Princess Celestia has finally decided to introduce her two prized pupils to each other, hoping that together they'll finally start to appreciate the magic of friendship. They'll go even beyond that in time, but the road they'll take is a rocky one.
Princess Celestia has finally decided to introduce her two prized pupils to each other, hoping that together they'll finally start to appreciate the beauty and magic of friendship. Sunset may be proud and brash, and Twilight might be obsessive and oblivious at times, but surely they'll get along fine, right?
They'll go above and beyond that in time, but the road they'll take to get there is a rocky one.
“Why are you bothering with a scarf?” Spike asked as he watched his best friend and surrogate sister levitate the dark blue knitted thing off its hook and wrap it around her neck, only struggling a little bit at the end.
“Because it's almost winter, Spike!” Twilight answered, still fiddling with the scarf in her wall mirror. “It won't be long before the pegasi deliver the first snow of the season, and since they've already rerouted the air currents in preparation it's pretty chilly outside.”
“It's not that cold,” Spike countered with a light eyeroll, setting down the feather duster he'd been using on the shelf of the newly-cleaned bookcase. “Besides-” he started walking down the stairs- “we're only gonna be outdoors for, like, five minutes!”
“Four minutes and thirty-seven seconds to be precise,” Twilight told him, smiling at her reflection once she'd finally gotten her scarf adjusted exactly how she wanted it. She turned and gave him a look that said she knew exactly what she was talking about but wasn't going to hold his ignorance against him, and said “That's more than enough time to warrant the extra protection. Princess Celestia asked me to meet her outside her chambers before she lowered the sun this evening, and the last thing I want is to be distracted from whatever important lesson she wants to teach because I'm chilly.”
Spike sighed, accepting the loss. “Fine,” he said before hopping onto her back. “But I still don't think it's that cold out.”
The pair headed down the stairs and out the tower door at a gentle trot, the Canterlot air greeting them as briskly as Twilight had anticipated. She gave her companion a knowing smile as they traversed the lawn that surrounded her home and passed by more than one pony shivering in the wind, but the dragonling stubbornly looked away. Four minutes and thirty-six seconds later they reached the gates of the castle proper, and Twilight used the extra second to spare a glance at the sky - the sun lingered at the horizon, bathing the sky in reds and oranges and yellows as it awaited one final push of magic to send it away. Twilight looked forward to watching it go.
But first, she had a meeting to get to. “Ohhh, I wonder what it's about,” she said, brimming with excitement as she navigated a familiar path through the castle halls. “Maybe she wants to teach me a new spell! Or, or, or maybe she's decided it's time for me to try delving into experimental transfiguration again!”
“You really think so?” Spike asked, a brow raised skeptically. “Last time you tried that you turned Professor Polish into an armchair and couldn't figure out how to reverse it for an hour.”
“W-well, true,” Twilight admitted, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, “but I know what I did wrong now! The chances of something like that happening again are practically astronomical!” Swelling with renewed confidence, she looked back at Spike. “Besides, it doesn't have to be experimental transfiguration. Princess Celestia has been teaching me for years now and I've barely scratched the surface of what she knows, her next lesson could be about any number of subjects! Haycartes' Theorem, Starswirl's second treatise, the underlying principles of elemental conjuration, maybe even the enchanting techniques used in ancient relics!” She was now bouncing quite giddily and audibly down the vaulted marble hallway, utterly oblivious to the annoyed looks cast her way by passing nobles and servants.
“Or maybe she just wants to show you something and have you work out what it was on your own,” Spike said brightly, caught up in Twilight's enthusiasm even as he struggled to keep himself steady on her back. “Like when she used that door-opening spell on a flower bed!”
“Also good!” Twilight declared, raising a hoof dramatically as she came to an abrupt halt. “Oooooh, I can't wait to see what she wants!” She clapped her hooves together eagerly, then took off running just as abruptly as she'd stopped – and with enough speed that Spike could only just hang on to the tail of her scarf.
Soon enough she was turning the final corner before her destination and sliding to a quick and frantic stop in front of her mentor. Princess Celestia stood by the closed doorway to her personal quarters with a patient and amused smile, and she was not alone.
With her was a unicorn mare of around Twilight's age, amber-coated with a brilliant red mane that was streaked with yellow. She was glowering at her from just outside the Princess' line of sight.
Twilight only spared her a moment's glance, an awkward moment though it was, before turning a bright and beaming smile to her beloved teacher. “Good evening Princess Celestia,” she greeted. “I'm sorry if I made you wait.”
“Worry not, Twilight, you're right on time,” the Princess answered, the warmth in her voice sweeping away the last of the autumn chill around the new arrivals. “But I bet you're wondering why I called you here.”
“That's right!” Twilight said happily.
“She wouldn't stop talking about it on the way here,” Spike commented, once again firmly on her back. Twilight flushed, Celestia laughed, and the other mare just kept glaring.
“So Princess Celestia, what lesson do you have for me this time?” Twilight asked, her eagerness returning in full force.
“Well, I wouldn't exactly call her a lesson,” came the answer with more than a hint of playfulness, “but I do hope that you'll be able to learn from each other. Twilight, I'd like you to meet my other student, Sunset Shimmer.” She looked down at the other mare, who suddenly wore a smile that didn't even dream of reaching her eyes.
“Hello,” she said curtly, not moving an inch from her spot beside the Princess.
“Ummm... hi,” Twilight replied, smiling nervously under Sunset's gaze.
If Princess Celestia noticed the tension between the two, she gave no sign of it. Smiling warmly, she continued. “And of course, Sunset, I'd like you to meet Twilight Sparkle and her friend Spike,” she said, motioning to her purple pupil and the baby dragon on her back. “She became my student only a year after you did.”
“I know,” Sunset said without taking her cyan eyes off Twilight, her junior raising a brow in surprise.
“You do?” Twilight said, voicing that surprise.
“Well, Sunset,” Celestia said just as her older student sniffed in contempt, “as always I'm happy to see you've done your research.”
This caused Sunset's smile to turn smug, though only until she looked up at her mentor. “Thank you, Princess. But it's only natural that I stay on top of who's who around here,” she said, superiority glinting in her eyes as she glanced briefly back at Twilight. “I am your number one student, after all.”
Twilight looked down in shame at the remark, her ears folding flat against her head. Spike looked at her with concern, but said nothing.
“Now Sunset,” Celestia lightly chided, “this isn't a competition. Not only do you have a full year of study on Twilight, but you're also different ponies with different priorities and interests. And you are both very special to me,” she said as she stepped between the two and knelt down, spreading her wings and using them to pull her students close to her. “I don't want either of you to ever forget that.”
“We won't, Princess Celestia,” Twilight said, blushing happily as she leaned into her mentor.
“I'll make sure of it,” Spike added, poking his head out from under the great white wing.
“Yeah...,” Sunset said dully, averting her gaze but unable to stop her own blush.
Celestia let out a happy breath, retracting her wings as she drew herself back up to her full height. “It makes me happy to hear that. Now, in celebration of the start of what I'm sure will be a wonderful friendship,” she said as she stepped forward, missing the slightly uncomfortable look that formed on Twilight's face and the definitively annoyed look that formed on Sunset's, “how about a front-row seat as I lower the sun?”
Both of her students, and Spike as well, perked up at the prospect of a rare chance to see the Princess do her sacred duty up close. There were no objections to be had as Celestia led them across the hall to a tall casement door leading out onto a balcony that faced the setting sun; she threw it open with her magic, and walked out onto it. Twilight, Spike, and Sunset followed her in silent awe, all three squinting and averting their eyes from a light that seemed far brighter than it had inside.
Celestia looked straight at it without hesitation. Slowly she took in her breath, and as she did so a brilliant aura of light gold enveloped her horn. She closed her eyes, let out her breath, and her magic flared.
The sun began to set. Inch by inch, foot by foot, mile by mile, the light disappeared below the horizon as the sky above them was slowly painted the reds and oranges and pinks of twilight. The Princess finished her breath and opened her eyes, looking down at her students as they drank in those precious few moments between sunset and moonrise when the sky looked unreal and the stars came out to play.
She allowed herself to bask in it with them; it raised her spirits just as much as the act that caused it had rejuvenated her magic. And then she decided it was time, and she closed her eyes and drew in her breath and summoned her magic and called out to the moon. It answered her call as it had for nearly a thousand years, and her students watched its rise with just as much rapture as they'd had for the setting sun. Celestia looked up at the Mare in the Moon and pulled the three, confused, under her wings once more.
It was all over in a matter of minutes. “Good night, my faithful students,” she said as she lifted her wings and turned around. “And you as well, Spike,” she added, giving the baby dragon a playful smile that he returned in kind. She walked slowly back to the casement door, pausing just before it to look back at the three. “I'll see you all in the morning. I hope you'll use this time before you retire for the night to get to know one another.”
“I'm sure we will, Princess,” Twilight said immediately, Spike nodding along while Sunset struggled to maintain her smile. “Good night.” The three bowed their heads, and Celestia returned the gesture before turning and heading towards her room.
Once the doors to her quarters were shut, Twilight and Sunset turned to each other. “Wow, I never knew Princess Celestia had another student!” she said with rising, unthinking, excitement. “I mean,” she giggled, “obviously she's free to teach whoever she wants, but it's just that I've never heard of you.”
“Wow, I'm flattered,” Sunset said dryly, any vestige of awe or happiness left over from watching her namesake now completely drained away. She made a beeline for the door at a slow walk, deliberately flicking Twilight in the side with her tail as she passed. The younger unicorn flinched, but seemed more confused by the gesture than anything else.
“Hey, if it makes you feel any better, Twilight can barely even remember the names of her classmates at school,” Spike said with a jovial smile, still sitting on Twilight's back as she hastily moved to catch up with her senior.
“Still flattered,” Sunset said, taking hold of the glass doors with her magic and swinging them closed behind her. Twilight caught them in her own magic just before she and Spike were shut out, looking puzzled as she reopened them enough to get back inside. She closed the doors behind her, then caught up with Sunset.
The senior student determinedly did not look at Twilight as she fell in step beside her. “So,” the young asked with a hesitant smile, “do you think that Princess Celestia will have us work together from now on?”
Sunset snorted. “Knowing her,” she grumbled, “I doubt I'll be allowed to do anything by myself ever again.”
Twilight's smile faltered, and in her shock she stopped walking. “I'm sorry,” she said, eyebrow raised in confusion as she trotted back up alongside Sunset, “is there something going on that I don't know about?”
Another snort. “Yeah. A lot of things.” She stopped in her tracks and looked back at Twilight with the same irritated glower she'd had when they'd first met less than half an hour before. “But the most relevant one is the fact that I'm being forced to foalsit a naïve little filly who couldn't even be bothered to find out who I was before we met.”
“Well, I mean, they are just a little filly,” Twilight said, taken aback and more bewildered than ever as Sunset resumed walking. “You can't expect them to know everything.”
“Uhh, Twilight,” Spike whispered into her ear, “I think she's talking about you.”
Twilight's eyes widened with shock as she stopped in her tracks again, but her brow quickly furrowed with anger and she rushed to catch up with Sunset again. “Hey! I'm not some naïve little filly, I'm barely any younger than you!”
“You're fourteen months younger than me,” Sunset said, her tone sharp. “Which only makes how little you seem to know about anything even more of a disgrace. How could you possibly have missed the fact that the Princess had another personal student besides you? Were you too star-struck by being around your idol that you forgot anypony else even existed? Or are you just so full of yourself that you never considered the possibility that someone else got the honor of being her protege first?”
“I... I'm...,” Twilight spluttered for a moment before her emotions settled on righteous indignation. “H-hey! I'll have you know I'm neither of those things!”
“Oh yeah?” Sunset said, wheeling around on her suddenly. “Then what are you, Sparkle?”
Twilight spluttered again as she struggled to think of an answer, and it was Spike who spoke next. “Whoa, hey, hold on!” he said, dismounting Twilight and rushing between her and Sunset. “Princess Celestia wants you to be friends, remember?”
“Hmph,” Twilight sniffed, turning her nose up at him and Sunset. “I have enough friends, thank you very much.”
Sunset let out a cold, dark laugh. “Please. Don't act like you're rejecting me when I never wanted anything to do with you to begin with.” Her words cut through Twilight's indignation, leaving only raw hurt on the younger unicorn's face. “Drill this into your thick skull, Sparkle,” Sunset said, her eyes narrow and her tone icy. “I don't like you. I don't respect you. I don't want you in my life. All you are is the latest in a long line of ponies the Princess has forced on me in a pointless attempt to get me to make friends. As far as I'm concerned you don't even deserve to be here, the only reason Princess Celestia took you on as a student is because of a freak accident.”
Twilight took a step back as Sunset advanced past Spike, mind too overloaded by Sunset's hatred to defend herself. “Unlike you I earned my place by her side,” Sunset continued. “I am better than you, Twilight Sparkle. The sooner you understand that, the easier your life will be.”
She held her glare for a moment, then turned around, flicked her tail in contempt, and walked away.
Spike watched her leave for only a few seconds before he turned, more worried than he'd ever felt, to look back at Twilight. She was gaping in shock and horror, and after a second her hind legs gave out. A second after that her lips began to tremble, and soon tears were falling on her scarf. She curled up and held it tight as she cried; the air in the hallway was far colder than any late autumn wind.
“Alright, Spike, I'm leaving,” Twilight said, adjusting her scarf in the mirror for what she dearly hoped would be the last time this season. Everything about her was haggard, from her voice to her muzzle to her mane, but nevertheless she'd gotten herself dressed for the late-winter weather and packed all the appropriate materials and references in her saddlebags. She looked to her right, and saw her friend walking over with a mug of hot chocolate.
“Good luck,” he told her as he sat down against the wall between a stack of comic books taller than he was and a small bag of mixed gemstones. “I still don't really get why you're bothering to actually meet with Sunset for this.”
Twilight let out a put-upon sigh. It had only been a few months since her rather... disheartening first meeting with Sunset Shimmer, and the mare hadn't exactly gotten easier to live with. Not any harder either, thankfully, but from what Twilight could tell Sunset's attitude towards her ranged between 'colder than the weather outside' and 'smugly looking down at a silly little filly' depending on the day. Begrudgingly she could admit that Sunset's constant disrespect for her and her achievements had spurred her on in her studies and her research just so she could wipe that annoying look off her annoying face, but she wasn't sure it was worth it. Spike certainly didn't.
What kept her going the most was her individual sessions with Princess Celestia, rarer these days though they were. She wanted to make the Princess proud, to see that most special of smiles on her muzzle, and 'making friends' with Sunset Shimmer would do that.
No matter how hard it was. “The Princess doesn't want us to just do separate halves of our group projects individually anymore,” Twilight finally answered. “We have to meet up and do them together.”
“You could just do your own halves in the same room,” Spike pointed out with a helpful smile.
“We already tried that,” Twilight said, lowering her head out of irritation. “It didn't work. Princess Celestia saw through it in an instant.”
“Oh,” Spike said, his face blank. “Well... good luck getting Sunset to listen to what you have to say, I guess.”
Twilight let out a forced, irritated laugh. “Oh, I don't think that'll be a problem this time, Spike. I've come up with no less than five great ideas for our project. I've done all the necessary research to be sure of their effectiveness,” she said with puffed-up pride, “and I've already run them by Professor Polish and Professor Quill and gotten both their assurances that my ideas are both well-thought-out and creative. I'll impress Sunset Shimmer this time for sure!”
“Why do you even want Sunset Shimmer's approval?” Spike asked, pulling the first comic off his stack and opening it up. “You've never really cared about what other ponies thought of you before. Plus, I mean, she's a jerk.”
“True,” Twilight admitted with some reluctance. “But she's also Princess Celestia's student. And I want to know what the Princess saw in her that made her take Sunset on.” She looked back at her reflection, and put a hoof to it. “She's just so different from me. I don't understand it. Why does she only want to learn to be more powerful when learning itself is it's own reward? Why does she like getting other ponies to do stuff for her all the time? Why does she always have to be better than everypony else?”
“Because she's a jerk, like I said?” Spike said.
Twilight face-hoofed. “There's gotta be more to her than that, Spike. There has to be. And I aim to find out what.”
Spike looked at her, then shrugged. “Hey, like I said, good luck. And if you need anything, I'm always happy to help.” He promptly turned his attention back to his comic, tossing a small ruby into his mouth and chasing it with a swig of cocoa.
Twilight looked at him for a good long moment, and smiled. “Thanks, Spike.”
The walk to Advanced Thaumaturgy Lab 6, located in the basement of the School for Gifted Unicorns, had been thankfully uneventful. The weather, though still cold, was pleasant and sunny in preparation for the coming spring, and already many of the younger students were hard at work practicing their magic by clearing away the snow and ice around campus. Her boots aside, Twilight was proud to have not gotten wet once!
It was a far cry from mere days ago when she could barely take two steps before she was pelted with snowballs from ponies wanting some 'friendly fun'. She'd be grateful when it was all gone.
She dutifully made sure to wipe her boots dry on the mat inside the main building, took a breath to steel her nerves, then headed down to the lab. As she'd expected, Sunset was already waiting for her.
“Took you long enough, Sparkle,” she greeted with her usual 'I'm so much better than you' smirk, the one that made Twilight's eye twitch. Sunset looked her over quickly, then added “Congratulations on not being a popsicle this time, though. It wasn't really your look.”
“Thanks,” Twilight said without a speck of gratitude as she made a beeline for her spot across from Sunset, and levitated her bags from her back to the countertop.
Lab 6 was fairly small, housing only a single long workbench in the middle of the room, but was stocked with all the most cutting-edge devices for recording, measuring, interpreting, and otherwise quantifying magic. Or all the ones that didn't require special environments or entire buildings to themselves, anyway. But for Princess Celestia's two personal students it was exactly what they needed - a private little workspace away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the school.
“So,” Sunset asked, still smirking, “do you need me to go over the basics of thaumaturgic resonance frequencies again, or do you have it this time?”
Twilight glared at her. “I have it, thanks. In fact,” she cracked a dark little smile of her own as she opened one of her bags, “not only have I done all my research, I've come up with several ideas for our study of resonance modulation that even you will find interesting.” She pulled several notebooks out with her magic, and nodded proudly.
Sunset raised a brow, then snorted and took the notebooks in her own magic. “If it's to use a crystal array as a stage-2 amplifier, then I'm afraid you're a little late to that party,” she said dismissively, not even bothering to look at Twilight's reaction.
Several tense minutes passed as she read through each notebook in turn, often holding more than one up at the same time so she could cross-reference between them. As she hemmed and hawed and raised her brow a few times Twilight became more and more nervous, even leaning forward in anticipation of Sunset's response.
“Hmm. Not bad, Sparkle,” she finally said. “I'm actually impressed.” She looked up to see Twilight grinning excitedly, then smirked and added “At least, I would be if I hadn't already heard about your ideas from Quill and Polish earlier.”
Her smirk widened into a grin as fell utterly off Twilight's muzzle, replaced by a look of shock and just a little bit of despair. “You... you already knew?” she asked, her voice small and upset. “But it was supposed to be a surprise!”
Sunset shrugged. “Hey, not my fault you didn't keep it secret. They told me willingly.”
“But... but how did you even know to ask them?” Twilight stammered.
She was answered by a disbelieving look. “Because I know how you think?” Sunset told her. “I mean, with how much I've been hounding you to get better it was only a matter of time before you thought to run your bad ideas by somepony else first. Those two were just the most obvious choices since our project is in their fields. Seriously, Sparkle,” she gave her a critical look, “you should know how I operate by now.”
Twilight sighed, drooping in disappointment from her ears to her tail. “You're right,” she said. “I should have seen this coming.”
Sunset rolled her eyes, setting down the notebooks. “Would you stop moping? I meant it when I said I was impressed.” Twilight lifted her head, hope returning to her eyes. “This is the first genuinely good work I've seen from you. You actually managed to come up with a few things before I did for once.”
“Yes!” Twilight cheered, jumping into the air in excitement. She began to bounce around the room, ignoring the irritated eye-roll it provoked from Sunset. “Yes! Yes! Yes! I knew it would finally impress you!”
“Well,” Sunset smirked, “it was only a matter of time before my genius rubbed off on you. You should feel honored!”
Twilight froze in mid-air as a record scratched to a halt in her mind. “Excuse me?” she said as she landed back on her hooves, affronted.
“You heard me, Sparkle,” Sunset told her, matching Twilight's level stare with her own. “You should be happy the Princess forced me to work with you. You never would've gotten this far without my help.”
“Um,” Twilight began before letting out a bitter laugh, “I totally would have. I'll admit that you might have pushed my development along a little,” she added sharply, “but only by a month, at best. I'm not too proud to say that you're talented, Sunset, but despite what you keep telling me I know I have talent too. In fact,” she drew herself up to her full height and raised her head proudly, “I'd say that I'm just as talented as you are.”
It was Sunset's turn to be affronted, her brow shooting up as she drew herself back. “Oh, is that so?” she asked, her horn lighting up with light blue magic. “Care to prove it?”
Twilight laughed again. “I'm not the same pony you left crying in a hallway three months ago, Sunset Shimmer. I'm not scared of your threats.”
Her horn lit up with raspberry-colored magic as the two mares locked narrowed eyes.
It was shaping up to be a good day for Princess Celestia. No monster attacks, no diplomatic crises, no political turmoil, and thanks to a last-minute cancellation no major public appearances, either. It was a rare day that her schedule was so open, and she intended on savoring every minute of it. Currently she was walking through the campus of her school, smiling and conversing with staff and student alike, answering questions and giving out pointers to those who needed it. It truly, truly warmed her heart to be doing it all.
Just before she re-entered the main building she picked up a sizable pile of snow off the ground, taking care to keep it at just the right temperature with her magic. She didn't want it melting before she got to her two prized pupils, after all.
From the start, she'd known that making Sunset and Twilight work together was risky. Despite her lessons neither had truly come to appreciate and value friendship like she'd hoped, and Sunset could be so abrasive and proud that Celestia too often worried about the scars she could inflict on the younger mare. But even so, she could see the changes in both of them already – Sunset, even if she didn't realize it yet, was coming to accept Twilight as an equal; while Twilight was growing more confident and willing to understand other ponies her own age even if it wasn't for entirely the right reasons.
Still, they had a long way to go before she could call them friends, and it wasn't hard for her to imagine one wrong move from either leading to tragedy. That was why she was going out of her way to pay them a surprise visit today – she knew they were going to be working together on their latest joint project, and from what she'd heard from Professor Polish and Professor Quill there was a good chance of a major breakthrough between the two. She just needed to make sure things didn't get too out of hoof before it happened.
So she wasn't too surprised when, upon reaching the basement corridor leading to Advanced Thaumaturgy Lab 6, she saw the door to it fly off in a burst of magic. She let out a heavy sigh, and taking care not to lose control of her levitated snow (or make it too obvious that it was there) she set off for her students at a brisk trot.
The lab wasn't completely destroyed, she noted in the back of her head as she forced the smoke to clear so she could get a better look at the two who had destroyed it. As suspected Twilight had been the victim of the last spell, covered in soot with her mane and tail all a-frazzle and her ears enlarged and flapping like wings. But Sunset was far from unscathed herself, her hooves having seemingly lost all grip as she stumbled and slid on tiled floor, and her entire body changing colors quickly and randomly.
“Why won't you just admit that I'm just as good as you are!” Twilight shouted, unaware of Celestia's presence behind her.
“Why won't you just admit that you needed me!” Sunset countered, equally ignorant. Both girls began to charge their magic again.
“Why don't both of you just cool your heads,” Celestia interrupted, her voice strong and smooth, cutting clear through the tension in the room. Her students had just enough time to turned shocked and guilty looks her way before she dropped the snow on them.
She put a hoof to her mouth and giggled when their heads popped out of it, their eyes wide. “So, I think you two have some explaining to do,” she said, raising a brow expectantly. They both launched into frantic explanations immediately, and while it was at times somewhat difficult to hear them over each other Celestia was pleased to hear them both take responsibility for the damage they'd caused.
“I see,” she told them, her smile returning. “Well then, I suppose cleaning up this mess will be another valuable bonding exercise for you two.”
“Y-you're not mad at us?” Twilight hesitantly asked, looking as though her entire world was about to end.
“Yeah, we wrecked the lab!” Sunset chimed in, more shocked than anything else.
“While I'm certainly disappointed,” Celestia answered them, “I wouldn't say that I'm mad. Equipment, no matter how valuable, can be replaced. You, my faithful students, cannot.” She pleasantly noted the look of surprise they shared with one another. “Now,” she said with a mirthful smile, stepping further into the room, “why don't the two of you tell me what you learned from this? About each other.” Their eyes widened in surprise again, and she looked at the older of the two. “Sunset? You first.”
“Uhh, well,” she said, shaking the snow from her coat and rubbing the back of her head. “I guess...I learned that Twilight's closer to my level than I realized.” Even though Sunset sheepishly and stubbornly refused to make eye contact, Twilight was still visibly surprised by what she said.
“And?” Celestia asked, raising a brow. “Is there anything you'd like to say to her?”
Sunset sighed. “And...I'm sorry for looking down on you so much,” she added, reluctantly but sincerely. “You clearly didn't deserve it.” She looked at Twilight, and offered her a small smile. After a moment, Twilight returned it.
“And you, Twilight?” the Princess continued, turning her gaze.
“Oh, um,” Twilight said with a start, taken off-guard by the question. “I guess I learned that even Sunset's not completely mean, and that I care more about what she thinks than I realized. I... don't really know what I should apologize for, though,” she said, giving Sunset a sheepish smile. “Sorry.”
Sunset quickly glanced at Celestia, who merely smiled at her. So she sighed, and said “It's... okay. I guess I was the one in the wrong here anyway.”
Celestia beamed down at both of them “I hope this is a sign that the two of you have settled your differences,” she told the pair as she stepped between them. “It just goes to show that even a frigid start-” she gathered up all the melting snow with her magic- “can lead to a happy ending-” she vanished the whole of it in an instant, and drew them close to her with her wings.
Sunset and Twilight looked at each other hesitantly, and smiled.
Twilight screwed up her muzzle in concentration, horn aglow as she shaped her magic into the proper counterspell and launched it at Sunset.
“Did it work?” Sunset asked the moment it struck her, frantically checking her legs and back. She let out a sigh of relief as she saw them return to their normal coloration. “Finally. I was worried I'd have to walk around like that all day.”
“Hey, it only took me two tries to reverse it,” Twilight said, the defiance in her voice doing nothing to hide the embarrassment on her cheeks. “And only one try to reverse the slipping spell, and that was with you flailing around!”
Sunset rolled her eyes. “Still took you more than one try to counter a simple color-changing spell,” she said with a surprising amount of playfulness in her voice.
Twilight leveled a stare at the older filly as she walked past towards the workbench in the middle of the slightly-ruined Advanced Thaum Lab 6, then smirked. “I guess it just proves how good I am with magic that a simple color-changing spell was so persistent.”
“Hah hah. You're lucky the Princess intervened when she did,” came the reply, Sunset's joviality melting away just enough to make Twilight a little nervous. “Otherwise, I would've shown you what a really persistent spell looked like.”
An awkward laugh tried and failed to fill the air as Twilight moved to the center workbench as well. “Ummm, right. Let's just focus on cleaning up the mess we made like Princess Celestia told us. Shouldn't be too hard, right?”
The two fell silent as they surveyed the damage their argument had caused. The sturdy top of the workbench they'd been using, designed to withstand the effects of magical experimentation, had held true to its purpose and was only slightly scuffed. The notes and papers the two girls had brought for their research project had fared much worse, and Twilight frowned in dismay upon lifting a notebook in her magic only for half its pages to disintegrate.
And, of course, the lab was littered with the after-effects of spells that had missed their intended targets. A magnetometer was vibrating so wildly it threatened to knock neighboring instruments from their tables; the needle of a thaumic barometer was spinning so fast it had achieved lift; and acrid yellow smoke was pouring out of, of all things, a thermal indexer. And Twilight didn't even want to begin to think about the things that had just straight-up been broken.
She did, however, eye a number of suspicious-looking objects that now laid in odd places and wondered how many of them had been in the room when she had arrived.
“I'd say we have our work cut out for us,” Sunset finally said, snapping Twilight out of her pondering.
“Agreed,” Twilight said with a curt nod, grabbing in her magic a quill and a blank piece of parchment that had gone mostly undamaged and levitating them over to her. “Let's see, we'll have to identify and dispel any lingering spell-effects first, then take an inventory of what was damaged... that'll take awhile...”
She wrote as she spoke, the sound of quill scribbling against parchment soothing her as she carefully walked around the room and surveyed the damage. It wasn't until she reached 'Dispose of the broken glass that's been swept up' that she noticed Sunset was on the other side of the room scrutinizing a beach ball.
“What are you doing?” Twilight asked, brow raised and quill motionless.
“Cleaning up, what does it look like?” came the reply, Sunset not taking her eyes off the ball. Her muzzle screwed up in concentration and her horn flared with magic, and in a flash the ball transformed back into a beam balance. “What are you doing?” she then asked, looking back over her shoulder.
“I'm creating a checklist so we know what to clean up and thus when we've finished cleaning,” Twilight answered, brow trying to raise even higher. “Isn't it obvious?”
“I guess,” Sunset shrugged, moving over to a nearby potted plant. “I just don't see the point. We can see what needs to be done.” She paused just long enough to turn the plant back into a small filing cabinet, then gave Twilight a smug look. “And we'll know when we're finished.”
“But what if we miss something!” Twilight countered. She trotted over to Sunset, pausing only a moment to gingerly step around some unidentified spill. She added identifying and removing it to the checklist, then looked back at Sunset. “It's bad enough that we wrecked the lab in the first place, what'll Princess Celestia think if we can't clean it up?!”
Sunset turned around and gave her junior and annoyed look. “Relax, Sparkle. If the two of us can't get this mess completely cleaned up, then something must seriously be wrong with the world. So just stop worrying about the checklist-” she seized both quill and parchment in her magic and pulled them away from Twilight- “pick a spot to work on, and start cleaning.”
Twilight didn't budge. In fact, her worried eyes narrowed into a glare. “I will,” she told Sunset, “after I finish documenting everything that needs to be done.” With a swift yank she pulled her list back in front of her, then turned her back on her senior. “You might be willing to risk forgetting something, but I'm not.”
“Fine, fine,” Sunset said, rolling her eyes again. She sighed, and Twilight resumed her survey. “I guess I might as well give you this one since we're supposed to be...,” she rolled a forehoof in a gesture of vague distaste, “friends... now, or whatever...”
'Friends'. Twilight stopped in mid-step upon hearing the word, her ears swiveling back before the rest of her head followed. Disbelief was plain on her face. “Really? We're friends now, just like that?”
“I don't know, I guess?” Sunset said, flicking her tail in frustration as she turned herself to the next cleaning task. “I mean, we might as well finally try, right? Unless you want to go back to hating each other...”
“No no, friends is good,” Twilight said quickly, a nervous smile appearing on her lips that she quickly tried to hide by turning away. She only lasted a second before looking back. “It's just surprising. To be honest, I wasn't sure how truthful you were being with the Princess earlier.”
Sunset sighed, grabbing the flying barometer and with her hooves and giving it a zap of magic. The needle returned to its normal fluctuations after that. “I was being honest, okay?” She set the barometer down on one of the side tables. “I'm not gonna look down on you anymore.”
“Oh, well, that's a relief,” Twilight said, her nerves easing back into a gentle happiness as she assessed the damage to a set of beakers. It wasn't good, and with a grimace she gingerly set the broken glass back down on a bench and made a note of it. “Think of all the progress we'll be able to make now that we're cooperating instead of competing!”
“Oh, we're still competing,” Sunset countered with a sharpness that made Twilight flinch stumble into a stationary cloud of pink dust.
She dropped out of it moments later, coughing up glitter. She pounded her chest a couple times, then weakly looked up at Sunset and asked “Come again?”
“We're still competing, Sparkle,” Sunset told her, changing another potted plant back into its original form – a blank crystal array, in this case. “Just because I accept that you're more-or-less my equal doesn't mean I'm gonna cut you any slack. I still aim to be the best, and you're my number one competition. I just won't be mean about it as long as you keep up with me.”
Twilight stared at her for a moment, then let out a long, exasperated sigh. “Are you sure you're trying to be friends with me? Because I may not know much about friendship, but,” she rolled her head, “this doesn't really seem like friendship.”
Sunset shrugged and moved on to a glowing stain on the tile floor. “Hey, for once I'm just as clueless about this as you are.” Twilight gave her back a sour look. Sunset gave her chin a scratch, then shrugged again. “We probably should have paid more attention to what the Princess was saying about friendship. But better late than never, I guess.”
“I guess,” Twilight echoed, uncertainty on her muzzle as she turned back to her self-appointed task. Her attention to it only lasted a few seconds, however. “And you didn't really answer my question.”
It was Sunset's turn for an exasperated sigh. “Yes, I'm trying to be friends with you,” she repeated in her most put-upon voice, and while Twilight couldn't see them she was sure Sunset's eyes were rolling. “I'm just... doing it without compromising who I am as a pony. I'll admit it'll take some getting used to, for me especially.” She gave the stain she was working on a zap of magic, then hummed in displeasure at the result. “But I'm willing to give it a try if you are.”
She paused, and looked back at Twilight. “You are willing to give it a try, right?” she asked, eyes narrowed and tone icy.
Twilight tried to reply, but all that came out at first was an awkward laugh. “S-sure! I'm just not sure how. The only friends I've had before you are Spike and my brother, and I get the feeling being friends with you is gonna be, well, different.”
Sunset snorted, and muttered something under her breath while resuming her stain-removal work that Twilight didn't quite catch.
“The point is, where do we even begin?” she continued, quill and list still floating patiently nearby as Twilight stayed aboard her train of thought. “Is there a book on friendship we can read?”
Sunset stopped working again and looked up in thought. “Maybe? I mean, the archives are pretty big and somepony's bound to have written down something about friendship, right? I mean,” a light smile graced her lips, “I've seen books on lint in there before. There has to be something in there about friendship.”
“But what if all the copies have been checked out? Or they only have editions that are out-of-date?” Twilight asked, her breathing beginning to quicken. “What if Princess Celestia wants us to figure it out on our own, and gets mad at us for consulting a book? What if she wants us to ask her? What if-”
Whatever panicked question she was about to ask next was lost when her checklist and quill were unceremoniously stuffed into her mouth. “Calm down, Sparkle, honestly,” Sunset chided, walking over. “As if the Princess would get mad at us for doing research. Especially research on something she's been bugging us about since we became her personal students.”
Twilight spit out her belongings, too dazed to care that they were damp with saliva. “Right. Right. Of course! Obviously,” she said as her breathing slowed, more to herself than to Sunset. “Right. So... we'll go to the library and look for books on friendship, together. Doing things together is part of friendship, right?” she asked, looking up at Sunset with resurgent worry.
“I... think so?” Sunset answered, looking up and pawing at the floor a little. “That's the point, isn't it? Spending time with other ponies and appreciating them, or something like that? If nothing else, we'll find out once we do the research.”
“Right. That's right.” Finally convinced, Twilight let out a sigh of relief and stood back up. “It's settled, then. Let's go to the library and find some books on friendship.”
She turned to head for the doorway, only stopping when she felt a tug on her tail. When she looked back over her shoulder, Sunset let it go and leveled a glare her way. “Where do you think you're going?” she asked angrily. “We still have to clean up the lab, remember?”
Twilight blinked, noticed the state of the room, and when it all came rushing back to her she gasped hard enough she jumped. “Oh no! How could I forget so quickly?” She frantically dashed back to her fallen checklist and quill and took them both up again, looking around the room and making notes as fast as she could. “Thank you so much Sunset Shimmer, I almost made a huge mistake!”
She didn't hear Sunset's grumbled reply as the older filly trudged off to resume her battle with the floor stain.
“Hey, Twilight?” Spike asked. “Can I ask you something real quick?”
Spike snickered into his claws, not that Twilight noticed. “Do you mind if I rearrange a few things?”
“Nope,” she murmured, eyes glued to the page in front of her. She was reading a thick tome on the history of the steam engine; to her right was a small pile of similarly steam-related books, and to her left a much taller stack of ones she hadn't yet read.
Again, Spike kept himself from laughing too hard. His every move full of mischief, he tiptoed over to a bookshelf and switched a whopping four books onto different shelves. Epic prank completed, he stifled his guffaws and walked back over to Twilight. Making sure to keep a healthy two feet from her, he leaned in and slyly asked “Can I... have the last of your potato chips?” He waggled his brow for extra-devious emphasis that he knew wouldn't be noticed.
“Mm-hm,” Twilight said. She turned the page.
“Thanks Twilight!” Spike told her, scurrying off to the lower level of their home before she could take it back.
“Mm-hm,” Twilight said again, focus still entirely on her book.
Spike stuck a claw inside the mostly-empty bag the moment he could, closing the pantry door with his foot and heading back towards the stairway. “Not as good as gems,” he remarked with a smile, soon stuffing it with chips. He made short work of them, adding “But still tasty!”
Another clawful of oily goodness on the stairs, and he got to thinking. “Now, what next? I bet I can make Twilight agree to all sorts of goofy things!”
He laughed, but the moment he reached the top of the stairs a pounding at the door gave him pause. He looked over at Twilight, but she didn't seem to have noticed.
More pounding at the door, this time accompanied by an angry (though muffled) shout of “Are you in there, Sparkle? Open up!”
Recognizing the voice, Spike dithered anxiously for a moment before looking back and telling Twilight “I'll get that for you!”
He was halfway down the stairs by the time Twilight mumbled “Thanks, Spike.”
A third round of impatient door-pounding had come and gone by the time he was able to answer the door, and the moment it was open a crack Sunset Shimmer forced her way in. A cold wind followed her, and Spike shivered. “Brr. First big snow of the new year, huh?”
“Yeah,” Sunset said shortly, closing the door with her magic then shaking a light dusting of snow from her mane and back. “And I really don't appreciate having to walk through it to track down Twilight.”
Spike blinked. “Well why'd you do it in the first place?”
“Because she didn't show up when she was supposed to,” Sunset answered, craning her neck to look around the room, “and I got tired of waiting in the library after fifteen minutes.” She turned her head to Spike just as he stuffed another clawful of chips into his mouth. “She is here, right?”
He swallowed immediately and without trouble. “Oh yeah. She's just, y'know-” he leaned forward conspiratorially with a claw raised to shield his lips from nonexistent readers- “in the 'Twilight Zone' right now. Has been all day.”
Sunset raised a brow, and raised her head in the direction of Twilight's desk. “Really? What subject is she trying to get ahead of me in this time?”
“I don't know,” Spike answered, mouth half-full again. “Something about steam, I think.”
“...huh,” Sunset said, looking back down at Spike. “I wonder what brought that on. Did the Princess send her a new book today or something?”
Spike swallowed. “Not that I can remember. Besides, her reading list is pretty backed-up right now.”
Sunset's brow creased, and she stared back up the stairway. “Yeah, well, it's gonna keep being backed-up the way she studies.” She sighed, then put on a small smirk. “Oh well. Might as well have some fun with her while she's in the zone.”
She began a slow, cautious walk up the stairs, ears alert as she made each silent step. Spike giggled, then scurried after her. “Yeah. I've been doing that all morning.”
Twilight didn't so much as twitch her ears at their approach, not like they expected anything less. The pair shared a mischievous look, then Sunset cleared her throat. “Hey, Twilight,” she began in a peppy voice, grin quickly broadening. “Can I style your mane real quick? There's a new look I wanna check out, but I need a model first.”
“Go ahead,” Twilight droned, still thoroughly lost in her book. Spike snickered into his claws.
“Thanks,” Sunset said, voice dripping with smarm. She quickly bit her lip, though, stifling her giggles as she took Twilight's mane in her magic. Her touch was light and her work quick, though she didn't style it so much as tie into a number of ugly, uneven tails.
“Oh, it looks beautiful,” she said once her work was complete. She stifled another laugh and looked down at Spike to see him doing the same.
“Totally,” he said.
“What do you think, Twilight, do you like it?” Sunset asked next, as sweetly as she could manage.
“Yup,” Twilight answered without so much as looking to the side. She turned the page, and the two pranksters had to look away from her entirely to hide their laughs.
It was Spike who took the next crack with childish eagerness. “Hey, hey Twilight. Can you get me some rubies tomorrow? I've got a new recipe I wanna try out.”
“Sure thing, Spike,” Twilight answered automatically. She turned the page.
“Actually, how about you take us all out to dinner tomorrow night?” Sunset added moments later. “It's been awhile since you treated us.”
“Mm-hm” was the response she got.
Sunset opened her mouth to say something else, but Spike cut her off with a tug on the shoulder. “Wow, I can't believe she agreed to that,” Spike whispered, leaning towards her. “You think she'll remember this tomorrow?”
She gave him an incredulous look. “Of course not! She's not even really listening to us, you should know that by now.”
Spike squirmed under her gaze, twiddling his claws and looking down in shame. “I know, I just hoped that, y'know, maybe this time would be different. I really do have a new gem recipe I wanna try out...”
“Then ask for some rubies for Hearth's Warming or something,” she hissed.
“But I thought you weren't supposed to ask for specific Hearth's Warming presents!” Spike protested, squirming even more at the thought.
Sunset rolled her eyes. “Then heavily suggest it, whatever. Just don't expect Twilight to know what you want if you don't tell her.”
Spike looked down thoughtfully for a moment before looking back up at Sunset. “Are you gonna tell her what you want for Hearth's Warming?”
Sunset froze, blinked, and looked over at Twilight. Twilight turned the page. “That doesn't matter. Knowing Twilight she'll probably just get me a new book, and I trust her enough to know what I haven't read yet. Besides,” she looked down as a frown formed on her muzzle, “I don't think there's anything I really want for Hearth's Warming.”
“Well, if you say so,” Spike said with brow raised, sensing there was more to it than that but unwilling to press the issue.
Sunset let out a heavy breath, then smiled. “Let's get back to the fun stuff, okay?” Without waiting for a response she sidled up alongside Twilight, taking care not to touch the other mare. Spike saw her smile become sickly-sweet as she batted her eyelashes at Twilight and stuck his tongue out in distaste.
“Twilight, I'm the most beautiful, talented, and powerful unicorn in all of Equestria, right?” She batted her eyelashes again for what was almost certainly effect, as Twilight still wasn't paying her any attention.
“Nope,” Twilight answered without missing a beat. Spike immediately began to laugh as Sunset's face dropped into a glare, and only stopped when that glare was leveled at him. Eventually, anyway.
Feeling mischievous again, Spike hurried around to Twilight's other side. “Hey, you know what I think Sunset would like for Hearth's Warming?” he stage-whispered, eyes locked to Sunset's on Twilight's other side. “A new friendship book.”
Watching Sunset's puzzled look morph into one of utter horror and fury in the span of half a second very nearly made Spike crack up entirely, and he had to stuff a fist into his mouth to keep himself on his feet and reasonably quiet.
“Don't be ridiculous,” Twilight droned in the same far-off voice as the rest of her answers. “And I thought we all decided to never speak of those things again.”
“E-even in the Twilight Zone,” Spike said between struggled breaths, “she still remembers how much you two hated those things! That's rich!”
“Yeah, hah hah,” Sunset spat at him, her fury already down to a steady glaring hate. “I think we've had enough of this for now. Time to do what I came here to do.” She moved a hoof to Twilight's shoulder, hovering just inches away from it, and Spike stopped laughing immediately. “Snap out of it Sparkle, we've got business to take care of.”
She gave Twilight a good poke, and the effect was instantaneous – Twilight let out a startled shout and recoiled away from the touch so hard she flailed her forelegs and fell over onto her side.
“Who? What? Where?” she said once she propped herself back up on her forelegs, looking wildly around her. Her gaze settled on Sunset on the third pass. “Sunset? What are you doing here? I thought we weren't supposed to meet until... until...”
Sunset raised a brow.
Twilight paled. Then she looked back over her shoulder at the massive, couldn't-possibly-miss-it hourglass that dominated the floor and paled even more.
“S-schedule, where's my schedule?!” she cried, panic setting in as swiftly as she turned to her desk and started looking through her stacks of books.
Spike looked around as well, and quickly found what he was looking for – a small, nondescript planner – on a nearby shelf. Retrieving it with ease, he carried it over to his frantic surrogate sister and presented it to her. “Er, here it is, Twilight,” he said, the guilt and remorse in his voice unnoticed as Twilight immediately pulled it from his claws with her magic.
Indistinctly nervous mutterings tumbled out of her mouth as she flipped to the relevant page. It wasn't long before she lowered it, horror etched into every feature as she looked at Sunset with wide eyes. She mouthed something just barely audible.
“What was that?” Sunset asked, making a show of putting her hoof up to her ear.
“...I didn't write it down...” Twilight repeated at little more than a squeaky whisper.
Sunset's brow shot up and Twilight recoiled in shock. “I'm sorry, did you say you didn't write it down? That isn't like you, Sparkle.”
“I know!” Twilight blurted out. She stared down at the open planner and put a hoof on her forehead, mumbling “I... I, I, I must've... gotten distracted. Or, no wait, I had this afternoon marked as 'Free Time', so I thought I wouldn't forget our appointment even without the schedule, since there was nothing else I had to do! But then the snow started falling,” she tilted her head upward, though didn't quite look out the window overlooking her desk. “And, and I thought I could get some reading in,” she turned her gaze back to the other mare, “and I'm so sorry, Sunset!”
She even dropped her planner entirely and got up close to Sunset, eyes pleadingly large and ears laid flat.
Sunset looked at her for a moment, sighed, and face-hoofed. “It's fine, Sparkle. Seriously. It's not that big of a deal.”
“But... but... but I missed our appointment!” Twilight stammered. “And not just any appointment! Our appointment to decide our Hearth's Warming gift to Princess Celestia!”
“Yeah, but we only made the appointment yesterday,” Sunset replied with a light shrug, floating the dropped planner in front of her and looking through it. “And besides, we both have the time to do it now. Just call it an...” She tapped a hoof on her chin a few times before deciding on “Impromptu rescheduling!”
“Rescheduling?” Twilight repeated as though she'd just been told somepony had died. Her hindquarters even gave out.
Spike took a few steps towards Sunset and squinted suspiciously at her. “You're being awfully calm about this considering how ticked off you were when you got here,” he said.
Sunset shrugged. “Hey, I won't say I'm not mad. Twilight Zone or not, I don't like getting blown off. This is just something she'll have to repay me for later,” she said, leveling a devious smirk at her junior.
“It is?” Twilight said, her horror fading away. She blinked, then put on an anxious smile. “Of course it is! Obviously. I missed our appointment, so-” She stopped abruptly. Blinked. And then screwed her muzzle up in confusion. “Wait, 'Twilight Zone'?”
“Yeah,” Spike laughed. “It's when you get all, like, super into whatever you're studying and start forgetting or ignoring everything else. I came up with the name myself,” he finished with pride in his voice.
“It's a pretty good one,” Sunset admitted when Twilight looked at her. “Now, are we going to figure out the Princess' Hearth's Warming gift or am I going to have to get her something by myself like last year?”
That prompted a panicked gasp from Twilight. “No! No no no,” she stammered, standing up fully. “I'm ready to figure this out. Do you have any ideas?” Dancing antsily on her hooftips, she spun back around to her stack of books and began to sort through them quickly. “Because I have ideas. Did you want me to say them first?”
“Go ahead,” Sunset replied. A small smirk seen only by Spike formed on her lips. “I don't suppose your ideas have anything to do with steam, do they?”
“Yeah! How did you know?” Twilight replied, shock on her face and no less than three books with 'steam' in the title floating around her.
“Just a hunch,” Sunset said, eyes drifting towards the tomes.
Twilight looked that way as well, and her expression flattened. “Oh. Right. Well, I really think that steam power has enough potential that we can incorporate it into any number of designs the Princess will enjoy. I mean,” she giggle-snorted, “obviously it's not as useful as standard magic power, but it's still good enough for a variety of labor-saving devices. Like an automatic door-opener, or an automatic candle lighter-and-douser, or even a personal steam whistle! She can use it to signal things! Like when court is adjourned!” she told Sunset with an incredibly earnest look. “Or when she'd like a piece of cake!”
“She does love her cake,” Sunset said, thoughtfully tapping her chin.
“Exactly!” Twilight practically shouted out of sheer enthusiasm. “I've already cross-referenced both current and historical steam engine designs in order to determine which is best suited for our needs,” she said, opening each of the books that was floating around her so that Sunset could see them. “The Bronzehoof model is more compact,” she explained, moving one book closer. “But the Baltimare Aeolipile produces far more energy. And of course we need to take into account reservoir size, pipe installation, boilers-”
A hoof on her muzzle cut her off. “Yeah, no offense, but I don't think we should be getting the Princess a Hearth's Warming gift that requires extensive remodeling of the palace,” Sunset said with a little bit of sharpness and absolutely no remorse. She lowered her hoof.
Twilight stared at her for a moment, then looked back at the books floating in front of her. “Well, there wouldn't be that much remodeling, but I think I see your point.” She moved two of the books back to the table, and levitated three more to take their places. “Luckily, I have several ideas for portable steam-powered devices based off the work of Sauna Sweat that shouldn't be too hard to move around with the proper application of weight-reducing spells. Did you know that in northern Equestria, steam baths are often a communal affair? They-”
Once again, Sunset cut her off with a hoof on the muzzle. “That sounds fascinating, Sparkle, it really does, but I think we need to get back on track here. You shared your gift ideas, so how about I share mine?”
She removed her hoof, and Twilight blinked. “Oh! Right. Yes. Go ahead, Sunset,” she said, donning a smile and sitting down.
“Right,” Sunset nodded, putting on a smile of her own and drawing herself up. “So, it goes without saying that we need to get her something personal.” She began to pace back and forth in front of Twilight and Spike, and the two followed her every move. “Every year she gets given tons of expensive gifts from nobles and dignitaries – books, gems, statues, paintings, relics, you name it. But none of that stuff is what she really wants.” She stamped her hoof dramatically to emphasize her revelation.
“What she really wants?” Twilight repeated. She shared a look with Spike.
“Umm, what does the Princess really want?” Spike asked.
“Easy,” Sunset said, looking back at them with an unnerving intensity in her eyes. “You know what Princess Celestia does all day when she's not teaching us? Either meeting with a bunch of stiffs who want her to give them things or making public appearances at whatever two-bit festival or store opening managed to book her. She never gets any time for herself!”
“Ooookay, but what are we supposed to do about it?” Twilight asked, raising an eyebrow and cocking an ear. “We're just her students, we can't do anything about her schedule!”
“Can't we, Sparkle?” Sunset asked with a knowing smirk. “Can't we?”
Twilight shared another confused look with Spike, then hazarded a “No?”
“Pfft, fine, maybe you can't,” Sunset said, rolling her eyes. “But I can.”
“How?” Twilight questioned, her confusion overrun by skepticism. “Nopony's just gonna give up their appointment with the Princess just because you asked.”
Sunset tutted and shook her head. “You should really know by now not to underestimate me, Sparkle. I've got enough dirt on the ponies in this town to clear Princess Celestia's schedule for at least a week.”
Twilight face-hoofed. “Sunset, we're not blackmailing half of Canterlot into giving her a week off for the Princess' Hearth's Warming present.”
“Hey, don't worry!” Sunset replied with a bright smile, sidling up alongside her and throwing a foreleg around her shoulders. “I'll handle all the blackmail. You just need to get me a copy of the Princess' schedule.” She detached herself, then gave Twilight a sly look. “Unless you don't think you're up to the challenge...?” She wiggled her eyebrows.
Twilight immediately became thoughtful. “Well, I suppose it wouldn't be too difficult to convince Ms. Raven to give me a copy if she knows it's for the Princess' present...” And then, just as quickly, she blinked and shook away her complacency. “No! I'm not going to ask her,” she said with a defiant stomp, “because we're not going to resort to blackmail!”
“Oh come on, Sparkle, just think!” Sunset said. “We'll have an entire week with the Princess all to ourselves!”
“Do you really think Princess Celestia would be okay with us bullying our way into spending time with her?” Twilight countered. “Because I don't!”
“Well how else do you suggest we get her some free time?” Sunset asked testily. “Bribery? Because we do not have that kind of money, even together.”
“We don't need to get her free time!” Twilight yelled. “We can get her something else!”
“Like what, some steam-powered contraption?” Sunset said, angrily pointing at Twilight's books. “Cause I hate to break it to you, Sparkle, but those aren't exactly practical gift ideas.”
“Neither is committing a bunch of crimes to clear her schedule!” Twilight replied, throwing her forelegs into the air.
Spike, who had been silently watching the two throughout the discussion-turned-argument, decided to take the chance to speak up before things got even more heated. “W-well, why don't we just... bake her a cake or something? It's simple, it's personal, and I'm sure she'll love it.”
He flinched under the combined glares of Sunset Shimmer and Twilight Sparkle. The former broke her gaze first, turning her muzzle up at him and sniffing in disdain. “Please. Princess Celestia deserves something way better than some measly cake.”
“No offense, Spike, but I have to agree with Sunset on this,” Twilight said, closing her eyes and becoming calm. “I suppose we have no choice but to work together to come up with a new idea for Princess Celestia's Hearth's Warming gift,” she told Sunset. Her eyes popped open into a pointed look, and she added “One that doesn't involve acts that neither she nor I would approve of.”
“Or anything impractical or impersonal,” Sunset added with a pointed look of her own.
“Fine. It's a deal, then,” Twilight said, defiantly closing her eyes and looking away.
“Yeah. Deal,” Sunset replied, mirroring the gesture though with a haughty flip of her mane.
Spike looked from one to the other and back again, then sighed and shrugged. “Whatever. You two do what you want,” he grumbled, “I'm just gonna bake her a cake.” He turned and left for the stairs before the next round of 'discussion' could start.
“In conclusion, the spatial requirements for class-3 transmutative spellwork to be seeded properly restrict its use to a far greater degree than does simple magic power limitations. It is for this reason that the ability to perform such spellwork does not conform to Stellar's First Law. Therefore, a unicorn trying to do class-3 transmutation should first ensure that the surrounding environment does not have too high a density of ambient magic before enlisting any necessary casting assistance from other unicorns.”
Twilight finished the reading with a satisfied nod, rolled up the scroll, and waited.
And looked down at her assistant, who was balancing a spoon on his nose. Or trying to, anyway – it fell off when she cleared her throat at him. “Well, Spike?”
“Huh-wha? Oh!” the dragonling stammered, focus returning to his eyes as he looked at Twilight. “It was, uhh... academic!” he said after a blatant attempt at searching for the right word to say. “Yeah, real academic,” he added with a proud nod. “Good job, Twilight!”
She wasn't amused, and frowned accordingly.
“Spike, this is important,” she told him, trotting past him for no real reason beyond a need to move about. “Princess Celestia is expecting my report on class-3 transmutation in three days, and it has to be perfect! I have to spend as much time working on it as possible.”
“Well, it's not that big a deal,” Spike said, watching her pace. “I mean, you already finished it, right? So all you have to do is revise it, and you've got three whole days!”
Twilight immediately spun around to face him. “But what if I find something wrong that requires me to rewrite an entire section?” she asked, unable to stop her growing panic. She gasped. “What if I have to rewrite the entire paper?!”
Spike scoffed. “Since when has something like that ever happened to you?”
“There's a first time for everything, Spike!”
“Well if you're really that worried,” Spike offered, “just have Sunset look over it when she gets here!”
He motioned down towards the front door just as there was a knock at it. “Hey, right on cue!” Spike said brightly, hustling downstairs without hesitation.
Twilight hemmed and hawed for a few seconds before setting her rolled-up essay on her desk and trotting after him. She reached the bottom just as Spike opened the door and Sunset walked in.
“Hey, you two ready to go?” she asked with a smile, looking directly at Twilight.
“Uhh, yeah! Definitely!” Twilight answered, forcing herself to smile back.
“Twilight's having essay problems,” Spike answered after Sunset gave him a questioning look. “Could you look it over so she'll stop worrying about it?”
“Yeah, sure,” Sunset said without hesitation, looking back at Twilight. “You want me to look at it now, or when we get back?”
Twilight suddenly found herself laughing nervously and walking past her towards the open door. “Mmmmaybe later,” she answered. “I'd rather not keep my brother waiting, you know how busy he is.”
Sunset shrugged and turned to follow. “Hey, no complaints here. The last thing I want is to throw you off schedule.” She said this in a teasing tone, and both mares laughed. Behind them, Spike closed the door to his and Twilight's apartment before scurrying forward and hopping on his surrogate sister's back.
“Ha ha,” she said dryly as they walked side-by-side down the stairs and onto the pathways crisscrossing campus. “Thanks for helping me keep it, then. Though I am still surprised you wanted to come have lunch with me and Shining Armor.”
Again, Sunset shrugged. “What can I say? I kinda just wanna meet him.” She looked up in thought for a moment, then said “Well, meet him in a way that lets me talk to him, anyway. I don't think seeing him for a few seconds after meetings and stuff really counts.”
They laughed again. “Well, that's my brother for you,” Twilight said. “He's barely had time for anypony since he became Captain of the Royal Guard. I'm lucky he had any spare time to have lunch with me.”
“And on such a nice day, too,” Sunset said, the three looking up at the bright sun and cloudless sky. “Only a few of these days left before fall really sets in.”
“I know!” Twilight said, feeling herself beam as bright as the sun. “I only wish he had time for more than just lunch.”
“Yeah,” Spike said in a teasing tone, “I bet he'd love to proofread your essay.”
Sunset laughed, and Twilight rolled her eyes. “Yes,” she told him with a smile. “But I was thinking more along the lines of just spending more time with him catching up. I'd love to tell him about everything I've learned, and I'm sure he has lots of stories to tell me about being Captain of the Royal Guard.”
“Probably,” Sunset said with a bemused smile of her own. “Say, you don't happen to know if he's bringing Princess Cadance with him, do you? I know it's a long shot given how busy she is, but I've been meaning to talk to her and it'd be pretty convenient. I...,” she looked down and away, “have some things I need to apologize for.”
“My old foalsitter?” Twilight asked, cocking an ear and a brow. “What does she have to do with anything?”
“She's-” Sunset began to reply, giving Twilight a look of utter incredulity that Twilight didn't understand. Then Sunset blinked, did a double-take, and gave her a look that was somehow even more incredulous than the last one. “Wait, you were foalsat by the Princess of Love? Seriously?!”
Her question was hostile enough to spark a flash of fear and worry in Twilight, who flinched and folded her ears back. “Wh-what? Th-that isn't a problem, is it?” she stammered, eyes darting around to see if anypony was judging her for her apparent wrong-doing.
“No, no,” Sunset said, a hoof over her closed eyes. “It's fine, Twilight. I'm just surprised that a princess would resort to foalsitting.”
“Ohhhhh, ha ha ha, right...” Sheepish laughter out of the way, Twilight allowed the tension to leave her body. She and Sunset resumed walking shortly after. “Well, whatever her reasons, she sure was the best foalsitter ever!” she said, smiling brightly at the memories.
Sunset chuckled. “I'll take your word for it. So, you know if she's coming to lunch with Shining Armor?”
“Why would she?” Twilight replied, raising an eyebrow.
Sunset mirrored the gesture. “Because she's dating your brother?”
“She is?” Spike asked.
Twilight laughed at the absurdity of it. “What? No she's not... Shining Armor? Dating? Him?”
Whatever else she meant to say was lost to the giggles and snorts, which didn't stop until Sunset fixed her with a level glare. “Sparkle, they're like the most famous couple in all of Equestria. They've been on magazine covers! How do you not know about them?”
“Because there is no 'them',” Twilight replied, rolling her eyes and snorting. “You might be good at figuring out other ponies, Sunset, but I know my brother, and he does not have a marefriend. Clearly,” she said, letting herself be just a little bit smug about it for all the times Sunset had done the same to her, “you are mistaken. I mean,” she laughed, “if Shining Armor really were dating somepony, why wouldn't he, I don't know, tell me about it?”
“An incredibly busy life combined with a misguided belief that even you couldn't possibly be that dense?” Sunset answered with so little hesitation that it nearly shook Twilight's confidence.
But it didn't, though, and so she laughed a single, short laugh. “Well then, I guess we'll just have to ask him ourselves, won't we?”
Sunset was quite for an awful long time before she donned a small smile and said “Yeah, I guess so.”
It was only a few more minutes before the three reached their destination, a small upscale cafe off Restaurant Row called 'The Creme & Sugar'. Twilight had never been to it before, but with a glowing recommendation from Shining Armor she was more than willing to give it a try. She barely even had to look to find him there; the cafe's patio was mostly empty but she knew she'd be able to spot her BBBFF even if it was crowded.
Shining Armor had seen them too, and grinned and waved them over. Then Twilight noticed the pony sitting next to him, and shortly thereafter felt Sunset's hip bump into her own. She took one look at the told-you-so smirk on Sunset's lips, looked back at the familiar pink pony with a horn and wings sitting with her brother, and hissed “This! Proves! Nothing!”
Twilight ignored Sunset's snickering as they walked over, and allowed herself to become excited over the prospect of reuniting with her old foalsitter. And before she knew it she was darting forward and leaving Spike behind, making a beeline for the older mare.
“Cadance! Is that you?” she asked excitedly.
“Sure is,” Cadance answered with a warm smile, getting up from her seat and moving around the table to greet Twilight.
“Sunshine sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!”
Their ritual complete, the two hugged and giggled like a couple of schoolfillies. “It's so nice to see you again! What are you doing here?” Twilight asked as they broke the embrace.
“Oh, well, you know,” Cadance answered, her laughter dying down as both mares moved to take their seats, “I heard you two were having lunch together and I had an opening in my schedule, so I figured why not ask Shining Armor if I could tag along?”
She looked at him as she said that and even placed a hoof on his for some reason, quickly ending what Twilight could tell was him holding back a snicker. She looked to the side to see Spike still doing the same, while Sunset's gaping mouth and wide eyes were all twitching like she didn't know whether to be horrified or amused.
“And I said yes, obviously,” Shining Armor added a moment later.
“It's just been so long since we've seen each other!” Cadance continued, looking over Twilight. “You've really grown!”
Twilight laughed and waved a hoof. “Oh, well, you know how it is, growth spurts and all... But enough about that, how have you two been?” she asked, leaning towards them with an eager smile. “You know, Sunset here actually thinks the two of you are dating?” she said, pointing a hoof at her strangely silent friend and laughing. “Crazy, right? I mean can you imagine?”
Cadance and Shining Armor shared a confused look, then in unison said “But... we are.”
Twilight's laughter petered out, and her smile fell away. “I'm sorry, what?”
“We are,” Shining told her. “Dating, I mean.” He put a foreleg around Cadance as she leaned into him.
“I told you so,” Sunset said. Twilight was too busy gaping in shock to look at her, but she just knew Sunset had an irritatingly smug little smile on her face right then.
“Buh... wha...” she stammered, her mind racing and her muzzle struggling to keep up. “Since when?”
“For a few years now,” Cadance answered, frowning. “You really didn't know?”
“No!” Twilight replied, unable to keep herself from shouting.
“Sorry, Twily,” Shining said, sheepishly rubbing the back of his head. “I really should have told you, but I... guess I thought you'd find out on your own. We haven't exactly been secretive about it or anything. I mean, we've been on magazine covers!”
“Several magazine covers,” Cadance added.
Twilight sighed glumly and hung her head. “That just makes me feel even worse. What kind of sister am I if I completely missed this?”
“One that's been incredibly busy these past few years?” Sunset answered, putting a hoof on her shoulder. “Both with her studies, and dealing with Princess Celestia's incredibly bossy and demanding other student?”
Twilight looked up into Sunset's unexpectedly soft smile and couldn't help but snort. “Seriously Sparkle,” Sunset added, “this is bad, but it's not that bad. All of you have been too busy to keep up with each other's lives, isn't that the whole reason we're here? So you and your brother can catch up on all the stuff you've missed?”
Shining looked from her to Twilight, and nodded. “Exactly. I don't think any less of you for not realizing I had a girlfriend, Twily.” He reached across the table and put his hooves on hers. “What kind of BBBFF would I be if I did that?”
That got a smile from Twilight, albeit a small one. “Good question. One I don't wanna find the answer to, thank you very much.” The siblings started laughing, and moments later their friends joined in.
The laughter petered out, and a nearby waiter used the opportunity to hustle over and get the party's attention. “Are Her Royal Highness and guests ready to place their orders?” he asked, bowing low to Cadance as he approached but standing tall as he looked at the other four.
“Hmm...,” Cadance murmured in reply, taking one of the menus lying on the table in her magic. The other ponies followed suit; Spike used his claws.
“Personally, I gotta recommend today's special,” Shining Armor said after quickly flipping through the menu until he found what he apparently wanted.
“Yeah, the special sounds good,” Cadance replied, smiling and setting her menu down.
“Special it is!” Twilight happily chimed in, neatly folding her own menu. She looked to Sunset and Spike expecting them to join the chorus, only to find them still looking over their options.
“You know what?” Sunset said after a minute, lowering her menu and looking the waiter in the eye. “I think I'll have the stuffed peppers.”
“Very well, Miss,” the waiter replied with a bow. “And the, ah, young... sir?” he said next after a bit of hesitation, looking at Spike who was still reading his menu with a noticeable frown.
“I don't even know what half this stuff is,” he admitted, scrunching his face up in distaste. “Much less how to say it.”
Sunset, sitting next to him, craned her neck over to read his menu. “Yeah, I think you just wanna stick to the appetizers.” Spike raised a brow and turned to the relevant page, and Sunset pointed at an item with her hoof. “Try these. They're basically just hay fries. You like those, right?”
“Yup,” Spike nodded. He folded the menu open and pointed out his selection to the waiter, saying “I'll take an order of these, as crispy as they come.”
The waiter nodded. “But of course, sir. And what would the party like to drink?” he asked, looking over the group again until; his gaze landed on Cadance.
“Umm, just water for now,” Cadance answered for them all, looking around and seeing no objections.
“Right away, ma'am,” the waiter said, bowing low. He gathered the menus up with his magic, and walked away.
Cadance quickly filled in the lull he left behind. “So, how have you all been doing?” she asked, looking over the three youngest before settling her gaze on Sunset. “I won't lie, Sunset, even after hearing about how you've changed from Auntie Celestia I wasn't expecting you to be here.”
Sunset answered with an awkward laugh, rubbing the back of her head and looking away briefly. “Yeah, well...” She trailed off there, then took a breath and looked Cadance in the eye. “Part of it is that I was hoping you'd show up. I... kinda want to apologize for a few things. The Gala, the parade, Hearts and Hooves day,” she explained, pausing to sigh, “the 'study session'... Pretty much every time Princess Celestia made us interact, really. I was a brat, and gave you a harder time than you deserved.”
“'Was'?” Twilight said, the corner of her mouth twitching.
“Ha ha,” Sunset said, rolling her eyes.
Cadance laughed into her hoof. “Well, I forgive you for all of it, Sunset.”
“Mmhm,” she nodded. “It's water under the bridge. Though I am curious about what brought on the apology.”
Sunset sighed, more out of aggravation than anything else. “It's honestly just because somepony,” she gave Twilight a pointed look, and got smiled at in return, “has forced me to realize that I'm not quite as great as I've always acted like I was. I've been rude to a few ponies who didn't deserve it,” she explained, rolling a hoof and tilting her head listlessly, “so I've been apologizing to them when I get the chance.”
The princess giggled. “Wow, Sunset, looks like you've really changed a little.”
“Yeah,” Shining added with a beaming smile at his sister. “I guess Twily's a good influence on you.”
Twilight blushed. “Oh, no, I'm not...,” she said, waving her hoof.
To her surprise, Spike snorted. “Yeah. As much as Twilight's an influence on Sunset, Sunset's an influence on Twilight, too. You've been pushing yourself way harder in your studies, and you barely talk to anypony anymore besides me, Sunset, Princess Celestia, and your family!”
Feeling Shining and Cadance's eyes shift onto her Twilight squirmed uncomfortably on her seat, then looked at Spike. “S-so I'm a little more competitive in my studies nowadays,” she said, “nothing wrong with that! And I'm a busy mare, I don't have time to just...-” she rolled her hoof vaguely- “stop and chat with anypony I meet. I talk to who I need to talk to, and let everypony else go about their business without bothering them. Besides, they wouldn't be interested in what I want to talk about anyway.”
“What about your old teachers and classmates?” Spike asked, raising a brow. “I'm sure they'd be interested.”
“They have their own research to worry about, Spike,” Twilight countered. “Or studies, or classes, or jobs, or whatever else! They have things they want to do, and I have things I want to do. No sense in two ponies trying to strike up a conversation when both of them have other things they'd rather do, right?”
Spike looked down at his claws. “I guess...”
“It's gonna be hard to make friends if you don't talk to ponies though, isn't it?” Shining Armor pointed out.
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Shining Armor, I don't need to make anymore friends. I mean, I already have all of you, right?” she asked, sweeping her gaze across the others.
“Seems like enough friends to me,” Sunset said.
“Exactly!” Twilight nodded, giving Sunset a smile. “There's no need for me to make any more friends,” she told her brother.
“Oh yeah?” Spike said, drawing her attention back to him. “If that's so true, then why does Princess Celestia keep bugging the two of you about it?”
Twilight and Sunset shared a look, then shrugged in unison. “Beats me,” Sunset turned and told him. “If I knew that I'd have gotten her off my case years ago.”
It was then that their waiter arrived carrying a tray of drinks. “Here you are, Ma'am,” he said, bowing as he levitated Cadance's water to her first. From there he proceeded clockwise around the small table, floating glasses to Shining Armor, Sunset, Spike, and lastly Twilight. “Your meals shall be ready soon,” he offered as parting words before turning and heading back inside.
“Thanks!” Cadance called after him, though he gave no indication he'd heard it. After a moment, she turned back to the others. “Well... enough about all that,” she said to the younger mares, her smile somewhat awkward. “You two are friends now, and I gotta say I'm pretty glad to see it. And I know Auntie Celestia is too.”
Shining Armor chuckled. “You sure about that? From what I've heard, these two have caused her a fair bit of trouble.”
“H-hey! That's not-!” Twilight tried to explain, horrified that anypony could think that.
Sunset apparently felt the same way, crying out “No we haven't!”
Cadance just giggled, ignoring them. “Oh yeah! Remember what they got her last Hearth's Warming?”
Before she knew it, Twilight had screamed in panic and slammed her hooves down on the table. “Last Hearth's Warming? Wh-what are you talking about? Nothing happened then! Nothing at all! Certainly nothing we agreed to never ever ever speak of, ever again!” Vaguely she noticed Sunset making a similar plea, but all they were getting from Cadance and Shining Armor was more stifled laughter. And Spike was just muttering something about a cake.
“You, uh, you do know everypony's looking at us now, right?” Shining Armor said, pointing past Twilight and Sunset. Sunset immediately blushed and turned her head, Twilight following suit after a puzzled blink.
As he'd said, ponies were looking at them – from the cafe's other tables; from other restaurants along the street; from the sidewalk as they passed by; and even from inside the cafe itself. All Twilight could do was laugh nervously and sink back into her seat, ears plastered against her head.
She let out a pitiful groan.
“Hey!” Sunset practically hissed at Cadance and Shining Armor, cheeks nearly as red as her mane and a wide grin forced onto her muzzle. “Enough about us and our totally unimportant past deeds, how have you two been? I'm sure the Princess of Love and Captain of the Royal Guard must have loads of gossip! Do share!”
Cadance giggled into her hoof. “Oh, come on now, you know I can't tell you! At least not the counseling stuff anyways. And I'm sure you two wouldn't be interested in the matches I've made for other ponies.”
Spike laughed. “Hey, know anypony you could fix these two up with?” he asked, gesturing to the mares on either side of him. “I bet it'd do wonders for their social lives.”
“Spike!” Twilight and Sunset cried in unison.
It only earned another giggle from Cadance. “Hmm... well, maybe...” she said, a coy glint in her eye.
“Shining Armor, please!” Twilight pleaded, looking at her brother. “You wanted to catch up, so let's catch already!”
He laughed, too. “Fine, fine, we'll stop teasing you two,” he told her, glancing at Cadance who finally lowered her hoof. “Of course, I wouldn't say I have loads of gossip, exactly, but I do have plenty of stories if you're interested.”
“We're interested!” Twilight said immediately, practically lunging across the table in desperation.
“Well okay then,” Shining said with one last chuckle. “Turns out being Captain of the Royal Guard means more than just running training drills and organizing guard schedules. Let me tell you, I've been called in to deal with some weird stuff...”
And so lunch proceeded, with Shining Armor regaling them with tales of the bizarre adventures that came with protecting Canterlot and accompanying Princess Celestia. Cadance was persuaded to share vague details and lessons she'd learned in her duties as Princess of Love, and once the food arrived and they'd been assured they wouldn't be teased much Twilight and Sunset began talking about their research.
“...so yeah,” Sunset said after swallowing a bite of pepper, “even though ancient artifact stuff isn't exactly what I was expecting to study, I gotta say I'm pretty glad the Princess pushed me down that path. Having something physical in my hooves to pick apart and study is surprisingly thrilling.”
“Sounds like you've got a focus, then,” Shining Armor remarked between sips of the day's special – a hearty and aromatic soup. “Good for you. Most unicorns I know with a special talent in general magic end up finding an area they like best sooner or later. Not that you need to, it's just-”
“-easier to focus on getting good at one thing at a time?” Sunset finished, waving a hoof. “Yeah, I know. I mean, obviously I'm still going to keep myself well-rounded, but excelling in the study and use of ancient artifacts seems like a good way to make myself stand out.”
Twilight rolled her eyes in jest. “Same old Sunset. You already know exactly how you're going to do that, don't you?”
“Wwwweeellll...,” Sunset replied, rolling her head to the side and putting a hoof to her chin, “maybe. There is something in particular I have my eye on, but...” She glanced briefly at the others, then shrugged. “It seems like it's a pretty top-secret thing, so I don't wanna talk about it in public. Princess Celestia will barely even let me look at it as it is.”
“Still, she hasn't even said a word about it to me,” Twilight said, unable to keep a bit of whine out of her voice. “I'm a little jealous that you're so close to studying something so big.”
Sunset smirked and flipped her mane. “Hey, it's only natural Sparkle. I have been her student for longer, after all. I'm sure you'll reach that stage of your studies soon.”
“I hope so...,” Twilight said, her whole body drooping a little.
“So... any idea what area you'd like to focus on?” Cadance asked.
Twilight lifted her head, blinked, and chewed her lip in thought. “I don't know, there's just so many,” she admitted. “Transmutation, thaumaturgy, elemental magic, metamagic, the list just goes on and on! How am I ever going to choose just one?”
“You don't have to. You can just stay a generalist,” Shining told her.
“Or just let Princess Celestia figure out what you're suited for like she did with me,” Sunset added. “She does know what she's doing, after all. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she started pushing you in one direction or another any day now. You've already got a solid understanding of most magical disciplines.”
“I hope so,” Twilight sighed, letting her head hang. “The only direction she's pushing me in now is to make friends...”
“Maybe she wants you to study the magic of friendship?” Spike jokingly suggested.
It was enough to make Twilight snort. “Like that's even a thing.” She took in a deep breath, and let it out as another sigh. “Oh well. I probably will just stay a generalist like I am now. It's not like anything else has stood out to me yet.”
“Not for very long, at least,” Sunset said with a chuckle that Spike soon copied. “You tend to burn your way through subjects as fast as you can.”
Twilight blushed, particularly once Shining Armor and Cadance joined in. “I-I just like to learn, that's all.”
“I know, Sparkle, I know,” Sunset told her, smiling. “Nothing wrong with devoting yourself to your studies. You just need to keep yourself from overdoing it, or one of these days you'll get so focused on whatever new thing you're researching that you'll completely space on something important.”
“Well... that's what I have you for,” Twilight told her, looking away for a moment before meeting Sunset's gaze. “In the event that I mess up like that – no matter how unlikely it may be, of course – I can count on you to get me back on track.” She smiled, giggled, and added “And Spike too of course,” while rubbing the top of his head.
“Naturally,” he said, puffing himself up and beaming.
Cadance and Shining smiled at each other. “It's nice to see you have friends who're looking out for you, Twily,” Shining said. He took a sip of soup, tapped his chin in thought for a moment while the others used the lull to eat as well, then perked up. “Oh yeah, I've been meaning to ask – what are your plans for after you've finished studying with Princess Celestia?”
Twilight looked up at him, eyes wide and a bit of soup dribbling down her jaw. “After?”
“Well, it's not like you two can keep being her students forever,” Cadance said to her and Sunset. “Sooner or later Princess Celestia won't have anything left to teach you, right? At least about magic, anyway.”
Twilight blinked, then looked down at her soup. “You know, I haven't really thought about that. I suppose I'll just... find some other way to continue my studies. What about you, Sunset?” she asked, turning her head to see her friend smirking.
“Easy. Once I'm done learning everything Princess Celestia can teach me,” she explained with confidence that soon shifted into wistfulness, “I'll do some traveling. See new places, experience new things, all across Equestria and even beyond. I'll learn whatever I can, and make a name for myself as a wizard. And,” she smiled at Twilight, “I think I'll drag Sparkle here along for the ride.”
“Oh really?” Twilight said, raising a brow but smiling all the same. “What makes you think I'll let you?”
Sunset snorted. “Like you'd have anything better to do. Besides, you know you need me to keep you on your hooftips so you don't slack off and fall behind.”
“Oh really?” Twilight repeated, raising her brow even higher and even tilting her head down slightly. “Well maybe I'll be the one dragging you across Equestria and beyond,” she said poking her in the chest with her hoof.
“Hey, if that's what you wanna think will happen then fine with me,” Sunset replied with a shrug and a smirk. Unbeknownst to her and Twilight, Cadance and Shining Armor shared a smirk of their own.
“W-well,” Spike interrupted, standing up on his seat between the two and looking from Twilight to Sunset and back again, “no matter who's dragging who around, wherever Twilight goes I'm going too.”
“Obviously,” Sunset said, rolling her eyes.
Twilight giggled and rubbed Spike's head again. “I wouldn't have it any other way.”
“Bye, Spike!” Twilight called up to the second floor of her home, saddlebags packed with everything she needed for her next appointment. “I'll be back later!”
The sound of scrambling, hurried footsteps came in reply, and seconds later Spike emerged from a side room headed towards the top of the staircase. “Alright, Twilight, just don't forget about Moon Dancer's-” he rounded the stairs and saw the door slam shut- “party...”
He sighed. “She's totally gonna forget,” he muttered, turning and trudging back up the stairs.
Down the stairs that scaled her tower, out across the lawn still green from the final spring rain, and along the paths to their favorite tree; Twilight traveled just as fast as she needed to make it there on time. She smiled when she saw the mare that most ponies would call her best friend already waiting for her - with summer drawing close, they had begun spending more and more time studying or taking meals together outside.
Sunset met her eyes and smirked. “I was wondering when you were gonna show up,” she greeted from the shade, her tone one of playful mockery.
“I was right on time and you know it,” Twilight replied, muzzle turned up defiantly.
Sunset laughed. “I know, I know. Seriously, Sparkle, I could set a watch to you.” Twilight rolled her eyes but laughed as well, and as she sat down next to her Sunset opened her own bags and levitated a pair of juicy-looking peaches from it. “Here,” she said, offering one to Twilight, “we just got these in from Manehattan for the Summer Sun Celebration.”
Twilight accepted eagerly, taking the treat in her own magic and bringing it closer for a bite. “Mmm, delicious!”
“Yeah, the caterers have good taste in food,” Sunset said with another laugh. It was short-lived, however, and with a small frown she added “It's a shame that the Princess won't get to enjoy them. Why she decided to hold this year's celebration in Ponyville of all places I'll never understand.” She shook her head and took a bite of her peach.
“I'm pretty sure it was just Ponyville's turn this year,” Twilight said after another bite, setting the peach down afterward and pulling a book from her bag. “She likes to be fair and give each town the chance to host it, right?”
“Yeah, but it's the millennial celebration,” Sunset countered, crossing her forelegs and looking up at the sky. “She should be holding it here, in Canterlot!” She sighed, and looked back down. “But instead, she's gonna hold it in podunk little Ponyville,” she twirled her hoof, “leaving me here to help Princess Cadance with the Canterlot festival and you on break.”
“I still can't believe she's dating my brother,” Twilight remarked as she turned a page.
Sunset let out another short laugh. “And I can't believe you didn't even notice until I told you. I've said it before and I'll say it again, that was dense even for you, Sparkle."
Twilight flushed and looked away. “W-well, I just didn't expect him to be dating anyone, that's all.”
Sunset laughed again, but silence soon fell back on the pair as Twilight resumed reading and Sunset stared thoughtfully up at the sky. After a few minutes, she craned her neck over to look at Twilight's book. “So, what's on the reading list today?”
“The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide,” Twilight answered dutifully. “Princess Celestia gave it to me a couple days ago to read when I found the time. And, well, I finally found it,” she giggled.
“Why does she want you to study that old thing?” Sunset asked, a brow raised high. “The artifacts it details have been missing for centuries."
“Couldn't tell you,” Twilight shrugged, most of her focus still on the book – even her peach now forgotten. “It's interesting, but I can't help but feel like I've read about these 'Elements' somewhere else...”
Sunset shrugged and took a bite of her own peach. “Probably,” she said with her mouth still mostly full. “Artifacts as well-known as those tend to get referenced a lot.”
With a glow of magic the book snapped shut, and Twilight stood. “Yeah, and I think I know where. I'll be back soon, Sunset,” she declared dramatically, the wind blowing through her mane. “I have research to do!”
Sunset watched her gallop off, then laughed. “Never change, Twilight. Never change.” She shook her head and smiled, finished off her peach, then levitated a notebook out of her own bag and started reading it. After a few seconds she picked up what was left of Twilight's peach and took a bite of it, too.
Had she not been so engrossed in reviewing her notes on the mirror that Celestia was finally letting her study, Sunset would have realized that Twilight was taking an awfully long amount of time to return. But when the younger mare finally did come back, Sunset noticed three things immediately: First, she looked panicked. Second, Spike was sitting on her back with a letter in his claws and a thoroughly peeved look on his face. And third, Twilight's saddlebags were now overstuffed with what Sunset could only guess were all the items she currently considered most valuable.
“What's got your tail in a twist?” she asked as Twilight skidded up to her. “You look like you've just been banished or something.”
“Sunset! Sunset!” she said, speaking rapidly and dancing anxiously on her hooftips. “The Mare in the Moon is Nightmare Moon and she's coming back in two days and Princess Celestia doesn't believe me!”
Sunset blinked and shook her head. “Wait, what? Slow down so I can follow.” She looked to Spike for help.
“She thinks some old pony's tale is real and Nightmare Moon is gonna come back,” Spike helpfully explained.
“It is real, Spike!” Twilight told him. “But nopony believes me! What are we gonna do?!”
“Sparkle, calm down,” Sunset said with a harsh note in her voice. “I'm pretty sure Princess Celestia would know if somepony she supposedly banished to the moon were coming back. What exactly did she tell you?”
Spike passed her the letter, and she quickly read it over. “Yeah, she doesn't seem worried to me. I mean, I'll ask her about it if you want me to,” she levitated the letter back to Spike, “but I think you might be overreacting. I am jealous that she wants you to supervise the main Summer Sun Celebration, though.”
“Believe me, I'd let you do it if I could,” Twilight told her, panic still in her eyes, “but I don't think I have a choice. Promise me you'll look into Nightmare Moon while I'm gone?”
Sunset rolled her eyes, but smiled. “I promise,” she said, tapping a hoof against Twilight's foreleg.
She was answered by a swift and sudden hug that left her blushing. “Oh, thank you thank you thank you, Sunset!” Twilight gushed, giving Sunset a quick nuzzle before breaking contact.
“No problem,” Sunset said with an awkward chuckle, still blushing. “You... better get going to Ponyville, then.” A more confident smirk appeared on her face. “I'll try to survive without you.”
“At least you can still go to Moon Dancer's party without us,” Spike pointed out.
Sunset shrugged dismissively and looked away. “I don't think I'll have any fun there without Sparkle around, but maybe.”
Twilight hugged her again, longer and closer. “Well, if the world hasn't descended into eternal night by then, I'll see you in a couple days.”
“Yeah,” Sunset smiled as they broke the hug. “See you then.”
“Oh no, oh no, oh no! How could I let this happen?!” Twilight moaned as she raced through the streets of Ponyville, Spike riding calmly on her back. “It's been over a month since I left Canterlot and I haven't gotten in touch with Sunset once!”
“To be fair, you have been pretty busy,” Spike pointed out. “Defeating Nightmare Moon,” he began to tick off on his claws, “learning about friendship, getting settled into Ponyville... You've had a lot to do lately. I'm sure Sunset will understand.”
“So?!” Twilight exclaimed, shocking a few of the ponies she was running past. “I'm pretty sure spending all your time getting to know new friends, at the expense of your old friend, makes you a bad friend!”
They skidded to a stop in front of the train station, and Twilight immediately began to dance anxiously on her hooftips. “Ohhhh, she's gonna be so upset!”
“Maybe it won't be so bad,” Spike said as they waited. “I bet she'll even be proud of you!”
“You'd better be right, Spike,” Twilight replied, rushing headlong into the first car that opened once their train arrived.
The trip from Ponyville to Canterlot wasn't even an hour long, but for Twilight it felt like an eternity. Those unlucky enough to be sharing the space with her felt similarly, as she spent the entire way there in a state of worry and panic that Spike was barely able to keep under control. It surprised nopony when she was the first to rush off the train, assistant clinging to her, when they finally reached their destination.
Through the city streets at full gallop to the School for Gifted Unicorns, past all their favorite spots on campus – empty, of course – and finally up the steps to Sunset's home. As Princess Celestia's personal student, she'd been given lodging in a tower not too different or too far from where Twilight used to live, and it was there that Twilight hoped to find her friend. With a breath of caution she took hold of the door with her magic, and pushed it open.
It was completely dark; even the curtains on the windows had been drawn.
“H-hello? Sunset?” Twilight nervously called into the spacious apartment. “It's me, Twilight! I...” She swallowed. “I'm back!”
No answer came, so she took a few tentative steps inside.
Then, all around her, candles flared to life with such force that pony and dragon alike recoiled in fear and screamed. And when they finally realized that fiery death wasn't imminent, they heard the telltale sound of hoofsteps on wooden stairs.
A door was flung open nearby, prompting another short scream. Light spilled up and out of the stairwell behind it, but even shadowed they could still make out the form of Sunset Shimmer.
“Well. Well. Well,” she opened, enough ice in her voice to stand up to the summer sun. “Look who finally remembered me. What, did you already get bored of your Ponyville friends?” she asked, sneering as she spoke the last two words.
Her horn lit up as she slammed the doors and stepped forward. Even in the candlelight Twilight could see the deep bags under her eyes, the messiness of her mane and tail, and a variety of stains and scuffs on her coat. Either she hadn't been sleeping well, or she'd been doing some demanding experiments. Probably both.
Twilight was frozen by her glare for some time before she finally spoke up. “Sunset, I'm so sorry. I never meant to be away for so long! Please, let me explain!”
Sunset snorted, opening the curtains and snuffing the candles with her magic. “Spare me, Sparkle. I already know what happened in Ponyville. You made five new friends,” she said, rolling her eyes and a hoof, “harnessed the powers of the Elements of Harmony, and turned Nightmare Moon back into Princess Celestia's sister.” She gave Twilight a withering look. “And every few days since, you've sent the princess a letter about what you've learned about friendship.”
“I... should have expected that you'd already know about all that,” Twilight admitted with a sheepish, shamed laugh.
“Yeah,” Sunset told her. “But instead of learning about it from you, like I should have, I had to learn it from the Princess when she arrived with her sister in tow.”
Twilight shrunk under the ferocity of her glare. “S-sorry...”
“You should be.”
Spike gulped and slid off Twilight's back. “Umm, I'll just, uh, go catch up with Moon Dancer and the others...” Neither mare gave notice to his nervous words, nor him scurrying out of Sunset's apartment.
“Do you even realize how worried I was when I found out that you were right?” Sunset asked, averting her gaze just a moment to hide the tears she was forcing back. “Knowing that you'd try to stop Nightmare Moon by yourself if you had to? Knowing how much danger you'd be putting yourself in?”
“I, I'm sorry,” Twilight stammered, tears coming to her eyes too, “I didn't-”
“Do you realize how overjoyed I felt when I heard that you'd saved the day?” Sunset asked, doubling down on the force in her voice. “How proud? I didn't even mind it when I heard you'd be staying in Ponyville longer, because at least you'd still be sending letters!” She was on her hindlegs now, thrusting her hooves into the air. “But not once did you mention me in them! Send me a message! Ask how I was doing!”
“I'm so sorry...”
Sunset fell back on all fours, her tears now unrestrained now matter how hard she sniffed. “Having Princess Celestia be too busy reconnecting with her sister to spend time with me is one thing,” Sunset told her. “But having the only other pony I've ever cared about suddenly forget about me... it hurt, Twilight!”
Twilight winced. “I just...I just got so caught up in learning about friendship,” she said, looking down in guilt and shame. She sniffed, then put on a sad smile and said “You know how I get with new research... The... The 'Twilight Zone'?”
Sunset closed her eyes and shook her head. “It's hard to like that about you when I'm the one being pushed aside.” She huffed bitterly, then looked aside and muttered “But what else is new...”
This got enough of Twilight's attention to pause her tears. “What do you mean?”
She was answered by a short, bitter laugh. “I mean that I keep getting pushed aside for somepony else, and I'm tired of it. Why do you think I hated you so much when we first met? Princess Celestia is the closest to a mother I've ever had, and I thought she was replacing me because I wasn't what she wanted.”
“But Princess Celestia would never do that!” Twilight protested out of shock. “She loves us equally!”
Sunset snorted and muttered “I doubt it.” She saw Twilight's questioning look, and continued. “Before she left for Ponyville that day, she told me and Cadance and your brother in private what was going to happen and what we'd have to do in case of the worst. But most of all, she told us to trust you.”
“What's wrong with that?” Twilight asked, curious yet afraid.
“She told us why,” Sunset answered bitterly. “I didn't realize it then, but after thinking about it it's obvious that she knew from the beginning that you were pretty much destined to save her sister.”
Twilight's eyes widened. “Destined...?”
“She made you her student the moment she realized how special you were,” Sunset continued without pause. “And did you know she made Cadance a princess and even adopted her after only knowing her for like two days?” she added in maddened disbelief. “And here I am, her other student, with nothing. Nobody cares about Sunset Shimmer, oh no,” she said, throwing her hooves up again, “she's just a bad-tempered disappointment.”
She wiped away her tears, but they kept coming. “All. I ever wanted. Was to matter,” she said through clenched teeth. “To be special to somepony.” She turned her back on Twilight, and said “But I'm obviously not.”
She began to walk away, but only got one step before Twilight darted forward and nuzzled her. “You're special to me, Sunset Shimmer.”
“Clearly I'm not if you forgot about me for a month...”
Twilight was silent for a good long while before she finally said “I wish I could say that I didn't. But I came here the moment I remembered, and I don't want to ever forget about you again.”
Sunset scoffed. “You say that now, but once you're back in Ponyville with your new friends...”
“Then come back to Ponyville with me,” Twilight said, walking around to Sunset's front. “I won't be able to forget about you if you're always around, right?” she said, offering another sad smile.
“You... you're joking, right?” Sunset asked, eyes widening in shock. "I chew you out for abandoning me, and your response is to ask me to move to Ponyville with you?"
Twilight nodded, offering her friend a wan smile. “I have to make up for what I did somehow, don't I? But I can't leave Ponyville right now, and you seem like you're, well, miserable here. So if us being apart is the problem, then why not come together? You can stay in the library with me and Spike, there's plenty of room. And I'm sure Princess Celestia will let you continue your research there.”
Sunset let out a weak laugh, wiping away some of her tears. “Yeah, probably. But...you're really serious about this?”
“Yes,” Twilight nodded. “I want my best friend back.” She paused, blushing as she added “If she'll have me, that is.”
Sunset just kept staring for what felt like ages before she closed her eyes, shook her head in disbelief, and replaced her shock with a familiar smirk. “You know what? I'll think about it.”
Twilight Sparkle woke to the smell of pancakes. With a yawn and a stretch she rose from her bed and looked around the room from her loft; Spike's bed was empty, and so was Sunset's. “I guess they're already awake,” she said to herself. Then she caught what she'd said, giggled, and added “Obviously. Spike's making pancakes!”
She descended the stairs off the loft and out of the bedroom at a happy trot, and headed for the library's small kitchen where she found Spike hard at work. “Good morning, Spike,” she greeted, making a beeline for the teapot.
“Morning, Twilight,” he replied, gingerly turning the berry-laden flapjacks over on the griddle.
“I take it Sunset's in the lab?” she asked filling the teapot with sink water.
“Actually,” Spike said, “she left like right after she got up. Haven't seen her since.”
Twilight stopped where she was, teapot floating impatiently nearby, and frowned. “Did she say where she was going?”
“Nope!” Spike said, his eyes fixed on a pancake he'd just flipped into the air. It landed on his spatula with a smack, and sizzled when he placed it back on the griddle. “But you know how she is. Probably just picking up some more supplies for her experiments.”
“You're probably right,” Twilight said, her every expression still filled with concern. She set the teapot down on the stove, and sighed. “It's just that she's been acting strange around me recently. It's almost like she's avoiding me or something! Oh, I hope she isn't tired of living in Ponyville with us...”
“Nah, I doubt it,” Spike said, finally taking his eyes off the pancakes. “But if you're so worried, why not try talking to her about it or something?”
“I guess,” Twilight said glumly, her ears drooping. “If she even wants to talk to me...”
Sunset Shimmer was feeling a lot of things as she walked through Ponyville: Excited, because she was approaching the date of an important experiment she had planned. Hungry, because she'd foolishly left the library before getting breakfast. Annoyed, because four of Twilight's friends had been shadowing her for the past half-hour in an almost comically inept manner.
But mostly she felt nervous, because she was running out of things that would keep her away from the Golden Oak. She'd already bought everything she needed and several more that she didn't, talked to several ponies, and crisscrossed most of town taking in the morning's sights; all that was left was to work up the nerves to finally talk to Twilight.
It had been a couple months since Sunset had moved to Ponyville, and slightly longer since that day in Canterlot when Twilight had come back to her. And though the move had been reluctant, done only because Sunset sorely wanted Twilight in her life, she had come to appreciate the town. It was quaint, and she was no longer simply being polite when she said that. Getting so far away from the bustle of the city and the machinations of the so-called 'nobility' had done wonders for her health, her mood, and even her research, and she couldn’t deny that she could see herself spending most of the rest of her life there. The scenery was nice too, especially at this time of year. As a filly in Canterlot she had always looked down from the tall towers of the mountainside castle and imagined that the sprawling forests she saw were changing colors as a tribute to her; all the reds and gold and oranges made it her favorite season by far. And now, in Ponyville, she got the opportunity to watch the change up close and personal.
On another personal note, she'd finally caved to Twilight and Princess Celestia's wishes and started opening herself up to friendship. The five mares that had stolen Twilight away from her had been the first, of course. It had taken some time for she and they to get past their...differences...and start seeing eye-to-eye, but Sunset now counted them among her friends. True, she wasn't nearly as close to them as Twilight was, but she neither wanted nor expected that – it was hard to top a shared magical destiny as the basis of a friendship, after all. But she'd made up for it with several new friends of her own – Bulk Biceps, Vinyl Scratch and Octavia, even that insufferable Time Turner!
But none of them would ever be as special to her as Twilight was. She still kicked herself for not realizing it sooner, and even more for how poorly she'd treated Twilight early on, but at some point in the past couple years she'd become one of the most important parts of Sunset's life. Her love of knowledge, her dedication, her talent, her little quirks; just about everything about Twilight she found endearing, and it didn't hurt that she was cute too. If Sunset didn't know any better, she'd say she was smitten.
Since she did know better, Sunset was confident she'd left smitten behind a few months ago and was now galloping head-on towards love. The visions she sometimes saw in the magic mirror she was studying had made that clear enough. Particularly the more recent ones, which had been surprisingly detailed...
Sunset shook her head and cleared her thoughts, realizing that she'd been standing in the middle of the street for at least a couple minutes now. She smiled bashfully at the passersby who were giving her strange looks, then raced off and didn't stop until she was at one of the bridges that arched over the town's river.
She stared wistfully down at her reflection, and sighed. For all her social acumen, Sunset had no experience in asking a pony out. Sure, she herself had been asked out several times, and she'd summarily rejected all of them, but that was hardly the same thing. At best she knew the theory of it, but the very thought of actually putting it into practice made her more nervous than she'd ever been in her life. It had even reached the point where she found it hard to even be in the same building as Twilight, and she felt more and more guilty every time she avoided her.
“I just have to...get it over with,” she muttered under her breath, still looking down at herself in the water. “I've done way harder things.” But even as she spoke those words she knew how hollow they were; she'd faced more dangerous tasks, yes, but none of them involved taking a risk that would permanently damage her most important friendship if it failed.
The sound of a pony falling over snapped her out of her depression, her ears perking up and swiveling to her right. She turned her head just in time to see Pinkie Pie, who looked to have leaned too far forward and paid the price, get dragged back behind the cover of a tree by Rarity and Rainbow Dash.
Sunset's expression fell into a deadpan stare. “I know you're there, girls. You might as well just come out so we can get this over with.”
Rarity, Pinkie, and Dash immediately came out of hiding, though only the first of the three looked at all embarrassed. “Ahem. Yes,” she said. “Our sincerest apologies, darling, but you-”
“Fluttershy too,” Sunset added, still staring.
A squeak came from behind the tree, and Fluttershy meekly slid out a moment later. “...sorry...,” she said in a voice so soft that Sunset could barely make it out.
Rarity cleared her throat again. “As I was saying, we happened to see you looking so lost in thought, as it were, but simply didn't want to disturb you.”
“You've been following me since at least the quill store,” Sunset countered. “Also, where's Applejack?”
“Oh, she's way too busy with her apples,” Pinkie quickly and enthusiastically replied. She giggled and waved a hoof. “You know how it is.”
Sunset raised an eyebrow. “Sure.” She looked back at the others expectantly. “So, anypony wanna explain why you've been tailing me all morning?”
“Well, Sunset,” Rarity began to say, “I assure you there's a perfectly reasonable reason as to-”
“You've been acting weird all week and we wanted to know what's up,” Rainbow Dash finished. Rarity glared up at her, and she shrugged. “What? It's true!”
“Be that as it may,” Rarity said, “you could have used more tact. It's obvious that our dear Sunset here is suffering from some manner of emotional distress,” she continued, walking confidently over to Sunset's side. “One must be sensitive to such matters.”
Rainbow Dash just rolled her eyes.
“So,” Rarity said, putting her forehooves up on the side of the bridge, “tell us, Sunset Shimmer, what is it that's bothering you?”
Sunset stared at her for a moment, then sighed. “I'll probably regret this, but...” she said under her breath before raising her voice and adding “it's Twilight.”
Pinkie squealed in excitement and leaped into the air. “I KNEW IT!”
“Uhh, knew what, exactly?” Sunset asked, taking a wary step back as Pinkie darted in close to her face, pushing Rarity out of the way in the process.
“That you're crushing on Twilight, silly!” Pinkie answered with an unnecessary amount of glee.
“N-no I'm not,” Sunset said reflexively, inwardly cursing herself for it even as her cheeks turned red, her ears folded back, and her eyes started darting around. “I-I'm just, uhh...”
“Totally crushing on your best friend who you've always had a rocky relationship with so you're worried that things will be ruined forever if she doesn't like you back but you can't not ask her out either because it'll drive you crazy?” Pinkie finished, bugging and spinning her eyes where appropriate.
Sunset held her stare for a moment, then sagged. “So you all figured it out, huh?” she asked Pinkie and the others.
“Oh, darling,” Rarity said, moving past Pinkie to but a foreleg around Sunset's shoulders, “when you've read as many romance novels as I have – and believe me, I've read every one I could get my hooves on – it's hard not to see the signs.”
“Even I saw it,” Rainbow Dash added.
“It was pretty obvious,” Fluttershy admitted from the back of the group. “Oh, but we're very supportive of it.”
“You... are?” Sunset asked, looking between the four mares.
“Why of course we are!” Rarity said, tightening her hold on Sunset. “Why wouldn't we be supportive of a friend wanting to find love with another friend?”
“Yeah, even if the first friend is kind of a jerk!” Rainbow added. Rarity promptly gave her a Look, causing Rainbow to shrug. “What?”
Rarity sniffed and looked back at Sunset. “That aside, we are happy to help you with this.”
Sunset sighed and looked back down at her reflection in the river. “Thanks, but I don't think I really need help. I just need to do it and get it over with.”
“Well, if it helps,” Fluttershy offered with a hopeful smile, “I'm sure Twilight will say yes if you ask her out. Or at the very least she won't be mad at you.”
“Really?” Sunset asked, perking an eyebrow. “What makes you so sure?”
Fluttershy froze for a moment, then shrunk back and blushed. “Umm... just a hunch? Sorry...”
Sunset's face fell. “That's what I figured.”
“Nevertheless,” Rarity grabbed Sunset's attention once more, “we all share Fluttershy's confidence that things will work out. And before you ask-” she placed a hoof on Sunset's open mouth- “it isn't entirely baseless. After all, you are the pony that Twilight specifically wanted to live in Ponyville with her, are you not? And I dare say you know her better than anypony else, do you honestly think she'd go that far if she simply wished to remain friends with you? Hmm?”
“I...,” Sunset began, searching her reflection as she thought. “I think you're right,” she concluded, lifting her head as her smile grew and her confidence swelled. “I can't believe I didn't see it before! Thanks, girls,” she said, whipping back around to the other four. “I think that was just the push I needed.”
“Then go to her, Sunset Shimmer!” Rarity told her in one of her more melodramatic voices, thrusting a hoof in the general direction of the Golden Oak. “Run!”
Sunset nodded, then turned tailed and galloped off... only to stop after a few yards and turn a stern gaze back to them. “Don't follow me. I don't want anypony interrupting this, got it?”
“Got it!” Pinkie replied immediately, frozen in mid-step. Rarity, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash murmured in agreement, backing off from the chase they too were about to give.
“-and that's reason thirty-five why it could end up being a total disaster,” Twilight said definitively, unfurling her list even more.
Spike rolled his eyes and propped his head up in one hand.
“Reason thirty-six why bringing it up to Sunset could be a total disaster is-”
The front door of the Golden Oak suddenly slammed open by magic, startling Twilight and Spike at the central table.
“Twilight, we need to talk,” Sunset said with an intensity that made the other two nervous.
“Ohmygosh I'm so sorry,” Twilight said, forcing her list into Spike's claws and trotting forward with a worried expression. “Whatever I did that's made you pull away recently, just tell me so I can fix it!”
“Wha?” Sunset said, taken aback by the sorrow in her eyes. She shook her head quickly, though, and said “Oh, wow, no, Sparkle, I'm sorry I made you think you did something wrong when you really, really didn't.”
Twilight blinked, her worry rapidly replaced with confused relief. “I didn't?”
Sunset shook her head. “Of course not. Once again, this one's all me,” she admitted, her cheeks flushing. Then she sighed sadly, and hung her head. “I really have a lot to apologize for, don't I? I've treated you pretty badly over the years...”
“I've already forgiven you,” Twilight said, hugging her around the neck. She let out a pathetic giggle as she stepped back, legs still around Sunset as she added “And it's not like I've been perfect, either.”
Sunset laughed too. “Even so, I feel guilty. Like... I don't deserve you sometimes.”
“Oh, Sunset,” Twilight said, nuzzling her and making her blush, “of course you deserve to be around me! Is that what's been bothering you recently?” she asked, pulling back and looking at Sunset with just enough concern to make her blush even harder.
“W-well, yeah,” Sunset answered, averting her gaze. Then she took a breath and looked back at Twilight with an intensity that made her blush. “And... I've also been worried.”
“Worried?” Twilight asked as Sunset looked down. “About what?”
“About... how you'd react when I told you that I wanted to be more than best friends,” Sunset replied looking into her eyes as both their blushes grew. “That I wanted to be your..." She gulped. "Marefriend.”
“You do?” Twilight whispered, her eyes wide with disbelief.
Sunset nodded. “Will you go out with me, Twilight Sparkle?”
She was utterly unprepared for the strength of the hug Twilight hit her with. “Yes! Yes yes yes yes yes! Of course I will, Sunset!” she said, breaking the hug to dance around with Sunset hoof in hoof.
Sunset cracked a smile at her marefriend's exuberance. “Well... okay then!”
Twilight sniffed and wiped away a tear. “I can't believe I was worried for nothing! Of course you feel the same way I do!”
“Yeah, same here,” Sunset said with a light laugh, before Twilight surprised her with a kiss that turned her muzzle redder than her hair.
She broke it after only a few moments with a sharp and panicked gasp. “Oh no, I was so happy that I did things out of order! Spike!” she turned her head and called. “Fetch me Head-Over-Heels' Guide to Romance and Dating, please!”
“On it!” Spike replied, snapping off a quick salute before he scurried off to the stairway.
“What did I just get myself into?” Sunset murmured dreamily, still reeling from the kiss.