guess I’ll go in,” Amber said. “I mean, you’ve never even been in her bedroom, have you?”

“No, only her solar,” Sunset said. “But don’t worry about it. I mean, I’m sure you’re not ready to talk to her yet.”

“Well, no,” Amber said, looking off to the side. “But she should be asleep now, anyway. I should be able to just be in and out, no problem.”

“If she’s asleep then I’m sure I won’t have any problems either. And she could wake up when the door opens or because of her freaky sixth sense thing or whatever,” Sunset said. “Besides, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to figure out what’s yours and what’s hers.”

Amber looked torn between insisting she take care of it herself and remaining safely outside the room. “Well, if you’re sure…”

“I am.” Sunset nodded and opened the door. Stepping into the solar, she looked around the empty room. She had kind of hoped Luna would have gathered Amber’s things and set them aside down there, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

Sunset made her way in as quietly as she could. There was only one other door in the solar, which she opened to find a spiral staircase. She took a deep breath and began climbing. She expected Luna to appear behind her at any moment, but when she reached the top, she found the alicorn was sitting awake on her bed.

“Greetings, Sunset,” Luna said without turning to face her. Her voice seemed distant.

“Oh, hey, Luna,” Sunset said, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry for just barging in unannounced, but I was trying not to wake you.”

“It is fine. I was not asleep.” Although Luna remained perfectly still, her mane moved on its own accord. Combined with her distant tone, it made her seem almost ethereal.

“Have you been awake all day?” Sunset asked. She wasn’t quite sure why, but she felt wrong walking in past the doorway.

“I have,” Luna said. “You are here for Amber’s things. I have gathered them.” She gave a small nod towards a pair of saddlebags.

“I… you know…” Sunset struggled with what she wanted to say. She’d thought of many things she wanted to tell Luna over the course of the morning, and most of them involved some pretty colorful language. But now that she actually had a chance, it all felt wrong. She was angry at Luna because she was Amber’s friend, but now she couldn’t help but be reminded that she was Luna’s friend as well. And being friends with both of them meant there was something she definitely wanted to get into the open, lest it become a problem later. “So, last night… after we left, uhm…”

“Sunset.” Luna finally looked at her. Her face was as emotionless as her voice. “Whatever happened last night is for Amber to tell me, or not to, at her discretion.”

“Oh. Yeah, okay…” Sunset said. Luna turned away again. “So, uh, is there anything you want me to tell her for you?”

For a moment Luna was silent. Sunset wondered if she somehow didn’t hear, or if she was just considering her answer. “There are many,” Luna said eventually, “but I do not feel they are appropriate.”

Sunset finally took a few steps towards the bed. “Luna, please. She may not be ready to actually talk to you, but I know she wants to hear something from you at least. Write it down if you don’t want me to know, but at least tell her something.”

“But as you just said, she is not yet ready to speak with me. My apologies, Sunset, but I do not know what she’d like to hear from me.” Luna bowed her head. “No, that is untrue. I’m aware of several things I could say to make her happy again. But they are all either untrue, or else there is another reason I’d rather not say them.”

Sunset shook her head, once again growing angry at the princess. She walked closer to the bed, positioning herself in front of Luna so anything she’d have to say she could at least say to Sunset’s face. “What am I supposed to tell her then? You know she’s right downstairs, I know you can tell that sort of thing. So, what? I’m supposed to go down there and just tell her that you don’t care enough to even say anything to her!?”

It was subtle, and if she hadn’t positioned herself so close Sunset wouldn’t have noticed, but Luna flinched slightly at the accusation. “I see no reason why you should tell her anything other than the truth.”

Luna tried to turn away so Sunset reached out for her shoulder, holding her in place as much as she could with only one hoof. “So that’s it then? You’re just going to leave your best friend alone and miserable?”

“No, Sunset –” Luna looked into her eyes and smiled, which somehow only made her look even sadder and dispelled most of Sunset’s anger “– I have left her in capable hooves.”

Sunset held her gaze for a moment before she walked away, slightly ashamed at losing her temper. She picked up Amber’s bags in her magic and walked back to the door. She turned to Luna to say a proper goodbye, but found she was unable to do so. The silence of the room proved too much, so she instead walked downstairs, through the solar, and out towards the hallway.

“So was she asleep?” Amber asked.

Sunset was tempted to lie. “No. She was awake. She seems really upset in her own way.”

Amber looked at the door, clearly debating going in herself. Eventually though, she just slipped on her saddlebags. “Okay, let’s go.”

The walk out of the castle was somber. Sunset wanted to break the silence but couldn’t think of how. She kept thinking of Luna, wondering if she was still just sitting eerily still in her bedroom.

Once they were out of the castle, things got a little better. Since they finally had their bags and thus their bits, they decided to take a taxi to the station, again striking up idle conversation along the way.

“So what should I tell them?” Amber asked as they reached the station.

“Well, you can either tell them the truth, if you really want to get into all that, or you can just say you’re sick. Of course then you also have to spend the rest of the day pretending to be sick.”

Amber frowned. “I don’t really want to lie to anypony.”

“Well then you’ve really only got one choice,” Sunset said. “I mean, I suppose you could either tell them about Luna or that you’re too hungover to work. The second one won’t get you any sympathy though.”

“I guess you’re right,” Amber sighed and looked uncertainly across the station.

Sunset smiled encouragingly and hugged her. “It’ll be alright. I’ll go with you.”

Amber shook her head. “It’ll be fine. Besides, I’m sure the manager would rather talk to me privately.” She walked over to a small office building, leaving Sunset to herself.

As she sat down on a nearby bench, Sunset watched all the ponies coming and going. In a way, she found it mind-boggling. Any train would have at least a hundred ponies on it. They were all going to the same place at the same time, and all for different reasons.

Sunset rolled her eyes at the existential thoughts and instead pulled out a book from her bag. But before she could begin reading she was already putting it away, as Amber walked up shortly after.

“So, that was weird,” Amber said.

Sunset frowned. “Did they give you a hard time?”

“Oh no, nothing like that. Just, well… Luna already sent somepony ahead early this morning.” Amber frowned and stared somewhat longingly at the castle in the distance. “She had me excused from working unless I wanted to.”

Sunset also stared at the castle, but she felt annoyance more than anything. “You know, that’s usually the type of thing you tell somepony you’re gonna do.”

Amber smiled. “That’s just how she is. She didn’t want me to know unless I already decided I didn’t want to work.” She turned away from the castle and led them over to a train. “Anyway. I got our tickets, so we’re good to go.”

“Guess we’ll be arriving sooner than they expected,” Sunset said as they boarded.

“Yeah. I hope we’re not interrupting anything,” Amber said.

Sunset shrugged. “I doubt it. Fluttershy and Twilight are kind of shut-ins. Besides, if they’re busy we can just wait around Ponyville. Better than waiting around Canterlot.”


Before they even found their seats, ponies were stopping to talk to Amber. Sunset had expected her coworkers, but she was surprised at how many customers stopped to ask her if everything was alright when they noticed she was out of uniform. She was afraid all the attention would prove too much, but being surrounded by ponies made Amber seem livelier than she had all day. One of her coworkers promised to take care of them her whole trip.

“So when was the last time you were on the train as a passenger?” Sunset asked once the crowd around them finally died down.

“Ages ago. I don’t usually have a lot of reason to, vacations for me involve actually staying in one place. The only time I ever rode as a passenger was almost five years ago. It was to Ponyville, actually. I went with my family for the Summer Sun Celebration. That was the year Luna was freed from Nightmare Moon. I remember watching her during the parade afterwards, she was riding in a chariot next to Princess Celestia.” Amber watched the other passengers as she spoke. She didn’t directly show any sign that she was upset, but even a neutral expression seemed sad when compared to her normal level of elation. “It’s weird to think about it now. I mean, I sat there with my parents and my brother and we just watched them go by. My brother was waving furiously, he was dead set on getting the princesses to notice him. When Luna actually waved back, you should have seen the look on his face! I always hoped I’d be able to actually introduce them someday.”

Sunset knew nothing she would say would help, so she instead reached a foreleg out to put it around Amber’s shoulders, only to jump back as the train jerked into motion. Amber smiled and grabbed her hoof. Sunset smiled back.

Along the way, Amber’s friend remained true to her word and checked on them several times. Sunset was a little embarrassed to be caught holding hooves, but Amber didn’t seem to care. She told a shortened version of what had happened between her and Luna, but made it sound like a simple fight rather than explain into the whole rough situation.

Despite the train and a few questioning looks from Amber’s friends, the ride to Ponyville didn’t prove as bad as the one to Canterlot. Still, she was thrilled when it came to an end and they were able to finally leave the train for good.

After a small discussion on whether or not to wait until Amber was expected to head to the castle, they decided their saddlebags were too heavy to wander around Ponyville. They made their way directly to the castle, albeit keeping their pace at a leisurely stroll.

“Don’t you kind of live here now?” Amber asked as Sunset knocked on the door.

“Yeah, but I don’t know,” Sunset said, “It still doesn’t feel like my home. I’ve spent more time in Canterlot than Ponyville so far. And besides, they don’t even know I’m coming, so it feels weird just barging in.”

It didn’t take long for the door to open, and they weren’t surprised to see that it was Spike on the other side. “Sunset? Welcome back, but you know you don’t have to knock, right?”

Amber chuckled. “Quiet, you,” Sunset said. She turned to Spike who stepped aside to let them in. “So how’s it going? I miss anything good?”

“Nah, just wedding planning every day,” he said as they made their way in and closed the door behind them. “It was way cooler going to Shining’s wedding when everything was already planned.”

“I’ll bet,” Sunset said. While Spike and Amber greeted each other, Sunset began rifling through her bags. She found what she was looking for and grinned. “Got you something while I was in Canterlot.”

“Really?” Spike lit up.

“Yup. Check it out.” Sunset levitated his gift to him.

“The Sandmare?” Spike read the name of the comic out loud. “I’ve never heard of that one.”

“It’s from before you were born,” Sunset explained. “Some of your comics were pretty good, but you’re holding the start of the greatest comic book series ever written!”

“Really? Thank you!” Spike seemed undeterred by the age of the comic as he excitedly looked over the surrealist cover. “What’s it about?”

“You’ll just have to read it and see,” Sunset said, grinning. Really she just didn’t want to explain that it was about the master of the Dreaming in front of Amber. Even if the story did predate Luna’s return, there were definitely some similarities. “But before you start digging into that, could you tell Twilight and Fluttershy we’re here?”

“Sure thing,” Spike said. He ran upstairs, book in hand, and Sunset doubted they’d be seeing him again that night.

Sunset led the way into the side room where she first met Twilight’s friends, figuring it would be well suited for the four ponies. She noticed Amber grinning at her once they sat down. “What?”

“I told you you’d be a good sister.”

Sunset blushed. “Oh come on, I barely even know Spike.”

“And you’re already a great sibling!” Amber said, clapping her on the back.

“If you say so.” Sunset turned away so Amber wouldn’t catch her smile.

“Sunset, Amber!” Twilight greeted them both warmly. Fluttershy stood beside her, wearing her engagement necklace and smiling.

Curious, Sunset kept an eye on Twilight while everypony exchanged greetings and hugs. Sure enough, when Amber and Fluttershy hugged, Twilight’s expression grew stern. She returned to a friendly smile almost immediately, but as soon as they were apart Twilight was immediately back at Fluttershy’s side, clinging closer than before.

The couple sat next to each other while Sunset and Amber sat across from them. Nopony else seemed to notice any difference in Twilight’s behavior.

“So what’s going on?” Twilight asked. “We weren’t expecting you until later, and didn’t know Sunset was coming at all. Not that we’re complaining, mind you.”

“Yeah, well… last night was kind of crazy,” Amber said. She glanced at her hooves and Sunset put a foreleg around her. Amber smiled gratefully. “Me and Luna kind of… I don’t even know what to say. We weren’t really dating so I can’t really say we broke up.”

Fluttershy gasped while Twilight just stared dumbfounded. Within moments the yellow pegasus was on Amber’s other side hugging her.

“Oh, you poor dear. What happened?” Fluttershy asked. A glance at Twilight revealed that she didn’t seem to know what to do, although she gave no clear sign that she was uncomfortable with Fluttershy’s condolences.

Amber explained the situation, going over everything from Doughnut Joe’s to arriving at Sunset’s parent’s house. She didn’t mention drinking and what came after. Sunset wondered if it was because Amber was embarrassed or for her sake. She decided to leave it Amber’s choice who she wanted to tell about that.

“I can’t believe Luna would do something like that,” Twilight said. She had remained quiet the whole conversation and only spoke once Amber was done.

“Well, we did agree on being non-exclusive,” Amber said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Really, I was the stupid one…”

“Shh, of course you weren’t,” Fluttershy said, patting Amber’s back. “None of us really thought Luna meant it when she said you two weren’t really dating.”

“Do you want me to talk to her?” Twilight asked.

Amber shook her head. “I just… I think I need some time away from Luna right now.”

“Of course,” Fluttershy said. Twilight looked disappointed and Sunset suspected it went beyond simply being concerned for a friend.

“Alright, seriously though, that’s enough of that,” Amber said, smiling broadly. “You two are getting hitched! So what’s new in the wedding department?”

“We’re still planning everything out. Rarity’s been over to help almost every day,” Twilight said. “We’re figuring out our options on everything right now, but we haven’t really decided on too much yet. We haven’t even settled on an exact date.”

“We are planning for fall though,” Fluttershy said.

Sunset couldn’t help but notice Twilight seemed to be looking expectantly at Fluttershy. At first she couldn’t figure out why, but then she realized once they were past Amber and Luna, Twilight must have expected Fluttershy to return to her side.

“It’s so exciting!” Fluttershy said. Sunset realized Fluttershy had been talking while she had been busy scrutinizing Twilight.

“I’ll bet! I’m excited and I’m not even the one getting married!” Amber said.

“Hey Twilight, want to help me grab some snacks?” Sunset asked.

“Oh, I’ll help,” Fluttershy offered.

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Fluttershy, we’re just grabbing something quick. I promise I won’t subject you to our awful cooking.”

“Hey!” Twilight frowned.

“Oh, I didn’t mean that…” Fluttershy said.

Sunset chuckled. “I know. I’d just get it myself but I don’t want to raid your food." She gestured to Amber with her eyes. “You two wait here.”

Fluttershy smiled and Sunset was pretty sure she picked up at what she was hinting at. “Okay. Let me know if you need anything.”

As they left the room Sunset distinctly saw Twilight glance at the two pegasi, but she kept her reservations inside.

“Since you haven’t brought it up I’m guessing everything went well with Princess Celestia?” Twilight asked as they entered the kitchen.

“Yeah. She says ‘hi’ by the way,” Sunset said. “I guess it was pretty dumb of me to expect her to throw me in the dungeon. Still, I’m surprised at how well she took everything.”

“Of course. She’s a lot more understanding than you give her credit for,” Twilight said. She began looking through cabinets, deciding what to get.

“I suppose. Speaking of being understanding though…” Sunset caught Twilight’s eye. “What’s going on with you and Amber?”

“What do you mean? Nothing’s going on.” Twilight grinned. She always seemed sure that her grin was inconspicuous, but really it was a dead giveaway that she knew exactly what Sunset was talking about.

“Nothing at all?” Sunset asked.

Twilight doubled her interest in looking through the cabinets. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t be silly.”

“You may not have been staring daggers, but you’ve definitely been keeping a pretty close eye on her. Especially whenever she’s around Fluttershy.”

“What? No, I…” Twilight glanced back towards Sunset and finally crumbled under her glare. “Is it that obvious?”

“Maybe,” Sunset said, “but if Amber knows, she never said anything to me about it.” Fluttershy, however, had said a lot about it over the past year, once she finally felt confident that Twilight wouldn’t read her messages to Sunset.

She walked over to Twilight and put a hoof on her shoulder. “In fact, she considers you a great friend. She clearly respects you a lot, so why are you so untrusting?”

“I’m not untrusting!” Twilight snapped. She shook her head. “I trust them. I just… worry.”

“But there’s nothing to worry about, Twi,” Sunset said. “Is it because Amber asked her out? Because that was one time, and it was over a year ago. She didn’t even know you two were together then, and she hasn’t done anything inappropriate since then.”

“No. Maybe. No, that’s not it.” Twilight shook her head. “It’s just… Fluttershy seems so happy around her. And that’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like… If I wasn’t with Fluttershy it feels like she’d be with Amber, and that thought scares me.”

“Well, maybe that’s true,” Sunset said. Twilight looked taken aback. She had clearly expected Sunset to offer her mindless comforting words. “Maybe they would be together. But here’s the thing: you are with Fluttershy, and that’s not changing any time soon. I mean, she even agreed to marry you, so it’s not like you have any reason to worry, right? She wants to spend the rest of her life with you, Twilight.”

Twilight smiled a little at the reminder. “I know that. And I hate feeling this way, really. But it doesn’t help that Amber’s not… I don’t know, she doesn’t really seem like she understands committed relationships.”

“Okay, first off, she totally gets committed relationships. Didn’t you hear her talking about Luna? She committed herself to a relationship without even realizing it. Secondly, even if she didn’t, she still respects both of you enough to never break your trust.” Sunset smiled. “Besides, you can trust me, right? I got to know her pretty well and I personally vouch for her character.”

Twilight sighed and leaned against Sunset. “I’m a horrible friend. And an even worse fiancée…”

“No, you’re not.” Sunset pulled her into a hug. “Twilight, you’re allowed to feel whatever it is you feel. There’s nothing wrong with that. And while of course I understand why you don’t want to talk to Fluttershy about this, you can still talk to me. I’m here for you too, you know.”

Twilight hugged her back. “Thank you, Sunset. We should get back, they’re probably wondering about us.”

Sunset nodded and let go of the alicorn. “Alright, but we should seriously grab some food. We’ll look pretty silly walking in empty hoofed.”

Twilight chuckled. “Right.”

In the end, they wound up grabbing a simple chips and dip combo before returning to the room.

“You took that long to get chips?” Amber asked, grinning. Meanwhile, Fluttershy shot Sunset an appreciative look that confirmed her suspicions. Fluttershy definitely knew why Sunset had wanted Twilight alone.

“Sorry about that,” Twilight said as she returned to her seat. Sunset smiled, realizing Twilight was apologizing for more than just how long they took.

Since Fluttershy was still seated next to Amber, Sunset sat next to Twilight. As far as she could tell, nopony had a problem with the new seating arrangements.

“Hey, it wasn’t an easy decision,” Sunset said. “There were, like, three different kinds of dip to choose from.”

“That’s one important decision,” Amber said.

“Oh yes,” Twilight said. “As the Princess of Friendship, it is my duty to only provide my friends with the best snacks possible.”

“It was an exhaustive debate,” Sunset assured them. “We had to conduct a good deal of research, and only reached a conclusion due to Haycarte’s study on the emulsion of oil and vinegar.”

Everypony laughed, particularly Twilight who actually understood Sunset’s joke. Sunset smiled encouragingly at her, happy to see her casually joking around.

Over the next few hours the four of them talked, and although occasionally Twilight looked upset at some exchange between Fluttershy and Amber, Sunset was always able to easily dispel the negativity. Eventually Spike did come down to join them, raving excitedly about his new comic once he’d read it all. As Sunset and Spike discussed the story Twilight was amazed to learn that she actually recognized the author, and was shocked that somepony she respected had ever written comics.

Over the course of the day, it seemed everypony forgot their problems in the presence of good company. Everypony except one. The more Sunset watched Twilight and Fluttershy exchange small moments of love, the more she wanted to be part of it. But her time away had allowed her to clear her head; she no longer felt so overwhelmed by her feelings, and even found herself enjoying seeing the couple so in love. She decided she didn’t need more than that after all. She would be content watching them from a distance.

~ End Act I ~

8 – Making Mistakes

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Act II

Whispers in the Dark

Chapter Eight

Making Mistakes

After Sunset returned, she had expected Twilight would be too busy planning her wedding to get too involved with their plans to bring human technology to Equestria, but the alicorn proved highly capable of multitasking. Within days they had made some plans for what they might need, and before the week was over they had already begun to work.

The most logical idea seemed to be to bring over electronics from the human world to reverse engineer them, but it proved to be impossible. Whenever they tried to return to Equestria with anything electronic, it simply wouldn’t work. Sunset’s first thought was that the transfer was just draining the batteries on anything that held a charge, but they’d been working on it for weeks and they were sure that their electrical network should be compatible with anything they brought over. They designed outlets that would fit plugs on human devices, but nothing reacted. Twilight theorized it was the mirror itself keeping a level of balance maintained, but Sunset doubted that. The crown worked in the human world, and that used Equestrian magic. Why would the mirror allow magic to go through but not technology?

Setting that option aside for a time, they gritted their teeth and began to work from the ground up. Sunset found she was barely able to keep up with Twilight. She had a much better understanding of how to use complicated electronics, but building them was another matter entirely. On the other hoof, Twilight may have focused more on magical studies, but she had still built several electronic devices herself, and knew better what could and couldn’t be done with Equestrian technology.

They were lucky that the castle was much larger than any of its four residents needed, giving them ample space to set up a workroom. In the end, they settled on using one of the basement rooms since it was out of the way. It seemed to be intended as a dungeon, something Twilight was positive she’d never need to use. Not to mention that their work was occasionally loud, and they wouldn’t bother Fluttershy or Spike with the noise down there.

Or at least, that was the idea. However, there were exceptions, such as the ear-shattering screech that was coming from their equipment.

Both Sunset and Twilight were trying to keep their ears pressed against their heads while looking for what had caused the sound, to no avail. “Should we just blast it!?” Sunset shouted.

“What?” Twilight asked. Or at least, Sunset was pretty sure that was what she said.

Taking that as a yes, Sunset sighed and channelled her magic, shooting it as a beam at their speaker. Even as the noise died, Sunset could hear it ringing in her ears.

“Back to square one,” Twilight said.

“Sorry, it was all I could think to do.” Sunset looked at the remains of a month’s hard work.

“No, it’s okay. I didn’t know what else to do either.” Twilight smiled, but she was clearly just as disappointed as Sunset was. “Here, hold still.” She walked over and pulled a spare bit of debris out of Sunset’s mane.

“My goodness! Are you two okay?” They turned to see Fluttershy walking down the stairs. She usually left them alone while they worked, but Sunset suspected that noise was audible even outside the castle.

“We’re fine, Shy. Just another setback.” Twilight walked over to the stairs, meeting Fluttershy at the bottom. “Sorry about the noise.”

Fluttershy giggled. “I’m okay, but I don’t think Spike’s very happy. He was taking a nap.” She looked over to the pile of scrap. “Sorry about your, uhm…”

“Radio,” Sunset said, kicking pieces into a pile. “I don’t understand what went wrong. I was so sure we had it that time!”

“I’m sure you’ll get it soon,” Fluttershy said. “I’ll go get a broom.”

Twilight sighed. “Don’t worry, we’ve got one.” She levitated a broom and dustpan from a corner, something a frustrating number of their experiments had required.

“Maybe it’s time to take a little break?” Fluttershy suggested, “You’ve been at it for a long time, and there’s no sense in working when you’re so frustrated.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Sunset said, “In fact, aren’t you two going over some wedding arrangements today? I’ll finish cleaning up down here, you should take it easy for a change.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “I’m not gonna leave you to do it by yourself. This is both of our responsibility.”

Sunset tried to protest but Twilight ignored it. Fluttershy joined in too, so they wound up getting everything picked up pretty quickly. When they were done, Sunset took one last look at their remaining equipment before following the couple upstairs.

“So that’s supposed to let you hear things from all over Equestria?” Fluttershy asked.

“Right now I’d be happy if it would let us hear something from across the room,” Twilight said. “I’m running out of ideas on how to get it to work, though.”

“Why don’t you just read about how to make it work?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight looked at her quizzically. “Nopony’s ever made one, Shy. They don’t exist in Equestria yet.”

“But they do exist in the human world,” she said. She looked at Sunset. “They, uhm… they do have books there, right?”

Sunset and Twilight stopped walking at the same time. Sunset facehoofed while Twilight just stared at Fluttershy, dumbfounded.

“You know,” Sunset said, “for supposedly being some of the smartest mares in Equestria, we can be really stupid.”

“What time is it?” Twilight asked. She flew over to a clock before waiting for an answer. “We’ve got a few hours before the meeting the wedding planner. What do you say we go to a human library?”

“Absolutely!” Sunset said.

They shifted course and began walking towards the library, where the mirror was located. But before they made it too far, Twilight turned back around. “You don’t mind, right, Shy?”

Fluttershy smiled. “No, go have fun. Just be back before too long.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure she’s back in time,” Sunset said. “And thanks, Fluttershy. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

Fluttershy waved them off as they rushed upstairs, determined to get as much done in the short time available to them as they could. When they reached the library, Twilight threw off her lab coat and set the book in place to open the portal. “See you on the other side,” she said.

Twilight stepped through the portal, leaving Sunset to disrobe in peace. Even though she’d been in Equestria for almost two months, she still couldn’t get used to being naked around others. After spending seventeen years with humans, she doubted she ever would. But they had learned the hard way that leaving Equestria while clothed was a bad idea. Thankfully she usually wore dresses, which meant her ill-fitting clothes mostly just made her look ridiculous.

When a pony went through the mirror, it would create clothes for them on the other side, even if they were already wearing some. And so on their first trip back, Sunset found herself wearing a human set of clothes underneath a dress designed to fit a pony, which broke apart at the seams once on her human body. Needless to say the dress never make it back to Equestria, much to Rarity’s displeasure.

Sunset walked over to the mirror but didn’t step through. Instead she pulled a curtain around it, so nopony would see her when she came back through. Not that anypony was likely to. Even if nopony really understood, they still respected her need to always be clothed. She pulled off her lab coat and hung it neatly on a rack next to the mirror, only leaving her necklace on.

She stepped up to the mirror and stared into it. She looked over her reflection. She saw a pony, the same one she saw every day now. She reached a hoof towards the mirror and stopped before touching it. One more step and she’d be on the other side. She’d be a human again.

‘And an adult,’ she reminded herself. She was always an adult when she went through now. She wasn’t going to be a kid this time, and when she was ready, the portal would take her back here. It would. She wasn’t going to be stuck on the other side, she’d never be stranded like that again. Twilight was already there waiting for her.

She stepped forward. The world around her became a blur and she felt the sickening sensation of being pulled along with no control over what happened to her. Then as quickly as it started, it came to a halt, and she fell forward into Twilight’s arms.

“Easy, I’ve got you.” Twilight helped her onto her feet.

Sunset held her hands in front of her and looked over her body. She was an adult. Her breathing slowed from the rapid breathes she’d been taking since she came out of the portal and she looked into Twilight’s face. Her friend was looking at her with concern, so Sunset forced a smile and a flashed her a thumbs up.

“You okay?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” They never talked about it, but it was pretty clear Twilight knew that going through the mirror was hard for her. “Come on, we’ve got a schedule.”

At least Twilight didn’t press for more. “Right. So where’s the library?”

Sunset led the way to the nearest library, which was thankfully within walking distance of the school. Normally when they needed a ride they would contact Applejack through the journal, but neither of them had a phone. Besides, their impromptu trip meant there was no time to schedule anything, so she might be busy.

Along the way, they walked side by side. “I can’t believe we didn’t think of this ourselves,” Twilight said.

“Yeah,” Sunset said, then smirked. “Well, I can’t see how I didn’t think of it, anyway. You’d be lost without Fluttershy.”

“Hey, I did okay on my own,” Twilight said. She sounded upset, but still smiled.

“Yeah, back when you only had Spike to look after you. Must have been pretty tough.”

“Yeah, okay, so maybe I’ve never really lived on my own completely. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take care of myself.”

From what she had seen, Sunset doubted that, but she decided to not push Twilight’s buttons too much. “I’m just messing with you, Twi. Besides, it’s not like you’ll have to worry about that ever again. You’ll always have Fluttershy to take care of you now.”

“Yeah,” Twilight said. She sounded almost uncertain.

It seemed even the reminder that she was engaged wasn’t making Twilight feel better. Sunset started to feel guilty, wondering if Twilight was insecure about how much she relied on others to help her with everyday tasks.

“Hey, at least you’re better than me, right? I mean, I messed up my life so bad I had to move to a different world to start over. Twice.”

“Sunset, don’t put yourself down like that!” Twilight said, frowning. “There’s nothing wrong with starting over. I did when I first moved to Ponyville. And from what I’ve seen, I’m sure you could fix things here too if you ever set your mind to it.”

Sunset looked around at the world she had left. She was growing to miss it less every day. “Maybe, but I don’t know. Things got pretty messed up.”

Twilight put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure you can. You’re pretty amazing, Sunset.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Said the alicorn princess. Savior of multiple worlds, several times over!”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Twilight asked, blushing at the praise. “It’s not like my accomplishments do anything to diminish yours.”

“I’m just saying that one of us is legitimately amazing, and it’s definitely you.”

Twilight smiled at the compliment. The walk to the library was pleasant; it was a nice day and they kept a friendly conversation, mostly about the radio. Really, Sunset was a little tired of talking about it, at least until they found out something that might help, but she didn’t care. Twilight was all smiles and laughter, and so long as she was happy, so was Sunset.

They had planned to just grab a few books and be on their way, but once they started looking through them, they easily lost themselves. Soon a pile accumulated on the table, and it was only growing as time went on.

Sunset was eager to get back and start applying some of what they were reading about. While Twilight always seemed more than happy to just read about a subject until she understood it, Sunset didn’t think anything replaced the practical knowledge gained from actually attempting something. Still, they needed to know what books were worth bringing back, so she was skimming through the pile while Twilight darted around adding to it.

She was debating whether a promising book was still worth taking if it was too dull to read when she heard a voice. “Sunset?”

Sunset’s eyes squeezed shut as she willed the speaker away. She waited a moment before opening them and looking up to see Flash Sentry hadn’t disappeared. He was sitting at a table nearby, wearing his usual clueless expression. She waved casually, hoping that would be enough acknowledgement for him to leave them alone.

But of course, Sunset had never been that lucky. Flash stood up and walked over to their table and sat down across from her. “Where have you been? I heard you stopped going to work.”

Before moving to Equestria, Sunset had worked at a grocery store. She hated her job and hadn’t exactly given the proper two weeks notice before leaving. Or any notice at all, for that matter. “It’s a long story.”

“Well, do you mind if I ask what happened?” Flash asked.

Sunset sighed. She kind of did, but couldn’t blame his curiosity. “I moved back home. I’m staying with Twilight, who’s around here somewhere. We’re only in town to use the library.”

Flash looked around. “When you say Twilight, do you mean…?”

“Yes, Princess Twilight.” Sunset grinned as he sat up straighter. “Come on, lover boy, it’s been over two years since that dance. You can not still be on that.”

“Hey, how many Princesses have you met?” Flash asked.

“Four. And a prince. Not to mention the soon-to-be fifth Princess of Equestria.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve only met one,” Flash said, folding his arms. “So, sorry if it’s kind of a big deal to me.”

“Hmm, so you were only into her because she’s royalty?” Sunset leaned forward.

“Of course not! I didn’t even know until after everything was over.”

“Whatever you say, lover boy.” Sunset attempted to return to her book, but it proved fruitless as Twilight chose that moment to return.

“I found a book on electromagnetism that might be worth a quick read,” Twilight said, carrying a book so old and beat up it might crumble under its own massive weight.

“Twi, that book looks like it has more words than there are in existence.” Sunset made a mental note to put that one back while Twilight wasn’t looking.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Twilight said. “Besides, that’s a pointless comparison since…” She trailed off as she finally noticed Flash.

“Hey, Twilight. Long time no see.” Flash waved and gave his goofiest grin.

Once she was over the surprise, Twilight smiled back and sat down next to Sunset. She didn’t seem to find the unexpected encounter as awkward as Sunset did, although of course she had a lot less history with him. “Wow, Flash, imagine running into you here! How have you been?”

“Pretty good. I’m in college, majoring in musical theory. I was just working on a report.” He looked over their pile of books. “Looks like you two are doing some serious studying of your own.”

“Yes. We’re trying to recreate some human –” Twilight stopped short and looked to Sunset.

“Don’t worry, Flash knows about Equestria already,” Sunset said. He had taken the news surprisingly well, until it dawned on him that his first serious relationship was with someone who was really a pony. The look on his face as he questioned whether or not that was bestiality was probably Sunset’s favorite memory of him.

“Well, we’re recreating human technology there,” Twilight finished.

“Why can’t you just bring whatever you’re making from here?” Flash asked.

“We tried, but nothing works when we do. We have a few theories as to why not.” Twilight got the excited look she always had before she explained something complicated.

“Which we barely understand ourselves even though they’re our theories,” Sunset reminded her. If she let Twilight start explaining things, they’d never leave.

“Well, good luck anyway,” Flash said. He flipped through a few pages of an open book. “I’m, uh, I’m sure you got this, though.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Thanks for the confidence.”

“So are you planning on staying in Equestria permanently?” Flash asked, pushing the book to the side.

“Kinda playing it by ear,” Sunset said, “but it’s not like I have a whole lot waiting for me back here. I’m actually really happy over there, and even if it’s a whole other world, the portal leads right to this town, so I can visit whenever I want.”

“That’s great. I’m really happy things are working out for you,” Flash said, giving her a thumbs up.

Sunset grinned. “Thanks, but Twilight actually deserves more of that than me.” She turned to Twilight to see she was already blushing. Sunset would have hated embarrassing her a lot more if she wasn’t so cute when she was frazzled.

Flash looked to Twilight curiously while she gave a nervous chuckle. “Well, I’m, uhm… I’m engaged now.”

Sunset expected Flash to be disappointed by the news, but if he was, he hid it well. Maybe he really was finally over her after all. “That’s great! Congratulations!”

“Thank you,” Twilight said. She was still blushing but had collected herself enough to smile happily.

“So is he the prince you mentioned before?”

Sunset snorted at the idea of Twilight marrying Blueblood. “Nope. The whole royalty only marrying royalty thing doesn’t really happen over there. Besides, well… I’ll let Twilight explain.”

Twilight smiled. “Actually, I’m engaged to a mare.” Her smile faded when she noticed Flash’s expression, which looked a little too surprised.

Sunset chuckled. “Relax Twi, he doesn’t care that you’re gay, he’s just not used to pony terminology.” On the rare occasions the topic came up, Sunset usually substituted pony phrases for human ones, both to keep things simple and prevent people from being too weirded out.

Flash shook his head and smiled. “Right, I’m happy for you no matter who you decide to marry.”

“You actually know her human counterpart from school,” Twilight said, smiling again. “Remember Fluttershy?”

“Of course.” Flash looked between Twilight and Sunset. “I bet that must be pretty weird though.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah, why would that be weird?” Although Sunset kept her tone casual, she glared fiercely enough that even someone as dense as Flash Sentry would know he better choose his next words carefully.

He seemed to get the message, although the only way it could be more obvious that he was forcing his answer would be if he just whistled innocently instead. “Just that… all three of you are living together, right? You must feel like a third wheel.”

“Not really,” Sunset said, hoping that if she ignored Flash’s awkward tone then Twilight would as well. “And as far as I know, Twilight and Fluttershy don’t mind me staying with them.”

“Of course we don’t!” Twilight said.

“See what I mean? That’s exactly the same thing she’d say either way, so I how am I supposed to know if she means it?” Sunset shrugged.

Flash chuckled. “Well, congratulations again. I better get back to work though, it’s already three o’clock.”

Sunset and Twilight looked at each and jumped up. “It is? I can’t believe we let it get so late!” Twilight said.

“Does the portal close or something?” Flash asked.

“No, Twilight has to meet her wedding planner,” Sunset explained. “We promised Fluttershy we’d be back on time. Just leave the books, we aren’t running all the way back with them. We’ll come back later.”

“I can give you a ride,” Flash said, standing up. “It’s just to CHS right?”

“Yes, but aren’t you in the middle of something?” Twilight asked.

“It’s not far, I’ll be back in no time.” Flash was already grabbing his bag. “I mean, I’m not gonna let you get in trouble with your fiancée if I can help it.”

“You go with him, I’ll stay here and check out the books before heading back,” Sunset said, in part because she didn’t want to face Fluttershy after breaking her promise to get Twilight home on time.

“Okay, sorry for leaving it to you,” Twilight said. “And thanks, Flash, you’re a huge help.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Sunset said. Twilight and Flash ran off, leaving Sunset behind with the books. She sighed and started going through them again.

She separated them into a pile worth taking and a pile that was staying, starting by putting the giant tome of electromagnetism in the ‘staying’ pile. Once she was done, she realized there were still more books that she wanted than the library would allow her to take, so she narrowed it down further. Eventually she wound up with half a dozen books, a number she was sure Twilight wouldn’t be happy with.

She thought about leaving everything on the table for the librarians to put back. She probably would have, but she couldn’t get the image of Twilight chiding her out of her head, so she grudgingly collected all the books she wasn’t taking and began putting them away. By the time she was done, Flash Sentry was back.

“So,” he said as she tried to slip past unnoticed, “why haven’t you told her?”

“We’re not discussing this,” Sunset said flatly.

He held her gaze for a moment before caving in and returning to his book. “You’re making a mistake.”

“Maybe. I do that a lot.” Sunset walked up to the counter and checked out her books. She was more than ready to get back and bury herself in her work as a distraction.

If anypony could appreciate thorough planning, it was Twilight. She could spend days going over the smallest details of an event, and of course her wedding was of the utmost importance to her, so naturally she wanted everything about it to be decided with the most care imaginable. There was no reason she shouldn’t be putting all her attention into what Cloud Shine, the wedding planner, was saying. The seating arrangements were very important, and she wanted this to be perfect. Really, she did.

But she couldn’t focus. Her mind kept wandering back to Sunset, and to their project. She kept reminding herself that there would be time for that soon, and that her wedding was more important. But every time she managed to focus on what they were discussing, it was never for long. Thanks to Flash, she was barely late in returning and Fluttershy wasn’t upset with her. Still, if she wanted to keep it that way, she couldn’t keep zoning out.

“Hmm, I don’t think so. What do you think, Twily?”

Although she had missed most of the conversation, she smiled anyway. “I’m pretty sure no one in my family is going to have any problems no matter who they’re sitting next to,” she said, thankful that at least subconsciously she was paying attention.

Cloud Shine nodded. “Of course, I just wanted to make sure. You’d be surprised how often I have to bend over backwards to make sure certain distant relatives are seated far away from each other.”

“Oh I completely understand,” Twilight said. At times she was thankful that she came from a relatively small family. Applejack had told her about some of her experiences coordinating the Apple family reunions – and more to the point, her experiences resolving disputes because the wrong cousins started talking.

“Now there is one thing that worries me,” Cloud Shine said nervously, looking over her list. “Of course I understand you want all your friends in attendance, but is it really wise to invite Discord to a wedding?”

Fluttershy smiled. “Oh, don’t worry about him. He knows how important this is, and he’ll be on his best behavior.”

“Trust me, it would be more dangerous to not invite him,” Twilight said, although she was more than a little worried that Discord’s best behavior wouldn’t amount to as much as Fluttershy thought it would. “You should have seen what happened when he thought he wasn’t invited to The Grand Galloping Gala one year.”

“I did,” Cloud Shine said. She looked decidedly unamused at the reminder. “I was picking Smooze out of my mane for months.”

“Well, he’s come a long way since then,” Fluttershy insisted.

“If you’re sure…” Cloud Shine said. She made a mark on her notebook. “In that case, where do you think he should be seated?”

Twilight sighed. “Wherever he wants to be. I’m sorry, I know it’s hard to work around someone like Discord, but asking him to do something like follow a seating arrangement just isn’t in his nature.”

Cloud Shine frowned. “Okay, we’ll just leave that one for now.” She flipped through her notebook. “Now, we’ll have to book a photographer. Photo Finish is widely regarded as the best in the industry. She doesn’t generally do private events, but I’m sure she’d be willing to make an exception here.”

“Oh, uhm…” Fluttershy looked to Twilight, silently asking her to intervene.

“Actually, maybe we could find somepony else? We’ve met Photo Finish before and, uhm…”

Cloud Shine nodded. “She can be a bit pushy. No problem, I already have another pony in mind. Here, I brought a portfolio. What do you think of this one?”

They spent the remaining afternoon going over the various ponies they would be booking for the wedding. Twilight tried to keep herself actively engaged in the conversation, but whenever Cloud Shine began explaining something, her mind wandered back to Sunset.

By the time they were finished, the sun was going down. “Do you want to stop and get dinner on the way?” Fluttershy asked.

“Oh, uhm, that sounds good,” Twilight said even though she didn’t really feel going out for food.

Fluttershy giggled and nudged her. “Twily, if you just want to go home you can say so.”

Twilight grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry, it’s not that I don’t want to have dinner with you, I’m just so excited to get back to working on the radio. It was a great idea to get books from the human world, it’s going to be a huge help.”

Fluttershy wrapped a foreleg around her neck, pulling Twilight into a kiss. “Twily, it’s fine. I understand, and I’m glad to see you’re so excited with your work. Maybe tomorrow we can go out together?”

“Of course we can.” Twilight hugged her. “You’re the best, Shy. Honestly, I don’t know why you put up with me sometimes.”

Fluttershy let go of Twilight and began walking towards the castle. “Hmm, I don’t know either. Must be because you’re so cute.”

Twilight laughed. “Maybe, if you’re into nerdy bookworms.”

“Well then I guess I am, ” Fluttershy said, leaning against Twilight while they walked.

When she became an alicorn, Twilight had started growing taller, which stopped when she was almost as tall as Cadance. The growing height difference between her and Fluttershy had made her feel awkward while she was still getting used to it, but it certainly had its own unexpected advantages. She was now the perfect height to unfold a wing and drape it over Fluttershy while walking, keeping the smaller pegasus held close to her.

When they reached the castle, Twilight again stopped to make sure Fluttershy didn’t mind her running off before heading downstairs. She wasn’t surprised to see Sunset was already at work on reconstructing the speaker.

“How’s it going?” Twilight asked, causing Sunset to jump.

“Oh, hey, Twi. Back already?” She bent her head back over the wooden box. “It’s going okay. Spent a while reading up on everything, but I just had to start using my hooves for something. Figured I’d wait until you were back before starting work on the mechanics, anyway.”

Twilight sat down next to Sunset and looked over the open book. “You’ve been down here the whole time?”

“Yeah,” Sunset said. “Well, once I got back, of course.”

“Did you know the sun’s already set?”

Sunset’s head popped back up. “It did?”

“Yeah, right about when we wrapped things up with the wedding planner.” Twilight looked over the books Sunset had decided on bringing, and couldn’t help but be disappointed in how few there were.

“So how’d everything go anyway?” Sunset asked, levitating the mostly complete body off to the side.

“Fine,” Twilight said. She levitated one of the books to her and turned to the first chapter.

“Just fine? That doesn’t sound good.”

Twilight frowned. “Really, everything’s fine. I just… I was really excited to get back here and get to work so I kind of had a hard time focusing on everything.”

Sunset smiled. “You know you can just say it. You missed me.”

Twilight laughed and shook her head. “Let’s just get to work. Unless you’d rather call it a night. You’ve been at this a lot longer than me, after all.”

“No, I’m good,” Sunset said. “Trust me, I’m ready to finally get somewhere with this thing.”

Getting down to work mostly meant reading for the time being. She suspected Sunset was less than thrilled, but it was a good chance for her to catch up with the unicorn. When it came down to it, Twilight was barely able to keep up with Sunset. Sure, she had a good understanding of mechanical engineering by Equestrian standards, but Sunset had spent years learning technology that still seemed like its own kind of magic to her. Most of her human friends were content to just know how to use their technology, but Sunset had taken an interest in learning how things worked as well. Sunset had managed to be an expert on the most fascinating fields of two entirely different worlds. She really was amazing.

“So, you gonna tell me what’s on your mind, or do I have to ask Fluttershy?” Sunset asked suddenly.

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked.

Sunset levitated Twilight’s book away from her and flipped back a page. She skimmed it for a moment before turning back to Twilight. “So how does the inverse-square law affect radio waves?”

Twilight opened her mouth to answer, but found she couldn’t. Sunset had known what she was doing; the subconscious part of the mind that had allowed her to answer Fluttershy earlier didn’t withhold information for long, so flipping the previous page had rendered it useless. She blushed and snatched the book back with her magic. “Okay, so I missed something. What’s your point?”

“My point is that you don’t miss things, Twi,” Sunset said. “You’re distracted, and considering we’re working on the radio right now, you’ve pretty much lost that excuse. What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing,” Twilight said testily. “I’m just a little tired.” She wasn’t sure why she felt so defensive.

“You know, lately you’re distracted every time something comes up with the wedding. Is everything okay?”

Twilight frowned. “Everything’s fine.”

“Did you know you use that word a lot when something’s bothering you?” Sunset sighed. “Look, I’m not going to push you into talking about anything if you don’t want to, but can you at least not pretend like you’re fine when you’re not?”

“Sunset, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” Twilight propped up the book and began to read again, discovering that the inverse-square law described how the intensity of radio waves diminished over distance. She wondered if she should just go to bed after all. It was late and she’d been busy all day; she could always pick back up in the morning.

‘Oh, right, Fluttershy wanted to go out tomorrow,’ She reminded herself. Maybe spending the day with her marefriend would be a nice change of pace. Or rather, her fiancée. They were engaged now, after all. They’d spent a lot of time together recently, but it’d be nice to not have to spend their day worrying about the wedding. That’s how they spent most of their time lately, although to be fair, the wedding was just over four months away.

Four months until she promised herself to Fluttershy forever. They had spent the most amazing two years together, and now they had their whole lives to spend together. Twilight couldn’t be happier. This was what she really wanted. She reminded herself every day.

“Well, at least keep in mind that I’m here for you,” Sunset said. Twilight looked up from the book to see her smiling warmly. “If you ever want to talk, or just, you know, whatever you need.”

Seeing Sunset smile made Twilight smile as well. “Thanks, Sunset. But right now? I’d really like to try and at least get some ideas about what to do tonight. While this book’s very interesting, it hasn’t been too helpful.”

Sunset scooted her chair over so that they were shoulder to shoulder. “Actually, I think I might have something here. Take a look at this.” She held the book she’d been reading in front of them where they could both read it.

Twilight read over the passage quickly. “I think that might be the answer!” She levitated over a notebook and quill and began writing excitedly.

“Wait, hold on.” Sunset reached over Twilight to gesture at part of her notes. “I think that part’s backwards.”

“Oh yeah, nice catch.” Twilight made the correction.

With something to work on, both mares found themselves lost in their project together. Before long they had pages of notes, and still they kept working. Sunset moved on to working on the radio, checking details with Twilight, who was still working on the theoretical part. Hours passed without either of them noticing.

Eventually they found themselves on opposite sides of the room, with Sunset beside the newly constructed speaker and Twilight by the modified radio.

“Ready?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah, let’s do it.”

Twilight took a deep breath and picked up the microphone. She stepped on the hoof pedal that should allow her voice to come out on Sunset’s end, and she heard a gentle crackling sound. Considering the ear-piercing screech they’d been met with earlier, few things could have sounded so sweet. “Hello?” she said tentatively.

There was a notable pause where nothing happened, but it was short. “Hello?” the speaker echoed with her voice.

“It worked!” Sunset ran to Twilight and threw her forelegs around her.

“I can’t believe it, that was amazing!” Twilight said. After a moment she heard her words repeated and realized she was still pressing the button. She laughed and stepped off the pedal.

You’re amazing!” Sunset said, as Twilight hugged her back. “I can’t believe you figured all that out.”

“Hey, you built it,” Twilight said. “And it was all your idea in the first place!”

“How about we just agree that we’re pretty great together,” Sunset suggested.


Some combination of their lack of sleep and finally making some significant headway with their research caused them to both keep laughing. At some point they heard their laughter across the room and realized Sunset had stepped on the pedal, which only caused them to laugh more.

Slowly, they stopped laughing and Twilight turned to Sunset. They had never really ended their hug, continuing to lean on one another while they laughed, and now it occurred to Twilight exactly how close they were. Sunset let go of her but didn’t move away. Twilight kept a foreleg around Sunset’s shoulders, which she didn’t seem to mind.

“You know, despite all the setbacks, I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun with something,” Sunset said.

“Me either. Even if we never get it to work properly, I’m glad we decided to do this.” Twilight normally would already be thinking of ways to boost the signal and fix the time delay, but for the moment, she was content.

“We’ll get it working. We make a great team.” Sunset leaned her head against Twilight’s shoulder.

“Yeah.” Twilight knew they should separate, that their moment of celebration was over. Instead, she rested her head against Sunset’s.

After a moment passed and neither of them moved Sunset made a show of yawning as she picked her head up. “Sorry, I must be more tired than I thought.”

She knew it was an excuse, one that she was expected to play along with so they could both go to bed feeling a little guilty and pretend that they’d never shared an intimate moment. But as Sunset pulled her head up and looked at her, blushing slightly, Twilight wondered if this was what she really wanted.

She never planned on doing it, but she let herself act on an impulse and, closing her eyes, she leaned in and kissed Sunset. Almost immediately, Sunset kissed her back.

When they first pulled away, neither of them reacted. They were both blushing and Sunset looked more than a little confused. Twilight knew she probably looked the same way. Eventually it was Sunset that took a step back. Twilight hadn’t even realized her foreleg was still around her shoulders until she felt it slide off.

“Twilight, I…”

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said, backing up herself. She shook her head and flew to the top of the steps, not looking back as she opened the door and stepped into the upstairs hall. She collapsed against the opposite wall.

‘What the buck was I thinking!? How could I do something like that?’

She had to tell Fluttershy. This never should have happened, but now that it did, she wasn’t going to pretend like it didn’t. She loved Fluttershy with all her heart, and no matter what came of it, she deserved the truth.

‘It was one kiss. Just one kiss. Fluttershy will understand. She won’t call off the wedding, she won’t break up with me, she won’t hate me.’

Twilight tried to collect her thoughts. She had time to think. it was late, and Fluttershy would be asleep. She would tell her in the morning, so she had better figure out what was going through her head by then. She loved the time she spent with Sunset, she loved having somepony around who understood magic and science, but she didn’t love Sunset. No matter what she felt for Sunset, it wasn’t love.

‘So why would I risk hurting the pony I do love for nothing?’

She might as well not deny it to herself anymore, she was attracted to Sunset. It wasn’t love, but she felt something entirely too close to it when they were together. She’d thought she could keep her feelings in check, but in that moment it proved entirely too easy to slip into that role.

“Twilight?” She sat up and looked behind her. Fluttershy was looking at her with obvious concern. “Are you okay?”

“Fluttershy? Why are you still up?” Twilight stood up and smiled, hoping Fluttershy hadn’t been there long.

“I was asleep for a while, but when I realized you still weren’t in bed, I decided to come check on you. Is everything okay?”

Twilight willed herself to confess everything that happened. Fluttershy deserved the truth. She wouldn’t let this become a secret she kept hidden away, pretending it never happened. “Everything’s fine, Shy. We just… we were working on the radio and lost track of time.”

“Oh,” Fluttershy said. Twilight couldn’t look at her. She hated herself for lying.

“Let’s go to bed,” Twilight suggested. Her plan had been to tell Fluttershy in the morning, and that was what she’d do. It was a pathetic excuse for being too weak to tell her now, and she knew it.

I’m so sorry, Shy…’

When Fluttershy woke up and Twilight wasn’t in bed, she almost just rolled over and went back to sleep. Twilight and Sunset were busy working on their project, and she would come to bed when she was ready. They’d stopped trying to force themselves to be on the same sleep schedule ages ago, and truthfully, she enjoyed having some time to herself in the mornings.

But lately, it was getting hard to get Twilight away from the basement. Fluttershy was happy to see Twilight so excited about something, of course, and she never failed to make their appointments when they had wedding plans to go through. But aside from working on the wedding, they had barely spent any time together since their engagement. While Fluttershy admired Twilight’s passion, she knew if left to her own devices she could easily wind up staying up all night working, and then sleeping through their plans for spending the day together.

Getting out of bed was the hard part. She’d never understand how Twilight could stay up so late. Once she was up, she took a moment to stretch before shuffling downstairs. Being away from the bed made it a little easier to keep going.

Most of the time she was happy Twilight and Sunset did their work in the basement, keeping the rest of the castle quiet for the most part. In the middle of the night, however, it seemed entirely too far from the bedroom. But then she reminded herself that she’d soon be able to cuddle against Twilight while falling back asleep, and that thought kept her going.

She opened the door to the basement quietly, knowing that if they had fallen asleep while working, it wouldn’t be the first time. They were awake though, and Sunset was closer to her, standing by a speaker that looked like the one they had destroyed earlier. Twilight was on the other side of the room with what she knew was the main part of their project. They were so focused on their work that neither of them noticed her.

She didn’t understand a lot of what they did, but when they started working with electricity, Twilight had made a point of explaining to Spike how dangerous it could be so he wouldn’t accidentally hurt himself by touching their equipment when they weren’t around. She was pretty sure that this radio thing they were working on wasn’t dangerous, but just to be sure, she didn’t want to interrupt them while they were using it. The last thing she needed was to startle them into electrocuting themselves.

“Ready?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah, let's do it.”

Twilight stepped on something and a faint hissing noise came from the box by Sunset. “Hello?” Twilight spoke into a microphone. A moment later the box repeated, “Hello?”

Fluttershy smiled. They had worked so hard on this project, and it really was amazing. She’d seen ponies use microphones to amplify their voices, but never like that. There were no wires connecting the microphone to the speaker. She wanted to go congratulate them, but still wasn’t sure if it was okay. Apparently she needn’t have worried, as Sunset excitedly ran across the room and threw her forelegs around Twilight.

Fluttershy giggled and took a step closer, then stopped. Sunset always seemed overly cautious around her, as if she was afraid Fluttershy would be angry at her if she so much as hugged Twilight. She suspected that Sunset might even have a crush on Twilight, but that Twilight didn’t know. She never brought it up because, if anything, she felt bad for Sunset, who was always a great friend to both of them. There wasn’t any harm in letting her have a moment to celebrate their achievements. And really, seeing Twilight so happy made her happy too.

The speaker came back on for a moment and she heard their laughter come out of it, causing them to laugh harder. Fluttershy couldn’t help but laugh too, but decided she was ready for bed. As she started down the stairs again, Sunset let go of Twilight, but Twilight kept a foreleg around Sunset.

It seemed odd. Twilight normally wasn’t that affectionate with her friends. Sure, she had no problem with hugging, but not usually for so long. ‘I’m being silly. She’s probably just as tired as me and doesn’t even realize she still has her foreleg around her.’ Still, Fluttershy found herself stopping to watch again.

“You know, despite all the setbacks, I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun with something,” Sunset said.

“Me either,” Twilight said. “Even if we never get it to work properly, I’m glad we decided to do this.”

They were just talking about the radio. Fluttershy felt guilty for even thinking there could have been anything more.

Then Sunset rested her head on Twilight’s shoulder, and Twilight leaned hers back on Sunset’s. Fluttershy frowned and stayed where she was, waiting to see what happened next. It wasn’t exactly that she had a problem with it, except that it just seemed so strange for Twilight. Fluttershy was the only pony Twilight was ever that intimate with.

Before too long Sunset pulled away and yawned. “Sorry, I must be more tired than I thought.”

If they had left it at that, Fluttershy would probably let it go. She trusted Twilight, after all. Twilight loved her, and she would never do anything to hurt her. Twilight had even proposed to her; there was no doubt in her mind that no matter what it looked like, Twilight never intended anything by her actions. But when Sunset looked up at her, Twilight kissed her.

No matter how rapidly she breathed, Fluttershy couldn’t seem to get enough air. She backed away from the scene, not wanting to see whatever happened next. She closed the door as quietly as she could and walked back towards the bedroom. She didn’t make it, however, instead collapsing once she had made it around a corner.

She knew what she saw. Twilight had been the one to kiss Sunset. She closed her eyes and could still see it clearly. What was she supposed to do now? Should she talk to Twilight about it? And what about Sunset?

She heard the door open and perked her ears up. There was a thud, then silence. She thought about running to the bedroom, hiding under the covers, and pretending that this was all a dream. She could be happy that way, as long as she could convince herself she hadn’t seen anything. She thought about leaving the castle and going back to her cottage, even if she hadn’t stayed there in months. But despite everything, she couldn’t bring herself to leave, not without giving Twilight a chance to explain herself.

She stood up and walked to the hallway. Twilight was leaning against a wall and there was no sign of Sunset. She watched Twilight for a minute, not sure if she expected anything to happen, but it became clear nothing would. “Twilight?”

“Fluttershy? Why are you still up?” Twilight stood up and smiled, as if nothing had happened.

“I was asleep for a while, but when I realized you still weren’t in bed, I decided to come check on you. Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine, Shy,” Twilight said. If she really wanted to pretend like nothing happened, Twilight was certainly giving her the chance. “We just… we were working on the radio and lost track of time.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy didn’t look at Twilight. She had hoped Twilight would voluntarily tell her what happened. Being lied to felt as bad as watching it happen.

“Let’s go to bed,” Twilight said. All Fluttershy could do was nod.

They didn’t speak as they went back upstairs. Normally they walked close together, but Fluttershy kept her distance and Twilight did nothing to close it. She wasn’t sure if she was disappointed about that.

Even when they lay down in bed, they remained apart. Part of her longed for Twilight to make some sort of contact between them, part of her didn’t want to be in the same bed.

“I love you, Shy,” Twilight said.

“I love you too, Twily.” The response was almost automatic. There was no hesitation, no doubt in her mind that she might not say it. No matter what happened, she loved Twilight – whether she wanted to or not.

She wasn’t sure how long she stayed awake. Twilight seemed to have fallen asleep, but Fluttershy doubted she would anytime soon. She couldn’t stop thinking about the kiss. She didn’t know what was going to happen, but there was no way she could pretend it didn’t happen. She wished Twilight had brought it up; she just wanted whatever happened to happen so it could be over with.

Eventually she couldn’t take it anymore. She didn’t know what she wanted to do, but knew she didn’t want to keep lying in the dark while Twilight slept as if nothing was wrong. She slowly got out of bed and began to walk softly towards the door.


Fluttershy didn’t look back, but she heard Twilight sit up. “I thought you were asleep.”

“I… I can’t sleep,” Twilight said. “Come back to bed?”

“Twily…” Fluttershy shook her head and turned around. Looking at Twilight, she could feel the tears starting already. “Why did you…?”

Twilight grabbed a pillow and held it close to her. “You, uhm… you saw everything, didn’t you?”

Fluttershy nodded.

“Shy, I’m so so sorry, I never meant to do anything to hurt you.” Twilight looked like she was going to start crying too.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Fluttershy asked.

“I… I’m sorry…” Twilight said. “I wanted to, but I was scared. I swear I was going to tell you in the morning.”

Fluttershy remembered all the times she’d been too scared to tell Twilight something, but that had never been because of something like this. “Do you love her?”

“No! I love you, I’ll only ever love you.”

“So is it me?” Fluttershy asked. “Is it because… because I’m not good enough for you?” She’d thought it herself a thousand times. Twilight was perfect; how could somepony like Fluttershy ever be worthy of somepony like her? Maybe Twilight would be happier with Sunset, with somepony who could understand her passions, somepony who could keep up with her.

“No, it’s not you at all! Shy, please don’t blame yourself. I’m the idiot, I’m the one who bucked up.” Twilight set the pillow aside, moving a little closer to the edge of the bed. “Fluttershy, please, tell me what I need to do to fix this, anything at all…”

Fluttershy sat on the ground and didn’t say anything. Twilight got out of bed and walked over to her, sitting next to her but not touching her. “Shy, please believe me, that was the only time anything like that ever happened, and nothing like that will ever happen again. You’re the only one I want. I love you.”

Fluttershy looked up at Twilight, but in the dark she could barely see through her tears. “I… I don’t even know if I can believe you. How do I know that was the only time? You two are down there by yourselves all the time, how do I even know that you weren’t… that you didn’t…” She started crying again. She couldn’t even bring herself to finish the sentence.

Twilight reached out her hoof to touch Fluttershy’s shoulder. When she didn’t back away Twilight slowly wrapped her forelegs around Fluttershy and nuzzled into her chest. “Shy, I’m so sorry… I understand that you don’t believe me, but please try… I’ve never kissed Sunset before. I’ve never kissed anypony other than you before.”

They sat together without speaking. Twilight held her closely and stroked her mane, which Fluttershy barely noticed. She didn’t try to get Twilight to stop, nor did she return any sign of affection. She didn’t know what to do, so she sat there doing nothing.

“I think… I think I should go…” Fluttershy said, eventually.

“What? What do you mean?” Twilight sat up and held Fluttershy’s hoof.

“I just… I think I need some time to think right now.” She wanted Twilight to stop her, to ask her to stay. She wanted Twilight’s confidence, for her to say that they could fix it as long as they were together.

“Okay, I understand…” Twilight backed off slowly, keeping one hoof on Fluttershy’s. “Just… please, go to Rainbow’s house, or Rarity’s.”


“Because… I don’t want you to be alone,” Twilight said. “I wish I could be the one to help you, but this is all my fault. So please, at least let somepony be there for you.”

Fluttershy looked down at Twilight’s hoof, still resting on hers. “I…” She didn’t know what she wanted to say. She didn’t know if she was going to follow Twilight’s advice, and if she didn’t if it was because she wanted to be alone or because Twilight had been the one to suggest it. Eventually she stood up, letting Twilight’s hoof slip off hers.

She didn’t bother to collect any of her things. She didn’t even bother to say goodbye as she walked out of the bedroom. She steadily walked through the castle and into the night air before she broke down, collapsing on the ground. Leaving the castle was really as far as she thought ahead, and with that done, she didn’t know what else to do.

9 – Acts of Kindness

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Chapter Nine

Acts of Kindness

By the time Fluttershy fell asleep, the sun was already up. Still, when Rainbow shook her awake, it wasn’t because she was tired that she wished she could just keep sleeping the day away. She groggily sat up and rubbed her eyes. It had been so late when she arrived, and she hated the thought of waking Rainbow, so she’d just let herself inside unannounced. She knew Rainbow wouldn’t mind, but she also knew that Rainbow would want to know why Fluttershy was asleep on her living room couch.

“Hey, Shy? It’s cool if you want to go back to sleep, but it’s already like three in the afternoon, so I figured you might want to get up.”

Fluttershy shot upright. “Afternoon? Oh, I left the poor little animals waiting for their breakfasts! I have to get going.”

As soon as she stood up, Rainbow held her back with a hoof on her shoulder. “No, you don’t. I took care of them.”

Fluttershy looked at her in surprise. Even though adopting Tank had made her a little more caring, Rainbow still wasn’t really fond of looking after animals other than him. “You… you did?” Realizing that Rainbow might be upset at how surprised she was she added, “But didn’t you have work today?”

“Eh, I stopped by and told them I couldn’t make it.” Rainbow shrugged and sat down next to Fluttershy.

“Why? You’re not sick are you?”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “No, I’m fine. But when I saw you, I figured you weren’t feeling up to taking care of anything today.”

Fluttershy frowned. She hadn’t meant to make Rainbow miss work or take on any extra responsibilities. She thought she’d just sleep a few hours, Rainbow would wake her up before leaving for work, then she’d go back to her cottage. “You didn’t have to do that…”

“I know,” Rainbow said, shrugging. “Anyway, you staying up now? ‘Cause you can use my bed if you want to go back to sleep.”

“I think it’s probably time to get up. I don’t want to be up all night again tonight.” Even as she said it she sunk back into the couch.

“Alright. You want some tea or something?” Rainbow asked. She normally drank coffee, but always kept tea around for whenever Fluttershy visited.

“Oh, sure. I’ll go get it started.”

Again, Rainbow stopped her from getting up. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll do it.”

Fluttershy actually wouldn’t have minded having something to keep herself busy, but Rainbow was already walking to the kitchen, and she simply didn’t have the energy to convince her not to. She remained on the couch for a few minutes before dragging herself up and walking into the kitchen.

She sat and waited while Rainbow busied herself, making both tea and coffee. She poured Fluttershy’s tea into a coffee mug and brought it to her before returning to the stove. Fluttershy blew on the steaming beverage while Rainbow finished making the coffee, eventually sitting down at the table.

“So, you want to tell me what’s going on?” Rainbow asked. Fluttershy was surprised she’d lasted this long.

Fluttershy sighed. She knew when she decided to go to Rainbow’s house that she’d have to answer that question sooner or later. At the time, the idea of talking about it seemed like a good one. She was angry and wanted somepony else to be angry with her. But now that she had a chance to sleep on it, she wasn’t so sure she really wanted to go into details. “Uhm… We had a fight…”

“Kinda figured that much,” Rainbow said. “Come on, you gotta get it off your chest. What happened?”

Fluttershy bit her lip. Why was she still worried about Rainbow being angry with Twilight? Shouldn’t she be angry? Still, she couldn’t help but want to protect Twilight, no matter how upset she was. She took a sip of her tea and politely ignored the fact that Rainbow had made it a little too strong. “It’s… promise me you won’t do anything brash?”

“You know, that’s not exactly the most reassuring thing you could say,” Rainbow said, taking a sip of her coffee. “Fine, I won’t do anything brash. Now what happened?”

“Well…” Fluttershy took a deep breath and stared into her tea. “I saw Twilight kiss Sunset.” Saying it out loud almost brought her back to the point of tears, but she held it in. She’d cried more than enough the night before.

Rainbow frowned and set aside her coffee. “Are you sure? I mean, I don’t know about Sunset, but that doesn’t sound like something Twilight would do.”

Fluttershy held her face in her hooves and gave a small nod. “I know, but I saw her.”

“So then what? Did you talk to her about it?”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said. “She said it’s never happened before.”

She felt Rainbow’s hoof on her shoulder. “So… I, uh, I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but…”

Fluttershy was pretty sure she knew what Rainbow was trying to say; it had been on her mind all night. “What are the odds that I happen to see them the first time they kiss?”

“Well… yeah,” Rainbow said. She moved closer, so Fluttershy leaned into her shoulder and started crying. Rainbow didn’t say anything, she just held her and patted her back. Fluttershy knew Rainbow wasn’t comfortable in situations like this, and appreciated her trying her best.

“How do I know… What if they did more than kiss?” Fluttershy asked through her sobs. “They’re both… they’re at the castle now…”

“I don’t think Twilight would do anything like that,” Rainbow said.

“I… I didn’t think she’d kiss somepony else…”

“Tell you what, I’ll go talk to her,” Rainbow said. Fluttershy wiped her eyes and looked up to see Rainbow grinning. “I’ll get to the bottom of things, don’t worry about it.”

“Please don’t…” Fluttershy was afraid of what Rainbow ‘talking’ to Twilight would entail. Rainbow looked confused. “Uhm… I just… I think I just need a few days to figure out how I feel, then we can figure out what to do next.”

Rainbow didn’t look happy with that response. “If you say so. You should drink your tea, anyway. And we should probably get you some food too.”

Fluttershy obliged and took another sip from her tea. “Thanks, Dashie, but I’m not hungry.”

“Fine, but I am.” Rainbow stood up and turned the stove back on. She began going through cabinets, pulling out a pot which she filled with water and set to boil. While waiting, she pulled out pasta and some premade sauce.

“Uhm, that’s probably too much for one pony,” Fluttershy said suspiciously, as Rainbow poured the pasta into the water.

Rainbow shrugged. “I’m really hungry.”

Fluttershy doubted that, but just finished her tea while Rainbow moved about the kitchen.

“Okay, so maybe you were right,” Rainbow said as she filled a bowl. “I think I made too much, you sure you don’t want any?”

Fluttershy smiled, knowing this was her plan all along. “Okay, maybe just a little.” Rainbow filled a second bowl – a little too full in Fluttershy’s opinion – and set it in front of her. She knew Rainbow was only looking out for her, and actually felt a little better as she ate.

‘Coming here was a good idea. Twilight was right.’

The thought made her lose her appetite again, tying her stomach in knots. She forced herself to keep eating though, Rainbow had been nice enough to cook for her, and she knew Rainbow hated cooking.

But before too long, she found herself moving her food around, unable to keep eating even though she felt guilty. “Why would she do that? I’d never do anything like that to her.”

Rainbow looked up from her food, the sudden question taking her by surprise. She had sauce on her muzzle, which she tried to lick off, but failed. “I don’t know, Shy. I… I’m not good with this kind of thing.” She leaned back in her chair. “I’m sure Twilight loves you, but maybe…”

Rainbow trailed off while Fluttershy pushed her bowl away. “Maybe…?”

“Well, what do I know about serious relationships and stuff?” Rainbow shrugged and grinned sheepishly. “You know I’ve never even been with anypony for more than a couple of months.”

“Rainbow…” Fluttershy didn’t really have the energy to push her for answers.

“Fine.” Rainbow sighed. “Maybe she just… wanted something else.”

“Sunset and Twilight do have so much more in common,” Fluttershy said.

“I… look, I really don’t know anything about this stuff, Shy, don’t take that too seriously. Maybe we could go talk to Rarity, she’s a lot better at this than me.”

Fluttershy laid her head down on the table. “I was thinking the same thing though. Why else would she do that? It’s not that complicated. She wouldn’t kiss her if she didn’t… didn’t love her…”

At a loss for words Rainbow looked around the room. She eventually wiped her muzzle with a foreleg, finally getting the sauce off it. “I do know one thing though. She never should have done that to you. If she changed her mind about your relationship she should have told you, not gone behind your back doing who knows what. She –”

Rainbow stopped suddenly as Fluttershy began sniffling again. “Right, I’m shutting up now.”

“It… it’s okay…” Fluttershy said, quickly wiping her eyes even though she was sure more tears would come soon. “I just… I don’t want to lose her. No matter what happened, no matter what, I love her. I’ll always love her, but I don’t know what to do.”

Just as Fluttershy had expected, she was already crying again. Unsure of what to do, Rainbow looked around uncertainly. Eventually, she pulled Fluttershy into a hug. “Okay, so this is what we know. Twilight bucked up, but you still want things to work out. Did it look like she wanted to work things out?”

“I… yes. She said she’d do anything to make it up to me.”

“Alright, so you both want things to work out,” Rainbow said. “So how about this: When you’re ready, we’ll go talk to Twilight. We can tell Sunset to hit the road and figure out what you want to do from there.”

She had barely even thought about what to do with Sunset. She had been so focused on trying to understand Twilight that she forgot there was another issue. “But they work together, I don’t think Sunset moving out would really help that much…”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? I’m pretty sure Sunset just got fired. She can move to Canterlot. Or better yet, we can throw her back on the other side of that mirror, but she’s lost any right to be hanging around Twilight.”

Seriously thinking about it for the first time, Fluttershy found that the idea of not being friends with Sunset anymore still made her sad for some reason. Sure, she was angry with Sunset, but she didn’t want to lose any friends. Still, Rainbow was right. She was going to have to rebuild her trust in Twilight, and having Sunset around was going to make that impossible.

Since it seemed neither of them was going to eat any more, Rainbow took their dishes and put away leftovers, leaving the dirty dishes in the sink.

Not wanting to talk about what happened anymore, Fluttershy asked if the rest of the weather team would mind Rainbow taking the day off, and used that as a way to get Rainbow talking about work in general. It was easy enough to get her off topic; Rainbow was probably just as happy to move on to something easier to talk about.

They eventually relocated to the living room again, and Fluttershy got Rainbow talking about the Wonderbolts Reserve, which was sure to keep her busy for hours. She suspected more than a few of the stories were exaggerated, but she listened happily. Sometimes it was almost enough to distract her from her thoughts.

The sun had been down for a while by the time Fluttershy left Rainbow’s house. Rainbow suggested she just stay another night, which Fluttershy was almost tempted to do. In the end, she suspected she’d have another restless night ahead of her and decided to spend it tossing and turning in her own bed. The only problem she was having was deciding which bed that was.

There was no getting around it, she missed Twilight. She was still furious, and she told herself to go to her cottage, but her wings carried her to the castle instead. She had some vague idea of entering unexpected and seeing if Twilight and Sunset were together, but no matter what had really been going on, she knew that wouldn’t be the case. It had been less than a day since Fluttershy had seen them, they would be too nervous to do anything so soon.

She pushed the door open and stepped inside. Nopony seemed to be on the ground floor. She normally would head upstairs to check the library, but this time she made her way to the basement. She stopped and listened once she reached the door, but she couldn’t hear anything. She did her best to keep breathing steady as she pushed it open, but her chest tightened and her legs threatened to give out.

Step by step, she slowly made her way into the basement. The light was off, so she was sure nopony would be there, but she turned it on just in case. As she suspected, it was empty.

She turned the light back off and turned back. Along the way, she heard a sound in the kitchen and went to investigate. Poking her head in, she saw Spike preparing a meal for himself.

“Hello, Spike,” Fluttershy said, walking into the kitchen.

“Hey, Fluttershy. Where you been all day?” He wiped his claws on his apron before climbing up the counter to reach a high shelf.

“I, uhm. I stopped by Rainbow’s to visit.” Fluttershy didn’t want to involve Spike in their problem, certainly not before they even knew for sure what was going on.

“I was surprised when nopony was around,” Spike said, chuckling. “Not that I mind having the whole castle to myself or anything.”

“Nopony’s here?”

Spike looked at her quizzically. “What, Twilight didn’t tell you she was going somewhere? You don’t think she’s in trouble, do you?”

“Oh, no, I knew she might be out,” Fluttershy lied. She didn’t want Spike to worry about her, but she wasn’t sure how to explain that Twilight wasn’t in any danger. Trouble, on the other hoof? Well, she might definitely be in trouble, but that depended on Spike’s answer to her next question. “I didn’t think Sunset would be gone though. Did she go with Twilight?”

Satisfied that Twilight was okay, Spike resumed his cooking. “I dunno, but I don’t think so. Sunset was already gone when I woke up, but Twilight didn’t leave until the afternoon.”

She supposed that was a good sign, but it didn’t exactly rule out that they might be together somewhere. Suddenly, she decided she didn’t even want to wait around to find out the answer to that. “Okay,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll be back soon. I’m going to my cottage tonight though, so I’ll see you later.”

Spike stopped what he was doing and turned around. “You are? Did you and Twilight have a fight?”

Fluttershy should have known that Spike would catch on. While she didn’t want to bring him into it, she supposed he would find out soon enough, so there was no point in sheltering him completely. “Well… yes, we did. But it’ll be okay, we just need a little time to ourselves right now.”

Spike looked down and twirled his claws around. “Okay. But, uhm… Everything will be okay, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy smiled and walked over to him. He was getting so tall these days, she barely had to bend down at all to kiss his forehead. “Yes, it will. I’ll probably see you tomorrow.”

As she said goodnight to the little dragon, his sad expression almost made her stay. But then the thought of seeing Twilight come home with Sunset popped back into her head, which proved too much for her to stay.

She left the castle and slowly made her way to her cottage, barely paying attention to her surroundings. Where would they have gone? Was she worried over nothing? Maybe it really was just one kiss. With so much to think about during the day, she was constantly finding new things she hadn’t thought of.

If they really did share just the one kiss, then what? She couldn’t even figure out how she’d feel about that, not when every attempt to think about it brought her back to wondering what else they might be doing together. While she was slowly walking home with her head hung low, the two of them were who knows where doing who knows what.

That wasn’t fair, and Fluttershy knew it. Even after everything, she trusted Twilight more than that. But the thoughts just wouldn’t stop coming, whether she believed them or not, and it was hard to remind herself of Twilight’s trustworthiness when her thoughts flashed back to the way Twilight had lied to her.

She avoided the main market section of town, taking side roads the whole way. All she wanted was to get home without anypony stopping to talk to her. It was too much to ask for.

“Oh, Fluttershy, could you come here a second?” Fluttershy looked up to see a grey pegasus waving to her.

“Hello, Derpy,” Fluttershy said, hoping her smile looked authentic.

She walked up to Derpy, who looked worried. “It’s your friend, the one that’s been staying with you and Twilight. She’s, uhm…”

“Sunset?” Despite everything, Fluttershy couldn’t help being concerned for her. “Is she okay?”

“Oh, she’s fine,” Derpy said. “Well, mostly. She, uhm, just had a little too much to drink. When the bartender told her she’d had enough and that she should go back to the castle, she got upset and walked off.”

And just as suddenly as it had come, Fluttershy's concern was gone. “I’m sure Sunset will be okay. She’s probably already on her way back.”

Derpy shook her head. “The doctor and I went after her to make sure she got home okay, but she was walking away from the castle. When we tried to help her she, uhm, she started yelling a lot, so we let her go.” She bowed her head. “I’m sorry, Fluttershy, we shouldn’t have left her.”

Fluttershy frowned. If Sunset wanted to get drunk that was her own business, and at least now she knew Twilight wasn’t with her. But there was no reason to yell at ponies who were just trying to help. “It’s okay, Derpy. Sunset’s been… Well, there’s a lot going on right now. Which way did she go?”

“She walked off that way,” Derpy said, pointing. “I don’t think she got very far.”

“Thank you, and I’m sorry she was so rude to you,” Fluttershy said.

“Aw, it’s okay. I’m sure she didn’t mean it. Do you want me to help you find her?”

Fluttershy smiled and shook her head. “No thank you, I’m sure I’ll be alright.” Fluttershy didn’t plan on looking for Sunset long, and certainly didn’t want any other ponies to waste their time looking for her. “You should get home now, it’s late.”

“Alright. Good luck.” Derpy waved and flew off.

Fluttershy sighed. She could just keep going and not even bother with Sunset. She was the one who got drunk. She was rude to Derpy and Time Turner. She’d broken Fluttershy’s trust. There was no reason to bother going after her at all. But the thought of Sunset collapsed on the side of the road was still not a happy one, so Fluttershy flew into the air to get a good view of the area.

‘Why do I have to represent the Element of Kindness? If I was Laughter I could just laugh at her getting what she deserves, or Honesty, then I could tell her just how rotten she is. But no, I have to be Kindness and go help her…’ She knew Pinkie and Applejack wouldn’t do either of those things. In fact, she was pretty sure none of her friends would actually leave her, even Rainbow. The thought made her feel guilty for ever considering it in the first place.

Once she realized she’d never get to sleep until she at least tried to help Sunset, she put forth more effort into her search. It wound up being over pretty quick. The bright colors of Sunset’s mane, coupled with the fact that she was the only pony around in a full dress, made her stick out pretty easily.

Fluttershy hadn’t seriously thought she’d be on the side of the road, but sure enough there she was, lying on her back. With one last glance in the direction of her cottage, Fluttershy flew to the ground. She landed down the road a bit, wanting a moment to collect herself before addressing Sunset.

Sunset was either passed out or simply hadn’t noticed her. Fluttershy walked up and saw that if she was coherent, she was staring at the stars. “What are you doing?” Her voice held none of its usual warmth.

Sunset was awake after all, since she flinched at Fluttershy’s tone. “Stargazing.”

Fluttershy waited for more, but Sunset remained quiet. “I almost didn’t come after you, you know.”

“Good. Ya shouldn’t have.” Sunset’s speech was slurred and she didn’t seem to be in control of the volume of her voice. Just hearing her made Fluttershy angry.

“Why are you out here? Why aren’t you at home?”

Sunset laughed mirthlessly. “I don’t have a home, Shy. I think… I think I never really did. Ever.”

“What are you talking about?” Fluttershy asked. “The castle.”

“I thought I had a home f’r awhile. I thought… Ya know, we were s’posed to have a home. Jus’ the three of us.” Sunset’s voice got much quieter, so Fluttershy could barely hear. “Then the two of us.”

“The castle, Sunset. Why aren’t you at the castle?”

“Hmm? Oh, that’s Twilight’s home.” Sunset’s voice reached excessive volumes again. “And, well ya know, Twilight’s there.”

Fluttershy didn’t know if Twilight would be there or not, but didn’t see why it mattered. “Get up, Sunset. We’re going back to the castle.”

She walked over to Sunset who pushed herself up. She tried to stand on her back legs to predictable results, winding up back on the ground.

“Sunset, please, just stand up. On four legs, not two.” Fluttershy might begrudgingly help Sunset back to the castle, but even she had her limits.

“Being a horse ‘s weird.” Sunset finally managed to stand up, and Fluttershy didn’t bother to correct her wording.

“Come on, let’s get you back.” Fluttershy was thankful Sunset seemed to be fine with just following her. She wasn’t sure if she could carry Sunset, and also wasn’t sure if she would.

“Where are we going?” Sunset asked.

Fluttershy’s eye twitched. “The castle. We’re going back to the castle.”

Sunset stopped and looked at her wide-eyed. “No. I can’t go back to the castle.”

“Sunset, please,” Fluttershy said, “after everything that’s going on, I don’t need this.”

“Shy,” Sunset said. “I… I’m so sorry, Shy.”

“That’s great, Sunset, you can help make up for it by coming with me now.”

Sunset actually took a step backwards, which caused her to stumble and almost wind up back on the ground. “Just go. Leave me alone, Shy, just leave me here.”

The idea was tempting. Really, she wasn’t even sure why she was bothering. Wasn’t it enough that she tried? “Please don’t make me drag you there.”

Sunset kept looking serious for only a moment before she couldn’t hold it anymore and started laughing. Fluttershy wasn’t really amused. “Sorry, it’s just… Shy, I really don’ think you’re gonna overpower me.”

Fluttershy glared at her, but didn’t bother to dispute it. Even if Sunset was too inebriated to use her magic properly, she was still much bigger. “Fine. Then come with me to my house.” She’d said it before she’d even really thought it through. So much for spending time sorting through her feelings, since the only thing she’d be feeling with Sunset downstairs was frustration.

“Oh. Okay. Wait, will Twilight be there?”

“No,” Fluttershy said. She waited for any more questions, but no more came, so Fluttershy led the way to her cottage.

They walked in silence at first, which suited Fluttershy fine. Which meant it was only a matter of time before Sunset spoke. “I think… I think I really fucked up this time Shy…”

“Really,” Fluttershy said flatly. “Why ever would you think that?”

Sunset seemed to not notice Fluttershy’s sarcasm. “I did something bad. Like, really bad.”

It dawned on her that Sunset might not realize Fluttershy had seen them. She had suspected Twilight would have talked to her about it, but Sunset really didn’t seem too worried to be around her, so maybe not. That also meant they didn’t have a chance to get a story straight. Suddenly running into Sunset seemed like a much better thing. “Oh? I’m sure it couldn’t have been that bad.”

“But it was!” Sunset exclaimed, far louder than was called for.

“Well, what was it?” Fluttershy asked.

“I… I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“ ‘Cause… you’ll be mad at me…” Sunset sounded so pathetic Fluttershy could have felt sorry for her if she wasn’t so angry with her.

Fluttershy decided to wait until the got to the cottage to press for more, realizing that she really didn’t want Sunset to drunkenly yell that she kissed Twilight while they were still in town. She’d just have to hope she could get Sunset back on topic when the time came. “How about we go to my house, I’ll make us some tea, and then we can talk about it. I’m sure you’ll see there’s nothing to worry about.”

“You’re so nice. Why are you always so nice, Shy?” Sunset laughed and caught up with Fluttershy, who resisted the urge to push her away. “I mean, you’re not really Shy though.”

“What are you talking about?” Fluttershy asked, although she doubted she’d get any real answer.

Sunset chuckled. “Well, I mean, you’re kinda shy. But you’re not Shy. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense, does it?”

“Not really.” Fluttershy tried to keep her tone happy. She wasn’t very good at manipulating ponies into telling her things, but she was sure she’d have a better chance at getting Sunset to open up if she remained friendly.

“It’s like this… So, you’re Twilight’s Shy, right? But you’re not my Shy, you know?” Sunset began giggling. “My Shy, that rhymed. Hey! My Shy rhymed!”

‘Oh sweet Celestia, what did I do to deserve this?’ Fluttershy was tempted to suggest they play the silence game. Usually she reserved that for little fillies, but considering Sunset was still listing words that rhymed with ‘Shy,’ she certainly was making a foal of herself.

“You know, I’d never want to do anything to hurt you,” Sunset said suddenly.

Maybe it wouldn’t be too hard to get her back on topic after all. But they still weren’t at the cottage, and there was no telling what Sunset would say next. “Uhm, okay Sunset, but if we could just go a little further…”

Sunset stopped walking entirely. “I mean it, Sh– Fluttershy. I wouldn’t, no matter what. And, uhm, neither would Twilight. You know that, right?”

Fluttershy gave the best smile she could manage. “Of course, Sunset. Come on, we’re almost there.”

Sunset waited a moment, making Fluttershy worry that she was would need to convince her to move all over again. But she did start walking eventually, and thankfully did so in silence. As awkward as the silence was, Fluttershy still enjoyed it, and found the rest of the walk felt much faster.

“There we go,” Fluttershy said as they finally walked into the house. “How about you take a seat on the couch and I’ll make us some tea.”

“Huh. I never seen your house before.” Sunset looked around the cottage and smiled. “It’s like… a real house.”

“Uhm… thanks?” Fluttershy wasn’t entirely sure how she was meant to take that.

“The castle’s like… it’s nice, but this is like… It’s so you,” Sunset said. She took a seat on the couch and admired the room. “I like it. I like things that are you.”

“Right, well, how about I make us that tea?” Without waiting for a response, Fluttershy walked into the kitchen. She sighed and took a moment to just stand in silence.

Looking around her kitchen, she realized something – it didn’t feel like home anymore. There were so many memories in these rooms, but everything was different now. She spent so little time here these days that they’d even relocated all the animals to new homes. Some of them were back at the castle, and she couldn’t help but wish she was there with them.

Slowly, she walked over to the stove and turned it on. She filled a kettle with water and set it on the stove, happy she wasn’t planning to make food. For a while they kept the house fully stocked for whenever they wanted to spend the night, but that grew less and less regular. Eventually keeping both houses prepared made less and less sense. She didn’t mind that they had gravitated towards staying in the castle; Twilight’s work was important and her little cottage simply couldn’t house all the equipment she needed. And Twilight would probably deny it if Fluttershy brought it up, but it was also important to her title. Princesses didn’t rule from cottages.

The water boiled and she added the tea. With nothing to do while she let the tea steep, she took a seat and wondered what Twilight was doing. Had she been unfair in thinking Twilight and Sunset would have been together? From the sound of things, they hadn’t had any contact since Fluttershy had seen them the night before. Returning to what was once her haven made one thing clear; she’d forgive Twilight. Her cottage didn’t feel like home, but the castle wasn’t her home either. Twilight was. So long as Twilight wanted to make things work, that would be enough for her.

The kettle whistled, shaking Fluttershy from her thoughts. Even with the sound she moved slowly, taking the kettle off the stove and pouring two cups. She wondered again what she was going to do about Sunset if she was forgiving Twilight. Having no ideas on that front, she decided it could wait. First she’d serve tea, then she’d figure out if she was ending a friendship.

She set the tray on the table, sitting across from Sunset. “Now, be careful. It’s very hot.”

Sunset shrugged. “I like hot things.” She took a sip and grinned. “Like you.”

Fluttershy cocked her head to the side. “What?”

“Sorry, that was… was a dumb joke. I used to say that to my ex all the time.” Sunset took another sip while Fluttershy just blew on hers.

“Okay. Well, anyway, what did you want to tell me?” Fluttershy smiled encouragingly.

“There’s lots of things I wanna tell you,” Sunset said. “Like, uhm… Never mind, I can’t tell you that.” She blushed and stifled her laughter by drinking some more tea.

“Sure you can,” Fluttershy encouraged. “You can tell me anything.”

“Well… okay, but you gotta promise.”

Fluttershy waited for her to tell her what she needed to promise, but Sunset just stared at her, waiting for her to promise some ambiguous thing. “Uhm… promise what?”

“That you won’t be mad,” Sunset said. “Or that, uhm, Twilight won’t be mad.”

“Okay, I promise I won’t be mad, and I don’t think that Twilight will either.” Fluttershy wondered if she should feel bad for making a promise she had no idea if she could keep. “Now, what could be so bad that you can’t tell your friend?”

“Well, I… uh…” Sunset set her cup down and adjusted her necklace. Fluttershy leaned forward, hoping this confession would finally get them somewhere. “I think you’re really beautiful as a pony.”

Fluttershy blinked a few times, expecting more. Sunset was blushing furiously while avoiding Fluttershy’s eyes. “Oh, okay. That’s nice, Sunset. But, uhm, was there maybe something else on your mind?”

“You’re not mad?”

Seeing Sunset’s ridiculously worried expression actually made Fluttershy smile. “No, I’m not mad. I’m flattered you think so.”

“I think Twilight would be mad,” Sunset said. She looked around as if afraid somepony might be listening in before leaning across the table. “I don’t think Twi likes Amber.”

Between Sunset’s general goofiness and lack of ability to whisper properly, Fluttershy could probably have enjoyed this conversation under different circumstances. “Well, she’s working on it. But I don’t think her problem is that Amber thinks I’m pretty.”

Sunset blushed more and didn’t answer. Fluttershy wondered if it was just the alcohol making her blush or if there was something she wasn’t saying. ‘Of course there’s something she isn’t saying, we haven’t talked about what happened yet.’

“Sunset, what was it you mentioned earlier? You think you did something bad?”

This time she was definitely blushing. “I… Uhm…”

“It’s okay, Sunset. You can tell me whatever it is.” Fluttershy was beginning to second guess this. She had to remind herself she was angry with Sunset. Seeing her so obviously regretful was beginning to ease Fluttershy’s fire.

“I…” Sunset stood up suddenly. “I’ll be right back.”

Fluttershy watched in confusion as Sunset calmly walked to the door. She opened it, stepped outside, and closed it behind her. Fluttershy was left puzzled – until she heard Sunset retching. She ran after her immediately, not even thinking about what was doing, just letting her instincts to care for a friend in need kick in.

“There there,” Fluttershy said as she held Sunset’s mane out of the way. “You’ll be okay, just let it out.” When Sunset was finally done Fluttershy led her back to the door. “Wait here, I’ll get you a glass of water.”

Sunset nodded and Fluttershy walked back into the kitchen, filled a cup with water, and brought it back to Sunset. She took a sip, swished it around her mouth, and spit it out before drinking the rest of the glass.

Once she was done, they walked back inside and Sunset lay down on the couch. Fluttershy took a deep breath and found she simply couldn’t do it. Sunset was lying with her head on her hooves, looking completely miserable. She would have to wait and try to talk about it when Sunset was sober.

“What do you say we call it a night?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” Sunset said. Fluttershy couldn’t tell if Sunset was beginning to feel a little more coherent or if vomiting just caused a sudden change in her mood, but she seemed much more somber now.

“Uhm… will you be okay down here?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Sunset stretched out on the couch.

Fluttershy didn’t waste time going up to her bed. It had certainly been a draining evening.

She crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling, not even bothering to try and process any of her feelings. In a way, she was glad she’d run into Sunset. Trying to force a conversation with the drunken mare left her exhausted, and she might actually be able to sleep.

Still, she couldn’t fight the nagging feeling she was being a bad host, even if she wasn’t sure she wanted to be friendly with Sunset yet. Grumbling about being too nice she got up and went to a closet, pulling out extra pillows and a blanket and carrying them downstairs. She heard Sunset’s snoring before she was even at the bottom.

When she reached the couch she couldn’t help but laugh. Sunset was sprawled all over it, lying on her stomach with her left foreleg over the armrest and her right hindleg dangling off the side.

Fluttershy set the pillows near her head where she could easily grab them if she woke up. She draped the blanket over the sleeping mare and smiled. “Good night, Sunset. Sleep well.”

Sunset stirred a little at the sound. “Night, Shy,” she mumbled. “I love you.”

“What?” Fluttershy asked, but Sunset had fallen back asleep. Slowly she made her way into the bedroom and climbed back into bed. She wasn’t tired anymore, but she buried her face in a pillow anyway. Tomorrow was going to be interesting.

10 – Facing Fears

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Chapter Ten

Facing Fears

There were many reasons why kissing Sunset was a mistake. Twilight could list them. More to the point, she did list them. Constantly, all the way to Canterlot. She was aware of every possible reason why it had been one of the two stupidest things she’d done in her life, right next to not immediately telling Fluttershy when she had the chance. But despite the hours she’d spent reminding herself of every reason to regret what she did, it seemed one had escaped her.

Twilight was sitting at the Canterlot train station, waiting for the train that would take her to the Crystal Empire. It wouldn’t be long before it arrived, only fifteen more minutes. She could easily sit back and enjoy the fact that the mare she’d been watching didn’t seem likely to notice her. She’d get on her train and feel guilty about it, but she was already full of guilt. What was a little more?

Amber Glow had been sitting in the same seat since Twilight arrived, still in her uniform from work. Occasionally she glanced towards the castle, but for the most part she just sat hunched over and stared at the floor. Even from behind, it had been easy to tell that she was distraught, and unfortunately for Twilight, she couldn’t ignore a friend who was so clearly upset.

Were they friends? Did being on friendly terms with somepony for long enough eventually make them friends, even if Twilight never quite found herself comfortable being around her? She decided it was close enough, and the fact she questioned it at all did nothing but make her feel worse. She took a deep breath, then walked across the station.

“Amber?” Twilight asked, as if she had any doubt who the other pony was.

Amber bolted up and wheeled around. “Twilight? Geez, way to sneak up on me.” She grinned and brushed her mane out of her eyes. Now that Twilight got a full view of her, she seemed perfectly happy. Had Amber really been sad, or had she just imagined it?

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Twilight said. She didn’t think she had been that quiet.

“No worries. So what brings you to Canterlot?”

“I’m actually on my way to the Crystal Empire,” Twilight said. Mountain terrain made it difficult to lay train tracks to the Crystal Empire. However, the path from the Empire to Canterlot was fairly clear, so all traffic was routed through Canterlot.

“Ah, important princess stuff?” Amber asked.

Twilight frowned. “Something like that.”

Amber winked. “I got it. Classified information. Well, I’m sure whatever it is will work out.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Twilight fidgeted and turned away for a moment. When she turned back, she was smiling. “I mean, yeah, you’re right.”

Of course Twilight knew Amber noticed her drop in composure, but she didn’t say anything about it. “So how’s everything going in Ponyville? Everything running smoothly with the wedding?”

“Of course,” Twilight answered too quickly. She chuckled nervously. “I mean, why wouldn’t it be?”

“Okay,” Amber said. She was clearly growing suspicious.

Wary of where Amber’s questions might lead, Twilight quickly changed the subject. “So what about you? When I got here you seemed kind of…” Twilight twirled her hoof while trying to think of a polite word.

Amber grinned. “Zombified?”

“Well, uh, I guess that’s one way of putting it.”

Amber chuckled and looked up towards the castle. She sighed and her smile faltered. “I was just thinking about Luna. This is why I usually try to avoid ending shifts in Canterlot, I never know what to do here anymore.”

“Have you tried talking to her since everything happened?” Twilight asked. The few times Twilight had spoken with Luna she hadn’t mentioned anything about Amber, but she had definitely seemed more distant.

“That’s just it though,” Amber said. “I still don’t know if I want to.”

“Talking to her can’t hurt.” Twilight smiled encouragingly. Helping another pony with their problems seemed like it could be a great way to distract her from her own, and she genuinely did want things to work out between Amber and Luna. “It doesn’t mean you have to get back together. You can just talk about what happened and then decide what you want to do from there.”

Amber shook her head. “I know, I’m just… not ready yet. It’s hard to explain.”

Twilight nodded. “Well, you do at least have somewhere else you can stay while you’re in Canterlot, don’t you?”

“Oh, yeah, I got it covered,” Amber said, brightening up at the change of topic. “I’m just gonna stay at a nearby hotel tonight. Real nice place.”

“Don’t you normally stay with friends?” Twilight asked. Immediately she realized how untactful the comment was. If Amber had friends she could stay with, she wouldn’t have planned on a hotel, and Twilight had just needlessly reminded her of that.

“Yeah, I just didn’t wind up getting ahold of anypony in time.” Amber shrugged. “Besides, staying in hotels is nice once and awhile. Not too many of my friends really have guest rooms, so getting my own bed is kind of a treat.”

She knew Amber chose to live the way she did, but every so often Twilight couldn’t help but feel bad for her. Everypony deserved somewhere they could feel at home.

“Well, I suppose you have a point there.” Twilight glanced at a clock. Her train would be arriving any minute.

“So feel free not to answer if you can’t or don’t want to, but what’s the deal with the late train?” Amber asked. “I mean, wouldn’t it have been better to just wait until tomorrow morning?”

“Probably, but it’s important that I see Cadance as soon as possible.” Twilight sighed. Spike had said pretty much the same thing. But Spike had also told her that Fluttershy had stopped by and was spending the night at her cottage, which was more than enough to make up Twilight’s mind – she really didn’t want to be in Ponyville for another night.

“You, uh, you seem like you’re not exactly happy to see her.”

“Oh it’s not that! I always love visiting Cadance. It’s just, well…” Twilight didn’t know how to explain without telling Amber what happened, and even if she did have time to go into the full story, that was the last thing she wanted to do.

“I’m not trying to pry or anything,” Amber said. She scooted closer and put her foreleg around Twilight. “Just tell me we’re not in danger of some ancient evil. Again.”

Twilight laughed. “Don’t worry, the next nationwide crisis isn’t scheduled until next week.” She had to admit, she was finding Amber’s company much more enjoyable than she thought she would. Still, she was relieved when she heard a train pull into the station. Although she knew hers was the only one scheduled to arrive within a half hour window, she examined it to make sure anyway. “Well, that’s my train.”

“Alright, enjoy your trip. And remember, everything will be alright.” Amber hugged her and waved as she walked off.

Twilight couldn’t help but feel guilty. Actually seeing Amber bolded and underlined a thought that had been in her mind all day. That she was a hypocrite. She was constantly worrying about what Fluttershy thought about Amber, and yet she was the one who kissed somepony else. Just something else to add to the list of things she needed to talk to Cadance about.

While waiting for the doors to open and let out passengers, Amber walked up behind her. “Hey, Twilight?”

Twilight turned to see she looked concerned. “Yes?”

“Well, I was wondering, would you maybe like some company for your trip?”

Twilight blinked a few times, unsure if she had heard correctly. “What?”

“Well, you seem like you have a lot on your mind. I won’t ask what it is if you don’t want to tell me, but maybe having somepony around might help. And, well…” Amber looked down and moved her hoof around nervously.

“Oh. Well, uhm…” Twilight glanced back at the train, which was quickly emptying of passengers. “I appreciate the offer, but I couldn’t ask you to do something like that. It’s an overnight train anyway, so I’ll probably be asleep for most of it.”

“You don’t have to ask, I offered! And you won’t have to worry about my ticket, employees ride for free.” Amber grinned hopefully. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“I’m not worried about the ticket, I just don’t want you to put yourself out when it’s really not necessary.” Twilight took a better look at Amber. She realized what she had thought was reassurance actually looked more like pleading. “Hold on. Are you trying to avoid Canterlot?”

Amber opened her mouth, then closed it. She kicked at the ground. “Yeah, okay. You got me. I… I really don’t like staying in Canterlot since, well, you know.”

Seeing Amber still so clearly torn up over what happened with Luna triggered Twilight’s drive to help a friend in need. “Of course you’re welcome to come, if that’s what you want to do.”

Amber smiled for a moment before looking worried. “I’m not imposing, am I? I mean, I’ll leave you be if you’d rather just go by yourself.”

Twilight would, indeed, rather go by herself. “Of course you’re not. I think it will be nice to have some company, actually.”

Apparently satisfied, Amber nodded and led the way to the ticket booth. “I’ve, uhm. I’ve never actually been to the Crystal Empire.”

“Really? I thought you’d been all over Equestria.”

“Most of it, yeah. The Crystal Empire and Cloudsdale are the only major cities I haven’t seen.” Amber chuckled. “Well, I guess that list is gonna be cut in half.”

“You’ll have to plan a trip to Cloudsdale,” Twilight said. “Then you’ll be able to tell everypony you really have been all over Equestria.”

“I guess. But the train obviously doesn’t run to Cloudsdale.”

Twilight looked at the pegasus quizzically. “Which is why ponies usually fly there.”

Amber laughed and scratched the back of her neck. “Oh, yeah. I’ll, uh, I’ll have to go there sometime.”

As they approached the booth, Amber pulled out an ID badge. “So will your ticket include a bed?” Twilight asked.

“For an overnight trip I’ll get an economy class bed, so long as some are available,” Amber said.

Twilight smiled and stepped in front of her. “Hello,” she greeted the receptionist, “I was wondering if it was still possible to buy a ticket for a private cabin on the overnight to the Crystal Empire.”

The receptionist looked skeptical, until she noticed whom she was talking to. Suddenly she sat straighter and smiled broadly. “Of course, Princess, I’m sure we’ll be able to make arrangements.”

While the receptionist began looking over her schedule, Amber stepped closer to Twilight. “You don’t have to worry about me. Besides, private cabins are usually booked way in advance.”

Twilight understood Amber’s meaning, even if she didn’t say it directly; if they did find a way to accommodate her, it would be at the cost of somepony else’s room. “Would you mind sharing my room then?”

Amber shook her head. “Twilight, it’s okay, really. Don’t worry about me.”

“Well, why not?” Twilight asked. “What’s wrong with wanting my friend to be comfortable? Especially after you gave up staying in a hotel to come with me.”

Amber looked like she was going to continue to argue, but instead resigned herself to Twilight’s suggestion. “Well, if you insist.”

“I do.” Twilight turned back to the receptionist who was still looking through schedules. It seemed Amber was right, finding another room was proving to be a problem. “On second thought, I’d just like to add another passenger to my cabin.”

The receptionist looked visibly relieved. “Of course.” She wrote down a quick note, but since all cabins came standard with two beds it was an easy adjustment. Amber showed her ID badge and the receptionist gave her a ticket. After thanking her again, the two made their way to the train.

They checked in with the ticket taker, who didn’t seem to be somepony Amber knew, then found their way to the room. After tucking away their saddlebags, Amber sprawled out on the bed. “I never actually rode in a private room before. Guess I’m trying all sorts of new things today.”

Twilight took a seat on her own bed. She usually hated having two small beds instead of one large one, but since she was traveling with somepony other than Fluttershy, it was actually nice for a change.

“You know, I used to hate traveling separately from the other passengers,” Twilight said. “To be honest, I feel kind of guilty separating myself from other ponies. Do you think it’s kind of… self-centered?”

Amber sat up and smiled. “Are you kidding? If I could, I’d never leave a room like this.”

“At first, it was because I wanted privacy with Fluttershy. Before we were open about our relationship, I mean. But then after everything with the Virtuous Equestrian Society… I guess we started valuing privacy even more after we came out.”

“I can definitely understand that. I don’t usually hear about them too much these days, are they still active?”

Twilight sighed. “Well, they’re still around. You’re right though, they did lose a lot of their momentum. But sometimes I still feel like everypony is watching me.”

“Must be tough,” Amber said. “But you know, a lot of ponies are watching you because they admire you.”

“I know,” Twilight said, smiling sadly. “They’re the ponies I’m afraid to disappoint the most.”

Amber stood up and walked over to Twilight’s bed, taking a seat next to her. “You know, I remember somepony saying that we don’t need heroes to look up to as much as we need friends to support us. Sure, a lot of ponies look up to you, but that doesn’t mean you have to worry about letting them down. You have some of the best friends in the world, and I don’t just mean the famous ones. You have thousands of friends who would all be happy to help you, just like you’ve helped them.”

Twilight smiled. “Thanks, you’re right. Sorry if I seem a little out of it. I’ve got something on my mind, and I guess it’s making me insecure about other things too.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it.” Amber put a hoof on her shoulder. “And you know, I’m happy to help in any way I can too, if you ever want to talk about something.”

Although talking about something was exactly what Twilight was going to the Crystal Empire to do, she didn’t really think Amber was the best pony to do it with. More to the point, she couldn’t bring herself to admit her failure to a pony she’d been so untrusting of.

“Thank you,” Twilight said. “I think I’ll be okay, but I’ll keep it in mind.”

The train whistle sounded and with a jerk they started moving. Oddly enough, Amber seemed to go rigid at the motion. “Well, here we go,” she said, her voice quiet enough that Twilight probably wouldn’t have heard if they weren’t on the same bed.

“So how long have you worked on the railway system?” Twilight asked. Something about Amber’s behavior suggested she needed something to take her mind off whatever she was thinking about.

Amber smiled, but it didn’t seem as natural as it normally did. “A little over two years. Right after Tirek attacked, actually. It got me thinking about everything I wanted to do with my life, and seeing Equestria firsthoof was definitely one of the main things.”

“I’m glad something good came out of that whole mess.” Of all the villains they’d faced, Tirek was the one Twilight hated to think of the most. On top of the from the fact he’d come dangerously close to stealing all the magic in Equestria, she still missed her old house. She had grown to like her castle well enough, but nothing could replace the Golden Oaks Library.

“It’s been a pretty great adventure.” Amber stared out the window as the train picked up speed.

Twilight glanced to the window and back to Amber, who seemed frozen as she looked out of it. “Uhm… is everything okay?”

“Huh? Oh yeah.” Amber didn’t look away from the window. “I just uhm… I’ve never been to the Crystal Empire.”

Twilight waited for more, but Amber didn’t explain herself. “Uhm…”

Amber shook her head. “Sorry. So, uhm, how about I make us some tea?”

Twilight furrowed her brow. “Amber, you’re a passenger tonight. Have you ever worked on the Crystal Empire train at all? If they don’t know you, they probably won’t want you going through their concessions.”

“Oh, yeah…” Amber looked around. “I, uhm, I’ll be right back.”

“Is everything okay?”

Amber walked over to the door and looked back, grinning. “Geez Twilight, can’t a girl go to the bathroom in peace?”

The change in her tone was drastic and took Twilight by surprise. “Oh, right,” she said as Amber walked out. At least she seemed like she was back to normal. Her behavior was definitely odd, but Twilight shook it off.

She sighed and lay down on the bed. She’d planned to try and get to bed early, before she knew she’d have company for the trip. She’d spent the night before alternating between crying and panicking, occasionally throwing in some panicked crying for good measure. She may have slept for an hour or so in the morning, but it was hard to tell if any of the time she’d spent tossing and turning had actually involved sleep.

After giving up on sleep, she’d left the castle, not wanting to run into Sunset. Since she wasn’t sure whether Fluttershy went to Rainbow’s or Rarity’s, she decided her best bet was either Pinkie or Applejack. But Pinkie would probably be at Sugarcube Corner, or some other public place. That certainly wasn’t something she wanted, so she opted to visit Sweet Apple Acres, but along the way she changed her mind and wandered around aimlessly until after the sun went down. She wanted to talk to somepony, but was too afraid to actually bring herself to do it.

After giving it some thought she decided she wanted to talk to somepony who could actually help her figure out how she felt. Applejack would be happy to help however she could, but the truth was that romance wasn’t something she was too knowledgeable in. And she doubted Pinkie would be any better. But luckily, she did know one pony who was both married and an expert on love. If Cadance couldn’t help her, nopony could.

She sighed again and rolled onto her side. She wondered how long Amber was going to be. As much as she wanted to get some sleep, she knew it wasn’t just a matter of being polite. Even if she was alone, she was too stressed to actually sleep. She got comfortable and waited for Amber to return.

She wasn’t sure how long she was out for, but the sun was down by the time Twilight woke up. She sat up groggily and looked around. The lights were out, but she could make out Amber’s shape in the other bed. She felt guilty for falling asleep. She knew she needed the rest, but she’d planned on spending a little more time talking with Amber. She had dropped her plans to go with her, after all.

She was about to lie back down when she noticed Amber wasn’t lying still. Twilight squinted and saw that she seemed to be curled up and shaking. “Amber?”

If Amber heard her she didn’t respond. Twilight stood up and carefully made her way over, moving quietly in case her eyes were playing tricks on her and Amber was actually sleeping soundly after all. A closer look proved her suspicions though. Amber was curled around a pillow with her back to Twilight, and she was rocking back and forth.

“Amber? What’s wrong?”

Amber inhaled sharply at the sound. She pulled the pillow tighter. “Twilight? You should be asleep.”

“I was. I didn’t mean to, but I must have dozed off for a while.” Twilight tentatively reached a hoof out for Amber’s shoulder. She didn’t react to the touch. “What’s wrong?”

“I… I’m sorry. I’m supposed to be helping you.” Amber covered her face with a wing. “I’m pathetic.”

“No, you’re not.” Twilight climbed onto the bed. There was plenty of room for her to sit since Amber was curled into a tight ball. “Did something happen to you?”

“No, I just…”

Twilight followed Amber’s gaze and realized if her eyes were open she’d be looking out of the window. Although she couldn’t figure out why it would happen, Twilight could clearly identify the signs of a panic attack. “Amber, everything will be okay. I want you to take some deep breaths.”

Her breathing was sharp and too rapid, but Amber did as Twilight suggested. “Good, now count with me. One, two, three… Come on, I know it’s silly, but trust me. Four…”

“Five… six… seven…” Amber continued, her voice shaking. Together they counted to ten, then counted back down to one. Slowly Amber’s voice returned to normal, or at least close to it.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Twilight asked. “You don’t have to, but I’m here for you if you want to.” Amber’s head moved under her wing, but Twilight couldn’t tell if it was a nod or a shake. After she didn’t speak for a few moments, Twilight began to hum. It was a song her mom used to sing to her, and it always helped Fluttershy calm down.

Amber remained still a while. If Twilight didn’t know better, she might have assumed the song actually lulled her to sleep. Eventually when she finally spoke her voice was barely above a whisper. “I, uhm, I don’t like going to new places.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked. When Amber didn’t answer she leaned in closer. “You travel all over Equestria, how can you not like going to new places?”

Amber still didn’t respond. Twilight gently reached over and moved her wing away from her face. “We can talk about something else if you want, but you shouldn’t hide yourself away.”

Twilight smiled encouragingly, and Amber let go of the pillow, instead grabbing hold of Twilight. “I’m sorry.”

Momentarily taken aback, Twilight soon composed herself and wrapped her forelegs around the quaking mare. “Shh, it’s okay. Would you like to talk about it?”

Amber nodded. She kept her face buried against Twilight as she spoke. “I was always afraid of travelling. I… I wanted to see the world, but…” She trailed off, so Twilight patted her back while waiting for her to continue. “I took this job to force myself to finally do it. See Equestria. And once I finally go somewhere, it’s never as bad the second time. But…”

“But you’ve never been to the Crystal Empire,” Twilight finished for her. Amber nodded. “I never realized. I’m sorry for bringing you.”

Amber let out a small laugh. “Hey, I offered.” She pulled away from Twilight, but kept a hoof resting on hers. “I’m sorry, I thought I’d be okay. It’s been so long since this has happened, I thought I was finally done with all this.”

Twilight nodded. It had been a long time since anywhere was new to Amber. She wouldn’t have had a chance to experience this. Twilight wrapped a wing around her. “What scares you about it?”

“I guess… That I don’t know what to expect. I… what if I get lost, and I don’t recognize anything, and nopony around knows me?” Amber covered her face with a hoof. “I sound like a dumb filly.”

“No, you don’t.” Twilight gently pulled her hoof away and looked into her eyes. “Everypony is afraid sometimes, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But you know, you won’t be alone. There will be at least one pony in the Crystal Empire who knows you. And if it makes you feel more comfortable, we can stay together for the whole trip. If you feel like staying, I mean.”

“I do.” Amber took a deep breath. “I don’t want to let my fear control me.”

Twilight smiled. “Sorry your trip out of Canterlot isn’t shaping up to be as much fun as you thought it would be.”

Amber chuckled. It sounded small and weak, but at least it sounded authentic. “I’m sure it will be better once we’re there.” She leaned against Twilight again, this time without the death grip. “Am I bothering you?”

“No, I don’t mind,” Twilight said. They sat peacefully for a while, while Twilight’s guilt nagged her. She knew if Amber was leaning on Fluttershy like this she’d be distraught. Because it was happening to her, she could acknowledge that two ponies could be close without being romantic. But when Fluttershy was involved, she saw hidden signs in everything. And yet, she had been the one to mess everything up. The least she could do now is own up to her own insecurity. “You know, I haven’t always been fair to you.”

“Nah, it’s fine. I get it.” Although Twilight couldn’t see her expression, Amber sounded brighter than she would have thought. “I probably should have found out if Fluttershy was seeing somepony before I asked her on a date.”

“Wait, you knew that still bothered me?” Twilight had always been careful to hide it. She told Fluttershy she trusted her and would be supportive of her friendship, and tried her best to never let on how she really felt about it.

“Well, being with Luna made me pretty good at reading between the lines.” Amber grinned and nudged her. “And, no offense, but she’s better at hiding things than you.”

Twilight grinned too, happy to see Amber looking more like her usual self. “Yeah, you’ve got me there.”

“To be honest, I’ve always just been happy you wanted to be friends anyway.” Amber sat up. She made a show of stretching, and when she was done she’d put a few inches between them, leaving them sitting at a more socially acceptable distance.

“No, I was wrong. And I’m sorry.” Twilight frowned. “You’ve never given me any reason not to trust you, and like you said you didn’t know I was dating Fluttershy when you asked her.”

“You know, if it makes you feel any better, the whole thing was kind of a dumb celebrity crush thing anyway,” Amber shrugged. “I mean, she’s a great friend and everything, but she’s really not my type.”

If she meant somepony like Luna, Twilight couldn’t help but agree. “I’m glad you figured out how you feel, but it’s okay either way. At least, it shouldn’t matter to me. Other ponies might see everything I see in Fluttershy, and that shouldn’t bother me.”

“Well, it sounds to me like you just made an important breakthrough in coming to terms with it. You don’t have to change in one day, you know.”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah, I know.”

“So, uhm… mind if I turn the light on?”

“Oh, yeah.” Twilight chuckled and used her magic to turn on the light. They had been sitting in the dark for so long she had to shield her eyes. She looked over to see Amber doing the same, causing both of them to laugh.

“Thanks for… well, you know.” Amber shrugged. “I know you’d probably rather be getting some rest for your meeting with Princess Cadance tomorrow.”

“You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help.” Twilight lowered her hoof from her face and blinked at the light a few more times. When her eyes adjusted she saw Amber looking uncertainly out the window again, but rather than collapse into another panic attack, she just took a deep breath and smiled. ‘I’m not going to let my fear control me either,’ she resolved. She’d already run away from Ponyville without stopping to talk to anypony. Even if she was afraid of telling other ponies what she did, she should at least trust her friends, and that included Amber. “About the meeting with Cadance…”

“It’s because something happened with Fluttershy,” Amber said.

Twilight blinked at her. “How did you…?”

“Like I said, you’re not that hard to read.” Amber grinned. “So you want to talk about what happened?”

Really, with the moment upon her, she didn’t. But she’d avoided talking to everypony about it already. She barely even talked to Fluttershy about it. She could wait until they were at the Crystal Empire, but she’d looked up to Cadance most of life, and knew it would be hard to tell her how big of a mess she made. It was at least a little less daunting to tell Amber. Part of her felt compelled to hide it, to not let Amber know there might be a problem between her and Fluttershy. If anything though, that strengthened her resolve to confess. She wasn’t going to let her insecurities control her, either.

“I… I really messed up.” Twilight slouched over and looked at the floor while she talked. “I kissed Sunset.”

Amber’s mouth fell open. She stared speechless for a moment before closing it. “Well… okay then.”

“I know, I’m awful! I really bucked up, and I don’t even know why!” Twilight buried her face in her hooves.

“Well, let’s start at the beginning.”

“I guess… I don’t know, maybe I’ve liked Sunset for a while? But I love Fluttershy, I really do, and I don’t feel the same way about Sunset at all. But lately…” She took a deep breath. In a way this was harder than admitting the kiss. “Lately I’ve been wondering if I made a mistake.”

Amber scooted closer, so they were once again side by side. “What do you mean?”

“About the wedding. I can’t imagine not being with Fluttershy, but at the same time… I don’t know, maybe we rushed things? We’ve been together two years, and it felt like the right time, and I was so happy when we first got engaged.” Twilight folded her ears against her head. She had half a mind to curl up around the pillow like Amber was when she first woke up. “Then we started actually planning the wedding, and suddenly it all just felt like it was moving so fast. Two years started to not feel like such a long time, and I got to thinking… You know, I’ve never been with anypony else, and neither has Fluttershy, and…” Twilight trailed off, on the verge of crying. The question she’d been shoving down for months refused to leave her lips. ‘What if she’s not the one?’

By Amber’s expression, it seemed she understood well enough anyway. “That’s reasonable. I think a lot of newly engaged couples feel like that.”

Twilight sat up straight again. “But I don’t want to lose her! I don’t want to be with Sunset, or anypony else!”

Amber nodded. “You know there’s an option in between marriage and not being together. It’s called ‘dating.’” In spite of everything, Twilight couldn’t help but smile. “You could even stay engaged if you want, I’ve known some ponies who were engaged for years without actually getting married.”

“If Fluttershy even still wants me.” Twilight sighed.

Amber put a hoof on her shoulder. Twilight turned to look at her and saw she looked solemn. “Alright, don’t take this the wrong way, and I promise I’m not going to judge you or anything. But be honest with me, was it really just a kiss?”

Twilight fought off the urge to get offended at what she knew was a reasonable question. “Yes. I kissed Sunset, but nothing more than that.”

Amber smiled. “Then I know Fluttershy will forgive you. This isn’t the end of the world, and it’s not the end of your relationship. You just need to talk to her about it, you two will figure it out.”

Twilight smiled back. “Thanks. I hope you’re right.”

“Oh, I am.” Amber winked.

“Still,” Twilight said, turning back to the floor, “I probably messed things up pretty bad for Sunset. I could hardly blame Fluttershy if she doesn’t want me working with her anymore.”

“So… why Sunset? If you don’t mind me asking, I mean.”

“Well… When I started wondering if Fluttershy was really the pony I wanted to be with, I started thinking about what things I’d want if I did find with somepony else. Somepony who knows a lot about magic, and who can maybe even teach me something new. Somepony who wouldn’t care about what anypony else thought of her. Somepony who’s a little more social.”

“Somepony like Sunset,” Amber observed.

“It’s not that I’m complaining about being with Fluttershy. There’s so much I love about her that nopony else could ever replace.” Twilight fell onto her back and pulled the pillow over her head. “When did life become so difficult?”

Amber pulled the pillow off her. “Sorry, didn’t catch that last part.”

“When did life become so difficult?”

“Hmm… I’d say sometime around always.”

Twilight smiled and rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter. I know what I want. There are things I admire about Sunset, but it doesn’t come close to how I feel about Fluttershy.”

“You know,” Amber said, “I’m sure Cadance is great too, but there is another pony that could help.”

“Who?” Twilight asked, sitting up.


Twilight’s initial urge was to laugh, but she knew that was unfair. Most of the time Luna was all jokes, but she knew when to be serious too, and she’d helped them out with a few problems in the past. “You’re probably right.”

“I, uhm…” Amber glanced to her saddlebags. “I have a journal that you could use to contact her.”

It wasn’t surprising that they had journals for each other. Lately it was becoming more common for ponies to have journals connecting them to distant friends and family. Fluttershy had a journal for Luna as well, and had considered getting one for Amber, but without a permanent home she was limited on what she could carry around.

“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass. At least for now.” Twilight smiled at her. “I do feel a little better now that I finally told somepony, but I think I’ll wait until I talk to Cadance to tell anyone else.”

Amber nodded. She looked relieved, really. “Right, okay.” She laughed. “Probably for the best, go flipping through that and you might see some things you’d rather not.”

Twilight blushed as she imagined what kinds of things she might be talking about. “Well I wouldn’t have read any of your messages or anything.”

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about words.” Amber grinned. Twilight was confused, which must have shown, because Amber elaborated. “The journals can send drawings too, you know. And Luna’s a very good artist.”

Twilight’s blush before paled in comparison to her reaction to that. “Oh, well, I uhm…” She looked around the room for a distraction, settling on her own saddlebags. “Hey! I think I have a deck of cards in here, want to play?”

Amber fell over laughing. “Come on Twilight, you haven’t even seen them and you’re already blushing like crazy!” She sat up and Twilight gave her a nonplussed look. “Okay, fine. I’ll stop teasing.”

Twilight shook her head. “You were making it up?”

“Hmm? Oh, no, I was serious. But I’ll leave the details out to save your innocent mind.” Apparently, enjoying Twilight’s reaction didn’t count as teasing, because Amber’s face was set in an amused grin. “Anyway, sure, let’s play some cards. If we’re not sleeping anyway, might as well do something fun.”

Although she hadn’t really been serious about the card game, Twilight was glad for the excuse to change the topic. “Alright, but I warn you. I’m pretty good at poker.”

Amber snorted. “Yeah, I’m sure you know all the best strategies. Won’t help, your poker face is probably just as easy to read as the rest of you.”

Twilight levitated over the bag and ruffled through it until she found the deck. “Well,” she said, pulling them out and shuffling, “I did warn you.”

11 – Moving On

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Chapter Eleven

Moving On

Sunset felt like hell. Her head was throbbing, her stomach felt like it was trying to eat itself, and a flavor she could only describe as ‘roadkill’ was covering her mouth. She had yet to open her eyes, but the light was already painful. She pulled her covers over her head and was vaguely curious if she’d fallen off her bed and slept on the floor, considering how uncomfortable she was.

The safest thing to do seemed to be to go back to sleep. If nothing else, surely the aching in her head would simply go away if she willed it to hard enough.

Unfortunately, in practice it wound up being the most difficult thing she could imagine. Giving up, she finally opened one eye, which immediately felt like a mistake. She forced the other one open and felt around her surroundings. It was too soft to be the floor, but didn’t quite feel like her bed either. She seemed to have made a wall of pillows or something, because it was soft both underneath her and off to one side. She didn’t remember having that many pillows, but also wasn’t really sure how many pillows she was supposed to have anyway. The question seemed entirely too taxing, so she decided it was unimportant for the time being.

If she wasn’t going back to sleep then there was only one thing she could do. ‘Get water.’ Rehydrating herself was the best thing she could do in the circumstance, and might help rid her mouth of the taste of death. But this meant taking off the covers and that was just not something she was willing to do.

Unable to go back to sleep and unwilling to face the day, she did the only reasonable thing left for her to do. In the hopes somepony might hear and take pity on her, she asked for help in the form of a miserable groan.

There was a moment that she thought she’d have to take care of herself after all, but thankfully Fluttershy answered. “Sunset? Are you awake?”

It was good that Fluttershy was the one who answered, since her soft voice actually didn’t make Sunset’s head feel any worse, even if she sounded much closer than Sunset had expected. She wondered slightly why Fluttershy was in her room, but was too relieved to question it.

“Can you get me some water?” Sunset asked. The whole thing came out as sort of half words and half groan, but it was the best she could manage. Feeling guilty already for the state Fluttershy was going to see her in, she added, “Please?”

“There’s water and aspirin on the table,” Fluttershy said.

“Have I ever told you that you’re the best?” Sunset almost didn’t think about why Fluttershy would already have those ready for her, but was slowly realizing how many things she was letting go unquestioned. She was starting to feel like there was something important she wasn’t realizing, and trying to think of what it was made her realize she couldn’t remember much at all of the night before.

She at least had the foresight to make sure she was wearing clothes before throwing off the blanket, since she normally didn’t wear them to bed. Finding that she was still dressed, however, didn’t make her feel much better, since it was another sign whatever happened the night before couldn’t have been good.

Finally removing the blanket, she blinked and slowly looked around the room while her eyes adjusted and her mind tried to catch up to the situation. She wasn’t in her bedroom. She had woken up on a couch that was too small for her in what looked like a wood house. Fluttershy was sitting in a chair nearby with a book propped open. “Where the fuck am I?”

“My cottage,” Fluttershy said. “You… don’t remember last night, do you?”

As much as she tried to figure out what could have led her to Fluttershy’s cottage, she couldn’t remember, and really didn’t want to imagine. “No, not really.” Finding that the shock was enough to get her moving, she sat up and took the pills Fluttershy had left out, sipping on the water slowly. “I’m sorry.”

“Why?” Fluttershy asked. “You don’t even remember anything.” It occurred to Sunset that Fluttershy seemed irritated, which didn’t really come as a surprise.

“I’m sure I said or did something I need to apologize for, though.” She tried to grin, but it might have come across as more of a grimace. “I usually do.”

Fluttershy closed her book and set it aside. She folded her hooves and didn’t look directly at Sunset. “You, uhm… you said something… odd.”

Sunset had been afraid of that. She had no doubt about what she might have said. It was more or less the last thing she could remember clearly, after all. “Fluttershy… I’m so sorry. And I don’t know how I made it sound last night, but everything was all my fault.”

“What do mean?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset shook her head. “I… I was the one who kissed her, everything was all me. I’m pretty sure she was just in shock at the whole thing. So please, be as angry with me as you want, but try not to be too hard on Twilight, she’s probably still really freaked out.”

Fluttershy didn’t seem as angry as Sunset expected her to be. She did finally turn to look at Sunset properly, but she looked more exhausted than upset. “That’s not how it seemed,” Fluttershy said doubtfully.

“I know, I probably told you something else last night,” Sunset said. “But I was drunk and scared, I wasn’t ready to own up to what I did.”

“Sunset.” Fluttershy sighed and shook her head. “Please, tell me the truth. Is that really what happened?”

Sunset’s mind raced, wishing she could remember exactly was said the night before. Although Sunset had been all too happy to return the kiss, Twilight had definitely been the one to start it. Did Fluttershy know that though? If Sunset didn’t cover for Twilight while she was drunk she could easily work around that, but she also had no idea what Twilight and Fluttershy might have talked about. Fluttershy had probably told Sunset all about it, but she couldn’t remember. She decided it didn’t matter, that she’d just have to work around that too, make it sound like Twilight was trying to cover for her.

“Yeah. I’m… I’m not proud to admit it, but that’s what it is.” Sunset bowed her head and ran a hoof through her mane.

Fluttershy curled up on the chair and rested her head on her hooves. “You’re lying.”

“No, really!” Sunset said. “Why would I lie about that?”

“I saw it.”

Sunset thought she was prepared to work with anything Fluttershy knew about what happened, but that was one thing she hadn’t accounted for. “You… you did?”

Fluttershy moved her eyes towards Sunset, otherwise remaining still. “I was at the top of the stairs. She definitely kissed you first.”

Sunset took a deep breath. “Oh.”

“Why did you lie?” Fluttershy asked.

Even though she was exposed, Sunset still was reluctant to come clean. Some part of her was still turning over the scene in her head, trying to figure out if she could claim Fluttershy hadn’t seen it properly. She took a deep breath and decided it was too late.

“Because… Alright, I never really wanted to admit this, but I love Twilight. I… I have for pretty much for as long as I’ve known her.” Sunset searched for some sign of what Fluttershy felt about the revelation, but aside from lifting her head to face her, Fluttershy had barely moved. ‘Right, that was probably really obvious by now,’ Sunset reminded herself. She drank the rest of her water and thought about what exactly she wanted to say.

“That doesn’t explain why you lied.” Fluttershy looked at her longingly. As horrible as Sunset felt, Fluttershy looked worse. Sunset wondered if she’d slept at all since everything happened. “Sunset, please. I really just want to know the truth.”

“Because I want you two to be happy together. I know how that must sound, but it’s the truth. I don’t know what was going on that made Twilight kiss me, but I know that’s not something she’d normally do. She loves you so much. I’m sure she’d never do anything like that ever again, and I never want anything to come between you, especially me, so I hoped if I covered for her you would just blame me instead, and you two could just move past this.”

“Thank you for telling me,” Fluttershy said. She returned her head to her hooves.

Sunset sighed. Better get everything over with by this point. “And… I’m not really innocent either. We were only even in that situation because I was clinging onto her, and I could tell something was bothering her earlier. I think that whatever was on her mind was also why she kissed me. And I… well, I did kiss her back.”

Fluttershy nodded but didn’t say anything. Sunset thought she should probably leave. There was no way Fluttershy wanted her to stick around, but she wasn’t sure what to do. She wasn’t going back to the castle. She hadn’t seen Twilight since the kiss and was in no hurry to do so. Instead she lay back down, letting a few minutes pass in silence. “I really am sorry. I’ve been a horrible friend.”

“You know,” Fluttershy said, “you didn’t even mention the kiss last night.”

Sunset sat back up. “I… I didn’t?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I tried to get you to talk about it but you never did.”

“So, uh, I’m almost afraid to ask, but what did I say?” Sunset couldn’t think of anything else that she might regret saying, but was sure there must be something.”

“You said you love me.”

Yes, there was definitely something. “I, uh…”

“What did you mean?”

Sunset’s first instinct was to lie. Friends could say they love each other. Sure, she never did, but some ponies were full of friendly love and didn’t mind saying so, especially when drunk. But Fluttershy just looked so exhausted by everything that Sunset found she didn’t have the heart to lie anymore. “I meant… I love you.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “Okay, but do you mean you love me as –”

“I meant I’m in love with you.” Sunset blushed and pulled the blanket around her, almost burying herself back in it. “Exactly what it sounds like, that’s what I meant.”

Fluttershy sat up, looking confused. “But you just said you love Twilight.”

“I do,” Sunset said, retreating a little further into the blanket. “I know it’s weird, but I love both of you.”

“Okay.” Fluttershy watched her for a few moments then shook her head. “But… why? I mean, I can understand Twilight, but why me?”

“I guess… maybe because you remind me of someone…” Sunset closed her eyes. She knew she had already gone too far to turn back.

“I remind you… Do you mean Morning Breeze?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset shook her head. She opened her eyes, but couldn’t look at Fluttershy’s. “I made that name up. There is no Morning Breeze.”

“Oh. So then who was she?”



Sunset couldn’t help but smile ever so slightly at the misunderstanding. “No, I mean it was the other Fluttershy.”

She chanced a look at Fluttershy. She looked even more confused, but otherwise no worse than before. “Really? The whole time you were really talking about Fluttershy?”

“Yeah,” Sunset said. “When you told me about Stormy Skies, I convinced her to come live with me.” Fluttershy nodded. Sunset had told her that much before. “It wasn’t too long afterwards that we started dating. We kind of rushed into things, since we were already living together, but we were really happy.”

“So what happened?” Fluttershy asked. Although it was a normally topic she tried to avoid, Sunset was still happy to see Fluttershy interested in talking to her about something other than the kiss. It made her hopeful that there might be a way they could still remain friends.

“Things were really great for about six months. But then something really bad happened, and I didn’t take it well. I started drinking really heavily and just screwed everything up.” Sunset winced at the memory, then shook it off. “We broke up for a while then got back together last Hearth’s Warming. It wasn’t ever really the same though, we stayed together for a few more months but we were fighting all the time. Eventually, I guess she had enough, and when Rainbow’s band went on tour, she went with them.”

“That’s when you decided to move here?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset nodded. “I just… I needed to get away from everything.”

She wasn’t sure if she was imagining it or not, but Fluttershy almost looked sympathetic. “But why didn’t you ever tell me? Why make up this whole other person?”

“Because I didn’t know what you or Twilight would think,” Sunset said. “I mean, you know how insecure Twilight can be. I still have no idea how she’d react to me dating your human counterpart. And at first I didn’t know what was going on between us, so it didn’t seem like something I needed to tell anyone. We kind of started dating right away, but we never called it that. We never really decided what we were to each other for a while. By the time I realized how serious our relationship was, I had already started talking about her as Morning Breeze, and I felt like I was backed into the lie. I felt so stupid admitting that I’d been lying about who I was dating for so long, that I wound up just lying some more.”

Fluttershy sighed. “Sunset, you could have told us at any time. She’s not me, no matter how similar we are.” She shook her head. “And I’m not her either, you know.”

“I know.” Sunset never could figure out where her feelings for one Fluttershy ended and the other began. It was obvious that a lot of her attraction to Fluttershy was based on familiarity, but there was still more to it. When she first came to Equestria she was definitely reminded of the human Fluttershy whenever she was around the pony one, but she didn’t actually feel like she was in love with her until later, after spending more time with her and learning what made this Fluttershy unique.

Embarrassed by her confession and off-put by recalling her last relationship, Sunset lay back on the couch and covered herself with the blanket. Fluttershy seemed to have the same idea, curling up on the chair. Sunset wasn’t sure what to say next. She wanted to ask what would happen now. She couldn’t blame Fluttershy if she wanted her to move out, or even to never talk to Twilight again. She could move back to Canterlot. Apply to work under Celestia. Continue her research, or pick up a different field. Living with Luna would be fun. And maybe, once they worked everything out, Twilight and Fluttershy would still visit her when they had business in Canterlot.

Sunset rubbed her eyes and shook her head. She had to leave before she made a foal of herself. “I’m sorry, for everything. I’m… I’m gonna get out of your hair.” She got up and ignored the shaky feeling in her legs as she walked to the door.


She stopped and turned to see Fluttershy was looking in her general direction, even if she wasn’t looking right at her. “Yeah?”

“Uhm… what do you plan on doing?” Fluttershy asked.

“I don’t know,” Sunset said. All she knew for sure was that she didn’t feel right being at Fluttershy’s house. Where she’d go once she was gone was thinking way further ahead than she was able to.

“You, uhm… are you going to go out drinking again?”

Sunset blushed. She hadn’t planned on it, but it was undeniably where her day would probably end. “I, uh… I don’t know.”

“Please don’t. Or, uhm, at least not so much.” Fluttershy stood up as well, but stayed by the chair. “I just… worry about you.”

Sunset blinked a few times and forgot to avoid looking at Fluttershy. “You… really? Even after, well, everything?”

Fluttershy sighed and walked towards her, stopping close enough that they would be face to face if Fluttershy looked up. “Sunset, I’m still angry with you. All of this could have probably been avoided if you hadn’t tried to hide so much. And I don’t even know exactly how I feel about what happened with you and Twilight.” Fluttershy looked up, actually making eye contact. “But yes, I still worry about you. We’re friends, after all.”

Sunset bowed her head and had to fight the urge to hug Fluttershy. Even if they were still friends she’d probably still needed some distance. “Fluttershy, I… Thank you.”

“Come on,” Fluttershy said, walking past Sunset and opening the door. “We should talk to Twilight.”

“What? Together?” Sunset shook her head, not wanting Fluttershy to get the idea that she’d planned on talking to Twilight by herself. “I mean, wouldn’t you rather go without me?”

Fluttershy let out a small laugh. “Yeah, I don’t really want to talk to her yet, either. But I think we’d all like to find a way to move on, and we’re not going to do that if we all keep avoiding each other.”

Sunset could only nod and walk out the door. Sometimes what Sunset loved the most about Fluttershy were the ways she was different from the human one.

There was definitely an ominous feeling as they walked into the castle, and Sunset suspected she wasn’t the only one who wanted to turn back.

“Where do you think she is?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset chuckled. “Where else? The library.”

Fluttershy smiled a little. “You’re probably right.”

Even though they walked upstairs together in silence, the simple interaction helped dispel some of the tension. It had been the first time they talked since leaving the cottage, and Fluttershy had smiled. Sort of. It was enough for the time being, and more than Sunset felt like she deserved.

Twilight was nowhere to be found. After the library, they checked her bedroom, the kitchen, and the basement, but still didn’t find her. Fluttershy did find Angel along the way, and he looked angrier than Sunset remembered ever seeing him. After apologizing multiple times for leaving the rabbit alone, he hopped away, apparently still mad at being forgotten. Fluttershy just sighed and shook her head, saying that he’d come around.

They eventually decided that she must not be home and went to the only place they hadn’t checked: Spike’s room. Fluttershy knocked, but he didn’t answer. “They must have went out.”

“Probably,” Sunset said. Just to make sure, she opened the door and stuck her head in. “Spike, you in here?”

She was answered by a snore.

Fluttershy giggled and walked in, Sunset following behind. Spike was curled on his bed, his claw resting on volume three of The Sandmare, which was still open to the page he’d been on. “Spike,” Fluttershy said, shaking him gently.

“Hmm?” Spike sat up and rubbed his eyes.

“Do you know where Twilight is?” Fluttershy asked.

Spike stretched and stood up, but he still seemed half asleep. “Yeah, she went to the Crystal Empire.”

Sunset and Fluttershy exchanged worried looks. “Is everything okay?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yeah, everything’s alright. Hold on, she left a letter.” Spike scurried to a desk and picked up a letter, which was still rolled and sealed. No matter what, it seemed Twilight was nothing if not proper.

“Has she been gone since she left yesterday afternoon?” Fluttershy asked as she unrolled the letter.

“No, she came back last night,” Spike said. “She said she’d spent all day around town and then just started packing.”

Fluttershy nodded and read the letter silently, frowning the entire time.

Spike tapped his claws together. “She, uh, she really messed up this time, didn’t she.”

Sunset blushed and stared at her hooves. She wondered how much Twilight had told Spike. Fluttershy looked away from the letter and gave a comforting smile. “Well… yes, she did. But it’s okay, we’re going to work everything out.” She gave Spike a hug before returning to the letter. When she was done she set it aside and turned to Sunset. “She went to talk to Cadance about it. She said she’ll be back before our anniversary.”

Sunset felt a weight hit her in the stomach. “Oh geez, I completely forgot your anniversary is coming up.”

Fluttershy nodded. “In four days.”

“Four days?” Sunset wanted to disappear. She’d kissed somepony’s fiancée, and it had been a week before their anniversary.

Fluttershy took a deep breath and smiled again. “Now, I think somedragon has been taking advantage of nopony being around. When did you go to bed last night?”

Spike scratched at the back of his neck. “I, uhm…”

Did you go to bed last night?” Sunset asked.

Spike tapped his claws together and grinned sheepishly. “Uh, well…”

Fluttershy sighed. “Okay, time to put that book away and get some rest.”

Spike nodded and did as she said, putting the book back on the small bookshelf he had full of comics, as well as clearing off other miscellaneous things he’d accumulated on his bed during his all night reading marathon.

“But don’t think you’re sleeping the day away,” Sunset said. “I’ll wake you up in a bit so you’re not too well rested to sleep tonight.”

“Okay,” Spike said. He must have been exhausted because usually he protested being told to go to bed.

Once he climbed in bed Fluttershy pulled his blanket over him and kissed his forehead. “Sweet dreams.”

Spike yawned and was fast on his way to sleep. Sunset and Fluttershy quietly left the room. In the hall, Fluttershy noticed Sunset was smiling at her. “What?”

“Nothing,” Sunset said. She turned and led the way back downstairs. “Just that you’d make an amazing mom.”

Fluttershy laughed. “You know, I think you would too.”

Sunset was glad she was walking ahead of Fluttershy. It was brief, but for a moment she allowed her smile to disappear before remembering to stay positive. “I really doubt parenthood is in my future.”

“Really? I’d like to have foals,” Fluttershy said.

“You totally should,” Sunset said. “I can’t imagine anypony being better parents than you and Twilight.”

“Maybe.” Fluttershy sounded much less certain than before.

‘Why’d I say that?’ Sunset sighed. “I’m sorry. That was… I shouldn’t have brought that up.”

“Oh, it’s not that,” Fluttershy said. “It’s just, well, I don’t think Twilight wants foals.”

“I’m not really surprised. She can be kind of a nervous wreck sometimes.” They stopped at the foot of the stairs. “Still, she practically raised Spike. I bet with enough coaxing you could get her over her worries, and I know she’d be a good mom.”

“I think so too,” Fluttershy said.

They stood together in silence for a moment, neither knowing what they should do. “So… now what?” Sunset asked.

Fluttershy looked around. “I think I’m going back to my cottage for now. I just…”

“Yeah, I understand,” Sunset said. She wished she had her own place to escape too, and she knew it was much worse for Fluttershy.

“Will you watch over Spike?” Fluttershy asked. “I know he’s usually okay on his own, but he’s still just a kid.”

“Of course. I’ll make sure he stays out of trouble.”

“Thank you. And uhm, take care of yourself too, okay?”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah, you got it.”

Before leaving, Fluttershy went upstairs to collect a few things. She came back down with Angel popping his head out of her saddlebag. They said their goodbyes and Fluttershy left, telling Angel how she was going to make it up to him with a special treat when they got to the cottage.

Sunset first decided to do something about her lingering hangover and went into the kitchen. She started with a tall glass of water and followed with a sandwich. Once she was finished, and with little else to do, she decided to try and distract herself by working on the radio. Once she reached the basement, however, it didn’t take her long at all to decide she didn’t want to be there, so she grabbed some books to bring back upstairs.

She made herself comfortable in the sitting room and flipped through the books. It proved more fruitful than she had thought it would, as she barely found herself sidetracked by her thoughts. Even if she wasn’t proud of the way it came about, talking with Fluttershy lifted a lot of the weight she’d been carrying. She was still nervous about what would happen, but she allowed herself to be optimistic. She still suspected she might be moving out, but doubted it would be back to Canterlot. And really, having her own house in Ponyville was probably for the best, she reasoned.

Even though reading was easier than she thought, after a few hours she decided it was time to wake up Spike. She was looking forward to his company. The two of them often bonded over comics, with Spike becoming enthralled in The Sandmare. He was interested in some of the other classic comics Sunset used to read as a filly, and always happy to show her some of the newer ones he was keeping up with now. Twilight said she couldn’t understand why a grown mare would read those stories, but Sunset had caught her taking a peek at The Sandmare while she thought nopony was looking.

She was planning on waking the sleeping dragon after finishing the chapter she was on, but a knock on the door interrupted her first. Not really regretting the excuse to set the book aside, she got up to answer it, finding Rainbow Dash on the other side.

“Hey, Rainbow,” Sunset said. “If you’re looking for Fluttershy she’s at her house.”

Rainbow stepped past Sunset, who closed the door behind her. “Is Twilight here?” she asked.

“No, she’s actually out of town for a few days.” Sunset knew if Fluttershy had seen Rainbow anytime in the past couple days, it would mean that Rainbow knew about the kiss. She sincerely hoped that wasn’t the case, but as Rainbow turned to look at her she could already tell it was.

“Good. We need to talk,” Rainbow said.

Sunset sighed. “Yeah, okay. So I’m guessing Fluttershy probably told you everything?” She was tempted to lead them back to the sitting room, but Rainbow seemed fine with talking in the foyer. She hoped that meant the conversation would stay short.

“Yeah, so what gives?” Rainbow asked, shaking her head. “Fluttershy trusted you, so you kiss her fiancée? What the buck, Sunset?”

Sunset took a deep breath. So far it was just a question. Just because the other Rainbow Dash was an insufferably antagonistic bitch didn’t mean this one was. “I know I screwed up big time, but it’s never going to happen again.”

“No, it’s not,” Rainbow said, her tone making it clear what she intended to do if Sunset broke her word. “But that’s not really what I want to know. Why did you do it?”

“I, uhm…” Sunset blushed but held Rainbow’s gaze. She’d already been through this with Fluttershy and she’d have to do it all over again with Twilight. Why was she explaining herself to Rainbow too?

“Okay, so you love her.” Rainbow shrugged. “Guess that was pretty obvious.”

Sunset opened her mouth to deny it, then decided there was no real point. Fluttershy would tell her that, too.

Rainbow seemed to take her silence as a confirmation. “So then why did she kiss you?”

Sunset shook her head. “How should I know? I really don’t think she loves me if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“Pretty sure I’d know why somepony was kissing me.” Rainbow narrowed her eyes. “Not to mention whatever else you two might have been up to.”

“What? We didn’t do anything else! I would never do that to anypony, and especially not to Fluttershy. And neither would Twilight. You know that as well as I do.”

“I’m just saying you two spent a lot of time alone together. Time you could have spent doing more than just making out...”

Sunset gritted her teeth and tried to remain calm. “We weren’t making out, and we definitely weren’t having sex. It was one kiss. It was stupid and it never should have happened, but nothing else happened between us.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “You do realize how crazy that sounds, right?”

“I swear, that’s all it ever was. What do you want me to say?”

“Whatever,” Rainbow said. “Not like I expected you to admit to anything anyway.”

“I’m telling the truth!”

Rainbow shrugged. “So when is Twilight coming back?”

“She didn’t say specifically,” Sunset said. “Just that it would be within the next four days.”

“Alright. We’ll figure out what really happened once she’s back, anyway.”

“So, what?” Sunset asked. “You’ll believe Twilight when she tells you?”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Twilight’s gonna crack and tell Fluttershy one way or another. So if you are hiding anything, it would really be better for you to come out with it.”

“I’m not hiding anything.” Sunset glared intensely.

“You better not be.” Rainbow made a show of nonchalantly brushing off her shoulder. “Anyway, that’s not even what I really want to talk to you about.”

“Then what do you want?” Sunset asked testily.

“I want to tell you that you need to figure out what you’re doing here,” Rainbow had been fairly calm for the most part, but now her tone was more serious and she gave Sunset her full attention. “Because right now you’re causing problems for ponies that are supposed to be your friends.”

“I’m not trying to get in the way of their marriage!” Sunset said, louder than she wanted to.

“Well, that’s exactly what you’re doing.” Rainbow kept her voice quieter than Sunset’s, but not by much.

“And I’m sorry for that, but I want them to be happy together, and I will make this up to them.”

“And how exactly do you plan on doing that?”

“I don’t know yet.” Sunset averted her gaze for a moment before turning back to Rainbow and scowling. “I’ll figure it out when Twilight gets back, though. You don’t have to worry about it.” She pushed her hoof into Rainbow’s chest.

Rainbow narrowed her eyes. “Watch yourself, Sunset.”

“Watch myself!?” Sunset hadn’t been the one to start this. Rainbow had been the one who started accusing her of things. “You’re the one who pushed herself into something that didn’t involve you. I already talked to Fluttershy and we’re going to talk to Twilight.”

“Fluttershy is way too trusting, especially with Twilight, so I –”

“Fluttershy is a grown mare, Rainbow.” Sunset stepped closer, closing the distance and standing at her full height so she was looking down at Rainbow. “She’s perfectly capable of making her own decisions.”

Rather than be intimidated by Sunset’s larger size, Rainbow just scowled and pushed her face towards Sunset’s. “You’re making it pretty clear that there’s only one right decision here! Why don’t you just go back through the mirror? It’d make everything a whole lot easier.”

“Yeah? And so would minding your own damn business!”

They held each other’s glares for a moment before Rainbow pushed past her, ramming her shoulder into Sunset’s chest as she went. “You’re bucking crazy.”

Sunset just scowled at her as she slammed the door. Who the hell did Rainbow think she was? What right did she have to accuse Sunset of anything?

Sunset stormed upstairs and went straight to her room. She bent under her bed and retrieved a box, which she levitated behind her as she made her way into the basement. She set the box on a table and closed the door behind her. Rainbow had been way out of line. Sunset wouldn’t even worry about her. If Fluttershy and Twilight were able to look past everything then that should be enough.

She opened the box, moving aside several partial bottles of wine. Eventually she found something that would suffice, opening a fresh bottle of vodka. She didn’t have any glasses but it didn’t really matter. “To hell with her,” Sunset said to herself before taking a huge swig from the bottle.

12 – Something Worth Fighting For

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Chapter Twelve

Something Worth Fighting For

If there was one thing that was nice about being back at the cottage, it was that Fluttershy was closer to the town’s animals. She didn’t really mind the walk through town from the castle every morning, or even that she had to wake up a half hour earlier to start the day. But as she stretched out in bed, she felt comfort in knowing that all her animal friends were only a short walk away.

At least she’d managed some sleep, and it wasn’t exactly the worst night’s sleep she’d had recently. In fact, despite what Rainbow had told her, she probably slept more soundly than she had any other night since the kiss. Apparently, after Fluttershy left the castle, Rainbow stopped by to visit Sunset and they’d gotten into an argument. It wasn’t too surprising, but Fluttershy couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in both of them. She resolved not to let it bother her too much, and asked Rainbow to just leave Sunset alone until Twilight returned. It was, after all, exactly what Fluttershy planned to do.

She took a minute to roll around the bed and wake up a bit. Once she did, she stood up and walked over to a mirror. Examining her reflection revealed what she already knew; she still looked tired and her mane was a mess. She shook her head and walked to the bathroom, where she washed her face and brushed her teeth, gradually feeling more awake.

As she began working out the tangles in her mane, she wondered, not for the first time, why she kept it so long. She smiled, remembering how Twilight had reacted to an offhoof comment she’d made one day about cutting it. Twilight did her best to pretend that she wouldn’t mind either way, but it was pretty obvious she was against the idea. Fluttershy sighed and her smile fell as she thought about it. She wanted Twilight to be back, even if she was still mad at her.

She gave up partway through brushing her mane, deciding she just didn’t feel like working on it. She walked downstairs and debated if she wanted to make breakfast for herself or just wait for lunch.

Before she could decide, she was interrupted by a knock on the door. It was too early to be Rainbow, but she supposed her other friends might have heard what happened, or at least that something had happened. She wasn’t actually sure whether she wanted company or not, but it didn’t really matter since she wasn’t going to turn anypony away.

She opened the door to find Spike on the other side. “Good morning, Fluttershy.”

“Good morning, Spike.” Fluttershy was happy to see the little dragon, but wondered what he was doing up before the sun. “Is everything okay?”

“Well, uhm…” He looked down and twirled his claws together, confirming Fluttershy’s suspicions.

Fluttershy smiled comfortingly. She recognized his bashful behavior; he had something he needed to tell somepony, but he didn’t really want to talk about it. Spike would often go to Fluttershy first with difficult situations, even over Twilight. She joked that Fluttershy stole her little brother, and Fluttershy could tell sometimes she actually was a little hurt by it.

“It’s okay, Spike. Just tell me what happened.”

He frowned and scratched at his neck. “It’s, uhm… Well, Sunset is… I think you should just come to the castle.”

When Rainbow told her about the argument, Fluttershy had almost gone back to the castle straight away. She decided not to, hoping that she was wrong about Sunset, but Spike had just all but confirmed her fears. Although it was the last thing she wanted to do, Fluttershy knew one way or another she was going to check on Sunset. Might as well get to it.

“Okay,” she said, stepping outside. She kneeled down as an offer to give Spike a ride back, which he accepted. She began walking towards the castle. “So did you wake up early, or have you been up all night again?”

There was a noticeable pause. “I… I was up all night.”

Fluttershy sighed, loud enough that he’d definitely hear her. She could easily imagine his guilty expression. It wasn’t often he broke the rules; even staying up past his bedtime was enough to cause him to worry about disappointing her or Twilight. “Well, that’s the last night. One way or another, you’re going to bed on time tonight, okay?”

“Okay…” Spike agreed. Taking advantage of the fact he couldn’t see her, Fluttershy smiled. She couldn’t really be upset with him, but still had to put on the act. Even if neither of them would ever acknowledge it, Twilight and Spike’s relationship was almost more mother-son than sister-brother. This made her own relationship to the dragon hard to define, but she was increasingly more of a caretaker the longer that she spent living with him.

Fluttershy kept quiet for a few moments, long enough that Spike would know he was being reprimanded, but not too long so he wouldn’t feel too bad about it. “So then,” she said in a lighter tone, “having fun catching up on your comic books?”

“Yeah! Or at least, I was…”

“Oh? What’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked.

“I, uh, I kind of read them all already.”

Fluttershy chuckled. “I thought you said you wanted to read the Power Ponies all over again?”

“Well, I was going to, and I read a lot of them.”

“Hmm, more reading than you realized?”

“Yeah…” Spike said. Fluttershy had seen his Power Pony comic collection, and it was pretty huge. “Plus the beginning is kind of boring. I think that’s why Twilight doesn’t like them. I told her not to start with issue one, but she insisted.”

“I don’t think Twilight could start anywhere but the beginning.” Fluttershy smiled, imagining what Twilight’s reaction to the idea of starting a book series part way through must have been like. “It’d probably drive her crazy.”

“Yeah, but then she complained about the ‘cliché’ story,” Spike said. “I tried to tell her that the early issues were written before she was even born, but she didn’t listen…”

Fluttershy stood straight, doing her best Twilight impression. “Spike, I’ll have you know that most of the best books were written before I was born.”

Spike laughed as Fluttershy began walking again. “Yeah, that’s her exactly!” Fluttershy laughed as well, but as her laughter trailed off she frowned. When Spike spoke again, it was apparent he shared her melancholy mood. “So… when do you think she’s coming back?”

“Well, her letter said she’d be home for our anniversary. That’s in three days,” Fluttershy said. Spike was always excited to get time to himself, but always wound up bored when he got it.

“Yeah, I know… I was hoping she’d be back before then though.” Spike shifted positions and Fluttershy could imagine him slouching sadly.

“I think I’ll be staying at my cottage until Twilight gets back,” Fluttershy said. “But you know, you can always come visit me if you want.”

At that, Spike seemed to sit up straighter. “Alright.”

Fluttershy smiled. It had only been for a few days, but she missed having Spike around, and was looking forward to spending some more time with him again. Although she was regretting offering him a ride. He wasn’t exactly a baby dragon anymore, and she was exhausted by the time they reached the castle. After kneeling down to let him off, Fluttershy had to take a moment to stretch before walking inside.

She began to walk towards Sunset’s bedroom, but Spike stopped her. “She’s, uh, actually in the basement.”

“Oh, is she in the workshop?” Fluttershy asked. Spike nodded. “Okay, I’ll go talk to her. Uhm… maybe you should wait up here.” If Fluttershy was right about what was going on, then it wasn’t a conversation she wanted to involve Spike in.

“Oh, uh, are you sure?” Spike asked, but he was already slowly backing away.

“Yes, I’ll be fine. I’ll call for you if I need anything.” Fluttershy showed a confident smile for the worried dragon, but it vanished as soon as she walked away. Flashbacks of the other night played in her head, and she was sure this time wouldn’t be much better.

She took a moment to compose herself outside the door. She couldn’t hear anything coming from the other side, which she took to be a good sign. Slowly she opened the door and walked to the top of the stairs, the same place she had been standing when everything started. She looked into the room and was shocked at what she saw.

She had expected to find Sunset drunk, probably just as bad as she had been the night Fluttershy had to take her to the cottage. She hadn’t expected everything else. The room was littered with empty bottles, several of which were broken. Mixed with the glass were shards of wood and metal, the remnants of the radio Sunset and Twilight had worked so hard on. No recognizable part of the radio or the speaker remained.

Sunset herself was sitting with her head on the table. She was staring into an empty bottle of wine, and even from across the room she already looked awful. Her dress had stains from where she’d spilled alcohol on it, and her mane was at least as bad. Steeling herself for what was sure to be an ordeal, Fluttershy walked down the stairs.

“Sunset,” she announced as she approached the disheveled pony.

Sunset sat up and shook her head, then squinted at her. “Fluttershy? What’re you doing here?”

“I do live here, you know.” Fluttershy kept her distance, but was close enough to notice that Sunset’s mane was clumped together at the ends, covered in what looked like vomit.

“I… yeah, I know that, but… why are you here?” Sunset gestured around her in an exaggerated movement. “Here.”

“Spike is worried about you.”

Sunset blinked a few times and looked down. “Spike is… he’s jus’ a kid. He doesn’t understand.”

“Sunset, I’m worried about you.” Fluttershy took a step closer and took a better look at how many bottles were around. There had to be at least half a dozen, most of which were empty. She knew well enough that Sunset wouldn’t even be conscious if she’d actually drank all of them in one night, but it was clear she’d had more than any reasonable pony would have.

“Don’t. I’m not worth it.” Sunset turned away from her and reached for a box near her. Although it was right next to her she failed to grab it at first, but got it on the second try.

“That’s enough, Sunset.” Fluttershy walked over to her and put a hoof on her shoulder. “You don’t need any more.”

Sunset huffed and pulled a bottle out of the box. “I’m fine. Jus’ go way, I don’t need your symp’thy.”

“No, you need my help.” Fluttershy reached her hoof to the bottle, moving it out of Sunset’s hooves. Sunset tried to hold on to it, but her attempt wasn’t very good. Fluttershy wasn’t sure whether it was because she was drunk or if she was still too used to not having hooves.

“I don’t…” Sunset shook her head and turned to Fluttershy. “I don’t need any fucking help!”

As Sunset glared at her, Fluttershy just stared back calmly. She gestured to the empty bottles. “Then how do you explain all this? Sunset, you do need help.”

Sunset stood up. Whether she intended to or not, her larger size coupled with how close they were made Fluttershy feel small, like a filly again. Suddenly she felt the urge to run away, but she wasn’t sure if her legs would move.

“Just… go away.” Sunset turned and walked further down the table, dragging the box with her. “Leave me alone. I’ll be out of your way soon enough.”

“What do you mean?” Fluttershy asked. Sunset pulled another bottle out. Fluttershy wanted to take that one away too, but she couldn’t. She was rooted in place, fear creeping into her as she remembered facing similar confrontation many years ago.

“I’m going home,” Sunset said as she opened the bottle. She took a drink, not bothering to use a cup. “Once Twilight gets back. I tried to leave already, but she took it with her.”

“Took what?” Fluttershy asked, although she already knew.

“The book. Powers the mirror. I need it to get home.”

It had been years since Twilight had modified the mirror to work with the magic from the journal. Although Fluttershy knew that’s what Sunset had meant, she needed the extra time to calm herself down. She took a deep breath. No matter how drunk she was, Sunset was not Stormy Skies, and she would never hurt her. “So then what? You’ll just disappear forever? Do you really think you’ll be better off over there?”

Sunset shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll be gone and then you’ll be better off.” She took another drink.

“Stop it.”

Sunset looked at her questioningly. “Stop what?”

“Put the bottle down,” Fluttershy said. “Now.”

Sunset glared at her, but did as she said. She kept it within reach, however. “Why should I? Why do you even care?”

“Because you’re better than this!” Fluttershy stomped a hoof on the ground. “I know you are. You told me once that you look up to me, but I look up to you too!”

Sunset laughed and gestured around her. “This is me, Fluttershy. I’m not somebody to look up to. I fuck up everything I touch, and I throw away anything worth having!” She picked up the bottle and grinned, raising it high. “So cheers to heroes! Maybe soon I’ll drink myself out of everyone’s lives for good.”

Fluttershy recoiled back for a moment, shocked at what Sunset had said. As Sunset took a swig from the bottle Fluttershy walked over and knocked it to the floor. It shattered, spilling its contents onto both mares.

“Fluttershy, what the fuck!?”

“Don’t you dare.” Fluttershy jabbed her hoof into Sunset’s chest, ignoring how unsteady she felt on the other three. “Don’t you dare say that, not when you know there are ponies who care about you.”

Sunset just stared open-mouthed. Fluttershy turned and walked away, no longer wanting to look at her. She stopped at the top of the stairs and turned back. Sunset still sat watching in shock. “Twilight didn’t take the book. I did.”

Once on the other side of the door, Fluttershy suddenly felt weak. She leaned against the wall for support, and walked away from the living room. She needed to take a moment to collect herself before Spike saw her. She walked to the only other room down the hallway, a small broom closet. Once inside she shut the door and collapsed on the floor.

As she lay crying, she couldn’t stop thinking about Sunset standing over her. It was only for a moment, but looking up at Sunset was like looking at another pony entirely. Fears she thought she’d left behind came rushing back, blurring her memory of what just happened with images from her foalhood. She covered her head with her hooves, and tried to quiet her doubts along with her sobs. She didn’t want Sunset or Spike to hear her crying. She didn’t want them to find her like this. She wasn’t sure which of them would be worse.

She wondered if this was how her mom had felt every day. She wanted to be strong, but every impulse told her to stay curled in this closet, hidden away in the dark. Spike had never experienced anything like this – even on the rare occasions that Twilight had too much to drink, she never was anywhere close to how drunk Sunset was. He was still a kid, and still learning about the world around him. She needed to be strong for him so she could explain what was happening and reassure him that things would be okay.

She needed to be strong for Sunset, too. Whether she admitted it or not, she needed help. She knew Sunset hadn’t meant to scare her, that she probably didn’t even realize how she looked. She needed her friend to help her, to show her that she did have something worth living for, that it was worth fighting and overcoming her addiction. She didn’t need a friend crying in a closet.

Fluttershy stood up slowly. She felt uneasy on her hooves, but with a few more deep breaths, she was ready to face the day. She wiped her tears as best she could and hoped it wouldn’t be too obvious. She opened the door and walked back into the hall.

Sunset was standing at the door to the basement. Sunset Shimmer, not Stormy Skies. Fluttershy felt ridiculous and a little guilty for ever mixing them up. Sunset looked away when she saw Fluttershy, clearly ashamed. Fluttershy walked up to her and waited for Sunset to speak.

“Fluttershy… I’m sorry, I… I never should have…”

“Get yourself cleaned up,” Fluttershy said curtly. “Take a nap or something. You can come talk to me when you’re sober.”

Sunset continued to avoid her eyes and pawed at the ground. She gave a small nod, and Fluttershy walked past her. She stopped at the end of the hall, but didn’t look back. “And Sunset? I want that basement cleaned up before Twilight gets back.”

Fluttershy waited for an answer. When Sunset finally spoke her voice was quiet and resigned. “…Okay.” Fluttershy nodded and walked out of the hall, and back to the living room.

Spike ran up to her, and she kneeled down to hug him. “Is, uhm, is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yes, everything’s fine,” Fluttershy said. She had expected it would be hard to put on a smile for him, but it was the easiest thing in the world. It would be far harder to allow herself to break down in front of her little brother. “So, Spike, I think Sunset needs some time to herself for a little while. How would you like to help me take care of the animals today?”

“Sure, that sounds like fun,” Spike said.

Fluttershy poked his belly. “But how about this time you just walk with me?”

They walked out of the castle together, both laughing. The early morning was always one of Fluttershy’s favorite times to walk through Ponyville. Many ponies were still in their homes, but a few were out and about. There was just enough liveliness that the town didn’t feel empty, but even the market wouldn’t be crowded yet. As well as feeling more comfortable when the streets weren’t too busy, it made it much easier to cut through the market and get back to the cottage quickly. She’d already kept the poor animals waiting too long as it was.

Along the way, Fluttershy kept the conversation well away from Sunset. She felt it was important to talk with Spike about what he saw, but she also knew the small town loved its gossip. Ponies always kept a close eye on the royal couple, and were well aware they had a new house guest. Making Sunset’s problem public knowledge was not going to help her overcome it.

Instead, they talked about the animals and what they’d spend the day doing. Fluttershy wondered why she never asked for Spike’s help with them before. Being related to Twilight seemed to have rubbed off more than they realized, because he was definitely excited for a chance to learn about the animals and what Fluttershy did.

They stopped by the cottage to grab a few things, and Fluttershy decided there was no better time to talk about what happened. “So, was Sunset down in the basement all night?”

Spike had been retrieving a bag of bird seed for them to take, but at the question he stopped and looked around. He seemed to be wondering what to say, or maybe how much he wanted to tell her. “Yeah. I mean, I think so. It was already night by the time I woke up.”

“She didn’t wake you up from your nap?”

Again, Spike hesitated before answering. “No, she was already, uhm, downstairs when I woke up.”

Over the few months they had been living together, Sunset and Spike had become fast friends, so Fluttershy could understand his reluctance to say anything to incriminate her. “Thank you for coming and getting me. It was the right thing to do.”

“Yeah… I didn’t know what else to do,” Spike said. He folded his claws together and looked at Fluttershy. “Why would she drink that much? That’s really dangerous, isn’t it?”

“It is, and I’m sure she knows that. The thing is, well…” Fluttershy had been trying to think of how to word what she wanted to say the entire walk over, but nothing really sounded right. She didn’t want Spike to look down on Sunset. “Sunset has a problem. It’s probably really hard for her to keep her drinking under control.”

“Twilight told me that some ponies drink a lot just so they don’t have to face their problems.”

Fluttershy smiled. “Well, that is true, but it can also be more complicated than that. I don’t think Twilight really understands alcoholism herself.”

Spike looked confused. “But Sunset’s not an alcoholic. She’s lived with us for months and she’s never been drunk before.”

“Yes, I know. But like I said, it can be complicated.” Fluttershy took a seat on the couch and gestured for Spike to sit next to her. “Not all alcoholics are always drinking. For Sunset, it seems like she has problems realizing when it’s time to stop.”

Spike climbed onto the couch. “So… what can we do to help her?”

Fluttershy felt a surge of pride at how quick Spike was to want to help. “We can support her. She needs to know that we care about her and want her to get better. But in the end, it’s up to her. She can overcome this, but she has to want to.”

“Well, of course she wants to, right? Wouldn’t anypony want to?”

Fluttershy closed her eyes for a moment, then wrapped a wing around Spike. “It’s kind of like Twilight said. Some ponies don’t want to face their other problems, even if those problems are caused by drinking. Has Twilight ever told you about Stormy Skies?”

Spike looked down at his claws, folded in his lap. “A little. She told me he’s your dad, but that you probably wouldn’t want to talk about him.”

Fluttershy nodded. “He was an alcoholic. Well, he still is. I don’t… I don’t keep in touch with him anymore, though.”

“Did he ever try to get better?” Spike scooted closer to her.

“Yes. He tried a few times, when my mom was still alive. She died when I was fourteen, and after that he gave up on trying.” Fluttershy closed her eyes and sighed. She felt Spike wrap an arm around her, so she opened her eyes and smiled at him.

“You don’t think Sunset’s going to give up, do you?” Spike asked, as he pulled away from the hug.

Fluttershy shook her head. “No. Sunset’s had a hard life, especially the last few years. Right now, she feels like she has nothing left to live for, but that just means we have to remind her there is.”

“Sunset was…” Spike twiddled his claws nervously. “She had something to do with why you and Twilight were fighting, didn’t she?”

Fluttershy had been hoping that explanation could wait until everything was worked out, or at least until she had a chance to talk to Twilight about it. But with Twilight gone, it was only a matter of time before it came up. “Yes, she did.”

“And that’s why she’s feeling so miserable right now?”

“Yes.” Fluttershy nodded. “But it wasn’t really her fault. It was, well, I think there were a lot of things going on.”

“But, uhm… everything’s going to be okay, right?” Spike asked. “With you and Twilight, I mean.”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said, smiling. “I think everything will be just fine between me and Twilight. And Sunset too.”

“Okay,” Spike said, but he still looked concerned.

Fluttershy nuzzled him. “Don’t worry, Spike. Twilight and I will work everything out once she gets back.”

“It’s not just that,” Spike said. “Do you think… Maybe we shouldn’t have left Sunset alone at the castle?”

“Being there for her doesn’t mean we can’t leave her alone too,” Fluttershy said. “She’ll probably need a lot of time to herself to think things over. I gave her some things to think about when I talked to her, and she agreed to come see me once she’s sober.”

Spike slouched in the seat. “So we just need to leave her alone then?”

“For now, yes.” Fluttershy smiled and nudged him. “Don’t worry, when she comes by later to talk, I’m sure things will start going better.”

“Okay.” Spike nodded.

“Now then, are you ready to go visit all my animal friends?” Fluttershy asked. “They’re probably pretty hungry by now.”

“Yeah!” Spike jumped off the couch and Fluttershy followed after him. Together, they finished gathering everything they needed and finally set off to look after the waiting animals.

They spent several hours tending to the animals. Spike proved to be a lot of help, although he’d occasionally scare them off by being over-excited. Still, Fluttershy appreciated his company and invited him to help her whenever he wanted. He imagined he’d be a regular helper, but Fluttershy kind of doubted it. Waking up early wasn’t normally something he enjoyed, having spent years conforming to Twilight’s sleep patterns. Plus he was almost a teenager, and if ponies and dragons were similar in how they aged, that would probably involve a lot more sleeping in. Even Twilight didn’t seem too sure how that would work.

Since Spike had stayed up all night, Fluttershy had told him to take a nap. He was curled up on the couch, and this time she was planning on making sure he woke up after a few hours. In the meantime, she was enjoying the lovely weather by lounging in her front yard with a book.

With the weather so clear, she saw Sunset approach from quite a distance. She looked a lot better. She was walking without tripping over herself and was wearing a clean dress. Her mane wasn’t styled like it usually was, falling much flatter around her shoulders, but she’d clearly washed and brushed it. Fluttershy smiled and stood up. Not wanting to wake Spike just yet, she walked out to greet Sunset.

“Hello, Sunset,” Fluttershy said warmly. “Feeling better?”

Sunset seemed taken aback at how cheerful Fluttershy was. “Fluttershy, I’m…” She frowned and cast her eyes down. “I’m so sorry. For what I said, and just… for everything.”

“It’s okay, Sunset. I’m glad to see you’re doing better now.” Fluttershy hugged her, which Sunset returned hesitantly.

“I started to clean everything up, and I’ll finish it before I leave,” Sunset said.

Fluttershy looked at her quizzically. “Leave?”

“Yeah. I came to get the book. I’m ready to go back through the mirror. Or, well, I will be, once I’m done cleaning up the basement.”

Fluttershy smiled. “Walk with me?” She gestured to the path leading further away from town.

Sunset blinked a few times. “Huh? No, Fluttershy, I just want to get –”

“Spike’s asleep inside, and it’s such a nice day out,” Fluttershy said, as if Sunset hadn’t just announced her plan to leave forever. “I figured we could go for a walk while we talked.”


“I’m not giving you the book,” Fluttershy said flatly. Her demeanor changed in an instant, all of a sudden deathly serious.

Sunset shook her head. She didn’t yell, but her voice got noticeably louder. “What? Why not?”

Fluttershy glanced towards the cottage. “Sunset, we need to talk, but Spike’s had a long day and he’s asleep. So please, can we go somewhere else before you start yelling at me?”

Sunset took a step back and looked horrified. “I’m not going to yell at you.”

Fluttershy wasn’t sure of that, especially since she knew this conversation wasn’t going to go how Sunset wanted it to. Without waiting for an answer, Fluttershy began walking down the path. Sure enough Sunset trailed behind her, although she kept her distance.

After they were far away enough that their voices wouldn’t reach the cottage, Sunset finally spoke up. “This is exactly why I need to go. I’m… I’m a mess, Fluttershy.”

“No, this is exactly why you need to let me help you,” Fluttershy said. She slowed down, letting Sunset catch up to her.

Sunset stopped for a moment to allow Fluttershy to put some distance between them, so Fluttershy stopped as well. After a moment she walked back to Sunset’s side and gestured for them to keep walking. Sunset reluctantly agreed.

“I’ll be okay, Fluttershy,” Sunset said. She sounded calm, but Fluttershy wasn’t buying it. “I know I was a wreck when you saw me earlier, and I’m sorry for that. Last night I kind of got into a fight with Rainbow and I didn’t handle it well.”

“I know. She came and told me after. Do you want to talk about that?”

Sunset grinned. “I kind of lost my temper. Not much else to say.”

Rainbow had been pretty thorough about what had happened the other night, and Fluttershy thought Sunset could benefit from getting some of what was said into the open. “Sunset, I know you. You don’t just lose your temper for no reason. I already heard Rainbow’s side of things, and if you’d like to tell me, I’d like to hear yours too.”

Sunset shook her head. “I don’t want to cause any problems between you two.”

Fluttershy smiled. “Sunset, before Twilight’s family took me in, Rainbow was all I had. She looked after me for years, she even moved to Ponyville so we could be closer. She’s not just a friend, she’s my family. Nothing you say is going to change any of that.”

Although she still looked unsure, Sunset relented. “Well, she said… some things. It’s nothing, it just really got under my skin.”

Fluttershy nodded. “She asked if you were sleeping with Twilight.”

Sunset stopped for a moment, but caught up to stay by Fluttershy’s side. “Yeah, she did.”

The irritation was already obvious in Sunset’s voice, and Fluttershy was sure she was about to make it worse. “And do you think that was an unreasonable thing to ask?”

“I would never do that!”

“I didn’t say that you would,” Fluttershy said calmly. “I trust you. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be talking to you. And I trust Twilight. But that’s not what I asked. Do you think it was unreasonable for her to doubt you?”

For a moment, Sunset looked like she was going have another outburst. Instead, she sighed and shook her head. “No. It was completely reasonable. But… I don’t know, I’m not even saying she was wrong, but the way she persisted on it really got to me. After I repeatedly told her that it was one kiss, she still kept insisting I needed to come clean before Twilight came back.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “She wasn’t trying to accuse you, she was trying to give you advice. That if you were sleeping with her it would be better if you told me yourself, instead of waiting for me to hear it from Twilight.”

“What the hell kind of advice is that?” Sunset shook her head. “I mean, who would honestly think that’s advice?”

Fluttershy chuckled. “I never said she was good at giving advice.”

After a moment, Sunset laughed too. “Okay, so I screwed that up too, then.”

Fluttershy found it unsettling how easily Sunset could laugh and put herself down at the same time. “Well, kind of. But Rainbow’s not always the easiest pony to talk with, especially when I’m involved.” She sighed. “She’s actually gotten a lot better over the years. When Twilight and I first started dating, they used to fight a lot…”

Sunset smirked. “No way, Twilight?”

“Yes, even Twilight,” Fluttershy said. She looked up to the sky and watched as a flock of birds flew overhead. “But you know, you should still say sorry.”

Sunset sighed. “Yeah. I should.”

There was one detail Fluttershy had saved for when Sunset decided to apologize. “She said if I saw you before she does to apologize for her.”

Sunset stared at her. “What? No way, you made that up.”

“Nope. She said you’re a crazy bitch, but she’s sorry anyway.”

Although Fluttershy was worried repeating Rainbow’s word choice was a bad idea, it seemed there was no reason for concern. Sunset tried to hold in her laughter, but failed and wound up laughing hard enough that she leaned on Fluttershy for support. “I can’t believe you said that!”

It was good that Sunset was enjoying herself, since there was still plenty they needed to talk about. For a few moments though, Fluttershy just led them along in quiet, letting them have a moment of peace.

“Sunset,” Fluttershy said after a while. “Why are you so reluctant to let me help you?”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “I’m not reluctant, I just don’t need any help.”

Fluttershy took a deep breath. If there was one thing that was going to start a fight, this was it. “Sunset, you’re an alcoholic.”

Sunset stopped walking. She smiled, but Fluttershy recognized it as a deflection. “Yeah, I went overboard last night, and the night before too. It’s just that it’s been a crazy week. And I know I didn’t handle it well, but I’m not an alcoholic.

“Oh? I guess that’s reasonable,” Fluttershy said. She smiled along with Sunset. “Lots of ponies would want a drink after a fight with a friend.”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah.”

Fluttershy twirled around a strand of her mane. “Of course, most ponies would only buy one bottle.”

Sunset’s smile faltered for a moment, but she recouped easily. “Oh, I get it. Yeah, that must have looked really bad. But I didn’t buy all those last night, I already had them.”

“Really?” Fluttershy pretended to be surprised. “I see. That was quite a collection then.”

Sunset began looking less confident. “Lots of ponies prefer different things. I know you don’t drink, but even different kinds of wine can taste completely different.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Oh, I know. That’s why Twilight has a wine rack with all sorts of different things on it.” She dropped the fake smile, and her tone became much more direct. “She keeps it in the kitchen. Where anypony can see it.”

Sunset also opted for a direct approach. “Fluttershy, I’m not an alcoholic.”

“I’m not attacking you, Sunset, I want to help you. But you have to realize there’s a problem. I’ve been in your room before, and I’ve never seen any of that alcohol.”

“It’s… I keep it under my bed,” Sunset said. “So it’s out of the way, since I usually don’t drink it.”

“Where you can hide it away because you’re ashamed of it.”

Sunset shook her head and took a step back. “Fluttershy, I know what I’m talking about. Trust me.”

“And I don’t?” Fluttershy asked incredulously. “Out of everypony, do you really think I don’t recognize the signs of alcoholism?”

Sunset scowled. “I’m nothing like him.”

“I never said you were.” Fluttershy took a step towards Sunset, who took another step away. “Sunset, you aren’t like him. You can overcome this! I know you can, because you’re stronger than it.”

“No, I’m not!” Sunset took another step back. “Fine. I’m an alcoholic, okay? But don’t you think I’ve tried to handle it!? I try, I’ve tried so many times, but every time I fuck it up! I fuck everything up, whenever something comes along that’s good for me, I find some way to ruin it. Then I start drinking again.”

“Like you want to now?”

Sunset looked away. “Yes.”

Fluttershy walked over to her. She expected Sunset to back away again, but she allowed Fluttershy to stand next to her. “Sunset, it’s okay. I know it’s hard, and it’s okay to be afraid, but you don’t have to do this alone. I’ll be here with you, every step of the way.”

Sunset sighed. “Until I fuck that up too. Not that I haven’t done enough damage to you already.”

“Twilight and I will work things out. Don’t worry about that.”

Sunset didn’t say anything for a while. Eventually, Fluttershy reached a hoof out for her shoulder, but Sunset backed away. “No. No more of this. I… I promise, I’ll get help, but I can’t be around you and Twilight anymore. Please, let me not completely screw up this one thing.”

Undeterred, Fluttershy stepped closer and reached her hoof out again. Sunset didn’t pull away, so Fluttershy took the chance to pull Sunset closer. She didn’t resist the hug, and after a moment, even returned it.

“Have you stopped to think about why I took the book?” Fluttershy asked, keeping Sunset held close to her.

Sunset hesitated a moment. “Of course I have.”

“And?” Fluttershy asked. “Why do you think I did?”

Sunset looked away. She might have blushed a little, but Fluttershy wasn’t positive. “Because you don’t want me to leave.”

“Exactly. So who does leaving help?”

Sunset pulled back far enough that she could look at Fluttershy properly, but didn’t completely pull away from her. “It helps you! It helps you and Twilight, because I won’t be around to screw things up for you anymore.”

“If you want to help us, shouldn’t it matter what we want?” Fluttershy asked. Sunset seemed to be trying to say something, but couldn’t find the words. “Do you think Twilight wants to come home to find out you ran off and didn’t even say goodbye?”

“No, but she –”

“Do you really think I want you to leave after I’ve been trying so hard to fix things?”

“No, but –”

“And what about Spike? What about Luna and Amber? Princess Celestia just got you back after she’s been waiting years to hear from you again. Do you think any of them want you to just disappear?”

“No!” Sunset let her hooves fall away from Fluttershy, but didn’t move away. “No, I don’t think anyone wants me to leave.”

Fluttershy let the silence hang over them for a moment. Sunset seemed to be fighting the urge to cry. “So then, do you really want to leave us?”

Sunset looked up at her. “No, I…” Her words caught in her throat. “I just don’t…” She blinked away a few tears. “I don’t… I don’t know what to do anymore!”

As Sunset started to cry, Fluttershy pulled her in closer. Sunset returned the hug again as she cried into Fluttershy’s shoulder. Fluttershy stroked her mane and spoke soothing words as she waited for Sunset to work everything out of her system. She just hoped that once she was done, she’d finally be able to accept the help.

“It’ll be okay,” Fluttershy said as Sunset blinked away her tears.

“Why… why are you still so nice to me?” Sunset asked.

Fluttershy smiled and shook her head. “Because we’re friends. Why wouldn’t I be nice to you?”

Sunset inhaled sharply and Fluttershy thought she was going to start crying again. Instead she just leaned her head against Fluttershy’s shoulder. “Because… where do I even start? I kissed your fiancée!”

“Well, between the two of you, I’m a whole lot angrier with her,” Fluttershy said. She smiled to show it was okay, but really she was still furious with Twilight.

“And… well, I’m not…” Sunset suddenly pulled away. Fluttershy stared, confused. “I thought I was sure I’d never do anything like that again, but I’m not. It’s easy to feel in control when there’s no temptation, but I know I’m not as strong as you think I am. I know I’ll mess up again.”

“Why do you think that?” Fluttershy asked.

“Because…” Sunset blushed. “Because I just did.”

Fluttershy frowned, beginning to get tired of vague answers. “What do you –”

“Because I let myself get too close to you, even though I told myself I wouldn’t,” Sunset answered. “I decided I’d keep my distance from you two, no more big intimate hugs or anything like that. But then I didn’t follow through with that.”

“Sunset, I was the one who started the hug. I don’t see the problem.”

“Because you wouldn’t… you don’t…”

Fluttershy was also getting tired of ponies dancing around the subject, like not saying it would keep it from being true. “Because I don’t have feelings for you, but Twilight does?”

“Well, yeah…” Sunset sighed. “I mean, of course there wasn’t a problem, because you would never do anything, but Twilight… well…”

Fluttershy rolled her eyes. “But Twilight might, because she already did it before?” She took Sunset’s silence as confirmation. “So we make rules. We avoid situations where things could go wrong.”

“I don’t…” Sunset threw her foreleg into the air. “How are you so okay with this!? How can you just not care that your fiancée has feelings for another mare?”

Fluttershy rested her head on her hoof. “It’s not that I don’t care, I just want everything to work out.”

“But why? How can you fight so hard to keep me living with you after everything that happened?”

“I don’t know!” Fluttershy yelled back, surprising even herself with the outburst. It seemed to snap Sunset out of her hysterics. “I don’t know why it’s so important to me. I don’t even know how I feel about all this because every day something else happens. All I know is that I just want everypony to be happy.”

They sat in silence for a while, neither one knowing what to say.

“We should go back,” Sunset said. “It’s probably time to check on Spike.”

“You’re right,” Fluttershy said.

They turned back towards the cottage and started walking. They hadn’t gone too far before their impromptu stop.

“So, uh, how’s Spike doing?” Sunset asked.

“Good. He’s worried about you,” Fluttershy said.

Sunset sighed and just stared at the road in front of her. “I kinda remember him coming into the basement, but I think he ran out pretty quick.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Yeah, he came to get me.”

“Oh. Well, I hope I didn’t freak him out too much.”

Fluttershy nudged her. “He’ll be okay. He wanted to go back to the castle, you know. So we could both be there for you.”

Sunset smiled a little. “That… that would have been bad. Still, that was sweet of him.”

Before long they reached the cottage. Fluttershy walked up to the door, but Sunset lingered behind. “So, should I take Spike back to the castle, or are you gonna keep him around here?”

Fluttershy turned to her and smiled. “You could both stay for a while, if you want. I could make us all dinner.”

Sunset took a step forward and hesitated. “Fluttershy, why –”

“Don’t,” Fluttershy interrupted, holding up a hoof for emphasis. “Sunset. You are more than welcome to come spend the evening with me and Spike. You can also go back to the castle if you want. But please, please, stop questioning every time I want to do something as friends. I’m tired of fighting and worrying and having to explain everything I do when I don’t even know why myself.”

“I’m sorry,” Sunset said. She glanced back to the castle. “And if you really want me to stay… I’d love to.”

Sunset and Spike had fallen asleep pretty early. Even though they both took naps during the day, neither of them had actually slept the night before. They made it through dinner, but afterwards the three of them were all talking in the living room when Spike fell asleep. He was sitting on the couch with Sunset, who barely made it through saying it was time to go back to the castle before she was asleep herself. Once Fluttershy saw them curled up together, she immediately ran for a camera. She couldn’t wait to show Night Light the picture.

Satisfied that she’d managed to get a sufficiently embarrassing picture, Fluttershy went to a closet and pulled out an extra blanket. When she draped it over them Spike rolled over and wound up hitting Sunset in the muzzle. She huffed and wrapped a foreleg around him, holding him like a teddy bear, neither one waking up.

Fluttershy smiled all the way upstairs to her bedroom. Although she had come to her cottage to be alone, in the end she was much happier having Spike and Sunset with her. Still, she was more than ready to put such a hectic day behind her. Although, at the rate things were going, she was also terrified of what the next day would bring. She looked out her window and sighed. “Twilight, when are you coming back?” she muttered.

She walked from the window and towards the bed when a thought occurred to her. Twilight was in the Crystal Empire asking Cadance’s advice, while Fluttershy was trying to sort out her feelings by herself and getting nowhere. Why not do the same thing as Twilight? She wouldn’t even need to go halfway across Equestria to do it.

She pulled out the saddlebag she’d packed when leaving the castle. She hadn’t bothered to take anything out, since she’d barely had any time to herself. She opened one side, which had three journals in it. She pulled out the one with the crescent moon on the cover.

‘Dear Luna, a few days ago Twilight and I had a fight. It’s complicated and it’s been very confusing. Twilight went to talk to Cadance about it, but I don’t know what to do, or even how I should feel about everything. I know you’re probably busy, but if you have some time I was hoping we could talk.’

Fluttershy felt guilty for asking for Luna to make time for her when she knew the princess was always busy. The moon was already in the sky, so it wasn’t likely Luna would even see the message. Fluttershy was about to write back and tell her not to worry about it after all, but Luna’s wispy writing appeared before she could.

‘Fluttershy, I received your message just in time. I was about to take care of some other matters at the moment, but could reschedule them.’

Fluttershy frowned at the idea. ‘Oh no, don’t. I’d hate for you to do that just for me.’

‘It is no matter. In fact, I have a better idea. Go to sleep, and I will visit your dream. Then we’ll be able to talk with much more ease.’

‘Are you sure I’m not interrupting your work? It’s really okay if you’re too busy.’

‘Do not worry, I have every confidence that I’ll still manage the rest of my nightly duties. Now, sleep well, my friend. I will be with you shortly.’

After writing her thanks, Fluttershy climbed into bed. With Luna’s help, she was sure she’d be able to finally figure everything out. She worried her excitement would keep her up, but as exhausted as she was, sleep came to her easily.

13 – Houses and Homes

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Chapter Thirteen

Houses and Homes

Ponyville was just around the corner. When she left, Twilight was already anticipating her return, eager to come home with newfound revelations that would prevent her marriage from unravelling before it even began. But now that she was so close, she couldn’t be more terrified. Cadance had been a huge help, and Twilight finally felt like she understood what was going on, but explaining that to Fluttershy was another matter entirely.

“Hey, it’ll be alright.”

Twilight realized she’d been staring vacantly out the window for some time. She turned and smiled. “I hope so. Thanks again for keeping me company.”

Amber smiled back. “No problem. Seriously, after everything in the Crystal Empire, I should be the one thanking you.”

True to her word, Twilight had kept Amber with her the whole time they were in the Empire together. Twilight had thought they were just going to have to go back to Canterlot at first, but Amber insisted on staying. She calmed down a lot over the course of the day, and eventually she seemed to enjoy herself. She even commented that she might plan another trip there sometime, which Cadance was delighted about. Amber left in the evening, catching another overnight train to Canterlot, where she had to be for work in the morning. Once she left, Cadance confessed to Twilight that she was hoping for a chance to help her and Luna overcome and resolve their problems.

“Are you sure it’s okay to spend so much time talking to me?” Twilight asked. Since she finally decided to try and be a better friend to Amber, things had gone much better between them. Twilight even specifically chose a train Amber would be working on so she could tell her how the rest of the trip had gone, including her big talk with Cadance.

Amber chuckled. “You know, everypony says that.”

“It’s a reasonable question,” Twilight said, finishing off the tea Amber had brought her.

Amber shrugged. “Yeah, it’s fine. I’m pretty sure they keep me around just to talk to ponies anyway. Besides” – she leaned over and nudged Twilight – “I’m pretty sure nopony ever gets in trouble for taking tea with a princess.”

“Well, I did once.” Twilight grinned sheepishly while Amber gave her a skeptical look. “Although Princess Celestia accepted me as her personal student, at first she just oversaw my education at her school while I was still learning the basics of magic. I’d study with the other foals and then once a week she’d invite me to the castle for tea so we could talk about what I was learning. Well, the first time the teacher told me I was invited to the castle, I was so excited that I kind of forgot to tell my parents where I was going.”

Amber smiled and rolled her eyes. “Oh boy. They must have been so worried.”

“I tried to explain that I just didn’t want the princess to have to wait, but they didn’t quite think that was a good enough reason.” Twilight smiled at the memory, now that it was far enough in the past to be amusing. “And neither did Princess Celestia. I don’t know what my mom said to her, but for years every time I saw her she asked if my parents knew where I was.”

“Your mom actually gave Princess Celestia a lecture?” Amber grinned. “And she just went along with it?”

“Oh yes, it was pretty clear when I was growing up.” Twilight nodded matter-of-factly. “Princess Celestia fell just under Mom in authority.”

The train whistle signified their approach to Ponyville. Amber adjusted her hat. “Well, I guess I should probably do some actual work.” She winked.

“Alright.” Twilight nodded as Amber stood up. “Hey, wait a minute.” Twilight stood up as well and held out her foreleg for a hug, which Amber accepted.

“It was nice seeing you, Twilight,” Amber said. “Let me know when everything works out.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Don’t you mean how everything works out?”

Amber grinned. “No.” She waved and disappeared to prepare for the unloading of the train. Twilight sat back down and waited for the train to come to a stop. The ride home was nerve wracking, but it was much better then it could have been, thanks to Amber.

Twilight took a few deep breaths and went over the explanation she had planned. She had already practiced it with Amber, who was convinced Fluttershy would understand. Cadance had also been confident, but it didn’t make Twilight feel any better about actually facing the conversation.

The train jerked to a halt, and Twilight gathered her saddlebags. She opened the door to her cabin and filed out with everypony else. Along the way she saw Amber, but she was busy helping an elderly stallion get his bags, so Twilight left her alone.

Even though she’d left the Empire early in the morning, the train route was long and indirect. By the time she walked out into Ponyville, the sun was already setting. Walking through the town brought a mix of emotions. It was always nice to return home after being away. The familiar sights and, above all, the friendly greetings from everypony would always be welcome. Several ponies stopped to ask where she’d been and if her trip went well. Since nopony seemed to suspect anything was wrong, it was easy enough to pretend she’d been visiting the Crystal Empire on royal business.

On the other hoof, walking through town proved much harder than being carried by train. She had been growing increasingly nervous since leaving the Crystal Empire, but at least the train’s forward momentum was a guarantee whether she wanted to move or not. Now every step was a struggle, as it meant she was one step closer to confronting Fluttershy.

She didn’t bother going to the castle. She knew Fluttershy would probably want to avoid it, and there was no way she was going to talk to Sunset before she saw Fluttershy. Instead she went directly to the cottage. It was all too possible that Fluttershy would have decided to stay with Rainbow while Twilight was gone, but she hoped she could avoid that conversation until after talking to Fluttershy as well. She didn’t know what Rainbow would have to say to her, but she was positive it wouldn’t be anything nice.

Much to her relief, as she approached the cottage she could see lights on inside. She stopped for a moment to take a few deep breaths before walking to the door. She paused, realizing she wasn’t sure if she should knock or not. Eventually she decided it would be better to knock and look silly than walk in and look rude, but as she raised her hoof she stopped, noticing voices.

“…jumped from pegasus to pegasus, and reached the ice just in time to melt it!”

Twilight smiled, realizing Spike was telling the story of when he saved the day during the Equestria Games. She was delighted that Spike had decided to keep Fluttershy company, but wondered why he was telling that story when Fluttershy was there. ‘Poor Fluttershy must be humoring him. She should know by now that once he starts talking about stuff like that he never stops.’

Saving Fluttershy from hearing that same story again, Twilight knocked on the door. She wasn’t surprised to hear Spike announce, “I’ll get it!” followed by the sound of claws on wood as he scampered over.

Barely a second passed between the door opening and Spike throwing his arms around her. “Twilight!”

Twilight leaned into the embrace. “I missed you too, Spike.” She smiled as she looked up, but it was soon replaced with a look of puzzlement.

Fluttershy was sitting on her couch, with a mildly surprised expression. That much Twilight had expected. Hoped for, even. She couldn’t expect Fluttershy would be happy to see her after everything that happened, and really had only been hoping she wouldn’t be too angry. What she hadn’t been prepared for was who was sitting next to Fluttershy. Sunset was waving and smiling awkwardly.

Suppressing her surprise, Twilight turned instead her fiancée. “Uhm… hi, Shy.”

“Hello, Twilight,” Fluttershy said. She didn’t sound angry, exactly, but she didn’t sound welcoming either. She had stopped calling her Twilight ages ago, opting for Twi or Twily, and using it now was as clear an indication as any that she wasn’t happy.

“So, uhm…” Sunset stood up and walked over to Twilight and Spike. She put a foreleg on Spike’s shoulder and nodded towards the door. “We’ll just, uh, leave you two alone then.”

Spike looked up at Twilight like he was going to protest, but eventually sighed and nodded. “Okay… But you’ll come back to the castle tonight, right Twilight?”

Twilight glanced to Fluttershy who gave no indication of how should expect to spend her night. Hoping she was making the right call, she turned back to Spike and smiled. “Yes, I’ll be back at the castle later tonight.”

“Alright,” Spike said. He seemed reassured by the promise. “I’ll get dinner started for all of us then.”

“I don’t know how long it’ll be,” Twilight said. “Better just make it for you two instead.”

Sunset looked between the two awkwardly. She seemed to be looking for something to say, but couldn’t find the words. Eventually she settled on, “It’s, uhm… Nice to have you back, Twi. Guess I’ll see you two later then. Bye, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy smiled warmly at Sunset. “Bye, Sunset. And thank you for staying over, it was nice.”

“Bye, Fluttershy,” Spike said, waving. “See you in a bit.”

If Fluttershy didn’t plan on accompanying Twilight back to the castle, she kept it to herself. Twilight took it as a good sign, but it was also possible that Fluttershy just wasn’t sure herself either, and would leave it to Twilight to break the bad news. She waved happily as they walked outside, but once the door closed she frowned and turned away.

Twilight waited by the door at first, wanting to proceed as carefully as possible. But she could tell Fluttershy was going to wait for her to make the first move, so after a moment she walked closer. She wasn’t sure if she should sit on the couch next to Fluttershy, or keep her distance by sitting on the nearby chair. She decided to remain standing.

“I’m… I’m sorry. For everything.” Twilight waited for an answer from Fluttershy, but all she did was nod. “So you and Sunset are still getting along then? That’s good.” Immediately Twilight regretted starting with that. She really was happy they were getting along, but didn’t want to seem too happy, since she didn’t want Fluttershy to think she was caught up on Sunset.

“Yes.” Fluttershy finally turned to look at her. “We are.”

Twilight nodded. Better get into it. “So, talking to Cadance –”

“Do you know why we’re getting along?” Fluttershy asked. She stood up straight, which didn’t reach nearly to Twilight’s height but still made the alicorn incredibly nervous.

Twilight slouched down and bowed her head slightly. She smiled weakly. “Because you realized it was my fault so there was no reason to be mad at her?”

“No, I was furious with both of you.” Fluttershy stared at her, waiting for a better answer.

Twilight glanced around the room, hoping for some sort of clue to help her out. She found nothing. “Uhm… Because she made it up to you somehow?”

Fluttershy took a step forward. “No. She offered to do whatever she needed to make things right, but that’s not the reason either.”

There was something Twilight was supposed to realize, but she couldn’t see it. No matter how hard she tried to find another answer, she couldn’t possibly think of what might have happened over the past four days that would cause Fluttershy to forgive Sunset. “Because, uhm…” She swallowed and fought the urge to back away from Fluttershy. “I… I’m sorry, but I don’t know, Shy.”

“Because Sunset was here!” Fluttershy stomped a hoof angrily, causing Twilight to jump. “Because while you ran off without even telling me, Sunset and I actually talked about what happened! At first I was so angry with her that I didn’t even want to look at her, but then we talked about everything, and slowly things got better. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you have a problem with somepony, Twilight!”

Twilight’s mind reeled as she tried to figure out a way to diffuse the situation. “I just… I thought you’d want some time to yourself.”

Fluttershy threw her foreleg into the air. “You thought I wanted to be left alone!? You just assumed you knew what I’d want, without even asking me!?”

Unsure of what to say under Fluttershy’s glare, Twilight stammered half responses. “I, uhm…” She shook her head and gestured towards Fluttershy. “You were the one who said you wanted space though! When you left the castle!”

“I went to Rainbow’s for a night. One night, Twilight. And I told you I was going!” Fluttershy closed the distance between them, hovering slightly so Twilight had to look up at her. “Then I went back the next day, and Spike said you were out, so I told him I’d be here.”

Spike had told her that Fluttershy stopped by that day, before she left for the Crystal Empire, but she’d thought… “I thought that meant you still wanted time to yourself. How was I supposed to know?”

Fluttershy put a hoof to her head and shook it. When she looked back to Twilight she was scowling again. “By asking me! Twilight, I’m your marefriend, I’m going to be your wife soon. How can you not know that you need to talk to me before running halfway across Equestria!?”

“I’m sorry!” Twilight yelled, throwing her foreleg out to the side. “I bucked up, okay? And I don’t know what else to say, but I’m sorry!” She bowed her head and waited for Fluttershy to yell some more, but she didn’t. Everything was quiet for a moment as Twilight stared at the floor, avoiding looking at Fluttershy. She sighed. Yelling wasn’t a good way to apologize, and she knew it. “I really am sorry, Shy. I… that was really unfair to you.”

Although Twilight was still looking away from Fluttershy, she saw her hooves land on the floor in front of her. “I just wanted to work everything out,” Fluttershy said, much softer than Twilight had expected. “Everything’s been so confusing, and… you weren’t here to help me through it.”

When Twilight looked up she saw Fluttershy was also staring at the ground. “Shy…”

“I needed you, Twily.”

Twilight walked forward the few steps left between them and pulled Fluttershy close to her. “Shy, I’m sorry I left. And I’m sorry I didn’t ask you first. I promise you that I’ll never do anything like that again. I love you, Shy.”

“I love you too, Twily.” Fluttershy nuzzled against her. “But I’m still mad at you.”

Twilight smiled. “That’s okay. As long as you still want to work it out.”

Fluttershy pulled away from the hug and kissed Twilight on the cheek. “I do, but on one condition.”

“What’s that?” Twilight asked, sure she’d be okay with anything Fluttershy requested of her.

Fluttershy flew into the air and landed back on the couch. “Come cuddle with me.”

Twilight smiled, and walked over to the couch, where Fluttershy held out a foreleg and wing for her to snuggle under. “It’s good to be home,” Twilight said, as she made herself comfortable with the mare she loved.

“So how was the trip?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight nodded, steeling herself for the conversation she’d been practicing in her head all day. “Well, when I talked to Cadance –”

Fluttershy leaned in and kissed her. Twilight was surprised, but her face quickly broke into a goofy grin. It had been far too long since she’d gotten a kiss from Fluttershy. “We can talk about that in a bit,” Fluttershy said. “I’d rather talk about something else, for now. I missed you, Twily. Even with Sunset and Spike around, the house felt empty without you. I just want to enjoy having you back right now.”

Oddly enough, Twilight was finding her worries were dispersing. She’d hoped to get the important stuff out of the way early, as having it loom over her head had kept her on edge for days. But wrapped up in Fluttershy while Fluttershy was wrapped up in her… It made everything else seem so much less important.

“Well, it was hardly a vacation,” Twilight said. “I can’t remember ever being that worried in my life. But it wasn’t all bad.”

“Hmm, seeing Shining and Cadance must have been nice.” Fluttershy leaned her head into Twilight’s shoulder.

“Yeah, it was. I also ran into Amber.”

“How did that go?” Fluttershy asked. Twilight could almost hear the smirk in her voice.

“Good.” Twilight smiled, happy to finally have a chance to share some good news. “Really good, actually. She helped me keep calm on the way there and back.”

“That’s nice. I guess it was lucky you ran into her both ways then.”

“Well, not exactly,” Twilight said. “I was lucky the first time. Then I actually arranged to be on the same train with her on the way back.”

“Really?” Fluttershy lifted her head up. “I thought you, well…”

Twilight chuckled. “You noticed it too? What, am I really that easy to read?”

Fluttershy giggled and snuggled back against her. “A little. But that’s okay.”

“I… apologized to Amber. I know I’ve been a lousy friend to her.” Twilight kissed Fluttershy’s head. “And I’m sorry to you, too. I know I can get… jealous. But I hope you know I always trusted you completely.”

Fluttershy nodded, which made Twilight giggle as Fluttershy’s mane brushed up against her neck. “It’s okay. And if you feel that way again, well, maybe that’ll be another thing we talk about next time?”

“That sounds fair,” Twilight said. “So, how were things around here?”

Although everypony seemed friendly with each other when Twilight first arrived at the cottage, the silence that followed made it easy to tell that the answer wouldn’t be quite so happy. “It was, uhm…” Fluttershy sighed. “The past couple days have been good. Sunset and Spike stayed here with me. Actually… Sunset slept here every night but the first one since you left.”

“Oh, really?” Twilight tried to imagine how that would have happened, but couldn’t. She wanted to ask, but wasn’t sure how to bring up Sunset after everything that happened.

“Uhm… It’s a long story,” Fluttershy said. “Maybe for now you could tell me how the talk with Cadance went?”

Although the sudden subject change worried her, Twilight wasn’t about to argue the point. She took a deep breath. Suddenly everything she planned to say seemed wrong. She had all kinds of facts and statistics that she’d planned on using, but it seemed like a poor explanation. Cadance had even offered to go back with Twilight and help her explain, but Twilight foalishly declined. She reasoned it would sound better coming from her in a private conversation, but that didn’t help if she couldn’t get the explanation out.

At least Fluttershy was patient. She took Twilight’s hoof in hers. “It’s okay, Twily. You can tell me whatever it is. You talked about Sunset, right? Did she help you figure out how you feel about her?”

“Yes.” Twilight’s mouth went dry. She knew she had to explain herself, but also knew how it would sound. “I don’t really love Sunset, but… I do have feelings for her.”

Fluttershy didn’t pull away from her, which had been Twilight’s biggest concern. “I see.”

“I… Fluttershy, I know that sounds really bad, but… I love you, just as much as I always have. I just…” Twilight couldn’t manage to say it.

“Also have feelings for Sunset,” Fluttershy gently finished for her.

Twilight felt her chest tighten. Saying it out loud earlier to Amber had been hard, but actually hearing Fluttershy confirm it? “I’m sorry, Shy, but I can’t help it. And believe me, I never wanted anything like this to come between us. I love you, and I swear I’ll never do anything to hurt you again. I should never have in the first place, and now I know better than to put myself in a situation like that.”

Fluttershy giggled, which immediately shut off Twilight’s brain. “Twily, it’s okay.” She kissed Twilight’s cheek. “I understand.”

“You, uhm… You do?” Twilight blinked.

“Yes,” Fluttershy said. “You know, we do have another friend who knows a lot about that sort of thing.”

At first Twilight couldn’t imagine whom Fluttershy might be talking about, but then she recalled what Amber had suggested on the way to the Crystal Empire. “You talked to Luna?”

Fluttershy smiled and nodded. “I told her what happened, and she helped me understand how you might feel, and what polyamory is.”

Twilight leaned her head against Fluttershy’s. “I’m glad she was able to help.”

“Did you know she’s been in polyamorous relationships before?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight shook her head. She didn’t even know relationships like that were even a thing before talking with Cadance. “No, although I’m not really surprised, knowing Luna. She seems like she’d try anything, just to see how it goes.”

Fluttershy nudged Twilight with her nose. “Is that a bad thing?”

Twilight shrugged. “I guess not. And I can’t say I blame her, considering how long she’s been alive. Plenty of time to try whatever you want, I suppose.”

They sat quietly for a while. Fluttershy ran her hoof over Twilight’s, while Twilight just lay still, enjoying the feeling of being with Fluttershy. “You know,” Fluttershy said eventually, “I’ve kind of been thinking about it.”

“Thinking about what?” Twilight asked.

Fluttershy chuckled and nudged her again. “Really, Twi?”

At first Twilight just cocked her head to the side, but after a moment the realization struck and she stared dumbfounded. Even after she knew other ponies did that, she never really considered it as an option for her and Fluttershy. “You mean… Sunset?”

Fluttershy gave a coy smile. “Well, you know… We could try it out. Just to see how it goes.”

All Twilight could do was stare with her mouth hanging open. Realizing how ridiculous she must look she turned away. “I… I mean… Are you sure?”

Fluttershy rolled Twilight onto her side and shifted positions, so she was practically laying on Twilight. Twilight always loved how small her couch was. “I thought maybe we could invite her to come with us tomorrow,” Fluttershy said.

The date finally made Twilight’s mind catch up with the conversation. “Tomorrow? You want our anniversary to also be our first date with Sunset?”

“Well, it would be kind of fitting, wouldn’t it?” Fluttershy asked. “And uhm… I don’t really want to think about our anniversary as an end to us as a couple, just the two of us. I’d rather remember it as the beginning of a new part of our relationship.”

“That… makes sense,” Twilight said. She couldn’t believe it. She had to be dreaming; there was simply no way Fluttershy would want to do something like that. She frowned. “Why though? I don’t understand, you don’t feel the same way about her, do you?”

“No,” Fluttershy said. She rubbed her hoof along Twilight’s stomach. “But you know, when we first started dating, I didn’t really think of you that way either. I think… I was just tired of being alone at the time, and I decided to give you a chance.”

Twilight rolled onto her back and wrapped both her forelegs around Fluttershy, holding her close. Fluttershy responded by shimmying up so she was face to face with Twilight again. “It was the best decision I ever made.”

Fluttershy kissed her, much more passionately than before. When they pulled apart they smiled at each other wordlessly. Fluttershy kissed Twilight’s nose then laid her head on Twilight’s chest, Fluttershy’s ear pressed to her heart.

Twilight stroked her mane. “We still have to figure out how Sunset feels.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Something tells me she’ll be pretty open to the idea.”

It had been pretty obvious Sunset shared Twilight’s feelings, and she probably elaborated more on that with Fluttershy. Still, that was hardly an indication she even wanted to date Twilight, let alone both of them. “Why do you say that?”

“Because she told me that she loves me.”

“She… what?” Twilight’s head popped up.

Fluttershy turned to face her and smiled. “Twily, you’re not jealous, are you?”

“No, nothing like that,” Twilight answered quickly. “It’s just… I’m surprised. But that’s good, right?” Although Fluttershy was still smiling, Twilight felt guilty for being excited at the idea. “I mean, uhm… if that is good. If you, uh…” Twilight blushed and grabbed Fluttershy’s wing, using it to cover her face. “I’m… gonna stop talking. I’ll be under here, if you need me.”

Fluttershy laughed and pulled her wing away. “Yes, it’s good.”

Twilight kept blushing but smiled all the same. “Well, I guess all that’s left to do is talk to her, then.”

“Well…” Fluttershy sighed. “Before we do, there’s still a few things you should know.”

Fluttershy explained what had happened while Twilight was away. She explained that Morning Breeze was a fake name she made up when she started dating the human Fluttershy, and about the times Fluttershy had found her drunk. She explained about the conversations they’d had, while Twilight mostly listened and started to wonder if a relationship with her was really a good idea.

“You’re sure she’s an alcoholic?” Twilight asked when Fluttershy was finished. “Sounds like a really stressful week, maybe she just overdid it?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “Trust me, Twily. I know.”

“Of course,” Twilight said. “I don’t doubt you, it’s just… hard to believe. I mean, I never saw any signs or anything.”

“Me either.” Fluttershy frowned. “But the important thing is that we need to support her, whatever we end up deciding on.”

Did they really want to add another pony to their relationship that had such a huge problem? It would be challenging enough without having to worry about alcoholism complicating everything. Did they even want to date a third pony anyway? She could already imagine the things everypony would say.

“So what do you think?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight sighed. “I don’t know.”

Fluttershy propped herself back up to a sitting position, pulling Twilight up as well. “Well, I think it’ll be okay. Sunset really wants to get better, and she did finally admit she has a problem. I think she can do it if we’re there to help.”

Twilight nodded and thought about it some more. If anypony had a reason to not want to be with an alcoholic it was Fluttershy, so it would probably be okay if she still thought it was a good idea.

“Hey, Shy? Are you suggesting this so Sunset has a reason to quit drinking?”

Fluttershy didn’t answer right away, instead staring absent-mindedly through a window. “A little. But there’s more to it than that. Even if that wasn’t part of it, I think I’d still want to give this a chance.”

“I just don’t want this to be something you regret,” Twilight said.

Fluttershy smiled. “Twily, I’m not suggesting anything serious. It’s just one date right now, I think we’ll be okay.”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah, I guess that’s true.” She smiled and nudged Fluttershy. “And you know, if you’re not happy with how things are going, we’ll end it. I want the two of us to be happy together more than anything.”

“Okay,” Fluttershy said. She leaned in and smiled mischievously. “But just imagine if things go well. The two of you working together, taking little breaks to snuggle. Or the three of us all cuddled up by the fire in the winter.”

“I, uhm, well, I’m…” Twilight had no idea how to respond and blushed furiously, which Fluttershy seemed to enjoy.

“You’re adorable, is what you are.” Fluttershy kissed her cheek and stood up. “Come on. Poor Spike’s been waiting for you to come back, and Sunset’s probably worried out of her mind.”

Twilight chuckled. “Well, she’s certainly in for a surprise.”

The walk to the castle was significantly better than the walk to the cottage. With her worries behind her and Fluttershy by her side, Twilight was able to fully appreciate being back in town. She wasn’t even worried about what Sunset would say, because either way Fluttershy had forgiven her.

It was well past dinner time when they arrived at the castle. “Think they waited for us?” Twilight asked.

“I hope not,” Fluttershy said, frowning. She shook her head. “You did say to go ahead without us.”

“Still, we better not keep them waiting anymore.” Twilight led the way into the castle. “Spike? Sunset?”

There was no answer, so they began searching. All the while, Twilight grumbled about the castle’s needlessly large size. After deciding they weren’t on the ground floor, they went upstairs, eventually finding them in the library. They were sitting at a table with a bunch of cards spread out in front of them, and didn’t seem to notice they had an audience.

“So then, I can play this one right?” Sunset asked. “And that’ll make this guy strong enough to kill your plant thing?”

“What? Are you sure you’ve never played this before?” Spike eyed Sunset skeptically as she shrugged.

Although she enjoyed seeing Sunset and Spike playing together, it was getting late and Twilight was ready to get things moving. “Having fun?” she asked.

At the sound of Twilight’s voice, Sunset went rigid. Spike, on the other hoof, just smiled and waved excitedly. “Yup! I’m teaching Sunset how to play Hocuspocus: The Get-Together.”

“Oh, do you like those kinds of games, Sunset?” Fluttershy asked.

“It’s not bad,” Sunset said tensely. She set her cards down and turned around, not noticing they were face up.

Twilight chuckled. “Of course, she’s a nerd.” She was hoping teasing Sunset would cause her to retort.

Sunset smiled weakly. “You’re one to talk, Crystal Gaze,” she said, referencing Twilight’s Oubliettes and Ogres character.

Twilight smiled at her success, and hoped it would help Sunset feel at ease. “Oh, I never said I wasn’t a nerd. In fact, I’m the princess of the nerds. Princess of Friendship is just the more marketable title.”

“She’s very proud of it,” Fluttershy said.

Spike laughed. “Yeah, she even has a hidden stash of fanf–”

“Spike!” Twilight teleported to the table and grabbed her brother in a tight hug. “Fluttershy and I have something we need to talk to Sunset about. So how about you run along for now, then maybe later you and I will do something together?”

“Fine.” Spike sighed, but got up nonetheless. He left the cards where they were and left them to talk.

The improvement Twilight had managed on Sunset’s nerves seemed short lived, as she again was looking nervously between Twilight and Fluttershy. “So, uh, how’d everything go?”

“Everything’s okay, Sunset,” Fluttershy said while Twilight levitated over a couple extra chairs. She arranged set them near Sunset’s so the three made a small circle, that way it wouldn’t look like they were ganging up to interrogate her.

Sunset took a deep breath. “Okay, let me start by saying I’m sorry. I understand if you two decided I shouldn’t live here anymore, all I want is for you two to work everything out. And I hope you both want to stay friends with me.”

Twilight and Fluttershy looked at each other and smiled. Fluttershy nodded for Twilight to explain their decision. “Sunset, we don’t want you to move out.”

“Really?” Sunset asked excitedly before Twilight could explain more. “Still, I’m going to do whatever I can to make it up to you.”

“Sunset? I kissed you.” Twilight watched the ground as she spoke. Even given the turn of events she was embarrassed to talk about what happened out loud. “You don’t have to make anything up to me.”

“To either of us,” Fluttershy added.

Sunset smiled at the two of them. “You two are the best. Still, I feel bad about it. It’s not like I wasn’t partly to blame, after all. I promise I’ll be on my best behavior from now on.”

“Well, actually…” Twilight took a deep breath. “We had an idea.”

“Great.” Sunset nodded. “Anything at all, just name it, and I’ll take care of it for you.”

“It’s nothing we want you to do,” Twilight explained. “We were wondering if you wanted to join us tomorrow?”

Sunset looked puzzled. “Sure, but isn’t tomorrow your anniversary?”

Twilight blushed. “Yes, well, what I meant was would you like to join us on a date.”

“I’m… not sure I follow,” Sunset said.

Fluttershy rested a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “Sunset,” she said, “if you want to, we’d like to try going on a date with all three of us. And maybe, if everypony’s happy with how things go, we could include you as part of our relationship.”

Fighting off her embarrassment, Twilight added, “It’s, uhm, a thing some ponies do… apparently.”

“Are you serious?” Sunset asked. She looked less confused, but only because she traded her confusion for shock.

“Yes,” Fluttershy said. “And before you ask, yes, we both agreed on this.”

“It was actually Fluttershy’s idea,” Twilight said, finally recomposing herself properly.

“But…” Sunset shook her head. “Why?”

Fluttershy chuckled. “You know, I just had to explain that to Twily. The simplest answer is we just want to try it. Twilight has feelings for both of us, and you do too. I’m not quite there yet, but I still want to give this a chance.”

On the upside, Fluttershy had the ability to cut through the awkward parts of the conversation and state things simply. On the downside, she was the only one that didn’t feel awkward about it. Both Sunset and Twilight looked around at separate parts of the library while trying to compose themselves. Sunset managed first. “Okay, so what about the wedding?”

Twilight arched an eyebrow. “Uh, we’re asking you on a date. Even if it goes well, nopony’s proposing.”

Sunset shook her head. “No, I mean you two. Are you two still getting married?”

Twilight turned to Fluttershy, realizing they hadn’t directly addressed it. Fluttershy had mentioned it once, but that had been during the argument, so it didn’t necessarily mean anything. “I don’t know… Do you still want to marry me, Shy? I mean, I still want to, but I understand if you don’t.”

Fluttershy smiled and shook her head. “I never said anything about calling off the wedding. Twily, I love you. Of course I still want to marry you.”

Twilight reached out a hoof for Fluttershy’s and smiled as she took it. She turned back to see Sunset smiling contently.

“Well, as long as the wedding’s still on, then I’ll give it a shot.” Sunset laughed. “I mean, of course I will. Seriously, this is the best thing I could have asked for.”

“Good.” Fluttershy nodded. “Now, Spike’s missed you very much, and he’s probably getting tired of hiding behind that bookcase.”

Twilight whipped her head in the direction Fluttershy was looking and, sure enough, saw the tip of a purple tail disappearing. “Spike!” Twilight levitated him over. For some reason he still tried to scurry away, even though he knew by now Twilight’s magic field wouldn’t be letting go of him. “Have you been listening the whole time?”

Giving up on escaping, Spike sighed. “Yeah…”

Twilight dispelled her magic and facehoofed. “What am I going to do with you?” When she opened her eyes he was staring regretfully at the floor. She sighed. “I should ground you, or give you a ton of extra chores, or, I don’t know, something! But luckily for you I missed you too. Come here, ya brat.”

Spike jumped into her open foreleg. “So, Spike,” Fluttershy said, “what do you think of this?”

Pulling away from Twilight, Spike looked from Fluttershy to Sunset. “I dunno. I guess it’s a little strange, but as long as everypony’s happy, I guess that’s all that matters. Right?”

“Right,” Twilight said. She turned to Fluttershy and smirked. “If you knew he was there then why didn’t you say anything sooner?”

Fluttershy grinned. “Well, by the time I realized he was there, it was already too late.” She turned to address Spike. “Now, Spike. You do know better than to listen in on somepony else’s conversations. Even though you’re not in trouble this time, I want you to promise you won’t do it again.”

Spike nodded. “I promise. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

Sunset burst out laughing. “I’m sorry, but what was that?”

“A Pinkie Pie swear,” Spike said.

“Pinkie.” Sunset shook her head. “I should have known that came from Pinkie.”

Fluttershy took a good look at Twilight and seemed to notice something in her face. “Spike, I know you were hoping to spend some time with Twilight, but I think Twilight and I are ready for bed. Maybe you can finish your game with Sunset and we’ll do something another time. All four of us.”

Until Fluttershy mentioned it, Twilight hadn’t even realized how tired she was. But once she did, she felt it hit her hard. “Sleep sounds good.”

“Go on, I’ll make sure Spike gets to bed on time,” Sunset said.

Spike folded his arms. “I can do that myself.”

For some reason Twilight didn’t understand, Fluttershy and Sunset exchanged skeptical expressions. “No, you can’t,” Sunset said.

Spike grumbled, and complained even louder when Fluttershy kissed him on the head. Twilight saw him smile out of the corner of her eye when he thought no one was looking, though.

“Good night, Twilight, Fluttershy,” Sunset said. She kept her distance and waved, causing Fluttershy to shake her head as she walked over to give Sunset a hug.

Twilight stood up and tried to lead the way out, but Fluttershy rolled her eyes and pushed her towards Sunset. Twilight and Sunset hesitated for a moment before hugging.

“Good night, Sunset.”

“Good night, Twi.” Sunset rubbed her neck. “I guess I better figure out what I’m gonna wear tomorrow.”

Twilight walked away with a goofy smile, and blushed when she saw Fluttershy. Even if they just hugged, Twilight still felt like the whole exchange was somehow inappropriate. Fluttershy didn’t seem to think so, as she just smiled warmly as she led the way out. Twilight looked back one last time to see Sunset looked ecstatic at how things had gone.

“So, still worried we’ll regret the decision?” Fluttershy asked once they were in the hall. She smiled knowingly, which caused Twilight to blush.

Unable to hold it in any longer Twilight finally let out a giddy laugh. “I’m so excited! I forgot how exciting the night before our first date was, and this time it’s even better because I don’t have to feel nervous about it, and –” She stopped suddenly and looked to Fluttershy. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound like a date with Sunset is better than a date with you.”

“I know,” Fluttershy said. “It’s okay, Twilight. I’m happy you’re so happy, and I’m looking forward to it too.”

Twilight leaned against Fluttershy as they reached the bedroom. “You know, the reason tomorrow’s kind of better? Because I know you’ll be there beside me, so I don’t have anything to worry about.”

Fluttershy nudged Twilight. “That’s nice, Twily, but can we go to bed now? I’m really tired.”

“How’d you know I was so tired, anyway?” Twilight asked as they walked into the bedroom.

“Aside from just looking like you’re about to pass out? I don’t think any of us have slept well recently.”

“True,” Twilight said. She climbed into the bed and stretched out. “But I don’t think I’ll have that problem tonight.”

Fluttershy climbed into the bed next to her. “No, me either.”

“Goodnight, Shy.” Twilight propped herself and kissed Fluttershy.

Before Twilight could pull away Fluttershy wrapped a foreleg around her head, keeping her locked in the kiss. Twilight reached a hoof to stroke Fluttershy’s mane, but Fluttershy rolled over, keeping her hooves on Twilight’s shoulders and pinning her onto the bed.

Twilight laughed. “What happened to going to bed?”

Fluttershy smiled wickedly. “Soon.” She leaned down close enough that her breath made Twilight’s ear twitch. “But first, I still have one more night with you all to myself, and I’m going to make the most of it.”

~End Act II~

14 – Playing by the Rules

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Where the Heart Is

Chapter Fourteen

Playing by the Rules

By pony standards, Sunset owned quite a lot of clothes, especially considering she’d only been living in Equestria for two months. Still, as she looked over her wardrobe – mostly crumpled in a heap on her bed – she found it wasn’t enough. Sure, her clothes were nice, but she had a date. Twilight and Fluttershy had actually asked her to join them, and on their anniversary no less! How could she possibly wear any of these dresses when they’d seen her in them time and time again? The pony convention of going around naked had the appeal of making one stand out while wearing clothes. But she’d ignored that convention, and she wasn’t about to start following it the day of her big date.

She took a deep breath and looked into the mirror. She forced a confident smile onto her face. She’d been on plenty of dates and was way past the point of becoming a nervous wreck before each one. ‘Geez, I’ve got to get a hold of myself. Just because I have a date with Twilight doesn’t mean I have to start freaking out like her,’ Sunset reminded herself. Then she started giggling like a filly, because she had a date with Twilight! And Fluttershy! It was strange to imagine dating two ponies at once, but she never dwelled on that thought for long. Even just having this chance was more than she could ask for, so to hell with conventional romance.

Still, there was the matter of what to wear. Resolving not to let herself get worked up about it, Sunset turned back to her clothes. She reminded herself that she was actually quite good at this sort of thing, and gave each outfit due consideration. Her eye caught on the only one Twilight and Fluttershy hadn’t seen her in too often. It was an elaborate ensemble of interconnecting pieces, and the last time she’d worn it had been after picking those pieces off the floor of her parents’ guest room.

She held it against her body and re-examined her reflection. There were definitely some awkward memories tied into the dress, but it was the only one that might still look relatively new to her dates. Making a good impression at the cost of a few uncomfortable memories? She could handle that. She’d have Rarity make her some new outfits later, so this wasn’t a continuous problem.

She took her time dressing, making sure every piece of the outfit was perfectly in place. Once she was finished, she turned to her makeup. Although they’d both been impressed with what she’d had done with Twilight on the night of their engagement, she chose to tone it down a bit. No matter how well the date went, Sunset would definitely be spending the night in her own bed, so there was no need to try for a seductive look. It was only a first date, and the last thing she wanted to do was present herself inappropriately during their anniversary.

It would have been nice if the date wasn’t also their anniversary. Sunset couldn’t help but feel intrusive, even if they had been the ones to ask her to join them. She had no idea what possessed them to combine both days, but there was no way she was going to ask them if they could do it another time. This was too perfect to risk changing anything, so all she could do was go along with whatever happened.

‘Well, go along with whatever happens and look stunning doing it,’ she thought as she examined her reflection. She had no idea what would happen, but if she didn’t get a second date, it wouldn’t be because of her appearance. As she looked herself over, however, her eyes still managed to fall on the one detail that made her frown.

It was past time, and she knew it. But as she removed her necklace, she still felt torn. It was a simple act; she took hold of the clasp in her magic and undid it, pulling the necklace off and gently setting it next to the mirror. Her hoof reached up to her bare neck, and she could feel the past calling to her. She looked down at the necklace and felt the urge to say something. Some kind of goodbye, or maybe an apology. She wasn’t sure what would be appropriate. In the end she just laughed at herself, if only to keep from crying. “It’s just a necklace,” she said out loud. “And I am not ruining this makeup over a necklace.” Guiltily, she opened a drawer and placed the necklace inside.

It was time to leave the bedroom. She needed to find some way to keep herself occupied, and the sun had risen. She’d woken up before dawn, too excited to sleep anymore, and decided to get an early start on getting ready for the day. It was probably a smart move, since they never did tell her what the plan was, or even what time to get ready. The whole conversation had been a strange one for all of them, and the conversation they must have had at Fluttershy’s cottage after she left with Spike couldn’t have been much better, so she couldn’t really blame them. In any event, she was ready well before they would expect her to be.

Stepping into the hallway, she stopped by Twilight and Fluttershy’s door, just to see if they were up and about, but there was no sound from within. With any luck, they were finally managing a good night’s sleep. Fluttershy never said so, but Sunset could tell she hadn’t been sleeping well with Twilight gone. The same was probably true for Twilight herself. Sunset continued along down the hall as quietly as she could, and made her way downstairs.

To her surprise, she could hear somepony busying themselves in the kitchen. At this hour it could only be Fluttershy, and she wondered if she should go talk to her. She wasn’t too worried about being with the two of them – well, yes, actually she was incredibly nervous about that – but the idea of being alone with either Twilight or Fluttershy felt far more awkward. The last time she had been alone with Twilight had resulted in a disastrous ordeal, and even if things were looking up now, she couldn’t forgive herself for it. And being alone with Fluttershy didn’t seem much better; even if they had spent a lot of time together over the past week, Fluttershy was bound to be the least interested in this new arrangement.

Sunset glanced back up the stairs, considering just waiting in her room until somepony came and got her. ‘I’m being ridiculous,’ she decided, and kept her head high as she walked into the kitchen. She was met with instant relief, as the sound had been Spike.

“What are you doing up this early?” Sunset asked, causing him to jump.

“Well good morning to you too,” Spike answered, stirring some sort of batter in a large bowl.

“Yeah yeah, good morning and all that,” Sunset said, taking a seat. “So, what are you up to?”

“Well, it is Twilight and Fluttershy’s anniversary today, so I thought I’d make them breakfast.”

“Aww, aren’t you the sweetest thing.”

Spike gave her a dirty look. “You know, I was going to make some for you too.”

Sunset grinned. “What? It was a compliment!” she insisted. Spike just rolled his eyes and returned to the bowl. “You want any help?”

“Aren’t you really bad at cooking?” Spike asked.

Sunset shrugged. “I’m better than Twilight.”

Spike laughed. “That’s not saying a whole lot, you know.”

“I know.”

“I think I’ll manage alright on my own,” Spike said, shaking his head. “Besides, today’s kind of a big deal for you, too.”

‘Kind of a big deal’ felt like one hell of an understatement, but she was touched Spike was so supportive of their decision. She had expected plenty of questions after Twilight and Fluttershy had gone to bed, but he didn’t really seem to think much of it. Maybe it was just his age, but he was more interested in finishing their card game, which he managed to win by a landslide. Sunset claimed she was just distracted, and they were already planning a rematch.

“So, uh” – Sunset fixed a strap on her dress – “got any tips?”

Spike snorted. “Hey, I know I’m a pretty suave guy, but I don’t think you want to ask me for dating advice.”

“Trust me, I don’t,” Sunset retorted playfully. “I meant more like… insider info.”

Spike pulled the spoon out of the bowl and swiped a finger across it. He licked the batter off his finger and nodded his approval. “I dunno. Twi likes books, and Fluttershy likes stuffed animals.”

“I’d be truly lost without your expert guidance.” Sunset levitated a pan over to him, which he set on the stove. “Oh well, it’s not like they gave me much time to prepare anything special for them anyway.”

“They both like pancakes,” Spike said, as he poured the batter into the pan.

Sunset chuckled. “I’ll have to keep that in mind for next time, but it looks like you’ve already got that covered.”

Spike winked at her. “Or you do.”

“I… do?”

“Well, I thought it’d probably mean more coming from you than me.”

As she caught on to what he meant, a smile slowly spread across Sunset’s face. “Spike, that’s really nice of you, but I can’t take credit for something you did.”

“Sure you can,” Spike said. “It’s no different from when you let Twilight take credit for what you did after their last big date.”

“I, well…” As much as she didn’t want to admit it, he did have a point. “Thank you, Spike. It means a lot to me that you would do that, but I wouldn’t feel right. And they’d probably figure it out anyway, since they both know cooking isn’t really my forte.”

Spike slouched a bit. “But I really want today to go well for you, too.”

Ever since she first moved into the castle, she’d been immediately endeared to Twilight’s little brother. As time went on, it seemed everything he did just made her care about him more and more. “Okay, I have a compromise.” She stood up and walked over to him. “How about I help, then we can both take credit. Pretty sure even I can’t mess up too bad, not when I’m working with such an expert chef.”

Spike stood up straighter. “Okay, but you better not! My good name is on the line here.”

Honestly, there wasn’t much left to do. Spike had already made the batter, so Sunset just helped with the cooking. Sunset wasn’t really that bad of a cook. She could handle pancakes on her own, really. But she played along, and let Spike ‘teach’ her how to do it, since he seemed so excited to do so. Before too long they had plenty for everyone, and Spike ran upstairs to wake the sleeping couple.

While he was gone, Sunset made use of her time alone to give her outfit another once over. Satisfied that it was perfect, she sat down and waited. Spike returned before long, but he was alone.

“Everything okay?” Sunset asked.

“Yeah, Twilight’s just slow to get up in the morning,” Spike answered. He took a seat at the table next to Sunset.

“Maybe we should’ve just let them sleep.” Sunset looked at her plate guiltily. She’d been pretty eager to start the day, so when Spike said he was going to wake them, she hadn’t even given it a second thought.

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Spike said. “If she really wants to sleep, breakfast won’t be enough to get Twilight up.”

“If you say so.”

Either Spike was wrong about breakfast’s allure, or she’d found some other reason to get up, because within a few minutes both Twilight and Fluttershy walked into the kitchen. Fluttershy looked peppy, but Twilight kind of shuffled along, seemingly still half asleep.

“Good morning,” Fluttershy said cheerfully.

Twilight mumbled something incoherent.

“Good morning, you two,” Sunset said. “Sleep well?”

At the sound of her voice, Twilight perked up. She looked slightly embarrassed, like she hadn’t realized Sunset was in the room. “Good morning, Sunset.”

It was a little funny seeing Twilight concerned with how she looked, since Sunset had seen her stumbling around in the mornings plenty of times. Then again, considering Sunset was already dressed and ready for a date that probably wouldn’t be happening for hours, she couldn’t really judge too much.

Meanwhile, Fluttershy just seemed amused by both of them. “Yes, we did,” she said, answering the question Sunset had already forgot she’d asked. “These look delicious, Spike. Thank you so much.”

“No problem,” Spike said. “Actually though, Sunset helped me make them.”

“Really? Well then, thank you too, Sunset.” Fluttershy sat next to Sunset, with Twilight on her other side.

“You’re welcome, but it really was more Spike than me,” Sunset said. She levitated everyone their breakfast.

While everyone began eating, Sunset couldn’t help but wonder if Fluttershy had intentionally put herself in between her and Twilight. She couldn’t exactly blame her, but she desperately wanted to understand the rules she was supposed to be playing by. Of course, she knew that if asked, Fluttershy would insist that there was no significance to how they were sitting, whether there was or not. Plus, she certainly didn’t want to make it seem like she would prefer to sit next to Twilight since, along with not being the case, it was by no means a message she wanted to send.

Since she was already pulling apart anything she could for hidden meanings, the way Fluttershy kept glancing at Twilight didn’t escape Sunset’s attention. Twilight remained completely oblivious, and seemed to have given up her attempt to not look like she was practically still asleep. At one point, Fluttershy even tried nudging Twilight under the table, but as far as Sunset could tell, the sleepy alicorn just took hold of her hoof and kept eating. Sunset had to fight off the urge to laugh, since she was trying to pretend she hadn’t noticed anything.

Eventually, Fluttershy gave up and smiled at Sunset. “You look nice today.”

Sunset stared at her hooves, flustered by the compliment, even if it was a perfectly neutral one. “Oh, uh, thank you,” she said. She had to stop herself from answering ‘you too,’ since Twilight and Fluttershy had just woken up and weren’t actually ready yet. Not that they didn’t look nice – as far as Sunset was concerned, they both looked amazing no matter what – but she wasn’t sure saying so would be appropriate. How flirtatious was she allowed to be, anyway?

Looking up revealed Twilight was smiling, even if she seemed a bit surprised as well. “Is that what you’re wearing today?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Sunset said, then reconsidered. “I mean, I can change it.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean it like that,” Twilight said. “You look really –” she paused, only for a moment, and glanced at Fluttershy “– nice.”

“Thanks,” Sunset said. For some reason, it was less awkward to hear the same compliment from Twilight. She wasn’t sure if it was because she was more prepared for it, or because Twilight seemed to feel just as awkward as she did. “I just wasn’t sure what the plan was, so I hope this is appropriate for it.”

Twilight’s composure shifted immediately, suddenly flustered at the realization that she had forgotten something. “Oh, you’re right, I completely forgot about that. I’m sorry, no wonder you got ready so early!”

“Relax, it’s not a big deal,” Sunset assured her. “But while we’re on the subject, what is the plan?”

“Well, we spent so much of this past year touring around Equestria, and then so much time focusing on the wedding plans,” Twilight explained, “so we thought it would be nice to just have a quiet day around Ponyville.”

“Applejack offered to take care of the animals for me today, so we have the whole day to ourselves,” Fluttershy said. “First we were going to take a boat ride through town before it got too hot, then a picnic around lunchtime in a field near my cottage. After that, we were just going to see what we felt like doing. But that was before we knew you were joining us, and we wouldn’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to.”

“No no, that sounds great,” Sunset said, smiling broadly. “I mean, if you two want some alone time too, I could always sit part of the day out, that’s completely fine.”

Sunset and Twilight both turned to Fluttershy, who took a moment to realize she was going to be making the decision. “Oh, uhm, I thought we could spend the whole day together. What do you think, Twily?”

The look on Twilight’s face answered before she was able to herself. “As long as that’s what you want to do, it sounds good to – Spike! Put that pancake down!”

Sunset glanced over and saw Spike frozen in place with one claw hovering over her pancakes, while his own plate had nothing but a small puddle of syrup on it. Sunset laughed at his attempted theft, then pushed her plate to him. “You can have the rest of mine. I’m full anyway.”

“Thanks!” Spike said, wasting no time in digging into the plate.

“I think I’m done too,” Fluttershy said, standing up. “I’ll start getting everything together for the picnic.”

“I’ll help.”

“Want a han– er, hoof with that?”

Fluttershy smiled and looked between Sunset and Twilight. “Thank you both, but Twily, you’re still eating. Sunset, if you wouldn’t mind, could you help me gather everything for sandwiches?”

“Of course,” Sunset said, standing up as well.

It didn’t take long for the two of them to get everything ready for the picnic, then Fluttershy and Twilight went back upstairs to get ready.

After a few minutes of trying her best not to panic, Sunset followed them upstairs as well, going into her room to check her makeup. She decided she looked fine, then redid it anyway. She paced around for a while, then went back downstairs. She checked the kitchen for Spike, hoping she’d have some company while waiting nervously, but he’d already run off somewhere.

At least it didn’t take Twilight and Fluttershy long to get ready, as they dressed accordingly for their casual day in town. They had both chosen sundresses, light blue for Fluttershy and magenta for Twilight. Fluttershy was wearing an oversized hat, as well. As Sunset approached them, she noticed their perfume – the scents of white jasmine and water lilies complemented one another well.

“I hope you don’t mind that we’re not dressed as nicely as you,” Twilight said. “We didn’t really want to draw too much attention. Maybe we can avoid any awkward questions this way.”

“I don’t mind at all, you both look beautiful,” Sunset said before considering if it was okay for her to say so. Both of them blushed, while Fluttershy bowed her head to hide her eyes behind the brim of her hat. “I, uhm, I meant… nice, you look nice.”

Twilight just grinned sheepishly at the awkward compliment, while Fluttershy stepped next to Sunset. “Thank you, Sunset. You’re very sweet.”

Sunset smiled for a moment, but her expression was changed to one of bewilderment as Fluttershy kissed her cheek. “I, uh…” Sunset trailed off into a small laugh as her smile returned.

“Is everypony ready?” Fluttershy asked, apparently unfazed by the mare she’d sent over the moon.

Snapping out of it, Sunset barely noticed Twilight’s expression in time. She looked just as surprised as Sunset felt, but there was something else. Was she upset Fluttershy had kissed another mare, even if it was just on the cheek? Or was she jealous of Fluttershy, since she seemed to be the only one that clearly understood the rules? There was also the chance Sunset had just imagined it, since Twilight resumed her happy smile almost immediately. Still, as they left the castle, Sunset couldn’t help but wonder if she’d already messed up.

Ponyville’s river was really more of a creek, but that didn’t stop somepony from opening up boat rentals. Oddly enough, the thing that stuck out the most as they approached the small dock was nothing at all. There was no sign advertising the business, or a list of prices, or anything else that would indicate the dock was for anything other than personal use.

Despite this, Twilight said the business must have been doing well, since they’d recently hired Big Mac to build another boat. The longer she stayed in Ponyville, the more surprises Sunset discovered. Everywhere she went, there seemed to be some local secret just beneath the surface.

They were met by a young mare upon arrival, who wasted no time in enthusiastically greeting them. “Princess Twilight, Miss Fluttershy!”

“Hello, Brisk Storm,” Twilight greeted the mare warmly. She seemed even more excited now that Twilight remembered her name. “Are you looking after things yourself today?”

“Yup!” Brisk Storm announced proudly. She couldn’t have older than fourteen, and probably wasn’t used to running things by herself. “And I have everything all ready for you two!”

“Oh my, that certainly is a lot of responsibility,” Fluttershy said. Brisk Storm stood up straight and put on a serious expression to better show Fluttershy she could handle it.

“There’s been a bit of a change in plans, though,” Twilight said.

The change in Brisk Storm’s composure was as instant as it was drastic. Twilight may as well have told her there was a ban on Hearth’s Warming, she couldn’t have looked any more distraught. “You’re not cancelling, are you?”

“No, nothing like that,” Twilight reassured her quickly. “We’d just like to switch to a bigger boat, if one is available. One that seats three ponies.”

Brisk Storm seemed to notice Sunset for the first time. “Oh, are you with the princess?”

Sunset idly wondered how she could have thought anything else, but didn’t say so. “Yeah, I’m like… a royal guard.” Twilight had to look away so she wouldn’t show the look on her face as she held back her laughter.

Brisk Storm regarded her with a suspicious expression. “You don’t really look like a guard.”

Sunset glanced around as if to make sure nopony was looking. She leaned in conspiratorially, and Brisk Storm did the same. “That’s because I’m in disguise. I’ve been guarding Princess Twilight and Lady Fluttershy for months, on account of the royal wedding. You heard about what happened at Princess Mi Amore Cadenza’s wedding?” Brisk Storm nodded solemnly. “Well, it’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen here. But I’m like a secret weapon the changelings don’t know about, one they can’t know about. So can I count on you to keep this between us?”

Brisk Storm took a step back and saluted, and Sunset mirrored the gesture. She didn’t dare look at Twilight or Fluttershy, knowing that one wrong look could cause a chain reaction of laughter among the three of them.

“One three-pony boat, for the princess, the lady, and their friend.” Brisk Storm winked, and they followed her to the dock. There were half a dozen boats tied to it, and Brisk Storm held one steady as they climbed in.

Fluttershy walked on first, sitting on one side, with Twilight in the middle and Sunset on the opposite side. She contemplated what it meant that Fluttershy sat next to her at breakfast, while now she sat Twilight between them. Both times it had been Fluttershy who chose her seat first. Was there some intent behind it, or was Sunset seeing signs that weren’t there?

Brisk Storm untied the knot and pushed the boat to get them moving. “Enjoy yourselves!” Sunset turned around to wave, realizing once she turned back that Twilight and Fluttershy were both staring at her.

Twilight smiled. “I didn’t know you were good with kids.”

‘More like good at lying,’ Sunset thought. But she was trying to put her best hoof forward, so she kept that thought inside. “I don’t think I’m that good with them. Besides, she was already hanging on your every word before you even said anything.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Twily’s very popular with kids.”

“Just Twi?” Sunset asked. “I’m sure you’re pretty popular too, Fluttershy.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Fluttershy said.

“Don’t let her modesty trick you, Shy has plenty of her own fans too.” The river current pulled them along gently, while Twilight occasionally fixed their course by adjusting the rudder. “A lot of younger ponies see us as role models, which is a little weird, but it’s better than being looked down on because we’re gay. I think younger ponies are more accepting, most of the time.”

Sunset scoffed. “Yeah, if you’re a princess.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked.

Sunset shrugged. “I dunno, maybe it’s just a difference between humans and ponies.” She wasn’t sure why she’d brought it up, since she didn’t really feel like talking about growing up. A look at Twilight and Fluttershy revealed she wasn’t getting out of it, though. She sighed. “Well, I didn’t really pay attention to other ponies too much when I lived in Canterlot, so I don’t really know what ponies are like at that age. But after going through the mirror, my school experience wound up very different. I noticed what other kids were doing a lot more, and a lot of it wasn’t very ‘accepting’ when it came to anyone who wasn’t straight.”

Fluttershy leaned against Twilight. “I know what you mean. In Cloudsdale there were a lot of rumors going around about Rainbow and me. It… didn’t turn out so good in the end.”

Nopony spoke for a while. Twilight focused on steering the boat, while Fluttershy continued to use her as a pillow. Sunset stared into the water, watching her distorted reflection. ‘Why the hell did I start talking about that? That’s about the furthest from a friendly first date topic as it gets.’ She turned away from the reflection, determined to turn the conversation around. “Not all kids are bad, though. Spike seems way more accepting than any other kid I’ve met.”

Bringing up Spike seemed to do the trick. Even if he was Twilight’s brother, both she and Fluttershy seemed to have a huge soft spot for him, as evident by their smiles. “Spike may be a brat sometimes, but he’s a good kid,” Twilight said. “It’s not too surprising though, considering how he was raised.”

“How’s that?” Sunset asked.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Well, my mom certainly didn’t lay a dragon egg. Ever since he was little there’ve been… concerns. Some ponies said a dragon living in Canterlot wasn’t safe, or that ponies couldn’t properly care for a dragon. One of my neighbors even petitioned to have a new law passed to outlaw ponies adopting ‘dangerous’ species.”

Sunset smirked. “I bet Celestia had a field day with that one.”

Twilight smiled and shook her head. “Actually, she didn’t have to do anything. Once my parents heard about it, they fought the proposition with everything they had. I’m sure Princess Celestia would never have allowed a law like that to be passed, but they shut it down before it even reached her desk.”

Sunset nudged her. “Well, I guess I see why you’re so headstrong now.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Twilight can be pretty much just like her mom. Which is a good thing.”

“Anyway,” Twilight continued, “even though I don’t think Spike knows about that, he does know how much they love him, and that a lot of ponies were against that. He’s known his whole life that love isn’t always conventional, but that doesn’t make it any less real.”

Fluttershy smiled up at Twilight, who smiled back at her. But just when it was the perfect moment for them to kiss, Twilight looked away. Fluttershy blinked a few times, but kept resting against Twilight.

“They really are great,” Twilight said, awkwardly forcing them back to the conversation. “But you’ll see that for yourself when you meet them.”

Sunset snapped to attention. “I, uh… okay.”

Twilight looked confused until Fluttershy tapped her on the shoulder. “Don’t you think that’s rushing things just a little too much?”

“Huh?” Twilight kept her puzzled look for a moment more before facehoofing. “I wasn’t… I didn’t mean… The wedding! I meant you’ll meet them at the wedding since, you know, they’ll be there, and you’ll be there, and… I’m just gonna stop talking.”

Fluttershy patted her back. “That’s probably a good idea.”

As they gently floated down the river, Twilight kept to her decision to stop talking. Sunset wasn’t sure how to fill the silence either. The thought of meeting Twilight’s parents was daunting, even if Twilight didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. Explaining the nature of their relationship would be awkward, and even if they accepted it, what was she supposed to say if they asked how they got together?

Thankfully, Fluttershy ended the awkward silence before too long. “It’s so nice out today.”

Even if it was only idle small talk, the comment brought Sunset back into the moment. The wedding was still four months away, and the only reason she’d even have to worry about the conversation would be if the relationship worked out. If that happened, then meeting Twilight’s parents was hardly a concern.

“It’s strange seeing the town like this,” Sunset said. “Like a whole other side to Ponyville.”

“There’s still a lot to Ponyville you probably haven’t seen,” Fluttershy said. “But between me and Twily, I’m sure we can get you caught up in no time.”

“Thanks, but don’t worry about getting me acquainted with everything too fast,” Sunset said. “I like trying new things with you two, and I’m not looking forward to running out of them.”

Fluttershy grinned and nudged Twilight. “Or maybe Canterlot mares just take a little longer to get used to small town life.”

“Oh?” Sunset smirked. “Didn’t you tell me you fell in love with Ponyville immediately?”

Twilight smiled sheepishly. “Well, I guess maybe it wasn’t immediate.”

Fluttershy tapped on her chin. “What was it you said the first night you came here? Everypony in this town is crazy?”

“Oh, they are,” Twilight said. “But before too long, I was crazy too, so everything worked out in the end.”

“I can’t really imagine you ever not being crazy,” Fluttershy said. “I think you just needed to adjust your type of crazy to our type of crazy.”

Everypony laughed, then they continued to talk about life in Ponyville. The rest of boat ride went pleasantly enough, but Sunset never could shake the feeling that she wasn’t supposed to be there.

She tried to give them room to talk about things that didn’t involve her, like reminiscing about memories they’d shared over the past two years, but there was a noticeable change in the couple’s behavior. To any onlookers, the two years of love would be invisible; they’d only see three friends spending time together. And while that was fine for Sunset, only being a first date and all, she’d come to expect more affection between Twilight and Fluttershy.

To this end, the size of the boat only made it worse. They were forced together by proximity, so the distance Sunset had put between the couple was all the more noticeable. As nice as the boat ride should have been, Sunset was actually glad when it ended. She kept a bit of distance while they walked towards the field they were going to have their picnic in, hoping that it would encourage the couple to act more naturally.

The field was beautiful, all in bloom with wildflowers. Every color imaginable was sprouting from the ground, from sunflowers that were even taller than Sunset, to alstroemerias around her shoulders, with thousands of daisies in just as many colors filling in everywhere. It was also dotted with trees, the outskirts of the Everfree Forest slowly creeping up on Ponyville.

Although one place seemed as good as any other, Twilight and Fluttershy walked towards the same tree in an unspoken agreement on their destination. Sunset followed suit, spreading out a blanket where they chose to stop.

“This place is so nice,” Sunset said, sitting down across from the couple.

“This is my favorite place,” Fluttershy said. She smiled at Twilight, another unspoken message.

Twilight smiled at her for just a moment, then opened the basket and began passing out sandwiches. Fluttershy’s frown was brief, but clear. Sunset wasn’t the only one who had noticed something was amiss. Judging by her clueless smile, it seemed Twilight was oblivious as ever.

Sunset did her best to not worry about it. Bringing it up seemed more likely to cause problems, so she tried to just focus on eating her sandwich instead. That is, until Fluttershy brought it up.

“You know,” she said, “you two don’t have to be so nervous.”

“What makes you say that?” Twilight asked. She had a smile that was almost too casual, and gave away how nervous she really was.

“I’m not nervous,” Sunset said, but noticing Twilight’s nervous smile made her realize she had an identical one.

Fluttershy just gave a small sigh. “Sunset, will you please come sit next to me?”

Her glance shifted first to Twilight, before nodding and standing up. She walked around the food and sat down closer to Fluttershy, then smiled reassuringly, as if it somehow proved she wasn’t nervous.

It didn’t matter that Sunset had intentionally left some space between them, as Fluttershy shifted closer to her so their bodies were pressed together. She turned to Twilight and pulled her closer, more than closing the gap she’d created by moving towards Sunset, leaving herself snugly placed in between the two larger mares. She smiled at each of them in turn. “There. You two do realize that this is a date, right?”

“I, uhm…” Sunset blushed and turned away. She could imagine Twilight was probably doing the same.

“You know,” Fluttershy said, “it would probably help you both if you just said what you’re so worried about.”

Even with an invitation, the idea of talking about her reservations made Sunset’s mouth go dry. She’d just make up some excuse about first date nerves, and –

“You’re right,” Twilight said, before Sunset had the chance to say anything. “I guess I’m just not sure what’s okay and what’s not. I mean, the last thing I want to do is anything that’ll make you feel uncomfortable, Shy.”

“Me too,” Sunset said. Whether she wanted to talk about what was on her mind or not, it was important to make sure they knew she wouldn’t try to overstep her bounds.

“And the same goes for you, Sunset,” Twilight said. “This is an important day for Fluttershy and me, but it’s also supposed to be about all three of us.”

And there it was. The confirmation of what Sunset was afraid of. She was the reason their anniversary was going poorly. “That’s why you’ve been acting distant. Because of me.”

Twilight frowned. “I didn’t think I was acting distant… I just didn’t want to do anything that would make you feel like you’re just tagging along on our date.”

“But I wouldn’t,” Sunset said. “Actually, it’s just the opposite. I really like seeing you two… uhm…” She looked down at her hooves. “Seeing you two being affectionate is nice. It’s obvious how much you love each other. And, well…”

“Everypony likes seeing the ponies they care about happy,” Fluttershy finished. Sunset nodded. “So then, it looks like there’s two options. We can either keep acting like this isn’t a date, which hasn’t really worked too well so far, or we can all accept that it is. I know I would rather spend my anniversary on a date with two mares than none.”

Sunset and Twilight both turned to look at Fluttershy at the same time, and in the process made eye contact, which caused them both to blush and turn away. Fluttershy giggled. “You’re both adorable.”

Blushing even more, Sunset managed to turn back towards them in time to see Twilight and Fluttershy exchange a small kiss. Being so close to the two ponies she loved while they kissed, even if it was a simple peck on the lips, brought a smile to Sunset’s face. “I think I’m going to have to second that opinion. I’d definitely like this date more if we stopped worrying so much.”

Twilight nuzzled her face into Fluttershy’s shoulder, which didn’t completely mask her blush. Fluttershy also blushed, but she ignored it and just smiled happily. “Is that also what you’ve been so worried about, Sunset? Making me and Twily uncomfortable?”

Sunset was tempted to also hide her face in Fluttershy, as she joined the others in blushing. “I… well, yeah. I guess… I just wish I knew what the rules for this sort of thing are.”

Fluttershy rested her hoof on Sunset’s. “You know, we didn’t stay up last night making up a bunch of rules that we didn’t tell you about. We’re all kind of figuring this out as we go. The important thing is that if anything comes up that does make one of us uncomfortable, we’ll just talk about it.”

That seemed easier said than done. “Yeah, but I just… I don’t want to do anything that’ll make either of you upset in the first place.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I know, but sometimes you have to try things. This morning when I kissed your cheek, I didn’t know what Twily would think.” She turned to Twilight. “So, what do you think, Twily?”

Twilight chuckled. “I know I’ve had trouble with jealousy in the past, but I’m pretty sure I can handle a kiss on the cheek. Especially given the circumstances.”

Even Sunset couldn’t help but laugh at herself a bit. “And I, uh, I guess sitting next to you is also on the list of things I should feel silly for being worried about.”

“It’s okay,” Twilight said. “I’ve been worried about pretty much every single thing I’ve done today. Believe it or not, I kept trying to figure out if Fluttershy was intentionally choosing whom she was sitting next to, and if there was any specific meaning to it.”

“Really?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset chuckled. “Yeah, Twi. Who would worry about something like that? Besides, you know, the two of us.”

Fluttershy giggled. “You too? I promise I’m not trying to test you or anything like that. I really haven’t thought about who was sitting where at all.”

Twilight and Sunset were both able to laugh at themselves. Sunset was glad to hear she wasn’t the only one worried about stupid things, but was even happier to see Twilight and Fluttershy return to their usual loving selves.

“You know, it’s a good thing we chose sandwiches for lunch,” Sunset said once everypony stopped laughing. “Anything else would have gotten cold by now.”

The rest of their day was much better. Sunset couldn’t quite dispel all her worries, but she let a lot of them go. She stopped worrying about whether she was sitting next to Twilight or Fluttershy, in any case.

The highlight of her evening happened when they were watching a play at Ponyville’s only theatre. Although there were many ponies in attendance, the hall was dark and nopony was paying attention to them. About halfway through the play, Sunset felt a hoof wrap around hers. She looked over to see Twilight smiling while watching the performance, with her other hoof around Fluttershy’s shoulders, while Fluttershy leaned against her. It may have been a small and innocent gesture, but it felt perfect to her.

After the play they went out for dinner, followed by dessert. By the time they got back home, they’d managed to fill the entire day, and Sunset couldn’t have imagined a better date. They gathered around Sunset’s bedroom door to say good night.

“Well,” Sunset said, “this is normally the part where I’d ask if I could call you again, but, you know.”

“I guess we’ll be ignoring that ‘wait three days before getting back in touch’ rule,” Twilight said with a smirk. “Honestly though, today was really fun.”

“Yeah, it was.” Sunset’s eyes lingered on the floor for a moment before she turned back to the others. “And even though I’m dying to know, there’s no need to rush figuring out if this is something you want to keep doing. No matter what you two decide, I’m happy you gave me a chance. Today was just… so amazing, you have no idea.”

Fluttershy looked at Twilight and smiled. “You know, I think we might have some idea what you mean. And I don’t think we’ll really have to discuss it, actually, because I’m sure we’d all love to go on a second date soon.”

“Of course!” Twilight answered quickly, then blushed. “I mean, uhm, if that’s really what –”

“Yes, Twily, that’s really what I want.” Fluttershy chuckled as she hugged Sunset and wished her a good night.

Before Sunset and Twilight could hug, Fluttershy put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and whispered something in her ear. Sunset couldn’t help but worry if there was some problem after all. Whatever she said caused Twilight to blush, and Fluttershy just smiled and walked off to their bedroom.

“Should I, uh, be worried?” Sunset asked.

“Huh? Oh, no.” Twilight chuckled and scratched at her neck. “She said, well, uhm…”

“Ah, I got it.” Sunset winked. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about! Better not keep her waiting.”

“What? No, it’s nothing like that!” Twilight’s ears flattened against her head at Sunset’s implication.

Sunset just shook her head. “Uh huh. You two have fun, now.”

“Sunset! You know what, here.” Twilight stepped forward and kissed her, wiping the cocky grin clear off her face. “She said you’d probably be too embarrassed to admit you were hoping for a goodnight kiss.”

Sunset probably would have agreed with her, but her brain seemed to have stopped functioning properly.

“Good night, Sunset,” Twilight said, turning to follow Fluttershy into the bedroom.

“Good night, Twilight.” Sunset stayed rooted in place for a moment, before finally heading into her own room. Once behind the door, she reached a hoof up to her lips, which were pulled into an ecstatic smile.

Okay, so maybe the play was only the second best part of the date.

15 – Bravery

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Chapter Fifteen


Fluttershy awoke with the first rays of sunlight, feeling rejuvenated after a blissful night’s sleep. She would have stretched out, but she was being held down by a certain lavender alicorn. Fluttershy smiled and nuzzled closer to Twilight. Even though the change in season had brought warmer weather with it, Twilight had been extra clingy over the past few nights. Fluttershy didn’t know if it was because of the week they’d spent apart, making up a couple nights before, or something to do with Sunset, but she didn’t really care; she was loving every bit of the extra attention.

It turned out that also included extra attention from Sunset, and it was hard not to feel guilty about how much she enjoyed it. She had to keep reminding herself that it was okay, that they had all agreed on this. She was allowed to enjoy it. She was supposed to enjoy it.

And she did. She may not have been excited for the change at first, but she was definitely coming around to the idea. At first everything just felt wrong, like they were trying to force something that wasn’t working out. Throughout everything, she’d been the one pushing for the triad relationship, but she’d mostly been doing it to make Twilight happy and to give Sunset a reason to get better. At best, she could have said she was open to the idea.

But being detached had allowed her to be bold. Since she wasn’t emotionally invested in dating Sunset, she could take certain risks just to see how things would play out. Nothing extreme, of course. She did care very much about Sunset, and wanted the relationship to work for her and Twilight’s sake. But a kiss on the cheek? That was an acceptable risk. It was a good thing too, as nopony else seemed interested in taking any. Talking over what was going wrong with the date while still on the date? Probably a bit much. But it had felt like her last chance to enjoy their new relationship. Not that she would have given up on it, she was going to give it her best shot no matter what. And if things didn’t work out, she had planned on suggesting Twilight just date both her and Sunset, without her and Sunset dating each other.

Then something happened. While she was in between the two of them, she stopped worrying. Any question of if what they were doing was okay just faded away, and more importantly, she began to feel excited for their arrangement. Twilight and Sunset both loved her, and while she wasn’t sure how she felt about Sunset anymore, she loved the feeling of being loved.

She also loved the feeling of Twilight’s foreleg wrapped around her, but unfortunately she had work to do. Carefully, she extricated herself from Twilight’s grip and got out of bed. She looked back at her sleeping fiancée. Twilight’s ear twitched, and Fluttershy couldn’t help but imagine she looked sad without somepony to cuddle up against. She picked up a stuffed fox and put it next to Twilight, who reached out and grabbed hold of it. “Love you, Twily,” she said, causing Twilight to mumble something incoherent before rolling over with the fox.

Fluttershy left the room as quietly as she possibly could, and made her way downstairs to the kitchen. She planned to make some tea before heading out to take care of the animals, but when she walked into the kitchen, she found a coffee pot sitting in the sink. Even aside from the facts that she had just left Twilight up in bed and that Spike was probably also asleep, there was only one pony in the castle who actually drank coffee.

Smiling to herself, Fluttershy turned around and left the kitchen. She wondered where to begin looking. If Sunset had already come down to make coffee, she probably wouldn’t have returned to her bedroom after. Fluttershy’s first thought was the library, but she had a feeling that wasn’t where Sunset would be. Instead, Fluttershy walked down the hall and into the basement.

Sunset was hunched over a wooden box, books scattered all over the table around her. Fluttershy knew it was part of their radio, but she couldn’t remember which part.

She sat and watched without revealing herself, while thinking again about their relationship. She had come down to ask Sunset to join her, but the feeling of guilt had returned full force. She wanted to spend time with Sunset, but wasn’t sure how Twilight would interpret that. It wasn’t like she was trying to exclude Twilight, she was just asleep. Would it be worth it to wake her up? Maybe they could make a thing of it and all go together. Another day out on town sounded wonderful, after all.

But Fluttershy didn’t know when Twilight had fallen asleep, only that it had been sometime after her. Twilight often stayed up reading in bed, sometimes for hours, and would usually sleep most of the morning away. There was no reason they couldn’t spend time together once she was up. Fluttershy decided to just back out of the room and resume her morning according to plan. She wouldn’t have to feel guilty, and that way when they did spend time together, it would be with all three of them.

She stood up, then hesitated. Sunset was too wrapped up in what she was doing to notice her, so leaving would be easy. Still, she remained where she was. It wasn’t so much that she really wanted to spend more time with Sunset. She hadn’t even been planning on anypony being awake, after all. It was more because she didn’t have any reason not to. She did want Sunset to accompany her, even if she was fine either way, and she knew she wouldn’t hesitate to ask any of their other friends. She was allowed to spend time with Sunset without Twilight, just like Sunset and Twilight could spend time together without her.

Reminding herself that there was no reason to feel guilty, she descended the rest of the stairs. “Good morning, Sunset.”

Sunset’s head bolted up. “Oh, hi, Fluttershy. I didn’t hear you come in.”

Fluttershy walked over to where Sunset was working. “How’s the radio coming along?”

“Good,” Sunset said. “I think it’s almost fully functional again, but I keep running into some problems.”

“I’m sure you and Twilight can figure them out.” At the mention of Twilight, Sunset’s ear twitched. Fluttershy also noticed Sunset wasn’t looking at her, and had a pretty good idea as to why.

“Yeah, I’m sure we could. The thing is I really wanted to fix it without bothering her, since, you know, it’s my fault it’s broken…”

“I’m sure she won’t mind,” Fluttershy said. “But maybe a break will help clear your mind. I was about to make some tea, if you want to join me.”

“Oh, uh, sure.” Sunset grinned, but it was an awkward sort of grin. “That sounds nice.”

“You don’t have to, if you’d rather keep working.”

“No, no! I do want to!” Sunset stood up. She was looking past Fluttershy, toward the door.

“Hmm…” Fluttershy leaned closer. “It sounds like there’s something you’re not saying. You want to, but…?”

“But nothing, I really would love to.” To be fair, Sunset’s everything-is-fine smile was a lot more convincing than Twilight’s. If she could only maintain eye contact, Fluttershy might have even fallen for it.

Fluttershy let out a small sigh. “You feel guilty because you kissed Twilight last night.”

“I –” Sunset glanced around the room while taking a step back and blushing furiously “– don’t really know how to answer that.”

Fluttershy giggled. “It’s okay. I feel guilty too, and so does Twilight, I’m sure.”

Sunset’s surprise outweighed her guilt, and she managed to look directly at Fluttershy with a confused expression. “What? Why? You didn’t do anything.”

“Because, well…” Now Fluttershy was the one looking away. She could feel herself blushing, but did her best to ignore it. “I wanted to, uhm, ask you to help me take care of the animals, but I… feel a little guilty for wanting to spend time with you.”

“Oh… Do you think Twilight would mind?”

“No, it’s just… it’s still so strange to me. I mean, I spent a long time thinking that it wasn’t okay to have feelings for more than one pony. I’m not used to letting myself want attention from anypony other than Twilight. But we’ll get used to it, I’m sure.”

When Fluttershy managed to look up at Sunset, she no longer looked confused or guilty. Instead she had a small smile, and was staring down towards the floor. “What was that about having feelings for me?”

Even though she had mostly broken out of the habit, Fluttershy retreated into her mane. She hadn’t really meant to say it, but now that she did… Did she have feelings for Sunset?

“How about we start with tea?” Sunset asked, leading the way out of the basement.

“That sounds good,” Fluttershy said, following behind. “And you know, I really don’t mind about you and Twilight kissing. Actually, I’m happy. It’s like you said, it’s nice to see the ponies you care about happy.” She hadn’t actually seen them, although she had seen how happy Twilight was afterwards. Right up until she started feeling bad, and making Fluttershy promise that she would say something if anything ever upset her.

“Technically, you said that,” Sunset reminded her. “But I know what you mean. Still, if I ever do anything that’s not okay, promise me you’ll –”

“Yes, I’ll let you know.” Fluttershy shook her head. “Honestly, you two are so similar sometimes.”

Once they got to the kitchen, Fluttershy began opening cabinets to pull out everything for tea.

“Here, I’ll get it,” Sunset said, pulling out everything with magic.

“Oh, don’t worry, I can take care of it.”

“I know you can, but I want to.” Sunset grinned. “Or is doing something nice for you going too far for this stage in our relationship?”

Although she could have argued, Fluttershy was happy to see Sunset relax and finally let a little more of her playful side show, so she just smiled and took a seat. “Thank you, Sunset.”

“Don’t mention it.”

While she worked, Sunset hummed a cheerful song. Fluttershy smiled, realizing she recognized it. “…‘cause we’re here to have a party tonight,” she sang along.

“Huh? How do you know that song?” Sunset asked.

“Twilight sings it sometimes,” Fluttershy said. She smiled and wondered what Twilight would say if she knew Fluttershy was leaking this highly confidential information. “Actually she has a whole dance routine for it. She was so embarrassed when I walked in on her one day, but eventually I got her to show me the whole thing.”

Sunset grinned. “No way! Wow, I can’t believe she still remembers that.”

“She really liked singing with your band,” Fluttershy said.

“Did she ever learn how to dance?”

“Uhm… No, not really.”

Sunset chuckled. She set two cups of tea down before taking a seat next to Fluttershy. “I hope it came out okay, it’s been awhile since I made tea.”

“I’m sure you haven’t gotten too rusty in the past few months.” Fluttershy blew on her tea.

“More like the past fourteen years. I never made tea in the human world.” Sunset took a small sip of her tea, while Fluttershy continued to let hers cool.

“Really? I guess I assumed the other Fluttershy also drank tea.”

Sunset shifted in her seat. “No, we always drank coffee. Not too many people actually drink tea regularly.”

“Huh.” Fluttershy tested her tea, but found it was still too hot. “Sorry, you probably don’t want to talk about her.”

“Oh, it’s not that, it’s just… well, I’m sure you probably don’t want to hear about her.”

“It doesn’t bother me.” She doubted Sunset would believe that, but also doubted she could manage to convince her of it. “I, uhm, I noticed you stopped wearing your necklace.”

Sunset raised a hoof to her bare neck. “Yeah, It was a gift from her, and… well, I’m ready to put that behind me.”

“As long as that’s what you want, and it wasn’t for our sake. I don’t think Twilight even noticed.”

Sunset smiled. “She can be pretty oblivious.”

Fluttershy took a sip of her tea, which had cooled off enough for small sips. “This is really good. You really haven’t made tea in fourteen years?”

“Thanks. And that’s right, not since I was Celestia’s student,” Sunset said, grinning. “She has this whole thing about tea, and how important it is to be able to brew it. Like, she gave me this lecture about how it was symbolic for all this stuff. It was basically the dumbest thing ever.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Twilight told me. But she didn’t seem to think it was dumb. I think she has the whole thing memorized.”

“Yeah, she would. She probably ate up every word Celestia ever told her.” Sunset kept smiling, but her eyes grew distant while she stared into her cup. “I’m glad Celestia finally got the student she deserved.”

Fluttershy had seen Twilight perk Sunset up a few times. She could usually get some sort of banter going between them, but an easier route seemed to be to stroke Sunset’s ego, and she definitely took a lot of pride in her time as Celestia’s student. “So if it was dumb, why do you still remember how to make it all these years later?”

Sunset shrugged. “I guess because it was important to her.”

‘Well that didn’t work.’ Fluttershy had expected a comment about how it was because she was an amazing student, so of course she still remembered. But it seemed trying to solve the problem the way Twilight would wasn’t going to work, so she’d have to solve it her way.

“Well, if I were her, it would mean a lot to me that you did still learn the lesson just to make me happy.” Fluttershy smiled. “It’s kind of like Twilight’s mom. Every year she makes Hearth’s Warming sweaters for everypony, even though she really hates knitting. But I think it means a lot that she does it anyway. It shows how much she cares about her family.”

“Maybe. But I mean, she probably doesn’t even realize. It’s fine, I’m not worried about it anymore. I mean, that was a long time ago.”

Fluttershy didn’t really believe her, but wasn’t sure that arguing the point would help any. She took a sip of her tea as Sunset finished hers. “I can’t believe you drank that so fast.”

Sunset grinned. “I like hot things.”

Fluttershy smiled as she remembered Sunset saying that once before. “Like me?”

“Uh, how did…” Sunset facehoofed. “Did I say that when I was drunk?”

“Uhm… yeah.” Fluttershy frowned. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I keep bringing up all these awkward things.”

“It’s fine. And yes, hot things like you.” Sunset stood up and brought her cup to the sink and washed it, along with the coffee pot from earlier. By the time she was done, Fluttershy had finished her tea. “Well then, still want to take care of the animals together?” Sunset asked.

“I’d love to.”

Taking care of the animals with Sunset’s help actually made everything take longer, but only because she kept asking Fluttershy to explain what each animal was and what made them special. Early on in their relationship, Twilight had read up on all the local wildlife so she could better help Fluttershy take care of them. It had been very sweet, and Fluttershy was happy to see Twilight take an interest in her passion, but she realized she missed out on something: actually being able to teach somepony about them. It had been fun explaining things to Spike, but he was mostly concerned with what he should do to help her, while Sunset absorbed any information Fluttershy could give her.

Judging by the sun, it was almost noon by the time they finished. As much as Fluttershy enjoyed feeding the animals, her stomach reminded her that it was time to feed some ponies. Since it was late enough for Twilight and Spike to be up, they decided to head back to the castle and all have lunch together.

Ponyville was much livelier on the way back. All along the way ponies greeted them, so when Fluttershy heard a voice calling her name, she didn’t think anything of it. At least, not until she turned to wave and saw whom it belonged to. “Oh boy…” She sighed, smiling politely as the reporter approached them.

“Fluttershy, I’m with Pony Magazine, and I was hoping we could get a few words with you,” he said.

Reporters never used to bother Fluttershy when she wasn’t with Twilight, but ever since news of the engagement hit, they both seemed to be prime targets, and she never knew what to do around them. “Oh, well, actually… we were just –”

“Only be a moment of your time, doll. Smile.” Without bothering to ask, the reporter snapped a picture of the two of them. Sadly, the fact that he bothered to indicate he’d take it at all was an improvement over most of the tabloid magazine reporters.

“Well, uhm… maybe we could…” Fluttershy felt Sunset’s hoof on her shoulder. She turned to look at Sunset, who smiled and nodded.

“Ahem.” Sunset stepped in between Fluttershy and the reporter, wearing a confident grin. “Since you’re addressing the beloved of a member of royalty, the proper title would be Lady Fluttershy. At her preference, Miss Fluttershy is also acceptable.”

Rather than look annoyed at the interruption, the reporter seemed even happier. Twilight always said they had to be polite to the press, because when famous ponies were rude, they could spin the story to portray them in a very negative light. She hoped Sunset knew what she was doing.

“I know you, you’re the pony that’s been spotted with the royal couple an awful lot lately.” He snapped another picture, which Sunset actually posed for.

“Sunset Shimmer. And that would make sense, considering Princess Twilight hired me to be the captain of her royal guard.”

The reporter regarded her doubtfully. “You know, you don’t look much like a guard.”

“As I’m the only member of her guard, the princess has decided a dress code will not be necessary. And as I’m among the most powerful unicorns in Equestria, I decided armor won’t be necessary either.”

“Well then, perhaps a demonstration is in order, Miss Sh–”

Captain Shimmer,” she insisted. Her tone certainly matched the title she’d given herself, as she spoke with all the authority of an actual royal guard. “And no, it wouldn’t. Lady Fluttershy has a prior engagement which needs to be attended to. You are of course more than welcome to file a request for an interview at the Castle of Friendship, but we’ll be leaving now. And while the princess does fully respect the freedom of the press, you should know that as Lady Fluttershy is under my charge at this moment, I have full authority to use any means I deem acceptable to keep her safe, and will consider somepony following us to be a safety concern.”

Before he had a chance to respond, Sunset turned around and walked off, gently nudging Fluttershy to do the same. It seemed her threat held up, because the reporter didn’t follow.

Fluttershy waited until they were out of earshot before she turned to Sunset and smiled. “Sunset, that was –”

“That was bucking awesome!” Rainbow Dash said, as she popped up from among the crowd of ponies.

“Dash? Were you there the whole time?” Fluttershy asked.

“Most of it,” Rainbow said, grinning. “I was gonna step in and make the guy hit the road, but I could tell Sunset had it covered.”

Sunset may have looked a little nervous around Rainbow, but Fluttershy was happy to see her, and even happier to see that it looked like Rainbow was ready to put their differences behind them. “Even Twilight isn’t that good at getting rid of them,” Fluttershy said.

Sunset smiled nervously. “Well, knowing Twilight, she probably cares way too much about making a good impression.”

“You can say that again,” Rainbow said. “The look on his face when you two walked away was priceless, he was so pissed.”

“I just hope I didn’t go too far with the captain of the guard thing.”

“I don’t think so,” Fluttershy said, nudging Sunset. “Captain Shimmer.”

Sunset scratched her neck. “You know, I kind of actually do like the sound of that.”

“Really? Well, we could make it official, if you want,” Fluttershy said. “You could be our knight in shining… uhm, actually that’s a bad word choice.”

“Maybe. I guess Pony Magazine is probably gonna run a story on it anyway.” Sunset turned to Rainbow. “So, uh, about the other day…”

“Hey, don’t sweat it,” Rainbow said. “We both could have handled that one better, so let’s just skip the whole heart to heart this time.”

Sunset relaxed a bit. “Fair enough.”

“So what are you up to today?” Fluttershy asked.

“Actually, I was on my way to the castle,” Rainbow said. “I figured I’d check in now that your anniversary’s done. How’d everything go?”

“It was… different,” Fluttershy said. She glanced at Sunset, who was looking nervous again. “In a good way, but, well… let’s go back to the castle. We can talk about it there.”

They hadn’t decided what to tell other ponies, so the whole way back Fluttershy considered what she wanted to do. Of course, they’d have to discuss with Twilight, but it’d be nice to go into it with an idea of what she wanted to do. She remembered how much she hated hiding away her relationship with Twilight, like it was a dirty secret she should be ashamed of. She didn’t want to go through that again with Sunset. But she had dated Twilight for months before even considering going public, and their relationship with Sunset had only just begun. Of course, there was also a big difference between going public and telling their friends. Rainbow, Luna, Cadance, and Amber all knew about what happened, and they would all want to know how things went.

Apparently they weren’t the only ones. Applejack and Rarity were already waiting outside when they reached the castle.

“Hello, darlings,” Rarity said. “How are you all today?”

“Uhm, good,” Fluttershy said. “Is something going on?”

Rarity smiled while trying to find the proper phrasing. “Well, you see, the thing is…”

“We wanted to make sure everything’s okay between you and Twi,” Applejack said.

Fluttershy and Sunset both turned to Rainbow. “Hey, I didn’t tell anypony anything.”

Applejack grinned. “Y’all do realize word spreads whenever any of y’all do anything, don’tcha?”

“Yes, for better or worse our little town does so love its gossip,” Rarity said. Her smile gave away that she definitely considered it ‘for better’. “Some ponies took note when Twilight disappeared, and since we didn’t know of any business she had elsewhere, and with it being so close to your anniversary, we were just the smallest bit concerned.”

Well, if they were going to tell their friends, best to get as many done at once as possible. “Thank you, girls, but there’s no need to worry. Let’s all go inside, we’ll get Twilight and Spike, then we can all have lunch. And you really don’t have to wait outside next time, you’re always welcome to let yourselves in.”

Fluttershy led the way inside and realized getting Spike wouldn’t be necessary since he was already downstairs with their other guest. “…but the balloon wouldn’t stop inflating! Honestly, what’s a pony to do?”

Spike fell out of his chair laughing at what was apparently a hilarious story. “Hello, Pinkie,” Fluttershy said.

“Hello, everypony,” she replied. As she looked around the group, her eyes went wide and she began pouting. “You weren’t all off doing something fun without me, were you?”

“Seriously, Pinkie?” Sunset winked. “You know we wouldn’t leave you out if we had something fun planned.”

“Sunset and I just ran into everypony when we got here,” Fluttershy added.

“Why didn’t you just wait inside?” Pinkie asked. Applejack chuckled while Rarity shook her head.

“I’ll go get Twilight,” Fluttershy said. “Spike, could I ask you to start making lunch for everypony?”

“Sure thing,” Spike said, still smiling from Pinkie’s story.

“Thank you. I’ll help once we’re back downstairs.” Fluttershy turned to go upstairs, then looked back to see Sunset looking at her uncertainly. “Uhm, you should probably come with me.”

Once they were upstairs, Fluttershy stopped to talk with Sunset. “It’ll be okay.”

Sunset had been staring into space, but her focus snapped back to Fluttershy. “Hmm? Oh, uh, yeah…”

Fluttershy gave her a quick hug. “We’ll find Twilight and talk with her before we tell anypony anything. But we won’t tell anypony unless we all agree on it, and that includes you. I know you want to go along with what Twilight and I want, but this is an important decision for you too.”

Sunset nodded. “Thanks, but I’ll be okay. It’s just… I guess I’m mainly worried about Rainbow.”

“Let me worry about her,” Fluttershy said.

She led the way into the library, but it was empty. There was the possibility that Twilight would be in the basement, but that didn’t seem too likely either, so they made for her private study, which was attached to the bedroom. However, along the way they found her fast asleep in bed. The stuffed fox was still in her forelegs, and a bit of her mane was stuck to her mouth from drool.

“Geez, she’s really out cold today,” Sunset said. She lingered in the doorway as Fluttershy walked into the room.

“She’s usually up by now. And you can come into the bedroom, you know.” Fluttershy walked up to the bed while Sunset stepped through the door, closing it behind her. She stood in the doorway, as if afraid of trespassing despite the invitation. Fluttershy got an idea and grinned as she motioned for Sunset to come closer.

Almost reluctantly, Sunset did finally walk over to the bed, standing next to Fluttershy and smiling nervously. Fluttershy held a hoof to her mouth, motioning for Sunset to keep quiet, took a step back so she was standing behind Sunset, then turned back to the bed. “Twily? It’s time to get up. Our friends are here.”

Twilight opened one eye, and grumbled something. She didn’t seem to notice Sunset, which was perfect for Fluttershy’s plan.


Without even looking, Twilight sat up and wrapped her forelegs around Sunset, pulling her into the bed. “Cuddles first. Friends later.”

Unfortunately, Fluttershy couldn’t see Sunset’s expression, but she did keep quiet. Slowly, so as not to alert Twilight, Fluttershy climbed onto the bed, close enough to Sunset that Twilight wouldn’t notice her voice was coming from the wrong place. “Good morning to you too, sleepy head. But, uhm, we have company.”

Twilight kissed Sunset’s head. “I know, but they’ll be okay for a few minutes.” She absentmindedly started stroking Sunset’s mane.

“Yes, I’m sure they will, but that’s not actually what I meant,” Fluttershy said playfully.

Twilight moved her hoof down along Sunset’s back. “Hmm… what are you…” She stopped suddenly, and Fluttershy could tell her brain was finally waking up enough to tell that something was amiss. Her hoof moved back and forth a few times, no doubt noticing that instead of a wing, she was brushing up against a dress. Slowly, Twilight opened her eyes.

“Uh… hi,” Sunset managed.

“Aah!” Twilight bolted upright.

Before Sunset could sit up, however, Fluttershy threw her forelegs around the two of them, giggling at the situation and her role in arranging it.

“You two are so cute,” Fluttershy said. “But now that you’re up, I think it’s time we figure out what to tell our friends.” She looked between Twilight and Sunset, who were both frozen in place and avoiding each other’s eyes. She began to wonder if she’d gone too far. Like the day before, being with Twilight and Sunset together made her feel like everything would be okay. She had stopped worrying about what she was supposed to do and only thought about what they might all enjoy doing.

But even if she was okay with Twilight and Sunset cuddling, she had taken it for granted that they would be. She let go of them, though nopony actually moved away from each other. “I’m sorry… I thought tricking you into thinking Sunset was me would be a harmless surprise, and we’d all laugh afterwards. But maybe I shouldn’t have…”

Twilight finally looked towards her, smiling reassuringly. “It’s not… well, yes, that was a bit surprising, but I think it’s more that, uh… Well, I know at least what’s on my mind is more, uhm, last night…”

Fluttershy looked between the two of them, and it dawned on her. “Oh, this is because you two kissed.”

The fact that both of them immediately turned away was all the answer she needed.

“It’s really okay,” she said. “Sunset, we already talked about this, and Twilight, it’s not that big of a deal. I know it’s not something we’re used to thinking of as okay, but I really don’t mind at all, so why should anypony else?”

“I know, but…” Twilight at least turned to look at her.

Fluttershy had an idea. She couldn’t believe she was even considering it, and it might make things even worse. Not to mention she’d probably already taken a big enough risk when she tricked Twilight. But once it was in her head she knew she would regret not trying it. So, ignoring her rapid heartbeat, she scooted over to Sunset, who was still looking away. Fluttershy tapped on her shoulder, and once Sunset turned to face her, she kissed her.

If nothing else, she finally also broke Sunset’s determination to not look at anypony. As she pulled away, both Sunset and Twilight kept their eyes fixed on her. She blushed and brushed her mane out of her face. “There, see? Not a big deal. And we’re all even now.”

Slowly Sunset turned to Twilight, who had worked her way from a look of total shock to a surprised smile. “I, uhm… To be fair, me and Twilight kissed twice, so I don’t think we’re actually even yet.”

Fluttershy giggled, and glanced at Twilight. “Well, that is true,” she said, so Fluttershy leaned in and kissed Sunset again. Now that it wasn’t so out of the blue, Sunset kissed her back.

Now we’re even,” Fluttershy said. “And I think our friends are probably starting to wonder about us, so we should figure out what to tell them.”

At first, nopony volunteered an opinion. Eventually, Sunset cleared her throat. “Well, I guess my vote depends on how you two think they’ll react. I don’t think it’s a good idea to be too open right now, not until we’re absolutely sure we know this is going to work in the long run. It’s fair to assume public reactions will be worse than when you two came out, since there’s at least some precedent for famous ponies being gay.”

“I agree, although I definitely wouldn’t want to keep things hidden forever,” Twilight said. “But we don’t have to worry about our friends telling other ponies. Whether they accept it or not, they’ll respect our decision enough to keep it under wraps.”

“I think we should tell them,” Fluttershy added. “Even if they don’t understand, I’m sure they’ll still accept us.”

“So then we’re all in agreement that we tell our friends, then leave it at that for now?” Twilight asked, to which they all nodded. “Okay then, I guess it’s decided. Better get to it.”

They all smiled encouragingly at one another as they walked downstairs, but Fluttershy could tell they were all a little reluctant. She stuck close to Twilight, and took comfort in being in between her and Sunset. ‘Just one little explanation, then it’ll all be taken care of.’

They arrived downstairs to find everypony already in the dining room eating macaroni and cheese with salad on the side. “What took you so long?” Rainbow asked through a mouthful of salad.

“Rainbow, please. You could at least chew your food before speaking,” Rarity chided.

“Hope y’all don’t mind macaroni and cheese,” Applejack said. “Me and Spike whipped it up. Bit simple, but we needed something quick for the eight of us.”

“Thank you both, and of course we don’t mind,” Fluttershy said. She looked at the seats and realized they left two open ones side by side for her and Twilight, but Pinkie and Spike sat on either side. Noticing where she was looking, Spike winked and moved to another chair. Fluttershy smiled her thanks to him.

Fluttershy chose the middle chair, wanting the encouragement of being in between Twilight and Sunset. She looked between the two and smiled.

“Thank you for coming, everypony,” Twilight said. She looked around the table and took a deep breath. “We have something we’d like to share with you, but it’s a little unorthodox, so we ask that everypony keeps an open mind.”

“Is it habanero-flavored cake?” Pinkie asked. “Because as much as I appreciate a good cake, I think I’ll pass on that one. Trust me, I know it sounds like a good idea, but you’ll regret it later.”

“I don’t think that’s the kinda share she meant, Pinkie,” Applejack said. “And whatever it is, I’m sure there’s no need for y’all to get so worked up about it.”

“Thank you, Applejack… and, uhm, Pinkie,” Twilight said. “I know you’re all here to check on Fluttershy and me, and the truth is there is something we’d like to tell you about. This past week has marked a major change for us. It’s… a little hard to explain, but basically, we’ve decided to include Sunset in our relationship. Fluttershy and I are still engaged, but now we’re also dating Sunset.”

Fluttershy smiled nervously and looked around the room. Aside from Spike, all their friends had variations of confused expressions; Rainbow stared slack-jawed, Applejack looked around like she was hoping somepony would tell her what was going on, Rarity only seemed somewhat puzzled, and Pinkie looked like she was in deep thought about something.

Spike started clapping, with Applejack joining in almost immediately. Once she noticed the others, Rarity joined in as well. “Well, that certainly is unexpected, but –”

“That’s such a great idea!” Pinkie exclaimed, jumping up excitedly. She hopped behind them and pulled Twilight and Sunset closer to Fluttershy, then did her best to hug all three ponies at once. “This way you don’t have to decide which pony you want to date! And just look at you three, you’re so adorable together!”

Fluttershy closed her eyes and smiled, letting herself get lost in the moment.

“Thank you, Pinkie,” Twilight said, the relief in her voice obvious. “It means a lot to have your support. But you know, even though this is what we decided we think will work best for us, that doesn’t mean it’s the best for everypony. We’re going to have to face a lot of trials ahead, not to mention how confusing things can be. It’s not a decision that anypony should make lightly.”

Applejack cleared her throat. “So, uh, pardon me if I’m the only one confused ‘bout all this, but let me see if I got this straight. So all three of you are dating each other now?”

“Yes,” Twilight said. “We’re just like a couple, but with three ponies instead of two. Yesterday marked our first date together.”

Applejack smiled good-naturedly. “I s’pose that makes sense. Still, I’m not even gonna try to pretend I understand why y’all’d wanna do that, but so long as the three of you are all happy with it, then I’m happy for ya. I reckon I learned my lesson ‘bout judging other ponies for who they love already, and I don’t ever plan on making that mistake again.”

Out of everypony, Applejack had been the one Fluttershy was most worried about. All she could do was smile happily while looking at the ponies around her.

“Well then, as I was saying before I was interrupted” – Rarity shot Pinkie a dirty look – “although this is unexpected, I think I speak for all of us when I say we support you one hundred percent. I do hope you know what you’re doing, though. I think you’re right in that there will be adversity ahead of you. That, and a lot of rude questions, once some of the less reputable news sources catch wind of this.”

Twilight smiled around the room. “Thank you all. And we aren’t trying to rush into anything as far as that’s concerned. For now we’re still trying this out, and we’ll be slowly telling the ponies closest to us. Right now, the only ones who know are in this room, and we don’t have any plans on going public with this yet.”

“Hmm, perhaps you should readdress it after the wedding?” Rarity suggested. “It is still a few months away, which will give you time to think about what you all want, and that way you won’t have to worry about balancing wedding planning with the hassle of nosy reporters. Well, there will be fewer nosy reporters, in any case.”

“That’s a really great idea,” Sunset said. “And I want to thank all of you. I’ve been worried about what you’d all think since Twilight and Fluttershy asked me out, and having your support means so much to me.”

There was still one pony who hadn’t voiced her support. Fluttershy turned to Rainbow, who seemed to be waiting patiently for everypony else. Once she noticed Fluttershy was looking at her, she motioned away from the table. Fluttershy nodded, then stood up. “I’ll, uhm, be right back.”

She felt bad leaving Twilight and Sunset, both of whom were probably more nervous about Rainbow’s opinion than they needed to be. But if Rainbow was going to need some convincing, it would be better for everyone if it happened in private.

They rounded a corner and stood in the foyer. “Okay, Dash. What’s on your mind?”

“I just want to make sure this is what you want.”

Fluttershy chuckled. “You’re not the only one. Twilight and Sunset keep saying the same thing. But yes, I thought about it a lot, and this is something I want to try.”

Rainbow was still frowning. “I just don’t get it.”

“Well, like Twilight said, it’s not really that different from being a couple.”

Rainbow shook her head. “Not that. I mean, that’ll probably take some getting used to, but as long as you’re happy with it, then that’s all that matters to me. It’s just… why Sunset? I mean, with everything that happened, this really isn’t Twilight pushing you into anything, right?”

“It’s not. I was the one who suggested it, actually. Besides, you know Twilight would never do anything like that.”

“I know, but then…” Rainbow took a deep breath. “Is it because this way Twilight’s not cheating on you if something else happens?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “It’s not like that at all. I don’t think anything else would have ever happened between Twilight and Sunset if I hadn’t suggested this. They both felt really awful for what happened, and I trust both of them.”

“So then… do you actually love Sunset?”

“Love probably isn’t the right word,” Fluttershy said. Realizing she’d be better off explaining the whole thing, she led them to the side of the room, where there were some chairs for them to sit in. “Before this past week I didn’t think of her as anything more than a friend at all. But then while Twilight was gone, Sunset confessed she loves both of us, which didn’t really make sense to me at the time.”

“What?” Rainbow asked, bewildered. “When did that happen?”

“Oh, the night before you two got into that fight.”

“So, what?” Rainbow squinted her eyes and shook her head. “She just told you she loves you, just like that?”

“Well, there was a lot going on at the time, and she didn’t really mean to. I think it just kind of slipped out.” Fluttershy took a deep breath. The last thing she wanted to do was give Rainbow another reason to not trust Sunset. “Like I said, she felt horrible about kissing Twilight, and she, uhm, she’d been drinking a little.”

“She was drunk,” Rainbow said flatly. Fluttershy never could lie to Rainbow.

“Uhm, yes…” Fluttershy stared at her hooves, waiting for Rainbow to make some sort of judgement.

Rainbow just shrugged. “Yeah, okay, so she loves both of you. Doesn’t mean you have to date her.”

Fluttershy smiled, happy Rainbow was just going to let them move on with the story. “I know, but then I talked to Luna about it. She told me about polyamory, and how some ponies make it work. At first I was just happy to know that Twilight’s feelings for Sunset didn’t mean she loved me any less, but then I started wondering if I could feel that way too. So while I waited for Twilight to come home, I invited Sunset to stay with me, and I kept asking myself if I could see a relationship with both of them working out. In the end, I still didn’t really know, so I decided the best thing to do would be to try one date, which is what we did yesterday.”

“And now you’re sure this is what you wanna do?” Rainbow asked.

“I’m… Yes. I’m sure this is what I want,” Fluttershy said. “Or at least, I’m sure that I really do want to keep trying it out.”

“Well, then I’m glad you’re happy.” Rainbow finally smiled. “I just worry about you. You’re too nice for your own good, you know.”

“I know,” Fluttershy said, smiling. “And I appreciate it. And I understand you probably have reservations about Sunset, but please try to get along with her, for me.”

“I think I can manage that.” Rainbow grinned. “So, what’s it like being with two ponies?”

“It’s… actually pretty amazing.” Fluttershy giggled. “Being in between the two of them is the most wonderful feeling, like I have my own little bubble of ponies who love me.”

“I dunno, sounds like a lot of work. I can’t imagine trying to please two ponies at once.” She winked and nudged Fluttershy, leaving no doubt in what way she meant it.

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy pushed her while they both laughed. “We haven’t done anything like that yet.”

“Oh!” Rainbow wrapped a foreleg around Fluttershy’s shoulders and poked her with the other hoof. “You said ‘yet,’ you’re already thinking about it!”

Fluttershy blushed and laughed nervously. “Well… I suppose I am a little curious.” Rainbow lost it, laughing so hard she was leaning on Fluttershy for support. “And uhm… we did kiss today. Twice.”

“Uh oh.” Rainbow caught her breath and sat up, but kept grinning. “Two kisses? This just got serious.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Alright, I think we let them worry enough. We should head back.”

“Yeah, okay.”

They stood up and walked back to the dining room. Now that she had Rainbow’s approval too, Fluttershy felt like nothing could bring her down.

“No I, uh, I reckon I’ve only ever been interested in stallions,” Applejack said as they walked into the room.

“Okay, what’d we miss?” Rainbow asked as they both took their seats. Fluttershy smiled at Twilight and Sunset, doing her best to silently convey there was no reason for them to keep looking so worried.

“Pinkie was just confiding in us that she’s attracted to both mares and stallions,” Rarity answered.

“Really?” Fluttershy asked.

Pinkie shrugged. “I thought you all knew.”

“How could we know if you never told any of us?” Rainbow asked.

“That’s what I told her,” Applejack said

“Then she was saying she was surprised Rarity and Applejack don’t like mares,” Sunset added.

“Mares are so pretty,” Pinkie said, as if that was all there was to it. “Come on, not even Rainbow Dash? Everypony’s a little bit gay for Rainbow Dash!”

“What?” Rainbow stared at her, trying to tell if she was joking. Pinkie only smiled back.

“No, not even… especially not Rainbow Dash,” Applejack said, grinning.

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Rainbow asked. “I’d make a great marefriend!”

“You two would be perfect for each other!” Pinkie said excitedly.

“Yeah, we’d be – Wait, no, I don’t want to date Applejack!”

“Oh, I don’t know, darling.” Rarity tapped her chin. “I think I could see it too. You two have so much in common, and wasn’t Applejack the first pony you met when you came to Ponyville? Destined from their first encounter, it’s so romantic!” She sighed wistfully as she placed one hoof on her forehead and the other over her heart.

“Now don’t you start with that nonsense, too,” Applejack said, narrowing her eyes at Rarity. “And I don’t recall you ever answering Pinkie’s question. Have you ever had any romantic experiences with a mare?”

Rarity folded her forelegs and stuck up her nose. “Honestly, so tactless. And I hardly think that’s any of your concern.”

“Uh huh.” Applejack leaned across the table. “So who was she?”

“A lady doesn’t speak of such things. Besides, there’s a child present.”

“Fair enough.” Applejack leaned back. “Rainbow, Rarity said ya gotta leave the room so the adults can talk.”

“Hey!” Rainbow scowled at Applejack and Spike, who was laughing.

Rarity turned her back to Applejack. “If a lady happened to be curious in her youth, and happened to have experimented with another member of the fairer sex, then it would still not be any of your business.”

“Says the pony trying to set me up with another mare,” Rainbow said.

“I merely said that it would not be so surprising to find that you two found happiness in one another.” Rarity regarded them both again, then resumed looking indignant. “But I’ve changed my mind. You’re both insufferable, and nopony in their right minds would date either one of you.”

“What did I do!?” Rainbow threw her hooves in the air.

“Aww, it’s okay Dashie,” Pinkie said, putting a hoof around Rainbow’s shoulders. “There’s still plenty of ponies who aren’t in their right minds that you could date.”

Rainbow put her head on the table. “I need a nap.”

Fluttershy looked around the room at everypony. Spike and Applejack were in hysterics, while Rarity was still pretending to be upset. Pinkie seemed to have subtly scooted her chair closer to Rainbow, who had her hooves over her head. Twilight and Sunset were both just watching the scene unfold in silent amusement. She reached out for their hooves, taking one from each of them in her own.

“I love all of you so much,” Fluttershy said to the room. “I can’t believe I could be so lucky to have found such wonderful friends.”

Everypony smiled at her, even though Rainbow did roll her eyes once she picked up her head. “Aw, thanks, sugarcube,” Applejack said. “But y’all better start eating that macaroni, or else I’m pretty sure Spike’s gonna eat it for you.”

Fluttershy looked at Spike, who had a spoon sticking out of his mouth and two bowls of macaroni in front of him. Meanwhile, Rainbow tried to take a bite of hers, only to find it had disappeared when she put her head down. “Hey, give me back my food!”

Spike grinned, and quickly pushed the empty bowl away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Fluttershy giggled, and finally started eating her own food. It had started to get a cold, but she didn’t mind. Everypony laughed while Rainbow chased Spike, who was running around the room with her bowl, taking bites along the way.

Once lunch was finished, everypony went back to their own affairs. Fluttershy had enjoyed the visit, but she was also looking forward to spending more quality time with Twilight and Sunset. Before she could suggest anything, however, Sunset began yawning.

“Did you not sleep well last night?” Twilight asked. They were gathered in the foyer, having just said goodbye to their friends.

“Uhm… not really,” Sunset said. “I tossed and turned for a while, but I was feeling pretty anxious after, well, you know.”

“Me either,” Twilight sighed.

“Is that why you were asleep so late?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yeah, I guess so. I, uh, I kept having bad dreams.”

“Aww, you should have woken me up.” Fluttershy hugged her. “What were they about?”

“Well…” Twilight glanced at Sunset. “I dreamt that you left me after… last night.”

“Then you definitely should have woken me up,” Fluttershy chided. She tapped Twilight on the nose. “And I’m not going anywhere. Especially not for a kiss, which you can talk about, by the way. It’s really okay, you two can kiss whenever you want. We are marefriends, after all.”

“We are?” Twilight smiled. “I mean, we never decided on a title. Not that I mind, or anything.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “Twily, we’re already talking about what we’re going to do in our relationship months from now. I think marefriends is an appropriate title.” She turned to Sunset. “Uhm, if that’s okay with you, of course.”

“That’s more than okay with me,” Sunset said, beaming.

“Good.” Fluttershy smiled as an idea occurred to her. She began walking towards the stairs. “Now, follow me,” was all the instruction she gave.

Along the way, Fluttershy kept quiet about what she had planned. “The bedroom?” Twilight asked, as she opened the door.

“Yes. Since neither of you slept well last night, I think we should all take a nap together.” Without waiting for an answer, Fluttershy jumped into the middle of the bed, lying on her back and rolling from side to side.

Twilight and Sunset looked at each other, then Fluttershy. Sunset grinned, while Twilight smiled bashfully. “Did you not sleep well either?” Twilight asked.

“Oh no, I slept like a baby.” Fluttershy held out her forelegs, inviting the two mares into the bed with her. “I just want to be cuddled.”

Sunset hung back a moment, looking to Twilight to gauge if it was okay to accept. Twilight also seemed hesitant, but climbed into bed, with Sunset following closely behind.

Fluttershy giggled. “Are you really wearing clothes to bed?”

Sunset blushed. “Well, uh…”

“Shy, humans see clothes differently than ponies do,” Twilight reminded her. “It’d probably feel pretty strange for her to not wear clothes.”

While Twilight snuggled in next to Fluttershy, Sunset hung back. “I know it’s weird, but even if I’m a pony now, it’s just what I’m so used to. I mean, I guess I could…”

“No, it’s fine,” Fluttershy said. “I wasn’t really thinking. But what isn’t fine is that you’re still not cuddling me.” She folded her forelegs and pouted.

Sunset laughed and lay down next to Fluttershy. Hesitantly, she scooted closer until they were side by side, then reached a hoof across her stomach, which Twilight took hold of.

“There’s, uhm…” Sunset took a deep breath. “Well, the main reason I wear clothes is really ’cause it’s just what feels normal to me, but there’s something else too.”

“What’s that?” Fluttershy asked.

“It’s… well, I’ll show you, but it’s gonna be kind of weird.” Sunset sat up, and pulled at her sleeve, revealing her shoulder.

Fluttershy and Twilight had to lean in for a closer look. “Hold on, is that…”

“ …my cutie mark?” Fluttershy finished.

“Uh, yeah. Well, kind of.” Sunset pulled her sleeve into place. “I got it when I was dating the other Fluttershy. I was, uhm… I was really drunk at the time.”

Fluttershy cocked her head to the side. “I thought humans didn’t have cutie marks.”

“They don’t,” Sunset said. Although Fluttershy and Twilight lay back down, Sunset remained seated. “But humans do tend to adopt symbols as a fashionable part of their identity. Which happen to correspond to their respective pony’s cutie marks.”

“Huh. That’s interesting.” Fluttershy pulled Sunset back down.

“I, uh, hope that’s not super weird,” Sunset said. “I really don’t want to make either of you jealous or anything.”

“It’s fine,” Fluttershy said. “Neither of us care that you had a relationship before us, right Twily?”

“Actually, I am a little jealous,” Twilight said.

“Really?” Fluttershy asked. She had told Twilight to come to her when she was feeling jealousy, but she wished they had talked about it another time, since Sunset was already so apprehensive about bringing up her past relationship.

“Yeah,” Twilight said. “I mean, I’m the only one who doesn’t get to have those adorable butterflies on me? That hardly seems fair.”

Sunset and Fluttershy laughed, while Fluttershy pulled them both closer. “Sleep well, girls,” Fluttershy said. After taking a moment to steel her nerves, she kissed Sunset, then Twilight. While smiling at her courage, Sunset and Twilight leaned over her to kiss as well, which only made her smile more.

Sunset and Twilight both fell asleep before too long. Twilight clung close to her side, while Sunset had rolled over and wound up sprawled out on top of her. They were a mess of bodies and limbs, and as she slowly drifted off to sleep herself, Fluttershy wouldn’t have it any other way.

16 – Family

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Chapter Sixteen


‘Long distance test attempt four. Conditions are favorable, and we’re optimistic for a positive result.’

Twilight’s notebook sat open next to their newest model of the radio and a gramophone record playing a Sapphire Shores song. Twilight herself was standing by, on a hill behind the castle. Once she and Sunset were finally able to set their minds to it, finishing the construction wasn’t too difficult. They’d done most of the heavy lifting the night they visited the human library, and soon had a fully functional one-way radio. However, there were still plenty of ways to improve on it, and simply recreating human technology was never really their goal. Right from the start, it had always been about studying the potential relationship between human technology and Equestrian magic.

A light was visible in the distance – Sunset’s signal that she was in place. Twilight turned to face the radio transmitter, which was already turned on, powered by a long cord feeding into the castle. Twilight closed her eyes, and cast out her magic aura. She was searching for the radio signal. It was easy enough to manipulate tangible objects. In that regard, magic worked a bit like hands – able to grab hold of something and maneuver it according to the caster’s ability. All unicorns could do that, to varying extents. Things like teleportation and altering the growth of plant life were much more difficult, requiring the caster to have a lot more knowledge on arcane principles, but there was still something physical that was being altered in some way. But manipulating something that wasn’t tangible? Unfortunately, in this regard, magic was also like hands – utterly useless.

There. Twilight finally felt the signal. Utterly useless wasn’t an entirely accurate description, really. It was more so mostly useless. Magic was also intangible, so it actually could interact with forces like radio waves, but learning how to touch something that wasn’t touchable definitely required a certain kind of skill. As odd as the sensation was, Twilight wrapped her magic through the radio signal. Their goal was to amplify it so that Sunset would be able to hear Twilight, even though she was well beyond the range of their device.

The record played its song, but Twilight tuned it out. Although the music was a little distracting, it was a lot better than trying to speak into the mic herself, and of course sound was essential to their test. If all went well, Sunset would teleport to her any moment and tell her she’d heard the song.

There was the smell of dust burning. Twilight immediately let go of the radio signal, and began preparing to teleport instead. Before she got the chance, the transmitter exploded. “Aah!” Twilight threw her hooves over her face and was knocked to the ground. Bits of wood and metal rained on her.

“Twilight!” Sunset teleported to her side immediately. She used her magic to clear the debris off of her, then knelt down beside her. “Are you okay?”

Twilight groaned in response.

“Here, keep still.” Sunset gently began checking Twilight for injuries.

“I’m fine,” Twilight insisted, pushing Sunset’s hoof away. She stood up, grunting from the effort. She noticed Sunset still looked concerned, so she smiled and added, “Really, I’m okay.”

Sunset kicked at a piece of wood. “Next time, I’ll be the one with the transmitter.”

They still had their work cut out for them. They couldn’t dedicate too much time to work on the radio since Twilight was also busy with wedding planning, and most of her free time was spent with both Fluttershy and Sunset. The only reason they had more than an hour or so to work on it at all was because Fluttershy was at the spa with Rarity. The weekly ritual of Fluttershy relaxing at the spa while Twilight and Sunset worked on their project allowed each of them to unwind in their own way.

It was good that Fluttershy wasn’t around for most of their tests, since most attempts to introduce magic to their device wound up the same way. After two failed attempts in the castle, they moved the project outside, since cleaning up after each exploded transmitter was a hassle. The explosions were never too serious – it was only a small device, after all – and usually just resulted in Twilight getting knocked to the ground. It honestly seemed worse on Sunset, who felt guilty for not being able to take her fair share of the damage, since she hadn’t been able to master the art of manipulating radio waves yet.

Twilight walked up and nuzzled Sunset. “Well then, you better get to practicing,” she teased. “For now, let’s just get back to the castle.”

Sunset smirked. “Yeah, you should probably get yourself cleaned up.”

Twilight looked herself over. She was covered in soot all along her right side, probably covering more of her than she could see. She looked back to Sunset and realized that while nuzzling against her, she had gotten Sunset dirty as well. Twilight grinned sheepishly and used her clean left hoof to wipe as much off as she could.

Sunset just rolled her eyes and grabbed Twilight’s extended hoof in her own. “Come here, you.” She pulled Twilight closer and kissed her. As they pulled away, they smiled at each other. They’d been dating for three weeks, but each kiss still brought a rush of excitement. Sunset picked up the broken pieces in her magic, and Twilight made sure to walk on Sunset’s right, so she could keep her clean side pressed against her as they walked back around to the front of the castle.

“Meet me in the workshop once you’re cleaned up?” Sunset asked as they approached the front doors.

“Of course,” Twilight said. She pulled open the door and followed Sunset inside.

“Twilight, you’ll never believe –” Spike ran out of the sitting room, and stopped in place when he saw Twilight. “Radio again?”

Sunset chuckled. “No, we got into a fight with another dragon.”

“Well, uh, you might want to take a shower, ‘cause we have company.”

Before Twilight could ask who it was, she got her answer. Two ponies followed Spike out of the room, and all Twilight could manage was to stare with her jaw hanging open.

Sunset set the debris down in a corner and stepped forward to greet the ponies, but was cut off when one ran right past her.

“Twilight, dear, what in Equestria have you been up to? You’re filthy.”

Finally remembering to close her mouth, Twilight let out a nervous chuckle. “We were just running some experiments. Uhm, Mom, Dad, I’d like to introduce you to Sunset Shimmer. Sunset this is my mom, Twilight Velvet, and my dad, Night Light.”

To her credit, it was only for a moment, but Twilight noticed pure panic flash across Sunset’s face. She composed herself quickly though, and her charismatic smile showed through. “It’s so nice to meet you both.”

Night Light walked over and bumped her hoof, but Twilight Velvet was more intent on fussing over her daughter’s dishevelled appearance. “Likewise. You know, Twilight’s told us a lot about you in her letters.”

“You don’t say?” Sunset asked, feigning ignorance. Telling her parents all about Sunset had been part of their plan to make the eventual reveal of their relationship go smoother, although that reveal was supposed to wait until they were ready, and the plan didn’t involve any unexpected visits. “Good things, I hope?”

“Of course,” Twilight Velvet said, finally giving up on fixing Twilight’s mane and also bumping Sunset’s hoof. “We were both so glad to hear she decided to see reason and get her own royal guard. It took her long enough, but then again she did inherit my stubbornness, for better or worse.”

“Along with your good looks, I see.” Sunset inclined her head, and Twilight Velvet smiled at the compliment. Sunset chuckled and added, “And I think it was more for Fluttershy’s sake that Twilight hired me than her own. But rest assured, your daughter is in capable hooves.”

“Oh boy, don’t let her start talking about herself, it’ll just go to her head,” Twilight warned, earning her a dirty look from Sunset. She ignored it and lifted half of the debris with her magic. “Sunset, can you help me get this all out of the way?”

“Of course.” Sunset lifted the other half and they made for the basement. Spike quickly led their parents back into the other room, giving them a chance to talk privately.

“I’m sorry, I had no idea they were coming,” Twilight said as they descended into the basement.

“I know, it’s not your fault,” Sunset said, letting the worried tone creep back into her voice. “But what do we do now? Just play it cool and keep everything under wraps?”

Twilight set down her half of the junk, followed by Sunset setting hers on top of it. “I don’t know… It was one thing to wait when we were just writing letters, but now that they’re here…”

Sunset wrapped her forelegs around her. “Hey, it’ll be alright. Whatever happens, everything will be fine.”

Twilight took a few deep breaths. “You’re right,” she said, leaning against Sunset. “But we need a plan.”

“Well, I’m for whatever you think is best. If you really think they’ll be okay with it, then why not tell them? I mean, if you’re ready to, of course.”

Twilight indulged herself for a moment, letting the feeling of Sunset holding her calm her down. “You’re right. All our friends understood, and my parents have always been supportive of me. But we need Fluttershy.”

“No problem, I’ll go get her.” Sunset let go of Twilight and smirked. “I’ll talk to her and figure out what she wants to do on the way back.”

“And avoid having to talk to my parents while I’m cleaning up.” Twilight looked over Sunset. “Speaking of which…”

Sunset noticed her hug had covered her in more soot. She laughed and did her best to brush it off. “Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but since you said it… yeah, that would be pretty awkward.”

Twilight nodded. They had a plan, and she had no reason to be concerned. Her parents accepted her and Fluttershy when they came out, there was no reason they wouldn’t accept Sunset too. She hoped.

Once she was all cleaned up, Twilight walked into the sitting room. She smiled brightly at her parents, and hoped they wouldn’t be able to tell how nervous she was. Spike was getting them caught up on all the aspects of Ponyville life that a twelve-year-old found important, which included a very positive look at having Sunset live with them, to Twilight’s delight.

“So what brings you to Ponyville?” She asked once Spike was finished.

“Oh, it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out,” Twilight Velvet said. “There’s an important wedding coming up, and we wanted to see how everything was coming along.”

“Plus we know how busy you and Fluttershy must be,” Night Light added. “So if there’s any way we can help, just let us know.”

“Thank you. Everything’s coming together nicely, and although it’s hectic, we’re managing okay. Sunset, Spike, and all our friends have been doing a fantastic job at making sure Fluttershy and I don’t have to worry about too much aside from the wedding.”

Of course that didn’t answer her real question: Why hadn’t they written ahead? “Did I, uh, miss a letter from you two, or something?” Twilight asked as casually as she could.

“We did plan on writing ahead, but I wasn’t sure if I could get the time off from work,” Night Light said. “Princess Luna’s been… distant over the past few moons, so as Senior Astronomer I’ve had my hooves full trying to keep everything running smoothly. We almost gave up until I happened to run into her last night. She assured me she’d make sure everything will be taken care of, so we wound up with some time after all.”

“That’s wonderful,” Twilight said, while smiling and imaging all the horrible things she’d do to Luna once she got her hooves on her.

“I hope we’re not imposing too much,” Twilight Velvet said. “We could always find a hotel to stay in, don’t you worry about us.”

‘Imposing’ was an understatement. “Of course you’re not. The castle has plenty of room for everypony. Really, we hardly use most of the rooms here anyway. And we’re all happy to have you here.”

To be fair, that last part might wind up being true. She knew Sunset was nervous about telling her parents, but if Twilight was right and they did accept them, it would be one less worry on everypony’s minds.

“So, how’re things going with, uh” – Night Light waved a hoof around – “what was it called again?”

“The radio?” Twilight asked, and Night Light nodded. “It’s, well, it’s going. We keep running into a problem with boosting the signal, but I’m sure if we haven’t figured it out by the wedding, we’ll get it afterwards, once everypony has a bit more free time.”

“Of course you will,” Night Light said. “You’re the smartest mare I’ve ever met. I know you can handle this.”

Twilight grinned sheepishly. “Well, I may have some competition for that title, now that you’ve met Sunset. She’s really amazing, this whole thing was her idea.”

“In that case, then I’m sure the two of you won’t have any problems at all,” Twilight Velvet said.

Spike laughed. “Yeah, you should hear them talk about it when they don’t agree on something! It’s like having one book argue with another.”

Twilight shot him a warning look. “Careful, this ‘book’ controls your allowance.”

Spike cupped his hands and batted his eyelashes at her. “Have I mentioned you’re my favorite sister?”

“Yes, but not nearly enough,” Twilight said, smiling contently.

“Uh-oh, hear that, Fluttershy?” Sunset asked as she walked into the room, Fluttershy beside her. “Spike’s picking favorites.”

Spike turned around and stared wide-eyed at Fluttershy. “Oh, uh, I meant you’re both my favorite!”

Fluttershy giggled. “Honestly, you two… There’s no reason to make a contest out of it. Besides, you two grew up together, trying to compare me and Twilight is just being silly.”

She exchanged hugs with both of Twilight’s parents. “Fluttershy, it’s so nice to see you,” Twilight Velvet said. “Everything’s going well?”

“Oh yes, I’ve never been happier,” Fluttershy said, smiling brightly.

“Is that the engagement necklace?” Night Light asked. Fluttershy brushed her mane aside to better show it off. “It certainly suits you.”

“Thank you. It’s so lovely, I feel like the luckiest mare in the world!”

Twilight got up and stood next to her fiancée. “Actually, she’s not. I’m the luckiest mare in the world.”

Fluttershy kissed her on the cheek and they sat back down, with Sunset sitting on Twilight’s other side.

They talked about the wedding for a while, going over plans while Twilight’s parents looked for ways they could help. Twilight didn’t want to trouble them with it, but it seemed they were determined to involve themselves one way or another, so eventually she gave in.

After a while of trying to figure out how to bring up the topic of Sunset, Twilight Velvet wound up giving them the perfect chance. “So how was your anniversary?”

“It was great,” Twilight said. She glanced at Sunset then looked to Fluttershy, searching for some sort of indication that she was okay with telling them. Fluttershy smiled and nodded, then took Twilight’s hoof in hers. Twilight took a deep breath. “Our anniversary was certainly interesting, to say the least.”

“In a good way, I trust?” Twilight Velvet asked.

“Yes. The truth is we have something to tell you.” Twilight could feel herself shaking, so she took hold of Sunset’s hoof as well. “Well we, uhm, we decided to try out something a bit unconventional. On our anniversary Fluttershy, Sunset, and I all went out on a date together. We’re in what’s called a triad relationship now. So Fluttershy and I are still engaged, but we’re also dating Sunset as well.”

Just as he had when they were telling their friends, Spike started clapping immediately. But unlike that day, nopony else joined in. Twilight’s parents just sat unmoving, watching uncertainly.

Eventually Night Light let out a small chuckle. “That, uh… that certainly would be unconventional.”

Twilight blinked. She looked around the room, but nopony else spoke. “I’m not joking,” she said after a moment. “This is something we decided to try. So far it’s been going really well.”

More silence. Fluttershy was the next to break it. “We, uhm, we told our friends recently. Everypony was so supportive of us.” She smiled hopefully, but Night Light and Twilight Velvet just exchanged expressions marked with worry and confusion. “It was, uhm, really nice. To know… that they supported us, I mean.”

“This is…” Twilight Velvet attempted to speak, but shook her head. “Twilight, don’t you think…” She trailed off again.

“I understand it’s a lot to take in,” Sunset spoke up. Twilight felt Sunset’s hoof tighten around hers. She knew how nervous Sunset must be, but her voice was full of confidence. Twilight allowed herself to feel a bit better; Sunset had a way with words, and would be able to explain things better than she could. “I’m sure you have reservations about how this could possibly work. We can’t expect you to accept it right away. The only thing we can ask is that you’ll look at this with an open mind. Believe me when I say the last thing I want to do is cause any problems for Twilight and Fluttershy. If any of us thought this was going to put their relationship in danger, we’d end it in a second. I sincerely believe that while you’re staying with us, and once you get to know me a bit better, you’ll see that this really is something we all want to work for, and that we can make this work.”

Twilight Velvet looked at her sharply. It was clear what she thought by her expression. She blamed Sunset. “Twilight, this type of thing simply isn’t done.”

“But it is!” Twilight insisted. “Cadance was the one who told me about it. She explained all about the ways ponies have made polyamorous relationships work.”

Twilight Velvet’s ear twitched. Undoubtedly, she was unhappy to hear about Cadance’s involvement. “I’m sure there are some ponies somewhere that resort to this sort of behavior, but you’re better than this!”

Twilight felt her chest grow tight while her heart pounded against it. It became difficult to breathe. “Mom, I…”

“Honestly, what kind of example are you setting for Spike?”

Twilight looked up at Spike. He looked like he didn’t want to be dragged into any part of the conversation. “Mom, it’s okay,” he said, smiling nervously. “Really, once you get to know Sunset you’ll see –”

“Excuse us for a moment,” Night Light said. He stood up and Twilight Velvet followed him out of the room.

Twilight sunk to her hooves. She felt both Fluttershy and Sunset wrap themselves around her, but it didn’t help much. They didn’t approve, and from the sound of it, they wouldn’t be changing their minds.

She felt one more set of arms wrap around her neck, and opened her eyes to see Spike hugging her. She smiled weakly and returned his hug.

“They’ll come around,” Spike said. “I’m sure that before they go back to Canterlot, they’ll –”

“Twilight, we’d like to speak with you,” Night Light said. “Privately.”

Twilight looked uncertainly at the others. She debated if she should refuse, insist that anything they had to say could be said in front of everypony.

Eventually Sunset nodded. “That’s… probably for the best.”

“Just remember to keep your temper,” Fluttershy said.

“And if you call for us, we’ll come running,” Sunset said.

Spike gave her a thumbs up. “You can handle this. You’re Twilight Sparkle! Princess of Friendship! There’s nothing you can’t do.”

She smiled at everyone, then stood up and followed her dad out of the room.

They stood in the foyer, and at first nopony spoke. Twilight looked between her parents. Her dad looked a little uncertain, or maybe he just didn’t like what they were going to say. Her mom looked like she was going to go off at any moment. She probably was.

Since nopony else spoke, Twilight cleared her throat. “I know you weren’t expecting this, but I agree with what Sunset said. If you just give it a chance, I think you’ll see how wonderful this is for all of us.”

Night Light sighed. “Be reasonable, Twilight. You’re a princess, Equestria looks to you for guidance.”

How many times had that thought bounced around in her head? “I know that. You know how seriously I take my role as princess. But that’s exactly what I was worried about when I began dating Fluttershy. You both accepted me then, so why can’t you accept this too?”

“That was different,” Twilight Velvet said.

“It wasn’t!” Twilight insisted.

“It was. Fluttershy is only one pony.” Twilight Velvet placed a hoof on her temple and shook her head. “How could you even do something like this to such a sweet mare?”

“Why are you even assuming this was my idea!?” Twilight asked. She took a deep breath. Remain calm. “Fluttershy knows all she has to do is say that she’s not happy with the situation, and that’s the end of it, no questions asked. Sunset agrees with that too. Besides, it was Fluttershy’s idea to begin with.”

Night Light looked at her with genuine concern, which only irritated her further. “Think of what everypony is going to say.”

“I’m very aware of what everypony will say,” Twilight said, struggling to keep her voice down. “I already saw what they said when I came out as gay, I know exactly how hurtful ponies can be.”

Night Light shook his head. “Why would you want to put yourself through that again, now that it’s finally died down?”

“Shouldn’t the fact that I’m willing to go through that again prove how important this is to me?”

Night Light placed a hoof on her shoulder. She resisted the urge to push it off. “Twily, please –”

“Don’t ‘Twily’ me,” Twilight said curtly. Night Light retracted his hoof. Twilight regretted the outburst. She wanted to apologize, for everything. For snapping at him, for dating Sunset, for being polyamorous at all. But she wouldn’t apologize. She’d made her mind up, and was going to live her life with or without their approval.

“I think it’s time we left,” Twilight Velvet said. “I hope you’ll see reason soon, but for now it would be better if we returned to Canterlot.”

“Agreed.” Twilight couldn’t believe the word had left her mouth. Even as a teenager, she’d never done anything to push away her parents.

Twilight Velvet glanced down for a second, and when she looked back up Twilight could see fire in her eyes. “We’re taking Spike with us.”

“You what!?” Twilight recoiled for a moment, then lowered her head and glared at her mom. “No. You’re not.”

“That wasn’t a request.” Twilight Velvet matched her gaze. “We love you, Twilight, but we have to think about what’s best for all our children, especially the only one who is still a child.”

She took a step for the door, so Twilight teleported in front of her. “Spike is staying with me!”

Night Light stood beside his wife. His expression was less angry, but just as firm. “The agreement was he would stay with you as long as you were able to take care of him properly.”

“I am taking care of him!” Twilight shouted.

“We don’t think this is the best environment for him to grow in any longer,” Night Light said, his voice remaining far more calm.

“He’s fine, you heard him yourself. He loves it here.”

“He’s still a child,” Night Light said. “He loves you and Fluttershy, but he doesn’t know what’s best for him.”

“Neither do you!” Twilight had given up every attempt at keeping calm. “I’ve taken care of him, I’ve watched him grow up, I was the one to hatch him in the first place!”

“This is not a discussion,” Twilight Velvet said, as if Twilight was still a filly and could be told what to do. “Spike is our son!”

“Not for the past five years!”

Nopony moved. Twilight had found her mom’s weak spot, the one thing that could hurt her more than anything else.

Twilight Velvet’s nostrils flared, and she looked like she would charge at any further provocation. “Get out of my way.”

Twilight held her ground. “Get out of my house.”

They stood, eyes fixed on one another. Twilight Velvet took a step, but it was towards Spike, so it was in the wrong direction.

Twilight’s horn lit up, and a moment later they were outside. Other ponies were around, and they all turned their attention to the commotion. That suited Twilight just fine, since witnesses were required for a royal decree.

“I, Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, and with all the power awarded to me by my crown, hereby forbid Twilight Velvet and Night Light from setting hoof inside the Friendship Castle. Furthermore, they are not permitted any contact with Spike the Dragon.”

Whatever the reaction was, Twilight didn’t see it. A moment later she was back in the castle, locking and fortifying the door. Once she was satisfied with that she went back to the sitting room. She started off stomping the whole way, but with her momentum gone, she soon found herself shuffling instead.

She hadn’t thought about what she did when she was doing it. She wasn’t sure if it would even hold up legally. There were limitations to her power, after all. Even Celestia and Luna couldn’t do whatever they wanted.

By the time she reached the sitting room door, she wound up just stopping and staring at it for a few minutes. She didn’t know if there was anything she could have done to turn the situation around, but it didn’t stop her from feeling like a failure.

Eventually she opened the door. Spike was sitting in between Sunset and Fluttershy, and all three of them were huddled up tightly. One look at them made Twilight turn her head away.

Nevertheless, she heard the sound of claws against the marble floor, followed by a pair of arms once again wrapping themselves around her neck. She held Spike close to her with one hoof and wiped her eyes with the other.

Sunset and Fluttershy were there almost immediately, contributing to the group hug.

“We, uhm, we heard everything,” Fluttershy said.

Twilight could only nod.

At some point, they all found themselves sitting on the ground, despite the fact that there was a couch big enough for all four of them. None of them wanted to break away from the circle they had made.

“Spike,” Twilight said, after a long time, “you know I’d never let anypony take you away from me. But it’s only fair to ask: What do you want to do?”

“I…” Spike looked around at the three of them. “I want to stay here, with you three and all our friends. Ponyville is my home.”

Twilight smiled. It didn’t matter if her decree was useless. It didn’t matter if Princess Celestia herself came to take him. Spike wasn’t going anywhere.

“But, uhm…” Spike twirled his claws together. “If they do come back, I think it’s probably better if I go.”

Somehow, after everything that had been said that day, that still hurt the worst.


“It’s just that… What’s going to happen if I stay here?”

Twilight sighed. “I don’t know, Spike.”

“And, you know,” he said, smiling weakly, “maybe I can convince them that there’s nothing to worry about.”

“You shouldn’t have to,” Twilight said. “You’re still a –”

“Don’t say I’m still a child,” Spike said. “I’ve been on lots of adventures with you, and you’ve taught me so much. I know I’m not an adult yet, but you taught me how to be mature when I need to be. There’s been plenty of times you’ve saved me, but there’s been times I saved you too! Because… we take care of each other. We’re a family, and that’s what we do.”

“Spike…” Twilight hugged Spike tighter as she started crying. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Twilight,” Spike said through tears of his own.

Everypony was crying before long. Whenever it seemed like they were done, they looked around and one of them would start again, triggering all the others. It might have gone on for a few minutes, or for an hour, or longer still. By the end, they were all sick of crying, and huddling together had made them all uncomfortably warm, but it didn’t matter. They stuck together anyway. They were a family, and nothing could tear them apart.

“Hey, Spike,” Twilight said, once it seemed the tears had subsided for real. “Remember the time you took my place at the summit?”

“Why do you have to bring up old stuff?” Spike asked, although he sounded just as amused at the reminder as she was.

“Didn’t you even tell one pony to call you Princess Spike?” Twilight asked, smiling.

“Well… I didn’t really tell her too, I just said she could. You know, if she wanted to.”

Sunset laughed and playfully nudged him. “Hey, you can be a prince any time, as far as I’m concerned.”

“I remember the first time I met you and Twilight,” Fluttershy said. “I couldn’t even talk to Twilight yet, but it was a lot easier to talk to you.”

Spike chuckled. “Yeah, you wanted to know everything you could about me.”

“Yup, and you told her.” Twilight smiled, remembering how she had used him as an excuse to get out of the conversation. “Every little detail, right from being an egg.”

Sunset cocked her head to the side. “I wonder what would have happened to us if you never unlocked that door when we were fighting the Dazzlings. Even if you did need some help reaching the doorknob.”

Spike grinned. “I bet I could reach it now. I’m as tall as Fluttershy!”

“Almost,” Twilight corrected.

“Soon enough,” Fluttershy said. “In a few years, you’ll probably be taller than Twilight.”

“Don’t remind me,” Twilight said. She ruffled Spike’s spines. “I like having a little brother, thank you very much.”

“Didn’t you fight off some sort of mutant chickens one time?” Sunset asked.

Spike shook his head. “No, they were cockatrices!”

“What? No way,” Sunset feigned disbelief. “Cockatrices are serious business when they’re not super powered. You gotta be mistaken.”

“Really! See, here’s what happened…”

They spent the rest of the day doing all of Spike’s favorite things. Sunset let Spike help her make an Oubliettes and Ogres character with the promise that they’d all play together soon. Twilight ‘accidentally’ let it slip that she’d been reading the comic Sunset had gotten him hooked on, and admitted that maybe some comics were worth reading after all. They wound up discussing the finer points of the story for at least an hour. While they were talking, Fluttershy made dinner, giving his dish extra flair by breaking into the stash of gems that they had planned to bake into his birthday cake.

In the end, they all knew what was coming though. They’d even packed his things into Sunset’s old backpack. ‘Just in case,’ they told each other, but they knew better. Just when it was getting late enough that Twilight was going to send Spike to bed, convinced they’d have at least one more night, there was a knock on the door.

They all gathered in the foyer, and Twilight undid the enchantments barricading the entrance. “Come in.”

The door opened to reveal three ponies. Twilight Velvet and Night Light were expected, but they had brought with them a very dishevelled looking Mayor Mare. Twilight stepped forward to greet them.

“Princess Twilight,” the mayor said, bowing her head awkwardly. The two of them rarely relied on official titles outside of public appearances, but everything about her suggested she was walking on eggshells.

“Hello, Mayor,” Twilight replied as politely as she could manage. It wasn’t her fault that this was happening, after all.

The mayor’s voice was shaky as she continued. “It has come to my attention that there is a dispute over the guardianship of Spike the Dragon. Having looked into Ponyville’s official records for him, he does seem to be listed as the son of Mr. Night Light and Mrs. Twilight Velvet.”

“He is,” Twilight said. “Although I continue to dispute their legal right to custody over him. I don’t want any further… incidents, however, so I will comply with your decision until a time when a proper court case can be made.”

Mayor Mare frowned. Twilight was aware she was putting her in an awkward situation, deciding between the law and a princess, but she had to make one last attempt.

“I’m afraid the law does seem clear on this matter.” The mayor frowned. “Unless determined otherwise by a judge in a court of law, his legal guardians are his parents.”

Twilight nodded solemnly, then turned to her parents. “Please… don’t do this…”

“Twilight,” her mom addressed her, sounding more worn out than angry, “I hope you know we love you just as much as we ever have. But unless you can change your living situation to be suitable for raising a child, then as good parents there’s nothing else we can do.”

There it was. It had been just beneath the surface the whole time. Spike or Sunset. Pick one. Only selfish ponies thought they deserved to have everyone they cared about.

Twilight looked back to Sunset and knew she understood. Sunset was smiling. It wasn’t exactly a sad smile, but it was far from happy. It was encouragement. It was the answer. ‘It’s okay,’ it said. ‘I understand. Pick him.’

Twilight looked away, before she had the chance to start crying again. “Mom, Dad. Understand that you’re not asking me to pick between Sunset and Spike. Sunset’s not the problem. You’re asking me to either deny part of who I am or break apart my family. I love Spike. I love him more than you probably realize. He’s my little brother, but he’s so much more than that. In a lot of ways, he’s more like my son. But this is part of me. I am polyamorous. I never asked to be, I’d probably be better off if I weren’t. But at the end of the day, I can’t change who I am. And I won’t be ashamed of that, even if… even if you’re ashamed of me for it.”

Nopony spoke. Nopony moved. Nopony would so much as look at one another.

Eventually Twilight realized there was nothing else to be done, so she turned around and walked over to Spike. Wordlessly she pulled him into a tight hug. He hugged Fluttershy and Sunset in turn, before hugging Twilight one last time.

He slung the backpack over his shoulder and walked over to his parents. He looked back sadly, and saw three ponies doing their best to keep smiling while they waved. He did his best, too.

Mayor Mare was the first out the door, obviously happy to put the awkward scene behind her. Night Light guided Spike out next, with Twilight Velvet following behind. She turned back in time to see her daughter collapse to the ground, sobbing. She hesitated for a moment, but left all the same.

Twilight barely noticed Fluttershy and Sunset holding her on either side. She barely noticed when they helped her up, or when they started guiding her upstairs. She barely noticed when they reached their bedroom door. Sunset said something, and she almost didn’t notice what it was. Sunset was already walking towards her own room when Twilight realized it was “Good night.”

“Please stay,” Twilight said. It was the first thing she’d said since Spike left, and she hadn’t thought about it. But once she finally said something, it snapped her out of her daze. “Uhm… would you mind staying with us, tonight?”

Sunset blinked a few times. “Of course I wouldn’t.”

Fluttershy kissed Twilight’s cheek, then led them into the bedroom. She climbed into bed, positioning Twilight in the middle.

Twilight lay on her back, with Fluttershy on one side and Sunset on the other. She was comforted by their company, but couldn’t sleep. She wasn’t sure how long she had been awake for. Turning her head slowly, she saw Fluttershy was asleep. Turning again, she saw Sunset wasn’t. Sunset smiled for her, but Twilight didn’t have it in her to return it.

“You know,” Sunset said, speaking softly, “Fluttershy told me you still know some of those old Rainboom songs.”

Twilight nodded. “It was a lot of fun being in a band.”

“I, uhm…” Sunset fidgeted. “Maybe I could sing for you. If, uhm, you wanted.”

“Would you?”

“Okay, but it’s been a while, so, uh, you’ve been warned.”

Twilight closed her eyes and focused only on the feeling of the two ponies next to her and Sunset’s voice. Slowly it washed out other thoughts, and Twilight found herself finally drifting off to sleep.

“Once upon a time, you came into my world and made the stars align…”

17 – Only One Way to Go

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Chapter Seventeen

Only One Way to Go

Twilight didn’t wake up so much as she gave up attempting to sleep. The sun was just about to rise, and she walked to the window to watch. Fluttershy and Sunset had still been sleeping soundly when she got up, but as she stood watching the sky begin to glow orange, she felt another body against hers.

“The sunrise is really pretty today,” Fluttershy said. She didn’t sound like she meant it though; her voice sounded as hollow as Twilight felt.

“Yeah,” Twilight agreed. They watched in silence as the sun slowly rose into the sky, filling the world with light and color.

Once dawn officially began, Fluttershy nuzzled against Twilight. “We’ll get him back.”

Twilight wanted to agree. She wanted to take comfort in Fluttershy’s support, and to offer her own. She even kind of wanted to disagree, to ask how. She wanted to feel something, be it strength or weakness. She felt nothing.

She needed a plan. Plans made things work. Doing anything was simple if one had a plan. Step one, then step two, then so on from there. She wanted to discuss it. Fluttershy could help her come up with one.

The words wouldn’t come, though, and she turned back to look at Sunset. “Do you think… was I wrong?” Twilight asked. Sunset was lying diagonally across the bed, covering the spot where Twilight had been lying.

Fluttershy took a while to answer. At some point during the night, Sunset’s shoulder strap had slid down her foreleg, revealing a small pink blur against her yellow fur. From where they were standing it appeared as nothing more than a vaguely oblong shape, although they both knew it was Fluttershy’s cutie mark.

“She really loves you, you know,” Fluttershy said quietly. “She held onto you all night long.”

“I know. You both did.” It had been the only thing that kept Twilight in bed at all.

“I don’t… I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

Twilight bowed her head. “Wrong or not, the legal precedent is going to be to side with my parents.”

“I know.” Fluttershy pressed up against her, burying her face into Twilight’s mane. “Which is why it’s so hard, but… I think this is more important than us.”

“What do you mean?”

“Remember when we first came out to everypony?” Fluttershy asked. “Remember how many ponies wrote to us, telling us how happy they were to have somepony to look up to?”

“Yeah.” Twilight would never forget the feeling. They’d spent a month too afraid of what everypony would say to ever open any of the letters, but then when they finally did, they found that not only did they have nothing to worry about, they had also managed to be a positive influence for so many others. “Are you saying we should go public about Sunset?”

“I, uhm…” Fluttershy pawed at the ground. “I don’t ever want anypony else to have to go through this… And, uhm, I don’t think anything will change unless more ponies see that this can work.”

Twilight leaned against Fluttershy while watching Sunset and thinking over what Fluttershy said. “I… I… I don’t know. I just… I want Spike back!” Twilight’s voice fluctuated as she tried to keep from crying. Fluttershy wrapped a foreleg and wing around her.

“Hmm…?” Sunset rubbed her eyes. She yawned and got out of bed, walking over to Twilight, where she slumped on top of the alicorn. “So when’re we leaving for Canterlot?”

“Canterlot? Would going there help?” Fluttershy asked.

“We’ll have to go sooner or later,” Twilight said, realizing she had actually known their plan all along. There was only one thing they could do. “That’s where they’ll want to host the trial, but there’s plenty of red tape before we get to that part. It’ll be months before we get into the courtroom, then at least a few more before we get a verdict.”

Sunset shook her head. “Nope. We’ll just get Celestia to skip all that.”

Twilight thought about it. Celestia did have the authority to call an immediate court session, but she was never one to abuse her power. “She’ll probably want to follow the letter of the law.”

“Twi, you do realize she’d probably do anything for you, right?” Sunset asked.

“Well… I suppose it’s worth a shot.”

“Of course it is. I thought of it.”

“Uhm, Twily?” Fluttershy prompted. “Maybe we should talk about, uhm…”

“Right.” Twilight took a deep breath. “Sunset, Fluttershy and I were talking about going public.”

Sunset stood up straight. “You mean about me?”

“Yes. We think it might be good to give polyamory more attention.”

“I know if Twily’s parents took the time to think about it, they would see there’s nothing wrong with our relationship,” Fluttershy said. “We could help a lot of ponies just by giving everypony something to think about.”

“And I agree,” Twilight said. She looked down at the floor.

“But…?” Sunset asked.

Twilight looked up, planning on reiterating that she agreed with Fluttershy’s idea, but she couldn’t form the words. Instead she just found herself looking back at the floor. “I just… I want Spike back home. I don’t want to have to be a princess all the time.”

Fluttershy tightened her hold on Twilight, while Sunset gave a small smile of encouragement. “Actually, that could work out to our benefit.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked, longing to find even the smallest piece of hope.

“Okay, so you think their problem is just that it’s so strange to them, right?” Sunset asked. Twilight and Fluttershy nodded. “Well, if we come out, ponies will write in with their stories, just like when you two first went public. Maybe if your parents see that we’re not the only ones doing this, that it’s a real thing and not just some sort of crazy idea, well, maybe they’ll change their minds.”

“Maybe.” Twilight couldn’t focus on it. She tried to figure out if that was how her parents would react, but only one thought bounced back. ‘I thought they’d accept me without needing to be convinced.’

“Well, one thing’s for sure,” Fluttershy said. “We can talk about this over breakfast.”

Twilight shook her head. “I’m not hungry, I think I’m going to –”

“Eat something anyway,” Fluttershy said. “Come on. I want to figure all this out too, but we’re not doing ourselves any favors by skipping breakfast.”

“But –” Twilight was cut off again when Sunset placed a hoof on her shoulder.

“Come on, Twi. At least try to eat something. For us?”

Twilight sighed and walked to the door. “Polyamory is stupid. How am I supposed to say no to both of you?”

“Hey, you’re joking again!” Sunset said as they caught up with her. “That’s a good sign.”

“Who said I was joking?” Twilight asked, though in truth she did feel just a little better.

As they walked down the hall they heard a crash from the kitchen. They all stopped and looked at one another. “Who could that be?” Twilight wondered aloud.

“Wait here, I’ll check it out,” Sunset said, running off down the stairs.

“Sunset, wait! It’s probably just… she’s gone.” Twilight sighed and kept walking.

Fluttershy smiled a little. “She certainly takes her job seriously.”

“I think it went to her head.”

They reached the bottom of the stairs just in time to see Sunset magically throw the door open and jump through it. “Nobody move!” she yelled. The scream that followed could only have been Rarity.

At any other time, Twilight would have found the whole situation amusing, and to some extent she did. Still, she more or less had to drag herself into the kitchen. Looking around, she saw Applejack and Pinkie managing food, while Rarity was casting a dirty look at an apologetic Sunset, and Rainbow sat at the table laughing at the misunderstanding.

“Good morning, girls,” Fluttershy said, walking over to help make breakfast. She set two pots of water to boil, one for tea and the other for coffee.

“What’s going on?” Twilight asked.

“I, uh, take it you haven’t looked outside?” Rainbow asked.

Twilight took a seat next to her. “Well, we watched the sunrise.”

Rainbow scratched at her neck. “Yeah, it’s probably better if you don’t take a better look.”

“There’s a whole heap of press out there,” Applejack said, looking up from the stove top where she was making a pot of grits. “Saw them on my way to the market, so I got everypony together. Figured something big was going on and y’all might want some help with it.”

“Thanks, it’s been a little hectic around here,” Sunset said. She took a seat next to Twilight.

“We were asked certain… questions on the way here.” Rarity spoke gently, clearly aware that there was more to it than more rumors. “Your parents were mentioned.”

Twilight sighed. She’d have to explain things sooner or later, whether she wanted to or not.

Sunset wrapped a hoof around Twilight’s. “Twilight’s parents visited yesterday. They weren’t thrilled with the idea of Twilight dating Fluttershy and me.”

Twilight leaned against Sunset, happy to let her answer questions.

“I see.” Rarity bowed her head. “Yes, I expected that was the case. There was also another matter…”

Twilight’s hoof tightened around Sunset’s. Either understanding Twilight’s request, or simply out of habit in taking the lead during conversation, Sunset was the one to answer. “They took Spike with them. They said this wasn’t a good environment to raise him in.”

Everypony gasped and turned to Twilight, who turned away. “They said I’m not able to take care of him properly.” She let herself sink further into Sunset, who wrapped her forelegs around her.

“How could they possibly think that?” Pinkie asked, joining Sunset in hugging Twilight. Without Twilight noticing, Pinkie had managed to leave her place at the oven and cross the kitchen to comfort her. “I mean, how can having more ponies around to look after him be a bad thing?”

“While I can understand their reservations, Pinkie does make a good point,” Rarity added. “I’m certain this goes without saying, but you tried reasoning with them?”

Twilight nodded, even though she wasn’t sure anypony could tell, sandwiched between Sunset and Pinkie as she was. “Yeah, it didn’t work so well,” Sunset answered for her.

“Somepony mentioned something about a royal decree,” Applejack said. “I’m guessin’ it had somethin’ to do with this?”

“Yes…” Twilight said, speaking into Sunset’s chest.

“So then what gives?” Rainbow asked. “I mean, shouldn’t that be the end of it?”

“Twilight doesn’t really have that kind of power.” Sunset stroked Twilight’s mane as she spoke, while Pinkie patted her on the back. Twilight put her forelegs around Sunset, and let her answer again. She knew her friends would be curious, but she didn’t really feel like explaining the details of exactly why she was unable to keep her parents from taking Spike. “Unfortunately, when her parents left Spike with her, they never actually signed custody over to her, meaning they’re still his legal guardians. Twilight’s a princess, but not a ruler. She can’t forbid ponies from taking someone the law considers to be their kid.”

“I think if they just gave it a little more thought, they wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Fluttershy said. Twilight lifted her head enough to see her pulling a tray of muffins out from the oven and setting it aside to cool.

“I dunno, sugarcube.” Applejack pulled a skillet off the stove top. She divided scrambled eggs between seven plates. “It can take a long time for a pony to realize something wasn’t ever wrong when they thought it was. Then it can take even longer for them to admit to bein’ wrong in the first place.”

“So, what? We just leave him with them?” Rainbow asked. Pinkie finally let go of Twilight to sit on Rainbow’s other side.

“Now, I didn’t say that. Course we gotta get him back, but I wouldn’t go holdin’ my breath waitin’ for ‘em to come around on their own.”

Fluttershy poured drinks for everyone. Tea for herself, Twilight, Rarity, and Pinkie, and coffee for Sunset, Rainbow, and Applejack. “We thought maybe if we told everypony about Sunset, ponies would write to us again. Then we could show them how many other ponies have relationships like ours.”

“You don’t think that will alienate them even more?” Rarity asked.

“Yeah, I reckon they’ll be furious at that one,” Applejack said. She added the grits to everypony’s plates. “But I think it’s a good idea, all the same. I don’t know if hearing from other ponies is gonna make a lick of difference to ‘em, but I do know they’ll ignore the whole thing if you give ‘em the chance. Somethin’ like this might be the only way you get them to actually think about it.”

Rarity opened the fridge and pulled out fruit salad, which she brought to the table. She sat a couple seats down from Sunset, leaving room for Fluttershy. “If you can manage to get the media on your side, they also could start to feel like they are the only ones who do have a problem with this.”

“But that won’t work,” Twilight said, sitting up as Fluttershy began carrying their beverages over. Before she could reach the table, Sunset levitated them all over at once, distributing them among the gathered ponies. “Remember how divided the media was when Fluttershy and I came out?”

Rarity just smiled coyly. “Of course, darling, and more importantly, your parents do too. I’m certain the more conservative media outlets will make the same fuss as before. With any luck, the Virtuous Equestrian Society may even come back as well.”

Fluttershy took her seat, bringing everypony to the table. “Uhm… I don’t see how that’s lucky.”

“Because ever since a certain dragon was hatched, Twilight Velvet and Night Light spent their lives fighting against conservative ideology, and those efforts have doubled since you and Twilight have become public knowledge. If you three can manage to win over the liberal news outlets, they may well see that they’re on the wrong side of things, so to speak.”

Twilight blinked and shook her head. “Okay, I guess that makes sense, but how do you know all that? I didn’t even know all that.”

Rarity chuckled. “Well, I suppose they do seem the humble type, so I’m not surprised they don’t talk about their noble work much. But honestly, darling, just because you two are the famous ones doesn’t mean you’re the only ones with a level of notability. One simply can not travel within the circles of the Canterlot elite and not hear about them, either from their allies or opponents.”

Fluttershy began picking at her food, though from the looks of it she wasn’t very hungry either. “What do you think, Dash?”

Rainbow was slouched in her chair, quietly sipping her coffee while everypony gathered. She sat up, grunting with the effort. “You know all this planning isn’t really my thing. Besides, Applejack woke me up before the sun was up, so unless you need me to buck some nosey reporter, I don’t think I’ll be much help.”

“Let’s try to not have this day end with anypony in jail,” Twilight said. She took a bite of pineapple from the fruit salad. She still didn’t want to eat, but everypony had chipped in to help with breakfast when they didn’t need to come at all. The least she could do was try to eat some of it. “Thank you all for coming. I don’t know what we’d do without you girls.”

“Aww, don’t mention it,” Pinkie said as she helped herself to a bite of Rainbow’s grits.

As they ate and discussed their potential plans, everything came back to the same conclusion. Coming out about Sunset wasn’t a sure bet by any means, but it gave them a chance, which was more than they had otherwise. They were just left with one decision.

“So what do we do about telling everypony?” Sunset asked, pushing aside her plate. She had managed more than Twilight or Fluttershy, but nopony seemed particularly hungry.

“Should we hold another press conference?” Fluttershy asked.

Rarity dabbed at her mouth with a napkin, even though she hadn’t gotten any food on her muzzle. “That would probably be wise. Nopony on the way here mentioned Sunset, so it seems she’s still out of the public eye so far. You will want to make sure you tailor the event to get a desirable response.”

Sunset leaned forward, resting her head on her hoof. “I still think we should talk to Celestia about a trial. I don’t want to count on this working; we should at least keep our options open.”

“I agree,” Twilight said. She felt far from relieved, but her friends had managed to shake off some of her lethargy. “Looks like we’ll need to go to Canterlot after all.”

“We better get packing. The sooner we do this, the better.” Fluttershy stood up, and was followed by Twilight and Sunset.

They split up as they reached their bedroom, Sunset continuing to her own. Twilight began to go through drawers looking for anything they might need, but she mostly just absentmindedly moved things around. Fluttershy noticed and shooed her to the bed.

“I’ll send a message to Luna, too,” Fluttershy said, pulling out a journal adorned with a crescent moon. “She’ll probably want to meet with us tonight.”

Twilight nodded. Luna was friends with all three of them, and she did play a large role in them getting together. She sighed. “Do you really think this is the best idea?”

Fluttershy looked up from the journal. “I think anything that might help us get Spike back while also helping other ponies can’t be bad.”

Twilight shook her head. “I mean… do you think this is what’s best for us? We’re not… rushing into anything are we?”

“I don’t know.” Fluttershy sighed. “I know what you mean, though. It’s sort of like its own kind of commitment. Once we open up about this, any good we do with it will be ruined if we don’t stick with the relationship.”

“Yeah.” Twilight flopped onto her back and stared at the ceiling.

After a few minutes, Fluttershy jumped onto the bed as well. “I think we’ll be okay. I don’t think it would be a problem if we don’t wind up staying with Sunset forever, as long as we can show ponies that this type of relationship works first.”

Twilight reached her forelegs into the air. Fluttershy took the invitation, snuggling up against her. “I hope so. I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to stay with Sunset. It’s just… it’s only been three weeks, and no matter how good those three weeks have been, I wish we had more time before deciding to do this.”

“Me too.”

“And you know, if it comes down to it, you can still end it if you want,” Twilight said. She said it often, but she knew how passive Fluttershy could be. Twilight was terrified she would stay in a relationship she wasn’t happy with just so she wouldn’t hurt the others.

“I know.”

They lay together on the bed silently, while Fluttershy absentmindedly ran her hoof over Twilight’s stomach. Eventually there was a knock on the door and they both sat up.

“Ready whenever you two are,” Sunset’s voice called through the door.

Twilight shook her head. “It’s open, you know.”

Sunset opened the door and stepped in. She had her saddlebags strapped on. “It just feels weird barging in.”

Fluttershy stood up. “We’re packed, unless there was something else you wanted to bring, Twily.”

“I can’t think of anything. Not that I had a lot of time to prepare a checklist.” Twilight forced herself out of bed as well, and they followed Sunset out of the room. When they arrived downstairs, they found their friends waiting in the foyer.

“Y’all ready to get goin’ then?” Applejack asked.

“Ready as we’ll ever be,” Twilight answered.

“Right. Don’t you go worryin’ ‘bout anything here, we’ll clean up and check in on the place while you’re gone. And of course I’ll look after the animals for ya, Fluttershy.”

“Oh. Thank you.” Fluttershy blushed. She must not have realized she hadn’t made arrangements for them, being so concerned about Twilight.

“So how bad is it out there?” Sunset asked, opening the front door. From where they were standing, Twilight couldn’t see outside to well, but as far as she could tell it was chaos outside. Dozens of cameras flashed immediately, and at least as many voices started talking at once. Ponies rushed to the doors, which Sunset slammed shut. “Oh.”

“How are we going to get through that?” Fluttershy asked as somepony began pounding on the door.

“We go straight through!” Rainbow lifted into the air and raised her hooves as if she was about to fight someone. “Buck anypony that gets in the way!”

“Well, full points for enthusiasm.” Applejack pulled Rainbow down by her back leg.

“Actually, I think it could work,” Sunset said stepping forward. “We’ll have to make a few adjustments to that plan, but we can go straight through them.”

“Now that’s more like it!” Rainbow grinned and bumped Sunset’s hoof.

“Uh, again, let’s not get anypony arrested,” Twilight interjected. “Maybe we could go around somehow.”

“Not a chance, trust me. That mob is way too big, and we might even get separated.” Sunset looked around the room. “Right, so you all are part of Twilight’s royal guard now.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Here we go.”

“No, seriously.” Sunset frowned, then shook off Twilight’s dismissal. “I am officially captain of her royal guard, we did the oath and everything.”

Applejack arched an eyebrow. “Now why in the hay did ya –”

“Nevermind that right now!” Sunset cut her off.

Twilight had to smile a little at that. Although initially Twilight thought it was a joke, or just a convenient excuse to explain why Sunset was always present at her dates with Fluttershy, Sunset kept dropping hints that she really did want to be their captain. Eventually Twilight half-jokingly agreed, and they wound up going through a full ceremony. All the while Sunset pretended like it was just for show, but really anypony could tell she was thrilled with it.

Sunset continued to address everypony. “So it’s our sworn duty to protect our princess, and that duty supersedes the press’s right to barge into their lives.”

Twilight sighed. “Sunset, we’ve been over this. You can’t restrict the freedom of the press.”

“No, you can’t,” Sunset agreed. “But a member of the royal guard can keep anypony a safe distance from their charge. They can take as many pictures as they want and ask whatever dumb questions they want to, but they’ll have to do it from a distance.”

“So we can just beat them away!” Rainbow exclaimed, her face lighting up.

“Only if they get too close,” Sunset reiterated. “And we can’t antagonize them so long as they remain a respectful distance.”

“Can I break their cameras?” Rainbow asked.

“Hmm…” Sunset tapped on her chin. “Maybe. You can’t ‘intentionally’ break their property, but if a camera should happen to get broken while you’re pushing somepony away, well, that’s just not our problem.”

Twilight facehoofed. This was going to end badly.

Once Rainbow was satisfied that her new job was sufficiently awesome, Sunset gave them all roles. Rarity ran ahead to get their tickets and inform the station of the plan, since she could move through the crowd mostly undeterred. Sunset would hold the front of their formation, using her magic to create a barrier. Applejack and Pinkie would be in charge of watching their rear, while Rainbow would use her aerial advantage to watch their blind spots, as well as make sure nopony surprised them by dropping in from above.

They gave Rarity a few minutes head start, but they didn’t wait too long; she’d be moving faster than them anyway. Steeling themselves for what was to come, Sunset flung open the door. “Make way!” she called, to no avail. Unconcerned, she lit up her horn and a teal barrier spread out before them, pushing ponies back with it.

The group exited steadily, keeping pace with Sunset. She moved slowly enough that they’d all be able to stay together, but kept a consistent speed, pushing forward towards the station. To Twilight’s amazement – and likely Rainbow’s disappointment – nopony seemed to mind the blockade. They asked questions in a rapid-fire blur and snapped so many pictures Twilight thought she might go blind from the flashes, but in the end they arrived with no damage to anypony or anything.

Rarity rushed into their huddle, Applejack and Pinkie giving warning looks to anypony thinking they might do the same. She passed three tickets off to Twilight. As usual, they had their own private room, which was perfect for the day they were having.

Their friends stayed around while they waited for the train to arrive. Unfortunately, there was no chance for them to talk anymore, not with the reporters around, but it was comforting all the same. Still, it was a huge relief when the train arrived. The group, aided by the station personnel, backed Twilight and Fluttershy up to the door, with Sunset boarding last. Reporters were still asking questions as they walked onto the train, and continued taking pictures as the door closed.

Twilight and Fluttershy didn’t leave their room for the entire trip, even though they doubted any reporters were actually on the train. Sunset stepped out briefly to ask if Amber happened to be working that particular train, but they had no such luck.

They discussed their plans along the way. Sunset managed to get Twilight a little more involved in the decision making, even if it was a slow and gradual process. Meanwhile, Fluttershy focused on comforting her as best she could. Being thrust into the public spotlight for her relationship again was daunting, but at least making the plans gave her something else to focus on.

The train slowed to enter the station. Twilight stared fixated on the doors, not wanting to imagine what would be on the other side. Had word reached Canterlot yet? Of course it had. Twilight herself had helped develop the tool that would allow the journalists in Ponyville to send word to their contacts in Canterlot. The journals may have originally been planned for charitable causes, but they spread to other uses quickly.

Fluttershy smiled at her. “It’ll be okay. We’re here with you, and everything will work out.”

“Right.” Twilight nodded. The train came to a stop, so she stood up. “Let’s get this over with.”

There was no immediate reaction as the doors opened, at least. Rather than walking in front, this time Sunset walked on Twilight’s right, Fluttershy taking the left. Without the rest of their ‘royal guards’ there wasn’t much point in her taking her lead, since anypony could just come in from behind.

Thankfully, another swarm like the one in Ponyville didn’t seem likely. While there were ponies ready and waiting as they disembarked, they were far fewer in number. Still, they were persistent as ever.

“Princess Twilight! A moment of your time!”

“Can you comment on the events that occurred yesterday?”

“Is it true that your ward was involved?”

“Will this affect the wedding in any way?”

Twilight kept her head down while Sunset did her best to give them some space. “Stay back,” she called. It wasn’t nearly as effective.

“Princess, can you confirm –”

“There will be no further questions at this time.”

All heads turned to see Luna, flanked by members of the Celestial Guard. With a nod of her head, the guard stepped forward to surround Twilight, Fluttershy, and Sunset. They moved as one unit towards Luna, who stood by a private carriage.

All too gladly they filed in, the three of them taking up a row by themselves. Luna climbed in and sat across from them, and the door closed behind her. The guards took places on platforms around the outside of the carriage.

“Luna!” Fluttershy stood to greet her friend, but tripped when the carriage started moving. Luna caught her before she could fall, and Fluttershy threw her forelegs around her. “Thank goodness you’re here, but why are you still awake? It’s not even afternoon.”

“I could hardly leave you to fend for yourselves,” Luna said, returning the hug. “This is, after all, my fault. I should have talked to you about your parents before I sent them to you. Twilight, all of you, I can only offer my most sincere apologies. Had I known something like this would happen…”

Twilight did her best to smile. “It’s not your fault.” As much as Twilight wanted to blame somepony, she couldn’t hold Luna accountable.

Luna nodded while Fluttershy returned to her seat. “I think it is best if we discuss plans before we reach the castle. You are planning on fighting this, I presume?”

“Yes, we came to ask Celestia if she could cut through some of the red tape,” Sunset said. “We want Spike back, and we don’t want to spend all fucking year waiting for court dates.”

“I’m glad to hear it, but you do realize this will mean the details of your relationship will become public knowledge.”

“We were planning on cutting that off by announcing it ourselves,” Sunset said. “We’re hoping a positive public response will mean we don’t need to fight them for custody at all.”

Luna bowed her head. “Hope is a fine thing to have, but do not invest yourselves too heavily in this working. News will get out, and soon. I fear making the announcement on your own terms is the best you can do now, but I expect this matter will be settled in a courtroom one way or another.”

Twilight sunk to her hooves, and was soon embraced by Fluttershy and Sunset.

“Fear not, Twilight.” Luna smiled comfortingly. “You have a powerful ally. I will give you any support I can, which I think is no small thing.”

Fluttershy nuzzled against Twilight’s cheek. “See? Everything is going to be okay. Luna and Princess Celestia will help.”

Luna frowned and stared out the window. “You have not yet informed Celestia about Sunset, I take it?”

“I… no.” Twilight sat up. Her mouth went dry and breathing became forced. “You don’t think… she’ll disapprove too?”

Luna’s ears folded back, and she failed to meet Twilight’s eyes. “I have been apart from my sister for a long time, Twilight. Opinions do not need a thousand years to change. I fear I do not know what she will have to say.”

“Hey, it’s okay.” Sunset nudged Twilight playfully. “I mean, come on. All you gotta do is turn on the puppy dog eyes and it’s a done deal.”

Twilight sunk back into her seat. “Please, I don’t have that much sway with her.”

Sunset shrugged. “I’m just saying I was the most impressive student she’s ever had, and you’re still the one with stained glass murals. You must’ve done something right.”

“Really?” Twilight smirked, in spite of her nerves. “You’re the most impressive?”

“Look, nothing you can do now counts. You have alicorn magic, it’s not a fair competition.”

Luna grinned, obviously relieved that Sunset managed to lighten the mood. “Having seen Twilight’s powers as a unicorn, I have to say you would have to be exceptionally talented to have a chance to match her.”

“Well, I think you’re both pretty amazing,” Fluttershy said.

“There, that settles it,” Twilight said.

“Fair enough.” Sunset smiled and shrugged. She noticed Luna watching them with an amused expression. “What are you smiling about?”

Luna chuckled. “Who is truly the powerful one? The all-powerful mages, or she who bends them to her will?”

Fluttershy blushed. “Oh, well I don’t know about that…”

“Actually, I think she has a point.” Twilight took Fluttershy’s hoof in her own. “Sunset?”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah, I think we can all agree that Fluttershy is the most impressive pony here.”

Fluttershy giggled. “What am I going to do with you two?”

Luna winked. “From the sound of it, anything you want.”

Fluttershy giggled some more and hid her face against Twilight’s neck.

“I do wish we were meeting under better circumstances.” Luna smiled at the affectionate lovers. “I hope all else is well in your relationship?”

Twilight held out a hoof for Sunset while Fluttershy wrapped her forelegs around her. “Yes. These past three weeks have certainly been different, but we’re all happy together.”

Luna nodded. “All the same, if you find yourselves with questions or in need of advice, I hope you know I’m more than happy to assist.”

“Thank you, Luna,” Fluttershy said. “I don’t know where we’d be without you.”

“Listening to Cadance, I fear.” Luna tapped on her chin. “Although one must wonder where she would be without me.”

“Cadance was a big help too, you know,” Twilight said. “And what do you mean ‘where would she be without you’?”

Luna chuckled. “Twilight, what do you think Cadance knows of polyamorous dating? I assure you she has nothing but secondhoof experience to offer, and that first hoof would be mine.”

Twilight’s ear twitched. “But when I explained how I felt about Sunset, she already knew about polyamory. I was with her the whole time, there’s no way she had a chance to ask your advice.”

“Indeed, I did not hear from her then. It was years ago we first spoke on the topic. She was very interested in learning all she could about unconventional relationships, so she may better fill her role as Princess of Love.” Luna’s eyes flicked towards the floor for a moment, though she kept her smile. “In fact, we talked much about the ways of love in those days.”

“But that doesn’t make sense.” Twilight cocked her head to the side. “I mean, she was the Princess of Love before you came back from the moon. What did she do before then?”

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Luna said. She grinned. “Did you know she waited until after marriage to lie with Shining Armor? Princess of Love indeed.”

Sunset laughed. “Why am I not surprised?”

Twilight frowned and shook her head. “That isn’t really any of our business, Luna.”

Luna just grinned wider. “Then I suppose you also wouldn’t want to know how after Shining Armor’s proposal, she nervously came to me for advice on the matter?”

“Oh God!” Sunset threw a hoof over her face as she cracked up. “I would pay to see that! Oh man, you have to tell me what happened.”

“Sunset, you’ve never even met Cadance!” Twilight snapped.

Luna chuckled. “Fine, I may have embellished some parts of that story. But it is an amusing thought, is it not?”

“No.” Twilight folded her forelegs.

Fluttershy giggled. “It is a little.”

“And look –” Luna gestured out the window “– we’re here.”

Twilight glanced outside to see she was right. As awkward as her method was, Luna managed to distract Twilight from her thoughts for a lot of the trip. A guard opened the door and the four ponies stepped out.

Luna led the way to Celestia’s audience chamber. Many ponies along the way offered friendly greetings, which was a relief after the chaos from earlier.

Celestia’s assistant, Raven, looked up in surprise as they approached. “Princess Luna, is everything okay?”

“That remains to be seen,” Luna said. “Is my sister busy at – no, of course she is. What time is my sister’s current appointment over, and can her next one be rescheduled?”

Raven pulled over a notepad and began flipping through pages. “Let’s see… She’s discussing some last minute plans for the Summer Sun Celebration now. That’s scheduled until two, then she’ll have an hour recess for lunch.”

Twilight glanced at a clock to find it was only noon. Luna either didn’t need to check the time or didn’t care. “I thought that was finalized last week.”

Raven frowned. It was easy to see why Celestia prized Raven as her personal assistant. In all the years Twilight had known her, Raven was one of the only ponies who could match Celestia in her love for things going according to plan. “It was, but the mayor of Manehattan had some concerns, and since the celebration is only a few days away…”

“I know of his concerns. ‘Tis no matter, I warned her that she would be better off overseeing fewer matters for this exact reason. When things come up that directly require her attention, she ought to be available for them.”

“Oh, uhm, maybe we should wait,” Fluttershy suggested.

“We will not. Come.” Without waiting for Raven’s okay, Luna led them into the audience chamber. Twilight turned to apologize to Raven, but she was already busy fixing her schedule, so Twilight decided to leave her to it.

“…so if we raise the import tax by just a few bits –”

“Then Manehattan will profit out of the rest of Equestria’s purse,” Luna said curtly. “As I recall, your request was already turned down.”

The mayor regarded Luna with an air of forced politeness. “As mayor of Manehattan, I have every right to contest a decision made by an office bureaucrat.”

Luna smiled. “So you run to the Princess of Bureaucracy. You do have this right you speak of, though your abuse of the law is nothing but a waste of our time. My sister never intended to grant your request, so I do not know why she intended to play this game with you.”

Celestia cast her a sharp look. “Luna, please. I can handle this myself.”

“You can, and you will do so slowly, as ever,” Luna said. Her voice was pleasant as could be, as if she was paying her sister a wonderful compliment. “As it stands, we need my sister’s attention now, so I personally deny your request. And you do not have the right to contest my decision on the matter, so you can consider this closed.”

The mayor stood in place sputtering while Celestia glared at Luna, though she didn’t dispute her judgement. “T-this is an outrage! I came all the way across the country to receive a fair audience, not to be dismissed without somepony hearing what I have to say!”

“Several ponies have heard what you have to say, starting with the pony who denied your request. Incidentally, I have also heard it. I reviewed your claim this morning, and have made my decision on the matter. You have my verdict, and it is final.” Luna turned to face Celestia. “Unless my sister wishes to contest it herself?”

All eyes fell on Celestia, who was rubbing a hoof to her temple. She sighed, then smiled at the mayor. “I’m very sorry, but Princess Luna is right. Your proposed tax hike is unfair, and Manehattan already stands to gain quite a bit from hosting the Summer Sun Celebration. We look forward to the event, but it seems I have another matter to address.”

The mayor looked like he might explode, but left anyway, stamping and swearing the whole way.

Celestia sighed again, then turned to address everypony. She smiled effortlessly, as if everything had gone according to plan. “Greetings Twilight, Fluttershy, Sunset. It’s been far too long. I hope there’s nothing to be concerned about?”

Twilight took a deep breath. “Well… it’s sort of a long story. Where to start… Okay, so we, uhm, that is Fluttershy and I, we decided to try what’s called a triad relationship, and basically now we’re also dating Sunset.” She tried to smile confidently, but even she could tell it looked forced.

Celestia briefly turned to Sunset, who smiled nervously. Celestia’s face remained impassive. “I see,” was all she said.

“Tia is well aware of polyamory, and the myriad forms it takes,” Luna clarified.

“Oh, uh, okay then.” Twilight nodded. She had hoped for some sort of congratulations, like when she had first told Celestia about Fluttershy. Maybe she was more irritated by their interruption than she let on? “Well, everything’s been going great with the three of us for the past few weeks, but then the other day my parents came to Ponyville. We told them about us, and they didn’t react well. They… they took Spike with them.”

As Twilight cast her eyes to the ground, Sunset patted her back and took over for her. “We know this will probably have to be settled in court, but we were hoping you could help. If it comes to a court battle, we’d like to ask you to expedite the process, so the case doesn’t get shuffled around for who knows how long. Also, we know that it would be a difficult case even if we weren’t in a triad relationship. But if you make a statement that you think Twilight is fully capable of raising Spike, then your word should cancel out any concerns on that end.”

Celestia closed her eyes for a moment, apparently deep in thought. When she opened them she was frowning. “Twilight, you know I’ve never questioned your ability at raising Spike. It was, after all, my idea that he stay with you when you first moved out of your parents’ house and into the city. But I can not help you this time. I’m sorry, but the law must be respected. I hope you understand.”

“I…” Twilight could feel her eyes watering. She quickly shook her head. She wouldn’t start crying in front of Celestia. “I do.”

“Wait, hold on,” Sunset stepped forward. “What about the other part? If you can’t make things happen quicker, can you at least give us your support?”

“If called on by a court of law, I will of course answer any questions they ask.”

Sunset stamped her hoof. “That’s not the same thing!”

Luna cleared her throat. “Sister, although you are fully aware already, Sunset is asking if you do in fact support them in their relationship, and secondly, if you support them raising a child together.”

Celestia smiled. “Of course, you are all adults, and more than capable of making your own decisions. You’ll have to forgive me if I seem a little off. I did help raise you two, so it does seem a little odd to me. But of course no matter what my relationship with you is, that doesn’t affect yours. There’s no reason you two would actually think of each other as sisterly.”

“A fine non-answer,” Luna said. “And concerning Spike?”

Celestia exchanged a look with Luna. Her features barely changed, and even Twilight couldn’t tell what she was trying to convey. She was sure there was something there though, some subtle message only somepony who knew her for thousands of years could possibly pick up on. “I’m not an expert on these matters, I’m afraid. My place is and will always be in politics, so I will have to defer to the court on matters of parenting.”

Sunset took a step back, hanging her head low. Twilight leaned against her, and together they stood in silence.

“Hmph.” Luna turned away from Celestia. “It seems my sister will be no help, after all. But never fear, I pledge to you that I will do anything in my power to help, including fulfilling both the tasks you came to ask Celestia’s aid in.”

“You will?” Fluttershy asked. “Thank you so much, Luna.”

“Of course,” Luna glanced at Celestia. Twilight couldn’t tell what her look meant either, but if she had to guess, she’d say it was a challenge.

“Didn’t you just berate the mayor of Manehattan for abusing his sway over the law?” Celestia asked as casually as if they were discussing dinner plans.

“I did, as he was abusing it for his personal gain,” Luna replied, matching Celestia’s pleasant tone. “This is a not only a matter of helping those I care for, but also of morality. Twilight has done nothing wrong, and Spike would be better off with her. That was what you told her parents, was it not? When she first got her own house in Canterlot, you told them that Twilight would be the best pony to raise Spike.”

Celestia let out a small chuckle. She did not sound amused. “I’m not sure how you came across that information, Luna.”

Luna inclined her head and ignored Celestia’s comment. “Nevertheless, that is what happened. You told them that as the one to hatch his egg, Twilight had a stronger bond with him than either of them would be aware of. Her magic gave him life, forever intertwining their future. Not to mention giving her a legitimate claim as his mother.”

Celestia continued smiling, but it began to look forced. For the first time in all the years Twilight had known her, Celestia seemed to be unsure of how to handle herself in a debate. She almost seemed unnerved, which wasn’t surprising. There was simply no way for Luna to know the details of a private conversation that happened while she was banished, short of hearing it from one of the ponies present.

“Furthermore, you told them that Twilight would be one of the only ponies properly able to adapt to raising a dragon, since she would have to learn how to care for him on the spot. Tell me, do you think Twilight Velvet and Night Light would have been able to adapt to Spike suddenly growing to be larger than a building when he was first experiencing greed? I do not.”

“What are you getting at, Luna?”

“That a child should be raised by the ones best suited to the task.”

Celestia stopped smiling, though her voice remained calm. “A child’s parents serve as their legal guardian unless the parents are found to be unfit or surrender the rights willingly.”

Luna took a step forward. “And by your own admission, Twilight Sparkle has a strong claim towards being Spike’s mother.”

“Legally, that would still be Twilight Velvet. On the day of his birth, Spike was adopted by her and Night Light.”

“We are going in circles.” Luna shook her head. “Fine. If the law is where your concern lies, then you need have no fear. I will stay within the bounds of my legal authority. Though, as you know, those bounds extend very far.”

Celestia offered no contestation, so Luna turned away. “Come, we have planning to do.” Luna walked off, and all the others could do was follow her.

On the way out, they passed by Raven, who looked at them curiously but didn’t ask anything. Luna walked past without saying a word, but Sunset stopped at the doorway. She sighed and turned back to face Raven. “Uhm, Raven? The princess is probably pretty upset right now. Could you… have somepony bring her some chamomile tea? It’s her favorite.”

Raven blinked. “Uhm, sure, Sunset.”

“And maybe afterwards you can check on her?” Twilight asked. “She could probably use a friendly face.”

Raven opened her mouth, then closed it. She adjusted her glasses. “Of course, Princess.”

Heads hung low, they followed Luna out the door. She only stopped once more along their way, to ask a member of the staff to prepare rooms for them. “Shall it be one room or two?” Luna asked, then shook her head. “Never mind, prepare both Captain Shimmer’s and Princess Twilight’s rooms. You can decide to use both or not, ‘tis no matter.”

With that taken care of, she brought them to her solar. Once the door was closed behind them, she bowed her head. “I am sorry that turned out the way it did. I truly did not know what to expect from Celestia, and I –”

Twilight collapsed to the floor. Her parents, and now Princess Celestia… Were they right? These were the ponies she’d looked up to for her entire life. If they couldn’t accept her, maybe there really was something wrong with her.

Fluttershy and Sunset knelt down and leaned against her. “There there, we’ll make it through somehow,” Fluttershy said.

Twilight turned to Sunset and saw she had tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry…” Sunset said, wiping away her tears. She tried to smile, but began crying again. “I’m sorry…”

Twilight pulled Sunset in closer to her and started crying as well. Fluttershy moved so she could be close to both of them, wrapping her wings around them and offering gentle comforting words.

“Oh, Tia…” Luna muttered to herself. “If only you could understand…” She walked forward and sat down with them, using her large wingspan to at least partially cover all three ponies. “I promise you, I will make Celestia understand. There’s no need for tears, my friends.”

Sunset’s sobbing slowly turned to sniffling. “I’m sorry, if I hadn’t… If I just…”

Twilight shook her head. She was still trying to control her own crying, so her voice came out shaky. “S-Sunset, it’s not… it’s not your fault.”

“Twilight’s right,” Fluttershy said. “The three of us, we’re a team. We’ll stick together, and we’ll make everything work out. But we all have to believe in one another, and that includes believing in ourselves.”

Sunset took a few deep breaths and wiped her eyes. “Celestia… for a long time, she was the only one who ever felt like family to me. I… I really love her. I never knew that when I was younger, because we always had so many disagreements. But, I guess… that’s part of family too, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Twilight said, barely able to get even one word out.

“I told myself I’d never disappoint her again.” Sunset bowed her head, and Twilight thought she was going to start crying again. Instead she clenched her jaw and looked up with fire in her eyes. “But she’s wrong. And this time, I know it’s not just me being full of myself. She’s going to see that. If I have to find a way to change how this whole damn country thinks, then that’s what I’ll do. And in the end, she’ll see that there’s nothing wrong with us.”

Everypony pulled apart and looked to Twilight, and Twilight looked at each of them. Sunset was fire and determination. Fluttershy was compassion and hope. Luna was support and understanding. “And you, Twilight?” Luna asked.

And what was Twilight? What could a pony be when she had her world torn apart? Where could she go when she was brought down so low?

Only one way.

Twilight took a deep breath. She wiped her eyes, and she stood. Her shaking legs felt like they might not hold her, but they did. She pictured Spike. He was waiting for her. He needed her to be strong. She held her head high and stood proud.

“Yes. No more moping around. We can do this, so long as we stick together and don’t give into doubt. Now, I’m going to need every book we can find on child care laws and court cases. We’re getting Spike back.”

18 – Between the Lines

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Chapter Eighteen

Between the Lines

As she examined herself in Twilight’s bedroom mirror, Sunset thought about how great the day ahead her should feel. It was the day of the Summer Sun Celebration, and she was making her first public appearance as captain of the Twilit Guard. Rarity even made her a uniform for the occasion, which she had shipped to Canterlot Castle in time for the event.

Distantly, Sunset felt some pride in her appearance. Rarity had designed the uniform with form in mind, rather than function, and Sunset certainly did look good in it. The Lunar, Celestial, and Crystal Guard could all keep their heavy armor. Sunset’s was styled after the traditional officer’s vest, but was set apart by color. The vest itself was blue, with darker folded over sleeves. It held two medals on it, one was gold and had six gems of different colors, representing the Elements of Harmony as Twilight’s official insignia, and the other was a shield with Sunset’s cutie mark, signifying her as the guard’s captain. Rarity had also taken Sunset’s discomfort with public nudity into account, giving it a dark blue skirt. Topping it off was a sash of braided purple and yellow, representing her dedication to Twilight and Fluttershy.

She loved every detail about the outfit. Even if she knew they didn’t think too much of it, Fluttershy and Twilight had named her captain, and Sunset was honored to play that part. Having the uniform made the whole thing feel that much more official, and knowing it had been designed completely around her made it even better. She had been so excited for the chance to show it off at the Summer Sun Celebration. As a princess, Twilight was attending the official event being held in Manehattan, so of course Sunset and Fluttershy would be accompanying her.

But then, Spike was supposed to be with them as well. They had been looking forward to meeting up with Luna and Celestia, and had talked about possibly using the opportunity to tell Celestia about their relationship. Now Celestia knew, but didn’t approve. In the two days they had been at the castle, Celestia had kept herself too busy to interact with them, citing the Celebration as her excuse. On the other hoof, Luna had been with them almost constantly. She would barely break from working through plans and reviewing child care laws with them for sleep, and sometimes it seemed like she wouldn’t at all if not for Fluttershy’s insistence.

Sunset sat down on the bed. When it got down to it, none of them really slept very well. Still, night time was easily Sunset’s favorite time. Before the night Twilight Velvet and Night Light took Spike away, Sunset had slept in her own room, separately from Twilight and Fluttershy. But they’d spent both nights in Canterlot sharing the bed in Twilight’s room at the castle. Sunset missed her old room and the feeling of familiarity it brought, but it was important they do whatever they could to make Twilight feel more comfortable. Besides, she would give up a lot more than that for the chance to spend the night cuddled up with her marefriends. She had been unsure of where she was supposed to sleep the first night, and even less sure if she should bring it up. Thankfully, she was saved by Fluttershy’s decisiveness. Before anypony had the chance to start any awkward conversation, Fluttershy was already bringing Sunset and Twilight up to bed, and seemed to take it as a given that they would be sharing a room.

She sighed and stood up. Twilight and Fluttershy had gone ahead to the entry hall, respecting Sunset’s need for privacy while she dressed. Now that she was, she made her way down to meet them. It was time to get the day started, so she could get it over with. All she wanted to do was come back to the castle and finalize their plans for coming out.

They had decided to wait until after the Summer Sun Celebration, since making a spectacle before attending a major public event would probably not do them any favors. It was bad enough that they would be hounded about details on the situation with Spike, news of which had spread like wildfire. The press was also sure to have taken note of Twilight’s absence from Ponyville, which wasn’t going to make things any better.

Pushing that aside, she entered the room with a smug grin, noticing Twilight and Fluttershy deep in conversation with another pony. “So I’m just gonna say it; pretty sure I make this uniform work a lot better than your brother does.”

The three ponies turned to her and she stopped in place, her grin falling away as she realized whom they were talking to.

“I don’t know, Shiny does look pretty handsome in his uniform,” Cadance said as she rose to greet Sunset. “Although I will agree with you on the skirt.”

“Uh…” Sunset blinked a few times, wondering what reason Cadance could possibly have for being in Canterlot. Sunset was supposed to be safe from this meeting until they reached Manehattan.

“We’ll have to disagree on this one, Cadance,” Twilight said. “I’d actually love to see Shining in a skirt.”

Sunset bowed, partly to keep from laughing, and partly because she didn’t know what else to do. “Princess Cadenza.”

Although she wasn’t looking, Sunset heard Cadance’s hoofsteps approaching. “Sunset, please, I don’t know how many times I’ve asked you to call me Cadance. And what are you bowing for?”

Sunset stood up, but kept her head down. She didn’t want to see Twilight’s and Fluttershy’s reactions. She had never gotten around to telling them she’d known Cadance before she left Equestria.

Without warning, Cadance pulled her into a hug. “Sunset, it’s so nice to see you again.”

“I, uhm… hi.” Sunset awkwardly wrapped a foreleg around Cadance while being forced to get a good look at Twilight and Fluttershy. Twilight’s reaction was as she expected; she was staring at the scene with her mouth hanging open, while one hoof hung forgotten about midair. However, Fluttershy didn’t seem surprised at all, just smiling happily as if the reunion was completely expected.

“You could have written,” Cadance chided as she let go of Sunset.

“I… I didn’t really think you’d want to hear from me,” Sunset said, taking the chance to look back down at the floor. “I’m sorry, by the way. I know I was kind of a bitch when we were younger, and then –”

“Sunset,” Cadance cut her off. Sunset looked up to see her smiling. “It has been more than long enough to let bygones be bygones. I’d be happy to put the past behind us even if you weren’t dating my sister, and since you are that’s just more of a reason to.”

“Wait a minute…” Twilight said, walking over to them. “You two know each other?”

Sunset shifted uncomfortably while Cadance chuckled. “You really never told them that?”

“It’s not that surprising,” Fluttershy said. “You look nice, by the way. The uniform really suits you.”

“Oh.” Twilight smiled. “Fluttershy’s right, you look very dashing.” She resumed looking perplexed and turned back to Fluttershy. “How is that not surprising?”

Fluttershy cocked her head to the side, apparently surprised that Twilight was surprised. “Well, they did both live at the castle.”

“Huh, I guess you’re right.” Twilight shook her confusion off and turned back towards Sunset. “I guess I just forget how much older you are.”

“Twilight!” Fluttershy scolded.

Twilight’s eyes went wide as she frowned. “Oh! I mean… I didn’t mean it like that, I just, uhm, I’m sorry.”

Sunset pawed at the ground, ears folded back. “It’s fine.”

Fluttershy cast Twilight a dirty look, then hugged Sunset. “It’s okay, we don’t care about how old you are.”

Sunset just sighed.

“It’s okay, Sunset,” Cadance said. “You’re not that much older than me.”

Sunset frowned. That wasn’t nearly as encouraging as Cadance seemed to think it was. But while she hated being reminded of her age, especially in relation to Twilight’s, she hated the idea of showing exactly how much it bothered her even more. “Anyway, what are you doing in Canterlot?”

“Actually, I came in last night to talk to Twilight’s parents.” All eyes turned immediately to Cadance, who smiled while she continued. “While I haven’t got them to come around just yet, I do have good news. They agreed to let you spend the holiday with Spike.”

“Really!? That’s fantastic!” Twilight lit up and threw her forelegs around Cadance in a celebratory hug. “Thank you so much, I can’t possibly explain how much this means.”

Cadance returned the hug, then held Twilight a foreleg away. “I’m glad to see you’re so happy, but there were a couple of conditions.”

Twilight’s shoulders slouched as her smile faded. “What were they?”

“Well, for one, they want me to stay with you the whole time.”

“Okay.” Twilight nodded. She began looking more confident again. “As much as I wish they didn’t think I need somepony to keep an eye on me, I certainly don’t mind spending the day with you too. Actually, I think that sounds like a great idea. It’ll be fun to all spend the day together!”

Cadance hesitated a moment, and glanced at Sunset. “There was one more thing, though…”

Sunset sighed. “I’m staying here, aren’t I?”

Cadance placed a hoof on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Sunset, I really tried my best.”

“But that’s not fair!” Twilight exclaimed.

Sunset smiled and shook her head. “Twilight, this is still great news! I mean, they’re not trying to cut you out of his life completely, so that’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

Twilight sighed and hung her head. “I guess.”

“Hey now, none of that.” Sunset gently pushed Twilight’s head up by her chin. “Now, I want you to go have an amazing day, then you can tell me all about it when you get back.”

Twilight pulled Sunset into a hug. “You’re right.”

“Of course, I’m me.” Sunset winked as she let go of Twilight, earning her an eye roll, and a giggle from Fluttershy.

“There is actually something you can do while you’re here,” Cadance said.

“What’s that?” Sunset asked. She felt a little guilty for it, but doing something other than studying sounded like a relief. Of course she wanted to get Spike back, and was more than willing to scour as many books as she needed to for that to happen, but after a couple days of nothing but advanced law books, she was ready for a break.

“Twilight Velvet and Night Light are staying in Canterlot, and I was hoping you would meet with them.”

Sunset began longing for advanced law books and all day study sessions. “Are you sure that’s such a good idea?”

Cadance nodded. “I think it’s worth a shot. They already agreed to meet with you while Spike’s gone, so I don’t see what we have to lose. If they see the same side of you that Twilight and Fluttershy see, maybe they’ll realize there’s nothing to worry about after all.”

“I… I guess.” Although it made sense, Sunset couldn’t help but have doubts. Nothing about Twilight’s parents suggested they had anything but disdain for her, and she couldn’t see them changing their minds that easily.

“I understand how you must feel,” Cadance said, “but they’re good ponies. They only want what’s best for their children, and they’re scared about something they don’t understand. I really do think getting to know you might ease some of those fears.”

Sunset took a deep breath, then smiled. She didn’t really have a choice anyway; it wasn’t like she was going to pass up a chance to end all their problems with a single meeting, no matter how slim her chances. “Okay. Leave it to me.”

“That’s the spirit,” Cadance said, patting her on the back.

Twilight pressed up against her. “I know if anypony can do this, you can.”

“And remember,” Fluttershy said, taking a spot on the other side, “if it doesn’t work out, something else will.”

“Yeah, I know.” Sunset nodded, then wrapped her forelegs around both of them. “But trust me, by the end of the day we’ll be putting all this behind us.”

Sunset stared at the door to Twilight’s foalhood home. She thought over what she knew about Twilight’s parents. Of course, everypony had given her their advice, but Sunset preferred to focus on her own observations from the brief time they had met.

Night Light had remained collected, even after both Twilights had lost their cool. She suspected Cadance was right about him – he was only interested in what was best for his kids. Sunset would have to convince him that Twilight was still the best pony to raise Spike. He probably had his own logic to back his disapproval, and cracking through that wouldn’t be easy, but it was still better than his wife.

Twilight Velvet was a wild card. Between the two, she had shown the more emotional display, meaning she would likely be the more obstinate. She wouldn’t be convinced, but rather would need to find a reason to change her own mind. Sunset’s goal had to be finding that trigger.

She sighed, wishing she had more to go on. In the end, she’d just have to go with her gut. She’d spent so much of her life picking people and ponies apart, figuring out their weaknesses and how to manipulate them into doing or thinking what she wanted. It was time to see if she could do something good with her talent. She knocked on the door.

There was a noticeable pause where nothing happened, not even sounds from inside. Could be a message, but it didn’t necessarily mean anything. It was a big house, almost as big as her own parents’. She wondered if she should knock again, but the door opened before she could.

“Hello, Sunset. Please, come in.” Night Light smiled politely and held the door open for her.

“Thank you.” Sunset inclined her head and walked through the door. She followed him into the living room, where Twilight Velvet was waiting. Night Light gestured to a chair, so she took a seat. If not happy, he at least looked amiable. Twilight Velvet frowned slightly and didn’t make any attempt to acknowledge her aside from watching her every move. ‘He agreed to this, she’s begrudgingly going along with it.’

“I want to thank you both for agreeing to meet me,” Sunset said, smiling as if there was nowhere else she’d rather be. “It means a lot to us that you’re willing to give this a chance.”

“Well, there’s no harm in getting to know one another,” Night Light said. Twilight Velvet remained impassive. “That’s an interesting outfit.”

“Thank you,” Sunset said. She had decided to keep the uniform on. Even though she knew they were nowhere near as narrow-minded about who was a suitable partner for their daughter as her own parents were, she figured any parent would be happier knowing their child was dating somepony noteworthy. “It’s my new uniform as Twilight and Fluttershy’s guard captain. I just got it in today.”

“Isn’t that just a façade?” Twilight Velvet asked.

“No, ma’am. I really am the captain of the Twilit Guard. It’s all official.” She was a little disappointed that the first words out of Twilight Velvet’s mouth had been an accusation, but not surprised. She knew all along she’d have to work her way from the ground up to win them over.

“Well, it certainly does make you look the part,” Night Light said. “How about I go get us some tea?”

“Thank you, that sounds lovely,” Sunset lied. Her plan had been to primarily start with Night Light, while carefully observing Twilight Velvet until she knew how to talk to her. A plan that unfortunately hinged on Night Light being present, yet he was already walking into the kitchen.

With her only options being to talk to Twilight Velvet or silently stare at one another, Sunset chose the former. “You have such a lovely house, Mrs. Velvet.”

Twilight Velvet nodded. “It’s been in Night Light’s family for generations.”

A short and simple answer. The kind that suggested she was playing along, even though she really wasn’t. She’d avoided both thanking Sunset for the compliment and requesting the use of a less formal name. None of which made progress any easier. “I see. Is magic a family profession, then?”

“On Night Light’s side, yes.” Twilight Velvet answered.

“And of course, Twilight gets her love for books from you.” A sure way to get anypony to open up was to talk to them about their passions.

“I suppose she does.”

Or that could also fail. Undeterred, Sunset pressed for more. “Twilight introduced me to your books. I have to say, I’ve really been loving them.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“Whose idea was it to name Twilight after the passage from ‘The Heavens Above’?” Sunset asked. The Heavens Above was the book Twilight Velvet had been writing when she met Night Light, and he had used a passage from it, which included a reference to watching the twilight sparkle, in his attempt to woo her.

“Night Light’s. I was hesitant to have two Twilights in the family at first, but he won me over in the end.”

Finally. It wasn’t much, but she had shared a small detail more than the most basic answer she could. With some ground to work from, Sunset pressed for more. “I imagine that must have caused some confusion.”

“For a while, yes.” Twilight Velvet didn’t exactly smile, but she stopped frowning, which seemed close enough. “More for her than me, actually. She was surprised to find out her classmates didn’t share their mother’s names.”

Sunset laughed. “Shining Armor’s name didn’t clue her in?”

“I guess she thought it was only for fillies.” Twilight Velvet shrugged.

“She always did latch on to the oddest ideas,” Night Light said, returning with three teacups.

“Thank you, sir,” Sunset said, taking her tea and blowing on it to cool it down.

“You’re welcome. And please, Night Light is fine.” He took his seat next to his wife.

Sunset nodded. “You know, that’s not that strange though. Cute, but pretty normal for foals. Since they don’t have a lot of experience with how ponies outside of their home live, they tend to think everypony lives like them.”

Judging by the return of Twilight Velvet’s frown, she must have caught the subtext of Sunset’s statement. Night Light didn’t give any indication whether or not he noticed. “Well, I can certainly see that you and Twilight have something common.”

Sunset had hoped to learn a little more about the ponies she was winning over before broaching the topic of her relationship, but that seemed to be where the conversation was headed, and it wasn’t surprising. After all, they had invited her for tea, not lunch. They had never planned for this to be a long meeting. “Yes, I’m probably one of the only unicorns who can really keep up with her. Usually, anyway.”

“That’s right, Twilight did mention you were Princess Celestia’s student before her,” Night Light said.

“I was indeed.” Sunset took a sip of her tea.

“Did she introduce the two of you?” Night Light asked.

“Wait, she didn’t tell you about that?” Sunset asked. ‘Way to get a story straight, Twi.’

“Remember, honey?” Twilight Velvet placed a hoof on Night Light’s shoulder. “Twilight met her in that other world.”

“Oh! That’s right, the bipedal one.” Night Light suddenly seemed genuinely happy to have Sunset over. “It’s really fascinating to think about. Twilight told me there’s no magic over there, and I have to wonder what that’s like for a unicorn who studied magic her whole life.”

It was hardly how she hoped to win him over, but she would take what she could get. “It was a major adjustment, for sure. That’s what motivated me to get interested in technology. The things humans do with it is like its own kind of magic, really.”

“Channeling your energy into a different field definitely seems like the thing to do,” Night Light said. He tried a sip of his tea and decided it was still too hot.

Sunset sipped some more of hers. “Did Twilight tell you that the sun and moon move on their own over there?”

Night Light nodded enthusiastically. “She did, and it’s remarkable to imagine. I’ve tried to figure out how it could work so many times, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around it.”

“Well, the sun hardly moves at all, actually,” Sunset explained. “See the Earth – uhm, not the ancient pony country, that’s just also what humans call the planet they live on – anyway, the Earth moves around the sun!”

“What?” Night Light frowned and tapped his chin. “A planet inhabited by life moving around a celestial body? I can’t even begin to imagine the effect that would have.”

“It controls the weather and oceans, among other things. Humans don’t play any role in that at all, and actually a lot of times they can’t even predict what will happen day to day.” Sunset couldn’t help but grin at how clearly blown away he was.

“Astounding. I –”

“Honey,” Twilight Velvet interrupted, “I think we’re getting a bit sidetracked.”

“Oh, right.” Night Light’s sheepish grin was identical to Twilight’s. Sunset had taken it as a given that she got her penchant for easily getting absorbed in things from her mother, but it seemed that the whole family shared the trait.

“Now then, you were telling us how you met Twilight?” Twilight Velvet said. Sunset had hoped to drop that conversation entirely. “I’m very curious myself. Twilight rarely tells us about her exploits, you know. It’s fortunate there was already a unicorn there to help her when she went into that other world.”

Sunset had to fight to keep her composure from slipping. Twilight really didn’t tell them anything about how they met? What was she supposed to say? Simple enough. If Twilight wasn’t going to tell them, then neither would she. They already formed their idea, and she would just go along with it. Lying and manipulating. Hardly anything new to her.

“It was quite a shock to both of us. It had been years since I had even seen an Equestrian.” Although she had never given a single thought to creating a version of the story where she wasn’t the villain, the details came easily to Sunset. No matter how many times she tried to deny it to herself, she loved the feeling. The knowledge that ponies would believe her, because she could make ponies believe her. It felt like bending reality to her will.

“At first I didn’t realize Twilight came from Equestria, of course. I’m sure she told you this, but the mirror changes the form of anyone who goes through it. It was the Element of Magic that attracted me, actually. I could, I don’t know, feel its magic somehow. Must have been resonating with my unicorn heritage or something, because other humans didn’t seem to think anything of it. When she figured out I was tracking the crown as well, she was pretty wary of me, as you can imagine. But once she confronted me, I realized she had to be Equestrian, since she knew so much about magic. Once we got everything sorted out, we were able to get her crown back, and eventually figured out how to stay in touch from different sides of the mirror.”

Sunset smiled to herself as she drank more of her tea.

“You know, Twilight told it a bit differently,” Twilight Velvet said.

Sunset managed to not spit out her tea, but she choked on it while trying to swallow, burning her throat. “Really?”

“I could have sworn she told me that you were the one to take the crown in the first place, actually.”

Sunset opened her mouth, looked between the two frowning ponies, and closed it again. She set her cup on the table and bowed her head. Twilight’s parents had beat her to it, feigning ignorance to test her answer. “That’s… yes, that’s true.”

“Hmph.” Twilight Velvet folded her forelegs. “I knew it. Twilight and Fluttershy would never have fallen into doing something so immoral on their own.”

“That’s not…” Sunset shook her head. “Yes, I was lying about how I met Twilight. I just… I didn’t want to give you another reason to hate me! That doesn’t make it okay, and I’m sorry, but please, don’t let that one mistake ruin any chance of you looking at this with an open mind.”

“There’s a lot more to it,” Night Light said. Although Sunset had been easily working her way into his good graces, that was clearly lost now. He remained calm, but any warmth he had was gone. “Regardless of what you might think, we do care about Twilight’s well being. We’ve been looking into this whole thing, and studies show that relationships with more than two ponies lead to lower success rates.”

“I know that. We all do.” Sunset took a deep breath. “And you don’t even have to say it; there’s no real research on what effect it will have on raising a child. But there’s hardly been any research into the effects of polyamory, the research pools are small, and more often than not there’s a clear bias present.”

“Some things are clear enough,” Night Light said, “and one of them is that no parent would want their child around an environment like that.”

“I don’t know what you think is going on, but I can pretty much guarantee you’re wrong,” Sunset said. “If you just gave it a chance, maybe you’d see. You were supposed to spend the week with us anyway, wouldn’t it make more sense to –”

“I don’t want to know what the three of you are up to,” Twilight Velvet said. “If it is even just the three of you.”

Sunset shook her head. “Is that… what, you think we’re some kind of sexual deviants?”

“We’re not discussing that,” Twilight Velvet said flatly.

“I wasn’t the one who brought it up!” Sunset reminded herself to keep her temper in check, and proceed more calmly. “As far as I’m aware, Twilight and Fluttershy have never had sex with anyone other than each other, and that includes me.”

Twilight Velvet glared at her, as if Sunset was the one who decided to bring up her daughter’s sex life. Night Light didn’t look any more amused. “Unfortunately, you’ve proven you’re not exactly trustworthy,” he reminded her.

Sunset slumped back into her chair. Her eyes fell onto the cup of tea, which was certain to remain half finished. “Then don’t trust me. But you can trust Twilight and Fluttershy. They put their faith in this, because they believe in it. You know them, you know they wouldn’t let anypony force them into doing something that isn’t right. And you know they wouldn’t do anything that would be bad for Spike.”

“And what makes you so sure this isn’t bad for Spike?” Night Light asked.

“Because we all have the same goal for him. We all want to see him grow to be the best he can be, and to help him along the way. None of us would risk putting him in jeopardy.”

Twilight Velvet narrowed her eyes. “Then wouldn’t it be better to do the right thing and leave them alone?”

For a moment Sunset’s words caught in her throat. How many times had she wondered that herself? “If I thought that would be best, I would. All we’re asking is that you give this a real chance, instead of just assuming it can’t work. I know you think I pushed them into this, but I didn’t. And it isn’t like any of us just decided this might be fun to try. We knew what we were getting involved with, but we’re working for it anyway, because we believe it can work. No matter how tough it gets, I know we’ll make it through because we’ll stick together. But it does get tough. Even if you can’t outright support us yet, your open-mindedness would mean the world to us, especially Twilight.”

“Twilight made her decision,” Twilight Velvet said. “She decided she’d rather have you over Spike.”

“Twilight decided to not let you control her life,” Sunset said, a sharpness coming into her voice. “You can call that a decision if you want, but it’s not a real one.”

“Don’t be overly dramatic,” Twilight Velvet said, her voice raising as well. “I know my children, and Twilight will be fine. She’s a strong –”

“You weren’t there!” Sunset got to her hooves. “You didn’t see Twilight after you left! If you did…” Her eyes narrowed as something occurred to her. “But you did see Spike. Tell me, was he fine afterwards? Has he been happy once since he’s been here? Aside from finding out he’d get to spend the day with Twilight and Fluttershy, that is.”

It seemed Sunset struck somewhere painful. Twilight Velvet wouldn’t meet her eyes, glaring instead at the floor. Even Night Light’s collected demeanor seemed to be wearing thin. “Spike is twelve,” he said bluntly.

“Is there an age where it doesn’t hurt to see your family ripped away from you?” Sunset asked. “I assure you that nopony is ever fine with knowing their parents won’t accept them unless they live the way their parents want them to. No matter what age, that still hurts.”

She held Night Light’s glare silently. Twilight Velvet looked like she was about to cry, and as soon as Sunset was out the door, she probably would. Since yelling at each other more wouldn’t solve any of their problems, Sunset decided to let her get to it. She walked to the door, but stopped and looked back before leaving. “I love Twilight, and I love Fluttershy. Maybe that’s not something you can understand, but you don’t have to. Just… think about what’s really right for your children.”

She saw herself out the door. She fumed down the walkway and stopped at the street, where she screamed. It didn’t really make her feel any better, and when she was done she noticed one of their neighbors staring at her.

“Fucking fantastic…” she muttered to herself as she began to walk towards the castle.

“Uh, miss?” the neighbor called after her. “Is there anything I can do to –”

“No!” she shot back, not bothering to look at him.

She wandered in the general direction of the castle. She had brought more than enough bits to get a cab for the trip back, but she needed time to clear her head. It wasn’t like there was really anything waiting for her there anyway. Really, she didn’t even want to be around Twilight or Fluttershy. She failed, and didn’t want to tell them that just yet. She would have liked a chance to talk with Luna, but she was also in Manehattan. So was Celestia, not that she was likely to bring any comfort either. Everypony else she cared about was in Ponyville.

Of course, there were also festivities around Canterlot. The streets were crowded with cheering ponies, but that wasn’t making her feel any better. Over there was a colt and his mother eating ice cream. Over there was a group of young stallions shooting off fireworks. Over there was a pub full of ponies cheering.

She stopped. There was something in Canterlot she could still do… But she’d promised herself she wouldn’t drink, at least not until she felt comfortable she could do so responsibly. She could just imagine the disappointed looks from Twilight and Fluttershy.

She grumbled about how unfair it was, but kept walking anyway. Then she heard somepony from the bar start singing. “Oh, all the money that e’er I had…”

“...I spent it in good company!” the rest of the bar joined in. Sunset had to laugh at how off-key they were, since she knew they all thought they sounded like a real choir. She backtracked a bit, just to look inside, and found it was every bit as lively as it sounded.

She watched for a few moments, but then turned away. It was best if she went back to the castle. She took a step, stopped, and turned back again. It was just… she really liked the song. She stepped into the doorway – just to hear it better, of course.

As they sang, she found herself singing along. She wandered a bit further in towards the end, joining in fully with the crowd. “And all the sweethearts that e’er I had, they’d wish me one more day to stay.”

Once they finished the song Sunset cheered along with the rest of them. She found herself wandering over to the bar and taking a seat. Just to rest her legs.

With how crowded the bar was, the bartender didn’t seem to notice her. Not that she minded, she was just enjoying the atmosphere. She forgot how much she missed it, really. Since returning to Equestria, she had pretty much only ever drunk by herself. Even when she went to the local bar in Ponyville, it was nothing like this. It had its own laid-back feel to it, which was nice, but this felt so alive. It was exactly what she needed after the day she’d had.

“Hey there, miss, what can I get for you?”

Sunset turned to see the bartender smiling at her. She told herself to say ‘nothing’, that it was already past time she left. But then she wondered, ‘Don’t I deserve this?’

It was just one drink, after all. And the Summer Sun Celebration was an all-night event, so Twilight and Fluttershy wouldn’t be back until the morning, and would never need to know. She’d have one drink, then be on her way, and be much calmer for it.

“Just… anything,” she said.

“One of those kinds of days, huh?” He bent under the counter and set down a shot glass.

“Make it a double,” Sunset said, speaking automatically.

“You got it.” He replaced the glass with a larger one and filled it with alcohol. Sunset took the glass and thanked the bartender. “Got anything you want to toast to?”

“To family,” Sunset said.

“To family,” the bartender and a few nearby patrons echoed.

Sunset raised her glass, and heard a voice in her head. ‘You’re better than this! I know you are. You told me once that you look up to me, but I look up to you too!’

“To heroes…” Sunset set the glass back down, still full. She reached into her purse and pulled out a pile of bits. She knocked loudly against the bar with her hoof to get everypony’s attention. “A round for everyone on me! The last I’ll ever buy.”

There were cheers and a few ponies laughing, saying they’d see her back again before the week was out, too drunk to realize they had never seen her before. Sunset didn’t worry about it, and walked back to the castle with her head held high.

19 – Princess of Kindness

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Chapter Nineteen

Princess of Kindness

Twilight kept turning to look at every new pony that walked into the station. Fluttershy giggled. “Twily, they’ll be here soon, don’t be so anxious.”

“I know, I know…” Twilight turned away from the entrance. “I just can’t help it, I’m so excited!”

“I noticed,” Fluttershy said. She’d been watching Twilight fidget restlessly the entire time they’d been at the train station. Cadance had gone alone to Twilight’s parents to get Spike, and would be arriving with him any time. Sunset had walked them to the station, but had already left. It would be better if Sunset wasn’t with them, on the off chance that Twilight Velvet and Night Light decided to accompany Cadance and Spike to the station.

“Sorry… it’s just…”

“Don’t be sorry, I’m glad you're excited.” Fluttershy nuzzled against Twilight. “But I’m pretty sure you’ll know when they get here.”

“Oh?” Twilight placed her hoof over Fluttershy's. “What makes you say that?”

“Twilight!” They turned to see Spike running over to them, leaving Cadance smiling behind him.

“Spike!” Twilight teleported the rest of the distance, and grabbed him in a tight hug.

“Oh, just a hunch,” Fluttershy said to herself. She stood up and walked over to them.

“Twilight, it’s only been a couple days,” Spike said, laughing as Twilight smothered him with affection.

“Shush.” Twilight gave him one last squeeze, before letting him go.

“Hello, Spike. I’m glad –” Fluttershy was cut off when Spike wrapped his arms around her next. She just smiled and hugged him back. “I missed you too.”

“I know you’re all happy to see each other, but maybe we should board the train.” Cadance gestured with her eyes to the gathering crowd.

“That’s probably a good idea,” Twilight said. She walked side by side with Spike while she led them to the train, with Fluttershy on his other side.

Rather than a public transport train, they were traveling in one reserved for ponies involved with the Summer Sun Celebration. Because most of the ponies involved were already there, the train only had two cars, meaning they wouldn’t be getting a private room like they usually did. Still, they were guaranteed to not have ponies meddling in their business, if only because it was part of their jobs not to.

“So are you excited for the Celebration, Spike?” Cadance asked once the four of them took their seats. Aside from a few stolen glances, ponies left them alone.

“Yeah!” Spike said, smiling broadly. It was short lived though, as he cast his eyes down a moment later. “Only… I wish Sunset was coming too.”

“Me too,” Twilight said. Although she was upset with her parents for forcing Sunset to stay in Canterlot, she smiled anyway. “I’m sure we’ll all get together soon though.”

“Couldn’t she, uhm –” Spike glanced around at the room, making sure nopony was listening too closely “– just go to Manehattan by herself and meet us there?”

Fluttershy giggled. “That wouldn’t be very honest, Spike.” She didn't point out that Twilight had brought up the same idea. They might have went with it, but aside from not knowing if Cadance would be okay with the deceit, there were sure to be pictures in newspapers, and the last thing they needed was for Night Light and Twilight Velvet to find out they hadn’t stuck to their end of the deal.

“Besides,” Twilight said, “she’s meeting with Mom and Dad while we’re gone. Maybe they’ll be able to work things out by the time we get back.”

Spike didn’t look relieved. “You don’t really think that’ll work, do you?”

Twilight frowned and glanced to the others. “Well…”

“You’re right, it probably won’t solve everything,” Cadance said. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a step in the right direction.”

“As long as she and Mom don’t get into an argument, I think we can count it as a victory,” Twilight said.

Cadance smirked. “I take it she still has a bit of a temper?”

Twilight forced a chuckle. “Well, I wouldn’t put it like that, exactly.”

“She just gets very… passionate,” Fluttershy elaborated. She also had reservations about Sunset and Twilight Velvet being in the same room. Sunset was an expert at social settings, and could usually manage her emotions well, but if anypony said something negative about her or Twilight, Sunset would go on the defensive.

Cadance just smiled knowingly. “I have to say, I’m looking forward to getting to know the new Sunset Shimmer. From how you described her in your letters, she certainly sounds like she’s turned over a whole new leaf.”

“She has,” Spike said. “She’s way nicer than when Twilight and I first met her.”

“Once this is all settled we’ll all have to get together and celebrate,” Cadance said.

Twilight nodded. “That sounds like a plan.”

They talked about their plans for the day, assuring Spike they would try to do all the things he wanted to do while they were there. They continued talking happily as the train left the station. Fluttershy knew she and Twilight both had the same question on their minds: What was Spike being told about them? They never brought it up though, or even talked about Twilight and Spike’s parents much at all. They only had one day with him, and there was no sense in ruining it with unnecessary drama.

Although they arrived slightly ahead of schedule, Shining Armor was already waiting for them at the Manehattan station. After exchanging hugs with everyone, he led them back to a carriage that would take them to the town square, where they would go over the event plans one last time before having the chance to wander around Manehattan.

“I’m so happy to see you,” Twilight told Shining Armor once the carriage started moving. “The past couple days have been, well, a little much, to say the least.”

Shining scratched at the back of his neck. “Yeah, I can imagine.”

“Have you talked to Mom and Dad?” she asked.

“Uh, yeah, we talked.” Shining averted his eyes.

“He doesn’t want to get involved,” Cadance said, her voice thick with irritation. Fluttershy noticed that even though they were sitting next to each other, Cadance left more room between them than she normally would.

Shining Armor held up his hooves. “I just don’t want to have to choose sides between my sister and my parents.”

Twilight didn’t even look angry. Her ears folded against her head and she sunk into her chair.

Fluttershy wrapped a foreleg around her. “Please… this is really important to us. You don’t have to stand against them, but maybe you could tell them you still think we can take care of Spike?”

“Yeah, it’s not like they’re mad at Cadance,” Spike said. “They talked with her about it for hours, but they still were happy to have her around. I mean, they let her spend the night and everything.”

Shining looked over the three of them. Twilight was clearly on the verge of giving in to depression again, while Fluttershy did her best to comfort her and Spike eagerly leaned forward in his seat. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I know I wouldn’t want anypony telling me how to raise my child.”

Twilight looked at Spike. She took a deep breath and sat up straight again. If he wasn’t around, another rejection would have been enough to throw her out of sorts for the rest of the day. But he was, and if there was one thing that would bring out Twilight’s fire, it was knowing that Spike needed her.

“You don’t have to tell them what to do; even telling them that you support us would be enough.” Twilight frowned. “You do support us, don’t you?”

Shining turned to Cadance, who just looked at him expectantly. Under her watchful gaze, he seemed to choose his next words very carefully. “I don’t really know anything about this whole three-way relationship thing, but I think it wouldn’t hurt to at least try talking with some ponies who have been there. Honestly, right now I’m more concerned about Sunset Shimmer herself.”

“What do you mean?” Fluttershy asked, since Twilight seemed too taken aback to do so.

“We are talking about the same Sunset Shimmer who infiltrated the Crystal Empire three years ago and stole the Element of Magic, right?”

“She’s changed,” Twilight said curtly.

“In three years?” Shining Armor asked skeptically. “That’s not really a whole lot of time for somepony to go from evil to great relationship material.”

“She wasn’t exactly evil,” Fluttershy said. “She was more so… just in a really bad place in her life.”

“Luna changed overnight from Nightmare Moon,” Twilight pointed out.

“Luna was possessed by Nightmare Moon,” Shining said. “That’s a big difference from somepony who was doing bad things entirely on her own accord.”

“Uhm, it was a bit more complicated than that…” Fluttershy said. Luna had told her the whole story of Nightmare Moon once, and how they both were and weren’t the same pony.

“I’m just saying I’ve worked around criminals all my life, and I know how they act. They can put on quite a show of turning over a new leaf, especially ones like Sunset Shimmer. She manipulated a whole school, so she’s clearly good at knowing how to tell ponies exactly what they want to hear.”

“Are you saying I can’t tell the difference between somepony who’s legitimately turned their life around and one who’s trying to manipulate me?” Twilight asked.

Shining Armor held up a hoof. “I’m just saying you should be careful. You’re too trusting for your own good.”

“Princess Celestia, Luna, and Cadance all trust her,” Fluttershy said. She wasn’t entirely sure what Princess Celestia thought of Sunset, to be honest, but she didn’t think she was worried about Sunset’s past, in any case.

“Cadance is also a little too trusting.” Shining tried to smile at Cadance, but she just folded her forelegs and gave him the cold shoulder. He sighed and pressed on. “Princess Luna probably sees too much of herself in Sunset to not be biased, and Princess Celestia wants to make amends with her former student enough that she probably forgave her a little too easily. I mean, look at how easily she forgave Discord, and she wasn’t even close to him.”

“What’s wrong with Discord?” Fluttershy asked.

Shining looked at her as if nopony could ever honestly question what was wrong with Discord. “Well, for one thing he helped Tirek steal all the magic in Equestria.”

“And he was very sorry,” Fluttershy said. She knew it sounded like a dumb excuse, but she also knew Discord would never do anything like that again.

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “I think Princess Celestia has been around long enough to know who she can and can’t trust, Sunset and Discord included.”

“Speaking of being around, isn’t Sunset a little too old for you?”

“What?” Twilight shook her head. “Of all the stupid… Shining, I’m not a filly. I’m twenty-five years old, which is old enough that her age doesn’t really matter.”

“She was already out of Equestria when Cadance and I started dating. She’s older than I am.”

“So what?” Twilight asked. “Why do you even care how old she is?”

Shining sighed and shook his head. “Never mind, I was just saying –”

“You don’t have to play the overprotective big brother with me anymore,” Twilight said, glaring at him. “I can take care of myself. And not that I’ll need to, but I can also protect myself.”

“She has a point,” Spike said, causing Twilight to smirk.

“Fine.” Shining Armor leaned back in his seat. “Just… forget I mentioned it.”

Everypony sat in silence. Cadance and Shining Armor weren’t looking at each other, while Spike didn’t seem to know where to look. Twilight held the tension in her muscles while she fumed at the floor, and Fluttershy gently rubbed her back. Eventually the carriage stopped and everypony filed out.

“Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are ready whenever you two are,” Shining said. He spoke matter-of-factly, showing none of the tension from the conversation they just had, but also lacking his usual jovial nature.

“Right.” Twilight nodded. She turned to Spike. “Well, I can’t say going over the final plans will be much fun for you, but I guess you’re stuck with us.”

Cadance stepped closer and smiled. “Actually, I was thinking Fluttershy could take him out for ice cream or something while they wait.”

“You’re sure it’s a good idea to separate him from his foal sitter?” Twilight asked sarcastically.

Cadance chuckled and nudged her. “You never complained when I was your foal sitter.”

“Twilight, Cadance is only trying to help,” Fluttershy chided.

Twilight sighed and put a hoof to her temple. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Cadance. You’ve been so great to us, and you don’t need me getting an attitude with you for no reason.”

Cadance pulled Twilight in for a hug. “It’s okay, I understand. And it’s only for a little bit, I don’t think Mom and Dad will mind Fluttershy taking over while we’re busy.”

“What do you say, Spike? Want to go get some ice cream?” Fluttershy asked. Spike looked up at Twilight, and Fluttershy giggled. “I promise we’ll all get together once they’re done.”

“Okay, sure,” Spike said. Cadance gave Fluttershy directions to a nearby ice cream shop, and they walked into the crowd.

Along the way, Fluttershy couldn’t help but notice how much attention was focused on them. By now, all of Equestria knew something was going on between Twilight and her parents, and that it involved Spike. They didn’t seem to agree on what exactly the story was, and it wasn’t clear if that was a good thing or not. Nopony knew anything about Sunset, but everypony wanted to be the first to break the story.

If only Sunset had come with them, she would have known what to do. All Fluttershy could manage was to follow some advice Sunset had given her: Just push forward, and don’t even acknowledge that ponies were asking her personal questions. She reminded herself that she didn’t owe them answers, but still felt bad.

Finding the ice cream shop couldn’t happen soon enough. She rushed through the door as soon as she saw it, and just hoped that she wasn’t trapping them inside.

“Go ahead and order whatever you want,” Fluttershy told Spike. Taking full advantage of the situation, he ordered the biggest chocolate fudge sundae they offered. Fluttershy doubted he could finish it, but just chuckled and ordered a much more manageable strawberry sundae for herself. Once she paid, she led them to a seat as far removed from other ponies as possible, although that didn’t mean a whole lot, since the Summer Sun Celebration had certainly brought out a large crowd.

Spike began devouring his ravenously, while Fluttershy savored hers. “Do you think you’ll manage to stay up all night?” Fluttershy asked, hoping to slow him down so he didn’t wind up with a stomach ache.

“Of course!” Spike grinned confidently. “I stay up for the sunrise every year.”

“I don’t know,” Fluttershy said, leaning in closer, “last year you were kind of dozing off a bit.”

“But I still made it,” Spike countered. “Besides, that was only because we stayed in the hotel the entire night.”

“Well, Las Pegasus isn’t the best place for a young dragon.” Fluttershy frowned at the memory. There had been a lot of discussions about where to hold the Celebration that year, since Las Pegasus was hardly the best place for families to spend their holidays. But the city had been petitioning for the event for years, and they couldn’t keep putting it off.

“Well there’s nothing wrong with partying in Manehattan, right?” Spike asked.

Brought back from her memories, Fluttershy smiled again. “No, I’m sure we’ll find plenty to do tonight.”

Spike ate another spoonful of his ice cream, then started picking at it slowly. Fluttershy giggled. “You can’t be getting full already.”

“Huh? Oh, no.” As if to prove his point, Spike scooped a big spoonful into his mouth, then grinned.

Fluttershy didn’t buy it. “Uh huh. So what’s wrong?”

Spike dug his spoon into the ice cream, leaving it sticking out as he folded his claws in his lap. “It’s just… If Princess Celestia is okay with everything, why hasn’t she fixed things yet?”

Fluttershy wrapped a foreleg around his shoulders. “I don’t really think she can.”

“But she’s Princess Celestia! She can do whatever she wants to, can’t she?”

“Not exactly. She still needs to pay attention to the law.”


Fluttershy forced a smile she didn’t really feel. “Although maybe she can still help. And Luna and Cadance are doing their best, too.”

“I know,” Spike said. He sighed and looked up into Fluttershy’s eyes. “I just want to go home.”

“I know. We all do.”

Without much else to say, they returned to eating their sundaes. Spike managed his with much less enthusiasm. Fluttershy didn’t really care if he finished it or not, but she was growing weary of feeling everypony’s eyes on them. She wondered how long it would take for the questions to start.

“You two do know there are less conspicuous places for dessert, right?”

That wasn’t exactly the type of question she’d been expecting, and it certainly wasn’t the pony she’d been expecting it from. “Amber?”

Amber Glow took a seat next to Fluttershy, who was surprised to see she had grown her mane out a little, so it now reached her shoulders. “Hey, Fluttershy, Spike. How’s it going?”

“It’s, uhm, going,” Fluttershy said.

“Uh oh, what’s going on?”

“Uhm…” Fluttershy looked around at the crowded room.

Amber nodded. “Gotcha. Well we can go somewhere quieter after, if you want.” She gestured towards Spike’s still mostly-full sundae. “Once you finish with that, I mean.”

Spike grinned and tapped his claws together. “I, uh, guess if you wanted to have some, I could share with you.”

Amber laughed and switched seats so she was next to Spike. “Why thank you, Spike, I’d love some.”

“So do you always go to the official Summer Sun Celebration?” Fluttershy asked.

Amber took a bite and passed the spoon back to Spike, apparently oblivious to the whipped cream on her muzzle. “Well, I never really used to care. Then for the last year I spent every holiday in Canterlot, or wherever else Luna was.”

Fluttershy covered her mouth with her hooves. “Oh, I’m sorry… I should have realized…”

“It’s fine.” Amber shrugged, then took another bite of ice cream. “Anyway, now I guess… I kinda wanted to watch Luna. Maybe… maybe even talk to her.”

Fluttershy beamed. “Really?”

“Yeah.” Amber smiled. “It’ll be good to finally talk about us. I think it’ll help me put Luna behind me.”

As quick as it came, Fluttershy’s happy expression vanished. “Put her behind you?”

Amber nodded. “Mmm hmm.” She took another bite of ice cream, then shrugged and leaned back in her chair. “I’ve been caught up on her way too long. It’s past time.”

“I… see.” Fluttershy took another bite of her ice cream. “You’re sure that you don’t want to try and work things out?”

“Yeah, I…” Amber put her hooves behind her head and looked off to the side. “I’m actually seeing somepony else now.”

“Oh. That’s nice, I’m happy for you.” Fluttershy didn’t feel very happy. She didn’t believe for a moment that either Amber or Luna were really over each other.

“Thanks.” Amber looked back and smiled again. “Hey, uh, do you think you could be there when I talk to her? I’d rather not do it alone. We’d probably, well, it would end badly is all.”

“Of course,” Fluttershy said.


Once they finished the last of the ice cream, they made their way back towards the town square. Fluttershy wasn’t sure if Twilight would be done rehearsing, but at least they’d be able to talk privately.

Along the way, more ponies kept trying to ask them questions, which they continued to ignore. “That’s how I found you,” Amber told them. “Overheard a bunch of ponies talking about seeing you walk by and decided to check it out.”

“I’m glad you did,” Fluttershy said. “It’s always easier with friends around.”

The stage where the princesses would put on their performance was covered in a tent. When they reached the entrance, two members of the Celestial Guard stood in the path. They bowed when they saw Fluttershy. “Lady Fluttershy, Princess Twilight has not finished her preparations.”

“Oh, uhm, could we just wait inside?” Fluttershy asked.

“Of course.” The guards looked suspiciously at Amber. “Miss Glow will be accompanying you then?”

“I, uhm, that is, if that’s –” She was interrupted by Spike tapping her on the shoulder and motioning to her neck. She reached a hoof to it and felt the necklace Twilight had given her on their engagement. She wasn’t a princess yet, but Twilight had been telling her she should start trying to carry herself with more authority. “I mean, yes, she will.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The guards stepped aside and bowed their heads while they entered.

“Nice job, Princess Fluttershy,” Amber said once they were inside.

Fluttershy blushed. “Well, I’m not a princess yet.”

“Yet,” Amber repeated. She looked around the tent. There was a curtain still blocking the stage to prevent ponies from looking in the opening. They could vaguely hear voices on the other side, but it was heavy enough to muffle the sound, and it was much louder outside the tent. It was as good a place as any to talk in private before they got sidetracked with talking to Luna. “So, what’s going on? Things not working out with Sunset?”

“It’s… not really that.” Fluttershy explained about Twilight’s parents, as well as everypony else’s reactions.

Amber let out a low whistle. “That’s rough. But hey, if three out of four princesses are fighting for something, it has to only be a matter of time right?”

“Hopefully…” Fluttershy pulled Spike into another one-forelegged hug. She kept it short, since she suspected he was getting a little tired of all the affection, even if he was being a good sport about it.

Once she let go of him, Amber pulled her into another hug. “I know how it feels, and I know there’s no easy answer. But things will work out, somehow.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said, returning the hug.

“So Princess Celestia isn’t okay with Sunset?” Spike asked.

“Well… I know she doesn’t think Sunset’s a bad pony, but I don’t think she likes that Twilight’s dating her.”

“Celestia has a very narrow view of relationships,” Amber said, clearly irritated.

Fluttershy took a deep breath. “Everything will be okay. Now, what do you say we check on how they’re doing?”

Amber stared at the curtain for a moment before answering. “Yeah. Let’s do it.”

Fluttershy led the way, holding the curtain aside for the others before stepping through. All four princesses were gathered around a table, going over some plans. Cadance was the first to notice them. She smiled and waved, catching the attention of the others. Twilight looked slightly surprised to see Amber, while Celestia just smiled politely.

Luna looked puzzled for a moment, then stood. “I feel it may be an appropriate time to call an end to the planning. I should think we all know what we’re doing by now.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Celestia said. She remained at the table while Luna approached them, with Twilight and Cadance following.

“Uh, hi,” Amber said nervously.

“Amber, I…” Luna bowed her head for a moment, then smiled as she looked up. “It is good to see you. I trust you are well?”

Amber seemed to look anywhere but at Luna. “I’m, you know, I’m pretty good.”

“I am glad to hear it,” Luna said, followed by an awkward silence.

Twilight took her place next to Fluttershy while Cadance looked between the two. “Maybe we should give you some privacy.”

“No,” Amber said quickly. “I, uh, I won’t be staying.”

Cadance glanced at Fluttershy, who gestured towards Spike. Cadance nodded. “Spike, why don’t you come with me? We can get you a treat if you’re still hungry.”

Spike looked between Luna and Amber, then reluctantly followed Cadance out.

“Well, I certainly hope you know you’re more than welcome to stay, if you’d like,” Luna said. She took a small step closer. “You will always be welcome as my guest of honor, no matter what.”

“I… I know.” Amber bit her lip.

Fluttershy placed a hoof on her shoulder. “You should tell her.”

Amber nodded. “I uh, I wanted to let you know, uhm…” She let out a humorless laugh and pressed a hoof against her face. “This is dumb. It’s not like it matters anyway.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Luna said. She sat on the ground in front of Amber and bowed her head low enough that they were at eye level. “I apologize if my not contacting you for these past few months has caused you to think I don’t care for you. So long as you will allow it, I will always hold you among my dearest friends. Whether great or trivial, if there is something you would like to tell me, I would hear it.”

Amber met her eyes. “I… well, I’m dating somepony now.”

Twilight stared in shock, and even Celestia seemed to be sitting oddly still from her place at the table. Luna, however, smiled without missing a beat. “I’m happy to hear so. Did she accompany you to the event tonight? Not that you need introduce us if it would make things awkward for you, though I would be happy to meet her myself.”

“No.” Amber broke eye contact again, staring straight down at the ground. “He’s in Fillydelphia tonight.”

Luna’s smile faltered. “He?”

“Uhm, yeah. I’m dating a stallion now.”

Luna sat up, frowning. “Amber, you’re not interested in stallions. You never have been.”

Amber attempted a chuckle, but it came out sounding forced. “Said the mare who grew bored of being straight.”

Luna shook her head. “You know very well that’s not exactly how things happened. My sexual preferences may have expanded over time, but it was a period of many years. Not two months.”

“It’s been a little more than that,” Amber defended.

“Sixty-five days.”

“Fine.” Amber frowned and folded her forelegs. “Well, it was a busy two months.”

“I see.” Luna waited a moment, but Amber didn’t seem to be elaborating. “You’re from Fillydelphia originally.” Amber still sat in silence. “Your family still liv–”

“Yeah, okay, fine!” Amber snapped. “Dating a stallion was the only way to get my parents to let me see my brother again.”

“Oh, Amber…” Luna shook her head. “You can not change part of who you are so easily.”

“You know, that literally never occurred to me!” Amber glared up at Luna. Even while sitting down Luna dwarfed her, but Amber seemed determined to look as fierce as possible. “I totally just sat down and decided, ‘Hey, I can probably stop being a lesbian if I try really bucking hard!’ ”

“I’m sorry.” Luna raised a hoof and folded her ears back. “I realize this is not a decision you made lightly.”

Amber huffed and sat down. “I just wanted my brother back…”

“I understand.” Luna moved from where she was sitting so she would be side by side with Amber. They were almost touching. “And have you seen him yet?”

“Yeah.” Amber smiled, and all the tension her body was holding dissipated. “We’ve been hanging out a lot over the past few weeks.”

“It’s good to hear things are working out,” Luna said. “I am glad to hear your parents didn’t turn him against you after all.”

Amber rolled her eyes, but her smile grew larger. “Yeah, turns out you were right. They really didn’t talk about me at all.”

Luna nodded. “Only… there are other ways –”

“Luna, please don’t.”

“Perhaps a friend could play the part. I’m sure you could find someone.”

Amber sighed. “My parents were the one who suggested I date him, I think they’d realize what was up otherwise.”

“Then perhaps he could be reasoned with.”

Amber gritted her teeth. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

“What kind of role model would you be for your brother then, hiding away part of yourself?”

“The kind that’s there!” Amber stood up and moved away from Luna. “Why do you bucking care who I date anyway!?”

“Because I care about you.” Luna rose as well. “You are my friend, and I would see you happy with your love life.”

“You didn’t even care when I slept with Sunset!”

“When you what!?” Twilight asked.

Amber spun around and stared open-mouthed at Twilight. “Oh sweet Celestia I thought you knew!”

Twilight looked to Fluttershy, who had no idea how to respond. “When did that happen?” Twilight asked.

“The, uh, the night before she came back from Canterlot. So you three weren’t dating yet.” Amber looked between them hopefully, but they were both too surprised to say anything else. She took a few steps away. “I… think I should probably go now.”

Amber broke into a run, putting distance between herself and the others as quickly as she could. The sight of her leaving snapped Fluttershy out of her daze, and she ran after her. “Amber, wait!”

She did her best to keep Amber in her sights, but as soon as they left the tent, they were surrounded by ponies. She used her small size to try and duck between ponies whenever possible, but Amber was even smaller. Fluttershy soon lost sight of her, so she took to the air. She scanned for any sign of Amber at all, but her brown coat hardly stuck out in a crowd, and Fluttershy had no choice but to give up. She returned to the ground, where she sat with her head hung down.

She really didn’t care that Amber and Sunset slept together. It had been before they were dating, after all. How could she blame Sunset for something that wasn’t wrong at the time? Really, she had just been surprised was all. But now Amber would think they hated her, and she didn’t know what Twilight would think. For all she knew, Twilight did hate Amber.

“You know, Sunset ran after her too.”

Fluttershy sighed, then turned to address Luna. “Why did you keep pushing her?”

Luna stared out over the crowd, and Fluttershy had to wonder if she could still pinpoint where Amber was. “Sunset also reprimanded me afterwards.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “We should go back.” She began walking, but Luna stayed where she was. After a moment, Fluttershy turned back and returned to Luna, throwing her forelegs around her once she did. “I’m sorry.”

Luna wrapped her wing around Fluttershy, blocking her from view of the ponies that were stopping to stare at them. Slowly the sound died out too, and when Luna pulled her wing away from Fluttershy’s face, she found that they were no longer in the crowd. Instead, Fluttershy found herself looking around the inside of the tent, although nopony else was around.

“There is no need to be,” Luna said. She remained sitting by Fluttershy’s side, and even left her wing draped over her.

Suspecting that Luna wanted somepony near her, Fluttershy leaned against her. “I’m not trying to reprimand you, I just don’t understand. You never push anypony to talk about something they don’t want to, so why would you do that to Amber?”

Luna was quiet for a while. Her expression remained passive, but she held Fluttershy closer. “Amber asked you to stay with her while she told me, correct?”

“Uhm… yes.”

“It is because if we were alone, we would fall back on old habits.”

“I guess that makes sense, but it doesn’t explain why you kept pushing her.” Luna remained quiet. Fluttershy followed her line of sight to see she wasn’t staring at anything at all. “Did… you want to push her away?”

Luna smiled. “You are more astute than I think you realize. Trust your judgement to guide you more, you will not go wrong.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “But… why?”

“Amber has made a decision, and I can not be part of the life she chose,” Luna explained. “I may not agree with it, but I need to respect her choice in making it.”

“You could just be her friend,” Fluttershy said. “A regular friend, who isn’t also dating her.”

“I could, but we are exceptionally bad at that.” Luna smiled wistfully. “We only had one date together before sharing a bed. We agreed to move more slowly afterwards, but following our second date, we found ourselves in my bed again. The next day I was introducing her to Celestia, then we were seeing each other almost every day. Within a month I had offered her a permanent room in the castle, although I believe we both knew she would only ever be using mine. For whatever reason, the two of us are poorly suited to being ‘regular friends’, and so long as she is dating somepony she does not wish to, being around me would jeopardize the life she chose.”

Fluttershy sighed. “If you’re sure about this…”

She got the impression Luna was about to say something, then stopped. After a moment, Luna bowed her head. “I do not normally ask for counsel. I prefer to keep the illusion that I’m always certain in my decisions, even though I’m often not. This time, however, I would like to hear your thoughts, if you would not mind.”

Fluttershy looked up, perplexed. “Really? But wouldn’t it be better to ask Twilight or Cadance?”

Luna met her eyes. “Twilight is the Princess of Friendship, while Cadance is the Princess of Love. I trust their knowledge in their respective fields, much as I may tease the both of them. However, Amber falls somewhere in between a friend and a lover, and even I have a hard time figuring out which side is more appropriate.” She smiled. “As well, I believe we are more like-minded in many ways, so I feel I can better trust your advice than theirs.”

Fluttershy wasn’t sure there was anypony quite like Luna, and if there was it certainly couldn’t be her. Luna was wise, outgoing, mysterious, and confident. Fluttershy was… well, she was just Fluttershy. All she could think of was what she would do; she didn’t know how to tell other ponies what was best for them.

Still, she had to try. Luna was always there for her, and had never once asked for anything in return. The least she could do was to say how she felt. “I, uhm, I think you’re wrong.” She pressed tighter against Luna, while sinking lower to ground and hoping Luna wouldn’t be angry with her for disagreeing. “I think you could be friends, if you just had a more clear understanding of what that friendship meant. You could make it a rule to only meet in public, or just mainly talk through the journals.”

“I did try to set clear rules in the past.” Luna didn’t sound angry. If anything, her voice was encouraging, prompting Fluttershy to speak more.

Feeling a little more confident, Fluttershy risked looking up at Luna. She didn’t look upset, but her emotions were often hard to read. “I… I think Amber learned it’s important to talk about her feelings when they change.” Fluttershy swallowed, willing her fear away. Luna was her friend and had asked for her honest opinion. There was no reason to be nervous about giving one. “And… and I think you could have done more to encourage her to talk about it.”

Luna silently thought about Fluttershy’s words for a moment, then nodded. “I see. It is sound advice, and I thank you for it. I will consider it carefully.” She stood up, and offered Fluttershy a hoof up as well. “I think we have kept Twilight waiting long enough. I asked her to wait with Cadance and Spike while I went after you.”

Fluttershy nodded and began to follow, but stopped after a few steps. “Luna?”

“Yes?” Luna stopped as well, turning to look back at Fluttershy.

She hesitated for a moment, unsure if she should ask what was on her mind. Something Luna had said caught her attention, but she knew it was probably better to leave it alone. Luna walked back to her side and waited for her response. “Did you mean what you said earlier? That you’re not always sure of your decisions?”

Luna smiled. “I say a great many things to many ponies. I am known to hide truths as lies, and tell lies anypony would believe as truthful. But to you, my friend, I believe I have never been anything but sincere. Yes, I do doubt the decisions I make. I feel a leader who does not is unfit to lead.”

“I’m… I’m still worried about being a princess.”

“I understand. There have been many princes and princesses to marry into their crown. Perhaps hearing about them would help you?”

Fluttershy smiled. “Actually, Sunset already told me a lot of stories about them. And it did help.”

“I see.” Luna smiled as well. “You are fortunate to have ponies to support you, you need not face this alone. And between Twilight and Cadance, you can also count two of the best princesses Equestria has known as being among your family. Follow their examples and you will not go wrong.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I know, and I’m glad to have them. But, uhm, if I could choose… I think I’d want to be more like you.”

For a moment Luna’s smile was replaced with surprise, then it came back stronger. She wrapped Fluttershy in a hug. “Thank you.” She continued to smile as she pulled away and turned back towards the tent entrance. “Now, poor Twilight must be getting worried.”

Fluttershy nodded, and followed Luna outside.

As soon as they were out, Twilight ran up to her. “You shouldn’t go running off like that, Shy. What if you got lost?”

Fluttershy chuckled. “Uhm, I think I could have found the giant tent in the town square.” She shook her head and hugged Twilight. “I’m sorry I worried you though.”

They walked back to where Twilight had been standing. Cadance and Spike were sharing a funnel cake, while Shining Armor was eating one all on his own.

“My sister is not with you?” Luna asked.

“She said she wanted to take a nap,” Cadance answered.

“I tried telling her it’s tradition to stay up all night,” Spike said.

“Tia has never been partial to being up when her sun is not,” Luna said. Under her breath she added, “One would think that might make her more understanding towards those who need sleep during the day, but alas…”

Fluttershy and Twilight giggled, though the others didn’t seem to hear.

“So now that we’re all free, what does everypony want to do?” Cadance asked.

‘Everypony’ seemed to mean ‘Spike’, since he was the only one to offer any suggestions. They unanimously agreed to his suggestion, so all six of them found themselves walking into the crowd.

Most of their group took advantage of the train ride back to Canterlot to nap. Twilight had fallen asleep with a foreleg and a wing around Spike, who was snoring gently while resting against her. Throughout most of the night Cadance had been distant with Shining Armor, making it plainly obvious she wasn’t happy with him not taking a more active role in supporting Twilight, but they seemed to have put their disagreement to the side, at least for a little while, since they were cuddling and sleeping peacefully.

At their request, Luna and Princess Celestia had agreed to take the train back to Canterlot with them, although they wouldn’t say why they wanted them to all stick together. Luna was napping next to Fluttershy – or at least, Fluttershy was pretty sure she was asleep. The Princess of Dreams did have the sometimes eerie ability to remain perfectly still for as long as she wanted, and even if she was asleep, Fluttershy couldn’t help but shake the feeling that she’d still be fully aware of what was going on around her.

It was with this in mind that Fluttershy began stroking Luna’s mane, hoping to offer her some comfort in her sleep. Even if she didn’t let it show how upset she was about Amber, Fluttershy could tell; Luna had stuck close to her all night. And to be fair, she’d also always wanted to feel Luna’s mane, and she was lying with her head right next to Fluttershy’s hoof. She always imagined that it would feel like the night sky, although she had no idea what that meant. As it turned out, it felt like hair.

“I’m glad Luna found a friend like you,” Princess Celestia said. She was sitting next to Cadance and Shining Armor, and spoke quietly so as to not wake them up.

“I’m glad I have a friend like her,” Fluttershy said. She thought Luna smiled a bit. Maybe.

Feeling awkward since Princess Celestia addressed her, Fluttershy stopped. She looked over towards Twilight and Spike. “Uhm, Princess Celestia, can we talk?”

“Yes, of course.” Princess Celestia stood up and Fluttershy followed her across the car, where they wouldn’t have to worry about disturbing the others. “What would you like to talk about?”

“I, uhm…” Fluttershy glanced back at Twilight and Spike. She wasn’t sure if she could help them, but she had to try. “I know you don’t like the way our relationship works, but, uhm…

“Fluttershy,” Princess Celestia said gently, “I’m sorry, but it’s not a matter of what I do and don’t like. The law is clear, and unless a court decides otherwise, I can’t remove Spike from his parents’ care.”

“I know.” Fluttershy nodded. She focused on her breathing for a few breaths, trying to feel like there was oxygen in her lungs. It didn’t work, and she felt like she was going to cave in. “It’s just… You’re really hurting Twilight and Sunset. You don’t have to do anything about Spike, but maybe… you could just talk to them?”

Princess Celestia watched Twilight sleep, and her expression was incomprehensible. “I’m not sure I follow. What would you like me to talk to them about?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Fluttershy said. “They both really love you. They think of you as a second mom, and you’ve been avoiding them for days. Sunset actually feels like you’re the only family she has.”

Princess Celestia continued watching Twilight. Fluttershy noticed a change in her expression, but still couldn’t read it. “I see. It was never my intention to hurt either of them.”

“I know.” Fluttershy wondered what Twilight and Sunset would think of her talking to Princess Celestia about them. They probably wouldn’t be happy about it. “They’ve both been through so much, and things are only going to get harder when we come out publicly. Sunset’s whole life in the other world fell apart, and now Twilight feels like she’s losing her family. Please don’t let them lose you too.”

“Thank you for sharing this with me, Fluttershy,” Celestia said, giving no indication of what she would do.

Fluttershy supposed that was the best she was going to get. She stood up, wondering if there was enough time left in the train ride to snuggle up with Twilight and try to get a little sleep herself. ‘Probably not,’ she decided, ‘but there’s enough time to try.’


Fluttershy turned back to Princess Celestia, who looked almost uncertain. “Yes?”

“Do you really love them both equally?”

Fluttershy had to stop for a moment to think. Not because she needed to figure out the answer, but because she wasn’t sure why the princess would ask that. Was it as simple as saying yes? Did she only need to tell her that she did, in fact, love more than one pony, and that would be enough to change her mind? It didn’t matter. Even if that were the case, Fluttershy was an awful liar.

“I love Twilight. I love her with all my heart, and I always will. Sunset is also very special to me, but I don’t know her anywhere near as well as I know Twilight.”

Princess Celestia nodded, seemingly content with the answer. “Yes, of course. I suppose it was a silly question.”

“But uhm,” Fluttershy continued, “I don’t really think it works that way.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well…” Fluttershy tried to think of how to explain it, but she wasn’t even sure she fully understood what she wanted to say herself. “Twilight and Sunset are different ponies. I feel differently about them. So I don’t think it’s fair to compare them like that. Every day, I feel myself getting closer to really loving Sunset, but it’s not the same as loving Twilight. And… I wouldn’t want it to be. I don’t want to love another pony the way I love Twilight, I already have Twilight. And she makes my life feel complete, all on her own. But now I also have Sunset, and she adds so much more to it.”

Fluttershy finally thought she understood what Princess Celestia’s expression meant. She couldn’t comprehend what Fluttershy meant, but she wanted to. “Your life is more than complete?”

“It’s, uhm, it’s hard to explain.” Fluttershy decided to try a different approach. “I love feeling the sunlight on my fur, and I love the sound of rain when I’m all snuggled up inside. I love them both, but I really love sunny days better. But it’s not like that with Twilight and Sunset. It’s more like how I also love curling up with a nice book. I can love basking in the sun at the same time as I love reading the book, and it’s just silly to try and compare the sun to the book.”

Princess Celestia looked down, and seemed to be turning over the words in her head. “I see. Thank you again, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy bowed her head and returned to Twilight. She smiled and snuggled in as close as she could.

All too soon, the train was pulling into the station. Fluttershy would have felt comfort in knowing that they probably could look forward to a nap with Sunset back at the castle, but it was hard to feel positive when she knew first they’d have to return Spike to Twilight Velvet and Night Light.

Except for Luna and Princess Celestia, everypony was groggy from being up all night. Slowly they shuffled off the train, shielding their eyes from the sun outside.

Once her eyes adjusted, she saw Sunset and Twilight’s parents approaching them, seemingly from opposite ends of the station.

“How’d everything go?” Sunset asked, offering hugs to everypony.

“Exhausting,” Twilight answered. She grabbed Spike and pulled him close to her. “But worth it.”

“It was so much fun!” Spike launched into an explanation of the night’s events. When he explained about running into Amber, Fluttershy was pretty sure she saw Twilight cast Sunset a dirty look, but she didn’t say anything. There would be time to address that later.

Twilight Velvet and Night Light waited patiently while Spike explained everything. “It sounds like you had a pretty busy night,” Twilight Velvet said once he was done. “But now I think it’s time we get you into bed.”

Cadance cleared her throat. “Actually, Shiny and I were hoping you’d let us make an announcement at your house.”

“An announcement? Is everything okay?” Night Light asked.

“Everything’s fine,” Shining Armor said, “we’d just like to be somewhere a little more private.”

“Well, I can’t argue with that,” Night Light said, glancing around at the crowded station. They definitely wouldn’t get any privacy with all four princesses gathered in one public place.

“And you want me and Tia to accompany you for this announcement?” Luna asked.

“Yes, we’d like the whole family to be there,” Cadance said. She looked pointedly at Sunset, which Twilight Velvet noticed.

“Okay, but we really need to get Spike to bed soon.”

As the whole group of ponies made their way to Twilight Velvet and Night Light’s home, Princess Celestia kept pace beside Sunset. “Your new uniform suits you.”

Sunset smiled at the compliment. “Thanks. Rarity did a great job on it.”

“She certainly did. Whose idea was it to use the Elements of Harmony for the badge?”

“Oh, that was mine,” Twilight said. “I wanted something that didn’t just represent me, but the entire Friendship Council.”

“It’s very clever.”

Along the way, Celestia kept talking with Sunset and Twilight. Luna noticed and looked suspiciously at Fluttershy, who smiled as innocently as she could. Twilight Velvet and Night Light walked with Spike in between them, and talked happily with Cadance and Shining Armor. The whole way there, Fluttershy was reminded how happy their family could be.

When they reached the house, they all crowded around the living room, finding seats wherever they could. Twilight, Fluttershy, and Sunset all huddled together on a couch built for two in order to make sure there were seats for everyone, which earned them a sharp look from Twilight Velvet.

Cadance and Shining Armor made their way to the center of the room. “Thank you for coming everypony,” Shining Armor said.

“Our family may be a little strange,” Cadance said. “Many of us have made homes all over Equestria – and even beyond it – and then moved from them to new ones. But wherever we live, our real homes will always be with each other.”

“And we can be a little unorthodox at times,” Shining said. Fluttershy took hold of Sunset’s hoof as all eyes fell on her. “But in the end, all that really matters is that we stand by each other.”

Cadance and Shining looked into each other’s eyes and smiled. Cadance nuzzled against him, then turned to address the room again. “Which is why we’re happy to announce that we’re bringing a new addition to our family.”

“Aaahh!” Twilight Velvet bolted up and threw her forelegs around Shining and Cadance. “Do you mean it? You two are really…?”

“We’re having a baby!” they announced together.

The room erupted in the sound of applause, which almost drowned out the sounds of Twilight Velvet’s squeals of joy. Everypony got up to offer hugs and congratulations.

“Personally, I was hoping they were going to announce that they got a new puppy,” Luna said to Celestia, causing her to chuckle.

“I can’t believe it!” Twilight said as she took her turn to hug Shining Armor. “I’m going to be an aunt!”

“Well, Aunt Twilight,” Shining said, “we actually have something else to ask you and Fluttershy.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side. “What’s that?”

“Well,” Cadance said as she returned a hug from Fluttershy, “we were hoping you two would be our little foal’s guideparents!”

Twilight and Fluttershy exchanged excited expressions. “You want us to be the guideparents?” Twilight asked.

“We’d be honored,” Fluttershy said. They found themselves in a group hug with Cadance and Shining Armor.

“That’s great!” Sunset said once they pulled apart. “And might I say you made an excellent choice.”

“Cadance, Shiny,” Twilight Velvet said, looking uncertainly at Sunset, “you, er, you do realize that if anything happens to you…”

“Then our foal will be in excellent hooves,” Cadance said.

Shining scratched the back of his neck. “I know you’re concerned about Spike, and I understand why, but… that’s not something we’re worried about for our foal.”

Cadance giggled and playfully nudged Sunset. “Who knows, our foal might wind up with three guidemothers after all.”

“I… but…” Twilight Velvet looked around. Everypony else still seemed happy. Even Night Light didn’t look too upset, although he probably had reservations about it too.

“Oh I just can’t wait!” Twilight said. “Have you started thinking of names yet?”

Fluttershy giggled. “Twily, it’s probably a little early for that.”

“I don’t think Twilight understands that it can be too early to plan something,” Sunset said. “I bet she already has names picked out in case you two ever decide to have foals.”

Twilight blushed. “Well, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”

Sunset and Fluttershy both laughed and hugged her.

“I think that’s enough of that,” Twilight Velvet said.

Sunset respectfully pulled away from the other two, while Fluttershy and Twilight exchanged annoyed looks. “Sorry, I didn’t realize hugging was off limits,” Twilight said.

“I see what you’re doing,” Twilight Velvet said to Cadance and Shining Armor. “You’re trying to make us look like the bad guys.”

Shining Armor arched an eyebrow. “Mom, we didn’t decide to have a foal to prove some sort of point.”

“Hey, look, let’s not cause any more drama,” Sunset said. “Come on, this is a happy occasion, right? We don’t need to do this today.”

“You shouldn’t even be here,” Twilight Velvet said. “You’re not part of this family.”

Cadance reached out a hoof for Twilight Velvet’s shoulder. “Mom, please –”

“Don’t.” Twilight Velvet brushed her hoof off.

Night Light stepped up to his wife’s side. “Honey, this isn’t the best time to do this,” he said quietly.

She looked at him like he betrayed her, then looked back at Sunset like it was her fault. “I want you out of my house.”

“Okay.” Sunset held up a hoof. “I’ll meet you two back at the castle.”

“No.” Twilight grabbed Sunset’s hoof and pulled her closer. “If you want Sunset to leave, then all three of us will go.”

Sunset leaned in closer. “Twilight, please, let’s not make a scene.”

“I’m not the one making a scene!” Twilight snapped.

“Twilight, I would never ask you to leave here,” Twilight Velvet said curtly, “but she isn’t welcome in this house!”

“Uhm, maybe we should just go,” Fluttershy said, casting apologetic glances at Cadance and Shining Armor.

“You’re being unreasonable,” Shining said. “Today is kind of a big deal for us, and you’re making it all about Sunset. She hasn’t even done anything wrong.”

“Hasn’t done… Shiny, she’s leading your sister into a life of debauchery!”

“A life of… what the buck do you think we’re doing!?” Twilight asked.

“I’m sure I’d rather not know.”

Twilight blushed furiously and facehoofed. “Mom. I don’t even know why you would think this, but we’re not sleeping around with anypony else.”

“So what happens when somepony else comes along?” Twilight Velvet asked.

“Nopony else is coming along! It’s just me, Fluttershy, and Sunset!”

“Oh you can say that,” Twilight Velvet said, “but somepony will. Somepony always does.”

Twilight shook her head. “What are you even talking about!?”

“Twilight, everypony has doubts! Everypony falls for ponies other than their lover! The difference is that good ponies know better than to acknowledge those feelings!”

The room grew quiet, while everypony looked around in shock. Twilight Velvet kept up her glare for a while, but soon started looking around as well. Eventually her eyes settled on Night Light who was staring at her wide-eyed and slack-jawed. “What?”

“Is… that really how you feel?” he asked.

Twilight Velvet blinked a few times and looked back towards her children. She was already shrinking away as she realized what she had said.

“Mom…” Cadance took a step closer. “It’s perfectly normal to develop feelings for other ponies, but… it’s not something everypony experiences.”

“I…” She backed away further. “Cadance, dear, you of all ponies should realize…”

Cadance shook her head. “I love Shining Armor, and I only love him. But it’s okay, we can help you come to terms with how you feel, and the first step is to acknowledge your feelings.”

Twilight Velvet looked at Twilight, Fluttershy, and Sunset, then turned and ran to her room. She slammed the door hard enough that the sound travelled down the stairs.

Next, attention turned to Night Light. “So Dad,” Shining Armor started, “what do you say we –”

“I think it’s past time somedragon goes to bed.” Night Light walked over to Spike and put a hoof on his shoulder. “Say your goodbyes, Spike.”

Spike nodded and moved around the room, hugging ponies in turn, even Princess Celestia and Luna.

“I’m sure we’ll see you soon,” Twilight said when she hugged him. “Love you, Spike.”

“Love you too, Twilight.”

Night Light brought Spike up to bed, leaving the others to stand around awkwardly.

“I think it’s best if we leave,” Princess Celestia said.

“Cadance, Shining Armor, you two are staying the night?” Luna asked.

“No, but our train doesn’t leave until the evening,” Shining said.

Luna nodded. “Very well. My sister and I shall leave then, but do make certain Twilight Velvet and Night Light both know they can reach out to me at any time.”

“We will,” Cadance said.

“Should, uhm, should we try talking to them?” Fluttershy asked.

“I… didn’t do such a good job of winning them over when we talked yesterday.” Sunset bowed her head. “I really don’t think they trust me, so I’d probably only make things worse. But you two could probably give it a shot.”

“I… I’d like to try,” Twilight said. She walked up the stairs, with Fluttershy following behind. Along the way, they passed Spike’s room. They heard Night Light talking within, but couldn’t make out the words. His voice sounded good-natured, though.

Twilight knocked on her parents’ bedroom door, but there was no answer. “Mom? It’s me.” Still nothing. “I… I just want to say that everything’ll be okay. I remember how I felt when I first realized I had feelings for Sunset. It was awful, but then we realized… it’s okay to feel like that. I’m not saying that what’s right for us is what’s right for you, but, well… I’d really like to help you and Dad figure everything out, if you’ll let me.” There was only silence. Twilight sighed and rested her head against the door. “Well, if you change your mind, all you have to do is ask. And, uhm, I love you, Mom.”

Slowly they backed away from the door. As they were passing Spike’s room, Night Light stepped out of it. “Think he’ll get any sleep after all that?” Twilight asked.

Night Light smiled, though it didn’t seem like his heart was in it. “I’m sure he will. He sleeps through anything.”

“Uhm, you know…” Fluttershy pawed at the ground. “I was the one in your position before. Uhm, I mean, at first I really only wanted to be with Twilight. I could, uhm, I could probably help answer any questions you have, if you want.”

“Thank you, Fluttershy,” Night Light said. “I think we just need some time to ourselves for right now, though.”

Fluttershy nodded.

“Let us know if you need anything,” Twilight said.

“Will do.”

Twilight hesitated a moment, then threw her hooves around him. “I love you, Dad.”

“Love you too, Twilight.”

They walked back down the stairs and joined Sunset at the bottom. Luna and Princess Celestia had already left. After saying their goodbyes and final congratulations to Cadance and Shining Armor, the three of them left the house and walked back to the castle.

20 – Opening Up

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Chapter Twenty

Opening Up

Whatever else it was, sleeping in between two other ponies was uncomfortably warm. Twilight was already looking forward to the winter months, and to warm cuddles under blankets surrounded by her lovers, but that was still six months away. Summer had just started, and she was already tempted to beg Celestia to turn the sun down. Or at least to try switching places with Fluttershy. After all, even if they all liked being in the middle, Fluttershy did seem to enjoy it the most.

They had never actually decided who would sleep where – or even that they would be sharing a room – but it seemed that through some unspoken decision, Twilight was always in the middle. She suspected they wanted to comfort her in the face of everything going on, and she appreciated it, really. But even Fluttershy was taking advantage of their stay in Canterlot to sleep in a bit, while Twilight was awoken every morning by the sunrise bringing altogether too much warmth to their bed.

She rolled over onto her side and gave up trying to sleep, watching Fluttershy instead. She looked so serene while she slept, even just looking at her helped Twilight feel peaceful too. She reached out and brushed a strand of mane out of her face, tucking it behind her ear. Fluttershy shifted at the touch, mumbling wordlessly, then she was still again.

“She’s so beautiful.”

Twilight smiled as she felt a hoof slide around her. Even after a month, it felt a little strange to hear somepony say something like that about Fluttershy. “Yeah, she is.”

She turned back around to face Sunset, wrapping a foreleg around her. “I’m sorry, did I wake you?”

“Maybe,” Sunset said quietly. She smiled and leaned in closer. “I don’t mind though.”

She reached a hoof behind Sunset’s head and pulled her the rest of the way in for a kiss. “I don’t know what to do with you. You sprawl out over the entire bed, then wake up at the smallest movement.”

Sunset arched an eyebrow in a mock serious expression. “Hey, you love having me sprawled over you.”

Twilight grinned. “What makes you say that?”

“The way you cling to me as if I’m the only thing keeping you on the bed.”

“Well maybe if you would stay on your side, I wouldn’t have to –”


Sunset pressed her lips against Twilight’s and ran a hoof through her mane. Twilight wrapped her own hoof around Sunset’s back, pulling the unicorn’s body tight against her own. She closed her eyes, drifting away into the moment. She kept her lips parted, and Sunset took the invitation, her tongue dancing around Twilight’s.

Suddenly Twilight gasped and pulled away, her eyes shooting open as she felt another pair of hooves wrap around her. Fluttershy curled around her and kissed her neck. “Good morning.”

Twilight and Sunset exchanged looks, and she knew they both had the same thing on their minds. They had never actually agreed what was acceptable when it came to anything more intimate than kissing. “Good morning, Shy,” Twilight said awkwardly.

Fluttershy giggled. “It certainly looked like you two were enjoying yourselves.”

At least Fluttershy couldn’t see Twilight’s blush. Sunset wasn’t so lucky, being in front of both of them. Twilight realized she was still holding onto Sunset, and moved her hooves to rest them on Fluttershy’s. “Uhm, I hope that wasn’t… too much.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Fluttershy put her mouth up to Twilight’s ear, and whispered quietly enough that Sunset wouldn’t be able to hear. “Actually… it’s kind of fun watching you two.”

Twilight held Fluttershy’s hooves tighter and blushed harder. “R-really?”

Fluttershy just giggled, then went back to kissing Twilight’s neck. Conscious of Sunset’s eyes on her, Twilight blushed, which only got worse when Fluttershy bit down, eliciting a small moan.

“Uhm…” Sunset’s eyes flicked between the two. “Should I… give you two some alone time?”

Unsure how to respond, Twilight just stayed still.

“What do you think, Twily?” Fluttershy asked, her tone making Twilight’s heart beat faster. “Should we send Sunset out?”

“I, uhm…” Since she couldn’t see Fluttershy, she tried looking to Sunset for help, only to find Sunset looked just as unsure as she was. “What, uh, what do you want to –”

“No.” Fluttershy traced her hoof down Twilight’s body. “I asked you.”

Fluttershy’s hoof was already at Twilight’s stomach, and it kept wandering lower. “I, uhm… maybe… maybe she could… stay?”

Fluttershy nibbled on Twilight’s neck again, then turned her attention to Sunset. “And what about you, Sunset? Do you want to –”

“Yes!” Sunset answered quickly, then threw a hoof over her face.

Fluttershy giggled. “Oh, poor Sunset. We’ve left you out all this time.” Torturously, she pulled her hoof away to tap on her chin. “So Twily… have you been wanting to invite Sunset the entire time?”

Twilight looked at Sunset guiltily, then turned towards Fluttershy. “Uhm… maybe…”

Fluttershy grinned. “Oh Twily, you know we’re supposed to talk about things like that.” She reached across Twilight and pulled Sunset closer to them.

Although it was hard to move while she was pressed so tightly against the two of them, Twilight shifted to better face Fluttershy. “I’m sorry, I just…”

Fluttershy looked at her quizzically. “Why are you apologizing to me?” She shifted back to a seductive grin. “Sunset’s the one who’s been ignored because you were just too embarrassed to say anything.”

Twilight turned back to Sunset, who looked almost afraid to get involved.

“Now then, what to do with you,” Fluttershy said. “I suppose it’s only fair that since you were naughty, you’ll just have to make it up to Sunset. And so you know, you won’t be getting any attention unless she decides you did a good job.”

Twilight wasn’t sure who was blushing more, her or Sunset. “Well, go on,” Fluttershy prompted. Twilight nodded, and kissed Sunset. She slowly worked her way down Sunset’s body, kissing everywhere along the way. As she got to the bottom of her pajama and started sliding it out of the way, she felt Fluttershy move behind her, filling the space Twilight had been in.

“And Sunset?” Fluttershy took hold of Sunset, keeping Twilight pressed in between them. She began kissing Sunset, and waited until her first gasp of pleasure before finishing her thought.

“Don’t you dare go easy on her.”

At some point, Fluttershy had wound up in the middle of the bed. Twilight and Sunset were both clinging onto her, while she had one foreleg around each of them. Twilight, being the last to finish, was still catching her breath. Thankfully, Sunset had decided she did a very good job after all.

“You okay, Twily?” Fluttershy asked, noticing how heavy Twilight’s breathing was.

“Okay?” Twilight nuzzled against Fluttershy while stroking Sunset’s mane. “That was incredible!”

Fluttershy held them both tighter. “And, Sunset… I hope that wasn’t, uhm, too much.” She had kept both Twilight and Sunset busy the entire time, confidently making sure they were both wherever she wanted them to be. Only now that they were done did she start to blush.

“You two certainly are full of surprises, but you won’t hear me complaining.” Sunset traced her hoof around Fluttershy’s stomach. “Actually… I’m already looking forward to next time.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Good.”

Sunset hid her face against Fluttershy. “I just can’t believe I finished so quickly…”

“Aww, don’t worry,” Fluttershy said. “I think it was pretty exciting for all of us.”

“It’s, uhm, it’s also been a while…”

Twilight smiled and reached for Sunset’s hoof. “Sunset, there’s no reason to worry about it. You were great, and we love you.”

Sunset’s ears perked up, and Twilight felt her euphoria crash down as she realized what she said. She kept her eyes off Fluttershy, not wanting to see her reaction.

Sunset chuckled. “Better watch out, Twi. If you don’t choose your words more carefully, somepony’s bound to get the wrong idea.”

Twilight tightened her hold on Sunset’s hoof. “Uhm… I love you, Sunset.”

Sunset looked into Twilight’s eyes. “I… I love you too, Twilight.”

As they smiled at one another, Twilight felt herself fill with an entirely different euphoric feeling.

“Uh, I think you’re supposed to kiss now,” Fluttershy said, causing both of them to laugh. Once they were done, they faced each other again, then kissed.

“And, uhm…” Sunset glanced away, but kept the same smile. “You don’t have to say it back or anything, but I love you too, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy squeezed them both tighter. “I’m happy you two feel that way about each other,” she said, “but I’m not sure I’m quite there yet.”

“Right. Of course.” Sunset nodded, then nuzzled against Fluttershy again.

“You know you’re very special to me.” Fluttershy gently lifted Sunset’s head so they were looking at each other. “And I do feel something for you. I just want to wait until I’m sure before I say something like that.”

“That’s completely understandable,” Sunset said. She grabbed Twilight and pulled her over for a group hug. “I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you both!”

“Me too,” Twilight said. She felt a little bad for Fluttershy, since she was stuck underneath the other two, but she was smiling and laughing, so she must not have minded.

Fluttershy shimmied her way to sitting up, then wrapped a wing around each of them. “Me three. But we should probably get a start on our day.”

Really, Twilight would much rather stay in bed, and doubted she was the only one. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“Do either of you want to use the shower first?” Sunset asked.

“You can go ahead,” Fluttershy said, taking the chance to roll around in bed a bit more. “You’re the only one who also needs to get dressed, so you might as well go first.”

Twilight nodded her agreement before getting up and stretching. She walked over to a desk and sat down, levitating a book over. She opened it, got out a quill, then stopped when she heard Sunset laugh. She turned around to see that she was looking into a mirror. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.” Sunset opened a closet, which was almost exclusively filled with her clothes. “I guess I won’t be sending you two out while I get dressed though.” She covered herself in a bathrobe, then left for the bathroom.

Twilight returned to the book. She looked down at the bookmarked page, skimming what was written. Everything was in her own neat writing, and they were all messages to her parents. There were no replies. They had hoped that her mom’s accidental reveal during the outburst that followed Cadance and Shining Armor’s baby announcement would change things. That with a major factor in the problem revealed, they could address it with much more ease. That they might be able to all get together and finally have a real discussion on polyamory. As it turned out, nothing seemed to change.

Well, not exactly nothing. Twilight couldn’t help but think about everything differently. Suddenly, she wasn’t angry with them anymore. Sure, things could have gone much better at pretty much every point in the whole situation, but now she understood why her mom felt the way she did.

It hadn’t been that long ago that Twilight felt like her feelings for Sunset made her a horrible pony. She had a fiancée, but was falling for somepony else. Her entire life was full of examples of two ponies being in love, and that was where it always ended. What made her an exception? Why should she be allowed more than that? And why would she even want more in the first place? ‘One and only.’ ‘I’ll only have eyes for you.’ ‘My one true love.’ All things that ponies said all the time. ‘You’re the only pony I ever want to be with, the only pony I could ever love.’ Twilight had said that to Fluttershy, right before asking, ‘Will you marry me?’ Wasn’t that the way things were supposed to be?

In the end, Twilight had looked for answers about how she felt, but only because she was forced to address the issue. If she could have, she knew she would have spent her entire life lying to everyone, including herself, saying that she only ever loved Fluttershy. But what if she didn’t face it? How would that have affected her thoughts on somepony else being polyamorous?

Her mom never had a reason to face her own feelings. Or maybe she did, but never found anypony to talk about it with. There certainly wasn’t a Princess of Love for her to confide in, and by her own admission her mom was every bit the recluse that Twilight herself was before moving to Ponyville. She was fifty-six years old, which meant she probably had spent over half her life convinced she was wrong for the way she felt. It seemed the only way she learned to cope with it was to simply believe it was something everypony dealt with and had to ignore.

So she wasn’t angry. She felt bad for them. She wanted to help them. But they wouldn’t answer their door, and when Cadance wrote from the Crystal Empire, it was to tell them that they hadn’t managed to get either parent to talk about it. So she communicated with them the only way she could – she wrote to them through a journal, at least twice every day.

At first her messages were attempts at arranging a meeting, or at least getting them to talk to her about it through the journal. Eventually she realized they wouldn’t be writing back, so she started sending them any information or advice she could think of, hoping they would at least read it. She talked about her own experiences, and the things Cadance had told her when she felt doubt. Fluttershy also wrote about her experiences, and about her conversations with Luna. Sometimes she just wrote to them about things that were completely unrelated, because they were her parents and she missed talking with them.

And for the first time, she would send a personal request.

‘So today’s the big day. I wish I could say I’m excited. But really, I’m scared. I know there’s going to be a lot more harsh opinions than when Fluttershy and I came out, and it’s hard to not worry about that. But in a way, that’s why I think this is so important. Most ponies won’t understand, but they never will unless somepony steps forward to talk about it. I just wish that ‘somepony’ wasn’t us.

‘I understand that you still have doubts about all this, but it would mean a lot to us if you came to the announcement. We wouldn’t have to talk if you don’t want to, and we can have you kept away from the rest of the crowd, that way nopony will even know you’re there to ask any awkward questions. Just knowing you’re there watching would make me feel better about the whole thing.

‘Whether you come today or not, I hope we get to talk soon. Give my love to Spike, and of course I love you both, too.’

She closed the book and stood up. Since Sunset was still in the shower, Twilight took the chance to return to bed for a bit. “Hey, Fluttershy?”

“Mmm hmm?”

“You know you’re the most important thing in the world to me, right?” Twilight curled around her while they talked.

Fluttershy kissed Twilight on the nose. “I know.”

“Okay. I just want to make sure… And you know that if you change your mind about –”

“I know.” Fluttershy was frowning, which worried Twilight.

“Is… something wrong?” Twilight asked. She was afraid of the answer.

“No,” Fluttershy said. She sounded like something was wrong.

Twilight wanted to push for more, but she had a feeling where it was going, and hoped she could avoid it. She held Fluttershy tighter, and took a deep breath. She didn’t really have a choice in the end. She had to bring it up, because she knew Fluttershy wouldn’t. It was selfish to do anything else.

“It’s… you’re having doubts about being with Sunset, aren’t you?”

“Well, it’s not –”

“Is it because we’re going public? Because we agreed that this still doesn’t mean we’re forced into anything in the long run.”

“I know, but it’s not –”

“Or is it because of what I said? Because you know I love you more than anything else, and I wasn’t even really thinking, and it was probably just the endorphins talking, and –”

Fluttershy put a hoof on Twilight’s mouth. “Let’s, uhm, let’s just wait for Sunset to get back.”

Although she wanted to keep trying to explain herself, Twilight just nodded her agreement. They held each other close while they waited for Sunset, and Twilight could only wish she didn’t take such long showers.

Eventually Sunset returned, looking content. She hummed happily as she walked over to the closet and pulled out her uniform. Twilight had suggested she wear a dress, since they wanted to present her as their lover, and not as their guard. Sunset had seemed down about the idea though, and Fluttershy said she should wear her uniform since ponies wouldn’t have any problems at all remembering she was their lover, and that way they would hopefully remember her title too. Twilight ended up agreeing, since it was their first public event with her and she wanted Sunset to be happy.

“Sunset? Can you come sit with us?” Fluttershy asked.

“Sure, what’s up?” Sunset sat down next to Fluttershy. She continued smiling until she noticed Twilight expression, which must have looked pretty worried.

“Well, I was wondering…” Fluttershy looked at Twilight and sighed. “I really am happy with our relationship, so you can stop looking so nervous.”

“So, uh, what’s on your mind, then?” Sunset asked.

“Well, I guess I’m just wondering… What if I wasn’t?” Fluttershy took hold of both Twilight’s and Sunset’s hooves. “What if I said I was having doubts about us?”

Sunset smiled reassuringly. “If that happens, then all you have to do is say so. We’re not going to put you in any situation you don’t want to be in, and I’ll just be happy you gave me a chance in the first place.”

“Just like that?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset nodded. “Just like that.”

Fluttershy sighed and shook her head. “You’re as bad as Twily is…”

Twilight and Sunset looked at each other, both sharing a puzzled expression. “I don’t understand. What do you mean, Shy?” Twilight asked.

“It was nice at first,” Fluttershy said. “You two both made sure I knew that it was important that I was comfortable with everything, and that I could call things off if I wasn’t. But when you keep bringing it up, it makes me feel like I have to always hold us together.”

Twilight looked to Sunset, who was staring guiltily at her hoof wrapped around Fluttershy’s. “I’m sorry, Shy. We didn’t mean to pressure you.”

“I know,” Fluttershy said. “But sometimes… sometimes I do have doubts. This is all so strange, and it already feels like there’s so much going against us. It’s hard not to have doubts.”

Twilight leaned her head against Fluttershy. She wanted to comfort her, but wasn’t sure how. It wasn’t like she’d found some way to quiet her own fears.

“I think we all do,” Sunset said. “I mean, I know I do.”

Fluttershy smiled at Sunset and pulled her closer, so she had both ponies leaning against her. “Almost every day one of you reminds me that if I have any problems with being in a triad relationship, we can end it. But I don’t want it to be like that. I want to know that I can talk about something that’s bothering me without worrying you two are just going to give up on us.”

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said. “Of course you can tell us anything.”

“I’m… pretty sure I know what’s on your mind,” Sunset said.

Fluttershy nodded. “I guess… I’m still just used to being the only pony you love, Twilight. And… maybe I kind of always liked being the only pony you love.”

Twilight buried her face into Fluttershy’s mane while she thought of how to respond. She wanted to do whatever she could to make Fluttershy comfortable with everything, but she was worried she might push too hard and make her regret bringing it up. “I’m sorry. You know I love you just as much as I ever have.”

“I know.” Judging by the way Fluttershy nuzzled her, Twilight guessed she said the right thing. “And it really is a good thing that you both feel so strongly for each other. It’s just… it was a little unexpected.”

“Okay, so we won’t be the obnoxiously in love couple,” Sunset said. “Maybe that way it won’t be as awkward for you.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I don’t want you to pretend like you're not in love with each other though. There’s nothing wrong with it, even if I do feel, uhm, strange about it.”

“No, I think Sunset’s right,” Twilight said. “There’s a difference between hiding something and respecting your boundaries. If it makes you more comfortable, we can just not talk about it around you.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Fluttershy said. She sighed and sunk into the bed. “I’m sorry. This shouldn’t even bother me.”

“It’s okay,” Twilight said, smiling. “I think we all have things that bother us. I… I do.” Fluttershy and Sunset both turned to her expectantly. She took a deep breath and looked at Sunset. “When we were in Manehattan, we ran into Amber.”

“Okay.” Sunset waited expectantly for more, but before she could find the words, Twilight could see the realization on her face as it hit her. She smiled sheepishly. “And I’m guessing she told you about the time we hooked up. At least, I hope she did, because if not then I just made this whole conversation way more awkward.”

“She did. And I mean… of course I knew that you and the other Fluttershy, uhm, you know…” Twilight trailed off from a combination of embarrassment and uneasiness at the idea of Sunset sleeping with someone else, even if they had been in a committed relationship.

“It’s not like we were together at the time,” Fluttershy pointed out.

“What bothers you about it?” Sunset asked. “Is it just because she’s your friend?”

Twilight was tempted to say yes. It was part of the reason; she wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea that every time she was around Amber there would be some part of her remembering that she’d slept with Sunset. But there was a lot more to it, and she needed to address all her concerns in order to move past them. “That’s part of it. But, well… You barely even knew her back then.”

“I…” Sunset curled tighter around Fluttershy. “I barely knew most of the people I slept with.”

Twilight didn’t exactly see how that thought was helpful. If she wasn’t prepared to acknowledge Sunset sleeping with her ex-girlfriend, how was she supposed to accept her sleeping with anyone else?

“It’s okay, Sunset.” Fluttershy stroked her mane while Sunset clung to her.

Twilight didn’t understand. Back when they were writing each other through the journal, Sunset had talked a lot about the dates she went on. On a lot of them, she’d talk about how they ended badly because she wouldn’t sleep with them. It didn’t seem like Sunset had actually slept with anyone before Fluttershy, and they hadn’t been broken up too long before Sunset returned to Equestria. Then one of the first things she did was hook up with a mare she just met, and now she was talking about other people she slept with?

The realization hit Twilight suddenly. “Sunset, you don’t feel ashamed of it, do you?”

Sunset didn’t answer, but her ears folding against her head said enough.

Twilight reached out for Sunset’s hoof. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’m the one who’s stuck on the old-fashioned thinking.”

“She’s right,” Fluttershy said, “she is just being old-fashioned.”

Sunset still looked dejected, but she let out a small laugh. “I thought I was supposed to be the old lady. Come on, Twi, you’re younger than either of us.”

Twilight shrugged. “What do you want from me? My idol was Princess Celestia, of all ponies. Frankly, it’s a miracle I have any kind of sex drive at all.”

Sunset smirked. “You know, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever actually heard you use the word ‘sex’. Congratulations on managing to use an adult word, Twi.” Twilight blushed, which caused Sunset to laugh. “So, is there anything I can do to help you feel better about it?”

Really, Twilight was just fine seeing Sunset was happy again. But she also didn’t want to have something similar happen in the future. “I guess… the main thing was just that I wasn’t expecting it. I’m not going to ask for a full explanation of your sex life before we met, but was there anyone else we both know?”

Sunset hesitated. “You, uh, you sure you want that answer?”

‘Well that answers that question already.’ Twilight thought about who they both knew. She supposed any of their friends in the human world would be okay, and most of their friends in the pony world weren’t even interested in mares, so that really wasn’t something to be concerned about. “Well, I won’t force you to answer, but I’ll be okay with it no matter what.”

Sunset smiled nervously. “Flash Sentry…?”

“Oh.” Twilight did her best to not look shocked by the news. “Er, really?”

“He, uh, he was the first,” Sunset said.

‘The first of many, apparently, Twilight found herself thinking. She mentally kicked herself for thinking something like that, then smiled. “Okay then. Thank you for telling me. Now we know there won’t be any awkward surprises if we ever run into him again.”

Sunset looked doubtful. “No, now you’re just going to feel awkward around him no matter what.”

“I…” Twilight tried to think of a way to deny that without outright lying, but couldn’t find one. “I’ll work on it.”

“And it’s easier to overcome something once we acknowledge it,” Fluttershy reminded them.

“Yeah,” Sunset said. She smiled to herself as she nuzzled against Fluttershy, then realized both of them were staring at her. “Uh, what?”

“Come on,” Twilight said. “We both talked about what was bothering us.”

“Is there anything you want to share?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset grinned, and almost looked ready to pass. But then slowly her grin faded and she leaned her head against Fluttershy’s chest. “During the Summer Sun Celebration, after I failed at talking to your parents, I… I went to a bar.” Her head popped up suddenly and she looked between the two. “I swear I didn’t drink! I just… almost did…”

“Well… that’s good!” Twilight said. “I’m proud of you.”

“We both are,” Fluttershy added.

“Thanks.” Sunset smiled briefly, but it didn’t seem like she really hit the main part of her problem. “But then I got to thinking and I realized something. We’ve been together a lot lately. And back home in Ponyville, I’d hang out with Spike whenever you two were busy, or I’d go and visit one of our friends. I wasn’t ever alone. I can’t remember being alone one time since I decided to get sober, and then the first time I am, I wind up at a bar.”

“But you didn’t drink,” Fluttershy said.

“But, well… what about next time? Or after that? I’m just… I came so close, I ordered the drink and everything! It’d be unrealistic to pretend I’ll never have something tempting me again. What if next time I don’t stop?” Sunset held closely to Fluttershy with one foreleg, and reached for Twilight with the other. “I don’t want to mess this up.”

“Mess this up?” Twilight asked. “Do you think we’re going to just break up with you if you have one drink?”

Sunset shook her head. “No. I don’t know. Maybe? And anyway, I don’t even think I can have ‘just one drink’. At least not yet.”

“So do you think we’re going to leave you if you have more than one?” Fluttershy asked. She reached to the bedside table for a hairbrush, then started working on Sunset’s mane. “That’s not how it works. I don’t think you’re going to start drinking again, because I think you’re stronger than you realize, but if you ever do, please remember that you can talk to us about it. We’re here for good times and bad ones. We’ll support you when you need us to, and that goes for any kind of problem.”

“Right.” Twilight nodded.

Sunset just smiled and let Fluttershy brush. “You two are the best.”

“Yeah,” Twilight said, “we are.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Now unless anypony has anything else to share, I think you should let me finish your mane while Twily takes a shower.”

“Hey, why don’t I get to stay and brush Sunset’s mane?” Twilight teased.

“Uh, because I want it to look good?” Sunset shot back.

“And besides,” Fluttershy said with a smirk, “Between the two of us, you could probably use a shower more. You, uhm, you kinda still smell like Sunset.”

Twilight blushed and threw her hooves over her face as she let herself fall to the bed away from Fluttershy and Sunset. Peeking through her hooves, she saw Sunset was also hiding away.

Fluttershy seemed to be enjoying it, though. “You two are so adorable!”

Twilight sulked off in embarrassment, feeling just a little bit guilty for leaving Sunset alone with Fluttershy’s teasing.

Twilight looked around the room again. She had checked countless times, but there was still no sign of her parents. There was still half an hour left before the announcement, and there was also a chance that they wouldn’t come early. Of course, there was a bigger chance that they just wouldn’t come, but Twilight was trying to stay positive. She was failing, but trying all the same.

“Relax, darling,” Rarity said. She was fixing Twilight’s mane for what must have been the eighth time, at least. “Everything will be fine. We made sure that only the more desirable news outlets would be attending, and Princess Luna even pulled some strings to get her choice of reporters sent in.”

“I know.” Twilight took a deep breath. She hadn’t told any of their friends that she had invited her parents, so as far as they knew she was only worried about the reaction.

With an approving nod, Rarity left Twilight’s mane alone. “Now, if you can manage to keep that mane straight for a few moments, the girls and I have our own wardrobes to attend to.”

“Your own wardrobes?” Twilight asked.

“Yes, and might I say I did an exceptional job on them.” Rarity winked then left without explaining further.

Twilight looked to Fluttershy and Sunset, but they seemed just as confused. Their friends had only come from Ponyville for moral support, which hardly required their own outfits. She could have understood if it was just Rarity, but all four of them?

“That was… odd,” Twilight said.

“Yeah, even Rainbow left without a complaint,” Sunset said. “She doesn’t really seem the type to get dressed up.”

“She never used to, but sometimes she does these days.” Fluttershy shrugged. She seemed the least concerned of the three of them. “And anyway, I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.”

The door opened, and Twilight turned to it hopefully. She sighed as Luna walked through it. “Please, Twilight, contain your enthusiasm.”

“Sorry, I was just hoping for… somepony else.” She walked over to greet Luna.

“I am aware,” Luna said. Twilight looked to Fluttershy who shook her head. Luna chuckled. “Honestly, you are more predictable than you realize. Did you forget I was also at your parents house for the announcement? I knew you would try and reach out to them again.”

Twilight bowed her head. “I don’t think they’re coming though.”

Luna rested a hoof on her shoulder. “I can not say whether they will or not. However, I can say that if they decline to attend, you will still be surrounded by loved ones. Observe.”

She gestured toward the changing room door, which opened to reveal four ponies in uniforms almost identical to Sunset’s. Rarity, Applejack, Rainbow, and Pinkie were all clad in matching blue vests, with purple and yellow sashes. They were separate from Sunset’s only in that they lacked the skirt and captain’s badge from her uniform. Twilight wasn’t sure if she wanted to hug them or facehoof.

“Honestly, darling, what kind of guard would we be without proper attire?” Rarity asked as she struck a pose.

“The best kind of guard, uniform or not,” Fluttershy said, examining Rainbow’s outfit.

Sunset grinned. “So does this mean I get to bark orders at you all?”

“Oh yeah, go ahead,” Applejack said. “Course just ‘cause ya order it don’t mean nopony’s gonna pay ya any mind.”

Pinkie gasped. “Applejack, you can’t say things like that in front of the captain!” She leaned in close to Sunset. “I’d keep my eye on that one. She’s one bad apple, if you know what I mean.”

“Duly noted, Private Pie,” Sunset said, matching Pinkie’s conspiratory tone. “What do you make of that one?”

“You do realize we can hear you?” Rarity asked.

Pinkie tapped her chin. “Hmm. She’s a devious one. They say she solved the case of the missing Wonderbolt single hoofedly. Could be an asset, if she’s not a spy.”

“Really now.” Rarity turned up her nose. “Even if I did solve that case – and did so in absolute style, I might add – I’d hardly say that makes me the type to be a spy.”

Luna tapped her chin. “Actually, I have to say you could make an excellent spy, given your social skills and ability to go on believable business trips across Equestria.”

Rarity seemed torn between being flattered and offended. “Be that as it may, I assure you I am no spy.”

“Exactly what a spy would say,” Pinkie said, narrowing her eyes.

Sunset stifled a laugh. “And Rainbow?”

“Hmm? Oh, Dashie’s fine, you don’t need to worry about her.”

“Yes!” Rainbow threw a hoof in the air triumphantly.

“Excuse me?” Rarity asked. “Why does Rainbow get the only good comment?”

Pinkie gave Rarity a puzzled look. “Well she is the most loyal pony ever.”

“Hmph.” Rarity turned away. “She would make a terrible spy anyway.”

“Hey, I’d be a good spy,” Rainbow defended. “I could zoom over enemy camps and check out what was going on, then be back before anypony even knew I was there!”

“Which is precisely why I wouldn’t assign you as a spy, personally,” Luna said. “A spy doesn’t need to get over an enemy base, they need to get inside it. You’d be far better suited for reconnaissance. I would trust you to carry vital information from my spies to me, knowing your loyalty would be unquestionable, and that said information would reach my ears faster than any other pony could get it to me.”

Rainbow threw her hoof into the air, then lifted the rest of herself with it.

Applejack grabbed hold of her hindleg and dragged her back to the ground. “So what am I?” She asked, then turned to give Pinkie a dirty look. “Besides a ‘bad apple’.”

“Well, if it were my choice, I’d give you some sort of leadership or advisory position. I feel troops would respond well to your grounded nature, and your expertise at managing a homestead would surely provide some experience at managing our soldiers.”

Applejack gave Rainbow a smug look, although she didn’t seem to think it was any more impressive than reconnaissance.

“And surely nopony could know our own troops better than Pinkie Pie,” Luna said. “She would lift morale, while also getting to know them and figuring out how to best support them. As well, she’d certainly be the first to find something amiss, aiding us in keeping out enemy spies.”

“Luna, I really don’t think we’re sending our friends off to war,” Twilight said.

“Perhaps not, but should the need ever arise, it would appear that you have the beginnings of a fine team serving you.”

Twilight rolled her eyes, but everypony seemed happy with their roles, so she let it go.

“Oh my, and who’s our enemy?” Fluttershy asked, seeming genuinely interested. Early in their relationship, Spike introduced her to Oubliettes and Ogres, and ever since then she’d been interested in roleplay. Twilight could already see her using this as a way to get all their friends to play a military-themed role-playing game together.

“Oh, any number of foes,” Luna said. “It could be changelings, the spirit of Nightmare Moon, or even –” the door opened again, and Luna turned to see another pony walk through “– Tia.”

“Hello, everypony, I’m sorry I’m late,” Celestia said.

“Indeed, dear sister, I did fear you may not be coming.”

Celestia smiled smugly. “Oh, I would have come sooner, but I was tied up with another matter.”

As she walked in she was followed by two ponies. Twilight’s mouth fell open before curving into a wide smile. “Mom! Dad!” She ran to meet them, but stopped short of throwing her hooves around them. “I’m so glad you came!”

Night Light smiled and inclined his head. “Well, we couldn’t very well miss such a big day for you.”

“Thank you,” Twilight said, smiling back. “It means so much to me that you’d –”

Twilight Velvet threw her forelegs around her. Twilight returned the hug, and neither of them could find any words to say.

Luna moved to stand next to her sister, nudging her playfully. “Show off.”

“I really didn’t do too much,” Celestia said. “As it turns out, all I had to do was convince them to open a book.”

“Twilight, I’m so sorry,” Twilight Velvet said as she pulled away from their embrace, keeping Twilight held at foreleg’s length. “We… we never saw your messages. I left the journal in the attic. I thought, well, I didn’t know what I thought you’d have to say to us.”

Twilight smiled, remembering how long she avoided reading her mail after she and Fluttershy revealed their relationship. “I know how that feels.”

“I think we have a lot to talk about,” Night Light said, taking his turn to hug Twilight. As he did, Twilight Velvet stepped away, looking like she felt a bit out of place. “But first I think there are a lot of other ponies waiting to hear from you.”

Twilight turned to look toward the stage. Fluttershy and Sunset were waiting, but smiled understandingly. Even if it was time to go on, wasn’t this the whole purpose anyway? She turned back to her parents, who seemed to understand what she was thinking.

“Twilight Sparkle,” her mom said, “I know no daughter of mine is going to be late for her own event.” She smiled and walked with Twilight towards the stage. “We’ll talk after your announcement. We’ll… we’ll talk about plans with Spike.”

She guided Twilight until they reached Fluttershy and Sunset. Sunset stood next to Twilight while Fluttershy hugged her mom. “Thank you so much.”

While she hugged Fluttershy, Twilight Velvet stared uncertainly at Sunset. “Go on, Fluttershy dear. I think it’s for the best if you three stick together.”

Fluttershy nodded and took her place on Twilight’s other side. They were surrounded by their friends, who seemed intent on giving them a proper escort. Luna and Celestia stayed in the back talking amiably, next to her dad, who nodded encouragingly. Her mom made shooing motions with her hoof, prompting Twilight to get on the stage. She didn’t know what was going to happen once Equestria found out about their relationship, but she knew that with these ponies supporting her, everything would be okay.

21 – Reaching Conclusions

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Chapter Twenty-One

Reaching Conclusions

“Hello everypony, and thank you for joining us today,” Twilight addressed the room.

Fluttershy looked out into the audience. Thankfully, it was a fairly small gathering. When she and Twilight had come out as gay, they had invited a lot of ponies, even allowing guests. They had wanted to come across as very open, eagerly welcoming anypony who might need to talk to them about their own problems. This time they just wanted to avoid any immediate negative reaction, hoping the tone of acceptance would be followed by others as the story spread. Everypony present was personally chosen by Luna to ensure the best possible reaction.

“I know a lot of rumors have been going around about the mare standing with Fluttershy and me.” Twilight gestured to Sunset, who smiled smugly and waved. Fluttershy couldn’t help but envy how effortless Sunset made it look, while Fluttershy herself was huddled as close as possible to Twilight, dreading the thought that anypony might ask her something. “We’ve mentioned this before, but I’d like to formally introduce her before continuing with our other matter. Following my engagement to Fluttershy, we decided it was the right time to form our own royal guard, even if it does only consist of the five ponies here with us today. Sunset Shimmer serves as our guard’s captain.”

There were a few photos taken, but it wasn’t exactly surprising information to anypony. They had been asked about Sunset frequently, and several news sources had already reported on her role, even if this was the first time she was officially introduced.

“There have been a lot of things said about us, with one prevailing theory being that I’ve been cheating on Fluttershy with her, which is of course ridiculous. The truth of the matter is that the three of us decided to enter a triad relationship, in which the three of us are all dating each other.”

As was expected, everypony’s interest soared. Fluttershy instinctively pressed closer to Twilight in response to the questions and flashing lights of the cameras. As she felt Twilight’s foreleg slide around her she looked over to see Sunset was doing the same thing; she was pressed tightly against Twilight’s other side, while Twilight’s other foreleg wrapped around her. At first Fluttershy thought that Sunset was just as nervous as she was, but as she watched Sunset smile and wave for the camera, she realized that her marefriend was masking Fluttershy’s fear by making it look like a display of affection. She did her best to imitate Sunset, smiling feebly and giving a small wave somewhere in the general direction of the cameras.

While ponies asked their questions, Fluttershy just did her best to hold it all together. She was eager to run away and hide in the back with their friends. She reminded herself that nopony expected her to say anything, and that it would all be over soon enough.

Sunset, on the other hoof, readily joined Twilight in answering questions. They were asked about how their relationship came to be, how they would define it, how it affected the wedding, if it would be possible for all three of them to get married.

“That’s not something we’ve discussed,” Twilight answered. “At the moment, however, marriage to more than one pony is not possible in accordance to Equestrian law.”

“At the moment?” one reporter asked. “Does that mean you’ll be supporting a change to marital law?”

“Yes.” Twilight’s answer surprised Fluttershy and Sunset, who both turned to look at her. As Twilight had said, they’d never talked about marriage, besides her own to Twilight, and in the almost three years since Twilight had become a princess, she had never attempted to affect the legal system in any way. “Even if it’s still far too early to start talking about marriage between Sunset, Fluttershy, and myself, there are still many other ponies who are being denied this basic right because of nothing more than misconceptions about what love is and can be.”

The questions changed in tone as everypony began asking about equal legal rights for polyamorous relationships. Fluttershy was worried initially, but once Sunset wasn’t taken off guard by Twilight’s sudden certainty in defense of marriage, she was back to weighing in on questions. Their unified answers almost convinced Fluttershy that they had already discussed everything they were being asked about, but they kept seeking silent cues from one another. A question about adoption, and Sunset opened with an answer, glanced to Twilight for confirmation, then finished her thought only after she knew Twilight was on the same page. When asked about the potential of forming unions instead of marriage, Twilight did the same thing before giving her answer.

The questions seemed to go on forever, but eventually Princess Celestia came to relieve them. They had planned on Luna being the one to close the event, and Fluttershy couldn’t help but wonder why they had changed places.

“Thank you all again for coming, but it’s time this event draws to a close. Princess Twilight, Lady Fluttershy, and Captain Shimmer have another matter that needs their attention.”

“Princess Celestia, could you make a comment on the situation?”

The princess smiled while standing behind the three lovers. She allowed a few pictures to be taken before giving her answer. “I think the coming months will prove very interesting, and I expect we’ll see a wide variety of opinions. But I, for one, fully support them in their relationship.”

Their friends once again formed a box around them, and they walked backstage. Along the way, Fluttershy had to suppress a giggle at how ecstatic Twilight and Sunset were to have their former mentor’s support.

“I’d say that went rather well,” Rarity said once they were backstage, where Luna and Twilight’s parents were waiting for them.

“I agree,” Luna said. “And I think my sister’s support will go a long way.”

“Is that why y’all switched places?” Applejack asked.

“Indeed,” Luna answered. “Of course, I will give my public support as well, but I simply do not have the same amount of sway with our little ponies.”

“Oh Luna, lots of ponies love you,” Fluttershy said.

Luna smiled. “Thank you, Fluttershy, and I know you are correct. But as long as there are ponies who remember a time when Tia was the sole ruler of Equestria, there will also be those who doubt me. This is not a complaint, merely a fact.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Luna,” Princess Celestia said. “I think you’ve always been very good at winning ponies over to your side.”

Luna chuckled. “Never you, though. I must ask, what did bring about this change of heart?”

“As it happens, I received some very wise counsel from another pony.” They all followed Princess Celestia’s gaze to find her looking at Fluttershy.

“Well I’ll be,” Applejack said, while most of the room just stared in surprise.

Two ponies didn’t look surprised at all though. “Of course,” Rainbow said, putting a foreleg around her shoulders. “Fluttershy is awesome.”

“Yupperoni!” Pinkie stood on her other side, also wrapping a foreleg around her. “I knew Fluttershy was gonna solve things all along.”

Having everypony’s eyes on her made Fluttershy blush. “Uhm, I didn’t really do all that much.”

Luna walked over to Fluttershy, while Rainbow and Pinkie stepped off to the side. “I think we can all agree that Equestria is fortunate to have you as its fifth princess.”

Fluttershy blushed more and stared at the ground. Once she looked back up, she saw all the surprise had vanished from her friends’ faces. Instead, they were all smiling encouragingly. Sunset and Twilight were standing next to each other, full of pride for the small victory she’d won them. Even if she had only convinced one pony, that pony could help them win over others. In this way, even a simple conversation could bring about a change. For the first time, Fluttershy found herself thinking that just maybe she could be a good princess after all.

As she approached them, Sunset and Twilight stepped aside, placing Fluttershy in between them. “Better watch out, Twi,” Sunset said, “it looks like you might have some competition for Equestria’s favorite new princess.”

Fluttershy giggled and nudged Sunset. “What is it with you and competitions? It doesn’t matter who’s the best princess.”

“Even if it were a contest, that would be fine with me,” Twilight said, nuzzling Fluttershy. “I know who my favorite princess is.”

“Oh no, not you too, Twily,” Fluttershy said, though really she was enjoying the attention more than she wanted to let on.

“Perhaps we should go somewhere a bit more private,” Princess Celestia said, bringing them back to the matter at hoof. Twilight Velvet and Night Light were waiting patiently, and thankfully didn’t seem unsettled by the three mares’ affections.

“We are quite the group,” Luna said, looking over the gathered ponies. All counted for, there were eleven ponies present, which was far more than Twilight’s parents probably felt comfortable talking openly around. “Perhaps we could ask the four of you to wait for us?”

Their friends all looked around at each other uncertainly. “I think we can all understand y’all wantin’ to talk privately,” Applejack said, “but I’d like to say a few words first.”

She stepped forward and pulled off her hat, holding it to her chest, and addressed Twilight’s parents. “Believe me when I say that nopony respects family more than the Apple clan. And I know I don’t need to tell ya this, but family ain’t always about who’s actually related. It’s about love. And –”

“– And looking out for each other!” Rainbow added, stepping up next to Applejack. “Because no matter how different they are, anyone can become family.”

Pinkie popped up from behind Rainbow, propping herself up on the unsuspecting mare’s back. “Families have fun together! Or cheer each other up when they’re feeling sad. And even if sometimes you don’t understand them, that’s okay, because no matter what you still love them.”

“And one of the best things about a family is that it never stops growing,” Rarity said as she took a place on Applejack’s other side. “There’s always room for a family to grow bigger. And with each new family member, it just means that there’s that much more love.”

Applejack looked around at the ponies who interrupted her big speech, and she smiled. “I think what we’re sayin’ is this: Spike has a great family. He has two parents that love and look out for him, and he has a big brother and a big sister to look up to. But he has more than that, and not just ‘cause Cadance or Fluttershy. Spike doesn’t have just one sister anymore.” Applejack gestured to everypony from Ponyville. “He has eight.”

Sunset counted each of the ponies. “Eight?”

Twilight smiled and kissed her cheek. “She means you too.”

“Oh.” Sunset smiled sheepishly and scratched the back of her neck.

“And here I only have you,” Luna said, playfully nudging her sister.

Princess Celestia smiled and wrapped a foreleg around Luna’s shoulders. “If you’re anything to go by, I don’t think I could handle another sister.”

“Well, we’re certainly glad Spike has so many ponies who care about him,” Night Light said. “And don’t worry, we’re not planning on keeping him hidden away forever. But if you’ll excuse us, we really should talk with Twilight, Fluttershy, and Sunset about that now.”

Before they could make for a quieter room, their friends came up and surrounded them in a group hug. “Whatever happens, it’ll be alright,” Applejack said.

“Thank you, girls,” Twilight said. “I don’t know where we’d be without you.”

“Well, Sunset would still be in the human world, and Fluttershy probably woulda stayed in Cloudsdale if Rainbow hadn’t knocked her to the ground. And then you –”

“Thank you, Pinkie,” Twilight said, patting her back as they broke apart from their hug. “But I think we’ll have to figure out what would have happened if we hadn’t met another time.”

Pinkie just shrugged and continued telling the ponies staying behind her theories, while everypony else followed Princess Celestia into a side room.

There was a small round table that they all sat around. It was a tight fit with seven ponies, three of whom were alicorns, but they managed. Twilight sat in between Fluttershy and Sunset, with Luna on Fluttershy’s other side, and Princess Celestia sitting next to Sunset. Twilight Velvet and Night Light sat across from Twilight, and Fluttershy couldn’t help but notice that they kept quite a bit of distance between themselves, especially considering how tight the fit already was.

Nopony seemed to know how to begin. Eventually, Luna spoke up. “It is good that we’re finally coming together like this. I know these past weeks have been difficult and we are all eager to reach some sort of agreement.”

Night Light smiled and nodded. “Yes, that is definitely true. I know you three must be pretty upset with us, but please understand that we only want what’s best for Spike.”

“We do,” Twilight said. “And that’s something we all want.”

Night Light sighed and rested his chin on his hooves. “And… clearly this isn’t it. We need to settle our differences for his sake as much as for ours.”

“And the best way to – Oh! Sorry!” Fluttershy threw her hooves over her mouth as she realized Princess Celestia had been about to speak, and she had just cut her off.

The princess just smiled. “There’s no need to apologize. Please, continue.”

“Oh, uhm…” Fluttershy stared at her hooves on the table, too embarrassed to look anywhere else. She watched as Twilight’s hoof wrapped around hers, then looked towards Twilight and saw not just her, but Sunset also smiling encouragingly. Fluttershy nodded and turned to see Luna doing the same. She remembered what Luna had said in Manehattan, about keeping an illusion of confidence.

It was kind of like playing Oubliettes and Ogres. She still didn’t feel like a princess, not a real one, but she could pretend. So imagining she was a real princess like Luna, Fluttershy smiled as confidently as she could, and looked straight ahead at Night Light and Twilight Velvet. “The best way to overcome a problem is to acknowledge it. We all want to work towards a better understanding of each other.”

Night Light and Twilight Velvet continued to remain quiet, awkwardly looking away from other ponies, including each other.

“I assure you this is a safe environment,” Luna said, leaning towards Night Light. “You are free to speak your minds and nopony will lash out at you, so long as you proceed with the intent of problem resolution.”

When they still seemed unsure, Sunset spoke up instead. “Well, let’s start with the obvious. There’s me.”

Twilight frowned. “Sunset, that’s not –”

“No, that is part of the problem,” Sunset insisted. “And it’s understandable. I know I’m hardly the pony you want dating your daughter. There’s a lot of stuff in my past that I wish wasn’t there. And I know we got off to a bad start with me lying about it, but I just… I wanted you to get to know who I am now, instead of worrying about who I was before.”

“And lying was the way best way to do that?” Night Light asked skeptically. “What type of pony did you expect us to think you are by lying to us?”

Sunset looked off to the side. “Well, the idea was that you wouldn’t know I was lying.”

Twilight leaned forward. “And the only reason it even came up is because you lied first. You made it sound like I hadn’t told you everything that happened right from the start. I’m not saying she wasn’t wrong, but it was wrong of you, too.”

“It’s not exactly the same thing,” Sunset said, catching Twilight off guard by agreeing with her parents. “They lied to figure out what type of pony I was. It was just a test. But I was specifically trying to deceive them, and that’s not okay.”

“I don’t think blaming each other is the right way to fix things,” Princess Celestia said.

Fluttershy nodded. “I think all three of you were just scared of losing your loved ones.”

Princess Celestia smiled at her before turning back to Twilight’s parents. “You both know that I would never want to see Twilight in any situation that would be bad for her. And I also know better than most about the pony Sunset used to be – no offense.”

Sunset shrugged. “That is honestly one of the least offensive ways I’ve heard it said, but it’s true. I used to be a huge bitch.”

Princess Celestia glanced sharply at Sunset and her colorful word choice. “But I also know the pony she became, and I know that pony is one that you would be proud to welcome into your family, if you gave her a chance.”

Twilight Velvet looked at her skeptically. “Pardon me, Princess, but don’t you think you’re a little biased?”

“I think that I never knew Night Light and Twilight Velvet to form an opinion on a pony based only on the first impression. Or to make a judgement on a situation that they might not fully understand.”

Twilight Velvet crossed her forelegs. “Well then, is there anything else we should know about you?”

Sunset frowned and looked away for a moment. She took a deep breath then looked back at the two of them. “Well, I’m a recovering alcoholic. Add that to what you already know, and I think that completes the list.”

Twilight shot Sunset a panicked look. “She’s doing really well though!”

Even Princess Celestia seemed surprised, although she didn’t say anything. Fluttershy could only guess that Sunset hadn’t exactly brought that up with her.

Night Light regarded Sunset for a while, then leaned back in his chair without giving an answer. Twilight Velvet looked at him for a moment, but he didn’t show any sign of acknowledgement.

“Unless anypony has anything else to say about Sunset, I think we ought to move on,” Luna said. Nopony voiced any other concerns, so she continued, “I believe you’ll find the structure of a triadic family is more similar to a traditional one than you may think, and it should have no negative effect on Spike. It would help to know what your exact concerns are, however.”

For a moment, Twilight Velvet looked like she might speak up, then changed her mind. Once it was clear she wasn’t going to say anything, Night Light spoke for them again. “It’s a big variable. I’m not saying it couldn’t work, but I don’t feel comfortable letting Spike be the one to test the effect of growing up around it.”

Fluttershy noticed he kept saying ‘it’ instead of ‘polyamory’ or ‘triad.’ It kind of reminded her of when she was too uncomfortable with the word ‘gay’ to use it in description to herself. Although in this case, she guessed his problem had nothing to do with describing himself, and didn’t even have much to do with describing his daughter.

He turned to face Twilight directly. “I’m not saying we don’t want Spike to be a part of your lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. But at the same time, I don’t know if him actually living with you would really be in his best interests.”

“And I understand that,” Twilight said, “but there are more ponies around that care about Spike than ever. Our friends always helped me look after Spike, and you were fine with Sunset when you found out that she was living with us. Why is it so different now that we’re in a relationship?”

“There’s quite a lot of difference between living with somepony and dating them,” Night Light said.

“And nopony’s asking you not to have doubts,” Sunset said. “All we ever asked is that you to give us a chance.”

“Maybe we could have stayed in Ponyville for the week. But now that our vacation is over, we have too many other responsibilities.” Night Light turned to Luna. “And because I know what you’re going to say, I don’t think another week is going to make a whole lot of difference. It’s just not enough time to make a decision for our son’s future.”

Luna smiled. “Actually, I have a different solution in mind. Were you aware that I’m opening up a new observatory in Ponyville?”

Night Light frowned. “No, and I would be. There are no plans for anything like that.” Fluttershy knew he was right. There was also no way something like that would be happening without Twilight knowing, and if she knew, she would have told Fluttershy and Sunset. It was the type of information Twilight wouldn’t be able to keep to herself.

“But there are,” Luna insisted. She had a sly look in her eyes that Fluttershy was beginning to recognize. Some plan she had been working on in secret was falling into place. “You can be forgiven for not knowing about it considering everything going on, but funds have been secured, and construction can begin on my call.”

“That type of thing doesn’t happen that fast,” Night Light said. “These ‘plans’ would be drafted tonight and back-dated to several months ago.”

Luna chuckled. “I assure you that is not the case. I gave my sister my word that I would neither bend nor break any law in my attempts to resolve this matter. It so happens that the plans were made nine days ago, and they are dated nine days ago.”

Night Light arched an eyebrow. “Nine days?”

“Precisely,” Luna said innocently. It had been exactly nine days since Fluttershy, Twilight, and Sunset had first come to Canterlot to ask for Princess Celestia’s help. If Luna was telling the truth – and Fluttershy knew she was – she would’ve had to start making arrangements the same day she found out about everything, then used her authority to move them along as quickly as possible.

“I suppose you’ll say I should transfer over there?” Night Light asked.

“Well, I would certainly like ponies with experience to help make sure it starts off on the right hoof. As much as I would hate to see you leave the Canterlot branch, I would approve a transfer, either temporary or permanent.”

Twilight clapped her hooves together. “And of course Mom can write wherever she is! This is perfect!”

Night Light didn’t look convinced. Twilight Velvet again glanced to him, but remained silent. “It’s… something to think about.”

Although Luna’s eyes never left Night Light, Fluttershy was sure she noticed it too – the way Twilight Velvet kept glancing at Night Light, and how she had barely spoken a word all day.

“Night Light,” Luna said, “perhaps you would join me in private a moment. There is a matter I would like to discuss.”

She stood up and waited for him to do the same. Wordlessly, he followed her out of the room. Twilight looked confused by the exchange, although she seemed to be the only one who hadn’t caught on.

“Twilight,” Princess Celestia began, then paused when both Twilights turned to her, “…Velvet, I don’t think I’ve ever known you to be this quiet. Is there something on your mind?”

Twilight Velvet frowned. “No. Well, I mean it’s a lot to take in, of course. I never expected to be in a situation like this, and I’m afraid it’s caught me a bit off guard.” She seemed genuinely fine, but that just meant she was better at hiding her feelings than her daughter, although that didn’t say very much.

“If you say so,” Princess Celestia said. “But please remember that you’re free to speak openly about anything at all, or ask to speak privately with anypony.”

Twilight Velvet nodded. “Yes, of course.”

Moments passed in awkward silence. It felt wrong to push Twilight Velvet to talk, but without her input on what was bothering her, it was difficult to know how to press forward.

“Fluttershy,” Luna called from the doorway. Everypony turned towards her. “Would you join us?”

Fluttershy was baffled that Luna would ask for her, but nodded and stood up. As she walked to the door, she could feel everypony watching her. Luna smiled as she reached it, and led her out.

“Is, uh, everything okay?” Rainbow asked once they were in the hall. She was seated with the rest of their friends along the wall.

Fluttershy wasn’t sure how to respond, but thankfully Luna was. “Everything shall be fine, Rainbow Dash, do not fret. I believe this matter is coming to a close.”

“If you say so. But let us know if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Dash,” Fluttershy said. She smiled then turned back to follow Luna through another door. They were in a room identical to the one they had been in, but Night Light was sitting alone. Fluttershy took a seat next to him while Luna remained standing near the door.

Night Light seemed surprised. “I thought you were getting Twilight.”

Luna smiled. “I believe you’ll find Fluttershy more understanding of your situation.”

Night Light chuckled. “I told you, there’s nothing going on. You’re imagining things.”

“Well, I can not force you to talk about it,” Luna said, opening the door, “only encourage you to do so.”

“You’re not staying?” Fluttershy asked.

“There is no need. Whenever you two are done talking about whatever it is that you decide to discuss, I will be with the others.” Luna bowed her head and left the room.

As the door closed, Fluttershy turned back to Night Light, who shrugged. “I’m sorry to say it, but I have no idea what she wants us to talk about.”

Fluttershy tried to smile through her nerves. Of course she knew what Luna had in mind, but she felt strange bringing it up. “I, uhm, I noticed you and Mom were sitting further apart than usual.”

Night Light stared ahead. “I’m sure you were imagining it.”

Why had Luna left her? Fluttershy had no idea how to talk to somepony about something like this. She could try to argue, insist that everyone other than Twilight could see it, but where would that get her? She didn’t want to push him away. She didn’t know how to get ponies to open up about their problems, and she doubted she could help them solve them if they did. All she could do was talk about herself.

“It was… scary. Finding out that Twilight had feelings for somepony else. I thought I was going to… well, really I thought I’d already lost her.”

Night Light turned to her. “I thought Twilight said the relationship was your idea?”

“It was.” Fluttershy nodded. “But that was only after I learned about their feelings for each other. And then only after I accepted it.”

Night Light grinned. “Well, I imagine having feelings for the same pony must have made that easier.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I didn’t think about Sunset like that then. We were friends, but that was it. Really, I only wanted to be with Twilight.”

Night Light looked away again and hesitated before speaking. “So then how… how’d you come to accept it in the end?”

“I talked about it. I talked with Rainbow Dash first, and that helped a little. Then I took some time to think about it. I tried talking to Twilight about things, but she had already left for the Crystal Empire.”

Night Light winced. “Bad move, huh?”

“Well, yes. We, uhm, we had a fight about that one.”

“She certainly does have an interesting way of fixing things.”

“She does.” Fluttershy smiled to herself. Even though at the time she had been angry with Twilight, and she would be even angrier if she ever made the same mistake twice, Fluttershy could now appreciate that Twilight really was doing her best to fix things in her own way.

Night Light smirked. “So Rainbow Dash had all the answers? Gotta say I’m a little surprised.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Well, she can be surprising. But no, she didn’t really know what to do either, it just helped to have somepony to talk to about it. After that, I wound up talking to Sunset, and I learned how far she was willing to go to not get in the way of our relationship. In the end, I had to convince her to stay at the castle.”

“Even though Twilight had feelings for her?”

“Yes. I still don’t know why. I guess… I just knew there was some way we could all be happy.”

“Well, you certainly found an interesting way to do that.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “This isn’t the only way it could have worked out. I trust both of them. If I hadn’t suggested this relationship, I know they still wouldn’t have done anything inappropriate.”

“Hmm.” He smiled wryly. “If Twilight was off talking to Cadance about everything, I think I’m beginning to see who you would’ve turned to. There aren’t many ponies unconventional enough to suggest something like this.”

“Oh, Luna didn’t suggest it. But I did talk to her.”

“Well, I got half right then.” Behind his casual smile, Fluttershy could tell he was growing more interested. Hoping that she could give him some sort of answer to solve his own situation. “So what did she have to say?”

“After explaining what polyamory was, she mostly talked about her own relationships. It was nice, learning that love can work in different ways.” She put a hoof to her necklace and smiled. “It made me realize that Twilight didn’t love me any less than she did before Sunset came around.”

“Yeah, I guess she knows what she’s talking about sometimes.”

“She does.”

They sat quietly for a while. Generally, Fluttershy felt awkward in silence, never knowing how to fill it. But, for a change, she felt the silence was working for them, giving Night Light time to think and allowing Fluttershy to comfort him with her presence.

When he finally did speak, it was about something completely different. “You know, the title ‘senior astrologist’ isn’t an honorary one. I’ve been working in the Canterlot observatory longer than anypony else. There’s only ever one senior astrologist, and it’s been me for thirteen years now. I’ve been the senior astrologist longer than a lot of my coworkers have even been around at all. I started working there when I was still in school, as an intern. They said I was too young, but I kept persisting and eventually they hired me. I wondered why for a long time; figured I had to be a real nuisance with all my questions. I’d stop the other astrologists from their work all the time, make them explain what they were doing, or why it had to be done in exactly the right way. It wasn’t until Twilight came along, with all her own questions about how the world worked, that I realized that was exactly why they kept me around.”

Fluttershy nodded. “No wonder you don’t want to go to the new Ponyville observatory.”

Night Light chuckled. “I’ve been there forty-six years now. And the truth is that after forty-six years, I finally started thinking about retiring. Could have retired years ago, if I wanted to. Twilight told me that much when she became a princess, said I’d never have to work again. Shining Armor said the same thing when he became the Captain of the Celestial Guard. I turned them both down because it was never about the money, I just wasn’t ready to stop working yet. But after forty-six years, I’ve started thinking that maybe it’s time after all.

“Really though, if I had wanted to, I could have retired after marrying Velvet. She makes more than enough for both of us, even if she never writes another book. Not that I expect she’s going to stop anytime soon, mind you. She’s an amazing mare, and I’m a lucky stallion to have spent the past thirty-one years married to her. I’m sixty years old, which means I finally get to say I’ve spent over half my life married to the mare of my dreams.”

He sighed and looked down at his hooves. Anypony could tell he wasn’t a young stallion just by looking at him; he had gray hairs dotting his blue fur and mane, and wrinkles around his eyes. But almost every time Fluttershy had seen him, he also had a jovial smile and a youthful energy that covered his age. But now he wasn’t smiling. His eyelids were half closed, his shoulders were slouched, and for once he looked old.

“I’m sixty years old, and I’ve been married for thirty-one of them. We’ve had hard times. There were a few occasions early on where I thought we wouldn’t make it. Once I came home late from work to find my newlywed wife, recently pregnant with our first foal, wasn’t there. Instead, I found a note saying she had left for her mom’s house, and that she would never have accepted my proposal if she knew I was already married to my job.” He paused to smile at the years-old memory and the lessons they had surely learned since then. “She always had that fire, and not to mention the flair for being a bit on the dramatic side. Well, needless to say I stopped staying late at the office after that one. And through it all, I always knew there would never be anypony else for me.

“When Shining was born, I would never have believed he would be the easy one. We… well, we hadn’t actually planned on starting a family. Velvet was convinced that she would be a horrible mom, with her tendency to get caught up in things, and I wasn’t a whole lot better with my own job at the time. But surprises happen, and we found ourselves with a foal on the way. Having a baby for the first time is, well, it’s terrifying. Turns out we didn’t need to worry so much; Shining was the perfect foal, he hardly ever gave us a hard time. Twilight was more of a challenge, her endless curiosity leading her into all sorts of trouble when she was a foal. She had a bad habit of wandering off to places she wasn’t supposed to be. But once she grew old enough to read, the challenge became getting her to go out of the house. I thought enrolling her into Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns would solve both problems. She’d finally have an outlet for all that curiosity, and she’d have a reason to spend time with kids her own age.

“When Twilight hatched Spike’s egg, none of us knew what it would mean. At the time, we were excited for Twilight’s achievements. Being chosen as Princess Celestia’s personal student and getting her cutie mark in the same day? As you can imagine, we couldn’t have been more proud. Then that evening Princess Celestia came to our house. We thought it was something to do with Twilight, and in a roundabout way, it was. She explained to us that Twilight’s magic had imprinted on the dragon that she had hatched. She apologized, said it should never have been used as a test for a filly, and that it would never happen again.

“All the same, it did happen to us, and that left us in a tight spot. She told us that we weren’t obligated to take him in, but asked that we consider it. Initially we were tempted to say no. By that point we had decided we weren’t having any more foals. I was forty-eight and Velvet was forty-four, too old to raise another baby, we thought. Princess Celestia convinced us to take a look at him though, and really that would have been enough. He was no smaller than a foal, and he was crying. Dragons don’t often adopt, which is the whole reason they have a magic-based imprinting trait. He couldn’t go back to his own kind, which meant he’d be living with ponies one way or another. We couldn’t trust him to some unknown fate, who knows if another suitable household would pop up? We had the means to take care of him, and he had no guarantee he’d find a home anywhere else.

“If there was any doubt left in our mind, Twilight erased it. We brought Spike inside to ask Twilight and Shining what they thought of having a little brother. Shining was almost graduating high school by then, and said he thought it’d be a great idea. I think he was mostly happy that Twilight would still have someone around, since he was already planning on moving into the castle to stay with Cadance. Twilight, on the other hoof, was so mesmerized that Princess Celestia was in her living room that she apparently missed part of the question, because when she saw Spike and realized what was going on she jumped up, ecstatically cheering, ‘I get a baby sister too!’”

Fluttershy laughed. “Sister?”

Night Light grinned. “Yup. Princess Celestia had to tell her that Spike was a boy, and yes she was very sure, and she did indeed notice that Spike was purple, and yes that meant boys could be purple too. And wouldn’t you know, as soon as Spike saw her, he stopped crying. Well, that left us with no choice, really. We were parents all over again.

“But then we learned exactly what Spike being imprinted on Twilight meant. It was easy to dismiss at first. He called us Mom and Dad, and never questioned that she was his sister. But there were times… When he was growing up, Twilight was the one who could get him to do anything. If he wouldn’t lie down for bed, Twilight had to read to him. When he wouldn’t take a bath, it was Twilight’s stern gaze that convinced him. When he was proud of something he did, she was the one he’d run to first. ‘Lots of kids look up to their older siblings,’ we told ourselves. And it’s not like he didn’t love us. Anypony could see he did, and still does.

“But then Twilight grew up, and she was ready to move into her own apartment. It’s not easy, watching your kids move away. It’s harder when you realize you’re losing two at once. Princess Celestia came to visit us again. She reminded us that Spike was imprinted on Twilight, and that until he reached maturity he would be emotionally dependent on her. ‘She’s only down the road, he’ll only be a short walk to her house’ I said, repeating what Twilight had told us when she said she wanted to move out. All the princess would say was ‘I’ll respect your decision on the matter.’

“Well, there wasn’t a decision. When we explained to Spike that Twilight wasn’t going to live with us anymore, he grew depressed. ‘It’ll be just like Shining, we still see him every week,’ we explained, but it didn’t matter. We went to visit Twilight’s new place on that first night, and he cried when it was time to go. Twilight asked if he wanted to stay the night, and the tears stopped. That’s when I knew we were deceiving ourselves. It wasn’t just going to be one night. We went back to an empty house, and talked about what was best for his future. He was only seven years old, much too young to be separated from his parent, and we had spent seven years letting ourselves believe that meant us.”

Fluttershy wrapped a foreleg around his back. “You’ll always be Spike’s parents.”

Night Light smiled weakly. “Thank you, Fluttershy. But we’re just making the same mistake we almost made six years ago. Spike can not be separated from Twilight, not until he’s old enough to live on his own.”

Fluttershy searched for the right thing to say. She wanted Night Light to let Spike go home with them, but she didn’t want to see him and Twilight Velvet hurt anymore. “Uhm, well you could come back to Ponyville with us. You could transfer, like Luna suggested, or even just retire if you want. You could live in the castle with us.”

Night Light smirked, but his eyes remained half closed. “I knew you were going to suggest that.”

“Well, why not?” Fluttershy asked. “I mean, if you don’t want to, I won’t try to convince you to go, but, uhm, I would like to know why.”

He chuckled. “Haven’t you heard? Old ponies don’t like change.”

Fluttershy frowned. “Is it the change from Canterlot to Ponyville? Or are you worried living with us might change things with Mom?”

His silence was enough of an answer.

“Have you talked with her about it?”

“I… I don’t know what to say.”

“Start by letting her know you still love her.”

Night Light shook his head. “Of course she knows I still love her.”

“I know,” Fluttershy said. “But have you told her since everything happened?”

He blinked a few times and frowned. “We’ve been married a long time, Fluttershy. We don’t always say ‘I love you’ every day anymore.”

She nodded. “I understand. But she’s just as scared as you are, and even after being married for so long, I’m sure she still wants reassurance when she’s worried.”

Night Light stared down at his hooves and sighed. “I just… I thought we were done with this kind of surprise. I was ready to spend the rest of our years together, relaxing by the fire, visiting our grandfoals. You know, old pony things.”

“You can still do all that.”

He shook his head. “After thirty years, I don’t plan on introducing a third pony into things.”

“And after thirty-one years, you should know that you can’t assume you know what your wife wants.” She nudged him, and he smiled a little. “There’s a big difference between having feelings for somepony else and being in love with somepony else. And even if she does love somepony else as well as you, that doesn’t mean she actually wants to start a relationship with them.”

“I… I know you’re right, but…”

“I know. It’s hard to ask when you’re afraid of what the answer will be.”

Night Light took a deep breath and stood up. “I think we should return to the others. I’ll talk to Velvet tonight.”

Fluttershy smiled and stood up as well. “And you know you can always count on us to help in any way we can.”

He smiled and nodded, then paused by the door. “I’ll let you decide what you want to tell Twilight and Spike, but you should know neither of them know anything about the imprinting. We never wanted them to feel like they were forced into being a family.”

Fluttershy nodded. As oblivious as she could be, Twilight had probably never questioned why Spike was sent to live with her, and she didn’t need to feel guilty about it. And she didn’t want to change anything about the way Spike saw his relationship with Twilight. It was probably better that they didn’t know.

Night Light led the way out. In the hallway, Fluttershy saw her friends gathered around in a circle playing cards. Fluttershy had no idea where they came from, or the poker chips, but she would have had to guess Pinkie. Rarity had most of the chips, while Applejack had the least. At some point it seemed she had also lost her hat to Rainbow. Fluttershy just waved awkwardly, and was answered by an enthusiastic wave from Pinkie.

They entered the other room and were greeted by everypony’s confused stares. It seemed Luna didn’t clarify why she had asked Fluttershy to talk with Night Light. She took her seat between Twilight and Luna, while he took his next to Twilight Velvet. He scooted his chair closer to her and took her hoof into his. Her ears perked up for a moment, then her surprised expression melted away into a content smile.

Twilight looked between them and Fluttershy. “So, uh, what’d we miss?”

Fluttershy leaned against Twilight so her expression wouldn’t give anything away. “We just talked.” She saw Luna smile contently.

Night Light turned to Twilight Velvet. “I think we have a lot to discuss.”

“I… I suppose we do,” she said, sounding nervous.

He looked to Fluttershy, still leaning against Twilight. His horn lit up and Velvet’s chair slid closer to his. He smiled as he let go of her hoof, instead wrapping a foreleg around her shoulders and pulling her against him. She laughed and blushed while everypony pretended to be interested in watching something else.

“What do you say we have a family dinner tonight?” Night Light asked.

“I think that sounds like a great idea,” Twilight Velvet answered.

“And honey?”

“Yes, dear?”

“I love you.”

Seven ponies and a dragon were all sitting around the living room. Princess Celestia and Luna needed to attend to their evening duties, so they went back to the castle, but when Night Light and Twilight Velvet found their friends still sitting in the hallway, they invited them to the family dinner, saying Spike deserved a chance to see all his sisters. Everypony had spent the evening doting on Spike and making ambiguous plans to do things with him whenever they got the chance. Spike himself was excited to see everypony, but barely left Twilight’s side. Anticipating that nopony would want to cook, they had grabbed food on the way to the house, and all throughout dinner they talked happily about life in Ponyville.

Twilight was cleaning food off of Spike’s face while they waited for her parents to return. After dinner, they had excused themselves to another room to talk. Fluttershy could understand them taking their time, but it was getting late, and soon it would be too late for their friends to make the train back home.

Just when she was thinking that they should ask if anypony wanted to stay with them in Canterlot for the night, Night Light and Twilight Velvet returned.

“Sorry, Spike, but we’re going to have to steal Twilight for a moment,” Twilight Velvet said. “Fluttershy and Sunset as well.”

The three mares stood up. Spike looked worried, so Twilight flashed him a comforting smile. “Everything’s gonna be fine, Spike. We’ll just be a minute.”

He nodded. “Oh, okay then.” He looked down at his claws, so Rainbow dropped Applejack’s hat on his head, which made him smile.

They followed Twilight’s parents into the foyer. Night Light took a deep breath, but was stopped from speaking by Twilight Velvet placing a hoof on his shoulder. He smiled at her.

“We think we were wrong about everything,” Twilight Velvet said. “But… we’re still not sure, so… if you’d have us, we’d like to stay with you for a while.”

Twilight smiled and threw her forelegs around her mom. “Are you kidding? You can stay as long as you want!”

Sunset bowed her head. “Thank you both so much for this.”

Night Light chuckled and walked over to her. He put a foreleg around her shoulders, which she didn’t seem to know how to respond to. “You know, I never got around to saying it before, but welcome to the family.”

Once he let go of her, Twilight Velvet took his place. “I’m sorry you had to see us at our worst, dear.”

Sunset chuckled. “Well, I didn’t exactly put my best hoof forward either.”

“Who needs first impressions anyway?” Twilight Velvet asked. “Now come on, I want to see Spike’s face when we tell him.”

As they walked into the living room, every head turned in their direction. “Spike, everypony,” Twilight said, “I’m happy to announce that everything is settled. And not only is Spike coming back with us, my parents are going to be staying at the castle too.”

Spike wasted no time is jumping up to run over to Twilight, Applejack’s hat falling to the ground as he did.

“Really?” Spike asked. “We’re all going to Ponyville?”

“That’s right.” Twilight held out a foreleg and Spike threw his arms around her. “We’re going home.”

22 – Visitors

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Chapter Twenty-Two


Staying in bed should have been easy. There’s really nothing to it; all one has to do is not leave. Given a comfortable enough bed and sufficient motivation, it’s one of the easiest things in the world. Sunset had both, but unfortunately she also had certain things making it more difficult. Two of them, to be specific, but one at least had the decency to wait in the doorway. The other proved more persistent and, for some reason, wouldn’t accept her groans as an acceptable answer.

“Sunset, come on, you don’t want to keep everypony waiting, do you?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset buried her head under a pillow.

“Sunset, please…”

She moved the pillow just enough to be heard clearly. “There shouldn’t be anypony waiting, because I said I didn’t want anypony to come.”

Fluttershy sighed and half climbed onto the bed. “I know, but that’s just silly.”

“Come cuddle me.”

Fluttershy smiled a little. “If I cuddle you for a bit, will you get out of bed?”

“Nope.” Sunset reached out and attempted to grab Fluttershy, but she moved out of the way. “Come on, you’re supposed to be nice to me today.”

Applejack cleared her throat and Sunset could hear her hooves against the floor as she walked over. “Do ya mind if I give it a shot?”

“Sure, but she can be pretty stubborn.”

“Oh, I know.” Applejack walked over to the bed, so Sunset huffed and turned to face the other way. “Sunset, if ya don’t get outta this bed, I’m comin’ in after ya.”

Sunset snorted. “Yeah, ‘cause that’s gonna happen. You’ll have to try better than – Applejack, what the fuck!”

“I tried askin’ nicely,” Applejack said, as if that was enough to justify her jumping on to the bed with Sunset still in it. She was standing over her with one of her back hooves digging into Sunset’s flank, and her head looming over Sunset’s. “Now get your ass up, or I’m gonna drag ya out myself.”

Sunset gritted her teeth, holding back her impulse to start yelling at Applejack. “Okay, fine. But how do you expect me to get my ass up with your fucking hoof pinning it down?!

“Huh? Oh, sorry.” Applejack shifted, but she moved the wrong hoof, and wound up stepping on Sunset’s hindleg.

Sunset screamed.

Applejack backed up, falling onto her flank. “Sorry!”

If nothing else, she had succeeded in getting Sunset to sit up. She was attempting to perfect the ability to kill a pony by glaring as hard as possible, but she was sitting nonetheless. “Okay, I have a few questions. First off, what the fuck? Why are you even in my bed? And why are you stumbling around it like you don’t know how to use your own hooves? Since when do you even use the word ass? And seriously –” she gestured to Applejack’s dress “– what the fuck?

Applejack just smirked. “Ya know, I think you’re really close to figuring somethin’ out here.”

Sunset continued to glare, but as she put the pieces together her expression softened. “AJ?”

Applejack grinned. “Ya got it.”

Sunset broke into a grin of her own. “AJ!”

“Well, hello to you too,” Applejack said, as Sunset threw her forelegs around her formerly-human friend. She returned the hug and attempted to pat Sunset on the back, and Sunset suspected she’d have bruises for it.

She held Applejack at a foreleg’s length. “Okay, first lesson about being a pony” – she tapped Applejack on the head, just hard enough to prove her point – “hooves are really fucking hard.”

Applejack swatted her hoof away. “Ow! Okay, okay, I’m sorry!”

Sunset relented. “So what are you doing here anyway?”

Fluttershy climbed into the bed to sit next to Sunset. “It was Twilight’s idea. See, I told you you’d want to get out of bed.”

Applejack carefully wrapped her foreleg around Sunset’s shoulders. Once she was sure her hoof wasn’t going to get in the way, she less carefully pulled Sunset over to her. “Aw, you know I wouldn’t miss a chance to see you on your birthday. And it just means a lot more to come in person to remind ya that you’re an old bitch than to send it in some magic journal.”

Sunset laughed and pushed Applejack away. “Hey, don’t you know you’re supposed to respect your elders?”

“Yeah, I suppose ya got a point there, ma’am.

“Hey, don’t think I’m too old to wipe that grin off your face.”

Applejack put up her hooves and smiled innocently. “Now look, I know people your age don’t take kindly to being woken up from a nap, but there’s no need to get cranky. Maybe we could head into town and use your senior’s discount to get ya something to eat. Would that help ya feel better?”

“Yeah, definitely,” Sunset said. “We’ll go to a nice family restaurant. And don’t worry, we’ll make sure to pick one that gives out crayons and coloring books for the little ones, just for you.”

Applejack shrugged. “As long they have wi-fi. Now, I know this is gonna sound like witchcraft to your old-fashioned ways, but that means wireless internet.”

“Low blow!” Sunset scowled and folded her forelegs. “I haven’t had internet for months!”

Applejack frowned and adjusted her hat. “Your right, I took it too far. I’m sorry.”

Fluttershy looked between the two of them. “What’s an internet?”

Applejack snorted, so Sunset elbowed her in the ribs. “The internet connects people through their electronics. Remember I showed you on my phone when you and Twi visited?”

“Oh!” Fluttershy smiled. “The thing with all the cute animals!”

Applejack tried to hold in her laughter and did a bad job at it.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Sunset said, casting Applejack a dirty look.

“Would we be able to have something like that in Equestria?” Fluttershy asked. “It’s kind of like the radio, isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s a lot more complicated than the radio, but it’s not impossible.” Sunset sighed. “There’s so much that needs to be created before the internet is even a possibility. Computers, for a start. Maybe it’ll happen in our lifetime, but by then I really will be an old mare.”

Fluttershy nuzzled her. “That’s okay. You’ll be my old mare.”

“Will I?” Sunset grinned and pulled Fluttershy closer to her. “All yours?”

Fluttershy giggled. “Well, maybe I won’t have you all to myself, but that doesn’t mean you won’t still be mine.”

Sunset just smiled to herself. She could have pointed out that Fluttershy was talking about growing old together, which was a bit soon since they’d only been dating for a little over two months, but truth be told, she liked the thought. It wasn’t the first time since coming back from Canterlot that Fluttershy had referenced their future together.

“So how’s that radio workin’ out, anyway?” Applejack asked.

Revelling at a chance to show off her achievement, Sunset hopped out of bed. “Check it out!” She walked over to the large wooden box against the wall and turned a knob, filling the room with music. She turned back to Applejack and grinned. “The song is being played on a turntable in the basement, which Twilight and I modified to flip the record when it ends, providing a constant audio feed.”

“That’s, uh, really great, Sunset.” Applejack’s smile was too wide to be genuine.

Sunset raised an eyebrow. “Hey, how many radios have you built?”

“Oh, I reckon I wouldn’t even begin to know how to do somethin’ like that.” Applejack sighed and looked at Sunset quizzically. “But, well, I’m not you. Anybody else I’d understand, but you and Twilight? I don’t mean to make light of what ya did, but I just don’t get why it took four months to make one radio when y’all already had the books and stuff.”

“In fairness, we’ve only been working on the radio for two months, before that we were laying down groundwork and figuring out what we even wanted to do, plus I did have some catching up to do when I first got here.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Applejack said.

Feeling that a proper demonstration was in order, Sunset grinned. “But the main thing that held us back was this.” She lit up her horn and lifted Applejack into the air.

Predictably, the human-turned-earth-pony began flailing about wildly. “Sunset! I don’t know what the fuck you’re doin’, but for the love of God, stop doin’ it!”

Sunset chuckled to herself and gently set Applejack on the floor, where she promptly fell over. The only thing keeping her from outright laughing was Fluttershy’s disapproving gaze, and even that just barely did the trick.

Sunset offered Applejack her hoof, which she reached for, only to knock it out of the way. At first Sunset thought she was actually upset, but Applejack just shook her head and said, “I don’t understand how you’re supposed to do anythin’ without fingers.”

“Here,” Sunset said, extending her hoof again, “wrap your hoof around mine.”

Applejack took her hoof successfully on the second attempt, and Sunset helped her stand back up. “This how ya felt first time ya went through that mirror?”

“Not exactly.” Even though it was half a lifetime behind her, Sunset still frowned at the memory. “At least you knew what was gonna happen when you went through. Not to mention you knew what ponies are before becoming one.”

“Fair enough.” Applejack turned back to the radio. “So what were you sayin’ ‘bout somethin’ holdin’ ya back?”

“Right.” Sunset nodded and turned off the radio. “So we set out to study how magic affects technology, but we forgot the most basic part of researching that: That magic affects technology.”

“That, uh, that seems like it might be the kinda thing y’all would want to keep in mind,” Applejack said.

Sunset smirked. “Yeah, it wound up being pretty important. See, Equestria is full of low levels of ambient magic, and that interferes with electronics. As ponies discovered electricity and later invented technology with it, they naturally adapted to the world around them. Basically, this means ponies have an entirely different understanding of even basic principals of technology, like say, how electrical currents work. We were trying to adapt human tech to work in Equestria, but it turns out we needed to practically reinvent it!”

“Ya seem awfully happy about somethin’ that sounds like a lot more work for y’all.”

Fluttershy hopped off the bed and nuzzled Sunset. “She is. She and Twilight have been really enjoying themselves whenever they get a chance to work on their project.”

“Speaking of Twilight, I’m guessing that’s why she told me to leave my phone at the house,” Applejack said.

“Yup,” Sunset said. “Best case scenario is that it wouldn’t work here even if you still had hands to use it. Worst case scenario is that it would totally fry the thing. We never figured out if electronics taken from the human world start working again once they leave Equestria.”

Applejack frowned. “That’s a shame, I was kinda hopin’ to get some pictures.”

“Oh, we can still take pictures,” Fluttershy said. “We’ll have them developed here and you can take them with you.”

“Yeah, just be careful who you show them to,” Sunset said.

Applejack chuckled. “Ya know, I’m pretty sure nobody’s gonna see ‘em and realize there’s a magical world full of talking ponies. I’ll be careful all the same, though.”

Sunset nodded, then caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. “I suppose I should get out of my pajamas before we start taking pictures.”

“To be honest I hadn’t even realized you were wearin’ pajamas, considering everything else going on.” Applejack glanced at Fluttershy, who was rummaging around in a closet. “Doesn’t seem to be a big deal ‘round here, anyway.”

Sunset levitated a hairbrush over to start making herself presentable. “Yeah, ponies are pretty much nudists, but I still prefer to wear clothes. After living with your crazy human ideas for fourteen years, they tend to stick around.”

“Coverin’ up their nakedness,” Applejack said while shaking her head. “What will those crazy humans do next?”

“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal,” Fluttershy said.

“It’s just…” Applejack trailed off as she tried to figure out how to explain.

“Don’t bother,” Sunset said. “I’ve been trying to explain for months, it’s pretty much impossible. Ponies just weren’t raised with that kind of mentality.”

Fluttershy gave up her search and left the closet. “Do you know where my camera got to?”

“Yeah, Spike was using it the other day,” Sunset said. “Probably left it in his room.”

Fluttershy sighed. “I wish he’d put stuff back when he was done, he’s as bad as Twily. I’ll go get it and meet you in the library once you’re ready.”

As Fluttershy left the room, Applejack began to follow her, but stopped before reaching the door. “I don’t really care what ya wear, but you should know we got more company on the way.”

“Really?” Sunset asked, then smiled as she realized it should have been obvious. “So when’s Pinkie coming?”

“Once she’s done picking up Rarity from the airport.”

Sunset stopped brushing and turned to Applejack. “Rarity’s coming?”

“Yup. It’ll be like a Canterlot High School reunion. Twilight’s already here, she’s just in the library learning how to use her magic with, uhm, Twilight.”

Sunset briefly smiled at the amusing thought, but she was distracted by a less amusing one. “Is, uhm, anyone else coming?”

Applejack glanced away, “No, just the four of us.”

“Right. That’s… probably a good thing. It would probably be pretty awkward for everyone.”

Applejack stared at the ground while adjusting her hat. “We, uh, we did invite her. Twilight made sure to let me know that Fluttershy was more than welcome. But ya know, she’s tourin’ around with Rainbow’s band, and –”

“AJ, it’s fine.” Sunset smiled. “I’m just happy to know that she’s doing alright. Maybe we can catch up someday, but right now I’m not pushing for anything.”

Applejack looked like she might say something else, then just smiled instead. “Well alright then. I’ll meet you in the library.”

She walked out of the room, leaving Sunset alone. She sighed and her hoof moved automatically towards her neck, but found nothing there. It had been months since she stopped wearing her necklace, but from time to time she still found herself reaching for it.

Applejack pulled her attention away from her thoughts as she popped back into the room. “Uh, which way’s the library again?”

“Sunny, do you think I could go to Equestria someday?” Fluttershy asked. She was lying in bed staring up at the ceiling, with Sunset curled around her.

“Of course, Shy. There’s no reason why you couldn’t.” Sunset gently traced her fingers around Fluttershy’s stomach.

“I can’t wait to see it. You always make it sound so beautiful, I bet it’s a wonderful place!” Fluttershy giggled. “And that you’d be adorable as a pony.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” Sunset smiled and kissed Fluttershy’s cheek. “We don’t know what would happen if you went through the portal now, and we don’t want to take any chances.”

“I know.” Fluttershy smiled, then turned to kiss Sunset properly. “I love you, Sunny.”

“I love you too, Shy.”

As she entered the library, Sunset stopped in the doorway and smiled. She watched as a bespectacled Twilight levitated a book, then set it down gently.

“Good job!” Twilight cheered, smiling at her double. Well, almost double.

“Hey, Twilight, long time no see,” Sunset said, approaching the others. “At least we won’t have any problems telling you two apart.”

“Sunset! This place is amazing!” the smaller of the two Twilights said. Along with the fact that only one of the Twilights needed glasses, one of them was also a unicorn. It seemed that one Twilight ascending to alicorn status didn’t mean that both of them did.

“Good morning, Sunset,” the alicorn Twilight said, “and happy birthday.”

Everyone in the room echoed the sentiment. The two Twilights, Fluttershy, Applejack, Twilight’s parents, and Spike were all present. Sunset took a seat next to Applejack and Fluttershy.

“Thank you,” Sunset said. She smiled to herself and blushed a little. She wasn’t too used to enjoying her birthdays, and she wasn’t even sure how to respond. She decided to change the subject. “So how’re the lessons going?”

“Great,” alicorn Twilight answered. “She’s picking up on everything very quickly.”

“Which is hardly surprising, of course,” Twilight Velvet said, grinning.

Sunset had always been thankful she avoided running into her parents’ doubles. Meeting her parents as a different species had always sounded like it would be a nightmare, and it wasn’t made better by knowing that they weren’t really her parents, no matter how similar they were. Twilight didn’t seem to share that concern, as she just smiled contentedly.

“There’s so much to learn about this place,” she said, her face lighting up at the thought. “Even if we ignore the magic – and I can’t possibly think of why we would ignore the magic – I could spend months exploring this place and learning all about how it works!”

“And get arrested in the process,” Twilight said. “Remember, none of you can leave the castle. We have a changeling threat going on, and if anypony saw me as a unicorn, or realized there were two Applejacks, Pinkie Pies, or Raritys going around, well… it wouldn’t look good, to say the least.”

“Of course,” the other Twilight said, smiling and nodding. “And trust me, I’m sure there’s more than enough I can learn by just practicing magic inside the castle.”

Sunset rolled her eyes, and didn’t let it bother her that Twilight had clearly come for something other than her birthday. In truth, her friendship with Twilight had become strained when Sunset refused to help her study magic in the human world, fearing what might happen if humans got ahold of something with so much destructive potential. She doubted that even Rarity would have flown in from another country just for her birthday, but Sunset didn’t mind. It was nice to have a chance to see her friends again, regardless of why they came.

While Twilight continued practicing her magic, they all caught up with what was happening in their lives. Considering Twilight’s parents were in the room with them, Sunset chose to skip over the whole fiasco with Spike, focusing on the more positive attributes of their relationship.

“Ponies certainly sound more open-minded than the people back home,” Twilight said while levitating two books at once. She was so focused on trying to get them both to move at the same speed that she didn’t notice when the whole room went quiet.

“So, uh…” Applejack adjusted her hat. “Things getting any better with the public opinion?”

“Well… no.” Sunset said.

Ever since their public announcement, they’d been facing some pretty harsh criticism. Not a day went by when they didn’t hear from somepony about their ‘sinful’ relationship, and Sunset was worried Twilight and Fluttershy might lock up again. From what she learned from their friends, they pretty much disappeared from the public eye after the fallout from coming out as gay, and this time opinions were even worse.

The opinions of other ponies didn’t bother Sunset nearly as much as seeing her marefriends so upset. So she took it upon herself to be their pillar of strength. She encouraged them to leave the castle, which was important since they did have a wedding to plan, and took an active role in filtering out which ponies would speak with them. The occasional slip up was inevitable, and whenever it happened she was always the first to defend them.

But being strong for Twilight and Fluttershy meant she had to turn somewhere else to vent her own frustration. As her best friend and one of the only people she knew with minimal ties to Twilight and Fluttershy, that fell to Applejack by default. Sunset remained in contact with her through the journal and kept her up to date on everything happening to them.

Twilight lowered the books back to the table, perhaps letting them fall a bit harder than she intended. She turned to give Sunset her full attention. “Ponies aren’t accepting your relationship?”

Sunset hesitated a moment, and Fluttershy wound up answering first. “The important ponies do.” She smiled at Twilight Velvet and Night Light.

Night Light smiled back. “I think they just might need some time to come around to the idea.”

“But doesn’t it get tough, waiting for everyone to come around?” Twilight asked, before turning away sheepishly. “Sorry, I don’t mean to pry.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” the other Twilight assured her. “And you’re right, it is a lot to cope with sometimes. But we make it through because we support each other, and we have our friends and family to help as well.”

The unicorn Twilight glanced around nervously. “But what if… you weren’t sure? What others would think, I mean.”

“Well, we weren’t until we came out. And there’s been some ups and downs.” She seemed to pointedly avoid looking at her parents. “But all in all I think we made the right call.”

Twilight nodded, then went silent. She stared at the books, but didn’t resume her practicing. Eventually the other Twilight spoke up again. “Is there a reason you wanted to know? If you don’t mind my asking, of course.”

“Oh.” The unicorn perked up, broken out of her thoughts. “No. Er, well, kind of… See, I have this friend. We met in college and, well, actually we met in elementary school, but that’s not important; we met again in college and I found out she has, uhm, feelings for another girl, and… she’s really nervous about coming out, and I thought maybe looking at how you handled things could help. Her, I mean.”

Twilight’s overly wide smile didn’t fool anyone. Sunset and Applejack looked at each other and nodded, before standing up and walking over to Twilight. “So, Twilight,” Sunset said, causing both of them to look at her. She facehoofed, then pointed at the unicorn. “Okay, you’re Twilight” – she turned to the alicorn – “and you’re Twi.”

“Why am I Twi?”

“Because I already call you Twi.” Sunset grinned and leaned closer. “Or we could all call you by Fluttershy’s nickname for you.”

Twi folded her forelegs. “Fine.”

Sunset turned to Applejack. “And on that note, you’re AJ now.”

AJ shrugged. “Fine by me.”

Sunset nodded. “Good. Now then, Twilight, I think we have a book here that could give your friend some great advice. Come on, I’ll let you borrow it.”

“Oh, okay,” Twilight said. She got up and followed Sunset and AJ.

“So, I gotta ask,” AJ said once they were far away enough from the others. “What is Fluttershy’s nickname for Twi?”

“It’s not really that bad or anything, but she gets embarrassed when other ponies use it,” Sunset said, rolling her eyes. “It’s Twily, and it’s what her family called her when she was a filly.”

“Oh, I’d hate it if my friends called me that,” Twilight said. “That’s what my family calls me too, and I guess it’s fine coming from them, as long as it’s never anybody else.”

Sunset stopped and turned to face Twilight, grinning. “Not even your friend from college?”

Twilight blushed. “O-of course! Not! Of course not, I meant. Why… why would Moon Dancer be any different?”

“Twilight, be honest with us,” AJ said, “is there something going on between you and your friend?”

Twilight’s ears folded back and she frowned. Sunset placed a hoof on her shoulder. “You know, no one here is going to judge you.”

Twilight shook her head and took a step back. “Just because the Twilight here is gay doesn’t mean I am too.” She glanced at Sunset uncertainly. “Right?”

Sunset held back her laughter, and instead smiled encouragingly. “Well, we don’t know, actually, but examples suggest that orientation is actually the same for a set of doubles no matter which side of the mirror. What we know for sure is that both Fluttershys are gay, the Raritys and Rainbows are straight, and neither Applejack can ever get with anyone.”

AJ shot her a dirty look. “I could get with someone if I wanted, I’m just busy.”

“You’re boring, is what you are,” Sunset said, patting AJ on the back. “Anyway, that’s still a pretty small sample size, and there are variables. While the pony Pinkie is bi, we don’t know about the human one.”

AJ snorted. “If that girl don’t swing both ways, I’ll eat my hat.”

“But we don’t know for sure,” Sunset insisted. “And I’ve at least seen the pony Applejack look at a stallion.”

AJ smacked Sunset on the back of the head. “Sunset’s point is that we’re not assuming anything based on the other Twilight. We’re assuming based on how bad ya are at coverin’ it up.”

Twilight looked between them and seemed to be about to deny it again. In the end, she sighed and stared down at her hooves. “We’ve been dating for a few months.”

“And congratulations to ya,” AJ said. Her smile spread to Twilight, and Sunset was left wondering if this was the first time she’d actually talked about this with anyone. “But what’s this about being afraid of what people think?”

“Well… Moon Dancer doesn’t actually seem that worried about it, but I… well, college isn’t as bad as high school, but I can’t stop thinking about all the things my classmates used to say about people being gay, or even about me specifically sometimes, even though I never told anyone back then. And my parents keep talking about grandchildren, so I’m afraid I’d be letting them down.”

“It’s been awhile since we left high school behind us,” AJ said. “Maybe it’s time to let go of all that. I’m not saying it wasn’t bad, I had my fair share of idiots saying things on account of the fact I ain’t exactly a perfect ideal of femininity. It was hard enough to listen to without even being interested in girls, so I know it must’ve been worse for you. But like ya said, things are better in your college, so maybe it’s time to stop worryin’ so much.”

“And about your parents,” Sunset added, “I don’t know if they’re anything like Twilight’s parents here, but if they are, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. They accepted Fluttershy immediately, and even came around to me eventually.”

“And anyone who can accept their daughter dating Sunset can accept anything,” AJ said.

Sunset nodded. “Exactly.”

“I guess… I’ll think about it.”

AJ raised an eyebrow. “Ya mean you’ll overthink it.”

“No, it’s important to figure things out first,” Sunset said. “Take your time to think about what’s right for you, don’t get rushed into making a life-altering decision. But most importantly, talk to Moon Dancer about it. Let her know what your concerns are, and I think you’ll find she probably has some of her own. The two of you can figure this out together.”

AJ smirked. “There ya have it, elderly advice at its finest.”

Before Sunset could retort, Spike ran up to them. “We just heard from Pinkie. She’s coming through with Rarity now!”

“Thanks, Spike,” Sunset said. “We’ll be there in a minute.”

He nodded and ran back to the others.

“So what do you say?” Sunset asked. “Want to stop hiding things from your CHS friends, at least?”

“I…” Twilight closed her eyes for a moment, then smiled. “I think that would be nice.”

“Glad to hear it.” Sunset smiled and led the way back to the mirror. “So where is Spike, anyway?”

“We planned on him coming at first,” Twilight explained, “but no one really understands what happened that made him sapient. We’re concerned he could have some sort of reaction to being here. Twi said she was going to look into it though, and that we could plan another trip for him later.”

“Probably best to not take any chances,” AJ agreed. “So does Moon Dancer know ya have a talking dog?”

“Yes. It was a bit of a surprise to her, but there wasn’t really any way around it without forcing Spike to be quiet all the time. I already feel bad enough keeping him like a pet when he’s clearly intelligent enough to be treated as an equal.”

“That must get pretty strange. I can’t imagine what I’d do if Winona started talking.”

“Actually, I kind of like having him around, though.” Twilight smiled to herself. “It’s nice having someone to talk to who you know will never judge you. And keeping Moon Dancer from him wasn’t really an option, since when we first started dating I couldn’t very well explain, ‘Hey, we can’t let my dog know I’m a lesbian.’”

“Moon Dancer?” Twi asked. Twilight stopped in her tracks and stared ahead, horrified to find they had walked right into the group without her realizing. Twi just smiled reassuringly. “Well, if she’s anything like the Moon Dancer I know, then she’s an amazing person. You two should be very happy together.”

Twilight continued staring blankly ahead. AJ guided her to a seat. “If you’re tryin’ to keep somethin’ a secret, ya probably shouldn’t talk about it while walkin’ towards a group.”

Since Twi had moved to the chair on Fluttershy’s right, Sunset started walking towards the chair on her left. Before she could reach it, however, Fluttershy switched chairs, leaving an empty one in between her and Twi. Sunset stared quizzically, causing Fluttershy to laugh.

Twilight wrapped her hoof around Sunset once she sat down and smiled. “It’s your birthday, you should be the center of attention.”

Fluttershy put a foreleg around her and rested her head on Sunset’s shoulder. “And we love you.”

“You what?” Sunset stared at her in disbelief.

“I… well, uhm…” Fluttershy nuzzled her head against Sunset, hiding her face from view. She mumbled something that sounded an awful lot like, “I love you.”

Wearing a goofy grin, Sunset lifted Fluttershy’s head up. “I love you too.” She leaned in and kissed Fluttershy, and heard the sound of applause.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Pinkie Pie stood next to the mirror, wearing an all black robe and grinning broadly. While Rarity walked through and tripped on her own robe, falling to the ground, Pinkie hopped over to the lovers as if she had been on hooves her entire life. “Come here, you three!”

While Pinkie managed to stand on her hindlegs and hug them with only minimal awkwardness, Sunset watched AJ help Rarity up. “It’s nice to see you too, Pinkie. How long were you standing there, exactly?”

“I came through just in time to hear Fluttershy mumble something about olive juice, then you came in like the sly devil you are.”

Fluttershy was hiding away in Sunset’s mane, and even Twi looked embarrassed. Sunset just leaned back and put her forelegs around both her marefriends. “Yeah, you know me, professional heart thief.”

“Really?” Twi asked, grinning. “So, tell me, Sunset… what other hearts have you stolen recently?”

Sunset hesitated a moment. It wasn’t that she couldn’t think of a reply, she was just acutely aware that saying the wrong thing here would only cause problems. She smiled as she picked her retort. “It’s not about the quantity, Twi, it’s about the quality. And it seems I’ve captured the two best hearts I could ever hope for.”

Twi chuckled. “And you say I’m the cheesy one.” She stood up and motioned for Sunset to follow. “We should probably go help our friends get accustomed to their new bodies.”

They walked over to AJ and Rarity, who was still looking unsteady on her hooves.

“Rarity, I can’t believe you came,” Sunset said. She opted to skip holding out a foreleg as an invitation for a hug, since Rarity wouldn’t be too confident in her body, and instead just walked over and hugged her without warning.

Rarity leaned her head into the hug, but made no attempt to move her legs. “Of course, wouldn’t miss it, darling.” She looked around the room, focusing mainly on the ponies. “Well this is certainly not an experience I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. Uhm, perhaps I could sit down somewhere?”

“Oh, of course, right over here.” Sunset and AJ helped Rarity into an armchair, which she attempted to sit in like a human.

“Uh, Rare? You’re a horse now.” AJ took the seat next to her, demonstrating how to sit properly.

Rarity mimicked her, before giving her a look of derision. “Applejack, please. We are ponies, not horses.” She turned to Sunset. “Er, that is correct, is it not?”

“Ooh…” AJ frowned. “I’m sorry, was that racist?”

Sunset chuckled. “Not really, just incorrect. But you’re right, Rarity. We’re ponies. And specifically, you’re a unicorn, which means you can use magic.”

Rarity looked up from her hoof, which she had been examining. “Well, that certainly does sound interesting.”

Sunset grinned and lit up her horn in demonstration. She levitated some of the chairs closer together, causing a small ‘Eep!’ from Fluttershy, who was still in one of them. Sunset took the seat next to her again, with Twi once again taking the one on her other side. Twilight took a chair next to Rarity, while Pinkie sat next to AJ.

Rarity stared in awe at the chairs that assembled around them. “You mean I can do that?”

“Well, probably not quite that,” Sunset said. “But Twilight’s been levitating books, and she’s really –”

Rarity screamed. Sunset followed her gaze to see Spike hanging off the back of Twi’s chair and looking very taken aback. Rarity looked around at everyone else, and seemed somewhat comforted when she realized that no one else was panicking.

“Uh… hi, Rarity,” Spike said nervously.

Rarity blinked a few times, then examined him closer. “Spike?”

Being remembered caused Spike to smile. “That’s right!”

Collecting herself, Rarity returned to a regular sitting position. “I’m terribly sorry, I was just expecting you to be a pony.”

“Silly Rarity,” Pinkie said, “Spike told us he was a dragon when we first met him!”

“Oh.” Rarity seemed to be trying to remember, before just shaking her head and smiling. “So sorry, it’s just that it’s been years, and so much has happened.”

“Aww, don’t worry about it,” Spike said. He scampered into an empty chair.

“About your magic,” Twilight said, smiling excitedly at the chance to explain what she’d learned, “the first thing you need to know is that –”

“Uh, Twilight? Maybe we ought to start by lettin’ ‘em get dressed first.”

“Why? They’re not.” Pinkie gestured to Twi, Fluttershy, and Spike.

“I’m afraid I have to agree with Applejack,” Rarity said. “While I am certainly grateful you’ve provided us with these robes, I think I would feel quite a bit better in some real clothes.”

Pinkie shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

“Come now, Miss Pie,” Rarity said, “I think we should both suit ourselves. It’s only proper after all.”

“That doesn’t matter here, silly,” Pinkie said, but she followed willingly.

Sunset and AJ led Rarity and Pinkie towards the mirror, where Sunset had a changing curtain set up for when she went through the mirror. “At least you had robes,” she mused. “My first moments back in Equestria were spent falling on my ass because my clothes were too big.”

“Yes, it seems Twilight learned from that experience, thankfully,” Rarity said as Sunset closed the curtain around them. “She brought these robes through the mirror for us before we left, so we’d remain covered once we arrived.” She attempted to disrobe, which seemed to be giving her some difficulty.

“Want some help?” Sunset asked.

Rarity sighed. “Please.”

“One thing I don’t get,” AJ said as she moved to help Sunset, “whenever Twi goes back through the mirror, she never bothers with these robes. Isn’t the mirror supposed to take care of that?”

“We’re not entirely sure why, but the mirror does seem to know humans always wear clothes. You could walk through it naked, and as soon as you’re a human you’ll be wearing clothes again. But it only erases clothes it makes, like Twi’s outfit. Because it didn’t make any of your clothes, they’ll travel through the mirror with you.”

“Well that is certainly convenient if you’re comfortable with being a naked pony,” Rarity said. Although she seemed to find Sunset and AJ’s help embarrassing, Pinkie certainly didn’t. By the time they had gotten Rarity uncovered, she was already playing with her tail.

“Having fun?” Sunset asked, smirking.

Pinkie grinned. “I have balloons on my butt!” She turned to show off her cutie mark, which Rarity turned away from. AJ seemed at least mildly interested, and Sunset just rolled her eyes. “This is the best place ever!”

Sunset turned back in time to see Rarity examining her own flank. She blushed and turned ahead when she realized she was seen. “I was curious!”

AJ and Sunset laughed while helping Rarity into her dress. “You know, the other Rarity made these dresses,” Sunset said.

“Well, it is no wonder they look so fabulous,” Rarity said, striking a pose now that she was decent. “But what are we going to do when the others arrive? It’s already confusing enough to have two Twilights around.”

Sunset shrugged. “Twilight’s mom is named Twilight also, so technically there’s three.”

“Which doesn’t make things any less confusing,” Rarity said.

“Yeah, that’s why we’ve been calling the pony Twi and the human Twilight,” Sunset explained. “AJ’s gonna be AJ while the pony’s Applejack. I dunno about you and Pinkie.”

“Easy enough, you can be Rare,” AJ suggested.

“That’s fine with me,” Rare said, “I would certainly hate to come into her home and claim her name. That just leaves Pinkie.”

Sunset tapped her chin. “Pinkie can be –”

“Raúl!” Pinkie said.

The others all exchanged looks.

“Pinkie, I don’t think Raúl is quite what we’re looking for,” Rare said. “Also, I think you should put some clothes on!”

“Aww, come on,” Pinkie said.

“We could say Pinks,” AJ offered. “That’s what Rainbow called ya sometimes, anyway.”

“How about we just go with Pinkamena,” Rare said. “It is such a nice name, after all.”

“I guess, but I still like Raúl better.”

While AJ distracted her by talking about the name, Sunset snuck up behind her with the dress. When Pinkamena least suspected it, Sunset pulled it over her head. Thankfully, she didn’t try to resist, and just smiled innocently once she was clothed.

“Well then, now that that’s settled, let’s return to the others,” Rare said.

They walked out from the curtain, Sunset leading the way.

“So when are the others arriving?” AJ asked.

“I don’t know,” Sunset answered. “I had no idea anypony was coming today.”

AJ snickered. “Anypony?”

Sunset shrugged. “You get used to it.”

They had their answer before long, as they walked back to the group to find Sunset’s Ponyville friends had already arrived. Rarity, Applejack, and Pinkie all locked eyes with their doubles, while Rainbow looked around expectantly.

Rare took a step closer to Sunset and dropped her voice to a whisper. “Sunset, I’m naked. Why am I naked?”

Rarity just smiled awkwardly at her double while Sunset chuckled. “Well, you’re not naked, she is. But really that’s just how ponies are. It’s another thing you get used to.”

Unsurprisingly it was Pinkie who hopped over first. “Hello everypony, my name’s Pinkie Pie!”

Pinkamena gasped. “But my name’s Pinkie Pie!”

The two Pinkies glared at each other for a moment. Pinkamena broke eye contact first, shifting to a wide smile. “But while I’m here I guess I’m Pinkamena. It’s nice to meet you Pinkie!” She held open her forelegs, and the two Pinkies hugged as if they were lifelong friends.

“Somthin’ ‘bout seein’ two Pinkie Pies seems a mite too familiar, if ya ask me,” Applejack said. “Howdy, y’all, I s’pose to avoid confusion ya can just call me AJ.”

Sunset chuckled. “Actually we already agreed to call her AJ.”

AJ tipped her hat as Sunset gestured to her. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance. Am I the only one thinkin’ this is the strangest thing to ever happen’ to me?”

“No, I reckon I’d have to agree with ya on that,” Applejack said.

“Ooh! Are we giving out nicknames?” Pinkie asked. “Can I be Pierre?”

“Hey, that’s a good one,” Pinkamena said.

“I think Pinkie will do just fine,” Sunset said.

Pinkie cast her eyes down. “Aww, that’s no fun.”

“They wouldn’t let me pick my own name either,” Pinkamena lamented.

It seemed Rarity finally shook off the feeling of awkwardness. That, or she just didn’t want Rainbow to beat her to making a polite introduction. “Well I daresay having two Pinkies around is sure to liven things up, for better or worse.”

“That’s one way of puttin’ it,” Applejack said.

Rare still seemed put off be encountering her double, staring silently. AJ nudged her and she shook her head and smiled. “Forgive me, this is just a bit… strange.”

Rarity smiled. “Think nothing of it, darling. I think it’s a bit much for all of us.” She turned to the Pinkies, who were mimicking each other perfectly. “Well, most of us, in any event.”

Regarding her double again, Rare bit her lip. “Forgive me if this is an inappropriate question, but, well… I’m rather curious as to why you would choose to go au natural, so to speak.”

AJ shook her head. “Are you still on that?”

Rarity chuckled. “Yes, Twilight and Sunset told me you would find that part of our custom strange.”

“Oh no, darling! You misunderstand. I would never dream of questioning your culture. But I simply can’t imagine anypony with such a talent for fashion wouldn’t want to use every chance she could to look her absolute best. Did I say that right? Anypony?”

Rarity looked herself over and blushed slightly. “Why, yes, anypony is the correct phrase. And I suppose I could have put something together. It is a special day, after all.”

Rare smiled and nodded. “Never fear, I’m sure I could put something together, if somepony will point me in the direction of some materials I may use.”

“That won’t be necessary, darling,” Rarity said. “I think I’ll just go throw something on and be back before you know it.”

“Oh, but I insist!” Rare smiled fondly at the dress she was wearing. “You were so thoughtful to make us these lovely dresses, I simply must return the favor somehow.”

“Nonsense, you’re our guests. I couldn’t possibly allow you to lift a hoof in taking care of me.”

“I assure you that it’s no trouble at all, dear. In fact, I’d love to –”

“Okay, enough of this!” Sunset turned to the Raritys and marched them off towards the door. “You two are both going to go make a dress, and it’s going to be fucking beautiful.”

Rarity gave her a nonplussed look. “Sunset, I know it’s your birthday and all, but there’s no need to be pushy.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Rare said, giggling. She threw a hoof around Sunset’s shoulders. “Trust me, you’d be surprised how much you miss everyone. And of course I knew I was going to miss all my friends when I moved away, but still, it surprised me exactly how much.”

Sunset smiled and returned the hug. “Yeah, I definitely see what you mean these days. I’ve missed you, too, and everybody else.”

“Oh, Sunset…” Rare said, beginning to blink excessively. “Don’t you start crying, because if you start crying then I will.”

“I, uh… I wasn’t,” Sunset said. She smiled and pulled away enough to show that her face was completely tear free.

“Ah yes, always one to put on the brave face,” Rare said, trying to dab at her eyes without ruining her makeup.

Although she really just wasn’t nearly as emotional as Rare was, Sunset smiled to herself and decided to play along. “Well, it would be kinda embarrassing, with everypony here to see me. Plus I have a little brother now, so I gotta look cool for him, right?”

Rare chuckled and let go of Sunset. She managed to compose herself before doing too much damage, and Sunset was sure that Rarity would be happy to help her redo her makeup if needed. “Oh yes, naturally we wouldn’t want to damage your reputation.”

Sunset saw the two Raritys to the door, reminded them that there were supplies in the castle and that leaving was not an option, then turned back to the others. The groups had all converged, with everyone gathered around where Sunset had moved the chairs earlier. She returned in time to hear Rainbow ask the question she knew was coming.

“Aren’t we missing a couple ponies?”

Sunset took a deep breath as she returned to her seat between Twi and Fluttershy. She hadn’t ever fully explained why she moved back to Equestria. “Fluttershy and Rainbow won’t be coming. We… don’t exactly get along anymore.”

Rainbow just grinned. “I knew it! I’m more awesome than any other Rainbow Dash could ever be.”

Sunset chuckled. “Yeah, that’s for sure.”

“Aww, I’m sure they would have come if they could,” Pinkamena said innocently, as if she didn’t know about Sunset’s problematic history with the two of them.

Sunset shrugged. “Maybe.” Really, she doubted that very much, but there was no reason to get into all that. Not when Pinkamena, AJ, and Twilight were still friends with them, anyway.

“So, Pinkie,” Twi said, completely failing at subtly changing the subject, “how do you like being a pony?”

“I love being a pony!” Pinkie exclaimed. “In fact, I can’t imagine not being a pony.”

Twi facehoofed. “I meant the other Pinkie.”

“Silly Twi,” Pinkie began –

“– my name’s Pinkamena,” Pinkamena finished.

“Okay, can you never do that again?” Sunset shook her head. “That was just… creepy.”

Pinkie tilted her head “Do –”

“– what?” Pinkamena mirrored her perfectly.

Twi just chuckled. “Imagine being in a room full of them. Anyway, Pinkamena then, how do you like being a pony?”

“It’s fantastiriffic! I can’t remember the last time something this exciting happened!”

“That’s certainly nice to hear,” Twi said. “We were worried that it would be a difficult adjustment. It certainly wasn’t easy for me when I first went through the mirror.”

Pinkamena waved a hoof dismissively. “Aww, that’s just because humans are boring. Being a pony is way more cool.”

“I don’t know,” Pinkie said. “I’ve always wanted to try being a human sometime, but Twi said it’ll cause problems if there’s two of me running around.”

Both Pinkies turned to each other and grinned. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Twi made an X with her hooves. “No! There’s no way you two are switching places!”

They both turned to her. “I was thinking about cake,” Pinkamena said.

“Me too,” Pinkie said. “But I like your idea way better, Twi!”

Sunset placed a hoof on Twi’s shoulder, cutting her off before she could launch into a full lecture. “Maybe someday we can arrange a trip to the human world, but we’ll have to plan it out carefully. The portal opens up into a school courtyard, so there’s always a danger of being seen, and you’d be surprised how hard it would be to fake it if someone recognized you. And trust me, that is not a world where you’d want to explain that you came from an alternate dimension using a magic mirror.”

“I don’t think there is a world where you’d want to explain that,” AJ countered.

“Actually, we’ve been to a few other worlds,” Twi explained, “and in one of them everything good and evil were switched around. Explaining ourselves there was the only thing that got us freed from a dungeon.”

“Really now,” Twilight Velvet said, causing Twi to jerk her head up suddenly. “And when were you going to tell your mother about this adventure?”

Twi smiled sheepishly as she tried to come up with an excuse. “Well, uh, you see –”

“It was awesome!” Spike cut in. “So, we met with the good King Sombra, and…”

Although she hadn’t heard this particular story before, Sunset was positive it involved much more danger than Spike’s version included. She could actually see the relief on Twi’s and Fluttershy’s faces as he spoke. She’d have to get the real story later, but in the meantime, Sunset just wondered whether it was appropriate to feel proud of Spike’s ability to blur the truth. Either way, she couldn’t deny she was definitely proud.

By the time he was finishing up the story, the Raritys were returning.

“Hello, Rarity. Your new dress is lovely,” Fluttershy said as they walked up.

“Why thank you, darling,” Rarity said, posing for everypony. “Although I certainly can’t take the credit for this one.”

“Nonsense, I was practically useless without any knowledge of the pony figure,” Rare said, taking a seat next to AJ.

“Oh, but your ideas were so wonderfully original, I simply must use them in my fall line,” Rarity said as she sat down next to Applejack.

Rare laughed daintily. “Just something I picked up while studying abroad. I have to say I was thinking the same thing though, seeing your work has inspired me to try something new with my own once I return home.”

“Well, it certainly is mighty pretty,” Applejack said, smiling at Rarity, who smiled back.

Fluttershy nodded to Spike, who ran off. “Now that everypony is together, I was hoping we could take some pictures.”

Night Light grinned. “I think that sounds like a great idea.”

Spike returned with the camera, and everypony stood up. Fluttershy and Night Light guided everypony to the perfect spot to get the best out of a group shot. Sunset stood in the middle and propped herself up with one foreleg on Twi and the other on Fluttershy. Spike stood on Twilight’s other side, in front of his mom. Sunset’s CHS friends all kneeled in front, while her Ponyville friends all took places around the others. Night Light set the timer on the camera, then ran to his place beside his wife.

“Everypony say eggplant!” Pinkie said.

“Eggplant!” Pinkamena repeated. Everypony else just turned to look at the two of them quizzically, and the first picture went off while they did. After laughing and resetting the timer, the second picture came out much better.

They kept taking pictures in different configurations. One of just the three lovers; another with them, Twi’s parents, and Spike; then only the Ponyville friends; the CHS friends; Sunset by herself; and finally all the doubles, both as another group shot and in pairs.

Fluttershy smiled as she finished the roll. “Do you think we’ll be able to have them developed by tonight?”

“Probably, if we hurry,” Twi said.

“Hold up a sec,” AJ said, “didn’t ya say it could cause a panic if anybody saw all of us? Won’t it look a mite suspicious to whoever’s developing the pictures when they see ‘em?”

“It’s fine, we planned on taking some pictures, so I talked with the photo specialist,” Twi said. She frowned. “Although I didn’t count on getting them done today. I hope he’s not too busy.”

“You or Sunset could always just bring them through the mirror tomorrow,” Fluttershy said.

“How about I go into town and see if he’s available,” Twilight Velvet said. “No harm in checking, and meanwhile you all can get caught up.”

“I think I’ll work on getting some lunch ready,” Night Light said. “Between thirteen ponies and a dragon, I suspect we’ll go through quite a bit. Could use some extra hooves – or claws.”

He winked at Spike, who jumped up. “I’ll help!”

Night Light smiled. “I knew I could count on you.”

“Oh, I’ll help too,” Fluttershy offered.

Applejack stepped forward. “I reckon ya could use all the help ya can get, so count me in.”

“I’ll make dessert!” both Pinkies said at the same time. “No, I will! Stop copying me!”

Night Light laughed. “Of course, you can all help. The more the merrier!”

AJ smiled apologetically. “I’d be happy to help, but I don’t hardly know how to do anything with these hooves, let alone trust myself with preparin’ food for everyone.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Night Light said. “You’re our guest, after all. Just sit back and relax, I think we’ll manage just fine.”

AJ nodded. “I’m lookin’ forward to it already. I’m so hungry I could eat a –”

She stopped and looked around the room. Sunset burst into laughter, while Fluttershy tilted her head to the side. “Eat a what?” she asked innocently.

AJ chuckled nervously. “Why, uh, eat a… a whole lot!”

Sunset laughed harder. Twilight, Pinkamena, and Rare were all clearly amused, but everyone else just looked confused.

Apparently chalking it up as a human eccentricity, half the group filed off to their various tasks, while the remaining half returned to their chairs. Sunset moved to join them, but was stopped by AJ.

“So, uh, how about a tour of the castle?”

It was easy enough to read the look on her face. Sunset glanced back at the others to make sure nopony was expecting her. While they had left the seat next to Twi open for her, they were also already talking amongst themselves. Sunset and AJ weren’t likely to get a better chance to talk privately.

Sunset grinned as they walked out of the library. “So over there we have some empty rooms, and down that hall are some empty rooms. Third floor’s nothing but empty rooms.”

“Real interestin’ place you’re livin’ in these days,” AJ said. She followed Sunset as she led them around the castle.

“Yeah, usually princesses have larger households. Twi said she hated it at first, when it was just her and Spike. Now that me, Fluttershy, and her parents all live here it’s not so bad.”

Although she knew the tour was just an excuse, Sunset still took the time to show AJ around. They stopped by the map room, popped into the kitchen to say hi – and get shooed out by Fluttershy before Sunset could find out what her birthday dinner was going to be – and eventually wound up in the basement.

“Jesus, that’s one hell of a radio,” AJ said.

The device did take up most of the basement. Sunset just grinned and stood next to it proudly. “Most of it isn’t even the radio itself, it’s the magic filtration system that makes it all possible. We’re working on reducing the size, but it’s a fully functional one-way radio, with quite an impressive range, if I do say so myself.”

“And y’all built that in your spare time?” AJ asked as she examined it closer.

“Careful AJ, you almost sound impressed.”

AJ smirked and nudged Sunset playfully. “Well, why not. I hardly see ya anymore, might as well admit that ya can do somethin’ right once in a while.”

“Once in a while,” Sunset agreed.

They stood side by side without speaking for a while, the room filled with no sound other than the sound of the record, playing its incidental background music. As happy as she was to see all her friends, not to mention flattered that Twilight and Rare had travelled so far, Sunset really missed two people more than any others. Every day, it was getting easier to not think about one of them.

“So,” the other one said after a while, “this is home, then?”

“Yeah,” Sunset said, her face in a smile she didn’t really feel, “home sweet home.”

“Well, I’m happy for ya. Ya always were kinda a fish out of water.”

Sunset shrugged. “Kinda still think I am, to be honest. I was born a pony, and obviously I am one again, but… I don’t really feel like a pony anymore. But I also don’t feel like a human. It’s… kinda hard to feel like I fit in anywhere.”

AJ wrapped a hoof around Sunset and smiled. “Now that’s just nonsense. So ya ain’t ever really been a human, and maybe ya ain’t really a pony anymore either. But so what? I reckon you fit in just fine here, and I know I can say the same thing about Sweet Apple Acres, if ya ever did change your mind.”

Sunset laughed. “So is this leading into a conversation where you try to convince me to move back?”

“Something like that,” AJ said. Sunset hadn’t realized how much she missed the way AJ could cut to the heart of a conversation, no matter how sensitive the subject. “I told ya before ya left that I won’t try and change your mind, and I’m stickin’ to that. But I still want to make sure ya know it’s an option. You’re family, and family’s always welcome on the farm, no questions asked.”

“Thank you, AJ,” Sunset said. “I’ll keep it in mind. But really, things are going so well here. Sure, some ponies are idiots, but I’m really happy with Twilight and Fluttershy. I love them.”

“I know ya do, anyone can see that.” AJ let go of Sunset and adjusted her hat. “But, well… Are ya absolutely sure this is what you want? ‘Cause, the thing is… Fluttershy still asks about you, ya know.”

Sunset’s breath caught in her throat. She wasn’t sure why that surprised her. She still asked about Fluttershy all the time, after all. She forced herself to breathe, and found it didn’t help her calm down at all. “Okay? That doesn’t mean anything. I mean, Twilight came from across the country, Rarity flew across a fucking ocean to get here! Be honest with me, could she really not make it?”

AJ hesitated a moment before answering. When she did, she frowned and locked eyes with Sunset. “She said she couldn’t, but everyone knows it’s an excuse. Rainbow’s band ain’t even tourin’ right now, and they’ve been pretty successful so the plane ticket wouldn’t’ve been a problem. If it was, Rarity would’ve bought it for her, or me and the girls would’ve all chipped in.”

Sunset sat down and folded her forelegs. “Thought so.”

AJ huffed. “Don’t be childish! Have ya even tried to see things from her point of view? Why on Earth would she possibly want to avoid comin’ to see you? Think it might have somethin’ to do with not wantin’ to upset your new life? Or maybe the thought of visiting you in the castle owned by your new girlfriends is just a bit much for her. One of whom, I might add, is the spittin’ image of her in pony form.”

“They’re not the same!” Sunset insisted. “I know they have a lot of similarities, but trust me, there’s a lot different about them too. I didn’t just replace one Fluttershy with the other.”

“I know ya didn’t,” AJ said. “But we also know that there must be another Sunset floatin’ around somewhere. So tell me, and be honest here: Are you really gonna say that you wouldn’t be even a little bit upset if ya found out that Fluttershy was dating your exact double?”

Sunset opened her mouth to say that of course she wouldn’t care, Fluttershy could date whoever she wanted, and she knew better than anyone that the other Sunset would be an entirely different person. Instead, she scowled and turned away. “It doesn’t matter. She made it pretty clear that we were done, and I’m happy here. If she wants to distance herself, that’s her business.”

“What if it did matter though?”

Sunset turned to face AJ, and didn’t like what she saw in her expression. “What do you mean?”

AJ’s voice was calm, far too calm for the question she asked. “What if I told ya she realized that she made a mistake, and she wants to work things out?”

“Don’t.” It was all Sunset could manage to say, and she wasn’t entirely sure how she meant it. Neither spoke for a while, until eventually Sunset turned towards the door. “We should head back, the others are probably wondering where we got to.”

“Yeah, I reckon we should.” AJ followed Sunset out, and neither spoke on the way back.

They returned to find the group discussing the upcoming wedding. As she sat down, Sunset took hold of Twi’s hoof, and they smiled at each other.

“So Sunset, do pony wedding traditions differ much from human ones?” Twilight asked.

“I don’t really think so, but I’ve never actually been to a wedding in either world.”

AJ smirked. “So are you gonna throw the bachelorette parties, or does dating the brides-to-be disqualify you?”

“The fact that neither of us would want to go to the type of bachelorette party she’d throw disqualifies her,” Twi said, grinning. “Rarity and Pinkie are throwing them.”

“Not that we haven’t found Sunset’s input exceptionally helpful,” Rarity added.

AJ looked like she was already about to burst into laughter. “Okay, I gotta know, what did ya have planned? Was it strippers?”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Yes, AJ. In a world full of nudists, I decided to hire strippers for my marefriends’ bachelorette parties.”

“That’s not too far off, actually.” Twilight gave Sunset an unamused look, making it clear she still wasn’t happy about Sunset’s idea. Sunset just smiled sheepishly. “While stripping might not be as big here, there are erotic dancers.”

“Come on, Twi,” Sunset said, grinning. “They were gonna be stallions, you and Fluttershy are gay, it would be funny!”

“It would be awkward at best,” Twi countered.

“I’m going to have to agree with Twi on this one,” Rare said. “Sorry, Sunset, but it just hardly seems like that would be appropriate.”

“That’s not even the best part though,” Sunset said. She ignored the look from Twi. “Remember how Twi had that huge crush on Flash Sentry the first couple times she came through the mirror?”

At that, AJ did burst into laughter. “Oh, please tell me the pony Flash is a stripper! Or erotic dancer, or whatever, I just have to tease him about it next time I see him!”

“No such luck,” Sunset said. “He actually works under Twi’s brother as a member of the Crystal Guard. So it was a long shot, but I figured, ‘what the hell?’ I mean, there’s gotta be tons of stallions who would jump at the chance to put on a sexy show for a princess, right?”

“Not funny,” Twi insisted, but Sunset could tell she wasn’t really upset.

“You know, I never understood that,” Twilight said. “Don’t get me wrong, Flash is a nice guy and all, but it seemed… odd.”

“Well, I was in denial about being a lesbian at the time,” Twi said. “That sort of thing happened a few times before I fully came to terms with my orientation. It wasn’t even a real crush, more so that I would tell myself I should be attracted to certain things, and then through a combination of scientific reasoning and denial I would wind up with some kind of attraction to the idea of someone.”

“Oh, that’s not what I meant. I’ve done that before too, when I was still, uhm, figuring things out.” Twilight blushed, and Rare patted her on the back. She smiled as she continued. “But, well, you didn’t have any experience with humans, and it’s not like you were there long enough for your orientation to even matter, socially speaking. It always surprised me that you found yourself attracted to one at all.”

Twi smiled. “Oh, that. It seems to be something the mirror does, and I noticed it both before and after realizing that I’m a lesbian. When you go through the mirror, it seems to sort of adjust your perception, so the world doesn’t seem so alien to you. After the initial confusion, of course.”

Twilight, Rare, and AJ all looked at each other uncertainly. “Well, that ‘initial confusion’ stage seems to last a while then,” Twilight said. “I definitely can’t see myself being attracted to a pony.”

Twi’s smile faltered, but she didn’t let it slip completely. “Well, you also have a girlfriend, so maybe that’s a factor. Plus the only stallion who’s been around is my dad – and I certainly hope none of you are attracted to him – so that would explain AJ and Rare.”

Sunset arched an eyebrow. “Twi, it took me ages to not think humans just looked weird as hell. I was a human for like six or seven years before I was accustomed enough to them to actually be attracted to one.”

“Really?” Twi asked, frowning. She tapped her chin. “I wonder why it worked differently for me, then…”

Sunset shrugged. “So you have some sort of human fetish. It’s not really a big deal.”

“I do not have a human fetish!” Twi pulled her hoof away from Sunset’s and folded her forelegs, a sign that told Sunset that now she was actually upset.

Since Twi turned away from her, Sunset wrapped her forelegs around her from behind, snuggling close. “Hey, I was joking. Come on, Twi, you know I didn’t mean it.”

Twi didn’t answer.

“Look, I was like five when I came out of the mirror,” Sunset reminded her. She didn’t actually believe that was the reason, but she knew the scientific deflection would be best to ease Twi’s mind. “You know what that did to my biology? Exactly what it sounds like it would. I was prepubescent, so of course I wasn’t attracted to anyone until middle school.”

Twi sighed and turned so her back wasn’t to Sunset anymore. She didn’t unfold her forelegs, but she also didn’t make any move to get Sunset to stop clinging to her, which she took as a good sign. Slowly as they turned to talking about other things, Twi continued to relax again, and soon enough she seemed to put the situation behind her.

After a while, both Pinkies returned. When they came in, Twi chuckled, while Rare, AJ, and Sunset all stared open-mouthed. “Everypony come down for lunch!” they said together.

Sunset shook her head to clear out her confusion. “I’m deeply upset at one of you for being naked!”

“Which one?” they asked together. Neither of them were wearing clothes, and they shared the same innocent smile.

Unsure of how to respond, Sunset just glared. “When in Rome, I guess,” AJ muttered. Rare held her hooves over her eyes.

“What’s it matter?” Rainbow asked. “Pinkie hasn’t been wearing clothes this whole time, and nopony said anything about her.”

“I guess it doesn’t really,” Twilight said with a shrug.

AJ and Sunset exchanged glances. “Is it even worth the effort?” AJ asked.

“I guess not,” Sunset said.

Everyone got up and walked over towards the Pinkies. Once everypony gathered by the door, the Pinkies turned to lead the way out. Rare quickly scurried in front of them. “Pinkamena Diane Pie, don’t you even think of pointing your tail end at me!”

Lunch proved an interesting and chaotic affair, which was also true for the rest of the day. With so many ponies, they constantly split off into smaller groups before regrouping, but Sunset still managed to spend plenty of time with everypony. The only one who was consistently at her side was AJ.

Twilight Velvet, who was already in the dining room when they entered it, happily announced that their pictures would be ready in time. Night Light, Spike, and Twilight Velvet took care of the dishes, turning away Fluttershy and Applejack’s offer to help. With dinner still to come, Night Light remained in the kitchen most of the day, but occasionally he found time to come out and talk with their guests. He was particularly interested in talking to Twilight about their human doubles. Twilight Velvet, on the other hoof, muttered about reading too many bad science fiction novels and left them, opting to talk with Sunset and Fluttershy instead.

They gave up trying to identify the two Pinkies, who insisted on doing everything together. Including flirt with Rainbow Dash, which she seemed to have grown completely immune to.

At some point, Rarity made the trip back to the Carousel Boutique to get her notebook, then she and Rare spent a long time huddled together exchanging tips. Rare also filled up a notebook to take back with her, and left numerous suggestions to help Rarity with her own creations.

The only one who didn’t spend most of her time with her double was Applejack. Sunset suspected both of them were a little weirded out by each other. They remained friendly enough, but Applejack spent most of the day helping Night Light in the kitchen, using the excuse that she was freeing Fluttershy so she could spend some time with her marefriend on her birthday.

Although Rare was content with a basic grasp on magic, Twilight’s thirst for more knowledge was as inexhaustible as Sunset knew it would be. She tried to convince Twi and Sunset to teach her how to teleport, but they both refused. Last thing they needed was for her to splice a limb off, or teleport into a solid object. Sunset was worried she’d be upset at their refusal, but she seemed content with learning what she could.

Spike excitedly ran between everyone, holding conversations here and there. He loved explaining what life in Equestria was like to anyone who would listen, which usually meant Twilight. She soaked up any information he could give her, even if most of it was about the fairly mundane things that were interesting to a twelve-year-old.

All in all, Sunset couldn’t have asked for a better birthday. And with it winding down to an end, and everypony gathered together since dinner was out of the way, there was only one thing left to do. “Alright, everyone follow me,” Sunset said.

The others stood up, but all looked to each other for some clue as to where they were going. Rather than explain, Sunset just led the way to the west balcony.

Once they arrived, Twi looked around in confusion. “Is something supposed to be here?”

“Soon enough,” Sunset said. She took a seat near the edge and motioned for Twi and Fluttershy to join her. “Whose birthday is it, after all?”

As they took their places beside her, Fluttershy tilted her head. “Yours?”

“Yup, it’s Sunset’s birthday.” Sunset smirked and nodded toward the sun. “So we’re going to watch the sun set.”

Twi facehoofed, while Fluttershy giggled. “What? I think it’s a good idea.”

“Huh? Oh, no, it is,” Twi said. “I just… realized something. I’ll tell you in a bit.”

Although she was curious, Sunset shrugged Twi’s reaction off. It was easy enough to not worry about; she was surrounded by her friends and had a fantastic view.

They watched together as the sun slowly made its way down the horizon, and the sky burned gently with red and yellow. As they watched, Twi and Fluttershy each wrapped a wing around her, and Sunset smiled at the warmth from her lovers beside her, and from the last rays of sunlight.

“Ya know,” AJ said, once it was all over, “I reckon that’s got to be one of the most beautiful sunsets I can recall.”

“Probably because the lack of light pollution,” Twilight pointed out.

“Actually, there’s more to it than that,” Twi said. She turned to Sunset and smiled. “When I was Princess Celestia’s pupil, she’d occasionally ask me to watch the sun rise or set with her. I learned pretty early on that it changed day to day, depending on her mood.”

Sunset smiled at the familiar memory. “Yeah, sometimes it was easier to tell how she felt by watching the sun then by watching her.”

Twi nodded. “Well, I kind of noticed something after a while. The Summer Sun Celebration is supposed to be the biggest solar event of the year, and it always has the most impressive sunrise. But without fail, it would always be another month before the best sunset of the year. I asked her about it once, why it always seemed that one sunset every year was special. All she ever said was that it was a very special day.”

Sunset’s mouth worked at responding, but no words came. Instead she just leaned her head against Twi’s shoulder while holding her marefriends close to her, and staring at where the sun had been moments before.

“That is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard!” They turned to see Rare wiping away tears.

Sunset laughed, and AJ grabbed her in a hug from behind. “Well, I guess someone out there’s gotta care about you.” She pulled Sunset against her while mussing her mane, discreetly allowing Sunset to wipe away a few tears of her own while she pushed AJ off her.

“Now only if we could find someone for you,” Sunset said, grinning.

Laughing, they made their way back inside. Although the day had been fun, it was time to bring it to a close. First their Ponyville friends said their goodbyes, with Pinkie getting a few suspicious looks from Twi and Sunset, who were still worried she and Pinkamena would try and switch places. However, as she hopped off side by side with Rainbow, it was apparent that she would never leave her friends just to satisfy her curiosity at experiencing another world.

Night Light and Twilight Velvet left them to say their goodbyes in private, taking Spike with them. He protested, but caved in when Twi also told him it was time for him to get ready for bed. After saying their goodbyes to him, all of Sunset’s CHS friends followed her, Twi, and Fluttershy into the library.

“Everyone who’s still clothed, time to get changed,” Sunset announced. Now that everypony was a bit more accustomed to their new bodies, they were able to change privately one at a time. Twilight went first.

“Thank you all for inviting us,” she said as she walked back out, covered in a robe. “And thank you for, well, accepting me.”

Sunset smirked. “Twilight, you’re in like the gayest castle ever. What did you think was possibly going to happen?”

Twilight smiled. “Yeah, I guess you have a point. Still, thank you. And, uhm, I’m sorry. I was… shortsighted when we stopped talking. I think you were right about humans and magic.”

“Eh, don’t worry about it,” Sunset said.

“But, well, just be careful. It’s true that humans shouldn’t have magic, but maybe it’s also true that ponies shouldn’t have the same technology we do. I know you won’t do anything bad with it, but…”

Sunset nodded. “I know, I’ve got it under control. Relax, we made a radio, we’re not planning on making an atomic bomb or anything.”

“I know,” Twilight said. She shook her head and smiled. “You’re right, I’m sure you know what you’re doing. Anyway, next time you’re in town call me. Even if I’m not around, it’ll be nice to talk once and awhile.”

“You got it.” Sunset hugged her, and waved as she walked back through the mirror.

Rare and AJ had both changed while Sunset was talking to Twilight. AJ took a seat beside Sunset, and it was apparent she’d be the last to go.

“It was so nice to see you again,” Rare said as she took her turn to hug Sunset.

“I still can’t believe you came,” Sunset said.

“Of course! It was the least I could do.”

Sunset arched an eyebrow. “Really? Even managing to send a card would’ve been pretty impressive. This is pretty far from the least you could do.”

“Oh, not so much about your birthday, just…” Rare bit her lip. “Well, I know how much you and Fluttershy needed support when… well, during your most trying of times. And I was halfway across the world, and –”

“Rarity,” Sunset said with a smile. “I can never repay you for everything you did. It’s okay, it’s not like we ever felt like you abandoned us or anything.”

“Sunset, I only gave the two of you material possessions, nothing truly significant.”

“Okay, but we really needed those things.” Sunset chuckled and gestured towards her other friends. “And it’s not like we were alone or anything. We had AJ and Pinkie supporting us, and Fluttershy always has Rainbow to help look out for her. Please, you did way more than anyone could have asked you to. Besides, it was nice having someone to call who would be awake when it was the middle of the night in our time zone.”

Rare smiled. “You’re too kind, Sunset. Very well, although I’ll always wish I could have been there in person, I won’t make a scene. And what Twilight said goes double for me. I shall be very angry with you if I find out you didn’t call me next time you’re on our side of the portal. No matter what time it is.”

“Sure you won’t regret that?” Sunset asked.

“Positive.” Rare took hold of her new notebook and hugged Sunset, Twi, and Fluttershy one more time before stepping through the mirror.

Sunset turned to Pinkamena, and her happy expression faded away as she realized the usually manic girl was crying. “Pinkie?”

She threw her forelegs around Sunset and sobbed into her shoulder. “I miss you so much!”

Sunset frowned and patted her on the back. “I miss you too, Pinkie.”

“Everyone keeps leaving, and it feels like one day I’ll wake up and be the only one who’s still around!”

AJ joined them in a group hug. “Aww it ain’t like that, Pinkie. I know I for one don’t plan on goin’ nowhere.”

“You can trust her on that,” Sunset said. “She’s too stubborn to ever leave town.”

Pinkamena gave a weak laugh and rubbed at her eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m supposed to be happy for you.” She tried to smile, but it didn’t turn out so well.

“No one can be happy all the time, not even you.” Sunset grinned. “And while we still can’t let you explore Equestria, there’s no reason you can’t visit us in the castle from time to time. Just ask AJ to use the journal and let us know, we’ll open up the portal for you.”

Pinkamena managed a real smile, albeit a fairly weak one, and nodded. “Thank you.”

“And I think I even have an idea for a surprise next time you come over,” Sunset said. Out of all the experiences she could have in Equestria, Sunset was pretty sure the best one would be her first time being on the receiving end of a Pinkie Pie surprise party.

Pinkamena seemed to cheer up at the promise of the surprise, and made her way to the mirror, only stopping for a moment to look back before stepping through.

Sunset turned to AJ. “If you find something to apologize for, I swear to God I’m going to hoof you in the mouth.”

AJ grinned and shrugged. “Nah, I’m just wondering how long it’s gonna take before ya regret giving Pinkie access to your home.”

“Well, what was I supposed to do? Besides, it’s not like she can sneak in or anything. The portal doesn’t work if we don’t have the mirror active.”

AJ chuckled. “Ya did the right thing. I reckon even just having the invitation will put her mind at ease.”

Without warning, AJ pulled her into a tight hug. “Don’t be such a stranger. You’re only half an hour and one dimension away, ya big jerk.”

Sunset hugged her back just as tightly. “Yeah, I guess maybe I could make some time to come visit. You know, since no one else is gonna put up with you and all that.”

They pulled apart and AJ picked up the folder with their photos in them. She walked over to the mirror and stopped to tip her hat at Twi and Fluttershy. “I’d like to congratulate y’all once again on tying the knot, and offer my condolences at bein’ stuck with that thing.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Thank you, and I think we’ll manage to turn her into a respectable pony somehow.”

AJ laughed, and with a final nod towards Sunset, stepped through the mirror.

Sunset sighed and looked down at the ground. “You two have the weirdest friendship,” Twilight said.

Sunset smiled. “Yeah, I guess.” She looked between her marefriends. “Thanks for inviting everyone over. I love you two.”

Fluttershy looked to Twilight and smiled before turning back to Sunset. “And we love you, too.”

“So, uh, is there anything else you want to do?” Twilight asked, smiling bashfully. “I mean, it is your birthday and all.”

Sunset was sorely tempted to accept that offer immediately, but there was something else she needed to take care of first. “Uhm, actually I think I’d like to write a letter. While, uhm, Celestia’s still up.”

Twilight didn’t seem too upset by the delay. “That’s a great idea.”

Fluttershy walked over and kissed Sunset on the cheek. “We’ll be in the bedroom when you’re done.”

Sunset walked over to a desk, and since Spike was asleep – or supposed to be, in any event – she levitated a journal adorned with Celestia’s cutie mark off a shelf filled with various journals connecting them to ponies all over Equestria. Before she started writing, she turned back to the others. “Hey, Fluttershy.”

They stopped and turned towards her. “Yes?”

Sunset grinned. “It sounds like we’ll all have to plan a trip to the human world sometime soon after all.”

“Oh? Why’s that?” Fluttershy asked.

“Well, it seems like Twilight would very much like to try something over there.”

Fluttershy tilted her head to the side, but Twilight caught on. “Sunset! That’s not –”

“Oh come on, don’t tell me you’re not curious.”

“I… but… well, that is, uhm…”

Sunset laughed. “Just wait, Twi. Fingers are wonderful things.”