The Wooing of Sunset Shimmer

by Rose Quill

First published

Sunset and SciTwi continue to explore the depths of their relationship.

Twilight and Sunset continue their relationship, leading to many turning points for the two girls.

Mainly, Hearth's Warming and Christmas celebrations, matrimonial worry, and how to make a proper pot of tea.

Pairing: Sunset/SciTwi

Continuity: Homecoming

First Featured January 18, 2017

Revisions completed 11-3-17

Chapter One - Dinner Invitation

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I blinked for a moment, pausing as I pulled on my coat. “Come again?”

Twilight looked down slightly, holding her elbow and blushing. “I want to have you over for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow night," she said simply. "I know Thanksgiving was last week, and you usually spend it alone, but I thought maybe I could make something for you. But I had to let my folks know and now they insist on meeting you.” She looked away completely. “I told them it was ok, but Cadence and Shining wanted in too. So now, if you still want to have dinner at my place, you’ll have to brave the gauntlet of my whole family.”

I shrugged the rest of the way into my coat and pulled my hair free before reaching out and taking one of her hands in mine and bringing it up to kiss. “If Cadence and your brother are anything like their pony counterparts, then I can probably survive your parents.” I pulled her into a hug. “Besides, it’s nice of you to offer. If you don’t want to go through with it, I’ll understand. I never really got behind the whole tradition anyway.”

She sighed with frustration. “It’s not really fair, though. I mean, they let me spend a week in Equestria with you, and I’ve stayed over at your place a few times. Why the sudden need to meet you? I’ve looked at all the possible reasons, from needing to verify someone before letting them into the house to the psychological desire parents have to protect their children. I can’t justify it in any form...and why are you laughing?”

“Twily, let me ask you one question. When you told them who you were going to be going with to attend my mom’s funeral, how did you describe me to them?”

“That I had a friend that had just lost her mom and I didn’t think she should be alone. They agreed, by the way.”

“But now, instead of me being just a friend, I’m your girlfriend. I’ve gone from harmless acquaintance to a romantic interest that you are inviting over for dinner. That’s likely why.”

She gaped at me before face-palming with both hands, face turning red. “They’re not!” she exclaimed.

“Probably are,” I replied, leading the bespectacled bookworm towards the door. “Empty nest worries are unpredictable. Have you already planned out what to make?”

“Not really, I wanted to make sure it was ok with you first.”

I gave her a peck on the cheek before digging my car keys out of my purse. “Then ask them why before asking them for ideas on what to cook. Involve them.” I stared off into space for a moment, keys held in my hand.

“Sunny,” Twilight sing-songed, breaking me out of my daze.

I shook my head, blinking a tear away. “Sorry,” I said, unlocking the car doors and sliding in. “Memories.”

She slid into the other side. “Thinking about your mom again?”

I nodded. “When she was out of town for work, Dew would watch Glory and me. We’d always decide together what to have for dinner, and Mom would always let us help make menus. I remember her smile from the time, and thought maybe it would be a nice gesture on your part to include them.”

She was silent most of the trip, but I could almost hear the wheels turning in her mind. I dropped her off at her house and gave her a wink before pulling off.

The rest of the night was unremarkable. I got a renewal notice for my insurance which was set to automatically debit from my account. Since I was driving an older car that had a good safety record I paid next to nothing when you compared it to Dash’s sports car or Rarity’s convertible. I still lost out to AJ and Fluttershy though, with AJ’s truck being grandfathered into a lower cost bracket and Shy getting a rebate for driving a hybrid. I also received a notice that I might already be a millionaire.

Later that night, the book stamped with my cutie mark started to vibrate. I opened it up and read the message within.

Dear Sunset Shimmer,

Just wanted to see if you were still going to be coming around for Hearth’s Warming Eve. We’re looking forward to seeing you and Sunshine again. Your sisters have also expressed excitement for you to visit for a bit.

They’re holding a holiday ball in Canterlot this year, and the Princess just happened to leave a pair of invitations for the two of you as well. If you’re so inclined, that is.

It’s a shame you missed out on the last harvest at Sweet Apple Acres. The zap apple jam was amazing and I think this is the best batch of cider AJ has have produced. We have a bottle or two saved back for Hearth’s Warming, though.

Hope to hear from you soon,

Princess Twilight Sparkle.

I smiled and grabbed my pen, letting her know that we still planned to come over for Hearth’s Warming. I asked for more information about the ball and asked her to pass my love to my sisters and hugs from Sunshine and me to her circle of friends. I had no sooner shut the book than my phone buzzed softly.

My, I’m popular tonight, I thought.

It was a text from Twilight, letting me know I had been right about the reasoning, asking me if seven would work, and if I had any dietary concerns or preferences she should know about.

Well, it was a little wordier than that, but you get the point. I responded with a short affirmative and requested something mostly vegetarian. I may have a human anatomy, but my stomach still twists at the thought of eating meat. It just didn’t jibe with my mind, among other reasons.

I went to sleep that night wondering what was in store and what I had gotten myself into by agreeing to this dinner.

I suddenly worried about what to wear, and I made a call.

“Sunset, darling, do you have any idea of what hour it is?” Rarity’s sleepy voice asked.

“Three words: Need fashion advice.”

“What kind of advice?” the Fashionista asked, her voice perking up slightly.

“Twilight invited me to dinner at her place, and her whole family is going to be present. I want to wear something nice, but I’m not sure what.”

“Define nice, dear.”

I frowned for a second, groping for the words. “Warm and slightly dressy, but not too stiff and formal or too casual.”

A yawn came over the line. “I can be over tomorrow to help. What time is dinner?”

“Seven,” I sighed. “I hate to be a bother, Rarity.”

“Pish-posh, darling. I’m happy to help. Provided,” she yawned again. “I get my beauty sleep.”

“Thank you so much, Rarity.”

Chapter Two - Dinner at House Sparkle

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Rarity was prompt, alert, and knocking at my door at nine. I, however, had barely oozed out of bed and put on real pants.

“Rarity, it’s nine AM on a Saturday,” I said as I wiped the sleep from my eyes. “Dinner isn’t until tonight.”

“It’s never too early to work on the perfect ensemble, Sunset," she touted as she swept into my apartment. "Now, show me first to your closet, I want to see what I have to work with.”

I pointed to the closet and made my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. I heard the fashionista start humming to herself just under the sound of clothes hangers scraping along the rack.

“Is this it, darling?” she asked when I returned.

I shook my head. "I have some things up in the loft, not really seasonally proper. What you’re looking at is mostly my winter choices.”

“Ah, you work with a capsule wardrobe! Simply marvelous!” she said before bounding up the stairs to my loft. I blinked as she squealed. As I caught up with her, she had slung a few dresses over her arm and was poking through sweaters and blouses.

“I have to admit, I didn’t think I’d find much to work with, but this is simply amazing!” She put the dresses across the railing and pulled a few blouses and skirts off, holding them next to each other. “Why haven’t you worn more of these?”

“Because some of those are summer wear, Rarity,” I said, leaning against the rail. “We spent most of this summer at camp and shortly after we got back my mother died. Not exactly the time to dress pretty.”

She pulled a mass of black fabric with heather gray accenting from a flat box before frowning. “This isn’t shaped properly,” she said, turning it about.

I smiled. “It is if you’re a mare,” I said, taking the dress and holding it gingerly. It held memories of different sorts, still-fading pangs of grief and pain from its association with my mothers’ death but also the joy of my time spent getting to know Twilight better.

“That’s a dress from Equestria?” she asked, eyes wide.

“Made by you, as a matter of fact,” I said, handing the dress back. She held it for a moment.

“Would it be ok if I examined this sometime?” She looked at the gem-studded neckline. “Think of what I could learn from a more experienced me.”

“Be careful with it, please,” I said. “It’s got…”

“Sentimental value, yes,” she said, setting it down gently. She grabbed up the dresses, skirts, slacks, and blouses she had singled out and headed back down the stairs. I followed, a little daunted by the number of items she had taken with her.

“I’m still confused,” I said as she arranged the items on my couch. “Even with the number of combinations possible with your choices, it won’t take ten hours to pick out the clothing for tonight.”

“Oh, heavens no!” she exclaimed, swapping a skirt with a pair of slacks to go with a certain blouse.

“After this, I’m going to help with shoes and accessories.”

I opened my mouth to repeat my previous statement when she continued on.

“Also, I have ideas for your makeup and hair.”

I looked skyward after seeing the manic gleam in her eyes.

Sweet Celestia, what have I wrought?

I pulled up to Twilight’s house a few minutes early. My stomach was twisting so hard if I found a way to harness it I could power a small town. I gripped the steering wheel of my car, leaning forward to rest my forehead on it.

Breathe, Sunset. Breathe.

I sat up straight and glanced in the mirror to check my hair out of nervous habit that had developed the moment it had been coiffed earlier in the day.

Rarity had curled it and pinned it up in a complex looking pattern that was actually pretty simple. When I got home, pulling a few bobby pins would release it from its coif. The makeup she had done was subtle but had somehow made my eyes look slightly larger and more vibrant.

I took another deep breath and popped my door open, swiveling around to get out. My boots crunched in the light dusting of snow as I walked up to the door, hunching slightly from the cold starting to leach through the leggings I was wearing.

Shining Armor opened the door, looking at me in surprise at my getup. “Hey, Sunset,” he said, standing aside. “Get inside before you freeze.”

“Thank you,” I said, stepping inside and shrugging off my coat. Underneath I had a long green tunic over the black leggings, topped with a soft red cardigan. A pair of plain studs adorned my earlobes and a single bracelet on my wrist that held a charm similar to my cutie mark.

“You look pretty good,” he said, taking my coat and hanging it up. “I think you both might have overdressed a bit, though.”

I took in his simple sweatshirt and jeans and blushed as I slipped off my boots. “Wait, what do you mean we overdressed?”

He smiled and indicated the room just up ahead. "Twily got dressed up all fancy just for this dinner." As we entered what turned out to be a den, I saw an older couple talking to Cadence, all of whom were in casual clothing. Cadence had on holiday-themed clothing, down to a red skirt with a white hem and a black waistband. The Santa hat on her head only heightened the look.

“Sunset’s here,” Shining said. “Is Twily still fussing about things?”

“She’s better now,” Cadence said, standing and coming to me to offer me a hug. “So wonderful to see you again, Sunset.”

I hugged her back. “Nice hat,” I said, smiling.

She adjusted it slightly. “Thank you!” she said as she slipped her arm around Shining, the ring on her finger glittering. Twilight hadn't mentioned that, it must have been a recent event.

Shining gestured at the older couple. “Sunset, this is my mother, Twilight Velvet, and my father, Night Light.” They both rose at the introductions.

“I’m very pleased to meet both of you,” I said, nervously glancing down at my feet. Why was this nerve-wracking? It's just introductions.

“Oh, don’t be shy,” Twilight Velvet said, leaning forward and giving me a hug. “We don’t bite!”

Night Light looked me up and down for a second, a slight scowl on his face. I started to worry before he nodded and smiled. “I can see why my daughter isn’t buried in books all the time now.” He waved towards a room off to the side. “Dining room is in there, and unless something goes catastrophically wrong in the next ten minutes, Twily should have dinner ready soon.”

We sat down, sipping water while we waited. Twilight Velvet leaned forward slightly.

“So, Sunset,” she began. “What are your plans for after graduation?”

“I haven’t really decided yet,” I said. “I’ve been accepted to a few universities based on academics alone, but I haven’t officially decided which school I'll pick, let alone a major.” I fidgeted, worried about how they would take the next statement. “I'm trying to decide between becoming a painter like my mother and sisters or an author.”

The older woman’s eyes lit up at that. Shining and Night Light both groaned while Cadence hid her smile with her hand.

“An author? That’s fantastic!” she said. “Do you have a preference? Fiction or non-fiction?”

I blinked in surprise as Velvet kept going with questions. Cadence leaned forward.

“She’s an accomplished author herself,” she explained. “And she tends to get animated about it.”

I looked at the older woman again, seeing the same look of glee as her daughter when it came to some scientific fact or an interesting anecdote.

Night Light reached over and placed his arm on his wife’s forearm. She blinked and looked at him, a blush creeping up her neck. “I did it again, didn’t I?”

“Yes, but we won’t hold it against you,” he said with a smile. He turned to me.

“So your mother was a painter?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, a small pang in my heart. “She did a lot of murals back where I’m from. My sisters followed in her footsteps, one focusing on restoration.” I took a hasty sip of water to hide the sadness behind the words.

Night Light frowned for a second, then his expression softened. “Ah, I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s still a bit early yet to talk about it. Sometimes curiosity gets the better of me, I'm afraid."

“It’s alright,” I said. “It was just a little awkward.”

“What about your father? What does he do?”

“I never knew my father,” I said.

That brought the room to silence dead enough to hear something sizzling in what I assumed was the kitchen.

I shrugged, not wanting the silent tension to hang any more than it had to. “He passed when I was still a fo…young.” I cursed at my slip, hoping no one had caught it. “But from what I’ve been told, he was a cartographer. He died when a cliffside he was surveying collapsed underneath him.”

The mood was a somber and a bit awkward as we all sat there for a few moments, me lost in memories and them uncomfortable about bringing it up. I was about to speak again when Twilight Velvet touched her husband’s arm. “Why don’t we go help Twily, Night?”

They rose and went into the kitchen.

They were no sooner out of the room that Shining turned towards me. “Sorry about my dad, Sunset,” he said, a sheepish look on his face. “He tends to dig for answers without even realizing it sometimes.”

“What does he do, so I don’t set off another excitement session?”

“He’s a teacher,” Cadence said. “Physical Science and Chemistry with an AP Physics class.”

I smiled and giggled. “That explains a lot,” I said. The other two chuckled too.

Twilight came in bearing a large platter loaded with cubed and buttered potatoes. The cow-print oven mitts clashed with her plum skirt and yellow ocher blouse, but the smile on her face made her beautiful. A necklace hung low, bearing something that resembled what her counterpart’s cutie mark looked like. She was barefoot, like the rest of us, and had on a pair of sheer stockings. She set the plate on the table and gave me a peck on the cheek before turning and skipping back into the kitchen, prompting what was probably a goofy smile on my face.

Cadence smiled at my look. “Someone’s in loooo-oove,” she sing-songed, leaning forward.

“Oh, hush, Cadence,” Twilight Velvet said kindly, coming in with a salad bowl, Night Light behind her with what appeared to be some sort of vegetable medley. “Leave the girls alone.”

“And the pièce de résistance,” the younger child of the family said as she came in and sat a plate down with rectangular slices of something coated with breadcrumbs and some sort of glaze. “Ginger Tempeh fillets!”

“Tempeh?” I asked

“It’s similar to tofu, just more cake-like in consistency.” Night Light said, sitting down. “Twily said you were a vegetarian.”

Plates were passed around to be loaded with various helpings of food. When I received my plate back it had a few cubes of buttered and herbed potatoes, which made my mouth water with the aroma. Next to them sat a scoop of what appeared to be succotash made with corn, lima beans, and tomatoes. The tempeh sat in the crowning position, the aroma of ginger and garlic drifting up to my nose. A smaller plate with a simple spring mix salad sat to the side.

“Bon Appetit!” Twilight said as she picked up her fork.

Dinner had gone rather well, talk sticking to simple topics like tests, classroom antics, administration headaches from both sides of the table, editor demands and silly jokes. After the plates were cleared and cleaned, we all retired to the living room and sat by a fire Night Light stoked.

Then came a topic that I had worried about.

“What are you doing for Christmas, Sunset?” Night Light asked.

I hesitated, shifting my arm from underneath where Twilight was tucked against me."I'm not sure yet," I hedged. “I'm going to be leaving in a little over a week to see my sisters back home and spend a week before they leave to spend the holidays with their future in-laws. Twilight was invited too if that’s ok.”

“Christmas isn’t for three weeks, Sunset,” Twilight Velvet said. “No reason you couldn’t go there and spend Christmas Eve here.”

I was flabbergasted. “But,” I stammered. “Here? I'm touched, but you barely know me. Christmas is kind of a family thing, and I don't want to intrude.”

“One, you mentioned your family lived a ways off and that they were splitting the holidays with their in-laws,” Night Light said, ticking points off on his fingers. “Two, you’d obviously be back before Christmas Eve if you were leaving in a week, foregoing anything disastrous.”

He smiled. “And three, they both asked if you could,” he said, indicating his daughter and soon to be daughter-in-law.

I looked down at the bespectacled girl, raising an eyebrow.

She fidgeted. “I may not have been completely honest,” she said. “I talked to Cadence and she brought in Mom and Dad. They agreed only if they met you first and approved, and Cadence suggested a dinner.”

“Then I guess you approve?” I asked Night Light a little trepidatiously. Hope beat in my chest, making my heart bounce off my ribs.

“Well, it appears that you’re on our couch after a nice dinner with my daughter cuddled into you half asleep,” he said, a small smile on his lips. “The evidence would seem to support that hypothesis.”

I exhaled in relief, provoking a fresh round of laughter.

Chapter Three - Day After

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I wound up staying rather late at the Sparkle household. After the revelation that not only did Twilight’s parents feel all right with us dating but had invited me to Christmas Eve festivities, I felt warm in a way that had nothing to do with the flames crackling in the fireplace.

Cadence swept into the room with a tray laden with mugs that were steaming and surrounded with a rich chocolate smell. She handed them out and sat down, crossing her legs over Shining Armor’s, smiling behind her mug as she cradled it with two hands around its barrel.

I looked into mine, smirking as I saw a snowflake shaped marshmallow floating in it. I crept up on the scalding drink, taking a gentle sip. Talk had started to die down, the time of night leading to drowsiness. We all laughed at silly stories told by Cadence and Twilight paled and protested when her mother pretended to get the family photo album.

“We’ll show you sometime,” Twilight Velvet whispered as her daughter calmed down.

“That’s ok,” I said. “No need to have the bookworm die of embarrassment.” We all shared a laugh as Twilight pouted, her cheeks puffing up in annoyance. I gave her a squeeze and a peck on the cheek, but she didn’t seem placated.

Twilight Velvet turned to Cadence. "Have you heard any more about Abacus and her continued employment at the school?"

"She decided to take the offer of early retirement," the Dean of Students said, sipping her cocoa. “Though members of the board weren't pleased that they didn't have the votes to just terminate her employment. Apparently, they took her attempts to continue the streak of CPH winning the Friendship Games by any means necessary to be a little extreme and overreaching the bounds of her authority.”

“Any mention of magic?” I asked. I was still trying to figure out how it worked here and didn’t need anybody poking around where they weren't needed.

“None that I heard of through official channels," she shook her head. "mostly rumor and speculation, but nothing concrete. You know how the rumor mill works."

“Yeah,” I said, a flash of the Annon-A-Miss events rising to the surface, but I managed to keep a neutral face. “Did they suggest anyone for the position?”

"They have a list of five candidates and they'll be conducting a round of reviews and interviews over the winter break to see who will take over in the spring semester."

"I can't believe they won't just give the position to you, Cadence," Night Light said. "You've been doing her job since she was suspended and doing splendidly."

“I was one of the possibilities,” she admitted. "But I'm up against some pretty well-qualified individuals."

"How are they with magic?" I asked. "Demon students, man-eating vines and the like would be a good way to test a candidate's capabilities."

Shining Armor shook his head. "Cady's just being modest," he said just before his fiancé swatted him on the belly. "She told me she was the front-runner according to the superintendent."

“Congratulations! I think the school is in good hands,” I said, my mind’s eye overlaying an image of the Alicorn Cadence over her human form. “Especially since most of Twily’s former classmates have actually proved to be decent people.”

Twilight had dozed off during the exchange, as had her father.

“Sunset,” Twilight Velvet spoke up softly. “It was wonderful having you over tonight.” She reached over and poked Night Light, waking him. “But I think some of us are overdue for bed.”

I smiled and looked down at the dozing girl who had fallen asleep holding my left arm. I poked her nose, causing her to scrunch up her face adorably.

“Whyya do tha?” she slurred sleepily.

“Time for me to go, Sunshine,” I said. “And for you to go to bed.”

“But comfy,” she said, waking up reluctantly.

“Twilight,” her mother said firmly but warm.

“Ok, ok,” she said, sitting up. She picked up her empty mug and mine and placed them on the tray sitting on the coffee table. We all started collecting our things, Night Light giving us all hugs before climbing the stairs to his room. Twilight Velvet took the mugs to the kitchen, Shining Armor following to help clean up.

“Twilight, thanks for inviting me. And thank you, Cadence, for giving her the advice,” I said as I pulled on my boots. “This was nice, I had fun.”

“And we had fun having you,” Cadence said. “It's good to see her involved in something that doesn’t have wires and transistors.”

“That was how we met, though,” I joked, standing and hugging the taller woman. She smiled and left me and her former charge alone in the foyer.

“I’ll let you know when I get home,” I said, pulling my coat on.

“Ok, she said, a small smile on her face. She glanced around, nervously.

“What’re you…”

She put her fingers on my lips, then replaced them with her lips in a warm kiss. I wrapped my arms around her waist as hers snaked up around my neck. We broke and we touched foreheads, smiling.

“OOooooh,” Cadence cooed from around the corner.

We both flushed red.

“Good night, Twilight,” I said, pulling my keys out.

“Good night, Sunset,” said Cadence as she led the embarrassed girl back indoors, Twilight’s jaw working in silent words.

I slid the deadbolt home as dropped my keys on the table next to the door. Coat and purse were dumped onto the couch and I trudged into the bathroom, fatigue starting to catch up with me. I shot Twilight a text before taking my face off and taking the pins out of my hair, watching as the curls and waves started bouncing around my shoulders, evoking a memory of Adagio the Siren.

I wondered briefly what had happened to them as I stumbled to my bed and sat down. The last time I had seen them, my temper and the way the building they lived in made me feel had made me speak and act in a way I wasn't proud of.

But I was too tired to contemplate it further. I pulled my boots off and swiveled backward onto the bed, not bothering to crawl under the comforter.

I don’t remember hitting my pillow.

Cheery, fast-paced bubblegum pop woke me up the next day. I crawled part-way out from my blanket cocoon and fumbled for my phone, slapping it to my face to silence the music. I adjusted my grip on the device and growled out a “What?”

Civility from me requires at least a minute of consciousness. That part of me had never changed from foal-hood.

“Morning Sunny!” Pinkie’s voice piped through the speaker, unperturbed by my rude answer. “Are you still coming along?”

I clawed through the fog of sleep for what she was talking about. “Flea Market?” I asked while sitting up and peeking through my blinds at a freak snowfall, the flakes swirling around in the strong wind. “Today?”

“It’s the best time to get a good deal! And then we’re going ice skating.”

“How about I meet you at the rink?” I asked. “I’m still not awake and that snow makes me want to hibernate.”

“But you’re a pony, Sunset. Not a bear, silly,” she paused for a beat. “Do magical ponies hibernate?”

“This one does, Pink.” I yawned. “Skating at three?”

“Okie Dokie Lokie!” she said before hanging up.

I put my phone back in its cradle and burrowed back under my thick comforter. Nothing got Pinkie down for long, if at all.

A few hours later I woke up naturally, stretching languidly. I rolled out of bed and padded into my kitchenette to brew up some tea. I had no sooner stirred in my cream than my phone started going off again.

“Hi, Rarity,” I said.

“Sunset, darling,” she cooed. “Please tell me how it went.”

“Like clockwork, Rarity. Her family likes me and invited me over for Christmas.”

“Oooh, that sounds lovely! But will you be back in time? I know you were going to visit your sisters for Warm Hearth.”

“Hearth’s Warming, and it’s about a little more than a week before Christmas so we should make it.” I chewed on my bottom lip. “I’m due to go skating with Pinkie in a bit, so I should probably start getting ready. Could you do me a favor and ask the girls to meet me here around five or so?”

“Is everything all right, Sunset?”

“Yes,” I said. “But it’s something that I’d rather talk about in person and only once.”

Chapter Four - Letters

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I sat down and slid the blade guards onto my skates, untying the laces. I glanced over at Pinkie, who was just coming off the ice.

“I’m still surprised you can skate like that, Pinkie,” I said as she sat down and began to remove her skates as well “It’s not something I pictured you doing.”

“I’ve been doing it since I was six. Grandmom and Grandad’s farm had a large pond on it that froze every year and we’d go skating on it.” She popped on the blade guards on her skates and slung them over the bench as she pulled on her boots and looked at me. “Plus its super-duper fun!”

I smiled. Where I was content to just glide across the ice of the rink, Pinkie had been doing what could have been a rehearsal for a figure skating routine. The pink-haired girl had leaped, spun, and pirouetted as though she were walking on solid ground.

“You should think about trying out for the Olympics, Pink.” I threw my skates over my shoulder after giving my boots a solid tap against the floor to seat them properly. “You might just make the team.”

“Nah," she said. “Then we’d never get to hang out! Besides, I only like it with friends, and you guys would be home while I’m all over the place!”

“You don't think you’d make friends on the team?” I asked as I pulled my keys out.

“Yeah, but they won’t be as awesome as you guys.”

I chuckled at that. “I wouldn’t go that far, Pinkie. Keep it in mind, it'd only be for one year anyway.” I glanced at my watch. “C’mon, Pinkie, let's get going.”

“Okie Dokie Lokie,” she said, heading to her own vehicle.

I looked at my friends, all lounging around. Twilight was pouring a cup of tea when I cleared my throat.

“Thanks for coming over, girls,” I said. I picked up a letter in a yellowed envelope and turned it around in my hands. “This is something my mom left for me before…” my breath caught. “Before she passed.”

I opened the envelope, pulled out the letter and looked at the familiar script. I had read it a hundred times since returning it seemed, but until recently, I hadn't felt a need to share its contents.

“It talks about a handful of things; my grandparents, favorite memories of me as a foal and filly, things I remember and some that I don't. Typical parental reminiscing.”

I looked up. “It says that the one thing I always had trouble with was making friends and getting along with other ponies. Her one wish for me was to make good friends one day.”

I smiled and looked up at them, a tear leaking from my eye. “I wish she could have seen the great ones I have here. I can’t help to wonder if she’d be proud of me.”

Applejack broke the silence first. “Aw, shucks, Sunset,” she said, giving her eyes a swipe too. “Ah’m sure she would be. You’ve been a great friend and always willing to help out others, and Ah’m not shy to say you’re a good friend of mine.”

There was a wave of nods from the girls and Twilight sat next to me, wrapping her arm around mine. “We all are,” she said, lacing her fingers into mine.

“I know,” I admitted. “But sometimes I still have dreams about what I did at the Fall Formal or what I did to you all over the years.” I felt Twilight squeeze my hands and dimly felt her own pang of regret. She and Applejack were the only two that had known prior to now that knew about the nightmares. “I tried to hurt all of you and spent years doing nothing but driving you all apart. When the other Twilight came after me, you all hated each other because of what I did.” I saw Rainbow Dash rub the back of her neck and Fluttershy look down and twisted her fingers nervously.

“I can’t see how you all could be friends with someone like me sometimes,” I continued. “But I’m so glad you are. My life has been made so much better since then, and I hope I never do anything to lose this feeling.”

We all sat silently for a moment, remembering the misunderstanding brought about by Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom last winter.

Rainbow apparently had enough of the mushy stuff, because she hopped up and paced to the door. “Well, I don’t know about you guys,” she said. “But I’m starving, so let's go! There’s this new place on Fifth that gives discounts to students!”

I smiled at her enthusiasm. “You buying?” I asked.

She hesitated, but then laughed. “Drinks, sure. You’re on your own for food.”

As they piled out of my apartment, I pulled Twilight back a bit.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, looking confused.

“There was more the letter said, Twi,” I said, taking her hands in mine. “She also wanted me to find someone that would make me smile all the time, somepony special, as she put it.”

I looked her in the eye. “We both know I have, right?”

She blushed and smiled widely before leaning over and hugging me, planting a kiss on my cheek.

“Twilight, Sunset, are you two coming or not?” Rainbow shouted up the stairwell.

“We’d better go before she comes up and drags us along,” Twilight said, the smile never fading.

“Go ahead, I’m going to tuck this letter away.”

I pulled open the drawer to my nightstand where I kept the pouch of leftover bits, a few odds and ends, my geode pendant when I wasn't wearing it.

And a ring that had been in the envelope along with the letter, the one that my mother had said was the one my dad had given her when he asked for her hoof. It was human-sized, but I guessed that if I took it through the portal it would shift again. I smiled at it and closed the drawer, going to join my friends.

Chapter Five - Preparations

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I stomped my feet a little to clear the ice that had crusted onto them before I entered the cafe. I glanced around and spotted Twilight sitting at our regular table.

The Princess Twilight, that is. As I shrugged off my jacket and sat, she slid a steaming mug over to me. "I went ahead and ordered for you," she said with a smile. "I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all," I said, wrapping my hands around the warm ceramic. "I appreciate it, actually." A careful sip revealed a delightful hazelnut taste and pulled a sigh from my lips. "So, how are things?"

After a sip from her own mug, the Alicorn-turned-human smiled. "It's all pretty well business as usual, I suppose," she said. "Starlight is starting to get settled in now that she's had an adventure that proved her worth."

"Hard to believe that the Changelings changed so much," I said. "It seems quite simple from the outside I suppose."

"Trust me, I'd rather be on the outside of it from now on," she said, giving her arms a vigorous rub. "I was washing cocoon bits from my mane for a week it seemed, and don't get me started on the goo." She shuddered.

I let the comment slide. "So, what brings you over this time? It's not like you to just nip through a rift in the transdimensional fabric."

She perked up momentarily. "Oh, right! I almost forgot," she said as she picked up the coat the portal had given her and produced a small package handing it over to me. "It took a little less time to fashion it than I thought it would, and the quality is just as good as we hoped for."

I opened the box and gazed at the contents for a second before seeing her slide a card over.

"From all of us," she said.

"Thanks, Twilight," I said as I closed the box with the card inside. "I think she'll like this."

"It's a nice, thoughtful gift," she said. "I'm sure she'll love it."

We chatted for a few more minutes, laughing over funny stories that hadn't quite made it into the journal. It was a rare treat for me to have face to face time with the Princess, even during our trip to Equestria. Her duties often had her pulled away.

She pulled out a coin purse, the bits within jingling. "This is the best equivalence I could figure for what I owe you from the last time," she said. "Plus today and a little spending money for when you come over for Hearth's Warming."

"You didn't have to do that," I said, picking the purse up. "I still have bits from when I left."

"I know, but I didn't know how much," she said. "Just call it my Hearth's Warming gift."

I shook my head as I tucked the pouch away in one of my jacket pockets and pulled my wallet out, flagging the waitress down for the bill.

"Why do we meet here, by the way?" she asked as we got ready to leave. "It's a little out of the way, isn't it?"

"Mainly so no one recognizes us," I said, opening the door to my car for her to climb in. "Anywhere close to the school and you'd be recognized instantly. Plus, I'm dating this world's version of you. Imagine the problems that can cause."

She nodded as she realized the issues. "Point taken," she murmured.

As we approached the portal, she turned and hugged me. "I can't wait to see you both again," she said, a big smile on her face. "I'll have the portal opened at four, just like we agreed."

"I'll see you soon, Twilight," I said, her grin infectious. "Now get going before something decides to attack Ponyville in your absence."

She rolled her eyes. "That happens even while I'm there," she muttered before sliding through the glass.

I looked at the package on the passenger seat as I climbed back into my car. I frowned, then pulled my phone out.

"AJ?" I said into the mouthpiece. "I need a favor."

Chapter Six - Hearth's Warming: Departure

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Five days later, I was tapping my foot impatiently at the foot of the stairwell in the Sparkle house.

“Twilight! We were supposed to leave ten minutes ago,” I called up. “What’s taking so long?”

“Almost done!”

I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. She had said that five minutes ago. I put my hand on the railing of the staircase leading to the second story of the house, wondering if I should go up and help until I realized that I had no clue which room was hers.

“Second door on the left,” a soft voice came from behind me.

I turned, seeing Twilight’s mother standing in the doorway to the kitchen with a mug of coffee in her hand. She smiled and tilted her head in a way that implied permission.

I smiled back, bounding up the stairs. I found the door Twilight Velvet had indicated opened and saw Twilight standing by her bed with a notebook in her hand, checking something off.

“I think that’s it, Spike,” she said, putting the notebook down without turning around. She zipped up the backpack and turned, starting slightly as she saw me standing there.

“A checklist, Twi?” I smiled at her. “Really, we’re only going to be gone six days at most, and we won’t really need clothes unless we go to the ball, and Rarity has already offered to make gowns for us.”

“It’s just a habit,” she said, nervously tapping her fingers together. “Plus, I’m trying to plan for when we get back how best to make it to Christmas Eve at Cadence’s house.”

I walked over, touching my forehead to hers. “We’ll handle it when we cross that bridge.” I took the bag from her hand and dropped it on her bed. “I think between the two of us we’ll be fine.”

“But what about gifts for your sisters, or the girls?”

“I brought my bits, and anything bought in Equestria will be better suited for them than anything brought over from here.” I smiled. “Relax, Twilight. This isn’t like it’s our first trip there.”

The bookish girl’s smile turned from nervous to relaxed as I spoke. “Ok,” she said, turning and giving Spike a few scratches behind the ears. “Behave yourself while I’m gone, ok?”

He looked around before smiling. “Don’t have too much fun,” he whispered before curling up and going to sleep.

As we walked downstairs, I leaned over and whispered to Twilight. “Do your folks know he can talk yet?”

She shook her head. “I didn’t even tell them about me ripping holes in the dimensional fabric.”

“Worried about how they’d react?”

“I’m pretty sure Dad would ground me for tampering with the laws of physics,” she said, face shading red. “But I’m not sure how to broach the subject, exactly.”

I grabbed my coat while Twilight ran in and hugged her mother goodbye. She came back carrying a foil wrapped package.

“Whatcha got?” I asked as Twilight pulled on her coat.

“Mom made cookies earlier.” The purple haired girl opened one end of the foil and pulled out a large sugar cookie, breaking it in half and handing one piece over to me.

I chewed on the cookie on the way to my car. “It’s missing something, Twi,” I said as I climbed in and started the vehicle.

Twilight looked confused, still chewing on her portion. “It tastes fine to me,” she said as she entered the passenger side.

“No, Twilight,” I said. “Trust me, it’s missing something crucial.”


“A glass of milk to wash it down with.”

We laughed as I pulled out and headed for the school.

“Hey, you made it!” the Princess of Friendship said as we regained our bearings. Twilight had made the transit easier this time, not falling over as she tried to stand. I shook my mane out, feeling again the strange sense of rightness as I adjusted again to my pony form. My coat and scarf had made the trip with me, as had my Twilight’s coat and earmuffs.

The pony Twilight trotted up and hugged us both, my Twilight grinning like a schoolgirl. “Got any more lessons for me?” she asked, levitating the package of cookies over and pulling one out to offer.

The Alicorn laughed, taking the baked good. “I can probably think of one or two for while you're here. Is this a bribe?” she asked before taking a bite.

“Nope, just tasty,” she replied. “My mom made them.”

The Princess swallowed the bit she had bitten off and nodded. “Tastes kinda like mom’s recipe, all right.”

Starlight Glimmer came in, pausing for a moment as she saw us standing there. “I’m not interrupting, am I?” she asked.

“Not at all!” Twilight turned towards her and smiled. “You remember Sunset and Sunshine, right?”

The pastel unicorn nodded, smiling with a more genuine smile than the wan imitation she had during our last visit. “I’ll only be a moment, then you two and Twilight can catch each other up,” she said.

“Actually,” I said. “I thought Sunshine and I might hit the town and do a bit of quick window shopping.”

“Perfectly ok,” The Princess said. “We’ll see you later.”

I started to leave, then noticed that Sunshine hadn’t followed me. She was staring at the library with a lustful gleam in her eyes. I sighed and levitated her away from the bookshelves and out the door. “Come on, Egghead,” I said, teasing her with Rainbow Dash’s favored nickname for her.

The afternoon sun glinted off the dusting of snow on the ground. The entire town was decorated with wreaths and garlands, and the sound of harmonized singing made me steer us towards the tower that marked City Hall. As we neared, we saw five ponies on the front walkway in matching costumes singing, Big Mac, Rarity, and Fluttershy among them. They finished up and Sunshine started applauding. “That was amazing.”

Fluttershy blushed and half stepped behind Big Mac, a squeak slipping from her mouth.

Rarity tossed her mane and sighed good-naturedly. “Thank you, darling, but this was just a final dress rehearsal. Fluttershy wasn’t expecting…Sunset! Sunshine! No one told us you had arrived.” She came down the stairs and came to give us dignified hugs. Fluttershy followed soon after, still a little red-faced.

“What are you two doing in town, we weren’t expecting you until later this afternoon,” the yellow Pegasus asked.

“We got things ready a little sooner than expected and thought we’d window shop for my sister's gifts.” I looked around. “It's been a while since I did shopping anywhere here, got any pointers?”

“Well, the Quill shop has some excellent choices in brushes,” Rarity said, adjusting the scarf around her neck. “I seem to recall you saying your sisters painted.”

“They do,” I said, filing the information away for later. “Anywhere else?”

“Sugar Cube Corner always has good treat baskets,” Fluttershy offered. “It’s a nice alternative when you can’t think of anything else.”

“Are you performing tonight?” Sunshine asked. “That was a truly great set of harmonic melodies with polyphonic rhythms”

Rarity positively beamed. “Thank you, darling! We shall actually be performing tomorrow night, but with everything else going on tomorrow we were only able to meet tonight.” She smiled at Fluttershy. “Fluttershy has gotten comfortable enough to actually perform with the Ponytones for this one performance.” She gestured at the two ponies that had stayed up on the stage with Big Mac, discussing something out of earshot.

“Sunset, Sunshine, I’m sure you know Big Mac, but allow me to introduce Toe-Tapper and Torch Song, the other founding members of the Ponytones.” The two Earth ponies nodded as they were introduced.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Sunshine said. “I hope we get a chance to catch your performance.”

Fluttershy let out another little squeak, fidgeting in place.

I put a hoof on her shoulder. “You were great, ‘Shy,” I gave her a warm smile. “Just focus on the song and you’ll be fine.”

She smiled back, nodding slightly.

“We’ve still got another song or two to rehearse, but you’re welcome to stay,” Rarity offered.

“We’d welcome the feedback,” Toe-Tapper offered.

“Thank you, but we should get going,” I said. “It’ll be dark soon and I want to be back at the castle before too late.” I nodded at my companion. “Besides, she’ll want a chance before bed to make an itinerary for tomorrow anyway.”

Rarity and Fluttershy, being in on the secret of just who Sunshine was, started giggling, which set me off when I saw Sunshine puff her cheeks in frustration.

“I wasn’t going to make a full one, you know,” she pouted as we left, cheeks still red from more than just the cold.

“I know, but it's fun to see you flustered,” I said, leaning over and giving her a nuzzle that made her smile a little as we approached Sugar Cube Corner.

“I’m going to get you back for that, you know,” she whispered before we entered.

I smiled. “Do your worst, Sunshine.”

Chapter Seven - Hearth's Warming: Lunch With Siblings

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The train rumbled as it went along the tracks, whirling clouds of displaced snow blowing by. Sunshine stared out the windows, enjoying the various snowscapes that rolled by.

“This is beautiful,” she said, turning away from the view. “How long have trains been a method of travel in Equestria? How far have tracks been laid?”

I shrugged. “At least as long as I’ve been alive, and I remember my mother talking about trips when she was young. According to Twilight, there’s been some expansion to some of the more distant parts of Equestria.”

“How do they work? I doubt you would burn coal for the steam, so is there a spell that converts moisture from the air into steam?”

“Not that I know of. From what I understand, the wood they but in the boiler is treated with a Mobius spell first. It keeps the fuel from being fully consumed.” I frowned in thought. “I’m not familiar with the spell myself, having never studied it myself, but I’ve seen it used in a lot of places, especially the fireplaces in the palace.”

A conductor came into the car, checking his watch. “Next stop, Canterlot, with service to Appleloosa, Manehattan, and Baltimare.” He moved through to the next car.

“We should get ready,” she said, shifting in her seat excitedly.

I smiled. “How?” I asked. “We didn’t bring any bags.”

She sat down, still with an excited look on her face as she split her time between watching the city pull into view and glancing at me. “But we’re going to lunch with your sisters! And going to stay your old home after having a Hearth's Warming night! How can you not be excited?” She adjusted her glasses, despite them not having moved, going to look out the window again.

“And we’re meeting Rarity in her boutique here to be fitted for that ball we were invited to,” I teased. “Which is why you’re as giddy as a schoolpony.” It was odd, being back in Equestria, trotting on four limbs again made me automatically switch back into using the slang and words that matched. It had been six years since I spent any amount of time here, but twice in three months I had returned and immediately returned to the language like I had never left.

Sunshine’s smile, however, only grew at my teasing quip. “I’ve never been to a royal ball before!” She started practically prancing in place out of exuberance. “I don’t even know where to start at how exciting that is!”

I blinked. “That’s…not very scientific, Twilight,” I said. “Not exactly…”

“Me?” Her smile never dimmed. “Sunny, even I can get excited without having to have a rational, logical reason behind it. Besides,” she leaned into me. “I’m spending time with my special somepony.”

I giggled. “You’re starting to sound like a local, Twi,” I said.

“When in Roam,” she replied. "I'm sure that the ball will simply be the best night ever!"

The train started to slow, and I stood. “Well, in any case, after a bite to eat with the sisters, shall we go see about fixing up a house?”

“Thought you’d never ask.”

“Sunny!” Morning Glory called, trotting up and nuzzling into me excitedly. “So glad you made it.”

“Wouldn’t miss this, Glory,” I said, tossing my head at Sunshine. “You remember Sunshine,” I said by way of introduction.

“Of course," she said in a sly way. I rolled my eyes. “So you two are involved.”

“Glory,” I said warningly, seeing Sunshine's cheeks color at the same time as mine started to heat up.

“Glory, don’t be a pest,” Dawning Dew said as she walked up. She nuzzled me and then Sunshine. “It’s obvious they’re happy together and that’s enough for me. Don’t pry.”

Glory deflated a little, but her smile never wavered. She nuzzled Sunshine and tossed her mane out of her face. “Let's get a table, shall we?”

We sat and ordered before Glory spoke again. “You have to tell me how you two met,” she gushed. "Was it love at first sight?"

I rolled my eyes, giving a sigh usually reserved for pop quizzes. “It’s a little tricky to explain,” I hedged, not sure how much I could share without spilling the beans about the mirror world.

“That’s even better,” my sister cooed. Dew rolled her eyes in response as I face-hooved.

“We met at a social function,” Sunshine said. “I had been in a dark place, and she offered to be my friend. It sort of grew from there.”

I looked at her, not just because of her quick spin of the truth. I knew the events she was referring to, down to the words that had helped her from that ‘dark place’.

Take my hand, Twilight…

The vulnerability of Midnight Sparkle in that moment, Twilight’s face when she slept, the way she would twirl her hair when lost in thought. I loved it all.


I snapped out of my reverie, blinking. “Sorry, memories,” I smiled at the trio. “What did I miss?”

Dew leaned forward, a smile on her face that reminded me of Mom. “I asked if you had decided to keep the house for sure,” she said, eyes sparkling with the same mischievous nature I saw in the mirror and in Glory’s eyes. “It’s fully paid off, after all, but maybe you want to talk more about whatever it was that you just zoned out over.”

I flashed a devilish grin at my eldest sister. “In your dreams, Dewy,” I said with a saccharine voice. I saw Sunshine flush slightly out of the corner of my eye.

“Oh, you don’t have to explain,” she returned as our food arrived. “I must have done that a thousand times when Hue and I started dating.”

Glory popped a tomato into her mouth, chewing quickly. “So, any big plans for Hearth’s Warming besides tomorrow night at the old house?”

Sunshine swallowed the mouthful of salad she had been chewing on. “My folks have invited her over for a celebration later on in the week,” she said softly. “And we might go to the Yule ball at the palace.”

“Maybe we should go together,” Glory said, clapping her hooves together in excitement. “Do you have outfits picked out? We could coordinate patterns or colors!”

I shook my head as I chewed on a carrot. “We’re going to head over to the Canterlot Carousel to get fitted day after tomorrow. We didn’t know until yesterday if we were going to go or not.”

“Canterlot Carousel? That’s a fairly pricey boutique, are you sure you can afford it?” Dew furrowed her brow.

I grinned. “I know the owner, she said she’d cut us a deal.”

Glory gasped. “You know the owner?” She openly gaped at Sunshine and I.

I glanced at Sunshine. She looked back at me and shrugged. I turned back to my sister and nodded, reaching over to push her jaw shut. “Rarity? Yeah, pretty sure we do.”

Dew giggled as our sister worked her jaw trying to form words. “I think you broke her,” she said.

Sunshine frowned. “How?” she asked. “It was a fairly innocent comment.”

“Yes, to us it was,” Dew said. “But Glory fancies herself a socialite these days. The fact that Sunny, here - who for the longest time was antisocial - knows a high-profile pony like Rarity might not be able to settle in her mind.”

Glory apparently regained coherent thought at that moment. “You have to introduce me,” she breathed.

I smiled and took another bite of my salad. “I’ll think about it,”

“Perfect,” I said, levitating my choices over to the counter to be tallied. “Do you gift wrap?”

The Unicorn behind the counter nodded, levitating the gifts I had chosen over to a smaller table.

Sunshine walked up, putting several items down and giving me a quick nuzzle. “Find everything you needed?” she asked.

I nodded, then glanced at the gifts. “Aren’t you worried I’d see what you got for me?” I asked.

She shook her head, her bun wobbling slightly.

“Why not?”

She smiled up at me.

“I’ve had your gift picked out for a week. You’ll get it when we get to my brother’s house.”

I smiled. “What a coincidence,” I said. “I’ve had yours for a while too.”

Chapter Eight - Hearth's Warming: A Hearth's Warming Tale

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I stepped through the door, memories immediately washing over me. The smell of dinner cooking wafting through the kitchen doors, my sisters and I laughing in front of the fireplace, playing all sorts of games at night before bed. The bright memories contrasted greatly from the dusty, shrouded rooms before me. I set the bag of gifts and food down as I slowly stepped forward.

Sunshine stepped forward, looking around. “This is where you grew up?”

I stepped forward and pulled one of the shrouds off the bookshelves, revealing a host of books ranging from Daring Do to Equestrian historical texts. I sighed, the ghosts of memories also tugging at the strings of still-fading grief. We had just covered this furniture up only a few weeks ago.

“Yeah,” I whispered, looking around at the strangely bare walls. “This was my home.”

I felt her step up to me and press her shoulder into mine gently. “Sunset?”

I shook my head. “Sorry,” I said, forcing a smile. “There’s a lot of memories in here.” I looked around. “Let’s get these shrouds off the furniture.”

But somehow, despite revealing all the furniture and wading through the weight of memories, the house that I grew up in didn’t feel like home. It felt like it was missing something, and when we bedded down that night in my parent's old room, I dreamed that I was searching for whatever was missing.

“Happy Hearth’s Warming, Sunny!” Glory said as she swept inside, giving me a nuzzling and then looking around. I recognized the pang of sadness in her eyes. She set the levitating bag down and ran her hoof over the bookshelf.

Dew stepped in behind us, her more tempered smile never wavering as she came up and nuzzled both myself and Sunshine. “Happy Hearth’s Warming,” she said.

I smiled. “Happy Hearth’s Warming,” I replied, then stepping towards the living room. “We’ve got some cider and snack breads ready, and Sunshine says she’ll have some cookies ready any minute now.”

Dew took the bag where Glory had put it and levitated the bag over to the fireplace, wrapped gifts floating out and settling on the throw rug in front of it. I recognized the precise wrapping of Dew next to the more haphazard work of Glory in the gifts and smiled as memories filled my mind's eye again. The gifts Sunshine and I had purchased were already sitting on the throw.

“So, tell me, Sunny,” Dew said as we settled on the couches. “Are you planning on moving back to Canterlot anytime soon?”

The question threw me through a loop. “Why do you ask?”

My sister took a sip of her cider and settled back in the couch. “Well, this is the most you’ve visited in seven years, and you haven’t talked to a realtor.” She glanced towards the kitchen where Sunshine had disappeared to. “And this is the first time you’ve ever brought somepony along with you for the holidays. It's enough to make a pony wonder.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh sweet Celestia, you’re as bad as Glory!”

Dew smiled as Glory blushed and took a hurried sip of her cider. “You have to admit, despite her overenthusiastic and busy-body nature, she cares about you. We both do.” She tilted her head forward. “And I see the way you two look at each other. So that begs two questions: Are you moving back, and are you serious with Sunshine?”

I glanced at the kitchen, hoping she would walk in so I could avoid answering these questions.

“Don’t worry about disappointing us,” Glory said. “We actually discussed this on the way over.”

I sighed. “As far as the house goes, I don’t know yet. When I got here earlier, it just didn’t feel like home. It still doesn’t, to be honest.”

Dew nodded. “That’s because it hasn’t been your home for almost twelve years, Sunny,” she said. “The house I have didn’t feel like home until I had been there a few weeks. Home is where your heart is.”

Sunshine walked in, a tray hovering next to her. She set it down on the coffee table and sat next to me. I saw the question in my sister’s eyes but the conversation slowly shifted towards more friendly topics.

Namely, Sunshine asking all sorts of questions about Canterlot, coming off as somepony that had never been to a big city before. I felt the smile growing and leaned into the mare sitting next to me as she mined my sisters and I for as much knowledge we knew.

I lost track of time, enjoying the feel of three of the most important mares of my life laughing and chatting about all manner of things, enjoying cookies and cider.

“Well, it’s getting dark,” Glory said. “I think it's time to start.”

“Start?” Sunshine asked. “Start what?”

Dew pulled a book from the shelf without looking. It hadn’t moved in all the years, and we all could have grabbed it without looking.

“Time for us to read ‘A Heath’s Warming Tale,’” Dew said. “It's kind of a tradition.”

“A tradition?”

“A family tradition,” I said. “Though I’m pretty sure other families do it too. We just loved the tale.”

Dew opened the book and started reading the tale. As the words poured out of her mouth, the soothing tone of her voice, I smiled.

This house had started feeling like a home again.

Chapter Nine - Hearth's Warming: Prelude to a Ball

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My sisters had left for the night, and Sunshine and I had gone upstairs. We had stoked the fire upstairs just before Glory and Dew had arrived and now the bedroom was toasty warm. I went and lit a lamp, keeping it just bright enough to illuminate the room.

“I had fun tonight, Sunny,” Sunshine said as she fluffed the sheets we had brought. “Your sisters are really sweet.”

“You only say that about Glory because she reminds you of a combination of Rarity and Pinkie,” I quipped as I unfolded a quilt. “I love them both, and I almost forgot how much fun we have together.”

“The Hearth’s Warming Tale was fascinating,” she continued as she pulled the sheets tight on the bed. “So similar to Dickens’ 'A Christmas Carol', I couldn’t believe it. Snowfall Frost went through almost an identical process!”

“I couldn’t believe how you managed to avoid asking questions that would have broken your cover,” I said, pulling the blanket up onto the bed before hopping in. “I don’t know how’d we explain something like that to them in the first place without sounding crazy.”

Crawling into the bed, my marefriend frowned slightly. “I’m sure we could explain it in a reasonable way, somehow. They are pretty intelligent mares.”

“They are, but Glory also has a habit of running at the mouth. She doesn’t gossip, exactly, but I’m sure that half of Canterlot would know her little sister has a marefriend who makes great cookies and chooses great gifts by this time next week. I don't think the princess would want to risk the knowledge of the portal getting out like that.”

“I don’t pick great gifts,” she said, turning her face downward in shyness.

“I didn't get Glory the coupon for a free fitting at Canterlot Carousel, or those scarves for Dew with her and Hue’s cutie marks on them.” I smiled at her, brushing my horn across hers. “I bought a cookbook for Glory and a necklace for Dew. Which one do you think they’ll get more use of?”

She snuggled into me as I lowered the lamplight. “They give good gifts, too,” she said. “The portrait of the three of you Dew painted or the copies of your favorite books from when you were a filly from Glory? I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.”

I smiled as I pulled her a little closer. “Yeah,” I said. “And somehow they predicted that you’d like those Equestrian cartography and history books.”

“They're reference books,” she said as though it was an obvious thing. “Of course I’m going to like them.”

Laughing, I kissed the top of her head and laid down. “Good night, Twilight,” I said.

“Good night, Sunset,” she said.

“Happy Hearth’s Warming, ladies,” Rarity said as we walked into the boutique. “Are you ready to get the best gowns you’ve ever seen?”

“You really enjoy this, don’t you Rarity?” I smiled at the fashionista.

“Of course, darling!” she exclaimed, trotting forward. "And I’m going to give these two gowns extra TLC for two of my favorite customers.”

“TLC?” Sunshine asked.

“Time, Love, and Couture,” said a tall and slender mare as she stepped out of the back. She looked at Rarity. “I’m going to run down to the depot and see what’s keeping that shipment of the new fabric lines. I should be back before we officially open.”

“Take your time, Sassy,” Rarity said, looking Sunshine up and down, a measuring tape and her glasses flying over from her worktable wrapped in the blue aura of her magic.

“Today we are open by appointment only,” she finished as she rested the tape along Sunshine’s withers.

I thought I had seen the breadth of Rarity’s work while browsing the stock dresses she had in the boutique while she finished up Sunshine’s dress.

I was wrong.

When she stepped out from around the curtain, I was knocked speechless. The red bodice was strapped tight, the sleeves bound high with ribbons that matched her coat color, but flared down at the flank into a bell-shaped deep midnight blue skirt, contrasted by pinpoints of white light from small gemstones sewn into the fabric, creating a star-strewn landscape. Her glasses were gone, and her mane had been done up in a cascade of coils and braids that framed her face perfectly. She blushed when she saw me staring, turning her head away coyly.

“Say something,” she whispered, as I felt timidity and excitement growing through our bond.

“You look beautiful, Twilight,” I whispered.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Rarity said as she swept out behind her. “I do believe you mean Sunshine.”

“Right,” I said, still awestruck by the dazzling display before me.

Rarity smiled knowingly and motioned Sunshine back to the curtain. “Go ahead and change dear while I start on your marefriend, if I can get her brain firing again, that is.”

I had started speaking coherently again about halfway through my measurements, but Rarity beat me to the punch.

“I seem to recall the last time you were here saying that she was rather smitten with you,” she said as the double checked the measurement across my withers. “And now I think the comment has been reversed.” I could see her sly smile in the mirror in front of us. “Anything you want to share?”

I rolled my eyes. “What do you want to hear, Rare?” I kept my voice low. “That I love her? Confirmed. That I was amazed by how much you were able to bring out even more beauty with your skills? You are a master at what you do.” I turned to face her when she tossed the measuring tape across her shoulders. “Or are you digging to see if I’ve got deeper plans, possibly because Sunshine expressed curiosity as to what I was giving her for Hearth’s Warming?”

I caught the flash of embarrassment before she covered it with a toss of her mane and turning to levitate some cloth over. “A preposterous assumption,” she said. “I’m shocked that you would even ask such a…”

“I overheard her while you were helping her with her mane.” I smiled back. “And you have a tendency to squeal when you hear something adorable. Since I didn’t hear a squeal, I can also assume she didn’t tell you what she got for me, so I have no reason to disclose first.”

She fumed for a moment before going back to work. “It’s bad enough when Twilight can logic me out of gossip, but now I have three of you roadblocking me.”

A thought struck me as she mulled for a moment over some color choices. "Rarity," I said, horn lighting up. "What about this?"

She glanced at the image I was projecting and her eyes lit up instantly. "Why that's marvelous!" she cried as bolts of cloth started flying from around the room just as Sunshine stepped out from the changing room.

I smiled all the way through the fitting and mane treatment to step out in a light pink and white dress with gold accents in a similar cut to Sunshines, only instead of stars strewn across my skirt, she had run threads of orange, red, and yellow subtly through a guazy overlay, suggesting a sky at sunset. My mane was done in a series of tight braids and wrapped up in spiraled bun. I stepped out and was greeted to what I assume was the same slack-jawed look of amazement I had shown when she had stepped out.

I smiled lopsidedly. “Going to say something?” I said, a light blush rising to my cheeks.

“That looks like what you had on when you…” the blush darkened her face to almost the shade of her counterpart’s coat. She shook her head furiously. I knew the image she was seeing, the only items missing from the outfit were the glowing wings of lambent light and the light markings under my eyes.

I smiled and turned to Rarity.

“Rarity, thanks so much,” I stepped up to her. “And I know you told us not to worry about payment for these, but all the same, I do have something for you."

She frowned as I stepped up to her and whispered into her ear.

She was still squealing and prancing in place as I stepped into the dressing booth and changed out of the most beautiful gown I had ever owned.

Chapter Ten - Hearth's Warming: All I Wanted

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“You didn’t have to bring gifts, Sunshine,” the Princess of Friendship said as she saw the floating packages behind the blue-coated unicorn. “We don’t want you to feel obligated.”

“It’s no problem. It’s just baked goods.” She brought one to the fore as she trotted up to hug her counterpart. “Happy Hearth’s Warming.”

Twilight smiled, accepting the offered package. “Happy Hearth’s Warming,” she returned. She turned to offer me the same. “Enjoying your trip this time?”

“Yeah, actually,” I said. “I think I’ll be keeping my mom’s house, and be visiting a little more often.”

“That’s great!” she beamed. “Any reason?”

“It’s my home,” I said. “Just as much as where I live now. Plus, I don't want to make you keep a room open whenever we decide to drop by.”

“Seems fair,” she said. “Go ahead and mingle, I’ll catch up to you later.”

The night passed swiftly, great laughs and carols with some of the best ponies I know. And the entire time I couldn’t keep a smile off my face. This was something that I had missed out on for six years solid. I realized that two and a half of those years were by choice. The previous holiday had been spent trying to pick up the battered pieces of my sense of self and dealing with the Anon-A-Miss incident. This was the first time since I left home that I was actually celebrating with friends and not worrying about anything.

Pinkie was delighted when she opened the package of cookies Sunshine had made, little gingerbread ponies with pink icing for hair. “Awesolicious!” she shouted as she dove into them.

“Told you it was a good idea to decorate the cookies like the ponies you give them to,” I whispered to her as Rarity admired her own gingerbread likeness.

“I left some at the house for later,” she said with a sly smile on her face.

I smiled back. “Who are you, and what did you do with my marefriend?”

She giggled. “Look at you,” she said. “This is the happiest I’ve seen you since I’ve known you, and that counts when you realized that we were getting magic of our own.” She leaned over and touched her horn to mine, not channeling any magic but a warm wave of contentment flowed through our bond. “I’m happy for you.”

“It’s just, I don’t know,” I nuzzled her. “This is the first Hearth’s Warming I’ve celebrated since I left here. And your folks, inviting me to Christmas Eve,” I giggled. “It’s like I feel as though I belong, no matter what side of the mirror I'm on."

"That's a good thing, you realize."

I nodded. "It's a great thing," I said as Rainbow flew past, a strand of lights in her hooves. Ponies were milling arond the castle's foyer, wishing each other joyous greetings and partaking in the eggnog and cider or treats, all served up by the Apples. "But I'm starting to think that maybe we need to come clean to a handful of people."

"Like who?" she asked, confused.

“Your parents," I said. "They deserve to know, and it would make having to censor my stories a little bit less frustrating."

She fidgeted. "I'm not sure how to bring that up," she murmured. "What do I say? 'Hey, Mom, Daddy? Remember that girl you met the other night? Well, she's acutally a magical Unicorn from an alternate world' I'd be surprised if they didn't commit me right then!"

I laughed. "You worry too much," I said. "I'll help you break the ice, and it doesn't have to be right away. Because first,” I leaned towards her and kissed her. “We need to go enjoy the rest of the party, then go twirl around at a royal ball tomorrow night so I can introduce you to the Princess’ Celestia and Luna.”

She smiled, calming slightly. “I’ve been looking forward to that, actually. And what do you think about inviting them to graduation?” she asked with a toss of her head towards the six counterparts of our friends.

“Um, besides the fact that we’d have to somehow explain the sudden appearance of twins?”

She rolled her eyes. “I figure that there is enough variance in appearances that we could disguise the similarities, especially with two Rarity’s help.” She looked at me. “The worst that we could do is let Fluttershy through to test the theory.”

“Why Fluttershy?” I asked.

“Fluttershy is the least likely to cause some sort of incident and is also most likely to get along with her counterpart out of shared interests. Rainbow would try to compete with herself, Pinkie doubled would be a rave waiting to happen, Rarity would insist on shopping, and we’ve already seen my counterpart on that side of the mirror. I’m finally being recognized as me, not her.”

“You forgot Applejack,” I said.

“No, I didn’t. She was my first choice, but she suggested Fluttershy after I brought it up to her. She seemed a little unnerved by the prospect.”

I thought for a moment. "If it can be done without magic, then that's great," I said. "But we should also talk to the Princess about it just in case your plan doesn't work out."

“That’s all I wanted.”

Chapter Eleven - Breakfast in Bed

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A thick white blanket covered the land when I woke up the next morning. The windows were frosted with glistening crystals of ice, giving the light filtering through a rainbow effect. The fire kept the cold out, but there was something about the way everything had settled that made me reluctant to leave the bed beyond my normal slow wake-up.

It probably had something to do with the mare that had huddled up next to me, a foreleg thrown across my withers.

I eased myself out from underneath her leg, slipping down to the kitchen to start the kettle boiling. While I waited, I saw a few of the leftover cookies from last night and smiled. I was a fair cook and could bake pretty good too, but I ceded defeat to Sunshine when it came to the kitchen. With some help from her magic, she had decorated the large gingerbread ponies with our manes and a decent representation of our respective cutie marks. She had made two each, and we had eaten two of them last night.

“I wonder what Freud would say about eating a cookie caricature of your equine self,” I mused. I didn’t get a chance to ponder it as the kettle started singing. I took it from the fire, and let it hover while I prepared my favorite mix of tea. It was a dark tea, with hints of peppermint for the season. I liked my tea a little strong so I ignored the standard rule of “One for each person and one for the pot” that Celestia had taught me. I added six scoops of the tea mix to the boiling water and while it steeped I make some toast and spread some apple butter on it. Plating up the toast I set it on a tray with a pair of napkins.

I looked for teacups or mugs to pour the tea in and came across an amber mug that was uneven in its circular pattern. I levitated it from the cupboard and rotated it, finding my scrawl on one side, my name haphazardly painted there. I smiled, remembering the day I had made it. I had been five, maybe six and I had l just learned how to write my name but I hadn’t developed my magic to where I could use telekinesis to hold the quill. I sat it on the counter as the smell of tea caught my attention. I pulled some regular mugs from the cupboard and a strainer, poured the steeped tea through it into the two mugs and started up the stairs with breakfast.

Sunshine was still out cold, her mouth hanging open slightly and a tiny snore issuing. I smiled and levitated one of the mugs over just a little ways from her muzzle, making sure the steam and smell of the tea wafted towards her. Her nose twitched slightly and she cracked open an eye, seeing the mug hovering there in the teal aura of my magic.

I smiled at the sleepy look in her eyes. “Tea, Twi?”

She rolled over slightly and sat up, taking the mug from me and sipping it gently. “Marry me,” she sighed after the second sip visibly perked her up.

“That’s a little forward, Twi,” I said with a smirk before sipping my own tea.

“Not you,” she said with a smirk of her own. “The tea.”

I placed a hoof on my chest, feigning injury. “O!, I die, Twilight, the potent poison o’er crows my spirit.”

She grinned. “Hamlet, Act Five Scene Two. I think you misquoted a bit, though.”

I brought the tray over and sat on the bed with her to enjoy a quiet breakfast. I noticed she had fallen silent after our giggle over the exchange, a slight frown creasing her features. I looked at her pointedly, keeping my voice light.

“Equestria to Sunshine,” I said. “You’re brooding.”

“I am not,” she responded, her smile returning.

“You’re a cape and a hood away, honey. Talk to me.”

“Would you want to?” she asked slowly, her gaze going distant for a moment.

“Want to what?”

“Marry me,” she said, face flushing slightly as she looked at me.

The world seemed to slow for a moment and all there was in it were the two of us. I watched her blink in slow motion. I took in all the lines of her face, her bed-head, the color of her coat and the angle of her horn. I also saw in my mind’s eye her human form, hair wrapped up in a long tail or a bun, her glasses perched on the tip of her nose, the nervous way she kept adjusting them, the way her tongue would poke out from her lip when she concentrated on something. All the little things that added up to her beauty in my mind.

Time returned to normal and I smiled.

“Why wouldn’t I?” I leaned forward and sent a current of love through my horn into her. “Though we should probably get the blessing from your family first.”

“Do we have to? You weren’t there when Shining and Cadence told Mom and Daddy that they were engaged.”

“What’s the worst that would happen, they banish me to the moon? They like me and Shining didn’t threaten me not to break your heart.” I paused for a beat. “Though I wonder if that goes both ways. Proposing to tea was pretty mean.”

She reached over and gave me a gentle push. “I’m serious! You saw how Mom got when you mentioned books. Imagine both of them getting like that and fussing over you, asking you questions you haven’t even had time to consider yet!”

She blew her bangs out of her face and went on. “Cadence - Cadence - had to tell them to calm down and not get ahead of themselves. They didn’t even hear Shiny when he was trying to say they hadn’t set a date when they started asking about colors, themes, flowers, it was just so….Argh!”

She put the mug on the bedside table and put her face in her hooves. “I love them to death, but their overexcitement over matrimonial details and planning is something I actually dread! I would almost rather tell them after I got married, but I know how much they’d be hurt if I eloped.”

I reached out and rubbed her shoulder. “You know what you need, Twi?”

She looked up. “What?”

“A trip to the spa before the ball tonight, something to relax you. Lets put this on the back burner for tonight and worry about it when we come to that bridge.”

“You hate the spa,” she said, an eyebrow quirking up in confusion.

“I think I’ll survive it just this once.” I smiled. “It’s for my special somepony after all.” I picked up the empty plates and set them on the tray. “You go ahead and finish waking up, I’ll take care of the dishes.”

Once down in the kitchen, I set the tray down and started prancing in place, a huge smile spreading across my face.


Chapter Twelve - Spa's Well that Ends Well

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"This way, if you please," Aloe said as she nudged the door open that led to the actual treatment rooms. "The steam room should be available for you by now. And afterwards, we have prepared a luxurious hot stone massage for you both and a relaxing soak in our mineral baths."

I smiled and turned to the pony as I adjusted the belt on the fluffy spa robe I was wearing. "Thank you so much for seeing us on such a short notice," I said, levitating a few bits from the pocket. "I think this is just what we needed."

Sunshine smiled as well, her mane held back with a flat bandana and garbed in a similar robe. "Yes, thank you," she said.

Aloe accepted the bits while she waved the comment away. "Please," she said, her accent stretching the vowels slightly. "We are honored to have you here. Ms. Rarity was very specific on what to include in your introductory package."

Lotus Blossom walked up, nodding. "While you are here, hooficures and horn filings are available during any of your other treatments if you wish."

I tilted my head for a moment. It had been a while since I had my horn filed. I wasn't overly vain in regards to it, but it was a little uneven in it's spiral. "That sounds nice," I said. "I'll think on it during the steam."

Sunshine couldn't keep her question too long after we got into the private steam room.

"Why did she offer to file our horns?" she asked. "Won't that affect our magic?"

I shook my head, leaning back in the wooden seat. "Our horns grow slowly every day, and sometimes not completely evenly," I said. "It's mostly cosmetic and all it does really is even up the angle and smooth out rough spots. It's a little silly, really, since it's just for show. It's like getting your eyebrows waxed back home."

She frowned at that. "What happens if you don't do it?"

"Nothing, really," I said. "Like I said, it's just a cosmetic thing. Horns grow rather smooth all around. Just some years the angle and taper go through fads. Rarity would know more than I would, seeing as how I don't do this as often as she does."

Sunshine nodded and tilted her head back, a sigh slipping from her lips.

"This is nice," she said. "I've gone to a few of these with Cadence in the past, and once with Rarity, Fluttershy, and AJ, but not you. Why do you dislike this so much?"

I shrugged. "It just strikes me as a bit more vain than I like feeling," I said. "Especially after my reformation. I feel like doing more than the normal routine outside of big events is overkill. You've seen me in the mornings, so you know what I'm talking about."

"Yes," she said. "And your habit of casual indifference is cute when you give yourself the finger guns in the mirror when your hair is a mess."

"You've not a lot of room to talk," I teased back. I've seen you after the nights you don't braid it for bed, all twisted and tangled."

She smiled with a giggle. "I suppose so," she agreed. "But is this really so bad?"

I shook my head. "No, this fits my special occasion clause," I said lazily. "The night of a big ball with my special somepony who may or may not be my fiancé at the moment counts as a big event."

She blushed in a way that had nothing to do with the steam. "As nice as the thought is, isn't that a little premature?"

I cracked an eye open and smiled. "I'm just teasing. We only talked about it this morning. It's a nice thought, though."

"That's not what I meant," she said as she sat up and went to stretch out on her tummy. "I meant you didn't ask and I didn't get to accept. Besides, we've only been dating for a couple months."

"Twilight," I said seriously. "We're hard-wired together on the emotional level by a silly conjunctive effect from you siphoning magic from me through a planar gateway. I think that makes for a pretty strong relationship. If you want me to do it all formal and proper, I will."

She waved a hoof at the thought. "No, that's alright," she said sleepily. "It'd be too soon to announce it anyway. Cadence and Shining Armor just announced their engagement two weeks ago and I don't want to seem like we're just following suit. Besides, if you were to propose, I'd want you to do it your way."

I nodded, closing my eye and seeing the simple design of my mother's ring.

"You have a point, there," I said. "I do have my own way of doing things."

She smiled and scooted over to kiss me.

"That's why I love you," she said. "I never know what to expect, despite this emotional bond." She sat up and levitated her robe to her. "Now I'm quite ready for a massage, how about you?"

Chapter Thirteen - Under the Leaves

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“Stop fussing,” Rarity said as she put another set of pins in my hair, holding the last small braid in place. “I’m almost done.”

“Sorry,” I said, trying to hold still as she worked the last few inches of hair into a bun, holding it in with another pair of pins and setting a comb of Mom’s that had been left in the house between two rows of braids. “I’m just not used to sitting still this long and having my mane messed with.”

“Honestly, Sunset, you’ve been antsy all evening,” she said, stepping back and eyeing her work carefully. She was dressed as I was, ball gown in royal blue silk with emeralds gleaming at the neckline. Its skirt was a bit tighter than mine, but still flowing. “If I didn’t know better I’d think you wouldn’t want to go to the ball.”

“It’s not that,” I said, looking at the comb in my hair. It was a stylized sun rising over a river, my mother’s cutie mark. I could see bits of Mom in my face, subtle but there all the same as they were on my sister’s faces. “I’m still thinking about Sunshine’s parents and how to explain to them that their daughter is dating a unicorn. They'd have to find out eventually, after all. The sheer amount of scientific explanations I’d have to do alone would take all day.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to do it by yourself, you know,” said Sunshine as she came in, gown on and hair in a half-up style with gentle waves cascading over her shoulders. “They’re my parents, after all.”

“You were the one that was worried about them getting overly excited,” I said, leaving certain words unsaid in front of the easily excitable Rarity.

She nodded. We had talked things through during a long soak in the hot tub at the spa and had decided that for now announcing an engagement would be a little premature. But the thought was there now, ever present, a splinter in my mind’s eye. I wouldn’t say it was an unpleasant thought, but the issue of coming clean about my origins also became a concern and that made the thought more nerve-wracking.

Sunshine came over and touched horns, some peace and love flowing through. “We’ll figure it out. We’ve got a week or so.”

Rarity cleared her throat. “If you two are quite ready, I think we should get ready to head out. The ball starts at in about an hour.”

I stood, levitating a thick shawl over my shoulders. “How do we look?” I asked as Sunshine slid in beside me.

Rarity beamed. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll turn some heads,” she said.

As we walked in, I was amazed at the way the ballroom looked. It had been transformed into a veritable winter wonderland, snow drifts along the walls and some very realistic pines dusted with the white powder. But there was none of the cold, rather there was a cool warmth that filled the room. A line of tables occupied one wall, punch bowls, and plates of food filling the available surface space. Wreaths and garlands were strung along the upper moldings and the pillars, giving the entire place a welcoming aura, magelight glinting off the spherical decorations woven into the green trimmings.

As the attendant took my shawl, I looked around and saw a host of ponies of all tribes present, Pegasi hovering about chatting amicably, Unicorns with plates of hors d'oeuvres or glasses of punch hovering near them in multi-hued auras. Earth Ponies milled about, laughing gaily and everyone seemed at ease. I also spotted quite a few Griffons standing about, one talking to Rainbow Dash and another chatting animatedly with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Everyone was dressed in fine clothing, most hewing to the traditional colors of the season; green, white, red, or some combination of the three. A wind quintet was playing off to one side, led by an azure-coated unicorn with a bamboo flute.

Sunshine looked around, taking in the decorations and smiled. “Phoradendron Leucarpum,” she said. “I’ll have to drag you over soon.”

I looked at her. “Phora what?” I wasn't good at Latin.

She nodded towards a pair of pillars, a strand of leaves hanging between. White berries gleamed between the green leaves. “Mistletoe,” she said with a matter of fact manner, a warm smile in her eyes.

I smirked. “You need the excuse?” I asked, giving her a peck on the cheek as a small fanfare sounded from the far end of the room.

All four of the Princesses's of Equestria stepped onto the platform at the far end of the hall, a middle-aged Griffon and a strange looking creature that appeared to be somewhere between equine and insectoid sharing the stage. I glanced around and noticed that several Changelings were entering the hall, their colorations as varied as the ponies.

“Fillies and Gentlecolts, I’d like to welcome you to the this year's Yule Ball, the first of a joint event held in the interests of fostering peace and greater relations with both Griffonstone and the Hive.” She gestured to the two dignitaries standing just behind her. “Kings Gregor and Thorax are gracious enough to have helped with setting up the decor of the room.” She paused for a moment to allow the applause to slow. “So please, enjoy your night and a very happy Hearth’s Warming to you all.”

We were walking towards the buffet when a flash of pink darted in front of us. “Sunny! Shiny! Welcome to the bestest party so far today!”

I smiled at Pinkie. “Are there going to be more parties tonight, then?”

“Not that I know of,” she said before gasping, eyes going wide. “I could throw an after-ball party!”

Sunshine smiled and put a hoof on the excitable party planner’s shoulder. “Let’s see how late this one goes first, Pinkie.”

“Okie Dokie Lokie!” she turned and grabbed a canape from the table and gulped it down before bouncing away, her fluffy dress not fluttering at all with her motion. I surveyed the choices, wondering at some of the more unfamiliar choices when Sunshine whispered to me.

“I thought ponies couldn’t eat meat,” she said. “Those dishes at the far end are definitely meat-based.”

I glanced at the indicated dishes, seeing what could only be described as antipasto if we had been in the human world. “We can eat some kinds of meat, but it isn’t a large portion of our diet. Those are probably more for the griffons.”

“But at the dinner, you specifically asked for a vegetarian sampling.” She looked confused.

“I suffer from a rare allergy,” I said. “Something in most meat causes me to break out in hives and have difficulty breathing. Fish doesn’t affect me, but I find it easier to just go vegetarian full time. Makes it easier for everypony concerned.”

She nodded, a light starting to shine in her eyes. “Is it something acquired, maybe through genetic background? Or is it a regularly occurring type of allergy here? Of course, it isn’t, you just said it was a rare allergy. I wonder what the chemical composition is that triggers the histamine reaction, after all there are so many…”

I silenced her with a kiss. “You’re rambling,” I said before turning and levitating a glass of punch over to her. “I’ve talked with an allergist on both sides of the mirror and it there is no known reason for it unless I was bitten by a certain type of tick as a foal or simple genetics.”

Sunshine sipped the punch, a blush filling her face. "Sorry," she whispered.

"Don't be," I said. "You're adorable when you start talking science."

She blushed again, harder if possible.

The band started playing a slow waltz, and I stepped towards the floor, holding out a hoof. “Shall we?”

She looked around the room, a nervous look appearing on her face. I stepped back up to her and leaned in close.

“Take my hand, Twilight,” I whispered. “I won’t let you go.”

She grinned and followed me out to the floor. I wasn’t used to leading, but with Sunshine, I was willing to look foolish. If you can’t tolerate being a little silly with somepony you love, then you aren’t ready for love.

As the band slowed and ended the song, we stood there looking into each other's eyes. I felt my heart beating quickly and not from the dancing. I could also see that Sunshine was breathing a little heavy too. I dimly saw behind her Cadence turn and tap Twilight on the shoulder, tossing her head towards us. I blushed really hard and lead Sunshine off the floor and after my heart slowed, I headed towards the Alicorns, who were sitting and enjoying some of the dishes. Celestia turned and smiled at us as we approached.

“Ah, Sunset, how nice to see you again,” she said, stepping forward and giving me a comforting nuzzle. She looked at Sunshine, her warm smile never fading. “And you must be Sunshine.”

The blue unicorn was staring intently at her hooves, dipping in a shallow bow. “Your Highness,” she said softly.

Celestia reached out with a wing and tilted Sunshine’s face up. “While I appreciate the show of respect, this is a party. Don’t make me observe the formalities.” She leaned in closer. “Plus, Twilight, you don’t have to hide who you are with me.”

Sunshine looked shocked at being called her true name, but the Alicorn smiled. “I am privy to my Twilight’s confidence, and she told me of your being here when she asked for two extra tickets. And do you really think I would mistake the voice of one of my students?”

I smiled. “Never could slide anything by you, Princess.” I glanced over at Sunshine, then back at the Alicorn. “I wanted to introduce her to you and Luna,” I finished. “You both have had a large bearing on who I am now.”

Celestia smiled, then turned her head. “Luna?”

The midnight Alicorn raised her head. “Yes, Celie?”

Celestia stepped aside, revealing us to her. She stepped forward. I dipped my head slightly, as did Sunshine.

“Sunset Shimmer,” she said, her voice still holding that regal bearing that Celestia was able to shed like a coat.

“Princess Luna,” I returned. “I wish to present Sunshine, a good friend of mine.” I hesitated. “I also wanted to thank you for your help three moons ago.”

Luna smiled, something that looked better on her than the grave look she normally held. “I see that you have fared better since. I greet you as well, Twilight Sparkle.”

Sunshine recovered faster from this one, though I saw Princess Twilight had glanced up at hearing her name. “I thank you and your sister for your hospitality.”

“You are both welcome at any time,” Celestia said, a knowing smile on her face. “You and any that accompany you.”

I looked at her with a questing glance, confused. Who else would I bring here that didn’t already have access?

After excusing ourselves, we took our leave, and I slowly angled Sunshine towards an alcove so we could talk quietly.

“They are so different from the Principal and Vice-Principal,” she said. “They seem more laid back and caring.”

“They've had a couple centuries to practice being at ease with their title and authority,” I said. I opened my mouth to say something else when she touched my shoulder, staring intently to one side.

“Why is Rarity staring at us?” she asked.

I looked over, seeing the fashionista looking at us with a look of adoration. I also noticed Pinkie looking with her grin wider than her face. Fluttershy had blushed fiercely but didn’t look away. I couldn’t see any of our other friends from my vantage point, but I did see my sisters walk in and immediately smile at us.

“I’m not sure,” I said. A prickling sensation caused me to look up.

At a large sprig of mistletoe being held by Rainbow Dash.

“Like I wasn’t going mess with you two tonight,” she said, wings giving a gentle flap to keep her aloft. Her gown was light and high on the flank to prevent drag while flying, I guessed.

I facehooved as my face started to burn, but Sunshine smiled. “Well, Dashie,” she said. “Instead of waiting for us to kiss following the archaic rules of that particular piece of flora, why don’t you find someone to hold it over you? I see the Wonderbolts are here."

The Pegasus blushed and dropped the plant. “If I knew anypony awesome enough, don’t you think I would have already?” she said, a little too quickly before gliding off to grab a glass of punch, a tint of red on her cheeks.

I glanced around, seeing my sisters and Rarity still watching intently. I looked at my marefriend and smiled.

“Well, she did get us under the mistletoe,” I said.

Sunshine leaned in close. “Like I need the excuse,” she breathed before kissing me.

I dimly heard Rarity’s excited giggling over the sound of our hearts, breathing, and the flow of shared love that exploded through our bond.

Chapter Fourteen - Testing a Theory

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I woke up and stretched before reaching over to discover that the opposite side of the bed was vacant. Some warmth still emanated from the spot, so Sunshine had apparently recently vacated the spot. I sat up a bit and looked around, seeing the bags we had packed the night before to take back with us. I smiled and started to get out of the bed but Sunshine returned at that moment, two steaming mugs hovering in her azure aura.

"I thought since you made tea yesterday, I'd try my, hoof at it today," she said. "I hope you like it."

I accepted the mug with a smile and sipped the steaming liquid cautiously. It was weaker than I liked but still good. I took another sip, tasting the hints of cinnamon that she had added to the brew.

“It's not bad,” I said, accepting a nuzzle as she sat down.

She quirked an eyebrow. “So good, but not good enough to propose to?” she said with a mock pout.

“Remind me to show you how to properly make a pot of tea from loose powdered leaves when we get back,” I giggled. "It's a different breed than tea bags. It's all about how you mix it with the amount of water."

Her smile faltered slightly as I spoke and I felt a ripple of nervousness through our bond. I looked at her with a slight worried frown on my face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I can't stop thinking about having to tell my family the truth," she whispered. "I love them and they love me, but will they be ok with knowing everything about us?”

“You mean me,” I said. “They’re pretty ok with the concept of 'us' so far.”

“That’s just it!” She put her mug down and whirled away, stalking across the floor. “What if when they find out you’re a Unicorn, they don’t want us seeing each other anymore? What if they actually re-enroll me in Crystal Prep for the final semester? What if they make me move in with Cadence and Shining Armor? What if…”

I sighed, reaching out and grabbing her with a telekinetic hold, lifting her up. “Twilight,” I said, giving her a soft smile as I rotated her to look at me before setting her down. “Stop pacing, honey. You’re going to wear a hole in our floor.”

She flushed, glancing down in embarrassment.

“I know you’re worried about what your folks will say,” I continued. “But there is no need to worry now about something we haven’t encountered yet. Let's just relax and enjoy our last couple days in here.” I thought for a moment as a sudden thought struck me. “And I think I know a way to ease your worries.”

“You want to speak to my parents? What about?” the Princess of Friendship asked.

"Not me, necessarily," I said and tossed my head at Sunshine. “She’s worried about telling her parents about what I really am,” I looked back at the Alicorn. “Her parents and your parents are essentially the same, at least for the purpose of the test.”

Twilight looked unsure. “I don’t know,” she said. “How are you going to approach the question?”

“Well, I thought about confessing to them that I was a Unicorn, but I think they’ll understand that much, being Unicorns themselves.”

She gave me a level look at my glibness. It was one of the few holdovers from before the laser shot to the face a year and change ago.

I smiled, waving a hoof in surrender. “In all seriousness, though, I thought that just you and Sunshine would go see them," I said."Between the two of you, you should be able to come up with a way to ask how they would feel if you had introduced someone to them that was special to you was something other than the pony they appear to be. That answer is all she needs to hear.”

“They’re not going to ask why I’m asking this with a strange Unicorn with me?”

“I know you,” I said. “And I know you,” I said, looking at Sunshine. “One of you is going to spill the beans, and that above all will let them understand the seriousness of the question.”

Sunshine looked at me. “Are you sure you don’t want to come, Sunny?”

I looked at her before giving her a light kiss. “I don’t need the answer, honey.”

“Maybe I should have gone,” I said to Applejack as we fixed a light lunch back at my house. “They’ve been gone an awfully long time.”

“Ah’m sure it's nothing, Sunset,” she drawled as she slid the pot pie out of the oven and onto the counter to cool slightly. “Ya know how Twilight is when a problem pokes it’s head out. She’s got to go at it like a bull at red.”

I shook my head. “Still, though,” I said, pouring cold water into the pitcher with the tea I just brewed, bringing it down to a cool temperature. “I play it cool so Sunshine doesn’t freak out any more than she already would, but inside I’m just as worried about it.”

“What's the worst that could happen, sugar cube?”

“Just her parents freaking out and demanding that I leave their daughter alone, worst case scenario. If they don’t try to commit me and put her in therapy.” I dragged my hoof through my mane, licking my lips as more frightening possibilities flashed through my mind. "It's surprising how quickly a mind can come up with horrible reactions."

“Ah think that’s a mite extreme,” the Earth pony took a serving spoon and dished out two helpings of the pie. “Th’ coupla times Ah met Twilight’s folks they’ve been pretty level-headed.”

“They weren’t considering the fact that Twilight was dating something from another reality entirely, AJ.” I looked down and fiddled with my hooves. I felt a hoof on my shoulder and looked up to see the bearer of the Element of Honesty standing next to me.

“Trust me, Sunny,” she said with a gentle smile. “It’ll all work out for th’ best, ya hear?”

I nodded. "I hear you, AJ," I said as I brought a forkful of the pie to me. "It's just nerve-wracking."

The farm pony was about to say something when the front door opened and the sound of twin laughter was heard as the Twilights entered the kitchen.

“Sunset!” Sunshine said, trotting up and nuzzling me happily. “That was a great idea.”

“Glad you think so,” I said. “What happened?”

“It was weird, seeing them,” she said, her smile never lowering. “But it was just like talking to Mom and Daddy, down to the voices.”

Princess Twilight helped herself to some of the pot pie after a glance at AJ for permission. “Technically, if the theories Sunset and I have talked about involving the mirror are true, they kinda are your parents in a sense. You are me, after a fashion.”

“Ah’m just a mite confused,” Applejack said. “What in th’ hay did they say?”

Sunshine smiled and cuddled deeper into me.

Twilight smiled. “They asked a single question, Applejack.”

The farmer looked at her friend.

“Are you happy?”

Chapter Fifteen - Return

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I locked the door as we left the house. I had loved staying in my old house after fixing it up. It was filled with ghosts of memories and I had started to enjoy reliving them. I tucked the key into the pocket of my jacket before trotting off after Sunshine. She had gone ahead with a few bits to buy tickets for the ride back to Ponyville. I glanced back at the house again after a few paces, smiling at the new memories that had been created: Hearth’s Warming with the sisters, sharing meals, the Yule Ball.

The talk of proposing, jest or not.

As I closed on the train station, I saw a deep azure-coated unicorn waving at me. “We good to go?” I asked my marefriend as I came up next to her.

“All set,” she said, hoisting her pack onto her back from where she had set it."Train leaves in about ten minutes. C'mon, let's get on, I can't wait to see that landscape again!"

"You've seen it a handful of times now," I said with a smile as we boarded. "Is it really that amazing?"

She looked at me with confusion as the conductor started calling the last call.

"It's like looking into the past," she said. "From everything I've seen, this is very much a pre-industrial society, or at least as I know it. You do have some pretty strong industrial processes, but magic makes it all cleaner and more efficient than our own are. That means the landscape is more pristine and lovely."

I smiled. "When you put it that way," I said, sidling up next to her as the train started to pull away. "I guess it is pretty special."

I glanced out the window, looking over the city, and I knew I’d be back before too long.

The rounds of hugs were doubly warm this time, and I was left with Sunshine, Applejack, and Fluttershy in the library. Twilight walked in and looked at her friend.

“Are you sure about this?” she asked.

The Pegasus pawed at the ground. “I think so,” she whispered.

“‘Shy, if you aren’t sure you don’t have to do it,” I said.

“Right,” Applejack said. “Ah’m willin’ to go if ya feel like ya can’t.”

Fluttershy looked her friend in the eye. “I can do this,” she said, her quiet voice betraying a bit of resolve that might not have been heard if you didn’t know the mare personally.

“If you’re sure,” Sunshine said, looking towards the Alicorn, who levitated the book into its bracket to open the portal.

“Ok,” I said. “It’s going to be a little disorienting, and you’re going to want to stay still for a moment after you’re through.” I smiled at the Pegasus. “We’ll be right there for you.” I stepped through, followed by Sunshine and Fluttershy.

Once the disorientation was over, I stretched and flexed my fingers. "Everyone ok?" I asked.

“Oh my,” came Fluttershy's quiet voice as she looked at herself. She had on a long puffy coat with pinkish mittens and a scarf that matched her hair. “This is unusual.”

“You ok, ‘Shy?” I asked.

“I, I think so,” she said, trying to stand. Twilight helped her get to her feet.

“You’re back!” a strong voice called, soon resolving into Applejack and Fluttershy. AJ had on her thick barn coat on, a thick beanie pulled over her blonde locks. Fluttershy had on a long wool peacoat and a wool slouch hat collecting her pink hair. They stopped when they saw the third figure with us.

Fluttershy stepped up to her unsteady double, and the differences were faint, but there. Pony Shy had a darker tone to her hair, was a bit more slender, a little shorter. Human Shy was taller, with a more vibrant tone to her hair. The eyes were the same, and they both were wide as they looked at each other.

“Goodness,” they said in unison, then covering their mouths in surprise at their stereo proclamation.

As the silence dragged on, I turned to AJ. “Where’s Rarity?” I asked.

“She said she was runinn’ late. Somethin’ ‘bout havin’ the right supplies.” The farm girl looked at her friend and her duplicate. “This is just plumb unreal,” she breathed.

“Twilight’s first call was going to be you.”

“Ah’m not sure Ah’d be comfortable with that,” she said.

“That’s what she told me you responded with when she suggested it,” I said.


“That’s why we call her Sunshine when we’re across the mirror,” I said. “Cuts down on confusion.”

“So sorry I’m late, darling,” Rarity said as she came around the corner from the parking lot. “I simply couldn’t find some of my tools.” She slowed to a stop as she saw the dual Fluttershy.

“Oh, this is simply delightful,” she beamed. “But I’m afraid not even my skills could cover up this much similarity.”

The Pegasus Shy looked down. “I’m sorry,” she said.

Her counterpart reached out and hugged her. “It’s ok,” she said firmly. “We’ll figure out another way.”

It was odd, seeing them interact like that, trading off on the other’s insecurities. After a few more minutes, Applejack pulled out the instant camera and snapped a picture of the two girls standing next to each other. We gave the photo to Pony ‘Shy and hugged her goodbye before she stepped back through the portal.

“Either we figure it out,” I repeated, blowing into my hands to warm them. “Or Pony Twilight will come up with a glamor spell that will work on this side of the portal.” Twilight slid up and put her arm around my waist. “We’ve got six months.”

Applejack rubbed the back of her neck. “How much do ya reckon the other Applejack will look like me?” she asked.

Twilight shrugged as we all walked towards our cars. “Probably a lot,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of difference between our Flutters and the other.”

“She seemed really nice,” Fluttershy said.

I smiled. “She is. Just as good as you, ‘Shy.”

We parted, and when Twilight and I got to my apartment, she sat down coat across her lap.

“So,” I said, suddenly nervous as I shed my coat and hung it on the rack next to the door. “Now that you’ve seen Hearth’s Warming, how different is it from your families gatherings?”

“Not that different, after all,” she said. “You seem nervous.”

I nodded, a surreptitious glance towards my nightstand drawer, that splinter in my mind’s eye itching again.

“They’re not going to overreact, Sunny,” I heard her say, realizing what I was nervouse about.

I turned, a smile blossoming on my face. She matched it.

“How about we just relax for a while and worry about it tomorrow, honey?” she finished.

“That sounds lovely,” I said, sitting down and cuddling up next to her.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her casting glances around, staring intently at my closet and cabinet.

“Waste of time, Sunshine,” I said, pulling her close and nuzzling the top of her head.

“I gave your gift to Applejack to hold onto before we left for Equestria.”

She puffed her cheeks as she pouted for a second before snuggling into me.

“Cheater,” she said.

Chapter Sixteen - Christmas Eve

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The day was fast approaching, and I was petrified. We had decided to come clean Christmas Eve to the Sparkles and Cadence after dinner, but I had started to dread the season entirely.

Twilight, conversely, had seemingly regressed the closer Christmas got, every event being given joy of an almost child-like variety. We had gone out to the local island of lights the night before - the outer walking path of the park had been decorated with strands of light, decorations, and interesting scenes. The horse-drawn carriage took us around the park slowly, allowing us to appreciate the spectacle of luminosity as we sat together under a warm blanket. After the trip, I stepped forward and gave the horse a pat on the neck, eliciting a whicker of approval. The bay gelding seemed to recognize a kindred spirit as he leaned forward and tried to nuzzle me.

"Whoa, there," I said with a laugh. "I'm taken, I'm afraid."

Throughout the entire week, Twilight had slowly started bouncing in excitement, seeming more like Pinkie Pie than the studious bookworm I loved at every family tradition. This was a side to her I hadn’t seen before, and I loved the child-like wonderment she portrayed. Even her scientific ramblings took on a more innocent joy to them as she spoke on the history of some of the customs or books that a movie was based on. Not even the looming prospect of telling her parents about my origins seemed to bother her anymore.

I, though, had been having dreams about it. Not the terrible, angst-ridden ones I had following my mother’s death or the laying awake listening to the voices that ridiculed me. Normal, scared-to-death dreams that all people have.

I mentioned it to Applejack when I went and picked up Twilight’s gift. I had given it to the farmer before we left for Hearth’s Warming, knowing out of all our friends she would be the best to hold it and not open it. I knew Twilight would have looked for it out of curiosity - she had an overabundance of that - and Fluttershy would have been too nervous about it. Rarity and Rainbow Dash would have opened it to see what it was and ruined the surprise, be it through excitement or wanting to lord it over Twilight. Pinkie would have been a good keeper, but she tended to be a little over-zealous about secrets at times. The whole whispering of 'forever' whenever a Pinkie Swear was made in her presence was evidence enough of that.

“Thanks for holding this, AJ,” I said as I tucked the green-wrapped package into my coat pocket.

“T’weren’t nothin', sugar cube,” she said, twisting the cap off a bottle of cider. “Ah just wish Ah could be there when she opens it.”

I gave her a suspicious look. “You didn’t peek, did you?”

The blonde girl shook her head. “Naw,” she said. “Ah wouldn’ do that, ‘specially after you told me how important it was.” She gave me a wink. “Ah just want to know what it is, is all.”

I smiled back at the girl. “You’ll find out at the bonfire, if not sooner,” I said. “I don’t know if Twilight is comfortable sending picture messages or not. But she’s also acting like a big kid lately, so maybe she will.”

Applejack laughed. “Ah reckon your right,” she said. “Ya’ll have fun, now.”

My smile faltered a bit. “Yeah,” I whispered. "Fun."

“Merry Christmas, Sunset,” Cadence said as I came into the house. She gave me a warm hug after I hung up my coat. I returned it readily and handed her the package in its green wrapping paper. She gave me a curious look after seeing its size and shape but didn’t say anything, just put it on a pile of gifts in the living room. Shining Armor came in from outside, shaking snow from his hair. He came over with a hug and ruffled my hair.

“Welcome to the insanity, Sunset,” he said. “Twilight’s in the backyard and dinner’ll be around six if Mom and Dad have made it by then.”

After retrieving my jacket, I stepped outside, looking around for the purple-haired girl. “Twilight?” I called, turning around…

Just in time to take a snowball to the face. I slipped on a patch of ice from the impact and landed flat on my back, groaning as the air flew from my lungs..

I wiped the snow from my face as I lay there, a look of disbelief shining through as a grinning Twilight popped up from behind a bush, a dusting of snow on her coat and toboggan. Her face paled when she saw me on the ground gasping.

“Sunny!” she gasped as she rushed over. “Are you ok?”

“Just my pride, Twi,” I groaned. “My pride, and maybe a hip.”

She helped me up, brushing snow off my coat. “I didn’t think I threw that hard,” she said.

I pounded my foot down, cracking the hidden patch of ice. “World hazards,” I said. “Did your brother send me out here just to take his place in the snowball war?”

“Probably,” she said. “Cadence also asked him for help with the cooking.”

“What’s on the menu?” I asked.

“Ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and Mom’s homemade biscuits,” she smiled. “I made dessert.”

I grinned. “Cookies?”

She shook her head, grinning. “Just wait and see,” she said.

I looked around for a moment. “This is a really nice place,” I said. “Peaceful, even.”

She looked around too, sliding an arm around my waist. “Shiny and Cadence moved here not long ago,” she said. "Gave them some space to plan the wedding away from Mom and Daddy, some autonomy.”

I looked at her as her face went from the childlike glee to serious again.

“You’re forgetting something, Twilight,” I said as I slid my arm across the small of her back.

She turned to me, a curious look on her face. “What?”

I locked my hands together and heaved, picking her up and aiming for the deep drift of snow I had spotted during my gazing around. “Never let your guard down in a snow war!” I laughed as I dumped her shrieking into it.

She burrowed up from the snow, scooping it together into a snowball. “I’m going to get you for that!” she laughed as I skipped away, dodging for cover and ammunition of my own.

We both huddled next to the fireplace, warming up from the snow battle. Shining Armor had poked his head out to let us know that the Sparkle parents had arrived and narrowly dodged a snowball lobbed by his sister. Despite a chill that had seeped into my bones from the frigid temperatures, I felt warm.

Could have done without the bruise I felt forming on my left hip, but them’s the breaks in winter.

There were a few clattering sounds from the kitchen and Cadence swept out to the living room, a large porcelain bowl in her hands. “Dinner is served,” she said, smiling as her fiancé and Twilight Velvet followed with other dishes.

Twilight scrambled to her feet, pulling me up with a solemn declaration.

“Cadence makes the best mashed potatoes,” she said. “They’re so good.”

“No love for the main course?” Shining Armor said as he set the baked ham down.

I raised my hand. “Vegetarian by allergy,” I reminded him. Twilight had related the tale so as to make meals I was invited to feel less restricted.

“It’s a baked ham, Shiny,” Twilight said. “It’s hard to make a bad ham.”

He frowned at her, and she stuck her tongue out in reply.

“Ok, you two,” came the gentle tone of Night Light. “Don’t make me separate you.”

Dinner was a lot like the last one i had been to, a lot of jokes, catching up and stories. Twilight and I gave a carefully edited version of our trip to Equestria, limiting it to our times with my sisters and the trip to a local dance. We didn’t want to drop anything bigger until after dinner. I caught Cadence giving us a sly look a couple times during our story, but I didn’t think anything of it.

The food was delicious, and the mashed potatoes were a delight. Fluffy without being too loose, there was a hint of garlic and something I couldn’t quite put my mind on. I looked towards Cadence, swallowing the fluffy mouthful.

“What did you put in these to make them like that?” I asked, preparing a mental note.

“Besides milk, potatoes, and butter? Garlic and sour cream.” She took a bite of green beans before asking her follow-up. “Good?”

“Heavenly,” I said, helping myself to another forkful.

"I'll jot the recipe down for you then," she said with a smile.

To be honest, all the food at the table that I tried was exceptional. The biscuits had been baked with a bit of honey in the dough, the green bean casserole had the perfect balance of creamy base and beans. I was honestly surprised that none of them had a cooking cutie mark in Equestria.

After we had all finished eating the main courses, Twilight hopped up and brought out a large casserole dish with what looked like a three-layered confection within. I would have called it a parfait if not for the dish it was in. She served out squares of the dish and I looked at my serving. It consisted of layers of crushed pretzels, whipped cream, and orange fruit gelatin on top.

“This looks…interesting,” I said.

“Wait till you try it,” Twilight Velvet said. “This is one of her specialties.”

I took a bite and was pleasantly surprised. The pretzels gave it a nice crunch while the whipped cream and fruit gave it a sweet and tangy taste. I finished it with satisfaction, my belly feeling sated, possibly a touch overly so.

We retired to the living room, the same situation as before, hot chocolate and soft couches. Twilight started to get fidgety, realizing that we were running out of time for our reveal.

“Um, Mom, Daddy,” she started, tapping her index fingers together. “There’s something we have to tell you.”

Her parents turned towards us with curious looks, Night Light's involving a slight frown. I felt the bottom drop out from my heart as my fear shot up and I felt Twilight’s fear echo off mine.

“It has to do with me and where I'm from," I said hesitantly as Twilight took a deep breath.

Twilight took up the conversation again. "Please, let us finish before you ask any questions, and…”

“She’s an exchange student from a world with magic. A pony, if I recall correctly,” Night Light said as though discussing the weather. “Isn’t that about what you said, Cadence?”

The lithe woman nodded, a smile creeping up on her face.

My girlfriend and I sat in shock, dumbfounded.

“How?” I stammered.

“You didn’t think Twilight’s transferring was as easy as just moving schools, did you?” Twilight Velvet said with humor in her voice. “Cadence told us what happened at the Games when she suggested we let you transfer to CHS.”

“We thought it best that you be close to someone that would be able to help control your…enthusiastic magic research,” her father added in.

Twilight was sputtering in confusion. “When did you find out?” she finally asked.

“About a week after I brought it up,” Cadence said. “Total disclosure of what I knew.”

I leaned forward, head in my hands. Twilight was still in shock, but I started laughing, a weight flying from my shoulders. All the tension, all the worry just started to leak out in rueful laughter.

“We’ve been worrying about telling you for weeks!” my special someone squeaked out. "I've been worried sick over you finding out and how you'd react!"

“Which is why we didn’t bring it up,” Velvet said. “It was for you to relate when you were comfortable enough.”

I couldn’t help but lean back and smile. Twilight was still upset, her cheeks puffing up in frustration. I rubbed her back and smiled. “Breathe, Twilight,” I cooed.

She sat back with a “hmmph” and folded her arms.

“If I could ask, is that why the insistence on my coming to dinner?” I inquired of the elder Sparkles.

“To a point,” Night Light said. “I mainly wanted to see this girl that was able to save my daughter from herself.” He looked at said daughter. “She's always had a tendency to go too far in her search for knowledge.”

“Do not!”

“You broke your arm when you were seven because you just had to know what the squirrels were hiding in that dead branch, even after we told you it wouldn’t hold your weight,” Velvet said. “Being told something never sated your curiosity.”

The simmering bookworm next to me looked down in embarrassment, her arms crossed sullenly. I looked at her with a smirk.

“So that wasn’t the only time you messed with things you didn’t understand,” I joked, giving her shoulders a rub.

“Oh, the stories we could tell,” Velvet said.


Chapter Seventeen - Aftermath

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It was getting late, but I still managed to get Cadence alone by volunteering to clean the mugs from the after dinner sit down. I had to talk to her privately.

“So,” I began, no humor in my voice as I dried a plate. “How exactly did you find out I was a pony?”

She glanced sidelong at me. “Besides the events of the Games and the ears from videos I found since?” She shrugged. “I’ve been friends with Luna for years and Celestia is my adoptive aunt. I talked to her about Twilight’s transfer before anything else. She gave me the basic rundown, including what you told her about yourself you felt relevant for school records.”

I nodded. I had a feeling it had been something like that. Outside of my friends, the only other people that I knew that had known - before tonight, that is - had been the Principal and Vice Principal.

Twilight’s parents had been amazingly open-minded about their daughter dating a Unicorn and visiting a world where ponies were the dominant species. I had copied the hard copy photos we had taken at the Yule Ball onto my phone so I could show the girls next time we got together as well as pictures of myself and my sisters. I shared them with Twilight's parents, and they had found her pony form adorable, the two of us getting a little misty-eyed from the relief and approval. Velvet had even mentioned not so subtly that Senior Prom was just around the corner.

“Just so I know, and so Twilight won’t freak out again,” I said, facing her directly. “Is there anything else you know that we think you don’t?”

“I know that the two of you are a lot closer than most couples would be at this point in your relationship," she said, her smile reminding me of her counterpart's special talent and how she started off as a guidance counselour. "I also have a guess of what’s not in that box you brought with you.”

“That’s a big world, Cadence,” I said flatly. “You should have seen her while we were gone. We knew this day was coming and she worked herself up over nothing. I was terrified about how tonight would go.” I folded and put the towel I had been drying dishes with down, posting my hands on my hips but I softened my look. “I’m just looking out for her. I care about her and I don't want her to have another freak-out over something she thinks that they don't know. She loves them and is afraid of letting them down.”

“I know, Sunny,” she said, opening the drain to let the water out. “Which is why when she came to me about introducing you to them I suggested the dinner but didn’t tell her.” She brushes some stray hair from her face. “If you weren’t ready, then you wouldn’t tell. I know that I betrayed some of your trust by telling them information that was really yours to admit, but they wanted to know why I was recommending the transfer. Considering what Crystal Prep cost and how hard it was to contain the events of the Games, they had a right to know and I had an obligation to explain it to them. I hope you can forgive me.”

I mulled that information over in my head. It made sense, to a point. “True. But still,” I said, seriously. “You could have at least, I don’t know, told me, seeing as how it involves a decision that was mine to make.”

Cadence put her hand over her heart. “Promise, I’m in the dark now.”

I rolled my eyes. “Somehow, I doubt that.”

I walked upstairs to Twilight's room. Spike had been up here most of the night, hiding from the cold in the thick blankets that were folded across the bed. I found Twilight sitting on the edge of the bed, working her hair up in a braid quickly. She turned when I came in and sighed. Once she tied off her braid, she put her hands on her knees.

“Two weeks!” she said. “Two weeks we worried about this and they’ve known the entire time I had been at CHS!”

I patted the air, sensing that it was my turn to play the placater. “It was a needed thing, your parents wouldn’t have ok’d the transfer if Cadence hadn’t told them the whole truth. She was obligated by her position as the Dean of Students.”

“But it wasn’t her story to tell!” She was upset, but something was off. “She should have at least checked with you first.”

I frowned. “When you were transferred, it was too soon after the Games, she may not have wanted to remind you of what happened.” I rubbed my elbow. “I wouldn’t have wanted a reminder of it so soon after the Fall Formal,” I said, a haunted sound to my voice.

Twilight looked down a slight look of realization cast on her face when she realized what I was thinking about. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m just…”

“You’re upset that you worked yourself up over something that turned out to be a nothing,” I said, walking over and pulling her into a hug, insight grabbing me. “And you’re upset at Cadence for ‘outing’ me without my permission.”

She hugged me back. “Yeah,” she admitted.

“Well, this is how I see it,” I said, stroking her hair. “They don’t have a problem with it, they even asked the one question you knew they were going to ask, and they already are starting to talk to us about Prom.”

She pulled away, visibly less upset. “What are you getting at?”

“Maybe most of this fear we’ve been facing we made ourselves,” I traced a finger along her chin, tilting it up slightly so she looked in my eyes. “I love you, Twilight Sparkle,” I reminded her. “The fact that your family approves of me should be a bonus, not a requirement.”

She giggled. “You’re right,” she said, sliding her arms up around my neck. “You’re pretty smart sometimes, you know,” she breathed, leaning in.

I kissed her. “Bedtime, Sunshine,” I said.

“But it’s early,” she said.

“It’s almost two,” I countered.

“Maybe I want to spend some time with my marefriend without family around where it’s warm,” she said, tilting her head up again.

Laughing, I admitted defeat. “Let me change and I'll join you under the blankets,” I said, grabbing the overnight bag I had brought. Ten minutes later, warm flannel pajamas on and my teeth brushed, I slid under the comforter with the woman I loved. I slid an arm across her waist as she snuggled spoonwise into me.

“I love you, Sunny,” she said as she traced a finger along my arm before grabbing my hand and raising it up to kiss the inside of my wrist. “And someday, not right now, I want to reopen that conversation we had at the house in Canterlot.”

The splinter in my mind’s eye itched, reminding me that my mother’s wedding ring sat in a drawer at my loft. I had almost brought it with me, but it just didn’t seem right, for a reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

But the gift wrapped in a small box and green wrapping paper downstairs felt right.

“I love you too, Sunshine,” I murmured into her ear.

Chapter Eighteen - Christmas Day

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I was being shaken. I clawed my way up from sleep to see Twilight over me, an almost manic grin on her face.

“Sunset, wake up!” she said, her shaking stopping as she saw my eyes crack open. “It’s Christmas!”

I groaned sleepily, reaching up to pat her shoulder. “I’m up, I’m up,” I mumbled. As she slid to the side, I sat up and wiped some sleep from my eyes and ran a hand through the bed head I had acquired overnight.

“Come on!” she said, almost skipping to the door in her bright yellow pajamas. “Everyone else is already downstairs!”

I oozed out of bed, stumbling along behind my enthusiastic love down the stairs. Night Light met me at the foot of the stairs with a steaming mug of coffee.

“You’ll need this,” he said. He looked sleepy as well. “She was up and going at six thirty.”

I sipped the brew, finding it a strong and bracing. It could have used a touch of sugar, but I’m certain it would wake me up soon. I smiled at him and nodded my thanks.

Twilight had hunkered down by the presents, sorting them into piles. Cadence and Shining Armor were on the couch, sleepy but happy as they helped. I frowned when I saw that there were six piles of gifts.

“These are yours, Sunset,” Twilight said happily as she slid the last of three gifts over my way.

“ I don’t understand,” I said, a little worry sneaking into my voice. “I didn’t realize I had to shop for gifts for everyone.”

“We realized that,” Cadence said. “But we figured that trying to keep that one happy and safe would be our gift for this year.” She nodded at Twilight.

I looked at the gifts, one from each of the couples and one from Twilight. I could feel a knot in my heart, one that I hadn’t expected. I thought at most Twilight and I would trade gifts, but I hadn’t expected to get a gift from anyone else. Sure, the girls and I had agreed to all get together for New Years, but a personalized gift from people, that was something that I hadn’t actually had lately. Between Hearth’s Warming with my sisters and now this, this could possibly be the most heart-warming holiday I’ve had since I had left home. It reminded me of holidays with Mom and Celestia, of the fun days with my sisters.

It felt like home.

“Sunset,” Twilight Velvet said softly. “It’s your turn.”

I shook my reverie off, noting that Twilight had already torn into a package revealing a very thick tome that she was already engrossed in. I noted the title and smiled; A Compendium of Mythological Creatures. I wonder how much of it would be the truth and how much myth.

I picked up the largest package, tearing the wrapping and opening the box to reveal a thick sweater weaved in the colors of my cutie mark, alternating the red and yellow in soft waves. The material was soft and warm. I glanced at the tag, seeing that it came from Cadence and Shining Armor.

"This is wonderful, thank you," I said to the pair. As I pulled the sweater on to beat back some of the early morning chill, I saw the gift opening continue through the circle, revealing the gifts for the parents and elder Sparkle child. I hunched down in the sweater, enjoying its cozy warmth. Then I saw Twilight pick up the package in green wrapping paper and I felt my heart clench in nervousness.

She opened it to see a violet-colored crystal pendant, about the size of a peach pit set in a silver collar. It had six points to its star shape and gleamed with its highly polished facets. Inside were the images of both myself and her, and depending on the angle viewed from we were either in our pony forms or our human ones.

She lifted it from the box, a braided set of fine metal links trailing. She looked at it and tilted it from side to side, examining the two sets of images. I saw her eyes get a little misty. I also heard cooing from the other two women in the room.

“How did you do this?” Twilight asked. “This much crystal would be incredibly difficult to laser engrave and I don’t see any joint lines,”

“You’re thinking too much in this world, Twilight,” I said. “That is entirely Equestrian crafted by some of our closest friends.” I nodded towards the box. There should be a card inside, too,”

She shuffled the soft wadding inside and pulled out a folded bit of parchment and scanned it, smiling.

“You got all of them to sign it?” she giggled.

“Seemed only fair,” I said.I looked down and picked up the package from her. “My turn, if I understand the tradition correctly.”

I saw her excitement and nervousness as I tore the wrapping paper to reveal a small velvet box. I cracked it open and there was a locket inside, shaped almost precisely like my cutie mark. I opened it up, seeing the space inside for photos. I glanced at her with a smile, feeling a little more emotional than I normally would. Underneath was a receipt for a photo session on January third. I picked it up to hold it and felt something on the back. I turned it over and saw initials engraved on the smooth gold, followed by the date of we returned from Equestria the first time.

I don't really recall much after we melted into a hug, as far as gift giving goes. but I do remember spending the day watching silly cartoons with Twilight, Cadence, and Shining Armor I helped with the cooking with Twilight Velvet and discussing differing science theories between the two worlds with Night Light, Twilight chiming in from time to time with questions.

And enjoying the sense of family.

Chapter Nineteen - Bonfire of Memories

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I eased off the gas as we pulled into the inner set of apple trees, their branches bare save for the slowly melting snow. It was a bright, sunny day and I had sunglasses on to deflect the glittering reflection of the sun on the snow. My back wheels spun a bit on a patch of loose powder and I corrected gently. Twilight sat in my passenger seat, fiddling with her pendant, marveling at the dual perspectives.

“If you keep playing with it, you might get trapped within, Narcissus,” I teased.

She dropped it back onto her chest, the crystal gleaming in the sunlight.

“I still can’t believe the Princess managed to get the images in there,” she said, leaning back a bit and crossing her legs. “You’ve got to show me that spell sometime.”

I nodded as I took my foot off the gas to coast into the parking area in front of the Apple’s House. I saw Big Mac shoveling a bit of snow away from the barn doors, whistling to himself. I waved as I climbed out of the car, sliding my sunglasses up into my hair to sit like a headband. Twilight clambered out and tapped on the trunk. I hit the trunk release on my key fob and helped as she pulled out a set of small wrapped baskets filled with some of the cooked treats Twilight Velvet and I had made yesterday. She handed me the packages and shut the trunk.

“It’s not a tricky spell to create images using magic,” I said. “It’s the setting it into the crystal that can be tricky. You could run the risk of cracking the crystal matrix by pouring too much mana into it. Maybe by the next time we visit you'll have honed you horn enough to give it a try.”

We walked up to the door, the snow crunching under our feet. Despite the bright sun, there was still a chill breeze, and under my usual leather jacket I wore the sweater Cadence and Shining Armor had gotten me. The locket bumped against my chest, a temporary picture of the bookworm inside and prompted a warm smile as Twilight reached out and knocked on the door.

A few minutes later, the door swung open, Apple Bloom standing behind it in a pair of jeans and a turtleneck. She smiled.

“C’mon in!” she said, stepping aside. “Applejack’s in the livin’ room, so kick off your shoes ’n make yerself at home.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said, unzipping the side zips of my combat boots and setting them to the side where a number of other shoes sat. I recognized the Apple clan’s well-worn boots and shoes and a set of high-top sneakers, indicating that Rainbow Dash was here already.

“Any idea when Rarity, Fluttershy, or Pinkie are supposed to be here?” Twilight asked.

The young girl shrugged. “Haven’t heard,” she said before heading back towards the kitchen.

I found Applejack in the living room, in a fierce competition with Rainbow Dash on some sort of timed tower defense game. The two girls were locked in concentration and didn’t even notice our entry. Twilight and I just sat on the couch, our hands entwined, and watched the eventual breakdown of focused control into the usual antics.

“Consarn it, Rainbow!” AJ swore as the athletic girl ‘accidentally’ knocked the power button on the gaming console. “Ya always do that when Ah’m getting too close to ya!”

“This game was getting boring,” Rainbow scoffed. “It’s kinda lame.”

“It was YOUR game!”

“And I decided it was lame,” the rainbow-maned girl retorted, spinning her controller on the tip of her finger.

“Shouldn’t that mean that you make lame decisions by extension, considering you not only purchased the game, you brought the game here with you?” Twilight asked softly.

Seeing the two girls jump at the unexpected voice was worth the wait.

Applejack set another log in the pit, tilted against a cast iron post. A small fire was already lit in the bottom of the pit, fed by dried pine cones and what was left of the Apple’s Christmas tree. The fire slowly climbed up the piled logs, casting back the shadows of the eventide. All seven of us were seated around the blaze, watching the fire lick and crackle.

“Ah suppose y’all are wonderin’ why Ah invited ya here,” she said, brushing some dirt from her hands.

“The thought had crossed my mind,” I said, warming my hands with the heat.

“Marshmallows? S’mores? Jumbo hot dog bake?” Pinkie produced each of the items mentioned before gasping. “Jumbo marshmallow hotdog s’mores?”

Twilight leaned over to me. “Where did she have the hot dogs?” she whispered.

I shook my head. “I’ve made it a policy to never think too hard about Pinkie’s antics,” I replied in kind, memories of the one trip inside her head leaping to the fore.

“Y’all know as well as Ah do that school’s comin’ to an endin’ fast,” she said. “And some of ya’ll will be movin’ away afterward.” She looked at Rarity and Rainbow, both of who smiled with melancholy.

“Don't get me wrong,” she said. “Ah’m tickled pink that ya’ll got those scholarships to them fancy schools, but that’s goin’ to make it hard t’get together like this. So, thanks to some help from my Uncle Orange, Ah wanted to share my Christmas gift with you girls.” She reached into the pocket of her barn coat and pulled out an envelope. “Over Spring break, we’ll be onboard a cruise ship headin’ down into the southern ocean.”

There was a chorus of surprise and cheers, Pinkie’s slightly muffled from the mouthful of marshmallow wrapped hot dog in her mouth.

“That’s incredibly generous, Applejack,” Fluttershy said. “But is there a reason for it?”

The farmer rubbed the back of her neck. “Well, Ah thought we should do one last thing afore splittin’ up,” she said. “Ah know the last trip we made didn’t go too well, and Ah jus’ thought it’d be nice t’ relax.”

“I think it’s a marvelous idea,” Rarity said. “And it’s true, once I start at the Conservatory it’s going to be difficult to get away regularly, but if anyone of you ever need me, just give me a ring.”

“Yeah!” Rainbow seconded. “I’m just a few seconds away with my cool new powers. If you need help whuppin’ evil butt, just holler.”

“And there’s also breaks in the semesters,” Twilight said. “Manehattan isn’t too far of a drive for a visit.”

“Neither is the Northern Soccer training camp,” I said. “It’s not like we’ll never see each other after graduation.”

Silence reigned for a few minutes. Applejack broke the silence first.

“Ah also want t’ make this a tradition for us,” she said. “Somethin’ to look forward to every year.” She stood and held her hands out to either side. Rainbow grabbed her hand, and one by one we stood and joined hands.

The bond I felt with these six girls was deeper than I realize most times. They helped me from the darkness I had fallen into, and together we had overcome a lot of obstacles, both personal and external. A light glow formed around us, as warm as the fire, and while we didn't pony up, we felt the rush and tingle of the magic our friendship had let us access as it flowed through us.

And in that moment, feeling the love of my closest friends, I made a decision, one that would change the course of my life.

We sat around the bonfire for hours, singing songs, laughing, and telling jokes. We made memories that would last for years to come.

And we made sure that our friendship was as strong as ever.

Chapter Twenty - A Quiet Morning

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Sometimes, it’s the little things that get you. A well-worn coat, the much dog-eared pages of a beloved book, an old threadbare blanket…

The sleepy smile of a bookish girl as she hunkered down into the thick blanket on my bed.

I was sitting on the couch, waiting for the kettle to sing, a long robe and slippers on along with my flannel pajamas to ward off the minor chill of the early morning. I couldn’t help but smile as she murmured and snuggled even deeper into the warm shelter of the thick comforter.

I heard the kettle start to hiss, and I got up to pull it off the burner just in time to keep it’s piercing shriek from waking up Twilight. I added my standard compliment of loose tea and pulled out two mugs from my sparsely filled cupboards. Since I didn’t have friends over regularly - or even friends - until recently, a few mismatched plates and glasses, picked up from thrift stores, were all I needed. l had a stack of paper plates and plastic cups on the countertop to make up for the difference.

I spooned a bit of sugar into my mug and took a sip, savoring the thick flavor of Equestrian tea. Celestia had given me a tin full of her favorite blend before we had left and I had to say, it was a welcome taste of home. I poured a second mug and carried it over to the bed, sitting down and holding it before Twilight and giving the steam a gentle push towards her. Her nose wrinkled and she rolled onto her back and opened her eyes, squinting somewhat to see.

“This seems decidedly familiar,” she said with a sleepy smile, taking the mug and sitting up. She didn’t bother reaching for her glasses.

I patted her leg. “Not the first time I’ve brought you tea, you know,” I said, raising my own mug from the nightstand to take a sip.

“True," she said. She had changed quite a bit since transferring to Canterlot High. She reminded me a lot of the Twilight from across the mirror in the increased confidence, the intellect, and the strength of character. But she was also her own person, a lot more outgoing, willing to trade wisecracks with Rainbow Dash. Pinkie Pie still confused her, but truth be told, none of us understood how she did what she did.

“Remember when we first started dating?” she asked, pulling her knees up to her chest and giving me a half-lidded smile. “Rarity couldn’t be calm about it all.”

“Yeah,” I said. “She obsessed about the suitability and cuteness of it all. AJ, on the other hand…”

Twilight frowned at the segue, wrapping her arms around her raised legs. “Yes?” she prompted softly.

“She asked me once if I was sure,” I said. “Sure if you were the one or if I was actually interested in the other Twilight.”

“And?” I saw the unspoken question in her eyes along with an undercurrent of amusement through the bond. She knew the answer, she just wanted to hear me say it.

“Well,” I said, putting my mug down and sliding over to her, putting a hand on her arm. “I explained to her the differences between the two of you.” I leaned into her slightly, trailing my hand up to play with some of the hairs that had fallen free from her nighttime braid.

“How you are more outgoing, much more personable,” I traced a finger along her ear, seeing the twitch and giggle slip free. “You’re able to put aside that adorable bookish nature at times. And it’s more than that,” I said.

She set her mug to the side as well, turning towards me. “Yes?”

I smiled, knowing I was close enough for her to see me. “You’ve got the guts to stand toe to toe with me and make sure I listen.” She flushed as the few arguments we’ve had flashed through her mind, usually about her tinkering with electronics in an effort to understand magic. “The other Twilight needed to hit me with magic to do that.”

I leaned in closer and shook my bed-head mane back out of my face. “Also, I find you incredibly and irrevocably cute. And these are just the reasons I can put into words.”

She had a bright flush on her cheeks now, her head tilting back slightly, invitingly. “I’m sure,” she whispered.

“You are also a lot more forward and outspoken than you used to be,” I said huskily, leaning a little closer.

“I think the company I keep has something to do with that,” she said, her eyes glittering.

“Of course,” I said. “Dash and I are horrible influences.”

“AJ, too,” she said.

“We might as well include Rarity to the group of bad influences while we're at it,” I said. "The two of you were getting rather chummy at lunch the other day."

“Sunny,” she said, a mischievous smile. “Would you just shut up and kiss me already?”

I obliged her request, and when we broke, she turned and settled back against me, my arm wrapping around her. She traced a hand along my forearm, sipping her tea.

“There was another reason you woke me up like that, wasn't there?” she asked. “Spill.”

I smiled. “I seem to recall waking you up like that one day and a conversation that we had shortly thereafter.” I kissed the crown of her head. “I was hoping to reopen the conversation if you wouldn't be opposed to it.”

I felt her tense slightly, a tremble in her body. “Oh?” she asked, almost keeping the trepidation out of her voice. Or was it excitement?

“You asked me if I would want to marry you,” I said. “I deflected slightly at the time, since we had so many things to take of first. The ball, and then telling your parents about my origins, finding out that they knew, and so on. I was nervous about it from the time we got back to the moment your dad revealed that they already knew.”

She turned slightly and looked at me. “You were?” she asked in a surprised manner. “But I thought you were ok with the situation.”

“I like to keep calm in situations like that because I know you tend to over-worry and panic,” I said. “The entire time you were away with Twilight, I was a nervous filly, pacing around. If Applejack hadn't come by I'd have walked a hole in the floor.”

I took a deep breath. “But right now, with the revelation of things and the way I feel being welcomed in by your family, I think it’s appropriate we talk about it now.”

She turned around, and I saw as well as felt the nervousness and expectation in her. I was just as nervous, but I had three years of experience hiding my emotions behind a wall. Back then I had used it to block out my guilt and shame. Now, I used it to focus on the matters at hand.

“Twilight,” I said, taking her hands in mine, running my thumbs across her knuckles. “New Year’s eve is the day after tomorrow, and Rarity has been planning her party for weeks.”

I reached into the drawer of my nightstand and pulled out my mother’s ring. Her breath caught as she saw it. Gold and silver were woven together, a fairly simple ring with a small diamond caged in a silver filigree cage.

“This was my mother’s ring,” I said, holding it out, presenting it to my love. “She left it to me with the instructions to make sure it didn’t sit in a box and tarnish. I can't imagine anyone else I'd rather have it, and I’d love it if I could introduce you as my fiancé at the party.”

Tears were welling in her eyes. I glanced down at the ring, then back at her.

“Um, Twi? This is where you…” She crushed her lips against mine, holding me tightly. When she pulled back, she was laughing and crying.

“Yes,” she said. “I’d love that very much.”

With tears starting to well up in my eyes, I slipped the ring on her finger, and surprisingly, it fit perfectly.

We kissed again, then settled back into the cuddle we had before, just enjoying each other's presence. After a short time, she tilted her head in thought.

“Who should we tell first?”

“Well, your parents, obviously,” I said.

“I meant after them and my brother and Cadence,” she said. “Do we tell our friends here, or in Equestria first?”

“I think we would do better telling the Princess and friends first,” I said, rubbing a hand along her arm. “That way we can also let my sisters know.”

She nodded and reached for her glasses, putting them on and looking at the ring on her finger.

“Mrs. Twilight Sparkle,” she murmured.

“Are you sure you don’t want to take my name?” I asked jokingly.

“Twilight Shimmer?” she mused. “I’ll think on it.”

Chapter Twenty One - Conspirators

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“I think the first thing to do is decide on colors,” Twilight Velvet said excitedly.

“For what?” Night Light said.

“Well, the dresses, of course!” Velvet replied, spreading out a handful of swatches. There were an impressive array of hues and shades. I didn’t even know that many different colors of rose, purple, and gold existed.

Cadence leaned forward, a serious look on her face. “Honestly, Shiny and I haven’t even set a date yet, let alone picked out the wedding party. This can all wait.”

“Oh, nonsense, sweetheart,” Velvet said, waving her hand dismissively. “It’s never too early to choose these things.”

Cadence sighed with exasperation, leaning back on the couch and Shining Armor scrubbed his face with his hands.

Twilight pulled me close and whispered in my ear. “See what I mean?”

I nodded wordlessly as the couple continued to try and stop the Sparkle parents from making decisions for them without their input. I felt relieved that we had decided not to tell them just yet. To be completely honest, we were still getting used to the idea ourselves. I saw her fidgeting out of the corner of my eye, twisting the ring on her finger as she had been all morning. It was usually followed by looking at the silver filigree cage of the ring for a moment.

I reached over and put my right hand over her left, stopping the fidgeting. Leaning back in, I whispered. “Keep playing with that and someone is going to notice,” I warned.

She paled for a second, eyes widening as she nodded. Fortunately, nobody else noticed our whispered conversation. After a few more minutes of poking color swatches, Velvet glanced up at the clock and gasped.

“Oh dear,” she said. “Nighty, we’re going to be late for the faculty dinner.”

Hope sprang up in Cadence’s eyes.

“We’ll be back later tonight, dears,” she said after pulling on a coat and fluffing out her hair. “Please make yourselves at home, and if you leave before we get back please do lock up.”

A few minutes after they left, Cadence turned to us and asked, her voice weary. “Do you two know of any drive-through chapels nearby?”

I was about to laugh until I saw the look in her eyes, the fatigue and frustration. Shining had a similar look.

“Not really, no,” I said.

Twilight sat up in surprise. “You can’t elope!”

“Why not, Twily?” Shining Armor asked. “We’ve barely been engaged three weeks, and they act like the wedding is next week!” He ran his hand through his hair. “We just wanted to have a nice relaxing engagement and a simple wedding.”

“They’d be devastated, Shining! You know they’d feel like you don’t value their opinions. They…”

I put a finger over her lips, silencing the rant. “Twi,” I said. “Let them speak.”

She sat back, cheeks puffing up in frustration.

“If the situations were dire, I’d welcome their kind of input,” Cadence said. “But instead of asking to see what we’ve decided so far they’re making choices for us!” The dean leaned forward and ran her hand through the rose-colored tresses in her hair. “Last week they wanted to know when we could be free to go taste cake samples! It's maddening!”

An idea sprung to mind, but I didn’t want to do things without Twilight’s support. Trust was a large part of our friendship and it factored into much of our relationship. As Cadence stopped speaking and just hung her head, I turned and looked at Twilight giving a glance down at our clasped hands, and on the ring she wore.

As she sighed, I gave her a small bit of my confidence. I felt that this was right, and I saw the moment she agreed when her eyes twinkled a little. She nodded with a soft smile.

“Cadence,” I said slowly. “What if we could take some of the pressure off of you?”

She glanced up, her brow furrowing at my words. "What do you mean?"

I met her eyes as I took my hand off Twilight’s, and the bookworm raised her left hand, displaying the ring that sat there.

Cadence and Shining took a moment for the revelation to register, but then they both came over and hugged us.

“Congratulations,” Cadence said as she pulled away, a smile on her face. “When did you ask her?”

“This morning,” Twilight said, looping her arm into mine as we all sat back down.

“Where did you get the ring?” Shining Armor asked, putting his arm across Cadence’s shoulders. “Looks good on you, Twily.”

“It was Mom’s,” I said. “One of the things she left me. She told me specifically in a letter it was to not let it just sit around.”

“So, this idea of yours,” Cadence said. “How does it work?”

“Well, we’re going to Rarity’s New Year's Eve party,” I said. “We had planned to announce it there just for our friends. But, we could let Velvet and Night Light know the next day, if we can get some preparations done in the meantime.”

“We know Rarity is going to want to do the gowns, and Pinkie will want to provide the food,” Twilight said. “I see no reason to deny them that right. And, having two weddings to focus on, Mom and Daddy will have to pick their battles a bit more carefully.”

“The worse that happens, as I see it,” I said. “Is a double wedding that cannot happen for at least a year. And in that year they would have to divide their enthusiasm between two pairs of headstrong couples.”

Cadence laughed and Shining broke out in a wide grin. “So what now?”

I stood, pulling my fiancé up with me. “I suggest dinner, personally, and not being here when they get back.”

Twilight lit up at the mention of dinner. “Latkes?” she asked hopefully. "There's a deli in downtown that makes great latkes!"

I laughed. “Sure,” I said. “That actually sounds good.”

Shining Armor frowned. “What’s Latkes?”

Twilight smiled while Cadence laughed merrily.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll love them.”

Chapter Twenty Two - New Year's Announcement

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Music was pumping through the air, loud enough to be heard but low enough to not obscure conversation. As we dropped our coats off in the anteroom, we recognized the unique sound that only DJ Pon-3 could produce. And sure enough, as we entered the living room of the Belle house, I saw the aforementioned DJ bent over her turntable, adjusting the mix for maximum wubs. Outside of our friends, there were Rarity and Applejack’s little sisters and their friend Scootaloo. I also saw Lyra, Bon Bon, and Octavia milling about the dining room, and just off to one side I could see a few other people I didn't rightly recognize off the top of my head, despite knowing I had classes with them.

“Twilight, Sunset!” I heard the melodious voice of our host and saw her violet hair moving through the room towards us. When she reached us, she smiled and hugged us both. She was - surprisingly enough - dressed extremely casual for her usual style; loose turquoise slacks and a close-fitting blouse of alternating turquoise and silver stripes.

“How are you, darlings?” she asked as she withdrew, her smile dazzling.

“We’re doing rather good, Rarity,” Twilight said. “In fact, it’s been an engaging week so far.”

I bit back a laugh at Rarity’s confused look. We had decided to let them know after the ball had dropped when it was just us seven. But true to my bookish love’s emerging sense of humor, she couldn’t resist a veiled reference.

“We’ll explain later,” I said, patting Rarity’s arm. “How’d you manage to get Vinyl to play here? Wasn’t she booked solid?”

“Oh, it's simple, darling,” she said, brushing her hair behind her shoulder. “I engaged her for the party months ago.”

“Of course you did,” I said, laughing.

“Now, go enjoy yourselves,” she said, gesturing behind herself. “Refreshments are in the kitchen and I’m sure you know the way.”

The party was amazing, in no small part because of the small attendance. Vinyl did stop her preferred style long enough for us to count down and enjoy a toast of Sweett Apple Acres cider at the new year, and she played a few traditional songs that segued into her outro theme. She packed and headed out with Octavia, giving just a toss of a thumbs up to us in parting. The CMCs had fallen asleep on the couch shortly after the ball dropped, and it was just the seven of us.

Twilight cleared her throat, getting the attention of all. “Sunset and I need to talk to you, girls,” she said with a serious tone and a grave look on her face. Fluttershy immediately shrank a little, twisting her hair in her fingers, and Applejack sat up straight. Pinkie looked at us from her upside down position against the wall, and Rainbow and Rarity looked up from collecting minor bits of trash.

“It has to do with something that happened earlier this week,” she continued, unable to maintain her serious façade any longer, a hundred watt smile blossoming.

“We kind of got engaged,” I said nonchalantly. Or tried to, anyway. I couldn’t hold my smile back either, and when our friends saw the wide, goofy grins on our faces they all shouted in excited voices.

Rarity was the most excited, immediately asking to see the ring and ask about dates.

“One day at a time, Rarity,” Twilight said, a little embarrassed as the fashionista examined the ring on her finger. It was a simple affair, the single diamond encased in a filigree cage. It was a two-toned ring, the band in shining gold and the cage in muted silver as not to distract from the gleam of the diamond. “This is only three days in, you know.”

“Do you have any ideas for outfits?” Will you both be wearing gowns, or would one of you wear a suit?”

I gave a short giggle. “We figured we’d let you help on that, Rares,” I said. “But I like to think we’d both be wearing gowns designed by you.”

Her eyes lit up, eyeing us both. “A wonderful idea!” she exclaimed. “Maybe something in satin, with no train for you, Sunset. And silk brocade for Twilight, with a slight train.” She leaped up and grabbed a notepad from next to the telephone, jotting notes and whispering to herself as her muse took flight.

Applejack sat forward, a huge grin on her face. “Congratulations,” she said giving me a pat on the back. “Y’all seem made for each other.”

“Says the girl that questioned me for ten minutes one day if she was the one for me,” I joked.

She blushed. “Ah’ve learned a few things since then,” she admitted. “Seein’ the two of ya bein’ so happy together, it can make a gal a mite jealous.”

“You, jealous?” asked Twilight. “Of us?”

“She’s got a point, AJ,” Rainbow said. “You never seemed to be interested in guys or girls. I thought the only thing you cared about was the farm.”

“A gal can dream, ya know,” the farmer retorted as her cheeks pinked up a little.

Fluttershy knelt down and hugged us both. “I’m so happy for you two,” she said before giving Twilight a small shove. “But don’t scare me like that ever again!”

Twilight held up her hands in defeat. I blinked, realizing that Pinkie had been silent for five full minutes.

“Pinkie, are you…”

“OhmygoshyouhavetoletmethrowapartyforyoutwoI'msosuperexcitedthisisgoingtobethebestparty!” she exploded, a manic grin on her face.

Everyone blinked around the room.

“Come again?” asked Applejack, tilting her hat back with her thumb.

“I have to throw a party for you two! A super duper ultimate engagement party with all of our friends and your family and…”

“We’d love that, Pinkie,” Twilight said. “But we have another task for you.”

“If you think you can handle it,” I said suggestively.

The party girl hunched forward and narrowed her eyes. “What is it?”

I glanced at Twilight, and then we laid out the situation with Velvet and Night Light, and the reason we were letting them know when we would have rather kept it between us for a few more days.

I glanced at Pinkie. "What do you think?"

She grinned. "I've got just the thing," she said. "Just let me know when you need it."

Rarity glanced up from her notepad to level a look at Twilight and I.

"You both have to swing by later this week so I can get your measurements," she said. "I need to update yours, Sunset, and I never got them from you, Twilight. I don't want to make assumptions based on the ones I have from the Princess."

"So," I said, setting hands on my hips. "We all good?"

A wave of cheers carried through, causing Apple Bloom to crack open an eye.

"What'd Ah miss?" she asked sleepily.

We all giggled, which only confused her more.

Chapter Twenty Three - Fashion Show

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“That is enough!” Cadence shouted, shooting to her feet. “This is not your wedding! It is theirs, and should be allowed to plan it themselves!”

Twilight’s parents sat there in stunned silence. To be completely honest, I was just as stunned. Twilight looked absolutely dumbfounded.

And Cadence was still breathing hard from her initial outburst, a look of mixed anger and anguish on her face. Shining Armor had stood up and put his hands on his fiancé’s shoulders, trying to calm her down.

We had just told Velvet and Night that Twilight and I were engaged not five minutes ago, and immediately they had started in with the suggestions and recommendations for color schemes, dress designs, and other wedding details. It was more understandable for Twilight since traditionally parent’s pay for the daughters wedding. It was a silly tradition based off of the ancient use of a dowry. I never did understand it, personally.

Human customs are weird.

“They just told you they were engaged, and instead of congratulations or asking any questions about it, you launched right into trying to take control of their planning! Just because you never got your ideal wedding is no reason to try and wrest control of planning from Twilight and Sunset,” she snapped as a few tears welled up. “Or from Shining Armor and I.”

She wheeled, stalking away into the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” Shining said. “I’ll see if I can calm her down.” He turned and followed his future wife into the kitchen.

Velvet had tears in her eyes, and her hand was covering her mouth. Night Light turned to Twilight and I.

“We weren’t that bad, were we?” he asked.

Twilight was still recovering from her shock at seeing the normally composed Cadence unleash anger and frustration. I sat forward slightly.

“You have been a little obsessive about details,” I said. “And while we would be happy for your input, you haven’t waited for us to ask for it, either. We literally just got engaged and told you, and you wanted to start planning things inside five minutes. You’ve been steamrolling Cadence and Shining Armor and they haven’t even set a date for their wedding yet, let alone decided on how they want to go about it.”

Twilight seemed to recover. “Look, Mom, Daddy,” she said, smiling soothingly. I love you both dearly, but you started making suggestions before we could tell you any details we may have arranged for already.”

Night Light nodded and sat back, deep in thought. After a moment he wrapped an arm around his wife and pulled her in close.

“Can you forgive us?” Velvet asked.

Twilight rushed over, sitting between her parents and hugging them.

“Of course we can,” she said. “But you’ve got to let us plan our wedding, and let Shiny and Cadence plan theirs. We’ll ask for advice when we need it, and please, understand that we love you,” she sat back. “But sometimes we got to do our own thing, otherwise it won’t mean as much to us.”

I leaned forward. “Plus, we have some top notch talent tapped for both us and Cadence as well, if she wants to avail herself of their services.”

Velvet smiled and wiped her eyes and cheeks.

“Can you show us what you’ve got so far?” she asked.

Twilight came back over and pulled her phone from her purse.

“Sure,” she said, hitting a few buttons. After a few moments, she smiled sweetly.

“Rarity,” she said into the phone. “Do you think you could come over? Great! Bring your sketchpads, please.”

Hanging up, she leaned back and crossed her legs.

“She’ll be here in fifteen minutes,” she said. “Shall I make tea?”

Rarity swept into the room, bearing several sketchpads. “I’m glad you called when you did, Twilight darling,” she said, setting her purse down on the floor before sitting next to me and flipping through her first sketchpad. “I had just finished a handful of rough designs for you, Sunset, and even Cadence.”

“Me?” Cadence asked.

“Oh, certainly,” the fashionista said. “You don’t have to go with my designs, but I thought it enough to just offer them. After all, I was just in the zone, as it were. Couldn’t put the pencil down.”

She settled on a page and turned it so Twilight and I could see the design settled on it. It showed a dress with a tight bodice and a long flowing skirt with a train. She had lightly sketched in some brocade designs on the bodice on an expanded view sketch off on the margin.

“I thought this one would look best for you, Twilight,” she said. “Your slim frame will be accentuated by the cut of the bodice without being too risqué. The train of the skirt will add a bit of grace without adding too much bulk or difficulty in walking.”

“I like the pattern,” Twilight said. “How do you plan on doing it? “

“I had thought about embroidering them onto an outer layer that I would attach to the dress during final construction.” Rarity pointed at an expanded section of the dress in the corner. “It would fasten with a side zip, cleverly hidden by the brocade. The difficulty of the embroidery will be keeping it light enough so you won’t swelter if you hold the wedding in the summer.”

She turned to me, her smile never shrinking. “Now for you, Sunset, I thought I would stray from the traditional path just a touch, to stay with your more unconventional attitude,” she said, flipping a few pages to reveal a dress with a straight silhouette, ankle length skirt with no train. The bodice had cap sleeves and a square neckline. There was another expanded view of the dress, showing a bolero jacket that went over the dress, with some embroidery patterns that brought to mind the image of flames and phoenixes.

“As you can see, it’s a more casual design, but still classy. It’s adjusted by some ties along the back. The bolero will be fitted close through the waist, but loose in the shoulders. The embroidery is optional, but I thought it suited you.”

“It’s…” words failed me. In just a couple of days, she had designed a beautiful dress for not just me, but for Twilight and apparently Cadence as well.

I wiped a tear from my eye. “It’s beautiful, Rares,” I said. “I love it.”

She beamed, then flipped another set of pages and turned to Cadence.

“For you, Cadence, I thought that something traditional with a touch of personal flair would be perfect. I took this gown idea with a medium train and corseted bodice and adjusted the neckline to a keyhole style, with it a more heart shape as opposed to a round one. It will have bell sleeves and I was thinking of giving the skirts some fairy cuts, giving it some flare as you walk without hampering your stride.”

Cadence’s eyes were a little misty. “I love it,” she said, lacing her fingers with Shining Armors.

Rarity shut that sketchbook and opened the other one.

“I also had some thoughts on bridesmaid dresses for both couples, with some integration of the dress designs in them.”

Later that night, just as I was leaving, Twilight came up to me with a small knapsack.

“What's this?” I asked, taking the bag.

“Something that we should have done a while back,” she said, tapping her fingers nervously. “It’s got a couple changes of clothes and a spare toothbrush in it.”

She smiled. “I thought that maybe, with us engaged and all, I should move a few things in for when I stay the night.”

I smiled and shouldered the bag.

“Fine by me, but don’t you usually steal one of my shirts for bed anyway?”

She grinned back and leaned in a little.

“I like doing that,” she said. “They smell like you.”

Chapter Twenty Four - The Wooing of Sunset Shimmer

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Twilight and I sat across the table from each other. Two sheets of paper lay between us, both bearing the letterhead of Canterlot High School. They were our preliminary schedules for our final semester as seniors at the school that had been my home for the last six years.

“I can't believe this!” Twilight said. “How can I take Chem Four when it’s the same time as Applied Sciences Two?” She ran her hand through her bangs as she looked at the sheet in front of her.

“You could choose between them,” I said, scanning my schedule. As it was the last semester I’d take at CHS, I had tried for a balance between classes I needed and classes I wanted. I had been interested in the creative writing class they had that also gave college credit. I always thought that if you could get ahead, you should. “It’s not like you’d have no chance to take a similar one your freshman year at the university.”

“But I want to have both,” she said. “There are some interesting theories I could test having both of those classes, and I don’t exactly own some of tools I’ll need to do it.”

I eyed her carefully. “You’re not trying to build another device to analyze magic are you?”

She shifted uncomfortably. “No,” she said, unconvincingly and not meeting my eyes.

“Twilight,” I said. “We’ve talked about this before. More than once.”

“I know!” she said, throwing her hands up as she got out of her chair and paced my living room. “I know, and every time we do, we tend to wind up upset at each other and I don’t want to do that tonight.” She crossed her arms and turned away, a look of annoyance on her face.

“Maybe if you’d listen to me about it instead of just getting miffed, we could get some sort of compromise,” I said, a little irritated at her flippant way of trying to ignore the subject. “Instead of going off half-cocked with a device that you’re not sure functions properly behind my back.”

“I don't do anything half-cocked,” she fumed, spinning back to me, a hurt look on her features. “I consider every variable and factor it into my hypothesis. Why would you say such a thing?”

I stood up myself. “I suppose everything that happened at the Friendship Games was factored into your ‘hypothesis’, then? Stealing magic, opening random rifts between worlds, almost hurting your friends,” I narrowed my eyes. “Turning into a power drunk monster?”

She winced, and I instantly regretting the barb, but I didn’t back down. I thought she needed to admit that she didn’t always think things through when she was on the scent of discovery, and that was the biggest flaw in the girl I loved.

“Don't like admitting that, do you?” I continued. “That something completely beyond your understanding could exist, something you can’t quantify, examine, or file.” I advanced on her. “Something that doesn’t fit into the narrow little boxes you wanted everything to fit into when you were just a closeted bookworm.”

She whirled, face red. “You have room to talk,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “You managed to terrorize the entire school during practically your entire time here. What was it they called you again? Sunset the -”

“I’m a different person now, and you know that!” I shouted, feeling the flush of anger on my face. “I try to not make the same mistakes I made in the past, but you seem determined to repeat some of yours.” I locked eyes with her. “Do I need to recite the entire litany to you again, Twilight? Or do you think that bookish brain of yours is working fine enough for you to recall them yourself?”

She stared at me, her face beet red in anger and her fists balled up. Then, she broke down and turned, tears starting to stream down as she grabbed her purse and coat, storming out.

I stood there, looking at the door as it slammed shut behind her, the sound of the door snapping me from my anger like a slap.

And immediately I realized that I had slipped back into the bully mindset I had two years ago, and I had used my familiarity with Twilight to push her buttons. I hated that it was still a part of me, that ability to reading people in order to humiliate them. I felt tears on my face.

I wiped them away angrily. I felt I had every reason to be upset with her doing something so short sighted. After all, the last time it had happened she had nearly destroyed the barrier between worlds. It was better this way. Surely she would come to understand that this would be better.


Still, though, I was surprised at how far we had gone. It wasn’t like we’d never fought before, but it's never risen to the point of one of us storming out, or triggered my old bully side. The image of her angry tears flashed to the forefront of my mind. I stumbled back and stared down at the floor.

“What have I done?”

I had a hard time sleeping that night, that little voice in my head taunting me the moment I shut off the light. I gave up on sleep and stared at the ceiling, trying to fight the urge to call Twilight to apologize… again. They were all going straight to voicemail anyway. All morning long the next day the memories of what had been said had played in my head. My anger had cooled and I realized that I had been overly harsh, and more than once I had found rebellious tears leak from my eyes. I was about to pull the blankets over my head and hide from the world for the rest of the day when there was a knocking on the door.

I got up and padded over, opening it to find Pinkie standing there, a very annoyed look on her face.

“What did you do?” she asked, poking me in the chest, barreling into my apartment.

“What do you mean?” I was thrown off by her angry posture.

“Twilight came by Sugarcube Corner earlier today and I could tell she had been crying, and when I tried to talk to her, she was a grouchy touchy Twily. Apparently, some meanie pants had yelled at her.”

“I wasn’t trying to be mean,” I said, looking down. “But she’s wanting to do something that she shouldn’t do and she knows it. Last time she messed with things she tried to rip her way into Equestria, I don’t want her to make the same mistakes again.”

“And that's how she became one of our friends!” she shot back at me. “So what if she made a mistake? She’s only human!”

That stung in more ways than one, despite my understanding of the intent behind the words. That fact seemed to register to Pinkie only a moment later, for her eyes flew wide when she saw me wince and remembered I wasn’t originally human.

“Oh no! Now I’m being a meanie,” she said, dropping onto my couch.

I sat on my bed, sighing. “It’s not easy to control my mind or my mouth when I’m upset.” I sighed. “I really made a mess of things, didn’t I?”

Pinkie smiled, back to her old self in an instant. I envied the way nothing ever bothered her for long.

“Just apologize, silly,” she said. “You knowing Twily is what upset her, so use it to apologize!”

“Good idea, Pinkie,” I said. “I just wish I could figure out how. She won’t take my calls.”

She grinned.

“I have an idea,” she said with a chuckle.

I found Twilight sitting on a bench by the Wondercolt statue, it’s repaired stallion portion noticeably brighter than the pedestal that housed the portal to Equestria. The bench she sat on was the one that was closest to where we had first met, to where I had extended my hand to her, to where she had first put her foot down in opposition to me.

The place where most of our biggest relationship moments had happened.

I went and sat beside her, ignoring the upset look she gave me as I held out a small bowl from one of the local shops.

“Ice cream?” I said sheepishly. “I hear it helps.”

“What do you want?” she said softly, turning to face away from me without looking at my gift.

“Happiness, forgiveness, a solid return on my investments, and to not have this chocolate black cherry double scoop melt without being enjoyed,” I said. “And to try to apologize.”

“Chocolate black cherry?” she asked, her tone becoming curious.

“With sprinkles,” I added.

“You realize it’s forty degrees out, right?” she asked.

“And a cherry on top,” I finished. “It was Pinkie’s idea.”

She burst out laughing, and the tense air between us burst. “Of course, it was,” she giggled. Taking the small bowl from me, she gave me a small smile. “I can give you five minutes, I suppose,” she said with a teasing voice.

“About the other night,” I said. “ I wanted to apologize. I said some things that I probably shouldn't have. I know how important your curiosity is to you and I love that you constantly want to enrich yourself, but I also think that some things are better off not messed with.” I glanced down at my hands. “But I shouldn’t have been so short when I said as much.”

She gave me a look that was part curiosity and part screaming ‘really, now’ at me.

“What I mean is,” I continued hurriedly. “Look at what happened the last time. You almost destroyed two worlds in your quest for knowledge.”

I looked into her eyes, letting the true worries inside show through, both on my face and through our bond. “What if next time, I couldn’t bring you back? Or if there was nothing left of you to bring back at all?” I felt a tear slip free. “I don’t think I could bear it if I were to lose you.”

She looked at me, her expression softening. “I know that,” she said, reaching out and cupping my face. “But you can’t stop me from wanting to figure it out. After all, didn’t you mention talking to the Princess next time we visited about some of the differences in magic?”

“Yeah, but I don’t want you working on it without help,” I put my hand on her knee. “But since I can’t stop you, I want you to promise that if anything unexpected happens, you stop until we can figure out what it is. Deal?”

“Deal,” she said, taking another bite of the ice cream. “One thing I don’t know, though,” she murmured.


She hefted the ice cream bowl. “How did you know this was my favorite flavor?”

“I’ve been to your house, Twi,” I said. “I’ve seen your freezer.”

“There’s also chocolate and butter pecan in there as well,” she said.

“I guessed,” I admitted.

“I thought as much,” she teased. She held out a spoonful of ice cream to me, a smile on her face. I took the proffered gift and enjoyed the smooth taste.

“I’m still a little annoyed at you, you know,” she said. “But I think you’ll survive. We’ve been through worse.”

I sat back, looking at the statue. “It’s been a wild ride, hasn't it?”


“Our relationship,” I said. “It seems like it’s been either been spent fighting someone twisted slightly by exposure to Equestrian magic or our crazy families.”

“Or friends,” she said.

“Pretty much the same thing, it seems,” I said. “They’ve become just like family.”

She put an arm through mine. “It will be an interesting story to tell if we have kids one day,” she said.

“Yeah, it will be,” I agreed.

“Maybe we should write it all down, so we can remember it,” she said. “To tell them all about the wooing of Sunset Shimmer."

“I thought I was wooing you,” I said with a smile.

“Well, then, if you write it, you can call it whatever you want to,” she said sticking her tongue out at me.

I laughed and kissed her on the forehead. “Come on,” I said. “If I recall correctly, aren’t we supposed to sit down with Cadence tonight and help her pick out bridesmaid designs?”

She nodded, taking the last bite of the ice cream and tossing the bowl into the trash bin. We got up and left to go help a good friend make some choices.

Bonus Chapter: Next Time in the Homecoming Chapter Fics

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Rarity threw up a shield as I fell to the ground, clutching my head in agony. I saw the vambrace on my arm crack, spiderweb and then disintegrate, grains of dust blowing away in the dark wind. Rarity cried out and her shield collapsed, her armor being dissolved back into regular clothes just as mine and Applejack’s had.

Twilight reached me, using her telekinesis to form a makeshift barrier with the shattered picnic tables against the maelstrom before us, but they were thrown aside like kindling.

“We will meet again,” the voice said before the dark cloud vanished and the winds died.

I sat up slowly, my head pounding. I realized that not only had they dispelled my powered up form, they had also de-ponified me, Rarity, Applejack, and Pinkie.

“Are you ok, Sunny?” Twilight asked.

I tried to reassure her through our bond, but I couldn’t find it. I reached inside to find any trace of magic, to pony up, anything. I realized that Twilight was touching my bare arm with her hand and I couldn’t feel her emotions or see her thoughts.


“Sunny?” she said, worry starting to spread across her face.

“My magic,” I whispered, my voice breaking and tears streaming down my face.

“They took my magic.”

Twilight held me as I broke down as I haven’t since my mother died.

I walked into the building Fluttershy had told me about, nose wrinkling at the stench of rot and bodily fluids. I found the door I was looking for and pushed it opened. The room beyond was dimly lit, but I could see the forms within clearly enough.

Pale, gaunt, and sullen, their eyes sunken into their faces and their hair flat and lifeless, life had been hard on the Dazzlings.

“Wow,” I said. “You look like hell.”

“Wow,” rasped Adagio. “You’re a bitch.”

“Can it,” I said. “I’ m here to ask for your help.”

That got her attention.

“Oh,” she purred. “This has got to be good.