Playing House

by Krickis

First published

When Sunset learns about problems in Fluttershy's home life, she invites her friend to live with her instead. For Fluttershy, it’s a shelter from the storm she lives in fear of. For Sunset, it’s the hope to be part of a family for the first time.

Sunset’s life is far from glamorous, but when she learns that Fluttershy has it even worse, Sunset can’t help but take it upon herself to solve her friend’s problems and give her a safe place to live.

For Fluttershy, the invitation is a shelter from the storm she’s spent years living in fear of. For Sunset, it becomes the hope to be part of a family for the first time in her life.


A story set in the Who We Become series.

Who We Become is a realistic romantic drama series focussing on queer characters. People sensitive to queer issues should take caution before reading.


Content Warning: Contains discussion of rape as an event that happened in the past. The assault itself will never be shown, only talked about. The sex tag is included for consensual sex. Narcotics tag is for heavy use of alcohol, no hard drugs or anything like that.

Updates every Monday, with breaks in between each act.

Thanks go out to Char-Char-Chan, Moonlight, Mind Jack, and Wendy Gowak for proofreading and helping me shape this story into what it is :ajsmug:
Cover art by the ever amazing Pasu-Chan :yay:

Prologue

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It was just a day like any other. Another school day, where Fluttershy would go to her classes, meet with her friends, and have seven hours away from everything. Fluttershy loved school. Next to the time she spent out with her friends or helping at the animal shelter, school was Fluttershy’s favorite time of day.

But reminding herself didn’t seem to be helping. All Fluttershy could do was look up at the school building, frozen in intimidation at the thought of going inside. It wasn’t even like anything bad was going to happen. Ever since the Fall Formal two weeks earlier, the entire school had been nothing but kind to her. Everyone was always eager to talk to her, to ask questions about what happened, or to give their thanks for her part in everything.

Which, to be honest, was a little overwhelming. Fluttershy sighed and turned away from the school, looking at the ground instead. In a lot of ways, it had been easier when no one noticed her. Most days she was okay with the attention, but on days like this, when all she wanted to do was fade into the background…

“Uh, you okay?”

Fluttershy snapped to attention at the voice. It had been two weeks since the Fall Formal, and Sunset Shimmer was her friend now. But no matter how often she reminded herself that she shouldn’t be afraid of her friend, it was hard to resist flinching whenever Sunset caught her off guard.

At least Sunset didn’t seem to take offense at the unintended reaction. Fluttershy smiled in an attempt to pretend like it didn’t happen, but she was sure her nervousness still showed. “Oh, yes. I’m doing just fine, thank you. How are you doing today, Sunset?”

Unlike Fluttershy, Sunset did nothing to hide her disdain for the day ahead of her. She scowled at the school, where they both knew her experiences with the student body would be vastly different than Fluttershy’s. “Oh, you know. Just dying for another fun-filled day at CHS.”

Fluttershy felt childish. What right did she have to be worried about her day when Sunset was going to face so much worse? “I’m sorry. I know it must be hard to have to listen to the things everyone says…”

Sunset shrugged and smiled. “Nah, don’t worry about me. Trust me, I know I deserve a lot worse than what I got. Besides, I have you and the others now. I’ll be okay.”

Fluttershy nodded. She wished she could be more confident, like Sunset.

“So, ready to start the day?”

Although she wanted to agree, Fluttershy held back. She was being stupid. If Sunset could start another school day with a smile on her face, then why couldn’t she do the same?

“Yeah, okay, something’s up.” Sunset shifted in place and seemed to be unsure of what to do. It was kind of a strange sight; Sunset was naturally charismatic and always knew just what to say.

“I uhm…” Fluttershy shook her head. “I’m sorry, I guess I’m just not looking forward to school very much today.”

“If you’re not feeling well, I could take you home,” Sunset suggested. “It’s not like I really need to go to first period for my grade or anything.”

“I don’t want to go home,” Fluttershy said quickly. It was only after Sunset started staring at her more closely that Fluttershy realized how forcefully she’d answered.

“Well, uh, alright then…” Sunset stopped staring and continued to shift in place. Fluttershy didn’t know how to follow up her statement, so she just blushed and turned away.

Soon Sunset spoke again, her voice much more lighthearted. “Well, we could always skip, if you want.”

Fluttershy looked up to see Sunset wink. “Oh, no… I’d hate to get you in trouble or anything.”

Sunset scoffed and rolled her eyes. “We wouldn’t get in trouble. Skipping is like, so easy. All you have to do is just leave school, no one’s gonna care.”

It did seem easy when Sunset talked about it. Fluttershy looked up at the school full of people and made up her mind. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

Sunset lost her grin as she turned back to Fluttershy. “Wait, what? Are you serious?”

“I… yes. If, uhm, if you still want to, I mean…”

Sunset scratched her neck nervously. “Well, I was kinda joking. I didn’t think you would actually want to do something like that.”

Fluttershy winced. Why was she always so dumb? “Oh…”

Sunset took a deep breath. “But hey, what the hell? Whatever’s going on must be pretty bad if even you want to skip school ‘cause of it. So come on, let’s get the fuck out of here before someone notices us.”

“But, uhm…”

Sunset took a few steps backwards towards the parking lot. “It’s your call, but we’re running out of time. If we’re leaving, we need to get going.”

Could she really do something like that? Even if it was somehow as easy as Sunset made it sound, Fluttershy had never even considered skipping school before.

But then she thought about the day ahead of her, and all the attention she’d get from her classmates. With one last look at the school, Fluttershy followed Sunset to the parking lot. She kept her head down the whole way.

“You got a car?” Sunset asked.

“No, I take the bus.”

“Then you’ll need this.” Sunset handed Fluttershy her motorcycle helmet.

Fluttershy took it apprehensively. “But what about you?”

I won’t have any problems looking like I’m not supposed to be at school,” Sunset said with a smirk. “That’s to hide your face as much as it is to protect it.”

That was a fair point. Even as they walked away from the school, Sunset had an effortless air of confidence about her. She looked like she was going exactly where she was supposed to, and Fluttershy knew there was no way she could possibly look the same.

“Ever ride a motorcycle?” Sunset asked as they approached her bike.

“Uhm, no.” Truthfully, Fluttershy was terrified of them.

Sunset mounted the bike and kicked up the kickstand. “No need to worry, I’m just as good at driving as I am at everything else I do.”

That made Fluttershy smile a little. In some ways, Sunset reminded her of Rainbow Dash, which helped Fluttershy feel a little more at ease around her despite their history. Pushing aside her concerns, she put the helmet on and climbed on the bike behind Sunset.

“Keep your feet up here,” Sunset said as she indicated the footrests. “You won’t have a free hand to hold down your skirt, so make sure you’re sitting on it unless you feel like giving everyone a show, and hold onto me tightly.”

Fluttershy blushed as she adjusted her skirt, thankful that the helmet hid her reaction to the joke, then placed her hands on Sunset’s shoulders.

“Nope, around my waist,” Sunset instructed. Fluttershy blushed more as she obeyed. “Alright, here we go.”

The sound of the motorcycle’s engine starting was loud enough that Fluttershy instinctively clung tighter to Sunset. She felt silly and was about to loosen her grip, but changed her mind as soon as they started moving.

It was hardly a high-speed ride. Sunset carefully pulled out of the parking lot, then drove at a reasonable speed on the roads. Most of the cars around them were travelling faster, and Sunset eased into every stop. It didn’t keep Fluttershy from being terrified, but at least she knew Sunset was trying.

The whole ride was a blur, and Fluttershy hardly noticed when they left the main roads and turned onto neighborhood side streets instead. Even through the terror of riding on the motorcycle, Fluttershy couldn’t quite silence the thought that she had just left school with Sunset Shimmer, of all people, and was now in some neighborhood that she didn’t recognize at all.

She chided herself for even thinking something negative like that. Sunset was her friend, and she was different now.

‘Oh thank God,’ Fluttershy thought as they finally reached their destination. It was a little red house in a poor part of town, and Sunset drove the bike right around it, not stopping until she was in the backyard.

Fluttershy wasted no time getting off, and almost collapsed when she did.

“You okay?” Sunset asked as she took off her helmet.

Fluttershy could only nod, and even that was a lie.

“Sorry, hope that wasn’t too much. I have a spare jacket and some jeans you can borrow when I bring you home later. Might be a little big on you, but it’ll be better than riding in a skirt.”

“Y-yeah,” Fluttershy managed to get out.

Sunset wheeled the bike up a ramp that went right into the back door of the house, and Fluttershy followed behind her. They were in a tiny kitchen that was made even tinier by the bike, which Sunset propped up against a wall. Everything was as basic as could be – the only appliances were a refrigerator and an oven, both of which looked old, and a cheap microwave.

Sunset opened the fridge and pulled out a can of soda. “I’ve got soda, water, apple juice, beer, and wine.”

Fluttershy’s mouth hung open a little at how casually Sunset offered alcohol. She didn’t even want to know how Sunset got it in the first place, since she couldn’t be older than seventeen or eighteen. “Uhm, just water, thank you.”

Sunset pulled out a bottle of water as well and handed it to Fluttershy, then walked through the kitchen into the next room. Fluttershy followed and found they were in a living room, which was equally bare bones. There was a small couch across from a small TV, a few shelves with books, and a computer in the corner. The only tables were being used for the TV and computer, and Fluttershy realized that there hadn’t even been any in the kitchen. She had to wonder what Sunset used to eat and work off of.

Following Sunset’s lead, Fluttershy took a seat on the couch. She opened her water bottle and sipped it, slowly starting to feel better after the ride.

“It’s not much, but it’s home,” Sunset said. She seemed slightly embarrassed by the lackluster appearance of her house.

Fluttershy took another look around, not that there was much else to take in. There were only two other rooms and both doors were open, revealing a bathroom and bedroom. “Do you live here by yourself?”

“Uh, yeah.” It seemed that was a sensitive subject.

Fluttershy realized she didn’t know anything about Sunset’s family. As curious as she was how Sunset managed to get her own place while still in high school, there was no way she could bring that up. She understood not wanting to talk about a complicated home life all too well.

“So… you want to talk about what happened?” Sunset asked.

“I…” Fluttershy shook her head. Even here, where he couldn’t possibly reach her, she still felt like he was looming over her.

Although Fluttershy only shook her head to clear her thoughts, it seemed Sunset interpreted it as an answer to her question. “Okay, that’s fine.”

Neither of them said anything as they sipped their drinks. Sunset looked around awkwardly for a moment, then sounded apprehensive when she spoke again. “Look, to tell you the truth, I’m… really bad at this kind of thing. I never had any friends before, so I guess I just… don’t really know what to do. The only people who have even been in my house before are Flash and my social worker, and this whole emotional support thing is completely new.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put anything on you…”

Sunset shook her head. “Don’t apologize. I just mean, well, I guess I’m saying sorry if I don’t know what to say, or say the wrong thing, or… just come across like a bitch, I guess.”

Fluttershy couldn’t help but smile. Sometimes, Sunset was just so much like Rainbow. “It’s okay. You don’t have to do anything, you already helped a lot just by bringing me here.” The more Fluttershy took in the house, the more appealing she found it.

Although Sunset didn’t seem wholly convinced, she pushed onto an easier topic. “Right, so, I don’t have cable and my internet got shut off last week, but I’ve got a bunch of music on my computer and some DVDs we could watch. Sorry I’m kinda low on entertainment.”

Fluttershy smiled. “A movie sounds perfect.”

With a clear plan of action, Sunset seemed much more comfortable. She got up and grabbed a box of DVDs for them to go through, although Fluttershy didn’t care too much what they watched.

As she moved past her nervousness, Fluttershy found the whole thing kind of exciting, in a way. It didn’t matter if all they did was watch movies, listen to music, and talk; there was no one around but the two of them.

Fluttershy couldn’t help but envy Sunset. She had her own life without needing to answer to anyone else, with her own house and everything. There was no one above her, no one who had any power over her.

It was exactly the kind of life Fluttershy dreamt about.

1 – Storm Shelter

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Act I

Winter Winds

Chapter One

Storm Shelter

There was no reasonable explanation for why Sunset’s phone was vibrating. One might assume the reason was because someone was trying to get ahold of her. One would, however, be incorrect. It was the middle of the night, and Sunset had work in the morning. No one could possibly be trying to call her given those circumstances. By force of will if by nothing else, Sunset would never allow it.

In what was perhaps the most cruel turn of events in Sunset’s life, she did not seem to have any say in the matter. Her phone was vibrating, and it did not seem liable to stop on its own.

Sunset fumbled to find her phone from her bedside table while summarizing her displeasure in life itself as an elongated groan. But as she found her phone, the vibrating continued elsewhere.

That could only be bad. Realizing immediately that the vibrating was coming from the journal that was also on the bedside table, Sunset pushed herself into a sitting position. She pulled the book onto her bed and used the light from her phone’s screen to see what she was doing.

Even the dim light made her wince, and it was hardly enough to see by. She found the right page easily enough thanks to a bookmark, but she had to strain her eyes to read what it said.

‘Sunset, it’s Fluttershy. I know it’s really late and you have work tomorrow, but if you can, please write me back. It’s important.’

Fluttershy? That was odd. Not as odd as it would have been a month ago; Twilight and Fluttershy had been dating for some time, and over the past month, Sunset had taken to corresponding with her friend’s marefriend. But still, it was strange for Fluttershy to be up at this hour.

But she wasn’t going to figure out anything by staring in confusion, so she quickly grabbed the pen that had been beside the book and scribbled a short reply. ‘What’s up?’

It didn’t take long for a response to appear. ‘Sorry to wake you, but does the Fluttershy in your world live with somepony named Stormy Skies?’

Sunset let out a yawn, thankful that her friend couldn’t see her exhaustion through the book. ‘No, she lives with her dad.’ Realizing that she didn’t actually know if that answered the question, she quickly added, ‘Or is that his name?’

When Fluttershy responded, her writing came fast and sloppy. ‘Please, do whatever you can to get her away from him. Maybe she could move in with Rainbow or something, anything, just not him.’

Sunset sat straighter as she watched the words come in, suddenly feeling much more alert. ‘Okay, I’m officially awake now. I’ll do what I can, but what’s going on? What’s so bad about him?’

While waiting for Fluttershy to explain, Sunset got out of bed and turned her light on. She had a feeling she wouldn’t be getting back to sleep soon, if she did at all. By the time she returned, Fluttershy was writing again.

‘I’ll explain everything. But is there some way to make sure Twilight doesn’t see? I know I need to tell her too, and I will, but I don’t want her to find out like this.’

That only made Sunset more concerned. Fluttershy and Twilight had been friends for longer than Sunset had known either of them, and they had been dating for at least half a year. They were as close as anyone Sunset knew, and she did not like the idea of something so bad that Fluttershy hadn’t told Twilight about it.

‘I don’t think Twilight would read it if you just asked her not to, but if you really want to be sure you can tear out the page.’ Twilight had made that discovery for them on the day she first told Sunset that she was gay; she’d panicked and she tore out the page, hoping it would unsend the message, but nothing happened on Sunset’s end. ‘And I promise I won’t say anything to her about it.’

Fluttershy’s words came slowly, and Sunset could imagine her reluctance. ‘Well, when I was a teenager, my mom died. After that, Stormy Skies started drinking a lot more and things got pretty bad.’

Sunset tried to remember if the Fluttershy from the human world had ever talked about her home life, and found she couldn’t recall anything. ‘And you think the same thing might be happening with the Fluttershy over here?’

‘I don’t know. I hope not.’ There was a long pause, and Sunset was about to write a reply when Fluttershy wrote again. ‘There was one night when he was drunk that he came into my room, and he’ another pause, and Sunset felt her chest tighten as she waited for the words she already knew were coming ‘told me that without my mom, I would have to do, and then’

When Fluttershy paused again, Sunset jumped in with a reply of her own. ‘It’s alright, I understand. I’m so sorry that happened to you, Fluttershy.’

Once again, Sunset was glad Fluttershy couldn’t see her. In the journal, Sunset’s words looked calm and rational, but outside of it, she was burning with rage. What Stormy Skies did was inexcusable, especially with his own daughter, and Sunset was going to make sure that if the one in this world had done the same, he was going to answer for it. But first, she had a friend to take care of. ‘Have you talked to anyone else about this?’

‘I told Luna after she saw him in my nightmares.’

‘Good. You should tell Twilight about it too. Let her help you with this.’

‘That’s what Luna said, too.’

Sunset took a deep breath. They couldn’t just jump to conclusions, and they didn’t know if the same thing had happened to both Fluttershys. But there was no way in hell Sunset wasn’t going to find out for sure. ‘Give me one second, I’m gonna call the Fluttershy here and make sure she’s okay.’

Checking her phone, Sunset saw it was half past three. She could just wait until the morning. Odds were that Fluttershy was just asleep in bed right now, and that the only thing that Sunset would do by calling was wake her up. But Sunset couldn’t rest easy until she made absolutely sure that being woken up by a phone call was the worst thing that happened to Fluttershy this night.

She tapped the phone app and tapped Fluttershy’s name on the list of recent contacts, deciding what she’d say as it rang.

“Sunset? Is everything alright?” Fluttershy sounded groggy, which was good. She had just been asleep in bed after all.

“Hey, Fluttershy, sorry to wake you. I know this is really really dumb, but uh…” Sunset gave a nervous laugh so she’d sound embarrassed. “Well, I had a bad dream where you were in trouble, and I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“Oh, that’s not dumb at all. I’m fine, but it’s sweet of you to check on me.”

Even if it was just an excuse, saying it made Sunset feel silly enough to blush; now she was glad neither Fluttershy could see her. “Right, of course. I’m sorry, I tried getting back to sleep, but I just couldn’t get that dream out of my head.”

“It’s fine, there’s no reason to be sorry. I do that too sometimes. Do you want to talk for a while? That helps me calm down after a bad dream so that I can get back to bed.”

“No, as long as you’re okay then that’s all I needed to know. Thanks, Fluttershy.”

“Alright, Sunset. But if you change your mind, you can call me back.”

“Okay. Thanks again. You should get back to sleep though, maybe we can hang out tomorrow.”

“That sounds nice. Good night, Sunset.”

“Night, Fluttershy.”

Sunset hung up the phone and sighed with relief. Fluttershy was okay, at least for tonight. She’d use the tentative plans they made to hang out tomorrow to talk about Stormy Skies. Meanwhile, she had another Fluttershy who probably needed a friend right now.

When she returned to the book, she found Fluttershy had written a message while she’d been on the phone. ‘Okay. Sorry to put all of this on you.’

Although she was still furious about what she’d learned, she felt much calmer as she returned to the book. ‘It’s okay, I’m glad you told me. The Fluttershy here was just sleeping soundly, nothing to worry about tonight. I’ll talk to her more tomorrow.’

‘I hope she’s okay.’

‘Yeah, me too.’ Remembering what Fluttershy had said on the phone, Sunset decided to apply it to the one in the book. ‘So I guess you’ve been having trouble sleeping. Feel like talking for a while? Might help you calm down.’

There was a slight pause, and Sunset couldn’t help but smile a little at Fluttershy’s selfless nature when she saw the reply. ‘But you have work tomorrow, you should get some rest.’

‘It’s fine, I went to bed early last night anyway.’ That was a lie, but it sounded better than saying she wasn’t going to be able to sleep one way or another. ‘Really, I don’t mind.’

‘Well, okay then. I’d like that a lot right now, actually.’

Although Sunset was well aware that both Fluttershys were different, there were of course tons of similarities between them. It was nice to have one friend be able to give insight on how the other worked, but as she spent the night writing back and forth to the pony Fluttershy, Sunset just hoped that her personality was where her similarities to the human one ended.


Work was never a good experience, exactly. When Sunset had first started dating Flash way back in freshman year of high school, his uncle Golden Lucre had given her a job working at his store. That had gone well for a while; it filled her time when that was what she needed, gave her a steady paycheck, and she was well liked by her boss and coworkers. But then Sunset went and broke up with Flash, and everything at her job went to hell.

It had been over a year since the breakup, and Sunset had long since patched things up with Flash. The two became friends again while they were still at Canterlot High School, and seven months after graduation, that friendship was still going. And yet, Golden Lucre was still a dick.

But Sunset was used to that. She was a little less used to only having slept for a few hours the night before a morning shift, but it’s not like that had never happened before. No, the main reason the day was particularly awful was the fact that Sunset’s mind was plagued with constant anxiety.

During her lunch break, Sunset had followed up on making more concrete plans with Fluttershy. They’d meet up at the animal shelter where Fluttershy volunteered once Sunset’s shift was over, so everything was lined up. All that there was to do was wait.

Sunset hated waiting at the best of times, and having something so troubling regarding one of her closest friends on her mind meant this was very far removed from the best of times. It was only for half a day, but still, the hours dragged. She used the time to consider how she’d bring up something so upsetting, although she never found a satisfactory answer.

Well, whether she knew what to say or not, the time came all the same. From the moment the afternoon cashier arrived to relieve her, Sunset wasted no time in making for the exit.

At least it was easier to stop thinking about everything once she was out of the store. The cold January air was invigorating after the stifling store environment, and she’d finally be able to gain ground on getting to Fluttershy. But mostly, it was because the roar of her motorcycle engine had always been good for quieting intrusive thoughts. While her fears proved too prevalent to be drowned out entirely, revving her bike’s engine brought Sunset her first genuine smile of the day.

Driving itself also helped. It had been a few years since Sunset had first gotten her motorcycle, and driving through town was hardly the thrill it once was. But the sense of freedom never left. Even when the roads were slick with winter snow, Sunset was able to use the smaller size of her bike and the increased control she felt on it to dodge past cars as the city sped past her at a speed much higher than the legal limit.

Allowing herself to put aside her worries while she drove made the ride much faster, and it hardly felt like any time at all had passed when Sunset pulled into the animal shelter’s parking lot. But once she was no longer driving, all the concerns came rushing back. She still had no idea what she was going to say, but she was about to find out.

Sunset tethered her bike to a tree in the parking lot, double checked the lock, and took one more deep breath to steel herself. At best, this was going to be an awkward conversation that neither of them would be comfortable in. At worst… well, Sunset just hoped for the best.

At least Fluttershy was free of any such concerns as Sunset walked into the building. “Hi, Sunset,” she said brightly. “How’d work go?”

“Hey, Fluttershy.” Sunset grinned and shrugged, not letting any of her nervousness show. “It was okay for work. Just glad to be out now.”

“Of course.” Fluttershy was sitting at the receptionist desk, so Sunset walked over to it and set her helmet down. She opted to remain standing. Fluttershy simply smiled, unaware of how restless Sunset was. “Were you able to get back to sleep last night?”

Sunset scratched her neck. “Well, not really.”

“Aww, you must be exhausted. You should be home resting.”

Sunset maintained a smile but took a deep breath. “Actually, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Sure, what’s on your mind?”

Sunset took a look around. It was just the two of them as far as she could see, but she didn’t know who could be around a corner listening in, not to mention that customers could come at any moment. “It’s kinda personal. Don’t suppose you’re going on break sometime soon?”

Fluttershy checked the time. “Well, it’s just about time to give the doggies their dinner. We can talk while I do that, if that’s okay.” She giggled. “As long you don’t mind a few puppies listening in.”

Sunset chuckled. “I think that sounds just fine.”

It was a good thing Sunset suggested going elsewhere, it seemed. Fluttershy opened a door right next to the desk and informed someone that she’d be stepping away so they could keep an eye on things. Sunset doubted the walls would keep out their conversation, but a bunch of excited dogs eating would do the trick.

With the front covered, Fluttershy led them down a hall and into a room full of dog pens. They all jumped and barked excitedly when they saw Fluttershy, and Sunset could only grin as she wondered if that was because of their caretaker or their meal.

Fluttershy unlocked a closet door with a set of keys attached to her blouse and retrieved a bag of dog food. As short as Fluttershy was, it looked like it weighed almost as much as she did. Almost on instinct, Sunset took the bag from her and started filling bowls.

“So what did you want to talk about?” Fluttershy asked as she started collecting empty or dirty water bowls.

While it had seemed like a great idea at the time, Sunset now realized how awkward it would be to bring up the sensitive subject while they fed a bunch of noisy dogs. But it was what she had to work with, so it would have to do.

“Well, last night I got a message.” Even though she knew their only company was the dogs, Sunset still took a look around to make sure. “From the other Fluttershy.”

“Oh?” Fluttershy set the water bowls down next to a sink in the closet, then joined Sunset so they could talk. “Is everything okay in Equestria?”

“Yeah.” Sunset filled another dog’s bowl then turned towards Fluttershy. This was it. “She was writing to talk about something that happened a long time ago. Something with Stormy Skies.”

Fluttershy’s mouth fell open and her pupils grew larger. “My… my dad?”

“Yeah. Well, her dad, actually.” Sunset shifted the weight of the dog food bag. “He… well, when she was living with him, he was abusive.”

“Oh… that’s awful.”

Sunset studied Fluttershy’s reactions. She was trying to keep cool, but she looked restless and pupil dilation was a fear response. “Well, you know, she’s living with Twilight now. She got away from him ages ago, so she’s okay.”

“Good. No one should have to go through that.” Fluttershy took the dog food from Sunset and returned to filling their bowls.

“Yeah, but… What about you?” Sunset noticed how Fluttershy wasn’t looking at her. Not even occasional glances as she kept her focus firmly on feeding the dogs.

“Hmm? Oh, you don’t think that the same thing happened to me, do you?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Sunset followed Fluttershy to the closet where she’d left the water bowls. After returning the remainder of the food bag, Fluttershy began cleaning them. “I just, you know, want to be sure.”

“Sunset, I’m fine. You don’t need to worry about me.”

Sunset hesitated a moment. She hated to even think the words she was about to say, but she needed to be upfront about it. “He… he raped her. He got drunk one night, and, well…”

That got Fluttershy to turn towards Sunset. “Oh dear… That’s horrible…”

Sunset searched Fluttershy’s expression for something, but honestly? She didn’t know what the appropriate reaction to this situation was, let alone how to gauge Fluttershy’s reactions. As Fluttershy turned back to the water bowls, Sunset closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

As much as she hated it, there was only one thing to do. She couldn’t just assume the same things happened to both Fluttershys, so she needed to ask. “Fluttershy… If anything ever happened with him, anything at all, you can talk to me about it. Whether it’s something like, you know, that, or if even it’s something not so bad like yelling at you. I want to help.”

“That’s sweet, Sunset, but I told you I’m fine.” Fluttershy giggled as she filled a water bowl. “Well, you could help me by bringing these back to the doggies once they’re filled.”

Although Sunset wasn’t sure she was comfortable with dropping the subject, she did take some comfort in the fact that Fluttershy was smiling. That had to be a good sign.

While Fluttershy cleaned and filled the bowls, Sunset brought them to the dogs. On a few occasions, the over-excited dogs knocked the bowls over and Sunset had to bring them back empty, but Fluttershy seemed to find it amusing.

Going back and forth didn’t give them more time to talk, but it did give Sunset a minute or two to think. Fluttershy said that there was no need to worry, and while Sunset couldn’t help being worried anyway, she could trust her friend.

“Sorry for bringing up all this awkward stuff,” Sunset said as Fluttershy locked up the closet. “I was just worried and –”

“Sunset, it’s fine,” Fluttershy interrupted with a smile. She certainly seemed fine. “I completely understand, and it was very thoughtful for you to check on me.”

“Yeah, of course.” They started to walk towards the exit, but Sunset stopped them before they made it out. “Hey, Fluttershy? Just so you know, you can always call me if you need to. If you ever need help, with, well, with anything at all. I’ll always be there to help you.”

Fluttershy turned and smiled. “Thank you, Sunset, I know. But you really should get some rest for now, it sounds like you worried yourself sick.”

Sunset was probably as satisfied as she was going to be with things, so she followed Fluttershy back into the entryway. They talked for a few more minutes about much more normal topics, then Sunset said her goodbyes and left.

The ride back to her house was less enjoyable. She didn’t even try to use her bike’s maneuverability to hurry the trip any, and practically kept herself on autopilot as she drove. Every spare thought was dedicated to the meeting that had just taken place.

When Sunset first told Fluttershy she knew about Stormy Skies, she had looked afraid. Neither Stormy Skies was the world’s greatest dad, that much Sunset was sure of.

But maybe Sunset had misread things, maybe it had been more shock than fear. It was a heavy thing to find out about someone, especially if that someone was a duplicate of yourself in another dimension.

It didn’t help that they rarely talked about the Equestrian counterparts. Fluttershy knew that her counterpart was dating Twilight, but Sunset hadn’t even found the chance to tell anyone that she was now in regular contact with the pony Fluttershy. Things tended to get weird whenever the doubles were discussed, so they tended to not be discussed often.

It was entirely reasonable that Fluttershy was only reacting to a strange and shocking revelation. But, of course, Sunset couldn’t just leave things there.

When she got back to her house, Sunset drove around to the back, as always. She got off her bike in the backyard and wheeled it into the detached garage the Apples had helped her build. Once that was securely locked up, Sunset used the back door of her house to enter the kitchen.

She didn’t linger in there for long, just dropping her helmet and bike jacket off on the kitchen table. Regret came quick as the heat was kept low in the house to save on the bill, so she ducked into the bedroom for a light sweater. She considered making some coffee to keep warm, but decided against it. She really was exhausted, and was hoping to get to bed early for once.

But first, she had something to do. She sat down in front of her computer and turned it on. Even though it was four years old by now, it still booted up quickly. It was a good thing Sunset had been so forward thinking when she made it; there was no way her budget would allow her to replace it these days.

Once it was on, she opened the internet browser and began searching. “Domestic abuse laws.”

Sunset hoped that there really was nothing to worry about, but she’d be damned if she didn’t do everything in her power to make sure of it.


For the second night in a row, Sunset was awoken by a vibrating sound. This time, however, she shot straight up with no hesitation.

As she grabbed her phone, she saw Fluttershy’s name and picture were displayed. She immediately swiped to answer it. “Fluttershy? What’s up?”

“I…” It sounded like Fluttershy was breathing heavily. “Sunset, I’m, uhm…”

“Easy, Fluttershy.” Sunset was already getting up to get dressed. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“Well, I… can you come get me? I-I think I can explain better if you do.”

“Yeah, of course. Are you at your house?”

“I’m at the end of my block at a, uhm, a bus stop.”

“Okay. I’m gonna be there as soon as I can be, just wait for me there.”

“Alright.” Fluttershy took a shaky breath. “I’m sorry, I just…”

“Hey, no need for that.” Sunset grabbed her keys and left her bedroom. “I’m heading out now, but I can’t talk on my motorcycle. If you need to talk to someone to keep calm, call AJ, Rainbow, or Pinkie. I know it’s late, but they won’t mind.”

“Okay. I think I’ll be alright. Thank you, Sunset.”

“No problem, see you soon.” Sunset hung up the phone and retrieved her jacket from the kitchen table, followed by her helmet. She put them on before leaving the house, and she was glad she did.

With the sun down, everything was even colder. The wind had picked up, and it looked like a storm might be coming. It wasn’t so bad with how bundled up she was, but the bike ride wasn’t going to be fun.

It didn’t matter. One way or another, she had to go, so there was no point in dwelling on that.

Sunset unlocked her garage and pulled the bike out of it, checking the time before heading off. It was after midnight, so at least the roads would be empty.

The wind chill along the way wound up being barely noticeable after all. Sunset had to drive slow for fear of ice on the roads, which minimized the effect. Plus any remaining sensation was drowned out by adrenaline as Sunset tried not to think about what might have happened to cause Fluttershy to call her, but thought about nothing else all the same.

Under good conditions, it was a twenty-minute drive to Fluttershy’s house. In the dark and the snow, it ought to be close to double that. Sunset pushed herself to go faster than was wise, but the trip still took at least half an hour.

The frustration at how long it took hardened as Sunset finally saw Fluttershy. She was dressed for the cold, but her jacket wasn’t nearly heavy enough to be out so long on a night like this. She was sitting alone at a bus stop, like she said she would be, and she had her arms wrapped around her as she shivered violently.

Sunset pulled up alongside her and removed her helmet. “Sorry it took so long. Are you okay?”

Somehow, Fluttershy still found it in her to smile. “I’m fine. Thank you for coming.” She picked up a backpack and approached the bike.

But before she could get on, Sunset quickly handed her the helmet and started pulling off her jacket. “Here, you’re frozen. Put these on.”

Fluttershy looked down at the jacket without taking it. “But what about you? I’ll be okay.”

“No, you’ve been out here waiting and you’re not dressed for it.” It was below freezing out, and Fluttershy’s jeans and jacket couldn’t possibly keep out the wind. “And you’re definitely not dressed to ride in this cold. I’ll keep the gloves and I’ve got warmer pants, you can take the jacket and the helmet. So we’ll split the misery.”

“I… I guess.” Although she was still reluctant, Fluttershy put on the jacket and helmet, which was what mattered.

“Are you okay though?” Sunset asked. “Like, are you hurt or anything? I can bring you to a hospital.”

“No, nothing happened.” Fluttershy’s voice was muffled by the helmet. “I just… well, I’ll explain at your house.”

“You got it.” Not wanting to waste any more time, Sunset drove off as soon as Fluttershy gave her signal that she was ready. At least she kept a tight hold around Sunset’s waist, which helped a little with the wind chill.

While Sunset loved her motorcycle, times like these she did wish she had a regular car. The cold stung her face and tore through the parts of her shirt that Fluttershy didn’t have her arms around. Not to mention talking was impossible, leaving Sunset wondering the whole way what could have happened.

But now that she knew Fluttershy was safe, Sunset wasn’t going to take any chances on keeping it that way. As much as the cold wind made it a nightmare, she drove much slower on the return trip.

Her house could not have been more welcome. Snow had started falling towards the tail end of the trip, and it was likely to pick up harder soon. By the time she pulled up to her garage, she was shivering so much that it was a challenge to get the lock to open. Fluttershy lingered off to the side while Sunset got her bike stowed away, and neither of them seemed to feel like talking while out in the snow.

Walking into the house and closing the door to the cold behind them wasn’t quite so satisfying as Sunset had hoped. “How about you grab the blanket from the bedroom and I’ll get some hot drinks going?” Sunset suggested.

“That sounds nice.”

“Coffee or cocoa?” Sunset called as Fluttershy went into the bedroom.

“Cocoa, please.”

Although Sunset doubted highly that they’d be sleeping much, it was still probably the safer choice. Sunset ran the water through the coffee pot then took a moment to raise the thermostat while the water heated up. She normally kept it colder than she really liked, but tonight it was more important to keep Fluttershy comfortable than to worry about her bills.

Sunset got out two mugs, emptied a packet of instant hot cocoa powder into each, then filled them with water. When she brought them into the living room, she found Fluttershy was already bundled up on the couch.

“Careful, it’s hot,” Sunset said as she handed Fluttershy her mug and took a seat beside her. She covered herself with the blanket, the small size of the couch making it easy to share.

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said as she took her cocoa. They both sat in silence for a moment, stirring their cocoa and wondering which would start.

Eventually, it fell to Sunset to ask. “So… what happened?”

Fluttershy sighed. “I feel so stupid…”

“Hey, you’re not stupid. Whatever happened, it’s okay. You can tell me.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “But that’s just it. Nothing happened.”

Sunset waited for more, then prompted Fluttershy when it didn’t come. “What do you mean?”

“My dad came home late and… well, he was drunk.” Fluttershy stared resolutely into her cup. “He does drink a lot. And sometimes he can be mean when he’s drunk.”

Sunset joined Fluttershy in staring into the cocoa. She wondered if either of them were actually going to feel like drinking them with how the conversation seemed to be going. “Has he ever hurt you?”

Fluttershy inhaled sharply, then proved they would, in fact, drink their cocoa after all as she took a sip. “Yes.”

Sunset pursed her lips and had to remind herself that no matter what she found out, Fluttershy was safe with her now, and that was her number one concern. “And… what about, uhm…”

“No,” Fluttershy said simply, yet resolutely. “He’s… hit me before. But that’s it.”

“Okay.” Sunset took a deep breath, relieved that her worst fear seemed to be avoided. “Did he hit you tonight?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “No, nothing happened. I’m just… dumb…”

“You’re not dumb,” Sunset said, a bit too forcefully. She reminded herself to keep her temper in check. It was Stormy Skies that she was mad at, of course, but Fluttershy could easily interpret the anger as being directed at her. “It isn’t okay for him to hurt you, and even if he didn’t do anything tonight, you were right to get out of there.”

Fluttershy sipped more of her cocoa, and Sunset finally did as well. It was still extremely hot, and while Sunset loved burning hot drinks, she was surprised to see that Fluttershy seemed to as well.

“He came home drunk and… and he was being really loud.” Fluttershy sighed, sounding more exasperated than anything. “I kept thinking about what you told me today, and I got scared. So I packed a bag and snuck out of my window. He probably thinks I’m asleep in bed.”

“Alright, I understand.” Sunset sipped more of her cocoa and thought about what Fluttershy had told her. But there was nothing to think about, not really. “I’m sorry if our conversation earlier put bad ideas into your head, but you did the right thing. If you’re that scared that you had to get out of there, well… that speaks for itself, I think.”

Fluttershy didn’t sound convinced. “It doesn’t matter. I could’ve just stayed quiet in my room and I wouldn’t have bothered you. We could both be asleep by now.”

“But it does matter.” Sunset placed her hand on Fluttershy’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “No one should be afraid of their own dad, whether he’s drunk or not. You shouldn’t have to live like that.”

Fluttershy gave a small smile at the affectionate motion, but it was gone as soon as it came. “Maybe, but I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Sunset pulled her hand back so she could shrug properly. “Move in with me.”

That got a laugh out of Fluttershy, which was good to see. “If only life was that easy.”

“It can be,” Sunset said. “I’m not joking, Fluttershy.” Her smile fell away as Fluttershy looked into Sunset’s eyes. “You’re eighteen, about to be nineteen in a few weeks. You’re legally an adult, meaning you don’t have to live with him. He’s not your legal guardian anymore.”

Fluttershy held a hand to her mouth and looked off to the side. “Well, yeah, but… I, uh, I know you don’t have a lot of money, and I don’t have a job…”

Sunset nodded. “It will be tight, and it’s only fair that you know that before you agree to anything. But I can manage finances pretty well, and Applejack’s always trying to buy me groceries and stuff anyway. If I start accepting, that’ll help offset the food costs.”

“But I’ll still be a burden, and –”

“Fluttershy,” Sunset said gently, “you’re not a burden, you’re a friend. I care about you, and I want to make sure you’re okay. And if money has to be a little tighter, then we can work with that.” When Fluttershy still looked like she might refuse, Sunset added, “I know it’s a big change, and you don’t have to say ‘yes’ right now. Just… don’t say ‘no’ right now either. You’re already here tonight, so just think about it. We can talk more tomorrow, okay?”

It still took a moment’s hesitation for Fluttershy to answer. “Okay.”

It wasn’t an agreement, but even a potential yes was better than a no. Sunset smiled. “Alright. And since you are here tonight, let’s make the most of it. Unless you just want to get some sleep?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I don’t think I could sleep right now if I tried.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Sunset set her mug on the coffee table and stood up. The house was warming to a comfortable temperature, and Sunset was going to make the most of this night. With any luck, she could show Fluttershy that it could be fun for them to live together. “We’ve got movies, music, board games, hell, we can do makeovers if you want! It’ll be just like a high school sleepover.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Oh, I haven’t had anyone to do makeovers with since Rarity moved away.”

That was on the bottom of Sunset’s list of preferred activities, but as long as Fluttershy was enjoying herself, it didn’t matter. “I don’t know if I’ll be much of a stand-in for Rarity, but you got it!”

With any luck, Sunset might be able to convince Fluttershy that this could work. That the two of them could enjoy being housemates, and that the finances would work out somehow.

And as for herself, all Sunset could do was try her best to bury the voice that doubted that was true.

2 – Hope

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Chapter Two

Hope

It was another sleepless night, but that was nothing new to Fluttershy. The dull sense of malaise and the sluggishness were as familiar to her as the first rays of sunshine filtering in through the windows and the morning birdsong.

Resigning herself to a lack of sleep was an old experience, but doing so in Sunset’s house was a new one. For all the slumber parties she and her friends had thrown during their last year of high school, Sunset had never hosted one. In fact, she and Fluttershy were the only two who hadn’t. Sunset’s house was small and she lacked places for everyone to relax comfortably. Fluttershy had other reasons.

It had been over a year since Fluttershy and Sunset had become friends, and Fluttershy had hardly ever been to Sunset’s house. She did love to visit, but she was seldom invited. Of course, she knew it wasn’t anything personal; Sunset rarely invited anyone to her house, even when it wasn’t the whole group. It wasn’t exactly a secret that she struggled with finances, but it was a very sensitive subject for her, and she always seemed embarrassed by what she had to show when friends were over.

Sunset had so little, and yet she readily offered to share it with Fluttershy. She could give nothing in return, and would only be a burden to her friend. And yet, Sunset had offered, and Fluttershy had been unable to flat out refuse.

So Fluttershy had spent the night tossing and turning on Sunset’s couch, considering something that should be inconsiderable. Sunset was a good friend, and Fluttershy knew that accepting her offer would make things harder for her. There was only one decent thing to do, even if that meant she would have to give up the chance to get away from him…

With no hope of sleep, Fluttershy grew restless of trying. She sat up and stretched, then quickly pulled the sleeves back over her arms when they slid down. She had been so panicked when she left the night before that she had forgotten to bring pajamas of her own, so Sunset had lent her some. It had definitely made for a more comfortable night than staying in her jeans and T-shirt would’ve, but on top of the fact that Sunset was several sizes larger, she preferred loose fitting pajamas that practically fell off of Fluttershy.

Not quite ready to leave her warm spot on the couch just yet, Fluttershy grabbed her phone from the table. No new messages, so if he noticed she was gone he didn’t seem to be concerned about it. That was good, at least.

Fluttershy whiled away an hour on her phone before getting up. It was just after eight and they had stayed up well into the night, so it would probably be a while before Sunset woke up. Fluttershy appreciated how much Sunset did to make her feel at ease and she really had enjoyed herself, but she couldn’t help feeling guilty in retrospect. Sunset hadn’t slept well the night before because she was worried about Fluttershy, and now she’d kept her up late into another night…

Needless to say, there was no way she could do anything that would wake Sunset up now. She quietly walked into the kitchen, putting one more room in between herself and her sleeping friend. Not that Fluttershy was typically very loud. She had long since learned to preoccupy herself as quietly as possible so as to fade from the perception of others, but it never hurt to be extra cautious.

Sitting on a wooden chair at the kitchen table helped her feel a little more alert, but it did make her notice that she was getting hungry. She didn’t want to eat Sunset’s food while she was asleep, however, so she ignored it as best she could. Eventually she conceded to help herself to a glass of orange juice, both to get something in her stomach and to give herself something to do aside from her phone.

Rather than return to the table, Fluttershy sipped her juice near a window, observing the world outside. It wasn’t exactly much of a view. The kitchen was in the back of the house, so all Fluttershy saw was a bit of Sunset’s yard, her detached garage, and a fence separating the neighbor’s property. Even though the sun had risen, the dark clouds from that hung in the sky still made it hard to see. But it had snowed the night before and snowflakes were still lightly falling, which gave her something to watch absentmindedly.

She stayed by the window for a long time, even after finishing her juice. It was comforting to watch, even if Fluttershy didn’t feel especially comforted. She kept going over Sunset’s offer the night before in her head, weighing it against going back to her house.

It wasn’t like it was a real choice. She couldn’t stay with Sunset, that would put too much stress on her. But then when she thought about the alternative…

It was ridiculous. It was her life, the same as it had been since her mom died when she was fourteen. And it wasn’t that she thought it was going to get worse, or even that having Sunset’s offer was making it seem worse by comparison. It was just that nothing ever seemed to get any better, and she didn’t know how much longer she could take that.

It was an impossible choice. And yet, she had to make it. Fluttershy looked out the window and tried to find peace in the natural beauty of the gently falling snow. She took hold of what little she found and held it in her heart as she bowed her head, closed her eyes, and brought her hands together.

Fluttershy would not have said she was a devout Christian. There had been a time when she had gone to church every Sunday, but the past four years had seen many tests on her faith. Although she never lost her belief, she felt guilty as she prayed. How could she think to ask for help now when she had stopped all but the most superficial attempts to be close to God?

Still, the words came. They came quietly, scared as she was of doing anything to disturb Sunset, but they came all the same.

“Dear Lord, please forgive me losing my way. I know I have no right to ask for your guidance now, but I need it more than ever. I’m so lost, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to be a burden on my friend, but I don’t know if I’m strong enough to go back to that house. Should I return and find my own path to freedom, or is this a chance I’m meant to take? Please Lord, allow me to know what the right thing to do is. Amen.”

“Morning, Fluttershy.” Sunset’s voice caused Fluttershy to jump. “You’re up early.”

Fluttershy turned to see Sunset, still in pajamas, yawning as she placed her phone on the table. How long had she been there? Fluttershy hoped she hadn’t overheard the prayer. “I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t wake you…”

Sunset smiled and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, how do you expect anyone to sleep with all that racket?” She placed the coffee pot under the faucet and turned it on, then opened a cabinet and pulled out a canister of grounds while it filled. “Coffee?”

Fluttershy looked at her empty cup sitting on the table. “Uhm, yes please. I hope you don’t mind, I helped myself to some juice.”

“No problem, you can help yourself to whatever you want.” Sunset got the coffee going then took a seat. “Hope last night wasn’t too bad. I know the couch isn’t the best place to sleep.”

“Oh, no, it was fine,” Fluttershy said as she brought her cup to the sink. Since Sunset didn’t have a dishwasher, Fluttershy rinsed it then left it in the sink, resolving to do the dishes before she left.

It seemed that Sunset could see straight through Fluttershy’s attempt to dispel her concerns. “Yeah, I couldn’t really sleep either.”

Fluttershy took a seat across from Sunset. “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have called you…”

“You definitely should’ve called me. I’m really not worried about missing a little sleep. Besides, I don’t work today anyway, so it’s no big deal.”

It definitely didn’t sound like Sunset was upset, but Fluttershy couldn’t help but feel guilty. Still, she knew there was no reason to argue the point, so she just smiled as if everything was fine.

At least Sunset was smiling as well. A friendly face did make for a nice way to start the day. “So how about you? Have anything going on with school or the shelter today?”

“No, I have Mondays off too.”

“Cool, so we have the whole day to ourselves. I’m open to anything you want to do.”

“Okay. Uhm…” Fluttershy smiled sheepishly. “Maybe we could start with breakfast?”

Sunset laughed. “Of course. Sorry, I guess it kind of slipped my mind since I usually skip breakfast. Let me see what I have to work with.”

While Sunset got up to look through cupboards, Fluttershy noticed the coffee was done. Eager to be helpful, she quickly retrieved and filled two mugs, setting them both on the counter.

“Speaking of not normally eating breakfast,” Sunset said awkwardly, “I don’t really have a whole lot. Looks like your options are toast or bagels.”

“A bagel sounds just fine.” Fluttershy blew on her coffee to cool it.

Sunset pulled a sleeve of bagels out of the cabinet and checked the expiration date. She cast a sideways glance towards Fluttershy, who pretended to not notice when she then examined the bagel for mold. Apparently it passed the examination, as Sunset then put it in the toaster.

“I got cream cheese and peanut butter.”

Fluttershy quirked an eyebrow. “Peanut butter?”

“Yeah.” Sunset smirked. “You’ve never had peanut butter on bagels? It’s good!”

“Maybe another time. I think I’ll just have cream cheese for now.”

“Suit yourself.” While the bagel was toasting, Sunset got out the cream cheese, a knife, and a plate. “We can go shopping for some stuff you like more if you want. Or you can just let me know what to get, and I’ll pick it up at work.”

Instead of answering, Fluttershy took a sip of her coffee. It was too hot, but she drank anyway. The heat distracted her from the guilt she felt at how casually Sunset talked about things like she was already living there. When the bagel popped up, Sunset moved to dress it before Fluttershy could do anything, so she just sipped some more.

Sunset placed the bagel in front of Fluttershy than sat next to her. She started sipping her own coffee, apparently unbothered by the heat, and neither spoke for a few moments as Fluttershy began to eat.

But of course, there was only one way the conversation could go. It was Sunset who eventually brought it up. “So have you thought about what you want to do at all?”

Fluttershy set aside her bagel and tried to turn to face Sunset. She couldn’t manage to meet her eyes, however. “Uhm, yes. I’m very grateful for the offer, but I couldn’t possibly accept it. It would make things too hard for you, and you don’t need that.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought you’d say.” Sunset picked up her phone from the table and held it so Fluttershy could see, then opened the calculator app. “Alright, so this is roughly what I make in a month.” Sunset typed twelve hundred into the calculator, then started subtracting numbers. “Then factor in the bills. We’ve got rent, water, electric, gas, internet, phone, and insurance for my motorcycle. Groceries and gas are a little less consistent, but we’ll estimate for those. That leaves us with around… two fifty.”

Fluttershy frowned at the numbers on the calculator. Two-hundred-fifty dollars didn’t sound like a lot of money, but when it came down to it, Fluttershy had no real concept of household finances. “But, uhm, what about if I lived here too?”

“Well, a lot of things aren’t gonna change. Rent, insurance, stuff like that. Electricity and water will go up some, but the main thing will be groceries. But like I was saying last night, Applejack’s already offered to help with that, and that was before you were even part of the picture. So we’ll have to be careful, but yeah, this can totally work.”

There was no denying that Sunset understood this much better than Fluttershy. She had been living alone and handling her own finances since before they met, while Fluttershy had never even had a paying job. Maybe if Sunset thought it could work, then…

Fluttershy drank more of her coffee as she tried to shake that thought from her head. It didn’t matter if it could work, what mattered was that it would make things harder on Sunset when they were already hard enough. Fluttershy was fine, she could just go back to her own house. Go back to… back to…

Her heart raced much faster than it ought to have when she thought of what waited for her behind the walls of her home. Fluttershy tried taking a few short breaths to steady herself and keep from crying, but she felt like she could explode at any moment.

Through the clouded world around her, Fluttershy felt Sunset’s hand on her own. She realized that Sunset was still waiting for an answer. How long had it been since she had made her assurances that things could work?

Instead of turning to look at Sunset, Fluttershy just stared at their hands. Maybe it was just from holding the coffee mug, but Sunset’s hand felt so warm against her own. Fluttershy closed her eyes and tried to shut out everything but that feeling.

“I know this is a big step to just jump into, but… if you’re still considering despite that, then don’t you think that’s kind of a big indication you need this change?” Sunset squeezed Fluttershy’s hand. “And it’s not like you don’t have options here. You could ask Rainbow, or anyone. I’m sure all our friends would gladly take you in, I’m just the one without parents to worry about.”

It was true that all of their other friends were in a better place to take someone into their household. Rainbow was like her family already, and her parents were successful in their careers. They owned a large house with a spare room, and they clearly made a lot of money with the expensive purchases they made.

The Apples did have it a little harder on the farm where even Apple Bloom had to work to help keep things going, but that just meant Fluttershy would have an easier time pulling her own weight. She wasn’t sure how useful she’d be doing farmwork, but she’d at least be able to do something.

And while Fluttershy didn’t know Pinkie’s parents as well, they had always been happy and able to accommodate everyone during sleepovers. Maud had recently left for college, so there was a little extra room despite the family being so large.

“And you know,” Sunset continued, “you won’t be locked into anything. Come stay with me for the week, and if you don’t think it’s working out, then ask someone else. If you make the decision to leave your dad’s, everything else can be worked out later.”

While that rung true, there was a catch to it that Sunset had barely touched on. “But I need to decide if I’m leaving today…”

Sunset hesitated a moment before answering. “Well, you do need to decide what you’re doing today. But if you decide to go back, you can always call me if you change your mind. Or even if you just need to get out of the house for a night again. This isn’t a now or never thing.”

“I guess that makes sense…”

“Of course it does.” Sunset pulled her hand back from Fluttershy’s, who finally looked up at her. She wore a cocky grin as she placed her hands behind her head. “I mean, what else do you expect? I said it.”

That made Fluttershy smile. Sunset’s confidence was reassuring, and something Fluttershy could enjoy being around much more. “I think… I should finish breakfast first.”

Sunset laughed. “Okay, fair enough.” Although Sunset wasn’t eating, she stayed at the table as she drank her coffee and managed to turn the conversation to happier topics. Fluttershy was surprised she was able to enjoy the conversation at all, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy.

They talked about Fluttershy’s work at the shelter, which always helped raise her mood, and about how she balanced that with college. Sunset took lead in keeping the conversation going, and Fluttershy managed to stay out of her thoughts. It wasn’t that she ever forgot her dilemma entirely – it was far too big to be dismissed so easily – but she was able to devote most of her focus to something else, which she was extremely grateful for.

“Ten o’clock,” Sunset remarked after a while. Had it really been two hours already? “Any idea what you want to do today?”

Fluttershy wasn’t sure if Sunset was talking about her big decision, or if she’d just meant it more generally, but the question still brought the negative thoughts back to the forefront.

“I think…” Fluttershy closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She wanted to say that she would just go home and call Sunset if she ever needed to, but she couldn’t bring the words out. Not after everything that had happened, not with the thoughts of him running through her head. “I think I should call Rainbow…”

“Good idea.” Sunset stood up and walked towards the living room. “I’ll give you some space.”

Sunset left and Fluttershy picked up her phone. Knowing Rainbow, she’d still be asleep, which Fluttershy added to her growing list of reasons to feel guilty as she pulled up the number and tapped the dial button. As the phone rang, she took a few more steadying breaths, which had no effect.

“What’s up?” As expected, Rainbow sounded groggy.

“Hi, Rainbow. I’m sorry to wake you up, but I…” Fluttershy’s voice caught in her throat.

“Shy? Is something wrong?”

Although she had been mostly fine talking to Sunset, hearing Rainbow’s voice made it impossible to hold herself together. It was just a natural thing. She didn’t need to be strong when Rainbow Dash was around. “Ev-everything’s happening so f-fast. I don’t know what to do, Dashie…”

“Hey, it’s okay. What’s going on?”

Fluttershy’s voice was thin and shaky, but at least her tears came quietly. “It’s… I left my house…”

“Oh gosh. I’ll come get you, where are you?”

“I’m okay now, I’m at Sunset’s. I stayed here last night.”

“Good.” The relief was obvious in Rainbow’s voice. “So what happened?”

“Well…” Fluttershy thought about how much to tell Rainbow, and decided to go with the same story she had told Sunset. “My dad was drunk when he came home… Nothing happened, but I got scared and called Sunset.”

Nothing happened?”

Fluttershy winced. It had been stupid to think Rainbow would accept that as easily as Sunset had. “He, uhm… Well, when I saw him he looked really angry about something and I… I don’t know what would’ve happened if I stayed.”

“I’m glad you got out of there. So you’re okay now?”

“Yeah. I stayed at Sunset’s last night, but the thing is, uhm…” She glanced towards the living room. “She… she said I should move in with her…”

“Woah, really?”

“She said I don’t have to decide now, but… whenever I think about going back…”

“Fluttershy, this is great! You should totally do that!”

“You… you think so?”

“Heck yeah, I do. I told you that you should get the hell out of there ages ago.”

“I…” Fluttershy might as well be honest with herself. “I want to. I want to so much… But… I’m scared.”

“It’ll be okay. Want me to head over there?”

“If you can…” Fluttershy couldn’t help but smile, even if her breaths were ragged as she did. This whole thing was too bizarre not to. “I, uhm, I don’t think we could get my stuff over on Sunset’s motorcycle.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Yeah, that might be pretty tough. He’s at work now, right? I’ll make sure the van is empty then I’ll head over. We’ll be in and out before he even realizes you’re gone, that way you won’t have to see him.”

“That’d be nice. Thank you, Dash.”

“No problem! See you soon.”

“Alright, bye.” Fluttershy hung up the phone and just stared at it for a moment. Her tears had subsided and she no longer felt like crying. She no longer felt like anything. With a plan ahead of her, all Fluttershy could think of was how surreal it was. She felt like she was watching a scene from someone else’s life, detached from the situation and whatever consequences they brought.

When she left the kitchen, Sunset was dressed and sitting on the couch. She smiled, so Fluttershy smiled as well. It was an automatic response. “I, uhm, I hope it’s okay that I asked Rainbow to come over.”

“Of course it is.” Sunset shifted to a more nervous look. “So… did you decide anything?”

Fluttershy looked at the ground for a moment before turning back to Sunset and answering. “I know I don’t want to live with him anymore. Rainbow’s bringing her van, and she thinks we can be in and out while he’s at work.”

“Got it. You probably want to get dressed then.”

Fluttershy looked down at the loose fitting pajamas and nodded. “That… might be a good idea.” She retrieved her backpack and took it with her into the bathroom.

Once the door was shut behind her, Fluttershy set her backpack aside. Instead of getting dressed, she walked over to the mirror and examined her reflection. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for. She didn’t really know if she was looking for anything at all.

She didn’t see anything, and that was for the best. It was also for the best to keep moving. Don’t stop, don’t think about what was happening. If she did, she might change her mind.

Having seen the state of Sunset’s room with clothes lying around haphazardly, Fluttershy very much doubted Sunset would care, but she still folded Sunset’s pajamas up neatly and set them aside. She pulled her own clothes out of her backpack and dressed as slowly and meticulously as jeans and a T-shirt allowed, taking the time to smooth out wrinkles she’d made in her hasty packing.

Examining her reflection once more revealed the only thing out of the ordinary was her unkempt hair. There was a hairbrush near the sink, so Fluttershy took the chance to fix her appearance. Maintaining her long hair was always time-consuming, but Fluttershy didn’t mind. It was calming, in a way. She watched her reflection absent-mindedly as the gentle rhythm of running the brush through her hair dominated her focus.

By the time she was done, the only thing she was doing was brushing her hair for the sensation alone, having long since finished untangling it. Examining her reflection again revealed that something was still off, and she realized what it was. Fluttershy smiled, and suddenly things were as they should be. There. Now no one would second guess a thing.

“I hope you don’t mind I used your hairbrush,” Fluttershy said as she left the room.

Sunset looked up from her phone and matched Fluttershy’s smile. “Of course I don’t.”

Since they still had to wait for Rainbow’s arrival, Fluttershy took a seat on the couch beside Sunset. She wanted to talk about something to distract herself, but couldn’t figure out how to bring anything up, so she just hoped Sunset would take charge of the conversation again.

She did, but not in the way Fluttershy had hoped she would. “So how are you feeling?”

“I, uhm…”

“Right, that was a dumb question.” Sunset placed her hand on Fluttershy’s again. “I know you’re nervous, but things are gonna be okay. I’ll look out for you.”

Was Fluttershy nervous? She certainly had been, but now she tried to just not think about it. “Thank you, I’m sure you’re right.”

It seemed that Fluttershy’s smile did its job in keeping Sunset from worrying about her too much. She dropped all talk about the future, letting Fluttershy fall back into a comfortable routine of light conversation.

A knock on the door brought the conversation to a close. Fluttershy wasn’t sure whether she should be anxious at what was coming or eager to get everything over with. But it didn’t matter; this was just the next thing, and she would just keep moving forward.

That was almost jeopardized when Sunset answered the door and Rainbow stepped inside. “You okay, Shy?”

It took a little more effort to keep her smile in place now that Rainbow was around, but she still managed. “Yes. Ready to go?”

“Of course, let’s do it!” At least Rainbow was excited. All Fluttershy could manage was to smile along as she followed the others outside.

The snow from the night before had been heavy, and they had to trudge through it to get to Rainbow’s van. Fluttershy sat in the front next to Rainbow while Sunset sat in the back. At least it was still nice and warm inside the van from the drive over, and Rainbow wasted no time in starting it and getting the heat on once again.

Still, the dark clouds in the distance added a feeling of urgency to the day. While the house was practically guaranteed to be empty while they were there, getting caught in a snowstorm was still a concern.

“This is so cool!” Rainbow said, oblivious to Fluttershy’s mixed feelings. She didn’t seem to mind the snowflakes that fell on the windshield as they began driving.

“Let’s save the celebration until after we get back from Fluttershy’s dad’s place.”

“Stepdad,” Rainbow corrected.

“Huh?”

Fluttershy frowned. It wasn’t a distinction she usually made. “Uhm, that’s right. He married my mom before I was born, though. So I really just always think of him as my dad.”

Rainbow scoffed. “He’s never acted like one.”

“Maybe we should focus on something else?” Sunset suggested.

“I guess.” Rainbow turned on the radio and started flipping through channels.

“Maybe… maybe Rainbow has a point,” Fluttershy said. “I… I used to want him to be more like other kids’ dads. But… I don’t think he ever wanted that.”

“It doesn’t matter what he wanted,” Rainbow insisted. “He was a dick, and you’re better off without him.”

Fluttershy wished she would have chosen a different insult, but she did have a point.

Sunset sounded a little less sure about jumping into that particular discussion, but she eventually did anyway. “You know, the other Fluttershy just calls him by his name. Keeps it impersonal, like he’s not even any kind of family.”

“I guess that makes sense…” Fluttershy wasn’t sure if she wanted to do that. In reality, she just wanted to not think or talk about him at all. Just get through the day and be done with it. Let whatever happened next happen, but he wouldn’t be a part of it.

A life without him. Her dad, or stepdad, or Stormy Skies. Whatever he was, he could be it somewhere far away from her. That was the life she wanted, and that was the only thing she was sure of.


The driveway was empty when Rainbow pulled into it, just as it should be. Fluttershy expected to feel something when they reached the house, but she didn’t. The house itself had never been what concerned her, after all.

“How long do we have?” Sunset asked.

“He’ll be gone most of the day,” Fluttershy answered as everyone got out of the van. “At least until six, and that’s only if he comes straight home.”

“Perfect, more than enough time,” Rainbow said.

They followed Fluttershy around to the back of the house, where she used a hidden key to get inside. It was more than a little strange to think that by the time the day was out, she’d never be coming back to this place.

“My room is over here,” Fluttershy said, if only to chase out the thoughts. It was better if she didn’t think about things like that, so she would just have to try and stay focused on the task ahead of her.

She led them through the living room, down a short hallway, and then into her bedroom. Sunset and Rainbow looked around her room while Fluttershy just found herself looking at the floor again.

“So what do we start with?” Sunset asked. “Maybe the bed? I don’t know if we’ll be able to get the frame with just us and Rainbow’s van, but we could always call Applejack.”

“Oh, uhm, I’m fine with your couch,” Fluttershy said. She’d just as soon leave the bed, all things considered.

“So what do you want to take, Shy?” Rainbow asked.

Fluttershy looked around the room uncertainty, but thankfully Sunset stepped in with another suggestion. “Let’s get the dresser at least. I don’t really have a place for your clothes.”

That was much more agreeable, so they removed the drawers and set them aside. Getting into the rhythm of work proved easy, even if moving the dresser itself was complicated. Fluttershy was almost tempted to call Applejack after all, but the three of them were able to carry it themselves with some difficulty.

The rest of Fluttershy’s stuff proved easier to move. Rainbow and Sunset made several trips back and forth to bring all the dresser drawers to the van while Fluttershy gathered her things. They only had a few boxes they had found around the house to pack things in, but Fluttershy didn’t have a lot of things to pack anyway. Aside from a few heavy jackets, her clothes were all in the dresser drawers, and the only other piece of furniture they took was a small bedside table. Books, movies, CDs, and decorations made up the bulk of other miscellaneous things.

“Anything else?” Rainbow asked as they looked around the baren room.

“No, that’s everything,” Fluttershy said. She followed the others as they left, but stopped at the door to look back. For the first time, she felt the pull of reality on her heart as she realized this was the last time she would ever look at the what had been her only shelter for years.

Apparently her reservation was noticeable, because after a moment, Fluttershy felt an arm around her shoulders. She turned to see Sunset beside her, smiling a little. Fluttershy took a deep breath and reminded herself that while she may be giving up one shelter, she was gaining a better one.

They walked to the van side by side, Sunset keeping hold of Fluttershy the whole way. It was easier to keep from focusing on leaving with Sunset’s arm around her, but once they reached the van and Fluttershy got in the front while Sunset climbed into the back, she could do nothing but look at the house.

There had been many bad times there, but there had also been good ones. Times before her mother passed away, times she had been happy. Even if those days were long gone, it was hard to say goodbye once and for all.

“Rainbow and I talked a bit while we were bringing things out,” Sunset said as they buckled up. “She said you can stay with her if you want.”

“Yeah, of course,” Rainbow said. “I know my parents will be cool with it, so it’s your call, Shy.”

Although she knew this was coming, Fluttershy still frowned at the question. On the one hand, Rainbow had been her best friend since they were little. There was no one in the world that Fluttershy felt more at ease around, and she got along with Rainbow’s parents well.

But then that was the other hand. Rainbow’s parents. There was nothing wrong with them, hell, they had never said a single harsh word around Fluttershy. But would they want to know what happened? Of course they would. What would she even tell them? What would they do if they knew?

And even if they just accepted everything at face value, was that what Fluttershy wanted? She thought back to one day a year ago, when she first visited Sunset’s house. The idea of living on her own had taken hold and had never let go of her, and while she wouldn’t be alone in Sunset’s house, it was easier to feel that she was on equal footing with her friend than it would be with Rainbow’s parents.

“I… I want to go to Sunset’s,” Fluttershy answered quietly.

“Sure thing.” Rainbow didn’t sound like she took it personally, at least. “And you can always let me know if you change your mind.”

Fluttershy nodded. She looked out the window at the house and wondered why they were still sitting in the driveway, then got her answer as Rainbow held out her hand. “Here,” she said. Fluttershy turned to see she was holding something, fingers wrapped around it so that Fluttershy couldn’t tell what it was.

Confused, she held out her hand as well, and Rainbow dropped a locket into it. Fluttershy gasped and stared open-mouthed while Rainbow quickly started the van. “Wait, Dash –”

“No.” Rainbow shifted into reverse and backed out of the driveway before Fluttershy could do anything. “I don’t care, he doesn’t get to keep it.”

Fluttershy stared at the locket in her hands. It was a brass heart on a chain, and when she opened it, she saw a picture of herself when she was a child opposite a picture of her parents on their wedding day. Fluttershy felt tears welling up as she looked into the smiling faces.

The locket had been one of her mother’s favorite possessions, and one of Fluttershy’s favorites as well. She had many memories of talking to her mother while she played with the locket as a child. Her dad had always been afraid she’d break it, but her mom had trusted her to be careful.

It had been a gift for Breezy Day from Stormy Skies when she was still pregnant with Fluttershy, at a time when the young couple still believed they were starting a happy family together. For Breezy, it must have been a memento of more hopeful times, before her condition had worsened and her new husband had taken to drinking.

Breezy Day had been sick for a long time and had seen the end coming, so she had time to say her final goodbyes. Her prized locket was to be passed to her daughter. Instead, Fluttershy was given a framed photograph while Stormy Skies kept the locket for himself. He had said that he was the one who bought it originally, and that he was the one whom it would mean more to. Fluttershy hadn’t dared to argue.

She opened the side with her parents’ picture and removed it. She had other pictures of her mother, ones that he wasn’t part of. She closed the locket and held it up by the chain, watching the heart swing back and forth. Ahead of her, the storm cloud broke and sunshine started to finally illuminate the world.

The locket had been her mother’s symbolic reminder of more hopeful times, and perhaps more. Perhaps it had held her hope that things could be better once more. Hope that was supposed to be passed on to Fluttershy, before he had taken it from her.

Well, she had it back now. Her hope. The promise that the future would be better. Although a tear was running down her face, Fluttershy fixed her expression into one of determination.

She had her life back. And she was going to make the most of it.

3 – Making Wishes

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Chapter Three

Making Wishes

Fluttershy inhaled sharply as she awoke. Her eyes shot open and she found herself unable to move. She was clutching one of the pillows tightly, curled into a ball around it. Whether from the cold or the dream that hadn’t fully left her, she was shaking slightly.

The feeling didn’t escape when the dream did. She was certain if she turned around, he could still be there.

But it was just a dream, and he wasn’t there. She wasn’t in her bed, she was on Sunset’s couch. The air didn’t smell of alcohol, it smelled of pancakes.

That was odd, to say the least. It convinced Fluttershy to sit up and look around, which helped dispel the lingering fear from the dream. She looked around Sunset’s living room, noting that Sunset herself was not there. All signs pointed to her being in the kitchen. It was strange to imagine her making breakfast, as Sunset seemed to mainly stick to frozen meals and take out.

Removing her blanket only made her colder, so Fluttershy immediately grabbed the jacket she’d left on the coffee table. The floor was frigid beneath her feet as she stood up, but she ignored it. As curious as she was about what Sunset was doing in the kitchen, Fluttershy instead walked to the bathroom.

She turned on the sink and stared into the mirror as she waited for the water to come out hot. How long would it take? When would the nightmares go away? It had been just over a week since she moved in with Sunset, but it didn’t feel like it. More like an extended stay at a friend’s house. Any day now, she’d have to go home, and nothing would be any better.

She placed her hand under the water and found it too hot, so she turned the hot water faucet back a little bit. Once the water came out suitably warm, she cupped some in her hands and splashed it on her face. It helped pull her away from her worries and wake her up a little bit more.

When she was done in the bathroom, she fixed a smile on her face and walked into the kitchen. Sure enough, Sunset was standing in front of the stove keeping an eye on pancakes. “Good morning, Sunset.”

Sunset turned to her and smiled. “Morning, Fluttershy. Perfect timing, just finished with the first batch. Happy birthday.”

Fluttershy smiled and looked away. “Thank you, but you didn’t have to do this. I know you don’t like to cook.”

“It’s not a big deal. Besides, it’s not every day you turn nineteen.”

Fluttershy took a seat at the kitchen table. It had been a long time since anyone had made her breakfast on her birthday. “You’re sweet.”

Sunset placed a stack of pancakes and a bottle of maple syrup in front of her. “So, last year as a teenager. How’s it feel?”

“I don’t know. A little strange, I guess. I still don’t know if I really feel like an adult.”

“Eh, nineteen isn’t that old anyway,” Sunset said as she returned to the stove.

“That’s easy for you to say.” Fluttershy realized Sunset forgot to get any silverware, so she stood up and got it herself. “You’re still eighteen.”

Sunset grinned. “Well, I’m old for my age.”

“Yeah, you already had your own place back in high school.” Fluttershy sat down and poured syrup over her pancakes, then began cutting them into bites. “You’ve pretty much been an adult for a long time.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” Sunset pulled a pancake off the stove, setting it aside and pouring more batter onto the pan. “But anyway, you’re doing great. You’re in college, which is more than I can say for me.”

“But you have a job and a house.” Fluttershy took a bite, savoring the sweet and buttery flavors.

“Not because I’m a great adult, though.” Sunset shook her head. “But anyways, that’s a long story. We have more important things on the agenda for today.”

Although Fluttershy did think Sunset wasn’t giving herself enough credit, she recognized the purposeful shift in conversation. “I suppose you have a point.”

Since there was a chance it was going to snow, Fluttershy had suggested the aquarium as a fun indoors activity. They were meeting their friends there at noon, which gave them a few hours to leisurely eat breakfast and get ready before heading out.

“So, uh…” Sunset shifted awkwardly. “I’m really sorry, but I don’t have a birthday present for you yet…”

“Oh! No, please don’t worry about that.” Fluttershy frowned at the thought. “You’ve already done so much for me, and well…” She didn’t really want to point out how low on money Sunset was.

“I want to get you something, though. I just haven’t had the chance with everything going on, maybe at the aquarium we’ll find –”

“Sunset, please. You made me breakfast, and it’s delicious. I don’t need anything else.” Fluttershy took another bite to accentuate her point.

Sunset didn’t seem convinced. “Just… let me know if you see anything. I have a little money set aside.”

“I will,” Fluttershy said, even though she knew she wouldn’t. “But really, I’m happy just spending time with our friends today.”

“Yeah, alright.” Sunset returned to eyeballing the pancake, and Fluttershy couldn’t help but feel like she’d done something wrong.

She suppressed a sigh and turned her focus to her breakfast. It was the same thing whenever money came up. Fluttershy didn’t really know what Sunset’s finances were exactly, but she knew that her friend was trying too hard to make her feel at home and spending too much money to do it. Not for the first time, Fluttershy found herself wondering if she just made everything worse wherever she was.


“Glub glub glub!”

“You do know they can’t hear you, right?”

Completely ignoring Rainbow, Pinkie Pie continued trying to communicate with the fish. She was making fish faces into an aquarium tank as a large and bizarre looking fish stared back at her.

Rainbow Dash just shook her head and wandered off.

“That is the weirdest fish I’ve ever seen,” Sunset said. She took Rainbow’s place next to Pinkie to see it better, not that she really needed to. The fish was bigger than she was.

“It’s a sunfish,” Fluttershy explained. Aquatic animals weren’t her area of expertise, but sunfish were definitely unique enough to remember. “They’re some of the biggest fishes in the world.”

Sunset seemed amused by the strange looking fish. “It doesn’t even have a tail end. Looks like half a fish.”

“Aww, what’s the matter?” Applejack stepped up behind the others. “Don’t like Sunfish Swimmer?”

Sunset turned to her in indignation. “Bitch, did you really just…”

Applejack grinned. “Kinda even looks like you!”

Fluttershy giggled. “I think Sunfish Swimmer is a nice name.”

“Fluttershy!” Sunset folded her arms. “You’re supposed to be on my side…”

“I am!” Fluttershy insisted. “Now hold still, I want to get a picture of you and Sunfish Swimmer.”

“We’re not calling it that,” Sunset said.

“I dunno, looks like it’s already answering to it.” Applejack pulled Sunset’s attention back to the tank, where Sunfish Swimmer had turned to look at Sunset. Applejack seemed amused, while Sunset did not.

“Aww, I think she likes you!” Pinkie said.

Sunset facepalmed. “Just take the damn picture…”

“Okay.” Fluttershy pulled out her phone, then stopped and looked around. She spotted Rainbow at a different part of the same gigantic tank, and gestured for her to come over. “Rainbow, we’re taking a picture with Sunfish Swimmer.”

“That’s not its name!”

“That is so its name,” Rainbow insisted as she joined the others for the picture.

Fluttershy pulled out her phone while everyone got into position. Applejack put her arm around Sunset while Rainbow stood on her other side, hands hooked in her pockets. Pinkie kneeled in front making a fish face, while Sunfish Swimmer floated above the group. There was only one thing missing.

“Come on, Sunset, smile!” Fluttershy said.

Sunset sighed and rolled her eyes, but she smiled all the same. Fluttershy snapped the picture and flashed a thumbs up. Another memory saved. Ever since Rarity and Twilight moved away, Fluttershy had started taking a lot more pictures on their group outings. She hoped no one else would be leaving, but with high school behind them, who knew what the future held?

“Now if we’re all done with Sunfish Swimmer,” Sunset said, rolling her eyes at the name, “maybe we can move on? What’s the next exhibit?”

“I think we’ve seen everything,” Rainbow said. “Besides, I’m starving! Let’s go get some lunch.”

“I think we should let Shy decide if she’s ready to go,” Pinkie said. “It is her birthday, after all.”

Rainbow groaned loudly.

Applejack frowned at her. “None of that now, it’s your own fault for skipping breakfast.”

“Oh, it’s okay,” Fluttershy said. “Lunch sounds good to me.”

“Yes!” Rainbow threw her hands in the air and triumphantly led the way out.

Sunset just rolled her eyes. “So where do you want to eat, Fluttershy?”

“Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe we could just get something at the food court?”

“The food court? On your birthday?” Pinkie asked. “No way! We should go somewhere nice.”

“How about Cavallo D’oro?” Applejack asked. “It’ll probably be easier to get something for you and Sunset there, anyway.”

That was true; since they were both vegetarians, their choices at the food court would probably come down to a basic salad, or maybe some kind of soup. Going to a real restaurant was sure to open more options, but still… “I, uhm…”

“You’re always saying you like that place,” Rainbow said. “Let’s do it, my treat.”

“Woohoo! Lunch is on Rainbow!”

Rainbow frowned at Pinkie. “I meant Fluttershy’s would be my treat since it’s her birthday. No way I can pay for all five of us.”

Although that was half of Fluttershy’s concern with going out to a nice restaurant, there was another problem. She only gave a small glance towards Sunset, but it seemed Applejack caught it.

“I reckon I could cover anyone else who doesn’t have enough on ‘em. And Sunset, if ya want I can pay yours since you’re swinging by to give me a hand tomorrow and all.”

Sunset shot a surprised look at Applejack, who just smiled. Sunset hadn’t mentioned anything about having plans to help Applejack. More likely, Applejack knew that Sunset wouldn’t want to admit that she would have trouble paying for her own meal, and this would offer her the chance to accept without acknowledging it, as well as a way to repay Applejack so her pride wasn’t hurt.

“Guess that sounds fair,” Sunset said, a little uncertainly.

Fluttershy smiled, all her worries about going out to eat having been taken care of. “Alright then, Cavallo D’oro it is.”

Sunset stopped as they reached the exit. “Hey, Fluttershy, how about you catch a ride with Rainbow and I’ll meet you all at the restaurant. Just gonna run to the bathroom.”

“Alright, see you there,” Fluttershy said, a little relieved at the idea. She didn’t want to say so, but riding on Sunset’s motorcycle always made her nervous, and the snow certainly didn’t make her feel any better about it.

Everyone’s hands went into their pockets as they left the warmth of the aquarium. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t quite warm enough to melt all the snow covering the ground. They all quickly made for their respective vehicles, where they could once again shut out the cold.

Rainbow Dash quickly turned on the heat once they were in her van and the engine was started. While they waited for it to heat up, Rainbow asked, “So how’s staying with Sunset been?”

“Everything’s good. She’s been great, really.”

“Yeah? So what’s bothering you then?”

Of course there was no hiding anything from Rainbow Dash. They’d known each other for far too long. Fluttershy sighed. “I guess… I just worry that I’m intruding. She’s always seemed happy living alone.”

“Yeah, but it was her idea. I’m sure she’s cool with how things are going.”

“Do you think she’d say if she wasn’t, though?”

“Hmm…” Rainbow considered it as she shifted the van into reverse, finally content that it was warm enough to start driving. She didn’t answer until she was pulling out of the parking lot. “Probably not. I think we’d be able to tell, though. She’d probably be dropping hints about figuring out how to get you your own place or something.”

“I guess that makes sense, and she hasn’t said anything like that.”

“Speaking of it though, have you thought about doing that at all?”

Of course she had; the idea of living alone had been on Fluttershy’s mind since the first time she visited Sunset’s house. But lately… “I don’t know… Sunset works a lot, so I’m by myself quite a bit, and… I don’t think I’d like living like that all the time.”

Rainbow shrugged. “Sounds like a dream come true to me, but whatever works for you, I guess.”

Fluttershy turned her attention to the window, watching the city go by without really paying attention to it. What did she want, really? She had spent the past four years living day by day, just trying to avoid being noticed, but she was done with that.

Her hand found its way to the locket around her neck, and she rubbed the little brass heart between her fingers. She was trying her best to stop living in fear, but the future scared her as much as anything.

“Shy?” Rainbow asked nervously. “Something on your mind?”

Fluttershy pushed the thoughts away as best she could and forced a smile. It was her birthday, and all her friends wanted to have a good time with her. “No, not really. Just thinking about what to get at Cavallo.”

It was unlikely Rainbow was actually fooled that easily, but it was clearly a topic neither of them wanted to press, so she went along anyway. “Don’t even talk to me about food, I’m starving over here!”

Fluttershy giggled, and the tension quickly dissipated. Although she claimed to not be any good at handling emotional situations, Rainbow always made Fluttershy feel better. What was she worrying so much for? It was a special day out with her friends and she was going to enjoy it.

“Oh! I haven’t told you yet!” Rainbow grinned excitedly. “You’ll never guess who showed up for the audition.” It had been a long time since the Rainbooms had performed, and while most of the members were content to move onto other things, Rainbow had decided it was finally time to get a new band together with a bassist she met named Lightning Dust.

“Who?” Fluttershy asked.

“Remember the Crystal Prep Shadowbolts?”

“Of course. Gosh, I haven’t heard anything about them in ages though. One of them wants to be in your band?”

“Yeah! Turns out Lightning Dust’s sister was one of the Crystal Prep students. Indigo Zap.”

Fluttershy tried to remember who Indigo Zap was, but she couldn’t quite place the name. Although the two groups had parted on good terms, they had hardly been friends. “So Lightning’s sister wants to join the band? Is she good?”

“Huh? Oh, no, not Indigo. She just heard we needed a drummer and got one of her friends to come audition. Lemon Zest is the one who actually wants to join.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy couldn’t quite place who Lemon Zest was either. “Well, how’d she do?”

“She’s actually really good! I didn’t think a Crystal Prep girl would be able to keep up with us, but we’re thinking she might be in.”

Fluttershy smiled and shook her head. “Don’t you think it’s been long enough to put the Crystal Prep and CHS rivalry behind us? Anyway, that’s great news. You’ll finally have a full band again.”

“Heck yeah! I’m so excited to start working on songs. Still could use you if you changed your mind, though.”

“Come on, Dashie, do you really see me being in a punk band? What would I even play? I don’t think the world’s holding out for the great punk rock tambourine player.”

“Well, true…” Rainbow admitted, then she just shrugged it off. “But you know, you could sing backup or something.”

It was sweet of Rainbow to try and get Fluttershy involved, but they both knew she’d never fit in. “Thanks, Dashie, but I think my place is cheering for you in the crowd.”

Rainbow laughed. “That works for me! Just wait, now that we’ve got a drummer, we’re gonna kick some serious butt out there.”

“Oh? Decided to let Lemon Zest in the band already?”

Rainbow smiled sheepishly as she realized she was getting ahead of herself. “Well, she does seem cool, but you’re right. We invited her to an informal jam session this weekend, we’ll figure out the rest from there.”

The conversation stayed on the band for the rest of their trip, mostly about how awesome they were gonna sound and how cool it would be to be back on stage. Fluttershy was happy to see Rainbow so excited, and it kept her from dwelling on her own insecurities.

They pulled into a spot beside Applejack’s truck, and Rainbow questioned how Applejack beat them there. Leaving the warmth of the van left little room for concerns like that though, so they quickly made their way into the restaurant.

Thankfully, that was even warmer than the van had been, and they both smiled as they walked in. Applejack was still waiting near the door as they entered. “They’re gettin’ a table ready for us now.”

“Cool, but how’d you get here before us anyway?” Rainbow asked.

Well, so much for the warmth being enough to distract her from her rivalry. Fluttershy just smiled as the two went back and forth over who was the better driver, a conversation that continued as a server brought them to their table.

“All I’m sayin’ is that it’s gonna be a long time before ya have what it takes to out drive me.” Applejack sat down first, scooting all the way into the far seat on her side of the booth.

“Yeah, right!” Rainbow shot back as she took a seat across from Applejack. “No one’s faster than me, and I’m willing to prove it!”

Fluttershy sat next to Rainbow and smiled at their server. “We’re, uhm, we’re waiting on a few more friends to show up.”

“Got it. I’ll just leave these here for now then.” She left behind menus for them, which Fluttershy looked through as the other two kept bickering.

It took longer than Fluttershy had expected for Pinkie to show up, and when she did, she was with Sunset. “Brr, it is freezing out there,” Pinkie said as she took the seat on Fluttershy’s other side.

“At least it’s nice and warm in here though,” Sunset said, taking the seat beside Applejack.

“You two sure took your time,” Rainbow said as she picked up a menu for the first time.

“It hasn’t even been ten minutes, Rainbow,” Applejack pointed out as she did the same.

Sunset shrugged off Rainbow’s complaint quickly enough. “There’s snow and I’m on a bike. I’m not getting anywhere quick.”

“And I was off getting a surprise!” Pinkie announced.

“A surprise?” Fluttershy asked. “What is it?”

“Silly, I can’t tell you that! Don’tcha know how surprises work by now, Shy? You’re nineteen years old now, you know!”

“Oh, silly me.” Fluttershy shook her head. “But you really didn’t have to do anything, Pinkie. Spending the day with you all is enough for me.”

“As if!” Pinkie wrapped her arm around Fluttershy’s shoulders. “You deserve all the best on your birthday!”

“Gotta say, I’m with Pinkie on this one,” Sunset added. She picked up her menu and started looking over it. “If you all know what you want, I can find something real quick.”

Applejack shrugged as she turned to her own menu. “Eh, we never really got around to figurin’ that out.”

Truthfully, Fluttershy had decided while Rainbow and Applejack argued, but she didn’t mind waiting. Besides, she didn’t want to make Sunset and Pinkie have to rush their decision. So she just pretended to look through her menu while the others figured out their own orders.

True to her word even when she didn’t need to be, Sunset made a decision quickly and was the first to set her menu down. She looked around the restaurant casually, looking at the pictures on the wall.

Her casual expression fell away in an instant and she quickly propped her menu back up in front of her face. Fluttershy quirked her head to the side, but no one else seemed to have noticed. She looked around, but couldn’t see anything that would’ve caused that reaction.

One by one the others made their decisions, leaving only Sunset with her menu open. She kept glancing between it and something else, and it didn’t take long for the others to notice. “You okay, partner?” Applejack asked.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m ready whenever you all are.”

“You sure you’re okay?” Rainbow asked.

Pinkie leaned across the table and studied Sunset’s expression. “Yeah, ‘cause you’ve been looking at our server really weird this whole time.”

“Wait, she’s our server?” Sunset asked in a hushed voice without bothering to indicate whom she was talking about.

“Yupperoni. And she’s coming this way, so watch out.”

Sunset’s menu flew back in front of her face.

“Has everyone made their decisions?” the waitress asked. She didn’t look like someone worth hiding from. She was a short girl around their age with light orange-brown skin and darker brown hair. She wore thick square-shaped glasses and a friendly smile. “If anyone’s undecided, I could always make a recommendation.”

“Sure, recommend away!” Pinkie said, either oblivious to Sunset’s dismay or ignoring it.

“Well, my personal favorite is the carbonara. It’s especially good if you substitute the penne for tagliatelle.”

“Ooh, that sounds much better than what I was gonna get!” Pinkie said. “I want that.”

“Alrighty, anyone else for the carbonara?”

“Oh, uhm… Does that have meat in it?” Fluttershy asked.

“Usually, but we can use peas and spinach instead of the pancetta.”

“Okay. I’d like to try that too then.”

“Pretty sure that’s more substitution than carbowhatever by now,” Rainbow said. “I’ll just have lasagna.”

“Think I’m with Rainbow on keeping it simple,” Applejack said. “I’ll get the parmesan chicken.”

The waitress nodded as she took down their orders, then turned to Sunset. “Uh, did you need some more time, miss? Or maybe another recommendation?”

Sunset sighed and set down her menu. “Uhh… Hi, Frames.”

The waitress’s pleasant smile was replaced with a shocked grimace. “Sunset!?”

“It’s… been a while.” When the waitress didn’t reply, Sunset continued. “So I guess you’re working here now? Going well for you?”

“You never called me!”

“I… In my defense, we did break up,” Sunset said.

“Break up?” Rainbow looked surprised for a moment before trading that for embarrassment as she realized she had just jumped into a delicate conversation.

Sunset shifted in place awkwardly. “So, uh… Everyone, this is Tra i Frame. My ex-girlfriend.”

Fluttershy, Rainbow, and Applejack all exchanged awkward looks, but Pinkie didn’t miss a beat. “Nice to meet you, Tra!”

Tra i Frame frowned and pushed her glasses up. “What do you want, Sunset?”

Sunset looked down at the floor and scratched her neck nervously. “I’m just out with my friends, I didn’t even know you worked here…”

“Food, Sunset! What do you want to order!”

“Oh!” Sunset glanced back at the menu for a moment. It seemed that despite all the time she’d spent staring at it, she had no idea what was in it. “I’ll just… have the same thing Fluttershy got. Er, the ve–”

“I know it’s the vegetarian one!” Tra i Frame snapped. She took a deep breath then turned to address the whole table. Her smile returned in full force, and her voice was bright and cheerful as she talked to the others. “Can I get you all anything else?”

No one spoke for a moment, then Pinkie replied just as cheerfully. “Nope, I think we’re all good here!”

As soon as she was gone, all eyes fell on Sunset. “Well that was fun…” Rainbow said sarcastically.

“She didn’t seem too happy to see you,” Applejack said. “Bad break up?”

“Well, not exactly… Things just weren’t working out, and we said we’d stay friends, but then I kinda… started avoiding her.”

“So, uh… Want to get out of here?” Rainbow asked.

“No, don’t let me ruin things. We came here to have fun, right? So let’s just have fun!”

“Sunset, we can go somewhere else if you want,” Fluttershy said. “I really don’t mind, and I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”

“Look, everyone, it’s fine!” At least Sunset’s smile certainly looked fine, now that Tra i Frame wasn’t around. “Besides, we already ordered our meals. Let’s just eat here and agree to avoid this place next time.”

“She seemed nice at least,” Pinkie said. “To everyone but Sunset, anyway.”

Applejack nudged Sunset playfully. “Well if I had to date this thing, it might make me a little ornery too.”

Sunset smirked. “Yeah, I can’t say I blame her. We were pretty close for a couple months, but then I basically just jumped ship after the breakup.”

It was strange to hear they had been close when Sunset had never mentioned her, but Fluttershy decided to not push the topic. While she was usually open about most things, Sunset had always been somewhat restrained and secretive about her love life. Fluttershy wondered if it was because she preferred dating girls. It was something she wondered often.

She was left wondering though, as the conversation turned elsewhere. Always sensible and dependable, Applejack shifted the conversation by complaining about the weather making work on the farm that much harder. While the task of pruning apple trees in the snow was nothing the others had to experience, save when they lent a hand on the farm, the topic of trouble caused by the snow and the cold was something everyone could weigh in on.

Of course, it could only keep them preoccupied for so long. Tra i Frame returned with their meals, and the conversation came to an abrupt halt.

At least she didn’t show any sign of being upset about having to wait on her ex-girlfriend. “Alright, we’ve got lasagna and chicken on one end, carbonara with meat on the other, and veggie carbonara in the middle.”

“Thank ya kindly, miss,” Applejack said with a slight tone of forced politeness.

The sentiment was shared by the others as they all thanked her, except for Sunset, who simply stared at the table the whole time. As such, it must have blindsided her even more when Tra i Frame took the seat beside her. “So what have you been up to, anyway?”

At least her tone sounded friendly once again. Even so, Sunset looked up with anxiety plainly written on her face. “Pretty much the same stuff as usual. I’m… sorry I disappeared, by the way.”

Tra i Frame sighed. “It’s okay, and I’m sorry I yelled at you. I was just surprised to see you again.”

Sunset smirked. “Well, I can’t say I didn’t deserve it.”

“So are these the friends I heard so much about?”

Sunset fidgeted nervously, and Fluttershy could only wonder if it was because she was afraid of what her friends might say to her ex or vice-versa. “Most of them. The ones still in the city, anyway.”

“Cool. it’s nice to finally meet you all.”

“Same to you, Miss Tra,” Applejack said.

Tra i Frame chuckled. “Please, call me Frames.”

“Okey dokey, Frames,” Pinkie said. “So how do you two know each other? I don’t think I ever saw you around CHS.”

“Oh yeah, I went to CPA,” Frames said. “I met Sunset one day when she was hanging out with Twilight Sparkle, who I kinda knew from school. A little while later, we ran into each other again at a party where neither of us really knew anyone. But Sunset recognized me and we started talking, then things kinda went from there.”

Applejack grinned. “Was that the time you woke up hungover with text messages from a girl ya didn’t remember givin’ your number?”

“Uh… yeah…”

Frames laughed and pushed Sunset playfully. “Wow, you didn’t even remember that night? Rude.”

Sunset laughed as well, and some of her nervousness seemed to dissipate. “To be fair, we did kind of overdo it that night.”

“Well, that is true.” Frames laughed and Sunset finally seemed to relax fully. “Guess Twilight must be one of the ones who moved away then, huh?”

“Yeah, she left town for college.” The question was one that threatened to push Sunset back into awkwardness, but she maintained her composure.

“She’s doin’ pretty well, from what I heard,” Applejack added. It wasn’t surprising that’s when she decided to jump in. They all knew it was a sensitive subject for Sunset, who had been really close with Twilight right up until they stopped speaking to each other. “Couldn’t rightly tell ya much ‘bout what she’s studying.”

“Quantum physics,” Pinkie answered. “It sounds pretty complicated. She was telling me about thermodynamics the other day and I didn’t really understand anything past ‘thermodynamics is’.”

“Oh wow, that sounds like it’s right up her alley!” Frames turned back to Sunset. “To tell you the truth, when we broke up I really thought you were going to try asking her out. I always thought the two of you would be perfect together.”

“What, really?” Sunset rolled her eyes. “I mean yeah, we had a lot in common, but there was never anything like that. I don’t even think she likes girls.”

“Besides, Sunset and Twilight?” Rainbow asked. “What would a couple eggheads like them even do together?”

“Oh, I bet they could do all kinds of stuff!” Pinkie said excitedly.

“Here we go…” Applejack sounded exasperated, but she smiled anyway.

“I bet they’d be really cute together, and they could work together, adopt a cat, have a big double wedding with a princess couple, discover a bunch of alternate dimensions through a magic portal, and have just the cutest daughter ever!

“Where do you even come up with this?” Sunset asked. “And you do realize that on top of, like, none of that making sense, we wouldn’t even be able to have kids, right?”

“What are you talking about, that sounds amazing!” Frames said with a starry-eyed expression. She wasn’t able to enjoy it for long, however, as someone called her from across the restaurant. “Anyway, it was good to see you again, but I should get back to work. It was nice meeting you all, let me know it you need anything!”

Frames left the group to themselves, and a smile on Sunset’s face.

“How’d someone like you ever wind up with a nice girl like that?” Applejack asked.

“Why, want some pointers?” Sunset shot back. “With my help, I bet even you could get a girlfriend.”

“Now that’s something I can do without.”

“Yeah, a girlfriend might take you away from your apple trees once in a while.” Sunset shook her head solemnly. “We couldn’t have that, now could we?”

“Hmm? Oh, I meant I could do without your help. Trust me, you gettin’ involved is the last thing I need in my love life.”

“You’d need to have a love life before I could get involved in it. And I feel sorry for whatever poor guy gets stuck with you.”

“I think any guy would be very happy to be with someone like Applejack,” Fluttershy said. She knew the two of them always joked like that, but she still worried they went too far sometimes. “Or girl.”

That caused Sunset to snicker and immediately made Fluttershy feel guilty. The last thing she wanted to do was add more fire to Sunset’s teasing. It seemed Applejack didn’t mind though, as she just smiled. “Thanks, Fluttershy, but I really am happy being single. And I think it’s safe to say that when the time comes I change my mind, it’ll definitely be with a guy.”

Fluttershy blushed, and her gaze dropped towards her food. “Oh, right.”

“Are you really sure about that?” Pinkie asked. She didn’t sound quite so upbeat as usual.

“Look, I know I ain’t the most dainty of women, but that don’t mean I’m a lesbian.”

“Oh no, I know that,” Pinkie answered quickly. “It’s just… do you ever think it can be a little hard to tell sometimes?”

Everyone exchanged uncertain looks. “I, uh…” Applejack tried for a friendly smile, but she clearly looked like she wasn’t sure how to handle the question.

Sunset stepped in to relieve her. “I guess I wasn’t for a while. I never really had a crush for a long time, and I didn’t really want to. Then the first time I did, it was on a girl. Nothing ever happened with her or anything, but I knew that I wanted something to. I didn’t need to date a girl to know how I felt about them. It was actually guys that took longer for me, I didn’t even know for sure whether I was gay or bi until after I already started dating Flash.”

Pinkie looked down at her carbonara and just moved it around with her fork. Surprisingly, it was Rainbow who finally asked her. “So… do you think you might like girls too or something?”

“I don’t know…” Pinkie said almost sadly.

“Well… that’s okay,” Fluttershy said. She put her hand on Pinkie’s and squeezed. “You can take your time figuring it out.”

“Yeah, that kind of thing probably just takes a while,” Rainbow said.

“You’re right.” Pinkie smiled and her usual level of cheer returned. “Anyway, we’re here to celebrate! We don’t need to talk about that stuff today!”

They didn’t need to talk about that. They were supposed to be celebrating. There was no reason to say anything.

Fluttershy’s hand found her locket again. Maybe there was no reason to, but was there really a reason not to? “I think… I’ve always known. Even when I was little.”

Everyone’s eyes fell on Fluttershy, but she didn’t meet any of them. “What do you mean?” Rainbow asked.

“Even before I knew about stuff like… well, you know… I always knew that I, uhm, I like girls.” Fluttershy barely managed to get the last word out.

“Really?” Pinkie asked. After a moment of silence, she threw her arms around Fluttershy. “That’s so cool! ”

Applejack nodded. “Yeah, it’s good ya don’t have to worry ‘bout figuring all that out.”

“You’ve known all this time and you never said anything to me?” Rainbow asked through a mouthful of food. It seemed that even this news wasn’t enough to keep her from eating. “How come?”

Fluttershy smiled and put her arm around Pinkie as well, revelling in the fact that her friends still wanted to be close to her. “I… was worried what you’d think…”

“Come on, Shy! You should know better than that!” Rainbow flashed a confident grin. “You’re like my best friend, I don’t care whether you like girls or guys.”

Sunset smirked. “I guess Applejack won’t be the one who needs my help getting a girlfriend after all.”

Fluttershy blushed, but her smile was wide. “I, uhm…”

“Please, Sunset…” Applejack folded her arms and shook her head. “As if Fluttershy is gonna need any help getting a girlfriend if she wants one.”

“Yeah okay, that’s a fair point,” Sunset conceded.

Fluttershy could hardly believe it. It was what she’d told herself for years – all of her friends had accepted Sunset, why wouldn’t they accept her? And yet, it still felt too good to be true. It was all she could do to keep from crying. “Thank you all so much.”

“Don’t mention it,” Applejack said. “But maybe we should eat our food before it gets cold.”

They didn’t talk about Fluttershy’s revelation. They talked about Rainbow’s band. They talked about Fluttershy’s work at the animal shelter. They talked about school, about movies, about music, about everything that they always talked about.

They knew, and nothing changed. Fluttershy was so happy, and a strange realization crept over her. For years, happiness had only been a fleeting emotion. It had been something she could feel once in a while when she was with her friends, and that was all. It was an animal at the shelter that she could play with, but that could never come home with her. But now, for the first time in years, that might no longer be true.

While she didn’t know what the future would hold for her, not every change was a bad one. Today proved that. In fact, as her friends finished their meals and joked around while waiting for the check, Fluttershy reflected that some changes hardly felt like changes at all.

It wasn’t the check that came, however. Tia i Frame was carrying a cake, and a whole group of employees followed her out. Fluttershy was already blushing before they even started.

“It’s your birthday party, a very special day,
“We’ve got a song, it won't take long, we just wanted to say
“Happy, happy, happy, happy
“Happy, happy, happy, happy
“Happy, happy, happy, happy birthday to you!”

By the time they finished and everyone cheered, Fluttershy’s head was in her hands. Even so, she was laughing along with the others.

“Your surprise?” Rainbow asked.

“Of course!” Pinkie answered proudly. “No birthday celebration is complete without cake! That song does feel oddly familiar, though…”

Fluttershy opened her eyes to find a cake covered in yellow frosting with pink butterflies. Nineteen lit candles stuck out of it. She closed her eyes for a moment while she thought of a wish, then opened them and blew the candles out. Everyone cheered again, causing her to blush some more.

While the rest of the staff went back to their other tasks, Frames passed out plates for cake. “This looks really good. Everyone wants a slice, I take it?”

Everyone did, so Frames cut five slices from the cake and passed them around. She made sure to keep a whole butterfly on Fluttershy’s slice. “Would you like some?” Fluttershy asked.

Frames’s face lit up. “I was hoping you’d ask!” She pulled out another plate and sat beside Sunset again. She cut herself a slice of cake and took a bite. “Oh wow, this is really good!”

“Sugarcube Corner specialty!” Pinkie said proudly.

“Sugarcube Corner? I think I’ve seen that place before. It’s by CHS, right?”

“Yup! You should stop in some time.”

“Pinkie works there,” Sunset explained.

“Oh sweet!” Frames said, causing Sunset to facepalm at the pun. “I’ll definitely have to go there sometime soon then!”

Sunset’s distaste at puns aside, lunch ended on a high note with good company and delicious cake. Frames ate her slice quickly before returning to work and bringing them their check. They divided it between Applejack, Rainbow, and Pinkie, and everyone pooled in for a generous tip.

Applejack led the way out of the restaurant. “Anyone got any ideas what to do next?” It was getting late in the afternoon, but no one seemed ready to call it a day.

“We could go to the movies,” Pinkie suggested.

“While that’d be pretty cool, I think my funds are a little tapped out,” Sunset said. “Sorry.”

Rainbow shoved her hands into her pockets. “I’m with Sunset. Anyone got any ideas that don’t cost anything? Preferably something inside.”

Applejack laughed. “Aww, it ain’t that cold. What’s the matter, Rainbow? ‘Fraid of a little snow?”

“Of course not,” Rainbow insisted forcefully. “I just, you know, thought Fluttershy probably wants to be out of it for her birthday.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Fluttershy said. “I kind of like the snow, actually.”

Rainbow looked at her with a look of betrayal. Fluttershy smiled innocently.

“Well, whatever we do, I gotta make a stop at y’alls house later,” Applejack said.

Rainbow looked visibly relieved. “Cool! Let’s move this to Fluttershy and Sunset’s place!”

Applejack looked confused. “Huh? No, I was jus’ say–”

“Housewarming party!” Pinkie announced. “I can’t believe we haven’t done that yet!”

“Uh…” Sunset looked around at the others.

For so long, Fluttershy’s friends had been one of her only sources of happiness. Something that had no place in her home. Never before, but maybe for once, it did. “Uhm, would that be alright?” she asked Sunset.

Sunset looked surprised and Fluttershy immediately felt guilty. But then she smiled as she answered. “Sure, if that’s what you want to do.”

They quickly made arrangements for Fluttershy to ride with Rainbow again. If she could have been talked to Sunset on the ride home, Fluttershy would’ve preferred to go with her; at least she could make sure one on one that Sunset was really okay with things that way. But there would be no talking on the motorcycle, so there was hardly a point.

As usual, Rainbow was quick to turn on the heater. Contrary to what she claimed, she had always hated the cold. “You know, I don’t think we’ve all hung out at Sunset’s house before.”

“Yeah…”

“Well, yours and Sunset’s house now.”

Fluttershy frowned. “I guess I do live there, but it’s really still Sunset’s house.”

Rainbow shrugged. “Well yeah, of course, but you know.”

Seeing Applejack pull out of the parking lot, Rainbow decided to not wait for the van to heat up and followed after her.

“So hey, Shy… Why’d you decide to come out now, anyway?” Rainbow asked. She didn’t sound like she found the topic as difficult as Fluttershy did, which she supposed might be a good thing.

“I, well… I don’t know, really…”

“It’s not because someone caught your eye?” Rainbow was grinning. “Maybe someone a little close to home?”

Fluttershy blushed and frowned. “Rainbow!”

“Hey, I’m just saying. And you know, Sunset’s cool.”

“No, it’s nothing like that.” Fluttershy looked out the window.

“Alright, I didn’t mean anything by it. I just – oh come on!” Applejack made a light that Rainbow had to stop for, practically ensuring that they wouldn’t be the first at the house. Rainbow sighed and turned to smile at Fluttershy. “Anyway, I guess I just thought, you know, it’d be cool if you found someone. That’s all.”

“There’s so much going on right now that I don’t even want to think about trying to date someone.” Fluttershy took a deep breath. “But… maybe that’s why I wanted to, uhm, come out now. Not because I want to date someone, but because things are changing. I guess… I just wanted this to be part of the new Fluttershy.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.”

Fluttershy closed her eyes and took another deep breath. She swallowed and opened her eyes, staring straight ahead. “I’m gay. And I want to be honest about that from now on.”

The light turned and they started moving again. Although Fluttershy didn’t look at her, she could hear Rainbow’s smile in her voice. “Good for you, Shy. I’m happy for you.”

That brought a smile back to Fluttershy’s mouth.

The drive back to Sunset’s house wasn’t a long one. Predictably, Applejack was already there, so they pulled up behind her on the roadside in front of the house. As they were getting out, Pinkie Pie pulled up behind them.

Fluttershy frowned as she realized that unless Sunset had somehow also arrived before them, there would be no way for them to get in. Sunset had said she’d get Fluttershy a key made, but she hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

But before she could suggest they wait in the van, the door swung open and Applejack waved to them.

“Is Sunset here already?” Fluttershy asked as they entered.

“Nah, I let myself in. Hope you don’t mind.” Applejack took a seat at the computer desk. “Sunset gave me a spare key after she locked us out one day back when we were building her shed.”

“Of course I don’t.” Fluttershy went into the kitchen to get some more chairs. Along with the chair Applejack was in, two people could comfortably sit on the couch. But since there were two more chairs at the kitchen table, they wound up with the perfect amount.

She noticed while she was in the kitchen that there were a few bags of groceries and realized that must’ve been why Applejack had wanted to stop by. She smiled her appreciation, and Applejack nodded.

“So what’s the plan?” Rainbow asked as Fluttershy finished bringing out the chairs

Fluttershy frowned and realized she hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Well, uhm…”

“Ooh! Wait here!” Pinkie said before leaving the house.

The others all looked at each other in confusion. “Uh… where else were we gonna go?” Rainbow asked, causing Applejack to snicker.

Pinkie was back before long, and she brought in a videogame console, a small collection of games, and a two-litre bottle of soda with her. “I knew having these would come in handy! And they’re all multiplayer!”

“You just… kept those in your van?” Applejack asked as Pinkie started setting up the game console.

“Of course,” Pinkie said with a shrug. “You know, in case of video game-related emergencies.”

While Fluttershy had to wonder how often video game-related emergencies came about, at least it answered the question of what they were gonna do.

“Uh oh.”

“What’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked.

The back door opened before she could answer, and Sunset walked in. “Remind me to have AJ pick us up next time we go out in the snow.” She pulled off her snow-covered jacket and set it on the table, then took a look at Fluttershy and picked it back up.

“So what’re we up to?” Sunset asked as she brought the jacket into the bedroom to hang it on her coat rack.

“We were going to play some video games,” Rainbow said. “But then Pinkie ‘uh oh’d.”

“Oh, it’s because you don’t have a plug for this cord,” Pinkie explained.

Sunset frowned. “Yeah, that TVs old and cheap. Flash got it used at a pawn shop a couple years ago.”

“No biggie.” Pinkie reached into her hair and pulled another cord out. “I always keep a spare AV cord in case of cord-related emergencies.”

Applejack facepalmed. “Pinkie, ya can’t store cords in your hair!”

“Is there any emergency you’re not prepared for?” Rainbow asked.

“I’m not allowed to do medical emergencies anymore.”

All eyes turned to her as they wondered if they really wanted to know the reason for that. Since no one asked, it was safe to say they all agreed they were better off in the dark.

Since Fluttershy and Rainbow were on the couch, Sunset took a seat on one of the kitchen chairs next to it. “I think I’ll sit out the first round. I’d rather get thawed out a bit first.”

“Suit yourself!” Pinkie handed out controllers to the others.

Fluttershy was never a huge fan of video games, although she liked them well enough. As the TV screen filled with the opening sequence of a racing game, Fluttershy turned to Sunset and smiled.

She stopped when she noticed Sunset’s expression. She wasn’t really looking at any of them or at the TV, seemingly looking at nothing instead. She was frowning and her eyes were half-lidded, and Fluttershy once again felt like she’d made a mistake in agreeing to have their friends over.


“Bye! Thank you for coming!”

Fluttershy and Sunset were waving to Rainbow Dash, the last of their friends to leave. It had been a fun evening that had gone on longer than expected. They’d played a few rounds of videogames, Pinkie ran out for pizza, then they finished the night with board games.

It was the most fun Fluttershy could remember having, especially when Sunset finally joined in and seemed to be having fun as well. Still, when the door closed, she let out a sigh.

“I, uhm…” Fluttershy frowned and stared at the ground. “I hope it was okay to have everyone over.”

“Yeah, of course it was.” Sunset’s smile looked effortless, but Fluttershy knew better than to always trust it.

“Really?”

Without answering, Sunset picked up one of the chairs and brought it back to the kitchen. Fluttershy took the other chair and followed behind her.

“It was a little unexpected, but it was fun,” Sunset answered finally. She opened the fridge, which was much fuller with the groceries Applejack had brought. “Want any more cake or anything?”

“No thank you, I’m stuffed.”

Sunset looked around for a minute before finding what she wanted and shutting the fridge. “I guess… It was a bit much. I just, I don’t know, I always feel weird when people come over.”

“But they’re our friends.” Fluttershy turned towards Sunset to remind her that their friends wouldn’t care about the house or anything like that, but the words caught in her throat when she saw what Sunset had pulled out of the fridge.

Sunset didn’t take notice of Fluttershy’s pause. “Yeah, I know.” She pulled a mug out of a cabinet and removed the cap off a bottle of wine. She filled the mug, placed the cap back on the bottle, and returned it to the fridge. “And it really was fine. Just a little… exhausting.”

Fluttershy didn’t quite know what to say. All words fell away from her as she watched Sunset take a drink of the wine. “But just so you know, you can invite our friends here if you want to. Having everyone over all the time would probably be a little too much, but this is your house too now.”

“Yeah…”

Sunset walked past her, into the living room. Fluttershy took a deep breath and reminded herself that she was being silly. Just because he turned into a monster when he drank didn’t mean Sunset would. Besides, it’s not like she didn’t know Sunset drank, or even like she hadn’t been around while she drank.

‘Just never alone with her…’

She shook her head to shake away the thought and followed Sunset into the living room. She was not going to be afraid of her friend.

Sunset was sitting on the couch watching the TV. They had put on a movie that they’d all seen for ambient noise while they hung out and it was still playing. Steeling her nerves, Fluttershy took a seat beside Sunset.

“I got you something,” Sunset said.

“What?” Fluttershy gave her an incredulous look. “Sunset, I said you didn’t have to!”

“Well, of course I didn’t have to, but of course I still did.” Sunset set the mug down, stood up, and walked into her bedroom. She came back out with a small bag that had the aquarium’s logo on it.

“Is this the real reason you wanted us to go ahead of you?”

“Yeah, it is.” Sunset handed her the bag.

Inside it was a small stuffed animal, and Fluttershy couldn’t help but smile when she saw what it was. “Oh, I love it!”

“Yup.” Sunset took a seat and rolled her eyes. “Your own Sunfish Swimmer.”

Fluttershy looked over the plush sunfish and smiled. “Thank you so much.”

“Don’t mention it. Besides, it’s really not much. Maybe later we can –”

“No, this is perfect.”

“I’m glad you like it.” Sunset picked up the mug again. “You planning on going right to bed? I can get out of your hair if you want.”

“Oh, no. Not right away at least.”

They both watched the movie for a while. Sunset drank slowly, a far cry from how he would down liquor from the bottle to get drunk quickly. They made light conversation from the movie, and if Fluttershy hadn’t seen Sunset pour it herself, she might have thought the beverage was grape juice for all the difference it made on Sunset’s behavior.

“You know,” Sunset said as she set aside her now-empty mug, “I’m really glad you’re here, Fluttershy.”

“Really?” Fluttershy asked. She had a hard time believing that, even if she wanted to.

“Yeah. It’s been nice having someone around to talk to.”

Fluttershy gave a small laugh. “You just like having someone who cooks and cleans.”

Sunset’s laugh was much bigger. “Well, I won’t say that part isn’t nice too.” Sunset’s expression and voice turned more serious. “But really, it’s just… I don’t know. Kind of lonely living alone, I guess.”

Was the openness coming from the wine? It was hard to say. But whether it was because Sunset had finished drinking it or just because Fluttershy realized there was never any point in being concerned, she felt her worry slip away. “I know what you mean.”

Sunset placed her hand on Fluttershy’s shoulder and smiled. “But hey, we don’t need to worry about that now, right? Told you living together would be fun.”

Fluttershy smiled as well and nodded. It was fun to have a friend around that she saw every day, but she felt like that wasn’t really what they were talking about. She realized that mixed in with everything else she had felt since coming to live with Sunset, there was a feeling that she hadn’t put much thought into.

In the week since she moved in with Sunset, her emotions had been constantly fluctuating between fear and regret; between panic and resignation; between confusion and, occasionally, hope. But she felt something else when she was with Sunset. It was a feeling that things could be okay, and not just in the future. It was a long forgotten feeling that had died along with her mother, but that was now coming back into her life. Fluttershy felt content.

She moved ever so slightly closer to Sunset. “Thank you, Sunset. For everything.”

“Don’t mention it.” Sunset broke into a grin. “Besides, I haven’t even given you a reason to start thanking me yet! Just you wait, you and I are gonna have to hit the town so I can be your wingman!”

“My what?” Fluttershy had no idea what Sunset meant, but she was still smiling anyway.

“You know, go get some girls! Lock up your daughters, Sunny and Shy are after their hearts!”

Fluttershy giggled. “You’re as bad as Rainbow! And don’t you hate that nickname?”

“Sunny?” Sunset shrugged. “I’ve never really liked it, but it had less to do with the name and more to do with the pony who gave it to me.”

“Oh.” Sunset very rarely talked about her past, especially the part of her life in Equestria.

“But I guess she probably wasn’t really so bad. I was the bitch, after all.”

“So does that mean the name Sunny is allowed again?” Fluttershy asked.

“Mmm…” Sunset thought for a minute. “I guess you can call me Sunny if you want to.”

“Alright then, Sunny.” Fluttershy giggled at the name, and Sunset blushed a little.

“You know,” Sunset said, not so subtly changing the subject. “Jokes aside, if you ever do want to try finding a girlfriend, let me know. I’m really not bad at that sort of thing.”

“Hmm… You just have trouble keeping them around then?”

Although she had worried the joke would be too far, Sunset laughed. “Okay, I’m not always the best at that part.” She put an arm around Fluttershy’s shoulders. “But you would be. I have no doubt about that.”

Fluttershy moved a little closer to Sunset, so they were almost directly side to side. “Thank you, I’ll keep it in mind.”

They watched the movie quietly, Sunset never removing her arm from Fluttershy. The feeling of contentment only swelled from the contact, and Fluttershy couldn’t remember the last time she felt so happy.

Near the end of the movie, Fluttershy realized there was gentle snoring coming from beside her. Sure enough, Sunset had fallen asleep. She wondered if she should wake her, but she just kept watching the movie instead.

She looked at the mug sitting on the table and felt very silly for ever worrying about it. How could she feel anything but safe with Sunset? She turned instead to look at her sleeping friend’s face and smiled.

By the time the credits rolled she knew she should wake Sunset up. But every time she turned to do so, one look at how peacefully she slept changed her mind. Fluttershy instead leaned against Sunset, who murmured something incoherent before she started to snore again.

The couch was really not big enough for them to both sleep on it. But Fluttershy didn’t want to wake Sunset and wasn’t going to steal her bed just because she had dozed off. And, if she was being honest, she really didn’t mind how crowded the two of them were together.

She closed her eyes with her head on Sunset’s chest as she held her gift tightly, the rhythmic rise and fall of breathing inviting her to sleep. It was a perfect moment, and Fluttershy found herself thinking of her birthday wish.

‘I wish this feeling could last forever.’

4 – Where the Line Blurs

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Chapter Four

Where the Line Blurs

Arriving at Sweet Apple Acres was a relief. The day was only half over, but it had been going on for far too long. While work had been largely unremarkable, it had only given Sunset more time in her head, which was a confused and conflicted place.

Of course, the stiff muscles didn’t help either. Sleeping on her couch usually had that effect, and sleeping upright on it with another person resting atop her only exacerbated that.

It had been an interesting way to start to her day, to say the least.

None of that was improved by a ride through the snow on her motorcycle. The temperature had dropped over the night, and her muscles protested as she dismounted her bike in front of the farmhouse. She had come to help Applejack around the farm and repay her for lunch the day before, but she wasn’t sure how useful she’d wind up being.

Nevertheless, she marched up to the door and knocked. She heard footsteps from inside, and it opened to reveal Apple Bloom. “Hey, Sunset. Come in.”

Sunset gratefully obeyed. The warmth of the farmhouse was a welcome relief after the frigid bike ride. “Hey, Bloom. AJ around?”

“She’s out in the field. Granny made spiced cider if you want to warm up before heading out, though.”

Well, it would be rude to turn down her hospitality, after all. “That sounds good.”

They walked into the kitchen where the smell of apples and cinnamon filled the air. Apple Bloom took a coffee mug off the drying rack, filled it with cider from the stove top, and handed it to Sunset.

Sunset took a small sip, letting the warmth fill her with a quiet glee. “This is just what I needed.”

“That’s Granny’s cider for ya! Always hits the spot.”

They sat down at the kitchen table while Sunset drank and thawed out. Her body was still sore, but it was slowly starting to feel a little better. “So how’re things at CHS?”

“A lot more boring now that you all left,” Apple Bloom said. “It’s just a regular old school now.”

Sunset smirked. “Yeah, what’s school without being in mortal danger once in a while?”

“Exactly! See, I knew you’d understand.”

“Of course. Why do you think I ran headfirst into so much crap when I was at CHS? Had to get that thrill somehow.”

Apple Bloom leaned back in her chair. “Shame ya settled into the boring adult life after graduating.”

“Hey, don’t sass me. I was an adult before you were born.”

“That don’t even make sense!”

Sunset just shrugged. Technically, she had been a teenager when Apple Bloom was born, but it was close enough. “Sorry I’m too old and boring to keep things interesting for you now. Farm life can’t be that bad, though.”

“Pff. Most exciting thing that’s happened around here is that we got a new horse.”

“You know, most girls only dream of getting their own pony.”

“Yeah, well, BoJack ain’t mine anyway, he’s a workhorse.” Apple Bloom grinned and leaned in closer. “But I think he’s single, if ya want me to introduce ya to him.”

Sunset held up her arms in an x. “Woah bad idea. You ever see a horse’s dick? They’re huge!”

Apple Bloom was laughing too hard to reply, so Sunset just grinned and kept going. “Why do you think I prefer to stick to mares? I may be down for a good time, but I know where my limits are.”

“Oh yeah?” Apple Bloom asked as she tried to regain her composure. “Got a lot of experience with mares then?”

“Tons,” Sunset said, although, strictly speaking, that wasn’t true. “Wasn’t a single mare back home that didn’t want to shack up with the great Sunset Shimmer.”

“What about mares here then?”

“What, do I seem racist to you? Mares of every world deserve to know to sensual delight that is my love.”

“Well in that case, how about we go out to the barn and find you a mare of your own?”

“You know, I would, but I really do have to go help AJ.” Sunset sighed as if disappointed. “Another time, maybe.”

“Yeah yeah, alright.” Apple Bloom stood up and walked back over to the stove. She filled a thermos with cider and handed it to Sunset. “Bring that to AJ, will ya?”

“Sure thing.” Sunset drained the remainder of her own mug. Really, It was too hot to drink quickly, but she was wary of letting the joke get much further; it would be foolish to think that any Apple would let go of a joke that had so much potential.

Apple Bloom saw Sunset to the door and pointed her in the direction of Applejack. Sunset braced herself for the cold but was still taken aback as she walked into it. There was nothing to do about it though, so she resigned herself to her task and made her way to her friend.

As she often did, Sunset questioned her stubbornness. There was no doubt that Applejack would’ve paid for her lunch without Sunset needing to make up for it. Yet, here she was, shivering after only being back in the cold for minutes.

Sunset was not built for cold. The only thing good about cold weather was the ways to chase it away. Hot drinks, warm houses, fireplaces, cozy blankets. These were things Sunset was made for, not cutting branches off dormant apple trees in the middle of January.

Not that it mattered. Whether Applejack would hold her to it or not, Sunset would fulfil her agreement to help her. She felt guilty enough about all of her friend’s recent hospitality; she should at least make up for it where she could.

Applejack’s back was to Sunset as she approached. She was in one of the trees with a pair of loppers, about to make a cut. Sunset stood back and waited, not wanting to pull her attention away from her task.

There was a crunching sound as the loppers tore through the branch, and then a crack as it fell from the tree. As it hit the ground, Applejack turned to face Sunset. “Hey, glad ya made it.”

Even through the winter chill, Applejack’s smile made Sunset feel just a little bit warmer. Sunset just shrugged it off. “Yeah, well, I know you’d never manage on your own. How’d you know I was here?”

“What, ya thought you were bein’ quiet? Heard your bike when ya got here, then I heard you walkin’ up after.” Applejack climbed along the branches as she talked, moving towards the next one she needed to cut. “A good ten, fifteen minutes in between those two things, I might add.”

“Well, I was getting you something.” Sunset held up the thermos. “But if you don’t want it…”

“Now don’t be foolish, I didn’t say anything about not wanting anything.” Applejack paused as she selected another branch. A moment later, that too was tumbling to the ground. “I was just making an observation is all.”

Apparently satisfied with the tree, Applejack climbed back towards the ladder leaning against it. Once she was sure there wouldn’t be any more falling branches, Sunset walked over to wait for her at the bottom. As Applejack stepped off the ladder, Sunset handed her the thermos.

“Thanks. I don’t know how much longer I plan on bein’ out in this cold.” Applejack took the lid off the thermos and drank from it. She smiled from the warmth then handed it back to Sunset, but it was clearly a weary smile. “I been out here for a while already, and I’m feeling it.”

Sunset took a sip from the thermos and replaced the cap, not daring point out that she herself was already feeling it after a few minutes. “Can’t say I blame you. So let me know what I can do now that I’m here, and we can hurry up and get it done.”

Applejack instructed Sunset to haul the branches she had cut down to the front yard. Meanwhile, Applejack took the thermos with her and moved the ladder to another tree. It didn’t give them a chance to talk, but there wasn’t really any other way to divide the labor. There wasn’t any sense in both of them getting in each other’s way by trying to cut branches from the same tree, and Sunset would never know which branches should be cut if she was trying to do a tree by herself.

So Sunset made the trip back and forth, dragging branches to the curbside for pick up. Once she finished clearing the ones from that tree, she moved on to the same one Applejack was working on. Whenever Applejack would cut a branch, Sunset would grab it before she could cut the next, then bring it to the pile with the others.

It wasn’t so bad, except for the cold, and there was no doubting it helped make the task easier for Applejack. Of course, Apple Bloom was probably the one who really benefited; there was no doubt that it would have fallen to her to lend a hand if Sunset hadn’t shown up.

But even if it wasn’t too bad, Sunset was more than happy to agree when Applejack suggested they call it a day. All in all they had been at it for less than an hour, and Sunset did feel a little guilty for not helping more. But not too bad; her fingers were going numb from the cold and the exertion, and she had been exhausted from work before she had even begun.

Well, not just from work.

“Guess you’re probably ready to head inside?” Sunset asked.

“More than ready. Not quite time for dinner yet, wanna head down to the cellar for a bit?”

“Sounds good to me.” Sunset followed Applejack to the backyard, where there was a trapdoor leading down into the Apple’s cellar. It was mostly just a basic storage cellar, but there was another appeal to it.

It was colder than the rest of the house, since heat didn’t travel down the stairs well. Still, it was a noticeable improvement over being outside. In one corner, there were a few old chairs and a small fridge, which was where they went. Applejack opened the fridge and pulled out two cans of beer, handing one to Sunset.

Sunset opened her beer and took a seat. Applejack mimicked her, leaning back in her chair, clearly exhausted. It was a regular part of spending time at Sweet Apple Acres, where house rules took precedence over the legal drinking age. Don’t get outright drunk, put in a fair share of work, and keep it in the cellar. While Apple Bloom was still be too young to invite her friends to the cellar, Applejack had graduated from high school to working full time on the farm, meaning she and her friends were adults in Granny Smith’s eyes.

Applejack sighed, signifying that she had some thoughts to get out into the open before Sunset had a chance to do the same. “I don’t know if we can take another year like last one.”

Sunset knew what Applejack was talking about without needing to ask. After her parents died, Sweet Apple Acres fell on hard times. It got bad enough that Granny Smith took up a second job in the cafeteria at Canterlot High School, and for a while, it looked like there wasn’t much of a future for Sweet Apple Acres.

“Hey, it’ll be alright. Things are moving upwards, you know that.”

Applejack shook her head. “All we’re doing is buying time, and it ain’t bein’ sold to us at a fair price. We can’t keep just doin’ farmer’s markets and local stores.”

“You haven’t given yourself enough time yet. You’ve been doing an amazing job at getting more business.” In truth, Applejack was doing more than anyone could expect of her. While Granny Smith had somehow managed to keep the farm going practically single-handedly while her grandchildren were still growing, her old-fashioned business practices didn’t make money like they used to.

Without Applejack, Sweet Apple Acres had no hope. The young woman was quickly proving to be the bridge between her family’s traditions and more modern sensibilities that the farm desperately needed. She was already taking on an active role in running the business side of the farm while in high school, and since graduating, she had become the main driving force behind it.

“I have an idea, but I know the others aren’t gonna like it. Mom and Dad left us with one hell of a farm, no one can deny that. We’ve had more people trying to buy it out from us than I can name.”

Sunset frowned. “You’re not thinking of accepting, are you?”

“Course not,” Applejack answered quickly. “It’s just that we got this farm and it’s bigger than our business needs. It’s the most basic part of business, supply and demand. We got the supply, but we don’t got the demand.”

“So how do you increase demand?”

“We need to expand. Can’t just wait for people to come to us, we gotta go to where the people are. It’s like we’ve got two choices, but no one wants to decide between ‘em. We dig our feet in and hold off the end as long as we can, or we push back. And that ain’t hardly a real choice at all, far as I’m concerned.”

“Yeah. So where’s the problem?”

Applejack sighed again and looked at the ground. “Well, the rest of my family. Especially Granny. See, we’re all working as hard as we can, so if we expand…”

“You need more people.” Sunset saw the problem immediately. Sweet Apple Acres had been family owned and operated for generations, and the only outside help they’d had in all that time was the occasional family friend lending a hand.

“I don’t even want to begin having that conversation… But Apple Bloom’s grades are already dropping ‘cause she doesn’t get enough time to focus on school as is, Granny’s not gettin’ any younger, and me and Big Mac are doing everythin’ we can.”

“Think Big Mac will at least be on your side?”

“Might be. Lord knows he must want some help carryin’ the weight too. But who knows, family traditions are real important to him.”

“Yeah, and they’re important to you too,” Sunset reminded her. “He knows that. Everyone knows that. I’m sure they’ll know that you would never suggest this if you didn’t think it was the only way.”

Applejack gave a small laugh. “It’s almost like ya forgot we’re talking ‘bout the Apples here. Ain’t a one of us gonna think things out logically like that, least at first. We’re too stubborn.”

Sunset grinned. “Which is why you’ll just have to be stubborn enough to get through to them.”

Applejack laughed a little and took a drink of her beer. She paused a moment before turning to Sunset with a sheepish smile. “Don’t reckon ya ever thought ‘bout becoming a farmer?”

“What, me?” Sunset looked around as if expecting to see someone else Applejack might be talking to. “Even aside from the whole waking up at the crack of dawn to work my ass off thing, you’ve seen me try and help out around the farm. I’m not exactly handy with this sort of thing.”

“Heh. Well, it was worth a shot.” Applejack took a long draft of her beer.

“You know I’m always happy to help if you need me, but as a regular job? You could find someone better suited.”

“Fair enough.”

Sunset wasn’t sure how to go from Applejack’s problems to her own, but Applejack wound up answering that for her when she asked, “So how’s everything going with Fluttershy?”

“It’s been… I’m not really sure.”

Applejack punched Sunset’s arm. “Aww, miss living on your own already?”

Sunset shook her head and ignored how hard Applejack’s playful punches were. “No, nothing like that. It’s actually been pretty cool having someone around.”

“Money problems then?”

“No. The budget’s gonna be tighter, but someone just won’t seem to let us starve. I think we’ll be alright with money.”

“So what’s up then?”

Even though it was something she had decided to talk about, Sunset hesitated before getting into it. If this had happened with someone else, Sunset never would consider bringing it up. But it happened with Fluttershy, one of Sunset’s closest friends, and the last thing she wanted to do was anything that would hurt her.

“Well… when I woke up this morning, we were cuddled together on the couch.”

Applejack seemed to be studying Sunset’s expression. It was unclear what she found there. “That, uh, that’s an interestin’ way to wake up. Especially if ya don’t remember gettin’ all cuddled up the night before.”

“I fell asleep while we were watching a movie. She could’ve just woken me up, or taken the bed while I wasn’t using it.” Sunset stretched out her back. “Shit, after sleeping on that couch for one night, I feel bad for having her sleep on it all week. She should’ve just taken the bed.”

“Can’t really see Fluttershy takin’ your bed while you slept. Dunno why she didn’t just wake ya up, though.”

“Right. Unless she didn’t want to.”

“I see what you’re gettin’ at, but let’s not jump to conclusions. Did ya try asking her about it?”

“No, she was still asleep when I went to work.” Pretending to sleep was more likely. Sunset highly doubted that Fluttershy slept through Sunset removing herself from her grip, let alone continued to sleep while Sunset got ready.

“Maybe she just didn’t think anythin’ of it. You know some people are just okay with things like that.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think that’s it. In all the sleepovers we’ve had, has Fluttershy ever done anything like that?”

Applejack thought for a moment. “Well, maybe shared a big enough bed when there wasn’t anywhere else to sleep a couple of times, but I see what ya mean. That ain’t really the same thing, but then again, she’s also never done anything that looked like she was into you.”

That much was true. Sunset had been racking her brain all day to try and find some hint that Fluttershy might’ve made about how she felt. She’d only come up with one. “Yeah, not until she decided to come out. Doesn’t that timing feel a little convenient?”

“You’ve got a point there.” Applejack finished her beer and stood up to get another. “And it’s not like it’s hard to see where this might be coming from. She was in a bad situation and you took her in.”

Applejack offered another beer to Sunset, but she shook her head. “No thanks, I’ve still got to drive home.” She sighed and set aside her empty can. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

Applejack opened her beer and took a drink before answering. “Well, what do ya want to do?”

“What do you mean? Fluttershy’s only ever been a friend to me.”

“Yeah, but is that all you want her to be?”

Sunset shook her head. “It doesn’t even matter. Like you said, maybe the only reason she’s interested is because I gave her a place to live. I can’t start a relationship based on that, it wouldn’t be right.”

“I never said that was the only reason. But I reckon that’s something you two could talk about at least. And anyway, it only matters if you want to start a relationship with her.”

Sunset didn’t answer. How could she? It wasn’t that easy.

“What if that happened with Pinkie?” Applejack asked, throwing Sunset off. “If ya woke up with Pinkie cuddled up with you, would ya want to try and make a relationship out of it?”

Sunset chuckled. “If I woke up with Pinkie cuddling me, I would probably just think it’s Pinkie being Pinkie.”

“Rainbow then.”

“She doesn’t even like girls.”

“Come on, Sunset, humor me.”

Sunset thought for a moment. “No. If I woke up cuddling Rainbow, it would just be awkward and I’d probably just want to drop it. Same with Pinkie. I wouldn’t want to push for more with either of them.”

Applejack nodded. “Rarity?”

“Same.”

“Me?”

Sunset grinned. “Oh, we’d talk, but it’d be about how I’m never drinking again, not us dating.”

“Right. So then why was Fluttershy an ‘I don’t know’ when everyone else is a ‘no’?”

The grin fell from Sunset’s face. She forced a deep breath before answering. “Because… Fluttershy’s different.”

“So… do ya want to be with her?”

“That’s… complicated.” It had been over a year since the Fall Formal, and Sunset had never told anyone about what she had experienced that night. But there was no separating what had happened then with what was happening now, and if she was going to tell anyone, it would definitely be Applejack.

“On the night of the Fall Formal, when the Elements hit me, I saw some things.” Sunset closed her eyes. The specific details had faded with time to the point where sometimes Sunset was able to disregard them, but the big picture was always there. “I saw what could have happened if I had fixed things in Equestria. I never even went through the portal, never even knew about it. Then I saw what could have happened if I fixed things with you back in middle school…”

“Guess that must’ve been why you decided to change after all.”

Sunset shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe. It was definitely part of it, but there were so many things going on back then.”

“Yeah. So what’s that have to do with Fluttershy?”

“On that second path, I didn’t just become friends with you. It started that way, but then I also became friends with all the others much sooner. Fluttershy and I… we were dating. And we were really happy together.”

“So you think you two could be happy together now.”

“Maybe.” Sunset got up and got another beer after all. “I don’t even know if what I saw was real. Obviously it didn’t happen, but you know, would it have? Sometimes I feel like I just made the whole thing up, other times…”

Applejack adjusted her hat. “You know I don’t understand any of that magic stuff, but we have seen some pretty crazy stuff. I could see something like that happening.”

Sunset took a drink and grinned. “Let’s just say that when Fluttershy told us she’s gay, I wasn’t surprised at all. I already knew. Saw it firsthand on that night.”

“Makes sense.”

They drank quietly for a moment. Sunset hoped Applejack would offer more of her thoughts on the situation, but it seemed she would need to be prompted. “So… what do you think? Should I really just trust that things will work because of what I saw that night?”

Applejack sighed and looked away from Sunset. “You know I’m about as good with romance as I am with magic. And I got no idea what to make of all that ‘could have been’ stuff. But… I think it could work just because you two get along so well, you know? Maybe the vision or whatever was the real deal, maybe it wasn’t, but it don’t really matter. You and Fluttershy have been friends for a while now, ya like spending time together, and I know both of you will be there for each other when ya need it. If it’s somethin’ ya might want, isn’t that enough already?”

It sounded so simple when Applejack said it, but then again, everything always did. “Yeah, maybe.”

Applejack chuckled nervously. “But well, like I said I don’t really know ‘bout this stuff. Maybe it’d be better to ask someone else? Bet Twilight could help if ya wrote to her about it.”

Hey, Twilight, what do you think of me dating the alternate dimension version of your girlfriend? Sunset didn’t see that working out too well, but she didn’t really want to bring up the fact that Twilight had jealousy issues with Applejack. “That’s fair. Anyway, it’s not like I’ll need to figure anything out tonight.”

“Yeah, exactly!” Once it was clear Sunset was done asking her advice on romance, Applejack perked up considerably. “Take your time and sort things out. I know you two will make the right call.”

Sunset smirked. “You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think it sounds like you have faith in me.”

Applejack shrugged. “Maybe, or I could just have faith in Fluttershy. Though if you’re right and she does want to date you, then I might be a little worried about her decision making.”

“You know, it’s okay to say you’re jealous. I get all the girls and guys, and you’ve just got apple trees.”

“Yeah yeah. You know, I have had my share of suitors in the past. The second I get time away from work, I could find somebody no problem.”

“AJ, the only time you’re gonna get away from work is the day you die. You gotta live a little!”

Applejack finished her beer and smiled at Sunset. “Reckon I’m livin’ just fine, thanks.”

Sunset finished hers as well, then followed Applejack out of the cellar. Entering the warmth of the rest of the house was a welcome relief, even if it was bound to be a short one.

“Feel like stayin’ for dinner?” Applejack asked at the top of the stairs.

“I should head home, Fluttershy’s probably waiting.”

Applejack gave her a knowing smirk, so Sunset shoved her. “I mean she probably planned dinner for both of us!”

“Of course. Best not keep your lady waiting!”

“Why do I tell you anything?”

“ ‘Cause you’d be lost without me.”

Even if that was true, there was no sense in telling Applejack that. So Sunset said her goodbyes, braced herself, and went back out into the cold.

The freezing winds on the motorcycle ride only made things worse. If Sunset had thought about it, she might have been glad for the distraction, but Sunset didn’t think about anything other than how much she hated winter.

No matter how awkward the imminent conversation with Fluttershy was going to be, arriving home was a welcome relief. Sunset locked up her bike and made her way inside as quickly as she could. Her house wasn’t kept as warm as Sweet Apple Acres, but at least she could take comfort in knowing she didn’t have anywhere else to be for the rest of the day.

It didn’t take long to figure out what Fluttershy was up to. Once Sunset had the door closed, she could hear Fluttershy singing in the living room. She grinned, wondering if Fluttershy had even heard the door. She walked through the kitchen and stopped at the entrance to the living room.

It was apparent that Fluttershy hadn’t heard Sunset arrive. She had headphones in and was singing an upbeat song while dancing around. Sunset couldn’t help but smile as she watched.

“Look close and you will see, there’s so much more to – aaah!”

“Hi, Fluttershy.” Sunset waved to a mortified Fluttershy. “I like your song.”

Fluttershy squeaked out something incomprehensible.

“Sorry for startling you, I wasn’t trying to.”

Fluttershy looked at the floor and nodded. She had seemed so carefree while dancing, but now she was slouching while holding her arms close to her body.

Sunset turned away as well, feeling guilty for sneaking up on her. It had been nice seeing the reserved girl loosen up, but ignoring it was probably the best way to avoid making her feel more embarrassed. “I think I’m going to take a hot shower to warm up.”

“Okay,” Fluttershy said quietly. “Uhm, should I start making dinner?”

Sunset forced a smile at the offer. Sometimes Sunset got the impression Fluttershy saw herself as a sort of live-in maid, needing to constantly cook and clean to earn her keep. “If you want to, but it’s no big deal if you don’t feel like it. I have leftovers from yesterday I could just heat up.”

With Fluttershy’s murmurs of agreement, Sunset grabbed some pajamas and brought them into the bathroom. She turned on the water and got undressed while waiting for it to heat up.

A hot shower felt like a good idea for a few reasons. It was certainly true that it would get her feeling warm faster, although that was probably the least important reason. It would also give Fluttershy some time to calm down from her embarrassment, which was also only a minor perk. Slightly higher on the list was that it would give Sunset a chance to relax after spending the day working, and the heat would help soothe her stiff muscles.

But when it came down to it, there was mainly one thing Sunset wanted out of the shower. It would give her the chance to figure out what to say to Fluttershy once she was out.

Sunset tested the water and deemed it warm enough to get in. Relief was instant, and she found herself struck with the age-old thought that she never wanted to leave.

She let the water wash over her as she debated what to do. Like she’d said to Applejack, Sunset didn’t need to know the full scope of what she’d do right away, but there would be a conversation nonetheless. How could there not be? They had slept together, even if only in the most literal sense, and Fluttershy would want to talk about that.

Unless, of course, she didn’t. Sunset frowned at the thought, but there was an undeniable logic to it. Fluttershy would find the conversation just as awkward as Sunset did, right? So what if she didn’t want to talk about it?

Well, if neither Sunset nor Fluttershy wanted to talk about it, then wasn’t that good enough? It wasn’t like Sunset really cared that it had happened, aside from the confusion the whole thing caused. If Fluttershy wanted to bring it up, then of course they’d talk about it. But if not? Then they could just put the whole thing behind them.

Although she wasn’t sure it was the best course of action, coming to that conclusion did offer a sense of relief. Sunset finished up in the shower, got dressed, and left the bathroom fully expecting to put all the awkwardness behind them.

By the time she was out, the sun had started to set. Weirdly short days were another downside to winter, even if Sunset had always enjoyed staying up into the night. She walked into the kitchen to find Fluttershy eating dinner.

“Feel better?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yeah. That was just what I needed.” Since Fluttershy had taken Sunset up on the idea of eating leftovers, Sunset pulled her own out of the fridge. She scooped the carbonara into a paper bowl and placed it in the microwave to heat. “Today has just been kicking my ass.”

“Bad day at work?”

Sunset shrugged. “Isn’t it always? Then helping Applejack in the snow didn’t do me any favors.”

“It was nice of you to help, though. I’m sure she really appreciated it.”

“Yeah, well, it’s the least I could do, right? On top of buying me lunch, she gave us so much food yesterday.”

“I’m sure she would’ve understood if you said you couldn’t make it.”

“Probably, but still.” The microwave beeped, so Sunset pulled out her food and took a seat next to Fluttershy. “How was school?”

“It was good. I only had biology today, which is my favorite.”

Sunset smirked. “Naturally.”

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Fluttershy told Sunset what she was learning in class as they ate, and neither of them brought up anything awkward. It was just like always, and Sunset was beginning to wonder what she had been so worried about.

It was all going perfectly, until Fluttershy spoke up during a lull in the conversation. “Uhm, Sunset?”

Sunset did not like her tone, but she didn’t let that show. “Yeah?”

“Uhm… did you ever… worry when you, uh, when you came out?”

Oh, gay stuff. That was easier, so long as it remained just the general topic. “Sure, a little. You all were the first friends I ever had, and it goes without saying the best. How could I not be a little worried?”

“I was so happy when you did.” Happy? Why was she happy? Could it be… “I wanted to tell you, uhm, about me. But I was too scared.”

This was veering back into potentially awkward territory, but there was nothing Sunset could do. “Well, the important thing is that you came out now, right?” Wait, shit, what if she thought that meant Sunset planned on pursuing something with her now? “It’s a good feeling to not have to hide things anymore. And whenever you meet someone you want to be with, you’ll be able to go after her without worrying about us now.”

“I, uhm, I’ve been thinking about… that…”

“Oh?” Sunset forced down her concern. If this conversation was heading towards Fluttershy confessing some sort of feelings for her, then delaying it wasn’t going to make things any easier. “Somebody catch your eye already?”

“No. Not someone specific or anything. I was just thinking that, uhm, maybe it would be nice to… to be with someone.”

Okay. They were still just on the general subject. That was good. “Relationships can be pretty great, just don’t buy into the perfect movie romance thing too hard.”

“Yeah, I know.” Finished with her meal, Fluttershy stood up and threw away her paper bowl. But rather than go into the living room, she simply returned to her seat.

Although she didn’t say anything else, there still seemed to be something on Fluttershy’s mind. She kept glancing at Sunset then looking away, and Sunset wasn’t sure what to make of it. Was she waiting for something more from Sunset? Some advice or something on how to find a girlfriend?

“Something else on your mind, Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy’s eyes darted to the table. “Oh, no. Well, uhm…”

Sunset reached her hand across the table to place it on Fluttershy’s. “It’s okay. Whatever it is, you can talk to me about it.”

“I-it’s, uhm…” Fluttershy shook her head. “It’s nothing.”

“I’m not going to force it out of you, but it doesn’t sound like nothing.”

“W-well… I was wondering…” Fluttershy took a deep breath, tried to look into Sunset’s eyes, then gave up and turned away again. “Uhm, I was… would it be okay if… if I tried, uhm, drinking?”

Sunset managed to not laugh out loud, but couldn’t help the grin. “Geez, you live with me for a week and I’m already driving you to drink?”

“No!” Fluttershy finally managed to look at Sunset, although it was with shock and concern. “I-I didn’t mean anything like that! I was, uhm, never mind.”

“Relax, I’m joking. And sure you can, but do you mind if I ask where this is coming from?”

“It’s, uhm…” Fluttershy’s mouth worked between a frown and a grimace.

“Does it have something to do with the whole girlfriend thing?”

“Uhm, maybe a little…”

Sunset took a bite of her food while she thought. She made sure to keep her body language and tone as casual as possible to try and keep Fluttershy feeling comfortable despite the conversation. “Dating someone doesn’t always mean drinking you know.”

“I know, but that’s only part of it…”

While Sunset wasn’t exactly sure how people met potential partners other than parties and bars, she didn’t want Fluttershy to think she had to drink to date someone. “I guess I just want to know that this is something you want to do, not something you feel like you should do. You’re only nineteen.”

“You’re only eighteen,” Fluttershy mumbled. “And, well, everyone else already does…”

“I’m not saying you’re not old enough, just…” Sunset smiled and shook her head. “I guess I don’t really know what I’m saying. It’s just strange, I kinda thought you’d never drink.”

“I did too, but…” Fluttershy closed her eyes and rested her head on her hand. “I was always… scared. And… I don’t want to be, not anymore.”

“Oh.” For some reason, Sunset hadn’t even considered that this could be another way for Fluttershy to step out of her dad’s shadow. “Yeah, okay. I’m glad you came to me with this then. I’m probably the most experienced with alcohol out of our friends, since I had that whole hellraiser childhood thing.”

Sunset stood up and opened the fridge. “Beer or wine, if you want to try something tonight. I’ll make it an easy choice and tell you that you’ll hate beer the first time you try it. Not that you’ll necessarily like wine right away either, but you know. Lesser of the two evils.”

“Oh, uhm, I guess I could try wine.”

Sunset pulled out a bottle of pinot grigio then got two wine glasses out of the cabinet. She rarely bothered with them, not particularly caring about the whole ‘proper drinking experience’ thing, but she figured they might as well do it right. Deciding it would be best to start slow, she poured a little more into her own glass than Fluttershy’s. She set both glasses and the bottle on the table.

“Let’s start with one glass, then you can see how you feel. Drink it slowly, and don’t expect grape juice.” Sunset took a drink first, while Fluttershy simply stared at her own glass.

There was a long enough hesitation for Sunset to think she changed her mind, but before she could remind Fluttershy that she didn’t have to drink, she took a sip. To Sunset’s surprise, her face remained perfectly composed despite the bitterness.

“What do you think?” Sunset asked as Fluttershy went back to looking at her drink.

“I… kind of like it.” Fluttershy frowned.

“Hey, that’s great. Most people don’t at first.”

Even if she liked the wine, Fluttershy still didn’t exactly seem to be enjoying herself. She did take another drink, though.

“You know you’re free to help yourself to anything in the house, but just a heads up, it’s really easy to overdo it on booze before you know your limits.”

“Oh, I don’t think I’ll be drinking too much.”

“Yeah, it’s a little much at first.”

“It’s not that. I do like the taste.”

If she liked the wine, then it was clear that the issue had to stem from her history. Sunset wasn’t sure how much to push, but she decided to take a chance. “So… what are you thinking?”

Fluttershy looked into Sunset’s eyes, but she barely seemed to be seeing her. “I… I don’t know.”

“Well… that’s okay. You’re trying something new, and that’s not something to feel bad about.”

Fluttershy didn’t answer right away. When she did, she was back to looking at her glass. “I guess… when I was younger, I always wanted to blame the alcohol. I wanted to believe my dad… that Stormy Skies was a good person, and that it was just the alcohol that made him do bad things. And… I’ve known that wasn’t true for a long time, but I… I don’t think I ever fully stopped believing it.”

“You don’t have to finish, you know.”

Instead of answering, Fluttershy took another drink. It was too large, and she wound up coughing.

“Careful,” Sunset reminded her.

Fluttershy nodded and took a smaller sip. She set her glass down. “I know alcohol didn’t make him a monster. He was one all along.”

Unsure of what to say, Sunset took another drink.

“I’m sorry.”

Sunset furrowed her brow. “You don’t need to apologize. And you’re right. If he had been a good person doing bad things because of alcohol, he would’ve stopped drinking. He was who he allowed himself to be.”

Fluttershy’s hand moved across the table towards Sunset’s, then she seemed to change her mind and pulled it back. “Thank you for listening to me. And for everything else.”

Sunset smiled and reached for Fluttershy’s hand. She had only meant to place her hand on top of her friend’s, but Fluttershy mimicked her and reached for Sunset’s as well, cupping their hands together. Sunset forgot what she was going to say at the gesture, but she kept her hold on Fluttershy’s hand.

“You’ve been so good to me, I don’t deserve someone like you.”

“Sure you do,” Sunset said without even thinking. “You deserve only the best, Shy.”

“You’re sweet. But all I do is make things harder for you.” Fluttershy blushed a little. “I even kept you from your bed last night.”

Sunset couldn’t help but snicker a little at that. “I fall asleep on the couch like all the time. You didn’t keep me from anything. I’m just surprised you didn’t seize the chance to take the bed.”

Fluttershy fidgeted and used the last of her wine as a distraction from having to answer.

Sunset finished hers as well and smiled. “Come to think of it, why don’t we just share the bed for now. At least until we get you one. Promise it’ll be a lot more comfortable than the couch.”

“What?” Fluttershy looked surprised, and her blush grew more intense. “Wouldn’t that be, uhm… strange?”

Taking turns with who got to sleep in the bed didn’t seem that strange to Sunset. “It’s just an idea. If you’d rather not then we can just keep things the way they are.”

Fluttershy looked down at the table, but her grip on Sunset’s hand tightened. “I think… that would be nice, actually.”

Sunset grinned. “Yeah, I figured you would. I know the couch isn’t the most comfortable.”

Fluttershy looked up and smiled through her blush. “Thanks again, Sunny.”

The nickname made Sunset blush a little too. She had said Fluttershy could use it, but she hadn’t really expected her to. Too late to change her mind now, it would just be something to get used to. “No problem. On another note, how are you feeling? Not dizzy or lightheaded or anything like that, right?”

Fluttershy shook her head and smiled. “I feel good. Happy.”

“Good. Probably best to leave it at that for the night. Better to end on a good note than risk overdoing it.” Even if it was only one glass, Fluttershy hadn’t stopped blushing.

“Okay.” Before Sunset could put away the bottle, Fluttershy stood up and did it herself.

Sunset stood up as well and stretched. It was still relatively early, but the sun had gone down and it had been an exhausting day. “Think I’ll head to bed. Enjoy the rest of your night.”

“Oh, okay. Good night, Sunny.”

“Night, Shy.”

Sunset walked to the bedroom and wasted no time in collapsing on the bed. For all her worrying, it had been a pretty good day. She’d helped repay Applejack a little for her hospitality, helped Fluttershy work on her issues with alcohol, and they had even talked about the previous night a little.

Although she was ready to pass out, Sunset retrieved her phone from the bedside table first. She checked her notifications and debated sending Applejack an update on how things went with Fluttershy, then decided against it. There wasn’t much to talk about, they were still just friends, same as always.

She killed a few minutes on her phone, then set it back on the table and plugged a charger into it. As good as the day had wound up being in the end, it still felt nice to put it behind her. She got up to turn off her bedroom light, but stopped when there was a soft knock on the door.

“Yeah?” Sunset called through it.

Unsurprisingly, Fluttershy was on the other side. She had also changed into pajamas. What was a little surprising was that she had her blanket and pillow. “Uhm, I think I’ll get to bed early too.”

“Oh, sure.” Sunset had been hoping for a restful sleep in bed, but she realized Fluttershy had been dealing with the couch much longer. “You can take the bed tonight, I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“What?” Fluttershy gave her a perplexed look.

Sunset was confused by her confusion, but she got out of bed all the same. “Er, did you need something else?”

Fluttershy continued looking confused for a moment, then turned her eyes towards the ground. “I, uhm… I thought we were sharing the bed…”

“Well, yeah. So you can have it tonight and then – oh!” Sunset facepalmed. “I just realized why you thought sharing the bed would be weird. I didn’t mean, you know, at the same time.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy blushed and held her pillow tight. “O-of course. That’d be… weird…”

Sunset just laughed at the misunderstanding. “Yeah, you don’t want to deal with me snoring anyway.” She walked past Fluttershy into the living room. “Right, well, good night.”

“Uhm, good night…”

Sunset got as far as the couch when she realized she hadn’t taken a pillow or blanket. She turned back around and went into the bedroom again. “Sorry, forgot something.”

Fluttershy was sitting on the bed. She nodded, but didn’t speak. Sunset grabbed her things and went to leave, but was stopped by Fluttershy’s voice when she reached the door. “Stay?”

“Huh?” Sunset turned around to see Fluttershy was again facing away from her.

“We could…” Fluttershy shook her head. “I feel… safer with you.”

“Safer? From what? Nothing’s gonna get you here, Shy.”

“I-I know. But I…” Fluttershy swallowed and looked up at Sunset. She didn’t speak, and almost looked like she might cry.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Sunset walked back to the bed and sat down beside Fluttershy. “You know I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

“I know. That’s why…” Fluttershy took a shaky breath and leaned her head against Sunset’s shoulder. “I think… if you stayed with me tonight, I wouldn’t…”

Whatever it was that Fluttershy wouldn’t do was lost as her words cut off. Sunset wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but she knew she couldn’t leave Fluttershy so upset. “Well… sure, if that’s what you want.”

“Thank you. And I’m sorry.”

Fluttershy moved to the inside of the bed, and Sunset scratched her head in confusion. Maybe it was because of the wine, but Sunset couldn’t figure out how this situation came about. It occurred to her a moment later that it was, in fact, probably because of the wine.

“Don’t be. Get comfy, I’ll get the light.” Sunset stood back up and turned off the light, then returned to the bed. She lay down next to Fluttershy, making sure to give her plenty of space.

It didn’t matter so much, because Fluttershy rolled onto her side towards Sunset, closing most of the distance between them. Sunset decided there was no point in even trying to think about anything that was happening until the morning, so she just covered herself with a blanket and got comfortable.

After a moment, Fluttershy’s hand found hers, and their fingers laced together. “Is, uhm, is this okay?”

In the dark, Sunset couldn’t see Fluttershy’s expression, but she could hear the worry in her voice plain as day. “Yeah, this is fine. Good night, Shy.”

“Good night, Sunny.”

Suddenly feeling more awake, Sunset found herself failing in her decision to not question what was happening, although she didn’t make any headway in figuring it out. There was the obvious conclusion, that Fluttershy was coming onto her, but Sunset didn’t want to assume that.

It was hard not to feel like that was becoming increasingly likely as Fluttershy scooted even closer while Sunset lay awake. Was she asleep, or had that been intentional? Sunset couldn’t be sure.

Eventually, only two things remained in Sunset’s mind as she finally drifted into sleep. One was Applejack’s question, about if she wanted to be in a relationship with Fluttershy. That was even harder to answer than it had been when Applejack had asked it, but she couldn’t deny there was something enjoyable about being so close to her.

The other thing on her mind was a memory of a high school dance and a kiss shared among sunflowers. Perhaps it was just a fragmented memory of a dream, but it had never quite left her thoughts. It had been another life that was vastly different than the one Sunset had actually lived, but she had been happy.

With that in mind, Sunset found herself closing the rest of the distance between them. She let go of Fluttershy’s hand to instead place her arm around her body. Fluttershy made a small noise of contentment, then did the same. Almost on instinct, Sunset kissed the top of Fluttershy’s head, then finally drifted to sleep.

5 – Following the Wind

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Chapter Five

Following the Wind

For the second day in a row, Sunset found herself waking up beside Fluttershy. At least she wasn’t confused about why they were together this time, but she was still just as confused about what to do. Although if their sleeping position was any indication, Sunset’s subconscious had already made that decision. At some point during the night, Fluttershy had turned away from her, and Sunset seemed to have seized the chance to curl around the smaller woman.

As near as she could tell, Fluttershy was still sleeping peacefully. She was up before Sunset on most days, so it was a little odd that she would still be asleep. Come to think of it, she had been asleep when Sunset woke up the day before as well. Was she specifically sleeping in because they were cuddling?

There were too many questions to worry about that one though. And since Sunset didn’t have answers for any of them, it was time to get another opinion. Bringing it up with Applejack had been a given – she was Sunset’s best friend, and someone who knew the whole situation. But she had been telling the truth about not being knowledgeable on romance, so it was time to ask someone who was.

And Applejack had even been right about the perfect people to ask. Or the perfect ponies, to be more precise. As carefully as she could, Sunset pulled her arm away from Fluttershy. The sleeping woman shifted in place a little, but didn’t wake up. Slowly, Sunset got out of bed.

At least the journal was out in the open. It was sitting on the bedside table, where Sunset could easily retrieve it without making much noise. She tucked it under her arm and exited the room as quietly as she could.

The living room was a little chillier than the bedroom had been, but Sunset ignored it. She sat at her computer desk and flipped to the first blank page in the journal. After taking a moment to think of what to say, she pulled a pen out of a nearby jar and began writing.

‘Dear Twilight or Fluttershy, whoever winds up getting this. I’ve got kind of a strange situation going on with a friend who might be interested in becoming more than a friend. The thing is, I’m really not sure how she feels. I was hoping one of you might have some advice on what I should do.’

Sunset wondered if she should explain things better. How much was she supposed to say, anyway? She didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

While she was wondering, words appeared in the journal. She recognized the penmanship before even seeing the name. ‘Hi, Sunset, it’s Twilight.’

Even though Fluttershy might have been whom Sunset hoped to speak with, she still smiled at the words appearing. Talking to Twilight always made her feel better.

‘I’m not sure I’m the best pony to turn to for this kind of thing, but I’m happy to help if I can. How long have you known her?’

Telling Twilight that it was Fluttershy could cause problems. Although she and Fluttershy had been a couple for a while now, it was still her first relationship, and she had issues with jealousy that she was struggling to overcome. Sunset had made an offhand comment once before about dating the human Fluttershy, back when Twilight was still chasing her crush. Even though she wasn’t Twilight’s marefriend at the time, the joke still seemed to upset her. She was in no hurry to find out how much that insecurity had developed now that they were actually dating.

No, admitting to that this early was sure to cause problems. It would be easier to just stretch the truth a little for now, at least until she knew what was going to happen. ‘A few years. Her name’s Morning Breeze, and I went to high school with her.’

‘Morning Breeze? I don’t think I met her any of the times I went to CHS.’

Sunset felt a little guilty, but she was happy to see Twilight accepted the fake name. ‘No, I don’t think so either. She’s become a pretty good friend of mine recently though.’

‘I see, so what makes you think she’s interested in you?’

‘Well, okay, but don’t read too much into this… Last night she came over to my house and we kind of wound up sharing my bed.’

‘What? Sunset, how am I not supposed to read into that?”

‘We didn’t, you know, do anything. Well, we didn’t do that much, anyway.’

There was a short pause before Twilight responded. ‘I don’t want to even know what ‘not that much’ means, do I?’

‘We cuddled! That was all!’

Sunset could practically hear the sigh she knew had to be coming from Twilight. ‘Anyway, I think that’s a pretty good indication. I mean, you don’t normally just go cuddling your friends, do you?’

Sunset sighed and rolled her eyes. ‘No, I don’t normally cuddle my friends. But it wasn’t really a normal night either. We were talking about some pretty serious things, and she said it was because she feels safe with me.’

As soon as she wrote it down, Sunset realized how that sounded. Still, Twilight made sure to remind her. ‘If she said something like that then it’s probably safe to say she is interested in you.’

Sunset glanced back to the bedroom door to see that it was closed. ‘She’s still asleep right now. I don’t know what to do when she wakes up.’

‘You have to talk to her about it. Ask her what last night meant to her, and then figure out if you’re both on the same page with it.’

‘But I don’t even know which page I’m on to begin with!’

‘Well, how do you feel around her?’

Why did everyone keep asking that? If it were that simple, Sunset could’ve figured it out on her own. ‘I don’t know, I’ve pretty much only ever thought of her as a friend.’

‘That’s not what I mean. Just how does she make you feel, even as a friend?’

Even though she thought the question was silly, Sunset still gave it serious consideration. She closed her eyes and thought for a minute, and realized she had an answer after all. ‘I guess she makes me feel happy. I feel good about myself around her, like I can be a better person because she believes I can.’

‘If she makes you feel that, then why not go for it? She sounds really special to you, and it sounds like this could be something really good. The worst that can happen is she says no, and then you’re back to being friends, like you were all along.’

‘I guess that makes sense.’

‘I know you’ll make the right decision. And Sunset?’

‘Yeah?’

‘You’re a good person no matter what. Don’t forget that.’

Sunset couldn’t help but smile. Twilight never failed to support Sunset whether she deserved it or not. That always made her feel like she could be better, too. ‘Thanks, Twi. I guess I’ll try to talk to her, I’ll let you know how things go.’

‘Good luck!’

Sunset closed the book and sighed. Twilight had a point, and it wasn’t like it would be hard to follow up on. Just talk to Fluttershy once she was up. Worst case scenario, they’d just keep being good friends and that would be the end of it.

A glance towards the bedroom door was all it took to shake away that confident feeling. Sunset decided if any conversation was going to happen, coffee was a prerequisite. It was frankly astounding that she’d waited as long as she had for her morning caffeine fix.

She stood and stretched, then shuffled slowly into the kitchen. Once the immediate concern of writing to Twilight was taken care of, Sunset’s body seemed to remember it was supposed to be tired. She thought about possibly going back to bed, but that felt more than a little awkward. It was one thing to cuddle up while they were sleeping, but to actively put herself back into that position? Better to just get an early start to her day.

Not that it was anything to be excited about. Sunset managed only minimal enthusiasm as she started the instant coffee machine, then sat down and fell face first against the table.

The day’s events played out clearly in her mind. For efficiency’s sake, she’d start with multitasking – she could hold an awkward conversation with Fluttershy while skipping breakfast at the same time. She’d then wait entirely too long before she so much as started to get ready for work, then she’d get ready too quickly and maybe wind up forgetting something. Right around that time, she might start to regret skipping breakfast; if not, then that would come half an hour after the start of her shift. She’d leave early so she could give Fluttershy a ride to school, extending the cold bike ride, which she’d pretend to be indifferent to.

All of that before she actually arrived at work. As far as she was aware, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the work day ahead of her, but that just meant that she’d have to wait and see what miserable experiences awaited her today. Would it be the manager or the customers that had it out for her this time? Or perhaps both? Truly, the possibilities were endless!

Even when the coffee pot finished filling, Sunset was reluctant to get up. But the day would be ever so slightly more tolerable with coffee, so she forced herself to rise. She got a mug out of the cabinet, poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat back down. She blew on it, more out of habit than to make it cool faster, and wondered how long she’d have before the inevitable conversation.

Not very long, apparently. Before she even took her first sip, Fluttershy walked into the kitchen. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” Sunset said, managing a smile despite her nerves. “Sleep well?”

“I did.” Fluttershy got herself a cup of coffee and sat beside Sunset. She mirrored the action of blowing on the hot beverage.

Sunset wondered how to start the conversation. Sure, talking was all well and good in theory, but in practice? The last thing Sunset wanted was to say the wrong thing and make Fluttershy feel guilty for the night before.

And so instead, she just sat in silence and blew on her coffee some more. She took a sip before Fluttershy, which made the other girl smile. “I don’t know how you drink it while it’s so hot.”

Sunset shrugged. At least this was a conversation she could handle. “I don’t know, I just like hot things.”

“You’re going to burn yourself.”

“You’re not much better.”

“I guess that’s true.” Since they had started living together, Fluttershy had been drinking her coffee and cocoa almost as hot as Sunset did. “I think I’ll let mine cool a bit more today, though.”

Sunset took another small sip of hers. It really was probably too hot, even for her standards, but she wasn’t sure where to take the conversation.

It wasn’t like Sunset thought Applejack and Twilight were wrong in their advice to talk to Fluttershy, but now that she was face to face with it… It was all well and good for them to say Sunset should talk to her, they weren’t the ones who had to do it.

And so Sunset found herself saying nothing at all, the same as Fluttershy. After a few minutes passed, Fluttershy joined Sunset in silently sipping her own coffee, but no other headway was made.

Eventually it got to the point where Sunset resigned the conversation to a loss. She stood up and placed her empty mug into the sink before walking to the doorway. “Guess I should get ready for work.”

“Yeah, good idea,” Fluttershy said.

Sunset walked into the bedroom and closed the door behind her. Rather than get dressed, she collapsed onto the bed. Was this going to be a regular thing now? Would she be sharing this bed with Fluttershy again?

Ever since the night Fluttershy moved in, Sunset had been wondering what to do around her constantly. She had thought that once it was settled that they’d be living together there would be nothing left to think about, but she’d then spent almost two weeks learning how wrong she’d been.

When it came down to it, Sunset was tired of trying to figure out what she was supposed to be doing, and that included figuring out how to talk to Fluttershy about whatever it was they were doing together.

Sunset sat up. Whatever was happening, Fluttershy seemed happy with it. And if she was being honest? The only thing Sunset wasn’t happy with was the constant worry over what to do next. So fuck it. They’d shared a bed, and maybe they would again. Or maybe not. Whatever was going to happen was what would happen, and Sunset was determined to enjoy it for whatever it was going to be.

Smiling to herself, Sunset stood up and changed into her uniform. She felt better about everything already.

She continued to smile as she left the room. The bathroom door was closed and a light was coming from underneath it, so she figured Fluttershy must be getting ready for school. Sunset took the chance to return the journal to its place beside the bed. She briefly wondered what she’d say to Twilight, but then wiped that thought from her mind. That was another thing that would just come when it did.

As she returned to the living room, so did Fluttershy. Sunset smiled at her, which she returned. Checking the time showed they were a little ahead of schedule, but only by a few minutes. “Ready to head out?”

“Sure.”

They each put on their leather jackets – faux leather, in Fluttershy’s case – and left through the kitchen. Fluttershy’s had been a birthday gift from Rainbow, along with a bike helmet for when she rode with Sunset. She looked a little out of place in it, but Sunset found it oddly charming.

Although she doubted Fluttershy felt very comfortable on the bike, Sunset suspected she was growing more at ease with it. She no longer hesitated before mounting it, in any case.

“Ready?” Sunset asked before putting on her helmet.

Fluttershy, who was already wearing hers, gave a thumbs up.

Sunset started the engine, and Fluttershy’s arms wrapped around her waist. Was she imagining it, or was the way Fluttershy held onto her just a bit less stiff than usual?

It didn’t matter. Whether it meant anything or not, Sunset enjoyed it all the same.


No amount of good mood could make work anything but awful. Although, Sunset supposed, awful might be too strong of a word. Sure, she didn’t enjoy her day, but it actually wasn’t really that bad.

The end of her shift also had an unexpected surprise. While Sunset was preoccupied by watching the time tick past minute by minute, Fluttershy and Pinkie walked into the store. Sunset smiled as they approached her at the register.

“What are you two doing here?”

Fluttershy started to speak, but Pinkie beat her to it. “Well, we wanted to get some snacks, and I told my mom I’d pick up a few things, and uhm… Oh yeah! We came to see you, silly!”

Sunset chuckled and wondered why she had ever expected a straight answer with Pinkie around. “Well, I’ve still got ten minutes. I’ll meet up with you two when I’m done.”

Pinkie and Fluttershy went to browse the store while Sunset finished her shift. The brief interaction managed to snap Sunset out of constantly checking the time, which made the final few minutes go by much more quickly.

When the afternoon cashier finally arrived to free her, Sunset wandered the store to look for her friends. Unsurprisingly, they were on the candy aisle. “Don’t you get enough sugar at work?”

Pinkie just smiled and shook her head. “Silly Sunset, candy and baked goods are way different!”

“Of course, how could I be so naïve?”

As Sunset walked over to stand beside her friends, Pinkie wrapped an arm around her shoulder while using her free hand to gesture towards the wall of candy. “There’s a world of possibilities, Sunset. We can’t let ourselves become slaves to just one kind of sweetness!”

“Anyone ever tell you that you might be just a little too into sweets?”

“Oh, psh, all the time!” Pinkie let go of Sunset to take hold of Fluttershy instead. “But of course you think that, you get to live with Fluttershy! She’s sweeter than candy any day!”

Fluttershy blushed. “W-what?”

Sunset smirked. “Yeah, you’ve got a point there, Pinkie.”

Although Fluttershy only blushed harder as she turned away, Sunset noticed her smile as well.

“So what’s going on?” Sunset asked, hoping to get a real answer.

“Pinkie and I went out for lunch after my class ended,” Fluttershy said. “Then we were thinking the three of us could go to the mall.”

“Sounds fun, but I’m pretty broke.” Really, Fluttershy was too, but there was no need to remind her of that.

“Yeah, but window shopping doesn’t cost anything,” Pinkie pointed out. “We don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a lot of fun together!”

“The mall’s kind of far.” Sunset was already thinking about the cold motorcycle ride it would take to get there, not to mention the colder one when they left in the evening.

“We could go somewhere else,” Fluttershy said.

“Ooh! We could have a snowball fight, or make snow forts, or maybe go ice skating!”

Those all sounded much worse. She was about to say that the two of them should just go have fun without her, but then she noticed Fluttershy’s hopeful expression. “On second thought, the mall sounds alright.”

Fluttershy smiled, so Sunset did too. She regretted it a moment later when Pinkie looked between the two of them and gave a knowing smile of her own. Sunset turned back to the candy. “Want to get anything here before we leave?”

“Nope, just you!”

“Alright then, I’ll grab my things and meet you there.”

Sunset left the others to go to the employee break room, where she’d left her jacket and helmet. She vaguely wondered if she had made a mistake in agreeing to go. Window shopping never really appealed to her, and the less time she spent in the cold, the better. But she’d already said she would, so there wasn’t much point in dwelling on it.

She retrieved her things, said goodbye to the coworker who was in the breakroom, and left for the front of the store. At least the jacket covered her uniform, ensuring that no customers would ask her for assistance while she was off the clock.

Stepping out into the cold wasn’t enjoyable, but before she could curse her luck too much, she saw Fluttershy standing beside her motorcycle. Despite the cold, Sunset managed a smile.

“I thought you’d go with Pinkie,” Sunset said as she walked up to Fluttershy.

“Oh, uhm, should I have? I just thought we’d go together.”

“It’s fine with me, I just figured you’d rather not have to go on the motorcycle.”

Fluttershy smiled. “Oh, I don’t mind. It’s kind of fun.”

“More like cold.” Sunset mounted the bike and Fluttershy climbed on behind her.

“It’s not that bad.”

“Maybe not for you. You get to hide behind me while I take all the wind chill.” Despite her protests, Sunset was smiling. The ride seemed a little better with Fluttershy’s arms around her. “Ready?”

Fluttershy put on her helmet and flashed a thumbs up. Sunset put hers on as well, started the engine, and drove out of the parking lot.


There was no sign of Pinkie when they arrived at the mall, but there was no way they were waiting in the parking lot for her. Despite Fluttershy’s claim to the contrary, she had to be cold from the ride, and Sunset for damn sure was. Once the bike was securely locked up, they entered the mall to wait in the food court.

“Nice and warm in here,” Fluttershy said as she took off her helmet.

Sunset nodded and removed hers. “Maybe I’ll even be able to feel my fingers by the time Pinkie shows up.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Maybe we should try to get you a car.”

“I think a car is pretty far out of the budget.”

Sunset pulled off her gloves and flexed her fingers. After a moment, she found Fluttershy’s hands cupped around hers. “Maybe I could get a job too? That’d make things easier.”

While Sunset didn’t want to push Fluttershy into getting a job, there was no denying that it would make things a lot easier on both of them. She decided to defuse the conversation with a joke for now and come back to it another time. “Yeah, once you’re making those big veterinarian bucks, we’ll have it made.”

Fluttershy laughed, but quickly changed her composure and pulled her hands away. Sunset was confused until she heard Pinkie speak from right behind her. “You two are just so cute together!”

Oh yeah, Pinkie definitely had some kind of idea about what was going on. Fluttershy squeaked something about just trying to warm Sunset’s hands up, while Sunset herself decided to ignore the comment. Instead, she addressed the fact that Pinkie had an armful of food. “What’s all this?”

“Well, Fluttershy and I ate, but you didn’t, so I stopped by a drive thru on the way here! I also accidentally ordered some cocoa, but I don’t really want it, so you two can have it.”

Sunset quirked an eyebrow. “You accidentally ordered cocoa?”

“I know, I’m such a scatterbrain!” Pinkie handed a bag of hot food to Sunset and a cocoa to Fluttershy. Sunset couldn’t help but notice Pinkie had only ‘accidentally’ ordered one drink for the two of them.

Again, Sunset didn’t address that. “Thanks, Pinkie. Here, I’ve got a few dollars on me, I can pay you back.”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s on me this time!” Before Sunset could protest, Pinkie was already leading them to a table.

Pinkie sat on one end, while Sunset and Fluttershy sat on the other. Sunset pointedly avoided looking at Pinkie, since she could already imagine the knowing look perfectly. Instead, she preoccupied herself with opening the bag. Inside of it, she found a veggie burger from her favorite fast food place. “Thanks, Pinkie.”

“No problem!”

Fluttershy sipped on the cocoa while Sunset unwrapped her burger. “Mmm, it’s perfect. Thank you, Pinkie.”

Although Pinkie’s suspicions may have been grounded in reality, Sunset wasn’t in a hurry to confirm them. At least not unless she and Fluttershy did decide to actually become a thing. But then when Fluttershy offered the cocoa to her, it was just too good to pass up. Even though Sunset really was just interested in the warm drink, the look Pinkie gave them as they shared confirmed that she would believe what she wanted.

Oh well, they weren’t sitting around there for long anyway. Since she felt a little awkward that she was the only one eating, Sunset finished her burger quickly. “Either of you have something specific you want to do?”

“I don’t,” Fluttershy said.

“Nope, we’ll just see where the wind takes us. Mall adventure, go!”

The wind took them all over the place. They stopped in at least half the stores and tried out most of the merchandise on display. They tried on outfits that they couldn’t possibly afford, and made notes on what to come back for when they had more money.

They had a lot of fun, and Sunset was surprised to find she was glad she went out. She wasn’t really sold on window shopping, but the company couldn’t be beat.

“Oh wow, isn’t Sunset just beautiful in that dress?” Pinkie said as Sunset stepped out of a changing room.

Fluttershy blushed. “Uhm, mmhmm.”

It made Sunset blush too, if only a little. “I don’t know if this one is really my style. I think it’d look even better on Fluttershy.”

As Fluttershy’s blush increased, Sunset found herself thinking that maybe window shopping wasn’t so bad after all.

They put back the clothes they had tried on and left the store. Things seemed to be winding down for the day, and unless Pinkie wanted to buy them all dinner after she had already bought them lunch, it would have to come to a close soon.

But before they left, Pinkie stopped and pointed towards the wall. “Ooh, let’s do that!”

There was a small photo booth along the wall, which Pinkie was pointing to. Sunset looked to Fluttershy and saw she seemed interested, so she smiled. “Sure, why not?”

The three of them climbed in, Sunset in the middle. It was crowded, of course, but she didn’t mind. A small touchscreen in front of them advertised the booth, which Sunset found a little odd. What was the point? Anyone who was already sitting inside could safely be assumed to be an interested customer.

Pinkie put a dollar in the machine and a menu popped up on the screen. “Ooh, we can do effects too!”

While Pinkie tapped through the menu, Fluttershy rested her hands on Sunset’s. Her instinct was to wonder if she had done it on purpose or if it was just because the booth was so small, but Sunset pushed that thought away. Instead, she turned her hand around and laced her fingers around Fluttershy’s.

“How’s this one?” Pinkie asked.

“Looks good to –” Sunset stopped when she actually noticed what Pinkie chose. “Hearts?”

“Yuperoni!”

Fluttershy’s hand squeezed Sunset’s. “I, uhm, I think it’d be cute.”

Sunset just rolled her eyes. “Fine, hearts it is.”

“Okay, we get five pictures. Ready?”

“Sure, start it up,” Sunset said.

While she and Fluttershy just smiled for the camera, Pinkie made a silly face. Once the flash went off, she shot them a dirty look. “Come on, you gotta do something fun!”

“Fun? Like what?” Sunset asked.

“Well, like –” The second flash went off while Pinkie was explaining. “Oh come on!”

Sunset snickered, then decided to humor her. She put one arm around Pinkie’s shoulders and the other around Fluttershy’s, and pulled both of them closer to her. She saw Pinkie giving her rabbit ears on the screen, while Fluttershy looked happy despite her blush.

The third picture went off, and Sunset let go of the others. “Now what?”

“Silly faces!” Pinkie exclaimed, then sucked in her cheeks and crossed her eyes.

Sunset shot a worried look at Fluttershy, who held her face in her hands. Then, surprisingly, Fluttershy pulled her hands back, using her fingers to pull her mouth open while sticking out her tongue.

Well, if even Fluttershy was going along with it… Sunset used her hands to squish her cheeks together and puff out her lips.

The flash went off and all three of them started laughing. “One more,” Fluttershy pointed out.

They both turned to Pinkie, who didn’t miss a beat on giving them one last prompt. “Ooh! Fluttershy! Let’s make Sunset a kiss sandwich!”

“What?” Sunset and Fluttershy said at the same time.

Pinkie didn’t seem to note their confusion, though. She just leaned in and kissed Sunset on the cheek, keeping her lips in place while they waited for the camera.

Right before the flash went off, Fluttershy mirrored her, kissing Sunset’s other cheek. Sunset just stared dumbfounded at the screen. It was the only picture where she blushed more than Fluttershy.

They left the booth and Pinkie retrieved the prints. Two strips of photos popped out of the machine, each one having one copy of each picture. “Hey, these came out pretty good!” Pinkie exclaimed.

“Except the one where you yelled at us,” Sunset teased.

“I wasn’t yelling!”

Fluttershy giggled. “I like all of them.”

“Hmm, only two copies, though…” Pinkie said.

Sunset shrugged. “You take one, we’ll take the other. No big deal.”

“Okie dokie.”

Sunset took a look around. They had been through most of the mall by now. “So what do you say, Shy? About ready to head home for dinner?”

“That sounds nice.”

“Alrighty, thanks for coming out with me!” Pinkie said.

Sunset laughed. “Pinkie, we should be thanking you. You’re the one who paid for everything.”

“Oh, psh. I only bought a few things, and everything was super duper fun!”

“Still, thank you,” Sunset said. Fluttershy echoed the sentiment.

They backtracked to the front of the mall while talking casually, then went their separate ways once they reached the parking lot. Pinkie had managed to find a spot closer to the entrance, so they waved her off as she climbed into her minivan.

“Brr, it got cold out,” Fluttershy said, wrapping her arms around her torso.

“Yeah, it did.” Sunset stepped closer and put and arm around her. “Guess we should try to keep warm then, huh?”

Although it was only a short distance to the motorcycle, Fluttershy pressed up against Sunset as they walked. “I think that’s a good idea.”

Maybe it meant something more, maybe they were just cold and wanted to keep warm. Maybe in some way, those two things weren’t so different after all. Either way, Sunset wasn’t going to worry about it anymore. Wherever the wind took them, she was more than happy to simply enjoy the ride.

6 – Autophobia

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Chapter Six

Autophobia

“And you would not believe the restaurant we went out to! It was simply divine!”

“Good. You deserve to have a nice time on your birthday.”

Rarity sighed, and Fluttershy knew what was coming. “It was nice, but I do so wish you all could’ve been there. I miss our back to back birthday celebrations.”

“I do too,” Fluttershy said with a frown. It had been hard to see Rarity leave so soon after graduation, even if they did still keep in touch. “But the important thing is that you had a good time.”

“Oh no, I won’t be dissuaded that easily! You’re going to listen to me gush about you and how much I miss you, and that’s final! How else would you know?”

Fluttershy giggled. “I think I have a pretty good idea.”

True to her word, Rarity wasn’t dissuaded. “Did you know I have no one to talk to at the spa anymore?”

“Uhm, we talked for three hours last time you were at the spa.”

“Yes, but it’s not the same when you’re not there with me!”

“I don’t think I’ve even been to the spa since you left.”

“What!?” From her tone, Fluttershy might as well have told her that she’d been involved in some sort of tragic accident. “Oh you poor thing!”

Fluttershy couldn’t help but smile at her friend’s hysterics. “It wouldn’t be the same by myself.”

“No no, I will not hear any excuses. My absence is no reason to neglect pampering yourself. I’m sure Sunset would enjoy the occasional spa trip.”

“Well, maybe…” It might be nice to go to the spa with Sunset, and there was no denying that she could use the chance to relax a little more. “She’s usually busy, though. And, uhm… we don’t have a lot of money.”

“Oh, I’m sure I could take care of that little issue.”

“Oh! No, I didn’t mean anything like that!”

Rarity giggled. “I know, darling, but I do still owe you for your birthday, after all.”

Even though Rarity wouldn’t see it through the phone, Fluttershy shook her head. “I don’t need anything. And… I wasn’t able to get you a gift this year…”

“I’m not worried about that in the slightest, I know times are tough right now. Which is exactly why you should take me up on this offer! Really, I’m doing quite well for myself these days, the least I can do is treat my friends from time to time.”

Truthfully, going to the spa was something Fluttershy had always liked doing with Rarity specifically, a unique part of their friendship, but she could see a losing battle. “I suppose I can talk to Sunset about it.”

“Good, and do make her agree.”

Fluttershy laughed. “I’ll try.”

“Speaking of Sunset, how are things – oh, hold on a moment.”

“Oh, okay.” Fluttershy could hear muffled voices as Rarity held her phone away from her mouth. Whatever was going on, Rarity didn’t sound happy about it.

Rarity sighed as she returned to the phone. “I’m terribly sorry, but would you mind if I called you back in a bit? Something’s come up, I’m afraid.”

“Of course. Is everything alright?”

“It will be, just some issues with an order.”

“Okay, good luck.”

Even if the conversation was cut short, Fluttershy was still smiling after they said their goodbyes. While there was no replacing having her friend around, it was nice to keep in touch.

In their final year at CHS, Rarity had gotten noticed on social media for some of the outfits she’d designed. She’d continued to build an online presence until her obvious talent and young age caught the eye of Hoity Toity, a highly regarded figure in the fashion industry.

They corresponded over the last few months of her time at CHS, and he offered her an apprenticeship position that was normally only offered to college graduates. She would work under Hoity Toity, who could teach her more about the fashion world, both design and the business, while also building connections with others in the industry and future clients of her own.

It was a dream come true, and far too good an opportunity to miss. Even if that meant she had to move halfway around the world to study in France. Rarity had been conflicted about leaving her friends and family, but they all gave her their unanimous support in pursuing a once in a lifetime opportunity to follow her dreams.

And from the sound of it, things were going pretty well for her. She kept in regular touch with Fluttershy and the others, giving them updates on her new life while keeping up with theirs. She was always telling Fluttershy about how exciting things were, and about all the extravagant places she got to go as part of Hoity Toity’s entourage.

With Twilight off studying quantum physics, Applejack expanding her family’s business, and Rainbow starting her new band, it seemed exciting things were happening all around.

For Fluttershy, too. The state grant that paid for her school only covered enough costs for her to attend a small community college, but she was working towards a veterinary degree. She was still getting through the necessary prerequisite classes, so it would be a long time before she was fully licensed, but she was working towards her future.

And of course, a lot had changed in the short term too. It had been three weeks since Fluttershy had started living with Sunset, and that time had been a whirlwind of changes. From big changes, like getting away from Stormy Skies, to little changes, like guitar lessons with Sunset.

And as much as that could be daunting, each new change had been a positive one. She was slowly growing more comfortable in her new home, reconnecting with her faith, and, for a little more than a week, she wasn’t even sleeping alone anymore.

Fluttershy had surprised even herself with that one. The night she asked Sunset to stay and share the bed with her had not exactly been planned. But she had enjoyed sleeping beside Sunset the night before; it had been the first time since leaving Stormy Skies’s house that she hadn’t had nightmares about him.

The nightmares didn’t stop completely. Some nights she slept soundly, others she awoke in terror. But now when those bad nights came, she’d wake with a start and Sunset would be there. She’d move closer to the other girl and feel safer. Some nights she’d unintentionally wake Sunset up. That would always make her feel guilty at first, but it was hard to maintain that feeling once Sunset was holding her and telling her that everything would be okay.

That wasn’t to say that she didn’t have doubts. What was she to Sunset? Would Sunset come home one day to say that she met someone that she wanted to try going out with? Obviously Sunset could do a lot better than Fluttershy if she really wanted to. And when that day did come, what would that mean for the two of them? Would Fluttershy go back to sleeping on the couch? Would she need to move out?

Fluttershy liked things the way they were, and she didn’t want them to change. But could she really stop that? Maybe the only thing she could do would be to try and make changes she would be okay with.

She felt selfish for even thinking like that. She knew it would be wrong to try and force any changes onto Sunset, but when she thought of how things could go if she didn’t…

Her hand found her locket and she rubbed her thumb over it in an automatic motion. It might not be entirely accurate to say she was happy, but for the first time since her mom died, she felt safe. Sunset made her feel safe, and Fluttershy couldn’t let that slip away, no matter what.

Needing something to keep her preoccupied, Fluttershy rose from the couch and retrieved Sunset’s guitar. She turned on the amp, made sure the volume was low, and sat in the nearby computer chair. She strummed the strings while leaving them open, then began practicing the finger exercises Sunset had shown her.

It wasn’t Fluttershy’s first experience with guitar. Occasionally during sleepovers, Rainbow had tried to get her to play a little bit. Fluttershy had gone along with her and found it fun, but they never made a regular thing out of practicing.

It would’ve been hard, anyway; Fluttershy didn’t own a guitar, and had always been wary of picking up hobbies that made noise. She had even opted to play tambourine with the Rainbooms simply because she wouldn’t need to practice the simple instrument too much.

But now she was living with Sunset, which meant she had access to a guitar every day and no reason not to use it. It wasn’t like Fluttershy had always had a desire to learn to play. Perhaps a casual interest since so many of her friends were musicians, but nothing more serious. But she did have ample time on her hands, no real hobby to fill it with, and a willing teacher that she was eager to please.

An old Rainbooms song interrupted her practice. Life is a Runway, the only song Rarity sang solo on, and now more appropriate for her than ever. Fluttershy smiled as she set aside the guitar and returned to the couch to answer the phone, cutting off Rarity’s song to speak with the singer herself instead. “Hi, Rarity. Did everything turn out okay?”

“Yes, thanks to Miss Pommel’s help, we were able to sort things out quite quickly.”

“She’s Hoity Toity’s assistant, right?”

“Yes, and we’d be lost without her.”

“I’m glad you got everything taken care of.” Fluttershy fidgeted nervously. “Uhm, Rarity? Can I ask you for some advice?”

“Of course, darling, anything at all. Is something the matter?”

“Well, uhm, I have a friend…”

“Ah, the classic advice for a friend thing. Really now, you should know that you can tell me anything.”

“N-no. It’s, uhm, advice for me, but it’s about a friend. Who, uhm, might be… more than a friend…”

Rarity let out an excited squeal. “Oh my goodness! Who is he? Do I know him? Oh, tell me tell me tell me, and don’t spare any of the details!”

“I, uhm… I think I’d rather not say who she is…”

“Who she… oh. Oh! I see.”

Fluttershy squeezed her eyes tight, her fear at what Rarity might think of her suddenly outweighing her desire to get advice.

“And how do you feel about her? Would you like her to be more than a friend?”

“I…” Fluttershy swallowed and willed herself not to cry. At least not until she knew what Rarity had to say. “Yes, I would.”

Unaware that Fluttershy was attempting to pull herself into a ball and disappear, Rarity just giggled happily. “Oh, this is so exciting! Your first love! Now we just need to win your fair lady’s heart! With your natural charm and my expert guidance, this should be a snap.”

Fluttershy had to take a steadying breath to keep from crying, but she couldn’t stop a few tears from forming. She told someone else, and once again she was accepted. “Thank you so much.”

“Oh, we haven’t even gotten started yet! Now, if you don’t want to tell me who she is, then what can you tell me about her? Really, the more information we have to work with the better.”

Fluttershy smiled and blushed. “Well, the thing is… I’m not really sure how she feels. We, uhm, we’ve never actually… talked about it.”

“But something tells you that she’s interested? I find it’s usually best to trust our feelings on these matters.”

“Yes, uhm… we’ve… done some things…”

“Oh my,” Rarity said, and Fluttershy could hear the smirk in her voice. “Fluttershy, I had no idea you had that kind of side to you.”

“N-nothing like, uhm, l-like that! We’ve, uhm, we’ve slept next to each other.”

“Hmm… Something tells me it was at least a teensy bit more than that. Why, the two of us shared a bed once.”

“Yeah, but that was different. This wasn’t because there wasn’t anywhere else to sleep, it’s just because it’s nice sleeping together.” Fluttershy’s blush grew more intense when she realized what she’d said. “Er, you know what I mean.”

“I do. But never fear! We shall get the two of you sleeping together in the other sense soon enough!”

“R-Rarity!”

“I’m sorry, darling, but I simply couldn’t resist.”

Fluttershy took a deep breath. Might as well go all the way. “And, uhm, we did a little more than sleep next to each other… We, uh, we cuddled. A few times.”

“Well then, I certainly do see why you think she’s interested in you. And I must say, I’m sure she gets the same impression from you.”

“I… maybe…”

“Fluttershy, what else could she be thinking is going on? You know, some people just want to feel the romance, not talk about it. But if you really want to know, you could always ask.”

“I… I know, but… It’s always so hard to talk about…”

“Well, there is another way, although I’m not sure it’ll be any easier for you.”

“What is it?” Anything sounded better than having to talk about that with Sunset.

“Actions speak louder than words, as they say.”

Actions were what had her in this confusing situation to begin with. “What do you mean?”

“Kiss her.”

Fluttershy’s mouth fell open. “O-oh. Uhm…”

“I did say it might be harder.”

Fluttershy took another steadying breath. “So I should just… kiss her?”

Rarity hesitated for a moment. “You mean you’re really going to go for it?”

“M-maybe…”

Rarity squealed excitedly again. “Oh, this is exciting! My shy little butterfly is going to have her first kiss! ”

“W-well, maybe…”

“Oh, I know you can do it! And if you need any advice, well, I’m sure you know just whom to turn to.”

“So, uhm… you really think that… that she won’t kiss me unless she does want to, uhm, be with me?”

“I can hardly think you could ask for a clearer indication, darling.”

That did make sense, but Fluttershy couldn’t help but have doubts. If actions spoke louder than words, then perhaps bigger actions would make things even more certain. “Uhm, can I ask you something? It’s, uhm, something personal.”

“Fluttershy, you’re one of my closest friends. I’m sure whatever it is couldn’t possibly be too personal.”

“Have you, uhm…” Fluttershy steeled her nerves and forced the question out. “Have you ever been, uhm, intimate with someone?”

“I, er… yes, I have.”

“I’m… not sure what to, uhm, do exactly.”

“Well… I’m sure you realize that things wouldn’t, er, work quite the same way for you as they do for me. Both of the people I’ve been with are, well, guys.”

“Oh! I-I know, I just… uhm…”

“But fear not! I’m positive I can find someone willing to give me some pointers to pass along to you! I do think Coco has an interest in ladies, perhaps she might –”

“N-no, I didn’t mean, well…” Fluttershy closed her eyes and took a breath, trying to force her nerves out as she exhaled. “I… I don’t really know what to do then either, but… my friend, or well, maybe more than friend, she’s been with other girls, so… I think she’ll, uhm, help me figure out what I should do…”

“Ah, of course. Truly, any lady worthy of your love would do no less than to take things slow with you.”

It made Fluttershy happy to hear how casually Rarity referred to Sunset’s gender, especially in light of the current topic. “But uhm, I don’t know how to… start that. I know kissing is probably the first step, but then, well…”

Rarity giggled. “Darling, I assure you that you’re overthinking things. And you know, that’s another way your sweetheart-to-be can guide you. She knows that you haven’t been with another girl, yes?”

“She knows.”

“Then I’m sure she already plans to take things slowly and help you along the way. Perhaps that’s why she hasn’t brought up how she feels yet, she may be trying to give you time to sort out your feelings.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“On that note, it seems like you might be getting a bit ahead of yourself. You haven’t even shared a kiss yet, I’m certain it will still be some time before you find yourself in a more intimate position.”

Fluttershy was less sure, but she didn’t want to say so. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“And when the time comes that you do know what you want, then the best thing to do is to let her know. Tell her that you’re ready to advance your relationship if she is, and things will go from there.”

“Thanks, Rarity. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“You’re quite welcome, Fluttershy dear. Do let me know what’s happening whenever Sunset tells you how she feels!”

“W-what!? I never said it was Sunset!”

“Yes, but now you’re not denying it,” Rarity said in a singsong voice.

“I-I…”

Rarity giggled. “Oh, you two will be simply adorable!”

“How…”

“How did I know? Well, I can scarcely think of who else you might be sleeping beside while you’ve been living with Sunset, plus of course we all know she’s interested in girls.”

“Please don’t say anything to her, at least not until I know what’s going on between us…”

“My lips are sealed. And you know that I would never dream of sharing your secrets.”

“Thank you, Rarity.”

Rarity giggled. “I suppose this answers the question I was going to ask about how staying with Sunset has been going.”

Fluttershy blushed as she smiled. “Yeah. It’s been, well, kind of amazing.”

“That’s wonderful to hear. After hearing about what happened with your father, I –”

“Stormy Skies.”

Rarity paused at the sudden interruption. “Beg your pardon?”

“He wasn’t my father, not really. And, uhm, Sunset says the other Fluttershy calls him Stormy Skies. I think I want to start doing that too.”

Another pause, although it was a short one. “I can see why you’d feel that way. Well then, after hearing about your trouble with Stormy Skies, it’s so good to hear things are turning around.”

Really, Fluttershy wished Rarity hadn’t even brought him up, especially in light of the previous topic, but she didn’t say so. “Thank you.”

At least they didn’t linger for long. With Fluttershy’s assurance that she got all the advice she needed, Rarity switched to talking about the order she was working on. Even that conversation didn’t last much longer before Rarity said goodbye for the night. It was only early afternoon for Fluttershy, but that meant it was late in the evening for Rarity.

With school long since done for the day and no volunteer work, Fluttershy was left with little to do until Sunset came home. She resumed guitar practice for a while, but soon her small and unpracticed hands grew tired of the exercises, so she had to find another way to occupy her time.

For the first week or so, she occupied her time alone by cleaning the house. It wasn’t a very big way to repay Sunset for taking her in, but really, she wasn’t entirely sure that anything could be. Sunset had given her a new start after a horrible situation, and a clean house wasn’t going to compare with that.

But it was what she could do. Fluttershy wasn’t good at very many things – she didn’t know how to do complicated things around the house, and she didn’t bring in any money to make things easier. All she could do to try and be worth having around was cooking and cleaning, so she did them readily.

Which, of course, had only lasted so long. It was a small house, and easy enough to keep clean. It had worked to make Sunset happy for a time, but there was no way it would be enough to last forever.

Perhaps it would be best to use the time to plan what she’d do once Sunset came home. If she actually went through with it, if she kissed Sunset as a confession of her desires, what would happen?

“Wow, uh… Sorry, Fluttershy, but I think you got the wrong idea. Maybe it’s better if you went back to sleeping on the couch. And, you know, we should probably start thinking about where you’ll live once you move out.”

On second thought, the less Fluttershy thought about what would happen the better.

Kissing Sunset seemed easier than talking to her about her feelings. How could she vocalize how she felt when she wasn’t even really sure herself? But that didn’t make it easy by any means. Especially with thoughts like that running through her head.

Fluttershy needed to figure out how to do this, but she couldn’t bring herself to think of it. Of course, she couldn’t make herself not think about it either, since there were no other thoughts going through her head.

She checked the clock – 2:53 pm. It would be a few hours before Sunset came home, and Fluttershy was going to drive herself into a mess of anxiety by that time. She needed to do something to make this easier.

An idea occurred to her, and she immediately wrote it off. She wasn’t that desperate. She decided to watch a movie instead; it would give her something to focus on while being the perfect amount of time until Sunset’s return.

She turned on the TV and DVD player, found something that looked passably interesting despite the fact that she’d rapidly gone through Sunset’s DVD collection already, and put the disc in the player. There were several unskippable commercials that claimed to show movies that were ‘coming soon’ but had already been out for years, then the menu came up.

Fluttershy hit play, sunk into the couch, and prepared to not think about anything. Just the movie, which was starting. Certainly not about Sunset, or that the two of them had watched this movie together. She didn’t need to think about how Sunset had kept an arm around her while they were watching it. If anything, she could focus on the parts that she’d missed the last time, since she had been too preoccupied listening to Sunset’s heartbeat to notice some of what was said.

Fluttershy realized several minutes had gone by without her having noticed the movie at all, and she re-evaluated exactly how desperate she was for something to calm her nerves. Without bothering to pause the movie, she stood up and walked to the kitchen.

Hardly able to believe what she was doing, Fluttershy pulled a wine glass out of the cabinet, followed by the bottle out of the fridge. Sunset had a few kinds of alcohol, but having little idea what was what, Fluttershy picked the same one they had first tried. Since then, they had drunk together on one other occasion, making this Fluttershy’s third time drinking and first time drinking by herself.

Under Sunset’s recommendation, Fluttershy had never had more than a single glass of wine, and she wasn’t about to change that now. Even so, she found that once she worked past the initial issues she had with alcohol – or worked past it as much as she could, at least – she did wind up enjoying it. It made her feel warm and a little silly, and helped push away negative thoughts and let her take chances she would normally be too afraid to take.

Chances like asking Sunset to share the bed with her, or, perhaps soon, kissing her.

But first, it would help her feel just a little less worried as she waited for Sunset to come home. She filled the glass to about where she thought Sunset usually did, then placed the mostly empty bottle back in the fridge.

Realizing that over the course of a week the two of them had drank almost the entire bottle made her feel a little insecure about going through with it. But she had already poured the glass, and it wasn’t like she really had a firm concept of how much was too much. Maybe she could ask Sunset about that sometime.

Fluttershy returned to the couch and drank slowly while she watched the movie.


Sunset was late coming home. Not worryingly so, but it was still running Fluttershy’s anxiety back up.

The movie had long since ended. It couldn’t be truthfully said that Fluttershy was able to pay more attention to the movie the second time around, but at least she hadn’t spent the whole time dwelling on Sunset. Granted, that was partly because she also started dwelling on whether or not she should be drinking, but it was still preferable. Once it was finished, Fluttershy had shut everything off and washed her glass.

Then began the waiting. She had thought Sunset would be home soon, so she hadn’t bothered with another movie or any other long-term means to keep entertained. Rather, she had just been wasting time on her phone, hopping from one app to another and idly wondering how much longer until Stormy Skies canceled her phone line.

That had been fine at first, but then one hour passed, followed by another. Fluttershy was beginning to grow worried after all by the time she heard the kitchen door open.

She stood and walked to the kitchen to greet Sunset as she entered. “Welcome home.”

Sunset showed her a weak smile before turning to shut the door. “Hey, Shy.”

Fluttershy frowned at her defeated tone. “Bad day at work?”

“Yeah. I gave the wrong change to a customer on accident, so we had to count the cash drawer to fix it. The customer honestly didn’t even give a shit, but Golden Lucre must’ve had some sort of stick up his ass because he chewed me out for it anyway.”

“That’s really unfair. Sorry you had to deal with it.”

As Sunset took off her leather jacket, Fluttershy took it from her and brought it to the bedroom. She returned with a more comfortable sweater, and Sunset smiled appreciatively.

“Yeah. So then an afternoon cashier called off and he comes up to me acting like nothing happened and asks if I could stay to cover the afternoon rush. I wanted to tell him to get fucked after the thing from earlier, but I figure maybe it’ll get him to lighten up some if I help out.”

That sounded dubious – Sunset was always talking about how her boss had it out for her, there was no way she thought he’d change his mind. More likely, she just didn’t want to remind Fluttershy that they needed whatever extra money they could get. “You should’ve just come home. If it was that big of a deal, he could’ve stayed.”

Sunset grinned and pulled on the sweater. “I think I’m rubbing off on you.”

Fluttershy giggled. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“I think you could do a lot better than being more like me.”

“I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree.” Fluttershy walked with Sunset into the living room, but stopped short of sitting on the couch with her. “Should I make us some dinner?”

Sunset turned to her with a concerned look. “You know you really don’t have to do that.”

“I know, but can’t I want to? You had a bad day, and you deserve a chance to relax.”

Sunset couldn’t hold out for too long. “I guess dinner does sound nice.”

“Leave it to me!” Fluttershy turned around and marched back into the kitchen.

“Don’t worry about doing anything too big, though!” Sunset called after her, causing Fluttershy to laugh.

She looked through the cabinets and fridge to see what they had, wondering why she hadn’t planned this while she was waiting for Sunset to come home. “How about beans and potatoes?”

“That sounds great.”

At least cooking was something Fluttershy could do; Lord knows there weren’t very many other ways she could make herself useful. She turned on the oven and stove top, then gathered ingredients and pans while waiting for them to heat up.

In addition to the potatoes and beans, she set aside an onion, celery, a tomato, and various spices. She cut the potatoes first, then set them in a bowl of cold water for later. Next she poured about a tablespoon of oil into a skillet and chopped the onion, adding that as well once the skillet was on the burner. The sizzling as she sautéd the onions was satisfying, and as always, the smell brought her back in time to when she would cook with her mom.

“Watch out, Fluttershy, it’s very hot.”

“I know, I’ll be careful, Mama!”

Once the onions started to turn golden, she added the celery and potatoes. As it cooked, she salted the dish moderately and added a little basil. She let her memory play while stirring occasionally.

“I don’t like the onion. It stings my eyes…”

“It’s okay, dear, I’ll do that part. Why don’t you get the spices ready? We’ll need basil, garlic, ginger, and parsley.”

“Leave it to me, Mama!”

The tomato, parsley, garlic, and ginger were next. She added them with two cups of water and covered the skillet.

“That smells amazing.”

Fluttershy turned to see Sunset standing in the doorway. “Thanks. It’ll be a little while before it’s ready though.”

“For your cooking? It’ll be worth the wait.”

Fluttershy giggled. “I’d ask if you want to help, but there’s hardly anything left to do.

Sunset hung her head in an exaggerated show of disappointment. “Oh, darn… Guess I’ll just have to live with the fact that I don’t have to do anything.”

“Hmm, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you waited until you knew I was mostly done to say anything.”

“Nonsense. You think I have any idea how to tell how far along the cooking is? You give me far too much credit.”

“How did you live without me?”

Sunset walked over and patted the microwave. “Mostly because of this baby. We’ve been through a lot together.”

“Of course, how could I forget?”

Sunset came closer and smelled the food again. “Don’t suppose I could have a taste?”

Fluttershy laughed. “Sunset, it’s barely cooked. Why don’t you go take a shower and relax while I finish up?”

“Trying to say something about how I smell, Shy?”

Fluttershy’s expression immediately fell to horror. “No! I didn’t mean it like that! I just, uhm…”

“Nah, you’re right. I’ll hop in the shower and get the smell of work off me.”

Even though Sunset was smiling, Fluttershy couldn’t help but feel guilty. She really hadn’t meant anything by the comment, but she wondered if she’d offended Sunset. She sighed and got back to work.

The meal had simmered for long enough, bringing her to the final steps. She added the beans, stirring them in gently, then transferred the whole thing to the oven. All that was left to do was to sit back, relax, and let it cook.


“It smells so good, Mama!”

Breezy Day set the pot down and smiled at her daughter. “Only because I had such a good helper.”

Fluttershy beamed at the praise.

“Now, how about you go get your father and tell him his dinner’s ready?”

Fluttershy stopped beaming. “Okay, Mama.”

Every single step was noticeable as Fluttershy walked to her parents’ bedroom, and her eyes never lifted from the floor. Walking slower wouldn’t make things any better, not really, but she took her time all the same.

She paused in front of the door, looking up for the first time since she’d left the kitchen. It looked so tall, and she felt so small in front of it. It was usually hard to tell what was on the other side. Would he be the the good dad, who always seemed tired but spoke quietly in short sentences? Or would he be the scary dad, who made loud demands instead?

Today, however, Fluttershy already knew. It had been the scary dad that had come home from work and ordered Fluttershy to take her crayons from the kitchen table. She didn’t want to speak to him, didn’t want to see the scary dad. At first she tried to breathe, and when that proved too difficult, she just tried to keep from crying. It was always worse if she cried.

The sooner she knocked, the sooner she’d get it over with. Yet still, she delayed. It was only when she realized that if he found out she didn’t come right away he’d be angry that she was spurred to movement. She lifted her hand, forced it into a fist, and winced as she knocked.

Her hand barely made any sound against the door. Would he even hear? If he didn’t, she’d have to knock again. But if he did hear and she knocked again, he’d be upset that she knocked twice. Why couldn’t she just do something right? Why did she have to be so stupid?

Enough time passed that Fluttershy had no choice but to knock louder. She opened her mouth to try and call for him, but no sound came out. She just looked back down to the ground instead.

The door creaked open slowly and Fluttershy could feel his presence towering over her. She didn’t dare look up. “What?”

“D-dinner’s ready…”

“Speak up when you’re talking to someone.”

Fluttershy winced. Don’t cry. Don’t you dare cry. “Uhm, dinner’s ready, sir.”

Stormy Skies grumbled. “About time. Move it.”

Fluttershy shrank back, pressing herself against the wall. Stormy Skies walked past her, barely paying her any attention now that her message had been delivered.

She didn’t follow him. She wouldn’t dare. Her mama would save her some on the stovetop so she could eat it once he’d gone back to bed, which was just how she liked it. Fluttershy retreated instead to the safety of her bedroom, wiping the tears from her eyes as she went.


By the time Fluttershy snapped to attention, it was already too late. There was no burning smell at least, but she knew it had still been too long. She could feel it.

‘Please let it be okay…’ she silently prayed, but she knew better than to hope for that. Still, she had to do what she could. She turned off and opened the oven, grabbed a pot holder, and set the pan on the counter.

When she pulled off the lid, everything looked okay, but she knew better than to trust appearance alone. She grabbed a long wooden spoon and stirred, then scooped out a small amount. She blew on it until it cooled, then confirmed her fears with a bite.

It was overcooked. The texture was far too soft, because she just couldn’t stay focused on cooking properly. Why hadn’t she set a timer? Why did she have to be so stupid?

More importantly, what was she going to do now? Any minute now, Sunset would be getting out of the shower, and –

Fluttershy realized she couldn’t hear the shower. Sunset must already be out of the shower, and Fluttershy had nothing to offer her but mushy beans and potatoes.

As if on cue, the bathroom door creaked open. Fluttershy could only hang her head as she heard Sunset enter the kitchen.

“Wow, that smells incredible! Looks great too!”

Fluttershy winced. How it smelled and looked was only worth so much… “I, uhm, I messed it up. It cooked too long because, uhm… Well, I’ll figure something out and make us something else.”

“I’m sure it’s not that bad.” Sunset ignored Fluttershy’s warning and got herself a bowl and a fork. Fluttershy looked up and frowned as Sunset scooped a large portion of failure into her bowl.

Instead of taking a seat at the kitchen table, Sunset brought her food into the living room. Fluttershy sighed and served herself a smaller helping, but lingered in the kitchen for fear of Sunset’s reaction.

It must have been even worse than Fluttershy thought, because she heard Sunset make a surprised grunt. A moment later, however, she found the real reason as Sunset yelled. “Fuck, that’s hot!”

That got Fluttershy to smile, at least a little. “It just came out of the oven. I’ll get you a drink.”

“Thanks. It’s really good though!”

Sunset was far too kind. There really wasn’t a need to spare Fluttershy’s feelings, she already knew it was awful. But rather than point that out, Fluttershy preoccupied herself with getting Sunset’s drink. At least she couldn’t mess that up.

Fluttershy opened the fridge and looked over what they had. “We’re, uhm, we’re almost out of that wine.”

“Try the Merlot. Dark bottle.”

It was a good thing they only had a few bottles of wine, since Fluttershy had no idea how ‘Merlot’ was spelled. But it was easy enough to figure out through the process of elimination; the only dark bottles were the Merlot and one that said ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’.

Fluttershy retrieved the wine glass she’d used earlier from the drying rack, then got a second one out of the cabinet for Sunset. She poured them both what she thought looked like a generous amount, then returned the bottle to the fridge.

“Is dark wine different than light wine?” Fluttershy asked as she brought their wine to the living room. Since she didn’t want to risk spilling any, she had to double back for her food.

“A bit, yeah,” Sunset said as Fluttershy walked back into the kitchen. “Some people prefer red or white wine, but I like both. They each go better with different foods.”

“I see.” Fluttershy brought her dinner out to the living room and sat down next to Sunset. She said a quick prayer in thanks for the meal, which Sunset didn’t seem to know how to respond to. She never did, but that was okay. Sunset didn’t hold any religious beliefs of her own, but she never seemed to question Fluttershy’s.

With her prayer finished, she took a bite and found it was still too hot. Sunset didn’t seem to have that problem; she had stopped eating while Fluttershy prayed, but returned to eating ravenously, without showing any sign that she even noticed the heat. It made Fluttershy smile. “I’d say I don’t know how you can eat it so quickly, but you’d just say that you like hot things.”

Sunset chuckled while Fluttershy set aside her bowl in favor of her wine. “Well, mostly it’s hot drinks. But I do like other hot things, like food, and showers, and you.”

Fluttershy snorted and almost wound up spitting out the wine. She swallowed, but barely wound up tasting it over her surprise. “I can’t believe you said that!”

Sunset just shrugged. “Don’t blame me, just saying it like it is.”

Not knowing how else to respond, Fluttershy just shook her head. Still, she was smiling as she took another sip of wine.

“Honestly, though, it’s just because this food is so good. If you weren’t studying to be a veterinarian, I’d say you should be a chef.”

“But I overcooked it.” Fluttershy took another bite, making sure to blow on it before eating it this time. It wasn’t so bad, she supposed, but it was far from perfect.

“Well, it tastes amazing to me.”

Fluttershy smiled. “Thanks, Sunny.”

She expected Sunset would put on a movie or something while they ate, but despite being in the living room, they just talked. Sunset asked about how her day at school had been, and they made plans to go shopping for a few things they needed around the house.

It was nothing wondrous. In fact, the conversation couldn’t possibly be any more routine and ordinary. Just the kind of everyday conversation that they’d forget about before the week was out, the kind of conversation that didn’t require either of them have anything particularly interesting to say.

But to Fluttershy, it was perfect. In moments like this, she was starting to feel like she was a part of Sunset’s life. Maybe she could even eventually be part of a bigger life that the two of them built together.

It was a good night, and Fluttershy could have been happy leaving it exactly as it was. She knew that soon the two of them would go to bed, and while they may never talk about it, Sunset would still hold her as they fell asleep. But she wanted something more, and she could no longer pretend like she didn’t. She wanted to know that this could last, that it wasn’t just a temporary bright part of an otherwise dull life.

“Uhm, Sunset?”

“Yeah?”

“I-I was wondering… If, uhm, if you w-wanted to m-maybe…”

As Fluttershy trailed off, unable to force out the words, Sunset sat up. With the dinner and wine finished, Sunset had sunk comfortably into the couch. Now she sat up straight, focusing on Fluttershy, even if Fluttershy couldn’t manage to look at her. “Is everything okay, Shy?”

“Yes. Uhm. It’s nothing…” She had meant to say ‘it’s nothing bad’, but then stopped short. This was stupid, she was being stupid. Whatever was happening was good, how could she risk changing it?

“It sure sounds like it’s something. Come on, you can tell me whatever’s on your mind.”

Fluttershy attempted to swallow the lump in her throat, but it remained. “I just, uhm, I kind of wanted to… That is, if, uhm, if you maybe wanted…”

Sunset scooted closet and put her arm around Fluttershy. “Hey, it’s okay. There’s no need to be nervous. What do you want to do?”

Fluttershy shut her eyes tightly and spoke quietly. “Kiss you.”

“Oh. Really?”

All of Fluttershy’s anxiety suddenly burst forth as panic. “N-never mind! Forget I said that, I just… I’m…”

“Hey, Shy? It’s okay. I’m not, like, mad or anything. Just a little surprised.”

Fluttershy made a small noise, but didn’t react otherwise.

“Come on, there’s nothing to worry about. Look at me?”

It took all of Fluttershy’s willpower, but she managed to open her eyes and turn towards Sunset. She didn’t make eye contact, though, instead just facing her general direction.

It didn’t deter Sunset from leaning in and kissing Fluttershy’s lips, however.

Fluttershy’s head popped up and she finally looked directly at Sunset. She couldn’t manage any response however.

Sunset flashed a confident grin. “So how’s that for an answer?”

Fluttershy still couldn’t manage to speak, so she lowered her head and reached a hand to her lips. It had happened so fast that she hadn’t even reacted, and had barely had time to take note of what was happening. She replayed the memory in her head, trying to slow it down, and felt herself beginning to blush.

“So what brought that on?” Sunset asked.

“I…” Fluttershy stumbled over her words again, then smiled. The shock cut through most of her panic, leaving her no more calm but better able to articulate. “I’ve never kissed anyone before, and uhm… I guess…”

“Oh, I gotcha.” Sunset laughed. “I thought, you know, you meant you wanted to kiss me specifically, not that you wanted to experiment with kissing.”

“W-well, it’s not, uhm… I wouldn’t want to kiss anyone else. I feel safe with you. I feel like… like I can try things I couldn’t before, and it’s okay because it’s with you.”

“I understand, and I’m glad you feel so comfortable with me.” Sunset leaned her forehead against Fluttershy’s. “So, do you maybe want to try again? Now that you know it’s coming.”

Fluttershy understood what Sunset meant. She hadn’t even tried to kiss her back, it had really just been Sunset kissing her. “I… don’t really know what I’m supposed to do.”

“Sure you do, you’re just overthinking it.” Sunset pulled back slightly, but kept her arm around Fluttershy. “It’s just like the other day when you kissed my cheek for the picture. Just, you know, on my lips instead.”

“O-okay.” Fluttershy could feel her heart pounding against her chest as she leaned in closer. Sunset leaned in as well and closed her eyes, so Fluttershy did the same. All her worries left her as they kissed, leaving only one thought in her head – that Sunset’s lips were wonderfully soft against her own.

Fluttershy felt light headed as they pulled away, whether from the kissing or the wine. She didn’t know what to say, but it didn’t seem to matter. She and Sunset just smiled wordlessly at each other, and for once, Fluttershy didn’t worry about anything at all.

She still blushed as she asked, “Could… could we do that again?”

“Sure.” Sunset shifted position and took Fluttershy’s hands in her own. “But you know, kissing isn’t just about your mouth. A big part of the fun is what you do with your hands, too.”

“Oh. Uhm, should I be doing something different?”

“If you want to. Just do whatever you think might feel nice. For example…” Sunset kissed Fluttershy again, but this time, she didn’t stop at one kiss. And as they kissed, Sunset placed a hand on Fluttershy’s cheek, caressing it gently.

The touch caused Fluttershy to smile, and as her lips parted slightly, Sunset’s tongue flicked between them. Fluttershy’s eyes briefly opened in surprise, then she closed them again. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to respond, but she left her mouth slightly open as they kissed, and Sunset took the invitation.

It was hard enough figuring out what to do with her tongue against Sunset’s without even trying and figure out what to do with her hands, but they somehow still found their way to Sunset’s body. One hand rested on Sunset’s leg while the other moved around her back. Hardly noticing what she was doing, she pulled Sunset closer.

Although she wasn’t sure if she actually meant to guide Sunset’s actions, Sunset followed readily. She broke apart from the kiss to turn her body and bring one leg over Fluttershy so they were face to face. Fluttershy was still sitting on the couch, while Sunset was kneeling over her, one leg on either side of Fluttershy’s.

For a second time, Fluttershy’s eyes shot open and she looked into Sunset’s face. This time, however, they remained open as she found herself underneath Sunset. She froze in place, her only movement coming from her heart beating against her chest.

Sunset knew nothing of Fluttershy’s sudden apprehension, and closed her eyes as she bent down to kiss her again.

This time, Fluttershy didn’t close her eyes immediately when they started kissing. She kept them fixed on Sunset as she reminded herself that she wanted to do this. That this was something she had started.

Sunset made a content noise, and some of Fluttershy’s concerns faded away. It was a gentle sound, nothing like –

Fluttershy closed her eyes and increased the intensity of the kiss, determined to think of nothing else. She placed one hand behind Sunset’s head, running her fingers through the other girl’s long hair. The other started on Sunset’s leg, but she moved it upwards along her body.

When she reached Sunset’s sweater, Fluttershy’s hand found its way underneath it. Her fingers brushed against Sunset’s skin, which was warm despite the cold. The skin to skin contact was helped ease the rest of Fluttershy’s worries, so she continued to move her hand along Sunset’s figure.

She brought her other hand down from where she had been stroking Sunset’s hair, moving it slowly down Sunset’s body. Under the sweater, she gingerly traced her way from Sunset’s side to her stomach while their tongues danced around one another. She found herself lost in the moment, and only stopped to think about the implications of what she was doing when her fingertips touched the edge of Sunset’s breast.

Of course, after her shower Sunset wouldn’t have a reason to put a bra back on. Shifting course, Fluttershy moved instead towards Sunset’s back. Her fingers moved aimlessly as Fluttershy simply enjoyed the way Sunset’s skin felt.

Sunset pulled back just a bit and spoke quietly. “You know, it’s okay if you want to try experimenting another way.”

Fluttershy opened her eyes to see Sunset’s grin and realized she had been absentmindedly moving her hand closer to Sunset’s breasts again.

I didn’t mean anything by it. I didn’t even notice I was doing it.

The words died before they could reach her mouth.

Fluttershy closed the distance between them, and she took the chance to be the first to put her tongue into Sunset’s mouth this time. Even after Sunset said it was okay, Fluttershy still moved her hand very cautiously towards Sunset’s chest, as if she would change her mind and be upset at any moment.

But Sunset didn’t change her mind, and she seemed to be anything but upset when Fluttershy’s fingers circled her nipple. She made the same small noise from earlier, and Fluttershy found she enjoyed it even more.

Throwing caution to the wind, Fluttershy brought her other hand under the sweater as well. She moved it towards Sunset’s chest for a moment before changing her mind, bringing it lower instead. She moved her fingers around Sunset’s waste line, lingering on the edge of her pants for a moment before sliding her hand underneath them.

She lost her nerve after that, but she kept her hand resting on Sunset’s outer thigh. She still worried it might have been too far when Sunset pulled away again, so she quickly returned both hands to Sunset’s sides.

“So, uh… you wanna maybe move this to the bedroom?”

Fluttershy knew what Sunset was asking. How could she not? Even if she hadn’t moved it from Sunset’s leg, her hand had been beneath Sunset’s underwear a moment before.

It was daunting to think about. But Fluttershy reminded herself this was her own doing, and it was something that she wanted.

And, most importantly, it was with Sunset. Everything would be okay.

When she couldn’t find words to answer with, Fluttershy simply nodded instead. Sunset stood up and took her by the hand, and Fluttershy followed Sunset into the bedroom.

There weren’t a lot of things Fluttershy was good at. She could cook and clean, but she didn’t have many other ways to make sure Sunset always wanted her around. But at least this was something she could do, and it would be worth it. This was how Fluttershy would make sure she wasn’t alone anymore.

7 – The Morning After

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Chapter Seven

The Morning After

There were many things in her life that Sunset regretted. In fact, it was fair to say that Sunset regretted the majority of her life. Almost everything she’d done before the Fall Formal had been a mistake to some degree.

She had hoped that she’d have fewer regrets afterwards, and she did. But fewer did not mean none. Fewer didn’t even mean few, really. Sometimes, Sunset’s life still felt like it was a long string of one regret after another.

Waking up naked with Fluttershy was definitely one of those times.

Why had she let all that stuff happen? When Fluttershy was curious about kissing, that was one thing. But sex? They were in a weird place in their… friendship? Relationship? Whatever they were together, it was complicated enough without adding sex into things.

Sunset was curled around Fluttershy, who seemed to still be asleep. As carefully as she could, she pulled her arm from its place around Fluttershy’s stomach, and put some distance between the two of them.

She rose from bed as gently as she could. If she woke up Fluttershy, they’d have to talk about what happened, and Sunset had no idea what she was supposed to do or say when that time came.

It was too risky to get dressed in the bedroom, so Sunset gathered some clothes without putting them on. She also grabbed her phone and the journal so she wouldn’t need to come back.

With one last look at Fluttershy to confirm she was still sleeping soundly, Sunset left the bedroom. She tossed the phone and journal onto the couch and got dressed quickly, eager to separate herself from the chill air.

Once she was dressed, Sunset took the journal to the computer desk and opened it to the first empty page. She took out a pen, placed it against the paper, and realized she had no idea what to ask.

There was no way that Twilight would feel comfortable with Sunset having sex with Fluttershy, even if the two Fluttershys were completely separate individuals. If Sunset was ever going to tell Twilight about that, it would be in a controlled setting after figuring out what was going on. And the Equestrian Fluttershy? Sunset didn’t even want to think about what that would be like for her to hear.

As it turned out, she didn’t have very long to think about anything, as writing started appearing in the journal. ‘Sunset?’

Sunset recognized Fluttershy’s writing and realized she’d accidentally drawn a line on the page where her pen touched it. She should have been more careful; any amount of writing made the connection work.

‘Good morning, Fluttershy. I hope I didn’t wake you.’

‘No, I was just getting some breakfast for the animals around the cottage while Twilight sleeps in a bit. Did you need to talk to her?’

Sunset wasn’t actually sure who would be better to talk to between the two marefriends, but it hardly mattered since there was no way she was willing to wake Twilight up. ‘No, that’s okay. I was just hoping to get some advice about something.’

‘Oh. Is it something I could help with?’

‘I think so.’ Honestly, who would know Fluttershy better than another Fluttershy? But on the other hand, coming clean about that still had far too much chance for awkward backlash. It would be much better to stick to the fake identity. ‘Remember my friend Morning Breeze?’

‘Yeah. Did you talk to her about how you feel?’

‘Something like that. We sort of ’ Sunset frowned at the words. They hadn’t ‘sort of’ done anything, but that was another thing she couldn’t bring herself to tell Fluttershy. ‘ kissed. A lot. Then she spent the night, and now she’s asleep in my bed.’

Well, it was technically accurate.

‘Oh. Well, I guess we know how she feels now.’

‘I guess, but now I’m worried things might be moving a little fast.’

‘Sunset, be honest. Did anything more than kissing and sleeping in the same bed happen?’

Sunset stared at the page for longer than she knew was wise. She didn’t want Fluttershy to know she was hesitating, but she didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t really expected the question; Twilight never would’ve asked, and she was pretty sure the human Fluttershy wouldn’t either.

But she wasn’t talking to either of them, and this Fluttershy still needed an answer. ‘No. Nothing more than that happened. Although the kissing did get pretty heavy.’

That couldn’t even get by on technical accuracy, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell the truth. Not to Fluttershy.

‘Then I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. Just talk to her about how she feels once she’s awake.’

Sunset sighed. It was more complicated than that. Like Fluttershy said, there wouldn’t have been anything to worry about if Sunset had stopped things there. But she hadn’t, and now she’d have to deal with that.

But what she wrote instead was, ‘Yeah. You’re right.’

‘Maybe you could make breakfast? It might not be a fun conversation, but if you make breakfast for the two of you then you’ll be off to a good start.’

Sunset was too busy working on plan B for that. ‘That’s a great idea. Thanks, Fluttershy.’

‘You’re welcome. Everything will be okay, let me know how it goes.’

‘Will do.’

As much as breakfast was a good suggestion, Sunset wouldn’t be able to follow through with it. She hadn’t been able to get the advice she needed from Fluttershy because she’d been unable to be honest with her. So she’d just have to talk to someone she could be, someone she could always tell anything to.

Sunset grabbed her phone and opened her contacts. She tapped the first name on her recent calls, then held the phone to her ear as it rang.

“Morning, Sunset,” Applejack said on the other end. “The heck you doin’ up?”

“That’s hard to explain. What are you up to?”

“Just headin’ out to go make a delivery.”

“Perfect. Can you swing by so I can come along for the ride?”

There was a moment’s pause, then Applejack sighed. “Yeah, I’m on my way. Ya did somethin’ dumb, didn’tcha?”

“Yes. Extremely.”

“Right. Be there in fifteen.”

“Thanks. See you then.”

For fifteen minutes, Sunset tried to keep busy while constantly glancing towards the bedroom door. She was worried about Fluttershy waking up and forcing the conversation before she was ready for it, even though she knew it would be easy enough to make an excuse. Applejack needed help. They’d talk when she came back later.

As excruciating as the wait was, she didn’t need to use the excuse in the end. Applejack pulled up in front of the house, and Sunset was heading out the door before she could even call to say she was there.

Sunset hurriedly made her way to Applejack’s truck, fresh powder crunching underfoot. Even if it was only a short walk from the house to the vehicle, it was a warm and welcome relief to climb into, and Sunset held her hands to the air vent. The radio was tuned to a classic rock station that both of them would find enjoyable.

Applejack shifted into drive and pulled away from the house. “Hope ya don’t mind it’s not a quick stop. Gonna be a couple of hours before we’re back here.”

“That’s fine.” Sunset pulled on her seatbelt and took note of the contents of the truck’s bed. She was happy to see there were multiple cases of different sizes, likely containing various products. It was a big shipment, and that was something the Apples needed more of.

“So what’s going on?” Applejack asked once they were on a main road.

“It’s hard to explain.” Without thinking of it, Sunset turned down the volume of the radio.

Applejack glanced at the volume dial. “That bad, huh?”

“Yeah… I probably shouldn’t even be talking about it, but I don’t know what else to do.”

“Well, I ain’t telling anyone whatever it is. Might as well blurt it out ‘cause we’re gonna get into it one way or the other.”

Sunset took a deep breath. “Last night Fluttershy and I had sex.”

Applejack let out a low whistle. “Yeah, I can see how that’s pretty bad.”

“I didn’t mean to! It just sort of… happened.”

“Ya didn’t mean to?” Applejack shot her a disbelieving look. “What, she just sort of fell on top of you and y’all decided ‘well, since we’re here we might as well make a thing of it’?”

“Obviously it wasn’t a complete accident! We were just talking, and then we… kissed… then one thing kind of led to another.”

“Ya know, in all the times we’ve talked, we’ve never once just started kissing. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen from nowhere, so what’s the full story here?”

“We were just talking, then Fluttershy said she wanted to kiss me. It pretty much did come out of nowhere, I have no idea what brought that up.”

“Huh.” Applejack shrugged. “Never really figured she’d be the type to make the first move.”

“Yeah, it’s been pretty surprising. She was the one who asked me to sleep in bed with her a week ago, too.”

“Hang on, y’all been sleeping together?”

“Only next to each other!” Sunset frowned and turned to look out the window. “Until last night, anyway…”

“Right, so. Fluttershy wanted to sleep next to you. Then she wanted to kiss you. Then she wanted to have sex. Sounds like she knows what she’s after, at least.”

“Well… Fluttershy did bring up kissing, but I was the one who suggested we move on to sex.”

“Then I suppose both y’all know what ya want here.”

That didn’t seem so simple to Sunset. “Maybe…”

Applejack gave her a sideways glance and waited for more, but gave up as Sunset kept her eyes fixed straight ahead. “Do, uh… do you think she didn’t want it or something?”

Sunset turned towards Applejack. “Jesus, what do you take me for? If Fluttershy didn’t want to have sex, we wouldn’t have. She was a little nervous, but it was her first time.”

“Yeah, plus she’s Fluttershy. Course she’s gonna be nervous ‘bout it. Hope you took things slow for her.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Want the play by play? Yes, I took things slow, and I’m sure she enjoyed herself.”

“Okay, so that’s exactly what I was saying. Both of ya clearly want this.” Applejack narrowed her eyes. “Unless you don’t.”

Sunset didn’t answer.

“You can’t tell me it was your idea and then say ya didn’t want it.”

“I did. I mean, last night I definitely wanted the sex, but… Now I’m not sure. Maybe it was a mistake.”

Applejack turned onto a highway. “You’re not sure if you want things to keep going the way they’re going?”

“I guess. I don’t even know where it is that things are going, you know?”

“You are not that dense. Look, she was the one who started most everything, and she was happy when you continued it. She wants to date you, Sunset. Hell, knowing Fluttershy, she probably thinks that doin’ that kinda stuff means y’all are already dating.”

“But she said she just wanted to experiment. You know, try some new things now that she’s out about being gay.” Sunset shrugged. “I was pretty excited to try things with a girl the first time, and I wasn’t hiding that I’m bi. I can see why she’d be interested in that.”

“She said that? That she just wanted to ‘experiment’?”

Sunset thought back to the night before. “She said… that she felt comfortable with it because it was me. I think she said I made her feel safe. But when I asked why she wanted to, she did say it was because she’s never kissed anyone and she wanted to try.”

Applejack grimaced. “She’s never kissed anyone? And then just… went straight to sleeping with you?”

“Well, yeah. I don’t think she planned for things to get that far, but you know… We were caught up in the heat of the moment and she was curious. It happens.”

“I dunno about being in ‘the heat of the moment’, but I do know Fluttershy. And this? This don’t even sound like her. I mean sure, maybe you were interested in experimenting with girls. But you and Flash had already fooled around, so you had already started with that kinda thing. The first time you wanted to kiss or sleep with someone or whatever, and I mean really wanted it and would’ve done it if ya got the chance, are you really saying ya didn’t also want to date them?”

Sunset looked at Applejack and it gave her high school flashbacks. She facepalmed as she realized how obvious that answer was. “Fuck, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. How the hell did I let things get like this?”

Applejack sighed and Sunset could tell she was upset. “So you don’t want to date her then?”

It was easy enough to see what was on Applejack’s mind. If that was true and Fluttershy wound up getting hurt, it would be all Sunset’s fault.

“I don’t know. Maybe?”

“Well, let’s see.” Applejack held up a finger. “Ya went along with sleeping in the same bed for a week now, so I’m guessing you like that.”

Sunset sighed, a little embarrassed to admit it, and a little confused that after everything else, that was the embarrassing part. “Yeah, I do.”

A second finger went up. “And you two have been living together for, what? Like a month now? Any problems there, or are ya happy with that?”

“It hasn’t been a whole month, but yes, I’m happy with it. Really happy, actually.”

“So then what about kissing? Ya must’ve liked it last night if ya wanted things to go further. Think it’s something you’d want to keep doing?”

“I guess? Kissing isn’t really the type of thing I think about whether I want to do or not. It’s just sort of something that happens when it feels right, I guess.”

“Yeah, I know what kind of things you think about doing. Which brings us to number four.” Applejack’s fourth finger went up. “Do you wanna keep having sex with her?”

Yeah, because that was an easy to answer question that wasn’t awkward at all. But Applejack did have a point in asking it, so Sunset gave it some thought. She tried to push aside all the other strings that would attach themselves if she continued to have sex with Fluttershy, and only considered the action itself.

“I did enjoy it, and I think… I know I would enjoy it again. It’s not something I’m specifically after, but yes, it could be nice.”

Applejack returned both hands to the wheel. “Sounds to me like a relationship wouldn’t be so bad.”

Sunset looked out the window again. “Maybe you’re right.”

Applejack smirked. “It’s been known to happen from time to time.”

Sunset smiled as well. It was the first time she’d smiled since waking up and realizing the situation she’d gotten herself into. “Thanks, AJ.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Sunset found a small laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. “Geez, how much can change in a month? Fluttershy and I had completely separate lives, and now we’re living together, sleeping together, and I guess dating. Still gotta make sure we’re on the same page with that, but you know.”

Applejack nodded. “So, let’s see… that means the wedding will be what? Spring?”

“Oh come on, give us some credit. We can hold out until summer.”

“Aww, can I be a bridesmaid?”

“Psh, no. You gotta be my maid of honor, who else would put up with me?”

“Who said I was gonna be your bridesmaid? Two brides means double the options!”

“Bitch, who said you got a choice? Maid of honor or don’t bother showing up.”

Applejack pretended to consider her options. “Hmm, alright. But only if I also get to be a godmother.”

“Yeah, alright. If I ever manage to squeeze a baby out of this thing, you’ve got first dibs. Don’t really think Fluttershy’s got the right equipment to get me knocked up, though.”

“Y’all can adopt.”

Sunset laughed. “Really though, do you honestly think I could ever raise a kid?”

Applejack shook her head. “Frankly, the idea alone is terrifying. But maybe Fluttershy could manage to pull it off even with you as the other parent.”

“I guess if anyone could, it’d be Fluttershy.”

They kept joking around as Applejack drove, and little by little, Sunset started to feel the return to normality that Applejack always somehow was able to provide. Even joking around about how quick things were moving with Fluttershy helped Sunset feel a little less weird about it. If they could joke about it, maybe that meant it was okay.

Somehow, maybe things could actually be okay for once. Maybe this time, Sunset really could manage to not screw everything up.


By the time they made it back to Sunset’s house, she was feeling pretty good about her situation. Of course, that only lasted until they were at her house, when the reality that it was finally time to address things came crashing upon her.

Applejack seemed to notice Sunset’s reluctance to leave the truck. “Since when are you nervous about talking to a girl ya like.”

Sunset glanced back at Applejack. “It’s happened from time to time.”

“Come on, it’s Fluttershy! Sure, maybe it’s hard to talk about this sort of thing, but there ain’t nobody easier to talk to than Fluttershy.”

“Yeah, but that’s just it. It is Fluttershy. When it’s someone at a party or something I figure the worst that can happen is we don’t work out, no big deal. But with Fluttershy, it is a big deal, because she’s one of the best friends I’ll ever have. I don’t want to risk losing her, you know?”

“You’re worrying ‘bout nothing, like usual.” Applejack placed a hand on her shoulder. “She was the one who started things, remember? This is what she wants, I’m sure of it. And you know, you are pretty good at talking to people. Even if ya don’t know what to say now, I know that once the two of you start talking, you’ll figure out the words. Everything’s gonna be just fine, trust me.”

Sunset took a deep breath and smiled. Leave it to Applejack to somehow make everything feel like it could work out. “Thanks, AJ. I’ll let you know how things go.”

“Yeah, be sure to tell me the good news.”

Sunset said her goodbyes and finally left the truck. At least the cold meant she didn’t take her time getting inside.

She had expected to find Fluttershy in the living room, but it was empty. Sunset’s first thought was that she might have gone out with Rainbow or something, but there was light coming from under the bedroom door.

Realizing that she didn’t actually know if Fluttershy was the type to stay in bed late into the morning reminded Sunset of how rushed things were, but she pushed that thought away as she opened the bedroom door.

She smiled as the door opened, and saw that despite the light, Fluttershy was lying in bed. Her back was to the door, and she was still enough to be asleep. She must have gotten up at some point since she had dressed into pajamas, and she was curled into a ball around a pillow while holding Sunfish Swimmer.

“Shy?” Sunset prompted quietly in case she really was asleep.

At first Fluttershy didn’t respond. Then she took a sharp breath and rose slowly, keeping her eyes fixed on the bed rather than looking at Sunset. Her mouth opened as if to speak, but no sound came out.

Worried that she might not be feeling well, Sunset gently took a seat on the edge of the bed. “Good morning, Shy.”

Fluttershy’s mouth opened and closed again. She exhaled sharply and tears rolled silently down her face. Her voice was weak when she finally choked out a few words. “I’m… I’m sorry…”

All other thoughts left her head as Sunset instantly reached her arms around Fluttershy and spoke soothingly. “Hey, it’s okay. What’s wrong?”

Fluttershy looked into Sunset’s face for a moment, then turned away as her crying grew in intensity. Even if they had only made eye contact for a moment, Sunset had seen how red Fluttershy’s eyes were. She had been crying for a long time.

Sunset pulled her closer, bringing Fluttershy’s head to her chest. “Shh, I’m here, everything’s going to be alright. Did you have another nightmare?”

At first Fluttershy just cried quietly, not reacting to Sunset’s presence at all. But then slowly, she reached her arms around Sunset as well. If she had been hesitant to hold Sunset, she certainly seemed to change her mind once she did; with her arms finally around her, Fluttershy held tightly.

Since every attempt to get Fluttershy to tell her why she was crying only resulted in apologies or more tears, Sunset gave up trying. Instead, she held onto her and hummed a tuneless melody as she stroked Fluttershy’s hair, waiting for the tears to stop in their own time. She slowly eased them onto the bed, so that they were lying together with Fluttershy’s head still resting on her chest.

Eventually the tears did stop, although neither of them made any attempt to move. Fluttershy eventually spoke with another “I’m sorry”, although this time she spoke calmly without any trace of tears.

“It’s okay,” Sunset reassured her. “I want to be here for you. And besides, I can think of a lot of things worse than being your teddy bear when you need one.”

Fluttershy held a little tighter, which made Sunset smile. “I… don’t deserve this.”

“Sure you do. If anything, I’d say I’m the one who doesn’t deserve you.”

“I… I’m really sorry… about last night…”

It was good that Fluttershy wasn’t able to see Sunset’s expression. Was that really what she was sorry about? “Uh, last night was great? Why are you sorry for that?”

Fluttershy pulled away so she could finally look at Sunset, but she stayed cuddled up at her side. “I… when I woke up and you weren’t here, I just… It’s my fault, isn’t it? I shouldn’t have, well, you know…”

Sunset would have facepalmed if Fluttershy wasn’t right on her. How could she be such an idiot? Of course Fluttershy would think that. “I was out helping Applejack. It wasn’t anything to do with last night. I’m sorry, I should’ve left a note or something.”

“Oh.”

Not sure where else to take the conversation, Sunset decided to try and lighten the mood. “Guess it’s good to know this was more about this morning than last night. I mean yeah, it’s been a while, but I don’t think I was bad enough to make you cry.”

Fluttershy blushed. “N-no! It wasn’t, uhm… I… y-you were, uhm…”

Sunset laughed. “I’m just joking.” She smiled and leaned her forehead against Fluttershy’s. “Or at least, I hope so. But I guess you’d know better than me, how’d I do?”

It was perhaps a bit mean to keep picking on her, but Fluttershy was too cute when she was flustered. She blushed harder and averted her eyes as much as she could without moving her head. “I, uhm, I… I think you…”

Seeing that Fluttershy was taking her far too seriously and struggling to actually give an answer, Sunset did the only reasonable thing she could. She leaned in and cut Fluttershy off with a kiss.

At first, Fluttershy just looked surprised. Then her smile grew to match Sunset’s, who finally found the answer she was looking for in it.

“So…” Sunset blushed a little and reached for Fluttershy’s hand, lacing their fingers together. “I think I really like this whole us thing.”

Fluttershy’s smile grew even brighter. It was hard to believe she had been crying only minutes before when she radiated so much happiness. “Me too.”

They came together for another kiss, and Sunset found all her worries melted away in the warmth of Fluttershy’s embrace.

8 – Time and Changes

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Chapter Eight

Time and Changes

“Why would you ever think that was acceptable!?”

Fluttershy shrunk back at Sunset’s tone. “I… I’m sorry, I just…”

Sunset advanced forward, backing her up to a wall. “You lied to me!”

“I didn’t mean to! I’m so sorry, I thought that… maybe I would never have to…”

“Never have to what?” Sunset folded her arms and didn’t wait for Fluttershy to answer. “Tell me the truth? You used me, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy fell to her knees and wrapped her arms around Sunset’s legs. “I’m sorry! I’ll do anything, just please don’t –”

“Don’t touch me.” Sunset pulled back, causing Fluttershy to lose her balance and fall onto the floor. It was where she deserved to be.

Sunset stepped aside so the path to the front door was clear. “I’m not playing this sick little game with you. Get the hell out of my house.”

Fluttershy looked up to protest, but she couldn’t. Not when she knew Sunset was right. Fluttershy had earned this reaction for her deceit, and there was nothing else to do. She rose to her feet and walked slowly to the door.

She stopped when she reached it. She didn’t turn back, couldn’t bare to look into Sunset’s face, but she did want to say one final thing. “I… I love you, Sunset.”

She heard footsteps walking towards her, but it wasn’t Sunset’s voice that answered. It was a man’s voice, and one she had hoped to never hear again.

“Who could ever love you?” Stormy Skies asked, freezing her in place. His hand slid around her stomach and she felt sick. “You’re only good for one thing.”


Fluttershy’s breathing was rapid as she woke up. On instinct, she kept as still and quiet as possible. Nightmares were nothing new, and years of experience had taught her to never cry out.

She knew it had been a dream, but the feeling was still there. The way he touched her, and the way it made her skin crawl. She felt something moving along her stomach, and she couldn’t stop herself from pulling away.

Sunset pulled back her hand, but didn’t wake. Fluttershy sat up slowly and looked at Sunset, barely visible in the moonlight. She hadn’t meant to pull away from Sunset’s touch, and she felt guilty for it. But yet, she couldn’t bring herself to return any affection. Having Sunset there to hold her was usually what she wanted after a nightmare, but this time, she found that she’d rather not be touched.

Slowly, the other details from the dream sank in. The fight with Sunset hadn’t been real, of course, but she was sure it was just around the corner. Sunset probably wouldn’t really kick her out, no matter how much she deserved it. Sunset was too good for that. But when she found out Fluttershy had deceived her… Well, Fluttershy didn’t want to think about it.

But sitting in bed with Sunset meant she could think of nothing else, and the dark did not feel welcoming. Fluttershy had to get up, she had to clear her head.

It was difficult to leave without disturbing Sunset. Fluttershy slept on the inside of the bed, which meant she had to go over Sunset to leave it. Thankfully, Sunset was a fairly heavy sleeper, and she hardly stirred as Fluttershy cautiously climbed over her.

It was cold out of the blankets, but Fluttershy didn’t mind. The cold was bracing, and it made her feel slightly more awake. She left the room quietly, closing the door slowly and silently behind her. Once she was on the other side, she went into the bathroom.

Turning on a light further helped chase away the nightmare, but not the thoughts it had brought with it. She knew Stormy Skies was nothing more than the boogeyman hiding under her bed, even if the thought that he was still out there did still terrify her. But she knew he wouldn’t harm her here. She knew that Sunset would be there to keep her safe. She had faith in that.

She did not know how long Sunset would be willing to be there, however. Even if she reacted better than she had in the dream, it was best to be realistic. Sunset wasn’t going to stand by Fluttershy if her worries proved true.

And every day, that felt more and more likely. How much longer could she go on pretending that things were going to be okay? Fluttershy looked into the bathroom mirror and studied her body, looking for any sign of change. She saw nothing, but she knew it had been too long.

Her hand moved towards her stomach, but she shifted course and brought it to her face instead. The tears followed after. Silent, so she wouldn’t alert Sunset as she cried.

In an attempt to focus on something else, Fluttershy turned on the water and splashed it against her face. It was ice cold, but it forced the tears to stop. She considered taking a shower, but thought the water through the pipes might make too much noise and wake Sunset. Fluttershy could at least let her sleep peacefully.

There wasn’t anything to do in the bathroom, so she left it. She walked through the dark living room and into the kitchen, turning the light on and taking a look around. The only movement came from a wall-mounted clock, which also made the only sounds as it ticked the seconds away.

It wasn’t like she was looking for anything, exactly. She just didn’t know what else to do, so she looked for something to give her an idea. She thought about the wine in the fridge, but she couldn’t bring herself to do that. Not with the thoughts that were eating at her mind. No, she would need to find something more mild, just in case.

Her eyes fell on the coffee maker. The more time that passed from the nightmare, the more her body told her to return to bed. But she couldn’t. Sunset was in there, and Fluttershy didn’t deserve to be beside her.

Coffee would help, though. Fluttershy had never been a big coffee drinker, but nights like this called for it. She filled the coffee pot with water, added the grounds, and just hoped that it would be enough of a distraction.

‘There could be lots of reasons,’ Fluttershy told herself. ‘I can’t let myself get so caught up with these dreams…’

It was always worse on nights after they were… intimate. It had been a week since they’d started doing that kind of thing, and it was something Fluttershy was trying to get used to. She knew it was important. It always made Sunset happy, and there was so little Fluttershy could do for her despite owing her so much. And if Fluttershy did things like that, then maybe Sunset would be willing to stay with her after all.

Still, no matter how important it was, she wished it didn’t bring about the dreams. Perhaps that was also just something Fluttershy would have to get used to with time.

The coffee finished dripping into the pot, and Fluttershy was happy for the chance to busy herself by getting a mug. She filled it, then set the pot back on the warming plate. She took a seat at the kitchen table and blew on it softly.

If nothing else, the mug felt nice in her hands. It spread warmth through her fingers, which she appreciated. It did sort of remind her how cold she was otherwise, wearing only pajamas and away from the warmth of Sunset or the blanket they shared.

The house was always cold. Not unbearably so, and Fluttershy did understand. The warmer the house was, the higher the gas bill would be. Money was tight, especially with Fluttershy around, and they had warm clothes and blankets that wouldn’t hurt their budget.

And because the scarcity of money was also Fluttershy’s fault, she felt guilty about how much the cold bothered her. She would never say so, of course; the cold was preferable to being a bigger burden by turning the heat up. But it made the house feel less welcoming, and that reminded Fluttershy that it was not and probably could never be her home, no matter how much Sunset claimed otherwise.

Fluttershy took a sip of the coffee. It was far too hot, but she didn’t mind. The heat made it hard to think about other things, so she kept sipping.

One cup of coffee turned into two, which turned into three. She periodically got up and walked around, trying to generate just a little more heat in the cold house, and just did her best to try not to think about her dreams. Her best, as usual, was not enough.

‘It was just a dream. I’m okay.’ Fluttershy stepped up to the window and stared out, looking out at the snow-covered yard illuminated by street lights.

From there she stepped to the doorway and looked through the living room. The light from the kitchen distorted everything, but she could make out the bedroom door. She thought of Sunset on the other side, and how she would be there to comfort her if Fluttershy asked her to be.

‘I should tell her. But what if it wasn’t just a dream? What will she think of me?’

She shook her head and returned to the kitchen table. She sat down and stared at her coffee. The ticking of the clock marked the passage of time. Fluttershy could feel it moving ever forward, each day that came and went making her feel more and more certain.

‘Only a dream. It was only a dream. Even if it has been six weeks since…’

Fluttershy jerked her head up and shook it violently. There was no room for thoughts like that in her life, she couldn’t let there be room for thoughts like that. She grabbed the mug and drank quickly, the overly hot coffee burning her mouth. Still, she drained every drop from the mug and burned away every thought that wasn’t about the heat.

She set the empty mug down roughly, letting it fall over as she dropped her head to the table. “Why did I drink that so fast?” she grumbled to herself.

Although her head was spinning from the rush of heat the drink had brought, she stood and carried the mug to the sink. The water was cold as it came out, but she ignored that and washed the cup for the third time. She dried most of the moisture off with a towel and set it aside to air dry the rest of the way.

Moved by her tired feet more than anything, she found her way to the couch. She shivered as she lay down on it, but she still couldn’t bring herself back to the bed. Instead, she curled into a ball to try and force a little extra warmth.

Somehow, despite the cold and the caffeine, she dozed off. Her sleep was restless, and her thoughts never stopped, but at least it was short lived.

A hand shook her gently, and a voice spoke even gentler. “Fluttershy? What are you doing out here? The sun’s not even up yet.”

It no longer mattered if Fluttershy was ready to speak to Sunset, since she was kneeling beside the couch. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “I couldn’t sleep.”

Sunset sat down on the couch beside her and pulled her into a hug. It was warm and reassuring. “Why didn’t you wake me up? Bad dreams again?”

As soon as Sunset’s arm was around her, Fluttershy’s worries began melting away. She no longer had any reservations about being close to Sunset, so she snuggled closer as she nodded. ‘Not about what you think though…’

“Everything will be okay, Shy,” Sunset said, and Fluttershy tried to believe her. “I’ll never let him near you again. I’ll never let anything bad happen to you. I promise.”

Fluttershy nodded. She had to tell her. “I… I’m…”

She couldn’t. The words were there, but the only thing that came out was tears.

“Shy, it’s okay. Look at me. Everything’s okay.”

Fluttershy listened to her, too tired to do otherwise. Sunset was smiling, and Fluttershy felt the warmth spread to herself as well. “Sunset, I…” She wiped her eyes and smiled back. “Thank you. I’ll be okay.”

Content that Fluttershy had stopped crying, Sunset turned her attention to a digital clock near the TV. “Well, we’ve got about an hour before you have to get ready for school. You want to try to get back to sleep, or just stay up?”

Fluttershy smiled sheepishly. “Oh, well, I had three cups of coffee so I don’t think I’ll get much sleep, actually.”

Sunset laughed and stood up. “Why’d you even take morning classes?”

She disappeared into her bedroom for a minute before coming out with a blanket. Once they were both covered, she turned on the TV and hit play, letting whatever was already in the DVD player start playing again. They snuggled up on the couch and watched quietly. Even without any more words of comfort, just being beside Sunset was comforting enough.

By the time the first light began coming through the windows, Sunset had fallen back asleep leaning on Fluttershy’s shoulder. She didn’t mind, though. It was everything she could ask for, and more than she could ever deserve.

It would all come crashing down soon, but Fluttershy resolved to enjoy it for however long it would last.


Fluttershy liked school. Most of her classes were interesting and her professors nice. It gave her a reason to think about other things and a sense of progress as she moved through her days, slowly getting closer to her veterinary degree. Even the homework was nice, since guitar practice could only fill so much time while Sunset was at work.

But for once, she couldn’t manage to focus on her professors. The day’s lecture went on while Fluttershy’s notes remained blank, all the thoughts in her head relating to how time pushed forward, each day bringing more certainty that it was all about to come to an end.

She couldn’t keep doing this. Along with the fact that the worst was becoming more and more likely, Fluttershy couldn’t keep living with the uncertainty. Enjoying the good times while they lasted was only acceptable while they were still happening. She either needed to be certain things could remain good, or she needed to figure out what else she could do.

That was scary, too. The thought of losing Sunset after she’d only just started to learn how good life could be terrified her, but even without that, trying to figure out a way on her own felt impossible.

She stuck it out until the end of class, checking the clock every few minutes in the vain hope that more time would have somehow passed than she had thought. It was always less. When she wanted time to stand still, days would pass her by and leave nothing but fear in their wake. When she wanted time to move faster, it would slow as if it were being dragged back by the weight of her anxiety.

But as slow as it may have been, the time still passed and her class came to an end. Fluttershy was among the first out the door, having long since put away her things. As she was walking down the hall, she pulled out her phone and dialed the only person she could think of who might be able to help set her mind at ease about one thing at least.

Mercifully, she answered. “What’s up, Shy?”

“Hi, Rainbow. Hope I didn’t wake you.”

“No, I got up a little bit ago. Getting an early start on clearing out the basement for band practice. I’m gonna get Lemon Zest this afternoon so we can set up her drum kit.”

“Oh! How are things going with her?”

“She’s great! Lightning Dust is coming by too, and the three of us are gonna have our first songwriting sessions today.”

Fluttershy smiled. Even with her own problems going on, she was incredibly excited for her friend. “That’s good to hear. I bet you three are going to sound great in no time.”

“Heck yeah we will! Want me to pick you up when I’m getting Lemon Zest? You could come hang out with us.”

“Uhm, maybe another time. I have… something else going on tonight. Sorry, Dashie.”

“Hey, no problem. That just means by the time you hear us, we’ll be that much better!”

Fluttershy giggled. “I’m sure you will.”

“So what’s up with you?”

Fluttershy looked around. She was sure no one would care about her conversation, but it still felt odd to talk about in public. “I, uhm, I actually had something… kind of strange to ask you.”

“Everything okay?”

“I… I think so.” Fluttershy took a deep breath. “If something happened, and I couldn’t stay with Sunset anymore, would I be able to stay with you?”

There was a painful silence before Rainbow answered. “Well… of course. But what’s going on? I thought things were going really good with Sunset.”

“They are,” Fluttershy answered quickly. The last thing she wanted was for Rainbow to think it was Sunset’s fault. “It’s just… it’s a lot to explain.”

“Is, uh…” Another hesitation. “Is this about money?”

Fluttershy frowned. It made sense that she thought that, and it was as good an answer as any, even if not entirely true. “It’s about a few things. But yes, money’s part of the problem. I… I know it’s been hard on her…”

“Yeah, she’s really taking one for the team there,” Rainbow said, then seemed to immediately regret it. “Er, I mean, I’m sure if she couldn’t do it she’d let us know, you know? I mean, I could always try to chip in something, and I bet Applejack and Pinkie would too.”

How did Fluttershy ever get so many wonderful friends? All she could do was smile. “Thanks, Dash. Right now, everything’s okay though. I’m just worried where things might go.”

“Yeah, I gotcha. But hey, things will work out. Sunset kinda kicks ass at that sort of thing, you know? She’s been doing this since we were all in high school. I’m sure she knows what she’s doing, and you got me no matter what.”

Fluttershy could only hope she would never need to make good on that promise. “Thank you so much.”

“No sweat!”

“I should get going. I have another class to get to. That was just… something on my mind.”

“Alright, talk to you later, Shy.”

“Bye, enjoy your practice.”

Fluttershy hung up, feeling just a bit better. She had just as many worries as before, but this was now one less problem on top of all the rest.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Although she had no doubt it would be just as torturous as the last, she made her way to her next class.


As she had feared, the day was a long one. And while school had been bad, things only got worse afterwards. Even if she hadn’t been able to focus on the lessons at all, it still took some of her thoughts away. It was only when she was back home that she realized how big of a deal that had been.

It was made worse by the constant worry that it might be the last night she spent in the house. She had her backup plan with Rainbow, so she knew things would go on one way or another, but that was only one of several worries.

More than the fear of not knowing where to go, and much more than the fear of leaving the house, Fluttershy was afraid it would be the last night with Sunset.

As she often did when fears like this got to her, Fluttershy had spent most of the day in bed. She kept Sunfish Swimmer beside her, covered herself in their blanket, curled around Sunset’s pillow. It smelled like her, and that both comforted her and made her want to cry even more.

The evening had started pretty normal. Sunset came home, Fluttershy made dinner for them, and they ate it on the couch. They talked about Sunset’s day at work and Fluttershy’s day at school, and she tried to find it in her to enjoy the moment in the present while it lasted.

“You okay, Shy?” Sunset asked after a while. Only then did Fluttershy realize she had been staring off into space.

“I’m…” Fluttershy could only shake her head.

Sunset scooted closer to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Would they ever sit like this again? “What’s going on?”

“I… I…” Fluttershy tried to look at Sunset, but gave up before she could make eye contact. She stared at the floor instead. “I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s okay.” Sunset’s tone was bright and encouraging. She had no idea what was coming. “I’m here, and everything’s gonna be alright.”

Fluttershy truly believed that. Everything would be alright, just so long as Sunset was there. Only… Sunset might not still be there once Fluttershy told her the truth. “I lied to you.”

“Uh, okay. About what?”

Fluttershy opened her mouth, but her chest constricted, keeping both her words and her breath locked inside its tight hold.

Sunset tried to gently guide her face up so they could look at one another, but Fluttershy just turned to look at the back of the couch instead. Sunset didn’t seem to mind and continued anyway. “Whatever it is, it’s okay. You can tell me.”

“I-it’s… it’s bad.” Fluttershy swallowed and her voice became thick as she tried to hold off tears. “It’s really bad.”

Sunset waited for a moment to see if Fluttershy would continue. When she didn’t, she placed a soft kiss on her cheek. The feeling of Sunset’s lips against her skin made Fluttershy’s eyes shut tightly as she inhaled a sharp breath. She didn’t deserve that.

“Would it help if I promise not be mad? Because I won’t be.”

“I lied… When you… when you asked about…” Fluttershy swallowed. “Stormy Skies.”

Sunset’s posture became more stiff. Did she already know what Fluttershy meant? “You mean… the day I met you at the animal shelter.”

Fluttershy gave a few shallow nods, knowing that Sunset had figured it out.

Sunset’s voice sounded shaky when she spoke. “I asked if he… Did he rape you?”

Tears started rolling down Fluttershy’s face. “I’m sorry,” was all she could say.

“No. No no no.” Sunset kept her arm around Fluttershy’s shoulder, using the other to hold her hand. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”

Fluttershy looked a little closer to Sunset’s direction. “I… but I…”

Sunset placed her forehead on Fluttershy’s. “I’m here to take care of you. I promise I’ll never let anything like that happen to you ever again.”

“You really… you still…?”

Sunset pulled her arm from around Fluttershy’s shoulders to dry her eyes. “Of course.”

It didn’t matter that Sunset had just dried her eyes, because Fluttershy cried even harder after hearing that. She wrapped her arms around Sunset and buried her face in her chest, crying while Sunset stroked her hair and spoke comfortingly.

Fluttershy wasn’t even sure what Sunset was saying, but the calmness of her voice helped soothe her. That Sunset would still want to be with someone like her, someone used in the worst way, was more than she could ever hope for.

And yet, she had to hope for more. If anything, finding out that Sunset was willing to stand by her even after that made her feel even more scared of what would happen next. She had to keep going, but how could she?

She couldn’t. Not now. Maybe not ever. But then… it was only a matter of time until she found out. Wasn’t it better to get it out in her own terms than to wait until it was no longer ignorable?

“Is there anything you want me to do?” Sunset asked. They were lying on the couch, which Fluttershy couldn’t even remember doing. Sunset was on her back and Fluttershy was curled around her, more so lying on her than on the couch.

Fluttershy shook her head. “No, you’ve done so much.”

“Only because you deserve it.”

Sunset smiled and brushed hair out of Fluttershy’s face, and Fluttershy allowed herself to be selfish. She pulled her head up from Sunset’s chest, bringing it to her face instead so she could kiss her lips. Even with Sunset’s reassurance, she was still kind of amazed when she kissed her back. It was soft and gentle, and it was the most wonderful feeling she could imagine.

And yet, it made her so hopelessly sad. “I… I don’t deserve anything like you…”

“Sure you do. You’re an amazing person, Shy. Nothing changes that.”

“But…” Fluttershy shut her eyes and her mouth twitched, unsure as she was which shape to make with it. “Th-there’s more.”

Sunset hardly responded, but Fluttershy could hear the fear she tried to mask in her voice. “What do you mean?”

“I, uhm…” Fluttershy kept her eyes shut tightly and returned her head to Sunset’s chest so she wouldn’t have to look at her. She could hear how fast her heart was beating. It was probably almost as fast as Fluttershy’s. “My period is late.”

“How late?” Sunset’s voice was losing the softness it had held, becoming thick.

“Two weeks.”

Sunset took a deep breath. “Okay. How regular is it normally?”

“It’s, uhm… usually pretty regular.”

“Right. So first thing, you can miss a period from stress. And you’ve had a hell of a lot of that this month, so let’s not jump to conclusions.”

Fluttershy nodded, trying not to cry. Still, her voice came out weak. “Okay.”

“It’s, you know, it’s probably that.” Sunset’s voice somehow managed to sound hopeful. Could that be all? Oh dear God, please let that be all.

“So I should just… wait?”

“No. We’re going to find out. Just… don’t panic, you know?”

Not panicking was easier said than done.

“Alright, I’m going to go get a pregnancy test. You wanna come with me or wait here?”

Fluttershy was taken by surprise. It made sense, of course. But somehow Fluttershy hadn’t expected Sunset would immediately jump to fixing things, despite all her past behavior indicating that’s exactly the type of thing she’d do.

Fluttershy sat up. “I… I don’t want to be alone anymore…”

Sunset followed suit. “Understandable. We’ll just run down to the drugstore real quick, grab a test, then be back here before we know it.” She stood up and grinned as she held out her arms. “You pee on a stick, we see that we’re worried about nothing, everything’s better!”

Even though she could tell that Sunset was trying to console herself as much as Fluttershy, it still helped. “Okay. Uhm, thank you, Sunny.”

Sunset walked into the bedroom and returned with their jackets and helmets. They bundled up and walked to the backdoor, but Sunset stopped before going outside. She lifted her helmet to expose her face, so Fluttershy did the same. “Hey, uh… It’s going to be okay. You know, either way, everything is going to be okay.”

Fluttershy felt like she might cry again if she spoke, so she just smiled and nodded. Sunset smiled as well, then put her helmet back on and opened the door.

The night was windy, and there was already some snow falling. It made Fluttershy second guess going out on the motorcycle, but Sunset trudged onwards. There was no way Fluttershy would make her go alone in this weather, so she followed behind willingly.

Fluttershy waited as Sunset pulled the motorcycle out of the shed, then climbed on behind her. Sunset started the engine and Fluttershy held on tight, for once sure that she wouldn’t mind the ride at all, if only because it would make it impossible to worry about anything else.

The weather wasn’t too bad for Sunset, who was an experienced rider. And as closely as Fluttershy clung to her, she hardly noticed the snow herself as they drove. Just as she thought, the roar of the engine and the wind that chilled her through her thick biker jacket distracted her from thinking about anything else.

And so it was both good and bad that the drugstore was practically down the road from the house. In nicer weather, it would be walking distance if need be. Even with the snow, the drive there only took ten minutes, and they made it without any problems.

Fluttershy dismounted and waited while Sunset locked up the bike. She looked around at the weather and realized how good it was that they were so close; even in that short time, it felt like the snow was already falling harder.

Whether because she had noticed the same thing or because she was nervous herself, Sunset led the way quickly into the store once the bike was secure. They stopped briefly at the entrance so they could remove their helmets, and Sunset flashed a comforting smile.

“I can grab it if you, you know, don’t want to be on that aisle.”

“Oh, uhm, I don’t mind.”

Sunset nodded and led the way. Despite her claim, Fluttershy couldn’t help but feel embarrassed as they approached the pregnancy tests. Even if she was determined to not make Sunset do it alone, she kept her eyes fixed on the ground the whole way.

If Sunset was embarrassed at all, she didn’t show it. She walked right up to the tests, grabbed a box, and started looking it over. After a minute she grabbed another and started comparing.

Fluttershy was thankful that Sunset never asked her opinion on which one to buy, instead choosing one based on reasons Fluttershy was unaware of and leading them back to the counter.

“Should we get anything else while we’re here?”

Fluttershy could hardly believe Sunset’s voice sounded so normal, until she answered and realized hers was the same. “I don’t think we need anything.”

Even if she was panicked, it was easy to hide it when people were around her. Was that how Sunset was feeling beneath the surface as well?

There was a sort of bizarre normality that extended beyond their voices. They casually stood in line and waited for other customers to make their own purchases. The cashier didn’t so much as comment on their purchase, still offering the same friendly service as he would with anything else. He and Sunset even talked about the weather, and how there was supposed to be a big storm coming in during the night.

Everything seemed so normal, it almost made Fluttershy feel normal about it too. They made their purchase, took their bag and receipt, then walked out the door.

They put their helmets back on and Sunset shoved the bag in her jacket pocket, which zipped up to keep its contents safe while driving. Although their time in the store was short, the snow was coming down harder and the wind was picking up even more.

Distraction or not, Fluttershy hoped the ride would be a short one. She was scared of what might happen at the house, but she knew the roads were becoming unsafe for the bike.

There was nothing to do but mount up once it was unlocked, though. Sunset started the engine, and they drove off.

Even the increased whether and the sound of the engine were no longer enough to keep Fluttershy distracted. Thoughts ran through her head about what would happen if the test came back positive. What would she do? What would Sunset do? Sunset had told her that it would be okay either way, but was she just saying that?

‘It won’t be like the dream,’ Fluttershy assured herself. No matter what, it wouldn’t be that bad. She was now sure of that much at least. No matter what else happened, as long as Sunset stayed by her side and helped her figure it out, she felt like maybe they could get through anything.

The trip back couldn’t have been much more than the same ten minutes that it had taken to get to the store, but it felt much longer. By the time they reached the house, Fluttershy’s emotions had become so conflicted that she felt like she might explode.

But all she did was dismount and wait for Sunset, as always. Sunset locked the bike safely in the shed, then they walked into the house.

Inside, Sunset left her helmet on the kitchen table. She pulled the bag out of her jacket pocket, then removed the jacket and left that on the table as well. For once, Fluttershy did the same, deciding she had more important things to worry about than leaving out their snow-covered jackets.

Sunset walked into the living room, but didn’t take a seat on the couch. She took the pregnancy test out of the bag and tore the box open. She handed the test to Fluttershy, who frowned as she took it, then folded open the instructions.

“Okay, so… looks like you just take that cap off, pee on the end there for seven to ten seconds, put the cap back on, then wait five minutes.”

Fluttershy looked down at the test. She was surprised to see it had a small screen that showed the results, unlike the ones she’d seen in movies that only showed it with a colored line.

“Here are the instructions, in case you need them. Seems pretty straightforward, though.”

Fluttershy looked up to see Sunset handing her the pamphlet she’d been reading. She nodded and took it, then took a deep breath.

“Just… remember, no matter what, it’s gonna be okay.”

Fluttershy bit her lip to keep from crying and nodded again. There was nothing left to do but to find out, so she walked past Sunset and into the bathroom.

With the door shut behind her, she looked at the instructions again, reading them for herself. The device was labelled as a digital pregnancy test, explaining the screen. Everything was exactly as Sunset had read, so she decided to stop stalling.

Of course, the five minutes of waiting proved to be the hardest part. Once she was done and had the cap back on, Fluttershy went back into the living room. Sunset was on the couch by then, so Fluttershy sat next to her.

Sunset saw her looking at the test and took it from her hand, placing it facedown on the table in front of them. “Five minutes, Shy. Don’t torture yourself with too much looking before then.”

It was impossible to imagine anything could be more difficult than it already was, but Fluttershy nodded anyway. Sunset took hold of Fluttershy’s shoulders and gently guided her so that she was leaning back on Sunset. Whether by intention or absent-mindedly, one of Sunset’s hands came to rest of Fluttershy’s stomach as she held her.

Time did not slow. It became a tar pit, consuming Fluttershy and refusing to move forward at all. She could hear every second pass by as the clock in the kitchen ticked painfully slowly, only audible due to the heavy silence that blanketed the house.

“Uhm…” Fluttershy started.

“What’s up?”

Fluttershy didn’t know. She just couldn’t take any more silence, and needed something to fill it. She looked around and found just the thing. “Will you play something on your guitar.”

Sunset gave a small laugh. “I think I can manage that.”

“Thank you.”

Fluttershy shifted so Sunset could stand up. She took her guitar from its stand, which was already plugged into the amp from Fluttershy’s daily practice. Sunset turned it up just a little bit louder than Fluttershy usually kept it. She strummed a few chords and asked, “Is there anything specific you want me to play?”

“No. Whatever you want is fine.”

“Okay, here goes.” Sunset took a deep breath then started strumming. Fluttershy recognized the song immediately, and even with everything else going on, she couldn’t help but smile right from the first few chords.

“Once upon a time, you came into my world and made the stars align.”

It had been a long time since they had sung that song with the Rainbooms, the first song they’d written while Sunset was in the band. It was easy to see why Sunset had chosen that song; while Rainbow had come up with the melody, Fluttershy had been the one to write the lyrics.

Fluttershy couldn’t help but join in towards the end, which she suspected was part of Sunset’s plan all along. “Together we stand, as the rain begins to fall. And holding our heads up high as the sun shines through it all.”

It was a memory of a happy time, when they were all together and life was fun. It was a reminder that Fluttershy wasn’t alone, and she herself had written this song to attest to that. It was a message that together, they could weather any storm. It was just what Fluttershy needed to hear.

“We shine like rainbows,” Sunset finished.

Fluttershy smiled. “That was perfect, Sunny. Thank you.”

“Yeah, of course.” Sunset took off her guitar and set it back on the stand, then returned to the couch. “So… ready to check that test?”

Fluttershy’s smile fell away at the reminder, but she realized the five minutes passed much quicker than she had thought they would.

She picked up the test, but didn’t turn it over yet. She took a deep breath and reminded herself out loud, “It’s going to be okay, no matter what.”

Sunset took hold of her other hand, and Fluttershy turned over the test.

The screen showed only one word. ‘Pregnant’.

Fluttershy drooped her head, unsure what to do or say. Sunset’s arms wrapped around her, and the two of them sat silently for a moment.

She was pregnant. That was the only thought that went through her head. She was pregnant.

“Alright,” Sunset said after a minute, with a tone that sounded like she was not ‘alright’ but was trying to be. “Well. It’s going to be okay. Everything will work out. And, you know, I’m here for you.”

“Even… with this?” Fluttershy asked, hardly believing it. “Even if I’m… pregnant?”

“Yeah, of course.” There was no sign of hesitation in Sunset’s voice, no sign that she held anything against Fluttershy. “For anything. No matter what.”

It was strange. Despite all the crying earlier in the day, suddenly Fluttershy didn’t feel like crying at all. Maybe she was finally out of tears. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Sunset smiled and nodded. “Don’t worry about anything. I’ll look into it and figure out everything we need to do. If you’re only two weeks late on your period, you aren’t very far into things at all, so there shouldn’t be any issues with getting an abortion.”

“With… with what?” Fluttershy pulled away from Sunset and gave her a surprised look.

Sunset looked equally surprised, and for once, seemed to be at a loss for words.

“I… I never said I want an abortion.”

Sunset shook her head. “How could you not, though? I mean, yeah, it sucks. No one wants to go through that. But you can’t possibly want to keep it?”

“I… I don’t know… I just…” Fluttershy turned away. In all the worries she’d had about being pregnant, none of them had involved an abortion.

“Fluttershy, look. There’s just… so many things wrong here! I mean, you obviously didn’t want this.”

“Of course I didn’t want this! I’ve been hoping and praying every day that this wouldn’t happen. But… it did.”

“Yeah, it did. But you shouldn’t have to live with something like this. Especially when, you know, you had this whole situation dropped on you.”

“You’re right, I shouldn’t have to.” Fluttershy’s hands moved to her stomach. The thought that there would soon be a child growing inside of her was terrifying. It wasn’t something she chose, and it wasn’t something she was prepared for. She knew that, but she still couldn’t bring herself to get rid of it. “And I don’t have to. I understand that, but I want to give this child a chance.”

“This is insane.” Sunset’s tone was hard, but not exactly angry. “I can’t afford to take care of a child. You know that, right? For fuck’s sake, neither of us know anything about raising a kid!”

“I…” Fluttershy closed her eyes and realized what was happening. Sunset was scared, and she had every reason to be. “I wouldn’t make you do that.”

They were both quiet for a moment. Sunset sighed. “So… you’ll do it?”

Fluttershy stood up. “I’ll call Rainbow and have her come get me. Then you won’t have to worry about this.”

“You’ll what!?” Sunset stood up as well. “No. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m sorry!” Fluttershy turned her back to Sunset, she couldn’t face her. “I should have… should have told you from the start. Then we might have found out sooner, and you’d… you never would’ve…”

Fluttershy swallowed, the tears threatening to return. “You never would have wasted your time.”

“I didn’t waste my time!” Anger was starting to show through Sunset’s voice. “We just can’t do this! And neither can Rainbow, or anyone! This… child, it’s just not something you’re able to handle!”

“I’m sorry.”

Fluttershy walked to the bedroom, collapsing on the bed. She had only meant to go somewhere private to call Rainbow, but as soon as she was alone, she started crying. Not her usual quiet tears, but loud sobbing that she had to grab a pillow to muffle.

She only realized after that it was Sunset’s pillow, the same one she curled around when she was afraid of what would happen between the two of them. It had never been more fitting than that moment.

Outside the window, the winds were whipping the snow around wildly, and Fluttershy knew that she couldn’t ask Rainbow to drive on a night like this. It looked like she would have one more night in the house after all. She looked back to the door and saw what she knew she would, that Sunset hadn’t followed her in.

Fluttershy turned back to the pillow, and she cried.

9 – A Life Left Behind

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Chapter Nine

A Life Left Behind

Sunset wondered if she was making another mistake. If she thought about it too much, she knew she probably was. For once, she found she was able to get around this detail in the simplest way possible – she didn’t think about it.

Sunset opened the wine bottle and began pouring. She thought of very little as she watched the red wine leave the bottle.

All night long, Sunset had been thinking. It was what she was good at, or so she told herself. During her time thinking, she had reached several realizations, and no conclusions. She gathered information and learned a great deal of things that she would need to know, but she found that she was no closer to knowing how to proceed.

It had been very late at night by the time Sunset’s body gave out from exhaustion, more mental than physical. Or it had been very early in the morning, depending on how one were to look at it. What was certain was that her sleep was not comforting, and the rising of the sun woke her only an hour later.

Despite the stress from the night before mixing into the haze of only having an hour of restless sleep, or perhaps because of it, Sunset found she was no longer in a state of mind to be hung up on thoughts.

And so, Sunset didn’t think. She rose from the couch, went into the kitchen, and pulled a bottle of wine from the fridge.

“Sunset?”

Fluttershy’s voice was barely audible. Sunset turned to see her standing in the doorway to the kitchen, her meek posture suggesting she might flee at any second.

“Good morning, Fluttershy,” Sunset said gently, as if afraid she’d scare her away. Perhaps she was, just a little.

“What are you doing?”

Sunset watched as the last of the wine poured into the sink, then set the bottle down beside it. There were several other bottles next to the sink by that point, all of which were recently emptied. She rinsed the sink to get the last of the wine down the drain, then turned around in order to face Fluttershy properly. “You can’t drink, Shy. Not for another eight months.”

Fluttershy looked between Sunset and the bottles in confusion, never moving from where she stood. “I don’t understand.”

Sunset wanted to move closer, but wasn’t sure if that was a good idea. She wound up shifting in place restlessly. “Well, I figure… If you can’t drink, then I’m not going to either, you know?”

“But… why?”

It was easy to see what Fluttershy was obviously getting at, and dancing around it wasn’t going to avoid the topic. It really wasn’t a topic that could be avoided, anyway.

“Because… I’m sorry.” Sunset took a deep breath. “Last night, I was… scared. And I’m still scared. This is a terrifying decision. But it’s your decision, and mine is whether I want to support you in it, and that’s a much easier one.”

Fluttershy took a single step forward, then stopped. She looked like she might smile or cry at any moment. “You mean…?”

Sunset stepped forward as well, walking most of the way across the room. She stopped short of actually reaching Fluttershy, however. “I’m with you, no matter what you choose.”

Fluttershy finally decided on crying as she stepped closer, closing the rest of the distance between herself and Sunset. She didn’t do anything but stand before her, however, so it was Sunset who eventually pulled her into a hug.

At least Fluttershy didn’t seem to be too bad this time. Just some light crying, then she’d probably be okay. Still, it had only been the night before that Sunset had last comforted Fluttershy while she cried, and she was sure that there was going to be a lot more of that as they moved forward.

They were in over their heads, and there was no way that Fluttershy didn’t know it. All the same, it was something they needed to talk about.

“You know this is going to be hard, right?” Sunset asked as Fluttershy wiped her tears.

“I know.”

This had to be worded very carefully, so Sunset took her time and spoke slowly. “I won’t keep pushing this, but I do want to say it at least once without fighting. I think it would be better if you didn’t keep the baby.”

Fluttershy held Sunset tighter and kept her head facing away. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to be. But… well, there’s a lot to think about. You have school, which is going to be a lot harder with a kid. I… I really can’t afford this by myself, so you’d have to find a job before the baby’s born. Neither of us have family to ask for help or parents to get advice from. There’s carrying a baby for nine months, doctor’s visits, all the effects of pregnancy, then having our lives revolve around a kid for years.”

With each point, Fluttershy’s head seemed to sink a little lower. “I’m sorry… It’s too much to ask from you…”

Sunset kissed Fluttershy’s head, which caused her to look up into Sunset’s face. “That’s my decision, remember? And I’m choosing to stick with you. I just need to know that if you’re choosing this, you know exactly what it is you’re choosing.”

Fluttershy nodded and placed her head on Sunset’s shoulder. “I know. I’ve been thinking of it for a while now. It’s… it’s been pretty much all I’ve been able to think about for weeks.”

Right, of course. This was only news to Sunset. “Okay.”

“You’ll really be there?”

“Yeah. I promise, I’m with you for everything that comes.”

Once again, Fluttershy was crying. “Thank you so much… I was so scared that… that I’d be all alone again…”

“Never.” Sunset started walking towards the living room, gently guiding Fluttershy as she did. “Let’s go sit down somewhere a little more comfortable, though.”

Sunset led them to the living room, where they sat down together on the couch. Fluttershy’s earlier hesitation towards affection seemed to have passed, as she cuddled up close to Sunset, wrapping her arms around the other girl and resting her head against her chest. Meanwhile, Sunset wrapped an arm around Fluttershy, her hand coming to rest against her midsection.

Although she knew there was so much left to talk about, Sunset didn’t bring any of it up. The night before had left her a frantic mess of anxiety, and that paled in comparison to how she felt when she thought about the future. But for at least one moment, the important stuff had been said and she could enjoy simply being with Fluttershy.

There was at least something she should say, though. Even if she held off on talking about the future, one more thing did need to be said. “I’m really sorry I yelled at you last night. That was the last thing you needed.”

“It’s okay,” Fluttershy said. “It was a lot to bring up all at once. I… actually expected a lot worse.”

Sunset frowned. She was pretty ashamed of what had happened, and she didn’t like the idea that Fluttershy had expected worse from her. “I still could’ve handled it better. I know it must’ve been hard to tell me everything, and then finding out the test results… You needed me to help you more than ever.”

Fluttershy was quiet for a moment. Sunset was enjoying the calm until she spoke. “I don’t deserve you. You’ve been so wonderful to me, and I’m… I…”

“You’re amazing is what you are.” Sunset smiled, although inside it tore her up to realize how much Fluttershy seemed to have internalized everything that happened to her.

Well, that just meant Sunset would have to remind her how good she was. “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met, you put others first, you’re on track for a good career after school, your cooking is amazing, you’re easy to talk to, you’re incredibly pretty… Should I go on?”

Fluttershy blushed, but she still smiled as she looked into Sunset’s face. “You’re too sweet. Thank you for being here for me.”

“Of course.” Sunset leaned in and kissed Fluttershy. She hardly thought anything of it after the past week, but Fluttershy broke into a grin. “Plus I mean, when you react like that to getting kissed? How could I not love you?”

The words left her mouth before Sunset even had the chance to think about them. And judging by the surprised look Fluttershy was giving her, it was safe to say she caught the significance.

In just a moment, however, Fluttershy’s surprise melted into a smile that radiated warmth. “I love you too, Sunny.”

There was no taking it back, and honestly? Sunset didn’t think she wanted to. Instead, she just leaned in and kissed Fluttershy once more, savoring the kiss a little longer the second time.

When they pulled apart, they just smiled at each other for a moment, then Fluttershy went back to resting her head against Sunset. While it still couldn’t be said that Sunset wasn’t stressed about the thought of things to come, she felt much more calm than could have expected.

If nothing else, she was at least sure of this. Sure that she was happy with Fluttershy beside her, sure that whether they’d planned it or not, she wanted to continue what they’d begun building together.

Sunset closed her eyes and let the feeling wash over her. When she was in doubt, as she certainly would be in the months to come, this was what she needed to remember.

At least, until Fluttershy brought up something she didn’t need to remember. “You should probably start getting ready for work.”

But despite her hatred for work, for once that caused her to smile as well. “Not going today. I called out.”

“What?” Fluttershy sat up and gave Sunset a concerned look. “Are you not feeling well?”

Sunset chuckled. “No, I’m not sick or anything. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but something big kinda came up the other night.”

Fluttershy frowned. “You called out because of me?”

Sunset pulled her hand from around Fluttershy’s back so she could take both of the other girl’s hands in her own. “I called out because of us. We still have some stuff to figure out together, you know.”

Fluttershy bowed her head. “Yeah…”

“Plus… I kinda stayed up all night, so I’m not sure I’m really in the best condition to work anyway.”

Surprisingly, Fluttershy smiled a little at that. “You were up all night too?”

“Too? I should’ve known you were awake.”

“Yeah, I…” Fluttershy looked off to the side. “When you didn’t come to bed, I thought… I thought it was because you didn’t want to be around me…”

Sunset frowned. “I’m sorry… I guess I just figured you probably wanted some time to yourself.”

“Aww, I wish you would’ve just come to bed…”

“Me too. But there was another reason I was up.” Sunset shifted uncomfortably. She wasn’t looking forward to the rest of this conversation, but it was time to start discussing things again. “I was researching things that’ll be important for us. Like about what’s going to happen with you during pregnancy, and what we need to do about going to see a doctor.”

Fluttershy was visibly uncomfortable at the mention that she was pregnant, but chose to focus on something else. “You did that even though you don’t, uhm… think I should keep the baby?”

Sunset nodded. “I… also looked into the other side of things, in case you changed your mind. I wanted to know what to do either way, so that I could support you no matter what. Looking into things helped me feel a little less panicked about it.”

Fluttershy smiled. “Thank you.” She looked up into Sunset’s face, leaned forward just a bit, then seemed to change her mind.

Sunset smirked and closed the distance for another kiss herself, which left Fluttershy smiling even more. That was good, because she suspected she was about to bring those good feelings crashing down.

“I also looked into something else. About Stormy Skies.”

As expected, Fluttershy winced at the name. “Oh.”

“Have you thought about pressing charges?”

“I… I don’t know. I just… wish I could never think of him again.”

It was easy to see why Fluttershy would think that, but Sunset was sure that would never be an option. “I think you should. He shouldn’t get away with what he did. And… don’t you think you might feel better if you knew he wasn’t still out there?”

“I… I guess…”

“It’s your decision.” Sunset did think this was worth pressing, but she was eager to avoid making the same mistake as she had the night before. To show that she wouldn’t get angry this time, Sunset gently brushed Fluttershy’s hair out of her face and smiled. “But you should know I’ll be there to help. You wouldn’t have to face him alone.”

Fluttershy looked lost for words, so Sunset pulled her back into another hug. Eventually Fluttershy sighed and spoke. “I don’t even know if I can do anything. What if no one believes me?”

“Cases like this are hard… But you do have some evidence. A paternity test will prove that he’s the father.”

Fluttershy pulled away and her voice became stern. “I never want this child to know him.”

“And they won’t,” Sunset answered quickly. “They don’t even need to wait until the baby’s born to test for that. By the time a court hearing rolls around, you’ll probably be far along enough to have the test.”

“And you think that’ll be enough?”

Sunset hesitated for a moment. “It’ll make it so his only argument would be that the sex was consensual. That’ll be unlikely to win over any judge or jury since he was your step-father and had been your legal guardian.”

“But… that wouldn’t be illegal…”

Sunset wanted to assure Fluttershy that the court proceedings would definitely go in her favor, but she knew she couldn’t. Not without lying and possibly getting her hopes up. Still, there was a middle ground they could move towards. “We don’t need to jump into this. The best thing we could do would be to contact a lawyer. They’d be able to tell us what our chances are, and what the best thing to do would be.”

Fluttershy slowly moved her hand to her stomach, an action that made her wince. But she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and when she opened them, she looked more determined. “Okay. I’ll do it. I want to make sure he’s gone by the time this child is born.”

“I think you’re making the right call.”

Some of Fluttershy’s fire died down as she looked up at Sunset. “And… you’ll be there for everything?”

“I will. I promise.”

Fluttershy smiled and wrapped her arms around Sunset’s neck. Very slowly, she brought her face to Sunset’s and kissed her. It was rare for Fluttershy to be the one to initiate a kiss, so Sunset enjoyed it even more than usual.

Fluttershy was blushing as she pulled away, somehow still embarrassed by kissing even after a week of sleeping together. She pointedly turned away and tried to sound casual as she talked. “So, uhm, what do we do next?”

Sunset thought for a minute. “Hospital first. It’s not, like, super urgent or anything, but the sooner we go the better. We should consider your health and the baby before anything else.”

“That makes sense, but uhm…” Fluttershy folded her hands in her lap. “Won’t that be expensive? I, uhm, I don’t have insurance…”

“To be honest I’m not even sure you’d still have it if you did before, unless it was something you got on your own. But that’s another thing I’ve been looking into. I have a low-income insurance that you should qualify for now, and there are other programs that can help. So I guess that’s actually our first step.”

“I guess we’ll be pretty busy for a while.”

“Yeah, we will.”

Fluttershy sighed. “I’m sorry. I’ve made everything so much more complicated…”

Truth be told, Sunset was dreading dealing with all that as well. She suspected the bulk of the planning and organizing would fall on her, and she was fine with that, but it would be a lot of extra work.

Of course, none of that was Fluttershy’s fault. “Don’t be sorry. Things are going to be complicated, but we’ll get through it together.”

“Thanks, Sunny. I don’t think I could do this without you.”

“There’s just one more thing to figure out.”

Fluttershy frowned. “What’s that?”

“What are we telling our friends?”

Fluttershy’s mouth fell open, then she closed it. She shook her head and looked to Sunset for an answer.

“Obviously they’re going to find out.”

“Yeah…”

Sunset really wanted to not tell anyone for as long as possible, but she didn’t think that would help them. “I think… it would be better to get that out of the way. Then while we’re doing everything, we’ll know we have their support.”

Fluttershy nodded, although she looked as unhappy with that decision as Sunset felt. “You’re right…”

“So… should we tell them one at a time, or all at once?”

Fluttershy thought for a moment. “I could tell Rainbow. She’ll be so angry, but I know she’ll come around. I don’t know about the others.”

“I’ll tell Applejack. Pinkie too, if you want me too. And you know everyone will be behind you.”

“Do you… think they’ll be upset that I want to keep the baby?”

“Of course not,” Sunset said, then she rethought her answer. “Well, I think upset might be the wrong word. I don’t think they’ll all agree. But I think they’ll know it’s your choice, and if not, I’ll be the first to remind them.”

“Thank you again, Sunny.”

“No problem, Shy.”

Fluttershy thought for a moment, and the uncertainty on her face as she spoke suggested she doubted the conclusion she’d reached. “I think… I think I’d rather tell everyone at once. If, uhm, if you think that’d be okay.”

“Sure. I think that’ll be best, actually. Since we both have the day off now, what do you say we invite the others over tonight? Then we can tell them all in private.”

“I think that sounds good. But, uhm…” Fluttershy looked at the clock. “Do you think we should start now? Or do we have time to take a nap first?”

Sunset grinned. For the first time in the conversation, that was unquestionably what she wanted to hear. “I think a nap sounds perfect. It snowed too much last night to ask anyone to come over now anyway.”

Fluttershy stood up, and Sunset was quick to follow as she led them into the bedroom. It only struck Sunset exactly how tired she was when she finally saw the bed. The longing only increased as Fluttershy jumped onto it.

Since Sunset had never changed out of her clothes the night before, she couldn’t get right into bed with Fluttershy. She had to smile as Fluttershy bashfully turned away while she stripped, as if Sunset’s body wasn’t something she had become intimately familiar with.

Although she didn’t mind the idea of being naked around Fluttershy at all, Sunset was still quick to change. It was far too cold to go without clothes unless Fluttershy was dressed to match. Once she was in pajamas of her own, she climbed into bed and quickly found her way under the blanket.

Fluttershy was already holding onto her before she had even managed to lie down completely. It made getting comfortable a little more difficult, but Sunset didn’t mind. They became tangled up in each other as they settled down to sleep, and Sunset felt it again. That same peace from earlier, the certainty that if nothing else was, this was good.

Sleep found both of them with smiles on their faces.


The worst part was waiting for Pinkie to show up. She had to finish her shift at Sugarcube Corner before she was able to head over, which left Sunset and Fluttershy to host Applejack and Rainbow Dash as their anxiety continued to grow.

To make matters worse, both of their guests had been told that there was something big everyone needed to be told, but nothing more than that. So the whole time that they were waiting on Pinkie, everyone was waiting for the big announcement. It was almost bad enough to want to get things out of the way with just the two of them, then fill Pinkie in later.

But they still waited, as difficult as it was. By the time Pinkie knocked on the door, Sunset was practically running over to answer it.

“Pinkie! Glad you made it.”

“Of course I made it, silly!” Pinkie stepped in as Sunset held the door for her. She took off her heavy outer jacket to reveal she was still in her work uniform. “I couldn’t just not show up after you said there was something important to talk about. What if it’s really important, like you discovered a hidden underground city or adopted a dog!?”

Sunset closed the door behind Pinkie and returned to the couch, where she and Fluttershy were sitting. “Those are, uh… good guesses, but not quite what we wanted to talk about.”

“Alright, so what is the secret announcement?” Rainbow asked from the computer desk where she sat.

“Oh, I reckon I’ve got an idea,” Applejack said. She grinned at Sunset, who was pretty sure she knew what Applejack’s idea was.

Rather than sit on the empty seat next to Applejack, Pinkie hung over the back of the couch and popped up between Sunset and Fluttershy. “You two went camping in Everfree National Park, found some magic geodes, and wound up with superpowers!”

“Again, no,” Sunset said as she wondered where Pinkie came up with these outlandish ideas. She turned to Applejack. “And that isn’t why we called everyone here either.”

Applejack smirked knowingly. “Mmhmm.”

Sunset turned to Fluttershy, who looked confused. They hadn’t really talked about what to tell their friends about the two of them, but there was no way it wouldn’t be coming out soon. Sunset could only hope she was making the right move she took Fluttershy by the hand.

“Although since we’re all here… Yes, Fluttershy and I are kind of a thing now.”

“Oh. Em. Gee!” Pinkie wrapped an arm around each of them, pulling them together so she could hug them both at the same time. “This is the best news ever!”

“Ha! I knew it,” Rainbow announced.

“Congratulations,” Applejack said warmly.

Fluttershy blushed and squeaked out a small “Thank you.”

Sunset tried to enjoy this one nice moment before she had to tear it down. She tried, but she was already too nervous to feel any excitement, and a look at Fluttershy proved she wasn’t the only one.

“Thanks, everyone.” Sunset took a deep breath. “But that really isn’t what we wanted to tell you all today. The real news is, well… it’s not really a good surprise.”

Pinkie eased off of them but remained on the back of the couch. Applejack and Rainbow both just waited with concerned expressions. Fluttershy met Sunset’s eyes and gave a nod.

“Before Fluttershy came to live with me, Stormy Skies, her stepfather, raped her.”

Applejack and Pinkie both gasped, while Rainbow just looked on in dumbfounded disbelief. Fluttershy sat silently, staring down at her hands in her lap.

Pinkie was the first to react. She gingerly placed a hand on Fluttershy’s arm, then wrapped both arms around her in a hug from behind.

Rainbow and Applejack stood at the same time, but Rainbow made it to Fluttershy’s side first. She took a seat on the armrest of the couch and, after looking unsure of what to do for a moment, placed one hand around Fluttershy’s shoulder and the other on her hands.

Applejack kneeled in front of the couch, bowing her head and placing her hands with Rainbow’s and Fluttershy’s.

Although there was hardly any room among the others, Sunset still scooted closer so she and Fluttershy were directly side by side.

“Thank you, everyone,” Fluttershy said meekly. “But, uhm… there’s more.”

Everyone looked at Fluttershy, and when she didn’t continue, they looked to Sunset. She bowed her head, unwilling to see their reactions to her next statement. “Shy’s pregnant.”

“Oh fuck…” Rainbow muttered. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said before Sunset could answer. “And, uhm, I want to keep the baby.”

The room went quiet as the words and what they meant sunk into everyone. Sunset willed herself to say something in support of Fluttershy’s decision, to instill confidence in their ability to take care of this child. But she couldn’t. Those words just weren’t in her, not in that moment.

Once again, it was Rainbow who reacted first. “Are you… sure that’s a good idea, Shy?”

“I, uhm…”

“Of course it is,” Pinkie said. “If that’s what Fluttershy wants, then how could it be a bad idea?”

“Thank you, Pinkie.” Fluttershy’s voice sounded thin, but she tempered it as she continued. “I understand why you think it’s not a good idea, Dashie. But I’ve thought about it a lot, and this is what I really want.”

More silence followed. A hand found Sunset’s, and when she looked down she was surprised to see it was orange, not yellow. Applejack had one hand on Fluttershy’s and the other on Sunset’s. The look she gave Sunset was hard to place, but Sunset understood. She was supposed to speak.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Sunset said finally, speaking with a confidence she didn’t feel. “But we can do this. I mean, who can name anyone that would make a better mom than Fluttershy? And if anyone’s stubborn enough to see everything through, well, it’d be Applejack, but I think I’m a pretty close second.”

Although the mood was far too tense for anyone to laugh at Sunset’s joke, at least Fluttershy smiled. That was what was important, after all. Sunset’s number one goal until this child was born had to be taking care of Fluttershy in whatever way she could.

“Well, it ain’t like y’all are doin’ this thing alone,” Applejack said. “You’ve got me and the whole Apple family with ya, you can count on that.”

“Me too!” Pinkie said. “I know all about taking care of babies from babysitting the Cake twins all the time! I’d love to help!”

Rainbow shifted nervously. “I guess I’ll have to learn about babies. But my schedule’s flexible, so I can drive you two around to appointments and stuff. Probably not a good idea to be on the motorcycle anymore.”

Fluttershy was clearly about to cry, so Sunset spoke for her again. “Thanks, everyone. It really means a lot to us.”

“So, uh…” Rainbow scowled. “What about, you know, Stormy Skies?”

“We’re bringing it to court,” Sunset answered. “We’ll know more once we talk to a lawyer, but we won’t let him get away with it.”

Rainbow nodded. “So if that doesn’t work out, arson?”

Sunset wasn’t sure if that joke was really appropriate, but Fluttershy laughed. An actual laugh, which managed to make the others smile as well.

After the reveal, Sunset and Fluttershy were forbidden from doing anything for the rest of the night. Rainbow ran to the store with a list of things to get for Applejack and Pinkie, who made dinner and dessert respectively.

No one talked about Stormy Skies for the rest of the night. Sunset would have thought that the baby wouldn’t come up either, but Pinkie talked excitedly with Fluttershy about her future as a mom. At first, Sunset wasn’t sure that was a good idea, but Fluttershy seemed to feel more and more comfortable as the night went on. Occasionally Applejack and Rainbow would even join in with the baby talk, even if they seemed less sure of it.

Sunset, however? She was much less excited. Sure, she was thrilled that their friends wanted to help them, but she couldn’t help but think about how quickly things were changing and how little she was prepared for it.

It was obvious when Applejack asked Sunset to walk her out to her truck at the end of the night that she had noticed. Of course, Sunset hadn’t exactly been trying to hide it from her. If there was one person Sunset would talk openly about her concerns with, it was Applejack.

“Lots of changes comin’,” Applejack said once they were alone outside.

Sunset shoved her hands in her jacket pocket to try and save them from the chill. It didn’t help much. “Yeah. Things are gonna get pretty interesting around here.”

They reached the truck, but Applejack just leaned against it. “Suppose it goes without saying ya tried to talk her out of it.”

“Yeah. We… actually got into an argument last night…”

Applejack nodded. “Can’t say I blame ya. So, whatcha think now that it’s had time to settle in?”

Sunset mirrored Applejack in leaning against the truck. At least it blocked the wind. “I don’t know. I guess… I’m scared.”

“Course ya are. You’d have to be a damn fool not to be.” Applejack placed a hand on Sunset’s shoulder. “But it’s gonna be alright.”

“You know what the worst part is?” Sunset’s tone grew more bitter than she’d allowed it to be since the night before. “I did the math. Six weeks since her last period means it’s been about four weeks since she got pregnant. She’s been living here for four weeks.”

“So it happened right before she moved here.”

“Yeah. And when I first talked to her about it, she didn’t want to move in with me. She said she’d be fine living where she was. Then something happened that night and she changed her mind.”

Applejack was quiet for a moment, then spoke solemnly. “That was the night, then.”

“Probably. Without getting into a full biology lesson, it could’ve been anytime that week. And I mean, I’m not gonna ask her about it, you know? Not like it matters now anyway.”

“Yeah, ya can’t change what happened.”

“Right. But if it was that night and she just told me about it then… I know she doesn’t want an abortion, but the morning after pill isn’t an abortion, it stops the pregnancy from ever starting. An awkward late night trip to the drug store and fifty bucks could’ve been all it would have taken to keep this from happening.”

“I see what you mean.”

Sunset scowled at the ground, as if she were as angry at it as she was at herself. “I feel awful for thinking that. I mean, fuck, she’s gone through so much already, she really doesn’t need me adding anything negative to that. I just…”

“You’re just upset at the way things turned out. Anyone would be.” How did Applejack say that so calmly, as if Sunset’s fire wasn’t turned in the worst possible direction?

When Sunset’s negativity didn’t relent, Applejack took another approach. “I ever tell you ‘bout when my parents died?”

Sunset looked up at Applejack. Her parents were a sensitive subject in any context, let alone their death. “No.”

“I was so angry. I was angry at them for leaving me. I was angry at Granny and Big Mac for not bein’ able to do anything about it. And I was angry at Apple Bloom for, well, just for existing, I guess. I was just a kid myself, and now suddenly I had to be there to help raise Apple Bloom. Then I had to start helpin’ on the farm. It was a lot to put on a nine-year-old girl who just wanted her parents back. And I know it was hard on everyone else too, and I know Granny and Big Mac did as much as they could to keep me from doin’ more than I had to, but I was still angry.”

Applejack turned to look at Sunset. Although Sunset knew this wasn’t a conversation Applejack would have with anyone else, she still seemed oddly calm. “I’m never gonna know what it would’ve been like to be a kid who didn’t have to grow up faster than she ought to of. And I’m never gonna know what my life would be like now if they were still here. Sure, AB don’t need me no more, least not like she used to, but I still got the farm to take care of. That wasn’t my choice.

“But the thing is, I love the farm. I didn’t at first, I was mad at that too, but now I want it to be my life. And I don’t need to tell you I love Apple Bloom much as anyone ever loved anything. Same for the rest of my family. It took a long time for all that anger to go away, but when it did, I realized that I can spend my life being mad at what could’ve been, or I can like the life I got.

“What I’m sayin’ is I know ya didn’t choose for all this to happen. I think you got every right to be angry about it. And if ya find ya need someone to talk to ‘bout all that anger, I’m always just a phone call away. But I also think once you move past the life you’re leaving behind, you’ll see that this could be the start of a different life worth living.”

Sunset thought about everything Applejack said. She knew it made sense, even if she wasn’t ready to let go of the life that could’ve been just yet. But if that came, it would only come with time. For now, she just had one more question on her mind. “Can I ask you something I already know the answer to?”

“Sure ya can.”

“You’re gonna be there to help me, right?”

Applejack grinned. “Didn’t I just say that inside?”

Sunset turned away. “Yeah, I’m just being dumb.”

Applejack slipped an arm around Sunset’s shoulders and pulled the two of them closer together. “I’m gonna be there for you. You know I will, no matter what.”

Sunset smiled. It was just what she needed to hear. “Thanks, AJ.”

“Shucks, askin’ me to not be there for you and this kid would be askin’ me not to be there for my family. And you know there ain’t no way I could ever leave my family behind.”

Sunset grinned. “Yeah, the world might stop turning.”

Applejack chuckled, then looked off to the side at the snow-covered road. “Well, reckon I should get back home. Think you’ll be okay now?”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah. I think I’ll manage for tonight at least.”

The two of them pulled apart, and Applejack opened the driver-side door as Sunset stepped backwards towards the house. “And Sunset?”

“Yeah?”

“I know ya won’t believe it, but I know you’ll be a damn good mom yourself.”

“You’re right,” Sunset said. “I don’t believe it.”

“You’ll see.” Applejack climbed into the truck. “Call me if ya need anything.”

“Will do. See you later.”

Sunset waved Applejack off as she drove away, then turned around. “Family…” she muttered to herself, then smiled as she walked into the house.

~ End Act I ~

10 – A Life Worth Living

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Act II

Nest Building

Chapter Ten

A Life Worth Living

“Alright, here comes the exciting part!”

Fluttershy smiled, although what she was most excited about was getting to use the bathroom once it was done. They had told her to drink plenty of water an hour before getting to the hospital, and she felt like she was about to burst.

Sunset took hold of her hand and smiled too, which reminded Fluttershy she was focusing too much on the negative. It was a big day, and Fluttershy was excited. She was lying on a hospital bed, she wanted to run to the bathroom, having her stomach exposed made her feel uncomfortable, and yet she couldn’t be more excited. Or terrified. She was definitely equal parts of both.

The sonographer opened a container of gel and applied it to Fluttershy’s stomach. It was cold, but that wasn’t so bad. She would gladly take some cold gel over what they’d wanted to do last time. The transvaginal ultrasound was a standard practice during an eight-week prenatal visit, but Fluttershy had been too uncomfortable to go through with it.

It wasn’t that she hadn’t wanted to. It would give them the first look at the baby and make sure development was going well. Fluttershy had been excited about it, until she learned that the first ultrasound would be done vaginally, since the baby was still far too small to be found through her stomach.

Although she had initially agreed, she’d panicked before they could start. Even with Sunset beside her, flashbacks had left her too terrified to continue. Thankfully, Sunset had been there to be her voice when she found she was unable to communicate herself, and they’d decided that while the eight-week ultrasound was recommended, it wasn’t necessary.

But while that saved Fluttershy from an uncomfortable experience, it also left them in the dark about her baby’s well-being for another month. They had been assured that everything was fine as far as they could tell with other tests, but it had been a month full of regret.

And the wait was finally over. They were at the hospital for Fluttershy’s twelve-weeks prenatal visit, and everything was set up for her first ultrasound.

“And here we go.” The sonographer placed a white device on her stomach, which was connected with a thick cord to a machine. He moved it around in the gel, and an image appeared on the screen across the room.

At first it didn’t look like anything, just a weird fluidy mess in black and white. Then he found what he was looking for, and a small baby was visible in an otherwise black bubble.

Her baby. Fluttershy was looking at her baby for the first time. It was hard to make out individual parts and they didn’t quite look like a regular baby yet, but there they were, alive and healthy.

A cursor appeared on the screen as the sonographer talked about what they were looking at, exactly. “Here’s the head, which is about the same size as the rest of the body at this point. And we can see its little arms and legs here. And – oh!”

The baby suddenly stretched their limbs out, causing the sonographer and Sunset to laugh. Fluttershy was too overcome with emotion to laugh herself, but she smiled broadly.

“And then right here,” the sonographer continued, “this fluttering is its heartbeat.”

“Oh…” Fluttershy watched as a tiny little spot on the screen moved restlessly. “It looks so fast.”

“Let’s see, it’s… 165 beats per minute. That’s good, anywhere between 160 and 180 is what we want. Congratulations, you have a perfectly healthy baby.”

Fluttershy had to pull her hand away from Sunset’s to wipe away tears. She turned to smile at Sunset, and was surprised to find she was doing the same. Although she had never faltered in her promise to be supportive, she had also never seemed excited for the baby herself. And yet, for the first time that Fluttershy could remember, Sunset had to dry her eyes as she watched the screen.

“Do you want to hear it?”

“Oh, can we?” Fluttershy asked.

The sonographer’s grin suggested he knew what the answer would be all along. “Sure!”

He tapped a few buttons and the sound of a tiny little heart beating much faster than Fluttershy had expected played. It didn’t sound quite like a regular heartbeat, even a sped up one. If he hadn’t told her that’s what she was hearing, she probably wouldn’t have known.

But she did know, and it made the tears come again.

“Oh my God…” Fluttershy muttered.

“That’s incredible,” Sunset said quietly once the audio was turned off. She took hold of Fluttershy’s hand again, squeezing it gently.

“So, uhm, is it too soon to tell if they’re a boy or girl?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yeah, afraid so. Maybe next month if we’re lucky, more likely at twenty weeks.”

“Sure does like to move around a lot,” Sunset said. “I think you got a little athlete in there, Shy.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Rainbow will be excited.”

“Let’s get a measurement, shall we?” The sonographer clicked from one end of the baby to the other, making a line the length of the body. “About three inches.”

“So tiny,” Fluttershy said.

The sonographer noticed Sunset holding her fingers apart to try and judge the length and added, “About the size of a small plum right now.”

“Is that normal?” Sunset asked.

“Yup. Everything seems to be right on schedule. You two have nothing to worry about.”

Fluttershy and Sunset turned to each other and beamed. It was exactly the news Fluttershy needed, and from the looks of it, Sunset felt the same way.

“Let’s get you two some pictures.”

The sonographer printed a few pictures from the ultrasound, then wrapped it up. The rest of the visit went about as they expected. The doctor came in to discuss lab results from the previous month’s visit, all of which were good. They talked a bit about what Fluttershy should expect and ways to offset symptoms she was experiencing, and Fluttershy was relieved to learn that the nausea she’d been dealing with for the past few weeks was likely to stop soon.

Once the doctor was finished, they left for the lobby. Fluttershy messaged Applejack to let them know they were done while Sunset made their next appointment.

“Do you want to wait in here, or outside?” Sunset asked once she was done with the receptionist.

Fluttershy looked up from the ultrasound pictures, which she’d barely taken her eyes off of. “It’s a nice day, let’s wait outside.”

Sunset nodded and led them outside. Spring had just arrived, and the air still had a chill to it. But it was warm enough to go without heavy jackets, and they found a nice sunny bench to sit on while they waited for Applejack to pick them up.

Sunset took the chance to look over the ultrasound pictures. “It’s so crazy that you’ve got a kid growing in you.”

Fluttershy smiled and her hands went to her stomach. “I didn’t think seeing them would hit me so hard.”

“Yeah, me either. And hearing the heartbeat and everything, it was just… I don’t even know how to describe it.”

Hearing Sunset sound happy about the child was almost as good as seeing them for the first time. “I can’t wait to meet them.”

Sunset looked away from the pictures to smile at Fluttershy. “Me either.”

Hearing Sunset say that made Fluttershy wanted to lean on her, or hold her hand, or do something else to be close to her, but she was always unsure of doing things like that in public. She would just wait until they were home, where Sunset could be all hers again.

They just had to wait to be picked up. No one wanted Fluttershy on the motorcycle once they learned she was pregnant, so Rainbow had become her usual chauffeur, with Pinkie and Applejack being happy to help as well.

It was good they had three willing friends, since Fluttershy’s schedule had become more hectic in the past month. Once the animal shelter learned she’d have to stop volunteering to find a paying job, they’d been happy to hire her. Now she worked there four days a week, taking on increased clerical responsibilities. Then she still had school to work in, not to mention grocery shopping and doctor’s visits.

Truthfully, she felt more than a little guilty to make the others do so much. But then all she had to do was remember it was for her child, and it was worth it. What was a little guilt to ensure their safety?

They weren’t waiting long before Applejack showed up. Even if the day was warm for early spring, Fluttershy was looking forward to getting home and spending the day relaxing with Sunset.

Applejack waved as they walked up, and Fluttershy made for the back seat.

“Sure you don’t want to take the front?” Sunset asked.

“I’ll be fine in the back. You’re a lot taller than me, you could use the extra leg room.” When Sunset still looked unsure, Fluttershy added, “Sunset, I’m not that fragile yet. I’ll be fine.”

Without waiting for Sunset’s agreement, Fluttershy climbed in the back. Since Applejack drove a pickup truck, the back seat was incredibly small. Even Fluttershy, who was smaller than the rest of her friends, felt a little cramped in it.

Applejack was replying to a message on her phone, but she still greeted Fluttershy. “Howdy, Fluttershy. How’d everything go?”

“It was great,” Fluttershy reported happily as Sunset got in the front. “We got to see the baby and hear their little heartbeat!”

Sunset handed the ultrasound photos to Applejack, who smiled as she looked through them. “Hard to imagine this is inside you. Least it’s a heck of a lot cuter than that thing is,” she said, indicating Sunset.

“You can say that again,” Sunset agreed.

“Hmm, I think they’re both adorable,” Fluttershy said and blushed. She was still getting used to complimenting Sunset, and it was especially strange to do so with others around.

“No accountin’ for taste, I guess.” Applejack handed the photos back to Sunset. She passed them to Fluttershy, who looked them over one more time before putting them in her purse.

Applejack backed out of the parking spot, then shifted into drive and pulled away from the hospital. “Hope y’all aren’t busy, ‘cause we gotta swing back to Sweet Apple Acres for a bit. Got a surprise waitin’ for you two.”

“Oh, you didn’t have to do anything for us,” Fluttershy said.

Applejack grinned. “It’s already done. And just you wait, this is one hell of a surprise.”

“Should I be excited or scared?” Sunset asked.

“You’ll just have to find out. I promised I wouldn’t give y’all a single clue about what’s going on.”

“Oh man, someone else is in on it…” Sunset shook her head. “I’m definitely scared.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing bad. It’s probably, oh…” Fluttershy was cut off when Life is a Runway started playing from her purse. She fished out her phone – a new one on Sunset’s phone plan since she’d been cut off from her old one – and was unsurprised to see Rarity was calling.

“Go ahead and answer,” Applejack said. “Ya know she’s probably beside herself to hear how everything went.”

Fluttershy swiped to answer the phone. “Hi, Rarity.”

“Hello, Fluttershy. How’d everything go with your appointment?”

Fluttershy giggled at how accurate Applejack had been. “Good. The baby and I are both completely healthy.”

“That is such a relief to hear. Of course, I never doubted it, but I’m relieved all the same.”

“Of course. We have pictures from the ultrasound, I’ll send them once we hang up.”

“Oh, I bet they’re already just the most darling little baby ever!”

Fluttershy smiled. “They are.”

“Do you know the gender yet?”

“No, they said maybe next month.”

“Oh, I could see you having such a delightful little girl.”

Fluttershy blushed a little. “To tell the truth, that’s what I’m hoping for, too.”

“Boy or girl, this child is going to be the luckiest little one ever. And I hope you know I fully intend to spoil them rotten.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

Rarity laughed. “Oh, but you make it sound like you have any say in the matter! Fluttershy dear, just try and stop me!”

Fluttershy giggled, happy to see that her little one would have so many people to help take care of her. She couldn’t help but feel like maybe Sunset had been wrong when she said that they didn’t have any family to help them.

“Have you two started thinking of names yet?”

“Rarity, we don’t even know if they’re a boy or girl.”

“So you just come up with one for each! It’s never too early to start thinking about, at least.”

It soon became apparent that at least one person had begun to think about names, and that person was not one of the expecting mothers. Rarity started giving suggestions, complete with the meaning and popularity of each name. Fluttershy didn’t have the heart to tell her she’d rather discuss it with Sunset, so she went along with the conversation.

They talked all the way to Sweet Apple Acres, while Sunset and Applejack talked in the front. Occasionally Fluttershy would relay messages between the other three. It made her long for the days when they could all hang out in person.

Although, when they reached the farm, she saw that they weren’t too far from that. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were already there waiting for them, which Applejack seemed to have expected.

“I think I should get going, we just got to Applejack’s.”

“No need to get off the phone for that,” Applejack said. “In fact, I reckon ya might want to stay on just a bit longer.”

“Really? Why?”

Rarity must have overheard, because she giggled in response. “Oh, you’ll see soon, darling!”

As confused as she was, Fluttershy could only wait to see what was going on. She stayed on the phone as she got out, even though she felt a little rude as she greeted her other friends. No one seemed to question it, though.

“Alright, we’re all here,” Sunset said. “So what’s this big surprise?”

“It’s over in the barn.” Applejack motioned for everyone to follow and led the way.

Pinkie and Rainbow flanked Fluttershy as they walked. “How cute is the baby!?” Pinkie asked.

Rather than answer, Fluttershy pulled out the ultrasound photos. Pinkie squealed in delight. “Ooh! I think she’s a little girl!”

Rainbow cocked her head to the side. “I think it’s an alien.”

“Oh hush,” Fluttershy said, placing a hand on her stomach. “Boy or girl, they’re adorable.”

Pinkie bent down to speak directly to Fluttershy’s stomach. “How you doing in there? Oh, I just can’t wait to meet you! And I’ll throw you the bestest, softest, and quietest ‘welcome to the world’ party ever once you’re out!”

Sunset laughed. “Pinkie, even if the baby could hear through Shy’s stomach, it doesn’t even have ears yet.”

Fluttershy placed a hand on her stomach. She had gained a little weight, although that was apparently only her own body bulking up in preparation for the baby, which wouldn’t even weigh a full ounce yet. She was still weeks away from a pronounced baby bump, but seeing her little one inside of her reinforced the fact that they were there.

“Even if they can’t hear yet, I think they appreciate being around people that love them.”

“I don’t care what it takes,” Rarity said, “I’m going to find a way to come see this child once they’re born.”

“I’m guessing that’s another thing I won’t be able to stop you from doing?”

“It most certainly is.”

Fluttershy couldn’t find it in her to argue. She could hardly think of anything she’d want more than having all of her friends together to see her new baby.

“Okay, we’re at the barn now,” Fluttershy told Rarity.

“Ooh! This is exciting!”

“Rainbow, wanna get the other side?” Applejack asked.

“Sure.” Rainbow grabbed hold of one barn door while Applejack took the other.

“Wait!” Rarity said. “Tell them to hold on a moment!”

“Uhm, Rarity said not to open it yet.”

Everyone turned to Fluttershy in confusion, but she didn’t know what to tell them.

“We’re going to do this on a video call! I simply have to see the two of you once they open the doors.”

Fluttershy agreed and hung up the phone. A moment later, she received an incoming video call from Rarity. She answered it to see Rarity sitting at a desk surrounded by sketches and bits of fabric. It was clear that this was a last minute decision as she hadn’t bothered to do her hair or makeup, but she was smiling excitedly all the same.

“Hey, Rarity,” Sunset said from over Fluttershy’s shoulder. “Long time no see.”

“Sunset, it’s so good to see you, darling. And Fluttershy too, of course. We really ought to video call more often, you know.”

“We should,” Fluttershy said. “But uhm, should we open the barn now?”

“Oh yes! I’ve been waiting all month for this!”

“All month?” Fluttershy repeated, but no one explained.

Instead, Rainbow and Applejack each took hold of one of the doors. Pinkie took the phone from Fluttershy, then stood back so that she could better capture the couple’s reaction to whatever was inside.

“On three,” Applejack said. “One… two… three!”

They opened the doors, and all Fluttershy and Sunset could do was stare dumbfounded.

“Surprise!” everyone yelled.

Inside the barn was a silver, mid-sized sedan. It looked fairly new, only a few years old at most, and it was in great condition.

While Fluttershy and Sunset were still standing with their mouths hanging open, Applejack walked over, pulled a key out of her pocket, and pressed it into Sunset’s hand.

“Happy every gift for all eternity!” Rainbow said.

“Don’t be like that, Dashie,” Pinkie chided. “Rarity paid for most of it.”

“You…” Fluttershy shook her head. “You all…”

“No fucking way…” Sunset mumbled. She composed herself faster than Fluttershy could and turned to address Applejack. “There’s no way we can accept this.”

“ ‘Fraid you’ll have to take that one up with Rares, then.”

Sunset turned towards Pinkie and the phone. “Rarity, we can’t –”

“You can, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

“But we –”

“Sunset Shimmer.” Rarity’s tone became fierce. “You are not even going to consider telling me that your pride is more important than Fluttershy and the child’s safety.”

“No, of course not! But I –”

“Good, that’s what I thought!” Rarity quickly shifted back to modesty. “And really, we all did our part.”

“It was so hard not to tell you two!” Pinkie said. She looked like she might start jumping up and down if she wasn’t still holding the phone.

“Thank you all so much,” Fluttershy said before Sunset could continue to protest anymore. “This is… it’s just incredible!”

Rainbow walked behind Fluttershy and Sunset and gently pushed them towards the barn. “We gonna sit here and talk about the car, or are we gonna go take a look at it!”

Everyone followed them into the barn, where Rainbow wasted no time in telling them about the car, mostly involving details Fluttershy didn’t understand. What she was able to gather was that it had been used, but it wasn’t very old and didn’t seem to have any problems. It was an ideal car for a small family, with a roomy back seat and plenty of trunk space. They’d kept their budget in mind, making sure it was very fuel efficient.

And despite Sunset’s protests, they were told the monthly payments would be completely taken care of so they could focus on saving money for the baby. The only thing they’d have to worry about was day to day maintenance and insurance, which Applejack made sure they knew she and the others could pay for if it was an issue.

“I’m so happy you both like it,” Rarity said. “Now I should get going, and I’m sure poor Pinkie doesn’t want to carry around a phone all day.”

“I don’t mind!” Pinkie leaned over the phone rather than turning it, so that to Rarity, she’d appear upside down. “It’s like you’re a little robot companion that I can carry around with me everywhere I go!”

“Er, right. But I really must be on my way, I’ve got my hands full with work these days.”

“Thank you so much, Rarity,” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah, this is seriously the coolest thing anyone’s ever done for me.” Sunset placed an arm around Fluttershy’s shoulder. “Well, for us. You know what I mean.”

“Of course. Do let me know how everything goes with the car, and don’t forget to send me those pictures!”

“Oh! Here, I’ll show you before you go.” Fluttershy pulled out the pictures and held them up to the phone for Rarity to see.

“Aww! So precious already!”

“Cutest baby ever!” Pinkie exclaimed.

“Cutest alien, maybe,” Rainbow muttered.

“I heard that, Rainbow!” Rarity barked, then cleared her throat. “In any event, I shall let you go. Best of luck on putting up with Rainbow.”

Fluttershy giggled. “I think we’ll manage. Talk to you later.”

“Until next time then. Bye!” Rarity hung up, and Fluttershy took her phone from Pinkie. Even though she’d just shown Rarity the photos, she still took a moment to take a picture of each one, then sent them to Rarity.

By the time she was done, the others were all back to focusing on the car. Fluttershy joined them to find they were discussing taking it on a test drive.

“Alright, that’s enough of that baby,” Rainbow said, gesturing to Fluttershy’s stomach. “It’s time to see what this baby can do!”

“I haven’t driven a car since drivers ed, like three years ago,” Sunset pointed out. “I think it’ll be a little while before we’re seeing what anything can do.”

“That’s okay, we can all just go for a nice drive around the block,” Pinkie suggested.

Rainbow sighed. “Fine. But I call shotgun!”

“I think it’s only fair that Fluttershy gets shotgun,” Applejack said. “It is her car too, ya know.”

“Oh, I don’t mind sitting in the back,” Fluttershy said. “You all were the ones who bought it, it’s only fair that one of you should ride in the front.”

“Actually, maybe it’s better if you wait here,” Sunset suggested awkwardly. “I haven’t driven in a really long time, so it might be kind of a bumpy ride. And, you know, we gotta be careful with the baby.”

Fluttershy frowned. “That’s just silly. I’m not that far along yet, I’ll be fine.”

Sunset took hold of Fluttershy’s hands. “I just think it’d be better to not take any chances.”

“But…”

“Promise it’ll be quick, then we’ll come back and get you.”

Fluttershy sighed. “Okay.”

“Be back before you know it!” Sunset smiled excitedly as she climbed in behind the steering wheel.

At least Rainbow was happy. “Okay, now I call shotgun!”

Applejack chuckled as she climbed into the back seat. “Guess some people never grow up.”

Rather, then getting in after Applejack, Pinkie stood beside Fluttershy. “I’ll wait here with Shy. Drive safe!”

“You really don’t have to stay,” Fluttershy said.

Pinkie shrugged. “It’s just a car ride around the block, no big deal.”

Fluttershy knew Pinkie was just saying that to make her feel better, but it worked, so she smiled appreciatively. Sunset started the car and drove cautiously out of the barn. Pinkie waved them off, but Fluttershy didn’t bother.

“Thank you for staying with me,” Fluttershy said once they were gone. Her hand reached to her locket, which she’d taken to wearing at almost all times.

“Aww, I’m happy to! Wanna go for a walk while we wait for the others?”

“That sounds nice.”

They left the barn and walked leisurely around Sweet Apple Acres, enjoying the sunny day. Fluttershy continued to toy with her locket as they walked. She had removed both pictures inside of it, placing a small picture of her and Sunset on one side and leaving the other blank. That was where she’d put a picture of Sky Shimmer once she was born.

The locket reminded Fluttershy what she had to look forward to, as well as of the good things she already had. But still, she couldn’t quite feel content after what had just happened. It was a nice day, and Pinkie did have a point that all she was missing out on was a drive around the block. But while she was blown away by her friends’ generosity, it wasn’t even that she was that excited to ride in the new car.

Just that Sunset hadn’t wanted her to. That no one argued against it. That she was already sick of being treated like she was going to break if the smallest thing happened, and she wasn’t even a third of the way through this pregnancy.

“Guess things will be a lot more convenient for you two now,” Pinkie said.

“Yeah. It’ll be nice to not have to bother everyone for rides so much.”

“Aww, none of us mind at all.”

“I know. But it’s nice to be able to do things on our own.” A slight breeze picked up, making it hard to keep the hair out of her face. “I wonder if Sunset will help me practice driving. It’s been a long time since driver’s ed.”

“Sure she will! I bet you’ll get back into the swing of it in no time!”

Fluttershy want to believe that. But when she thought about it…

“Sorry, Shy, it’s just not good for the baby. Maybe after they’re born? Well, I guess then you’ll have a newborn to take care of, so maybe not then…”

But Fluttershy didn’t want to complain to Pinkie, so she smiled instead. “Maybe, but Sunset’s busy with work and making sure we have everything planned for our schedules.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean.” Pinkie shrugged. “I’ll take you then!”

“What?”

“Well, you have your permit at least, right?”

“I do, but I don’t have my license yet.”

“No problem! I have mine, and you can drive as long as you have a licensed driver with you.”

Fluttershy wondered what Sunset would say about that. She wanted to practice driving and get her license so that Sunset and their friends wouldn’t have to drive her everywhere, but she didn’t want to do it without Sunset’s approval.

“Maybe. I’ll talk to Sunset first and see if she thinks she’ll have time to take me.”

“Oki doki.”

It wasn’t long before the others returned. Sunset seemed to be feeling a little more confident about being behind the wheel of a car again, as she pulled up next to them less cautiously than she had pulled out of the barn.

The driver window rolled down and Sunset grinned at Fluttershy. “Hey, good looking. Fancy going for a spin?”

Fluttershy couldn’t help but laugh, and any lingering disappointment about being made to wait left. “Why that sounds lovely, thank you, miss.”

“Well, hop in and I’ll show you a good – Rainbow, what the hell are you doing!?”

Rather than get out of the car, Rainbow decided it’d be easier to climb over the seats into the back, kicking Sunset in the process. “Sorry!”

Sunset rubbed her head and glared at Rainbow, so Fluttershy took the chance to walk up and plant a kiss on her cheek through the open window. Sunset blushed in surprise, but it worked to distract her from Rainbow.

“Aww, ain’t that just the sweetest thing!” Applejack said in an overly exaggerated voice. Sunset flipped her off in response.

Fluttershy walked around the car to get to the passenger seat. Pinkie opened the back door, but rather than sit on the end, she decided on the Rainbow Dash method. “I call middle!” she declared, then climbed over Rainbow to get there.

“Wait, Pinkie – Ow! That was my foot!”

“Sorry, Dashie.” Pinkie smiled innocently as she took her seat. She buckled up, then put an arm each around Rainbow and Applejack. “Now, let’s get this show on the road!”

Sunset gave an exaggerated eye roll, which ended in a head tilt towards Fluttershy. “So if you never knew, all our friends are first graders.”

Fluttershy giggled. “I guess that just means watching over them will be good practice.”

Sunset laughed. “Yeah, good point. Where to?”

Pinkie seemed to take the first grader comment to heart, as she started chanting, “Ice cream! Ice cream!”

Unfortunately, so did the others, as Applejack and Rainbow Dash did the same.

Sunset facepalmed. “Don’t make me turn this car around!”

“Uhm, we haven’t left yet,” Fluttershy pointed out. “But uh… ice cream does sound nice. I could pay.”

It was easy to see that Sunset wanted to argue against Fluttershy’s offer to pay, but she held her tongue. “Fine. Ice cream it is.”

“Yay!” Everyone cheered, Fluttershy included.

Sunset just shook her head and pulled away, and tried not to laugh when Pinkie asked, “Are we there yet?”


The five friends had a fun afternoon. Despite Fluttershy’s offer, she only wound up paying for herself and Sunset, as everyone else wound up buying their own treats. Sunset clearly still felt a little uncomfortable having someone else pay for her, even if that someone else was Fluttershy, but it was a really nice feeling to be able to pay for things here and there after being dependent on others for so long.

After ice cream, they brought the others back to Sweet Apple Acres, then went their separate ways. It had been fun to spend time with everyone, and Fluttershy wasn’t sure she’d ever be over the amazing surprise their friends had given them, but she was still looking forward to relaxing at home with Sunset.

Since she didn’t have a driveway or full-sized garage, Sunset pulled up to the curbside in front of the house. She didn’t leave immediately.

“They bought us a car…” Sunset said, still in disbelief. “How are we ever going to be able to repay that?”

Fluttershy took Sunset’s hand. “Isn’t that what I said when you invited me to live with you?”

“Yeah, but that was different.” Sunset didn’t seem entirely too sure what made that different.

“They bought us a car because they care about us. They know we’ll do what we can if any of them ever need help.”

“It’s just… I can’t believe it.”

Fluttershy smiled. “That’s what love is like, Sunny.”

Sunset looked up at Fluttershy, unable to find words to say. ‘Love’ wasn’t a word Sunset used often, not about other people. But there was no denying that’s what they’d found with their friends, and they’d never had more evidence of that.

Without giving a proper reply, Sunset opened her door and got out. Fluttershy did the same, and Sunset made sure the doors were locked before closing hers. Even though they had just heard all the doors lock, she still checked the handle just in case.

Fluttershy led them inside, using the key they’d finally found time to make to open the door. She was about to suggest dinner, but Sunset had barely closed the door behind them before hugging her from behind.

Occasionally Sunset’s hands would rest on Fluttershy’s stomach, but she was always unsure if that was on purpose or just because it was a natural place for the taller woman’s hands to reach. But this time, when Sunset held her, there was no denying that she very purposefully placed her hand right in the middle of Fluttershy’s stomach.

Fluttershy placed her own hands on top of Sunset’s. “Want to go lie down for a bit?”

“Alright.”

Although Sunset let go of Fluttershy’s stomach, she kept hold of her hand as they walked into the bedroom. They sat on the bed for long enough to get their shoes off, then they both lay down on it, with Fluttershy taking her usual spot on the inside.

Once again, Sunset’s placed her hand on Fluttershy’s stomach as they were lying down. It was even more obviously intentional than when they were standing. It made Fluttershy smile, knowing that Sunset was finally coming around to the baby.

“Sorry about not taking you on the first car trip, I… could tell it bothered you.”

“Oh, uhm…” Fluttershy wasn’t sure what to say.

“It’s just… After seeing the ultrasound and everything, the whole thing feels so much more real now.”

Fluttershy smiled. “I didn’t expect you to cry.”

“I didn’t cry!”

“Oh? It must’ve been raining.”

Sunset blushed. “I… may have gotten a little misty eyed. Just a little.”

Fluttershy laughed. “Of course.”

They both let the gentleness of the moment sink in for a bit. Their lives had become hectic, and even with the car, that was only going to increase. But this moment? It was perfect.

“It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?” Sunset asked.

It was clear she was talking about the baby, and Fluttershy thought so too. They were only as big as a small plum, but they were growing fast inside of her. In six more months, they’d be born, and Fluttershy would be a mama.

She thought of that, but she also thought of so much more. She thought of their friends, and the gift they’d given. She thought of Sunset, and the way things felt when they were together. She thought of their future as moms, and as lovers.

She thought of her life, and everything it had and would become. “Yeah,” she said finally. “It really is amazing.”

11 – Parents and Their Children

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Chapter Eleven

Parents and Their Children

More often than not, Sunset found that waiting was the worst part of any bad experience. By her nature, she was always compelled to do things – if there was an obstacle in her way, she would do what was needed to resolve the conflict. And while waiting was a regular part of getting things done, she hated the feeling that she was at the mercy of time.

For once, however, the usual feeling of restlessness was augmented with just enough fear at the meeting to come that she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted the wait to be over. It wasn’t even that she expected the meeting would go poorly, and it was an important meeting that would likely prove very helpful for her and Fluttershy.

But there was more to it than that. On the other side of the door was more than an office that would hold an awkward meeting; Sunset’s past was on the other side of it. And Sunset did not like facing her past.

“Nervous?” Fluttershy asked.

At least she didn’t have to face it alone. Sunset put on a smile that she didn’t really feel. “Just a little. You?”

Fluttershy turned her eyes downward. “Yes.”

Sunset placed her hand on Fluttershy’s. “It’ll be okay. Trust me.”

“I do.”

The door opened, and Sunset turned to face her past.

“Hello, Sunset.” Violet Dusk held the door open for them. “Please come in.”

Sunset swallowed her nervousness and smiled as she and Fluttershy entered the office. “Hi, Violet. It’s been a while.”

“Yes, it has.” Violet shut the door behind them and took a seat at a desk across the room. It was Sunset’s first time in the office, having always met with Violet elsewhere when she was a regular client. It wasn’t particularly large, but was kept open by having her desk pressed up against a wall, which also served to place Violet on the same side of it as Sunset and Fluttershy were.

There were several seats in various locations around the room, allowing them to choose where they wanted to be. Sunset chose the seat nearest the desk, and Fluttershy sat on one beside her.

Violet was the first to speak once they were all seated. “Who’s your friend here?”

“This is Fluttershy, my girlfriend.” Fluttershy blushed a little and failed to meet Violet’s eyes as Sunset introduced them. Even after the past few months, it wasn’t often they referred to each other as girlfriends. “And Fluttershy, this is Violet Dusk, my social worker.”

“Former social worker,” Violet corrected, seemingly unfazed by the fact that Sunset was in a same-sex relationship. “And while I’ll be happy to help you if I can, I hope you realize I work exclusively with minors.”

“I know, and this is about a child.” Sunset looked to Fluttershy, who was still not quite looking at either of the others. “The thing is… Fluttershy’s pregnant. The two of us are going to raise the child, no issues there, but, well… it’s complicated.”

“Things in my field often are.” Violet smirked. “And things with you always are.”

That made Sunset smile and dissipated some of her anxiety. The familiarity between them hadn’t vanished in the months that Sunset had stopped being Violet’s client, it seemed.

Which was good, because things were about to get heavy. “Fluttershy was raped by her stepfather. He’s the, well, that’s how she’s pregnant.”

“I see. That’s terrible, I’m very sorry you had to go through that. I hope you’re getting the support you need.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Sunset’s been wonderful, and our other friends are supportive too.”

“We’re pressing charges,” Sunset continued. “It won’t be for a while, but we have a court hearing scheduled.”

Violet nodded. “That’s good to hear, at least. Most people in your situation never do. And I take it you think I can help in some way?”

“I know you probably can’t do anything with the trial itself, but there’s something else. The only evidence we really have is that a DNA test will prove he’s the father.” Fluttershy was uncomfortable at the mention of Stormy Skies being the father, as she always was, so Sunset took hold of her hand. “And… we’re worried what that’ll mean if he wins the court case.”

“Yes, that’s understandable. If you prove he’s the father and he’s found not guilty, then you realize he’ll have a claim to custody of the child.”

“That can’t happen,” Fluttershy said, surprising even Sunset.

Violet didn’t react to Fluttershy’s outburst; she was no doubt used to much worse. “You should keep in mind that there are a lot of variables that could stop that from ever happening. To start with, do you have any other family that could testify to his behavior?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “No. My mom died, and I don’t even know what happened to my biological father. I never had any family besides my mom and stepfather.”

“It still might not even come to a court case at all, at least not for you two. If he decides to accept a guilty plea bargain before the case, you won’t even need to be involved.”

“He’s already denied his guilt,” Sunset said.

“Alright. Then of course, if the court finds him guilty he’ll be sentenced with jail time and would never be able to win a custody battle even once he was out. But perhaps most importantly, do you think he’d want to get custody of the child?”

Both Violet and Sunset turned to Fluttershy, who seemed to be less sure than when she made her outburst moments before. “I… I don’t know. He… he doesn’t even like children, so maybe not, but…”

“But you want to be sure,” Violet finished. “Understandable, but if all else fails, remember that most people in his position would probably want as little to do with the child as possible. It’s unlikely your fears will come to pass.”

Violet drummed her fingers on the table as she thought for a moment. “How old are you, Fluttershy?”

“Nineteen.”

“So then statutory can’t be used. But of course you wouldn’t be asking for my help if it were that simple.”

“Uhm…” Fluttershy fidgeted in her seat. “He did… It wasn’t the first time. It started when I was fifteen.”

Sunset had to fight from showing her surprise. This was the first time Fluttershy had mentioned that. Her surprise was short lived as it quickly incinerated into anger, which she also held inside.

Violet’s calm would have been frustrating from anyone else, but it was exactly what Sunset had come to expect from the stoic woman. “That’s definitely something to bring up in court. Really, any ammunition you can use against him. Stacking the charges up could sway him into taking a guilty plea on only the most recent accusation if you’ll drop the others.”

“He should pay for all of it,” Sunset said without really meaning to.

“Of course he should. But you can risk it all to get everything that should be, or you can try to make the best out of what’s realistically attainable.”

Sunset knew Violet was right, but couldn’t quite accept it just yet. Not until Fluttershy reminded her what was most important. “I just want him gone before the baby gets here.”

Sunset took a deep breath. “Yeah. Of course.”

“In the worst case scenario where he doesn’t take the plea bargain, is found not guilty, and decides to press for custody, do you have any way to argue he would be an unfit parent? Aside from the obvious, of course. Criminal history, some record of violence, unemployment, anything like that.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “He could be violent, but I don’t think I could prove that.”

“He’s an alcoholic,” Sunset said, then turned to Fluttershy. “You said he’s drunk all the time, right?”

“Well, yeah, but that’s not illegal.”

“It’s still good to keep in mind,” Violet said. “Substance abuse problems are a big reason parents lose custody, and in a situation where he doesn’t currently have custody to begin with, it’s even more likely to work in your favor.”

“Do you think that will be enough?” Fluttershy asked.

“It certainly could be. The hard part will be proving it, but at least you don’t need to have that evidence now. If it comes to that, child services can get involved in assessing his living situation.”

“Is there anything you can do if that happens?” Sunset asked.

Violet smiled. “In fact, there is. For as long as this is a sexual assault case involving only adults, I can’t do anything more than a few recommendations. But if this becomes a child services matter, I should be able to take the case. Don’t worry, I’m quite good at getting results for this sort of thing. I’ll give him some hell.”

It was oddly comforting to hear Violet sound so sure. It didn’t erase Sunset’s worries, but it did take the edge off of them. She wondered if this was what Fluttershy meant when she said she felt safer around Sunset.

“Thanks, Violet, it’s a huge relief. This whole situation has been pretty intense.” Sunset ran a hand through her hair. “We’re trying to get used to the idea of being parents at the same time that we’re trying to deal with all this other shit.”

“You’re welcome, and I’m glad you called me. But Sunset?”

“Yeah?”

“As a parenting tip, you might want to get used to watching your language.”

Sunset and Fluttershy both laughed. “We’re working on it,” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah,” Sunset agreed. “We don’t want our kid talking like I did when I was younger.”

“You always did have quite the vocabulary.”

The reminder made Sunset smile. As far as she could recall, it was the first time she had ever enjoyed reminiscing a little about her past. Perhaps that was what drove out the question she’d always wondered. “Do you have kids of your own, Violet?”

As soon as Violet smiled, Sunset knew the answer. It was the sort of practiced smile that someone who had answered the same question time and again would wear. “I’ve helped dozens of kids, probably hundreds. Some of them, like you, I was there for almost their entire childhood. But no, I’ve never had kids of my own.”

“Aww, why not? I think you’d be pretty good at it.”

Perhaps just because it was Sunset, Violet’s grin became a little more genuine. “Of course I’m good with kids, especially in handling stressful situations. But you know as well as anyone that I’m not good at emotional support.”

“Well, what about your husband? Couldn’t he handle that?” Sunset shrugged. “I don’t mean to pry or anything, but it’s just something I’ve always wondered about you.”

Violet’s grin faded a little in confusion. “When have you ever heard me say anything about having a husband?”

Sunset realized she hadn’t, which actually caused her to grin more. “Wait, don’t tell me you have a wife then?”

“I’ve never been married, Sunset.”

Now Sunset was the confused one. “Really? But you’ve been ‘Mrs.’ Dusk ever since I met you.”

Realization brought Violet’s smile back. “Oh, that. It’s an old joke some friends at work started. They said I would never settle down because I was already married to my job. So I decided, sure, why not. I’ll be Mrs. Dusk, married to social work.”

Although she should’ve found the joke and Violet’s years-long dedication to it amusing, Sunset was more preoccupied with the fact that she had never known that. She’d never so much as bothered to learn basic details about Violet’s life, and she had been one of the most important and present people for Sunset when she was growing up at New Horizons Home for Children.

It was exactly why Sunset hated looking into her past. Every time she did, there was just reminders that she had been so preoccupied with being an awful person that she had let an entire life pass her by without much notice.

That would be one more thing Sunset held inside. “Wow, guess I was pretty wrong on that one.”

At least Violet didn’t think much of it. “With our relationship being what it was, there was never much of a reason for you to know about my home life.”

“Well, for whatever it’s worth, I think you’re wrong. I always thought you’d be an amazing parent.” Sunset found herself glancing down to the floor. “And to tell you the truth, when I was little… I think a part of me kind of hoped you’d decide to adopt me someday.”

Violet was not an emotionally expressive woman. There was no big show of surprise or sentimentality in her voice at Sunset’s revelation. Still, after years of knowing her, Sunset could tell there was something there in her voice when she spoke. “I see. Well, I’m very flattered that you felt that way, Sunset. I don’t think I ever could have been what you needed in a full-time guardian, however. Besides, you know there was always someone else who tried her best to be exactly that for you.”

Sunset knew exactly who Violet was talking about. “Yeah, I know.”

“Have you spoken with her recently?”

Sunset shook her head. “No. Not since I got my own place. How’s she doing?”

“Unfortunately, I’ve been out of touch as well. None of my kids are staying at New Horizons at the moment. You’ll just have to go see Miss Rose for yourself, I’m afraid.”

So much had changed, and yet, here they were again. How many times had Violet suggested Sunset visit Rose Petal? But how could she? Sunset had manipulated then abandoned her the first chance she got.

But what she said was, “Yeah, you’re right.”

Sunset felt a little bad for Fluttershy, who probably felt awkward at being around for such a strange and sentimental conversation. But when she turned to face her, Fluttershy smiled contently.

“As nice as it’s been to see you again,” Violet said, “I need to prepare for meeting a client.”

“Alright. Thanks again, Violet. It really means a lot to me.”

“To both of us,” Fluttershy added.

Violet stood up to see them out. “It was nice meeting you, Fluttershy. I’m sorry it wasn’t under better circumstances.”

Fluttershy smiled as they left the room. “It was nice to meet you too.”

“Keep me posted on how things go.”

“Will do,” Sunset said.

Violet waved them off, then closed the door to her office.

They saw themselves out of the building before either of them spoke. Sunset wasn’t really sure what to say after the conversation, but she was saved from trying when Fluttershy picked it up. “She seemed pretty sure that things would work out.”

“Yeah, and Violet’s really good at her job. I feel a lot better knowing she’s on our side.”

They approached the car, and Sunset automatically went to the driver’s side

“Uhm…” Fluttershy fidgeted in place. “You said I could drive home.”

“Oh, right! Sorry, slipped my mind.” Sunset handed Fluttershy the keys, then walked around to the passenger side. She would have preferred it slip Fluttershy’s mind as well.

They had been going on driving lessons since getting the car a week ago, and it always made Sunset incredibly nervous. It wasn’t that Fluttershy was a bad driver or anything. True, she was inexperienced and out of practice, but she was cautious and remained aware of her surroundings at all times.

It did make a lot of sense for Fluttershy to learn to drive, and it would make things much easier on days when they both needed to work. But there was no accounting for other drivers. One wrong move, one lapse in attention, one failure to respond in a split second window and that could be it.

And while most car accidents were minor and very few were fatal, right now their future child was just a fetus. Fluttershy did have a point whenever she reminded Sunset that she was still early in her pregnancy and didn’t need to be extra careful yet, but a car accident could still put their child in serious danger.

Sunset did her best to keep all these thoughts inside as she entered the car and put on her seatbelt. Meanwhile, Fluttershy had already adjusted her seat and had moved on to the mirrors, taking the time to make sure each one was perfect.

Fluttershy smiled at Sunset, then shifted into reverse. She backed out of the parking space very slowly, constantly keeping an eye on the cars beside them. Only when she was absolutely sure that she wouldn’t hit either did she turn the wheel, and even then, she somehow managed to go even slower while she finished backing out at an angle.

Her caution did help Sunset feel a little better, but it had never been Fluttershy’s driving that worried her. The real trouble would only start once they were out on the road.

Fluttershy shifted into drive and carefully straightened out, then eased out of the parking lot. She remembered to put on her blinker and look carefully in both direction for other cars or pedestrians, but Sunset still found herself gripping the armrest tightly as she pulled out.

Their house wasn’t terribly close to Violet’s office. Sunset had barely thought anything of the distance on the way up, but now she realized she was in for a very long car ride. All she could do is smile, tell Fluttershy she was doing just fine, and try to find some comfort in the words herself.


Sunset had barely let go of the armrest by the time they arrived home. The forty-minute drive took Fluttershy an hour because she stayed below the speed limit and was overly cautious when making turns, but it felt even longer than that.

“You did really good,” Sunset told her as they pulled up to the house. And she had, there was no denying that Sunset’s concerns had been largely unfounded. Of course, they’d be back next time Fluttershy was behind the wheel, whether they were reasonable or not.

“Thanks, Sunny.” Fluttershy pulled up to the curb and craned her neck to see it better. “Uhm, am I close enough?”

Sunset looked out of her window and could easily see the road in between them and the curb. “You can get closer.”

Fluttershy shifted into reverse and scooted just the tiniest bit closer as she backed up. Now that there weren’t other drivers around to make her nervous, Sunset found her extreme caution amusing.

Sunset opened her door so she could see better and help guide Fluttershy in. “Closer… Closer.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, just a bit more.”

In the end, Fluttershy still could have gotten closer, but Sunset decided it was good enough. “Alright, you’re good here. Just, uh, you might want to pull up a bit now.”

As she had inched ever closer to the curb, Fluttershy had been continuously backing up, to the point where they were now in between their house and their neighbor’s. Fluttershy frowned and pulled ahead. In the process, the front tires wound up a little further from the curb than the back ones, but Sunset didn’t bother to tell her to straighten out.

The engine cutting off brought relief to Sunset. And, judging by Fluttershy’s sigh, she felt the same way. “Good job, Shy.”

Fluttershy gave a weary smile. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to driving.”

“You’ll get the hang of it soon. Trust me.”

“If you say so.” Fluttershy unbuckled and left the car, so Sunset followed her lead.

“How long until you have to get ready for work?” Sunset asked once they were inside.

Fluttershy checked the time on her phone. “I’ve got about three hours, so no hurry. Want me to make something for lunch?”

Sunset kissed Fluttershy on the head then walked to the kitchen. “I’ll make something. You should spend your time relaxing, you’re the one who has work.”

Fluttershy followed Sunset. “Oh, I don’t mind.”

“Neither do I.” Sunset shrugged. “What do you want to eat?”

“I’m not too hungry. Feeling a little dizzy.”

Sunset frowned. “Then you definitely don’t need to make lunch. Take it easy, Shy, I’m not as helpless as you think I am.”

Although Fluttershy may or may not have believed that, she did at least take a seat. “Maybe just something small, like a sandwich.”

“Grilled cheese alright?”

“Sounds perfect.”

Sunset turned on a stove burner and placed a pan on it, then got out the bread, butter, and cheese.

While she cooked, Sunset thought about the conversation with Violet. Particularly, Fluttershy’s statement that she’d been raped before. She wanted to talk to Fluttershy about that, to find out why she hadn’t ever told Sunset before, but she didn’t know what to say. What could she possibly do in the wake of the hell that Fluttershy had endured? Sunset could never take away that pain, and talking about it might only make things worse.

Whatever she could do, she decided she could do it another time. Fluttershy had work later, and Sunset didn’t want her dwelling on memories brought up by an uncomfortable conversation the whole time she was there. The pressing danger had long since past, and they weren’t going to resolve any lingering issues in one conversation before Fluttershy left for work.

It seemed that only one of them had decided not to bring up the past, however. “I, uhm, I never knew you were adopted.”

Sunset flipped the grilled cheese. “I wasn’t. No one wanted to adopt the problem child.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…”

Sunset shrugged and turned to face Fluttershy. “It’s fine. I wasn’t ever really sure if I wanted to be adopted, anyway.”

Fluttershy looked hesitant as she spoke again. “So, uhm… Who was the person you and Violet talked about then?”

“Rose Petal. She was a caretaker at New Horizons, where I lived.”

Fluttershy fidgeted in her seat, so Sunset chuckled. “It’s really fine, Shy. I’m not like, super torn up about growing up in an orphanage or anything.”

“It’s not that, it’s just, uhm…” Fluttershy brushed her hair out of her face and forced herself to make eye contact. “I never knew about any of that. Or… anything at all about you before CHS.”

Sunset decided to turn her attention back to the grilled cheese. “You know I’m from Equestria.”

“Yeah, but… You never talk about it. It’s like… Sometimes I still feel like I hardly know you.”

There was a point to be made about Sunset not being the only one hiding from her past, but she knew better than to make it. “It’s just a lot of really awkward stuff. I mean, it’s kinda hard to feel normal when talking about how I’m really a magic horse from another dimension.”

“Even…” Fluttershy trailed off, and didn’t answer until Sunset turned to look at her. Even then, she was no longer looking at Sunset. “Even with me?”

It could be said that it was especially awkward with Fluttershy, at least one detail. So Sunset didn’t answer right away. Instead, she got a plate and scooped the grilled cheese onto it. She set that in front of Fluttershy, before pouring her a glass of milk to go with it.

She waited until she had another grilled cheese going before talking. “I have a complicated past.” She took a deep breath. “But sure, I can tell you about it.

“When I first came to this world, I pretended like I had amnesia so I wouldn’t have to make up a believable story. They wound up putting me in New Horizons, where I grew up. I had already been a brat before coming here, but growing up in a world that was so different and where no one would ever believe me didn’t do anything to make me a better person. I had difficulty connecting with others, especially kids.”

“That must’ve been really hard.”

Sunset didn’t like how sympathetic Fluttershy sounded, but she ignored it. “Rose Petal and Violet more or less took care of me, each in their own ways. I also saw some psychologists and therapists, but I was pretty good at playing the part of a more or less normal girl, so that never went anywhere.”

“It sounds like you made things a lot harder than they needed to be.”

That was more like it. “Yeah, I really did.” Sunset flipped the sandwich. “I had a childhood full of loneliness and misery, and it was pretty much my own fault. That’s why I never really talk about it. But it’s fine, none of that bothers me anymore, you know? My past is not today and all that. I have you, Applejack, and everyone else now. Life’s gotten a lot better.”

“I’m glad you trust me enough to tell me, though.”

Sunset laughed. “Of course I trust you.”

“So, uhm, what about Equestria?”

That wasn’t a laughing matter, and was something Sunset had wanted to avoid. But she couldn’t say she trusted Fluttershy with her past and then not answer a direct question like that. All she could do was try to avoid the worst of it. “I don’t remember it much, to tell you the truth. It was a long time ago.”

“You have to remember something, right?”

It felt like they were inching closer to the one thing Sunset didn’t want to talk about at all, the one thing she might never want to admit to. “You’d think the whole being a horse thing would make stuff a lot different, but really, I did a lot of normal stuff. The two worlds are more alike than they are different.” Sunset grinned as she got another plate for her grilled cheese. “Well, it was a lot easier to get vegetarian food there.”

“Oh, is that why you don’t eat meat?”

“Yeah. It just always weirded me out a lot, even when I didn’t believe in Equestria for a while.”

“When was that?”

Sunset frowned. She had brought herself even closer to the topic she was avoiding. “Middle school.”

“Oh, I see.”

It was clear Fluttershy expected more, but Sunset wasn’t sure what to say. If she explained that, explained why it had been so hard to keep believing in Equestria… Well, to say Fluttershy would be weirded out by the revelation was the best outcome Sunset could hope for.

“Is… is that something you don’t want to talk about?”

“I dunno. Maybe, I guess.” Sunset placed her grilled cheese on the plate, turned off the burner, and brought it to the table. Before she could sit down, Fluttershy stood up.

“It’s okay,” Fluttershy said as she hugged Sunset. “You don’t have to talk about it. But, uhm, it’s also okay to talk to me about anything, you know.”

Sunset couldn’t help but grin. “You know, I think you sounded like me right there.”

Fluttershy blushed. “I, uhm, I do try to think of what you’d say sometimes…”

Sunset was still grinning as they sat down, but it soon faded as she fought with herself on what to do. But she wasn’t being fair – Fluttershy deserved to know, and Sunset had waited far too long to tell her. “I’m thirty.”

Fluttershy cocked her head to the side. “What do you mean?”

Sunset shook her head and sighed. “I’m thirty years old, Shy. I was seventeen when I went through the mirror as a unicorn, but I was five when I came out the other side as a human.”

“Oh.” At first Fluttershy didn’t seem to know how to respond, then she asked, “Why did that happen?”

Didn’t she see how weird this was? Was she just trying to ignore it? “I don’t really know. But then, well… I was still seventeen in a way, but my brain was the same as any other five-year-old’s. Not fully developed, you know?”

“So you acted like a five-year-old?”

“Sometimes. It was really weird. Sometimes I felt seventeen, sometimes I felt five. And I didn’t have an adult’s memory retention, so I started to forget Equestria. Plus the whole thing just seemed so crazy that I convinced myself it wasn’t real. Then it became sort of like… If you think you’re twelve, you have the body of a twelve-year-old, you have all the puberty changes going on, you think and act like a twelve-year-old, and you can only remember back about seven years or so… how old are you when it really gets down to it?”

Fluttershy placed her hand on Sunset’s. “You poor thing…”

“It’s fine,” Sunset said again, even though this time it wasn’t. She suspected Fluttershy knew that much too. “And… I’m sorry. I should’ve told you sooner. Before we, well… you know. Before us.”

“It’s okay, but I’m happy you told me.” Fluttershy smiled. “It makes me feel like we’re getting closer.”

“Even… if I’m way older than you?”

Fluttershy grinned. “Sunny, you just said you’re a magic horse from another dimension, and you think I care how old you are?”

When put like that, Sunset couldn’t help but laugh at herself. “I guess it just felt like things are weird enough, you know? When your girlfriend’s a horse, you probably want to minimize any other weirdness.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s weird.” Fluttershy blushed. “To tell you the truth, I’ve always wanted to see you as a pony. I bet you’re adorable.”

That led to Sunset wondering what Fluttershy would be like as a pony, which led to her blushing as well. She reminded herself that she was friends with another Fluttershy who was already a pony, but it didn’t do anything to stop the thought of how cute she would be.

“I, uhm, I really would like to know more about Equestria… If you want to tell me about it.”

Sunset closed her eyes and tried to remember what it was like. “I’m probably not the best person to ask. On top of forgetting it and not being there for so long, I wasn’t out very much. I mostly just studied a lot.”

“Uhm, Sunny? You’re the only person to ask.”

Sunset opened her eyes and smirked. That was true.

“You have to remember some things besides studying. What… what were your parents like?”

As always, the thought of her parents brought a scowl. She quickly wiped it off though. It was understandable that Fluttershy would want to know about them, especially since they were going to be parents themselves.

“Well, they weren’t very good,” Sunset answered. “My dad was a military commander. A damn good one. Equestria wasn’t ever at war while he was in command, but he did lead during several small-scale military engagements, and he always succeeded.

“Brilliant mind. Horrible father and husband. He expected perfection from me in everything I did, and even when I met or exceeded his standards, it was never enough. He’d yell at me for the tiniest failures. Same with my mom, they always seemed really unhappy together.”

“That’s horrible… Was your mom better, at least?”

Sunset shrugged. “Yes and no. She was awful in her own ways. At least I knew my dad cared about my existence. Maybe it was only that he cared how I made him look, I never really knew, but at least that was something. It always felt like I just made my mom miserable, like she regretted having me. She worked a lot. Like, a lot. And I’m pretty sure that was because she didn’t want to be around me and my dad. But hey, at least she was a good business pony. She turned a small textile business that she started about a year before I was born into one of the biggest in all of Equestria by the time I left.”

Fluttershy pushed her plate aside and scooted her chair closer. While Sunset had barely touched her grilled cheese, Fluttershy had already finished hers. She linked her arm around Sunset’s and leaned against her shoulder. “That’s awful, no wonder you got off to a bad start.”

Sunset took a bite of her sandwich and frowned the entire time she chewed. “Maybe at first, yeah. But it was really my fault in the end.”

“You’re too hard on yourself.”

“No.” Sunset sighed. “There was someone else, too.”

“Oh?”

Sunset closed her eyes. Sometimes she could still imagine herself being face to face with those welcoming magenta eyes. It made her heart hurt to think about, and the pain only worsened when she remembered how angry those eyes had been the last time she looked into them.

“Princess Celestia.”

Fluttershy nuzzled against her. “What was she like?”

It took Sunset a moment to respond. When she did, her voice came out soft and quiet, as if talking too loud would disrupt the memory of her. “She was… she was amazing, Shy.” Sunset slouched in her chair, leaning against Fluttershy. “She was everything I ever wanted to be, and everything I never knew I should want to be. She had the talent, the knowledge, the respect, all the things I wanted. But she was also the most caring and compassionate pony I’ve ever met. She had this way of talking to everypony as if they were the exact pony she wanted to see at the moment, no matter how high or low they were on the social ladder.”

“She sounds wonderful.”

Sunset nodded. “And she was my teacher. She took me under her wing and let me learn from her. And then later, she even let me move into the castle with her. I told her about my parents, and how I didn’t feel like they loved me. At first she just gave me that whole spiel about, you know, of course they love you and all that. I thought that was going to be it, but then I found out that while she’d said that to me, she actually started looking into things with them and decided they weren’t taking good enough care of me. I don’t really know what she did to make it happen, but one day she showed up and asked me if I’d like to live in the castle. Just like that.”

“It sounds like she really cared about you a lot.”

Sunset distracted herself with another bite of her grilled cheese then shrugged. “Mainly she was my teacher,” she said once she finished chewing. “And I’m sure she cared about me a lot as her student, don’t get me wrong. But you know, it wasn’t the same as if someone else invited me to live with them. She had a whole castle with tons of spare rooms, lots of ponies lived there. It just made sense, it wasn’t like she… like she really adopted me or anything.”

Fluttershy didn’t seem to know how to reply, so she didn’t try to. Instead, she just took to absent-mindedly running her hand along Sunset’s arm, comforting with her presence.

Although Sunset hadn’t really wanted to talk about Celestia, once she started it was hard to stop. “Still, it was good. She would teach me things, and we’d sometimes meet for tea and all that pony princess stuff.”

Sunset had to smirk at how silly that sounded, but it was short-lived. “Then things changed. Someone else came to live in the castle. A new princess named Cadenza. She was younger than me, but she had somehow managed to become a princess. Something to do with some spell she broke or something.”

“Oh, ponies aren’t born as princesses?”

“Some are. If a prince or a princess has a kid, they’re royalty by default. But if somepony proves that they’re worthy of it, they can become an alicorn, a pony that embodies the traits of all the other kinds of ponies. Alicorns are accepted as royalty. Like Twilight… and Cadance.”

“I, uhm, I take it you two didn’t get along.”

“She was, well, perfect. Everyone loved her. But all I could see was somepony who got what I wanted without even trying. And worse than that, Celestia called Cadance her niece. They weren’t actually related or anything, Celestia just decided that Cadance was the pony she’d take into her family.” Sunset stared down at her grilled cheese, no longer in the mood to eat. “And not me.”

“That doesn’t sound fair at all…”

Sunset couldn’t find it in herself to be angry about that anymore. “I mean, I was her gifted student, you know? I was already one of the closest ponies to her, that should’ve been enough for me. It’s not her fault that I was never satisfied. And Cadance was probably okay too. I was just a bitch.”

Fluttershy kissed Sunset on the cheek. “Well, I think you’ve come a long way since then.”

Sunset smiled. “Well, when you’re at the bottom, what way is there to go but up?”

“You’re not giving yourself enough credit. But that’s okay, you’ll have me around to make up for that.”

You give me too much credit,” Sunset said, but she couldn’t hold back the smile.

“Hmm, nope. Just the right amount.” Fluttershy placed a hand on Sunset’s shoulder and guided her into a kiss. “I think… I’m finally starting to worry less. About us being parents, I mean.”

“Oh yeah?” Sunset grinned. “My stunning story of all the lessons I learned through parental support did the trick, then?”

Fluttershy laughed. “I just feel like we make a good team. I was worried that I won’t be able to do everything. I’m not organized enough, and I have a hard time figuring out what I need to do to move forward with things. But now… I’m starting to believe more and more that you’ll always be there, and I know you’ll be able to help with things I can’t do myself.”

“You know what’s funny?” Sunset cupped Fluttershy’s face in her hands and brought their foreheads together. “I feel the same way about you.”

Fluttershy kissed Sunset again. When they pulled apart, Sunset brought her hand to Fluttershy’s stomach. It was still too soon for Sunset to feel the baby move, but she often found her hands going to Fluttershy’s stomach anyway.

“So what do you say little one?” Sunset asked. “Think we’ll make it as mommies?”

Fluttershy giggled. “I don’t think they can hear you yet.”

Sunset shrugged. “What’s a little thing like not having ears matter when love’s involved, right?”

“Hmm, well, if I had to guess, I think our baby is just as excited to meet us as we are to meet them.”

“We’re gonna have to figure out something to call them other than ‘the baby’.” Sunset got off her chair and kneeled on the ground, placing her head on Fluttershy’s stomach. “What’s that? You want to be Sunset Shimmer Jr? Well, I dunno if Shy’ll be okay with that, but I’ll ask her for you.”

Fluttershy took advantage of Sunset’s position to stroke her hair. “I’ve, uhm, I’ve been thinking about names. Or well, one name.”

Sunset picked her head up. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“Well, I don’t know about if they’re a boy, but maybe if they’re a girl…” Fluttershy blushed. “It’s silly…”

“Hey, currently the number one spot is Sunset Shimmer Jr. Not like you got stiff competition here.”

“When I was little, I had an imaginary friend. Uhm, her name was Sky Shimmer, and… I was thinking…”

Sunset placed her head back on Fluttershy’s stomach. “What do you think? Do you want to be Sky Shimmer? You do?” Sunset picked her head up again and smiled. “The board has approved the name. And, in my completely and totally unbiased opinion, this family could use more Shimmers.”

Fluttershy beamed, even though she had to wipe away a tear. “You make me so happy, Sunny. I can’t believe I’m in a real family again.”

Sunset pulled herself up for another kiss. “Me too. Or well, that I’m actually in a family at all. I love you, Shy.”

“I love you too, Sunny.”

Sunset rubbed Fluttershy’s stomach. “And I love you too, Sky.”

Fluttershy placed her hand on Sunset’s. “We both do.”

12 – The Distance Between

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Chapter Twelve

The Distance Between

It had taken some convincing, and an entire week of deliberation. Sometimes Sunset was so sure that it was the right thing to do that she was tempted to just jump on her motorcycle and go. Other times she thought the idea was so stupid that she was wasting her time by even considering it.

But the day came, and Sunset found herself looking up at New Horizons. She had dropped Fluttershy off at work, then she drove to the orphanage she had been sure she’d never see again.

The fatal mistake had been telling Twilight. She’d brought it up with Fluttershy first, who had expressed her belief that Sunset should reach out to Rose Petal, but Fluttershy wouldn’t push the point.

Twilight, on the other hand? Twilight had been insistent. As soon as she heard there was someone in Sunset’s past that she was avoiding making amends with, the journal had been vibrating constantly, each time with another reason for Sunset to finally meet with Rose.

It got to the point where Sunset eventually agreed, if only because she couldn’t keep finding points to cancel out Twilight’s. But as she stared at the pale yellow building, she wondered if she might be better off turning right back around.

And if she could think of what she might tell Twilight if she did, she probably would have. So if for no other reason than that she wanted to tell Twilight she’d actually done it, Sunset left the car.

The walk up to the building brought back memories. Mostly insignificant things that she’d never realize she had forgotten because they simply weren’t worth remembering regularly. Times she’d lingered around the yard for lack of anything else to do, kids that she’d spend her time trying to get out of spending time with.

She hesitated again at the door. The desire to tell Twilight of her success was becoming a distant factor in the face of actually going through with it.

Sunset closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then forced herself to open the door. It wasn’t that she was convinced this was a good idea, but she knew she’d never be satisfied with herself if she didn’t do it.

The inside was just like she remembered it. The reception area had a business feel to it, with chairs for people to sit as they waited and a table with old magazines on it. They were all empty, as they usually were; it was rare for people to walk in without an appointment, so the staff was usually ready to see people right when they arrived.

As usual, Sunset was the exception. She hadn’t called ahead since she had been unsure if she’d go through with it, and she doubted it would matter very much anyway. Rose Petal was an old woman, and she had long since stopped doing much actual work. She’d have time to see Sunset, there was no doubt there.

All there was left to do was to go ahead and do it. Sunset tucked away her worries and walked up to the counter, maintaining an appearance of absolute confidence regardless of whether she felt it or not.

“Hello, how can I help you?” The receptionist looked up and smiled as she approached. At first it was the generic smile of an employee that had to pretend to be happy to see everyone, then it became the confused sort of smile of someone trying to place where they knew someone else from.

For her own part, Sunset recognized the receptionist but couldn’t remember her name. She had seen so many people come and go during her time at New Horizons that it became easier to just not bother remembering them all. “Hi, my name’s Sunset Shimmer. I used to live here.”

“Oh, that’s right!” The receptionist’s face lit up. “You were the one who lived here since you were little, right?”

Sunset nodded and wondered why the receptionist hadn’t introduced herself. If she hadn’t immediately recognized Sunset, why did she think Sunset would know her? “Yeah, eleven years.”

“So how have you been? I remember you moved out before graduating high school.”

“I’ve been pretty good.” Sunset wasn’t interested in catching up with someone she didn’t even remember, so she moved to her main point quickly. “I’m here to pay Rose Petal a visit. Is she available?”

The receptionist’s face immediately fell into a frown. “Oh, you haven’t heard…”


Sunset sat on her bed, knees to her chest and arms around her legs. Parents were stupid. She never needed them before, and there was no reason she would need them now. Why did she have to go through this dumb exercise anyway?

There was a knock on the door, which Sunset ignored. She continued to ignore it when Rose called, “Sunset? Are you in there?”

Where else would she be? Rose was the one who sent her to her room in the first place.

It was harder to ignore the opening door, but Sunset certainly tried. She continued to try and ignore it even as Rose came and sat down on the bed beside her.

Rose was quiet for a moment, then sighed. “Sunset, what am I going to do with you?”

Sunset wished Rose wouldn’t do anything with her. Why couldn’t everyone just leave her alone?

“You know what you did was wrong. What were you even hoping to get?”

Sunset didn’t answer that either.

“This isn’t like you, Sunset. You’re not a thief. You aren’t the type of kid who goes looking through someone’s purse when they aren’t looking, I know you’re not.”

As if Rose knew anything about what kind of kid Sunset was. As if Rose could possibly understand her.

“Why won’t you talk to me?”

Rose Petal reached for Sunset, so she pulled away.

Rose sighed. “Sunset, you’re nine years old. You’re a smart kid, and you can be delightful when you want to be. You know you would be adopted by now if you just didn’t keep doing things like this. Don’t you want that?”

Sunset just turned pointedly away.

“Fine. You don’t want to talk now. We can try again later.”

Later wasn’t going to happen. Sunset waited for Rose to leave the room, then collapsed on the bed. She didn’t need Rose’s misplaced sympathy, or her false belief that Sunset was a good kid. Good kids didn’t try to steal things from their potential new mother’s purse. Good kids got adopted. Good kids like Sugar Breeze, who was finally going to a family of her own because Sunset screwed up.

But that was fine. Sunset didn’t need Sugar Breeze, even if she was the most tolerable kid in the orphanage. She didn’t need new parents, no matter how nice they seemed. And she didn’t need Rose Petal.

Sunset didn’t need anyone at all.


Everything sort of happened in a daze. Sunset left New Horizon with none of the hesitation she’d arrived with. There was no doubt about what to do next or whether or not she’d go. There were no thoughts at all.

Sunset left New Horizons and got in her car. She drove without noticing what was playing on the radio, without paying attention to the scenes around her, without stopping to think of what was going on at all. She simply drove, reacting to the cars, road signs, and traffic lights as was needed and never thinking about any of them.

Even when she reached the hospital, she hardly paid attention to anything but the immediate path ahead of her. She left her car and didn’t stop to double check the doors, or to take a moment to compose herself, or anything. She simply walked, putting one foot in front of her as she closed the distance, step by step.

She had to stop and talk to another receptionist, which required a little more concentration. But for once, Sunset didn’t stop to think about how she appeared as she spoke. No attempt to craft the perfect reaction, no hiding any feelings.

“I’m here to see a patient, her name’s Rose Petal.”

The receptionist typed something into a keyboard. “Are you a family member?”

“Yes.”

“Your name?”

“Sunset Shimmer.”

More typing, then Sunset was passed a form to sign. She didn’t read what it said, she just signed it and passed it back.

The receptionist pulled out a sticker with the word “Visitor” on it and filled it out with the required information – Sunset’s and Rose’s names, the date, and the time. He handed it to Sunset, who stuck it on her shirt.

The receptionist gave her directions to Rose’s room on the third floor, and Sunset made her way there as quickly as she could. Once again, she barely noticed the world around her, only interested in taking step after step to close the distance to Rose.

It took a while to get to Rose’s room, unfamiliar with the hospital’s layout as Sunset was. She could have asked for directions, but she never stopped to think about it. As long as every step felt like it brought her closer, she would continue walking.

Eventually she found the room. The door was opened, and she could hear the TV inside. Someone inside was moving around, but Sunset couldn’t tell who it was.

“Hello? Miss Rose?” Sunset called gingerly in case she was in the wrong room.

It was a man who greeted her, however. “Hello. Are you a visitor?”

“Yes. Is this Rose Petal’s room?” Sunset couldn’t quite see Rose from the doorway. She could see the edge of the bed, but that was all. But before she could walk in, the man who answered her walked out to greet her.

He was a nurse, judging by the scrubs he wore, and he was holding a clipboard with what Sunset assumed was Rose’s chart on it. “Yes, you’ve got the right room. Is this your first time coming to visit her?”

Knowing that Rose was inside made Sunset want to just run past him and speak with her, but she waited. “Yes. Can I see her?”

He gestured for her to step in. “You came at a good time. She’s awake, and today’s been a good day.”

Sunset walked in to see Rose was sitting up in bed. She looked different than Sunset’s memories of her, much older. Although Rose had never been young while Sunset knew her, she had still been full of life even in her old age. Now her cream-colored skin seemed paler and stretched thin over her bones. Her once maroon hair had faded to grey even when Sunset was still living at New Horizons, but now it had thinned out considerably.

It had been almost two years since Sunset had seen Rose, but she never imagined her former caretaker could have aged so much so fast.

She still smiled as she walked up to Rose’s bed. “Hello, Miss Rose,” she said gently. “It’s been a while. How’re you feeling?”

Rose studied Sunset, but she didn’t seem to recognize her. “Like I keep telling all of you, I’m ready to go home. My children need me.”

Sunset couldn’t even fake a smile. “Miss Rose, don’t you know who I am? It’s Sunset. Sunset Shimmer.”

Rose nodded slowly. “I need to get home, need to take care of little Sunset.”

The nurse stepped up beside her. “This is Sunset, Rose. She came to visit you.”

“Hmph. No one wants to listen to an old lady. Sunset’s at the home, she needs me. No one else understands the poor girl.”

Sunset looked in between Rose and the nurse. He gestured for her to step away, so she did. They walked to the other side of the room, but didn’t leave it completely.

“Sorry, she was doing really well this morning too…”

“What’s wrong with her?” Sunset asked. She didn’t like the way her voice came out. “I heard she had a stroke but… why doesn’t she recognize me?”

The nurse glanced back towards her and frowned. “Sometimes, especially at her age, strokes can lead to other issues. Rose has rapidly progressive dementia, which causes her to have trouble remembering. Some days she isn’t responsive at all.”

Sunset folded her arms and frowned. Rose wasn’t paying them any attention, instead focused on the TV.

“It’s hard to see a loved one like this, but she’s as comfortable as we can possibly make her. If you come back another day, she might be a little more present.”

Sunset would be returning, she had no doubt there. But still, even if Rose didn’t know who she was, Sunset couldn’t leave her. “I think I’d still like to stay for a while today.”

The nurse nodded. “Okay. If you need anything, you can hit that nurse call button by her bed, and I’ll come to check on you two.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

Sunset took a seat next to Rose’s bed while the nurse left. Rose didn’t react. Sunset watched the TV with her while trying to figure out what to say. Some sitcom was on, with a perfect made for TV family. Two parents, a couple of kids, enough comical misunderstandings to make things interesting, but all in all wrapped in a heartfelt message of love.

Neither of them laughed at any of the jokes, or seemed to pay it much attention at all really. Eventually, Sunset used it to try and get a conversation going. “I never knew you liked TV, Miss Rose.”

Rose didn’t answer.

“Guess there’s not much else to do around here, huh?”

Again, Rose didn’t answer.

Sunset remained quiet as she watched the TV family. The dad was being a hardass because his teenage daughter wanted to stay out late at a party, and she was complaining that he never let her do anything. Her little brother was making quippy one-liners about their argument.

“What was it like raising so many kids?” Sunset asked without really thinking about it.

At first, she thought Rose wouldn’t answer again. Eventually, however, she said, “You never get used to raising kids. All you can do is learn each kid, and hope that they don’t grow up faster than you can keep up.”

“Were you scared when you first took the job? That maybe… maybe you’d mess it up somehow?”

Rose let out a short laugh. “No one ever stops worrying about that.”

Sunset wondered how often she’d made Rose worry. “Then why do you keep doing it? Why not, I don’t know, retire? Not have to worry about kids anymore?”

“Oh, I could never do that. I’ll live right here at New Horizons until I wither away.”

Sunset was taken aback by the statement. Right here. Somehow in the minutes since Sunset had walked in, Rose’s perception of her surroundings seemed to have changed. It was hard to say if that was good or bad since she still seemed to be having delusions, but she did sound happier.

Sunset decided to keep talking. “So it’s all worth it in the end?”

“Oh yes. Every day brings something new, and every day I’m reminded that I wouldn’t change a thing. I love all the children dearly, you know.”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah, I know. And… they all love you too, Miss Rose.”

Rose smiled, and it broke Sunset’s heart. Not nearly as much as what she said next, however. “That’s very sweet of you, Sunset.”

Sunset’s hand rose to her heart. “You… you recognize me?”

Rose gave her a confused look. “Well, of course I do. I may be old, but I’m not senile yet, Sunset.”

Sunset swallowed a lump down her throat. “No. Of course not.”

“How was school today, dearie?”

The question hit Sunset like a blow. It was too much, and she couldn’t help but turn away as she answered. “It was good.” She knew Rose wasn’t living in the present. To Rose, Sunset had never left, and they were back in New Horizons. She didn’t know how long ago Rose thought it was, but she knew that Rose was never going to get better. This conversation would fade from her as soon as it was done, but Sunset was determined to make her as happy as she could for the time being. “I met some new kids. I think I’m finally starting to make some friends.”

Rose beamed. “Oh, that’s wonderful to hear! Tell me about them.”

“Well, one of them is named Fluttershy. She’s a little shy, but she’s really nice. She loves animals and books and… and I think you’d really like her. And Applejack. She’s stubborn and hard-working, and I know she’ll always be there for me when I need her. Pinkie Pie is the friendliest person I’ve ever met, she can make anyone laugh, and Rainbow Dash is too cool to show it much, but I know she really cares about everyone. And…” Sunset trailed off, unable to keep talking.

Rose put her hand on Sunset’s, and Sunset could feel just how thin she’d gotten. “They sound lovely, dearie. I hope I get to meet them someday.”

Sunset blinked back her tears and turned her hand to take hold of Rose’s. “Me too. I’d really like that.

“Help me remember, dearie, do you have a meeting with Mrs. Dusk today?”

Sunset shook her head. “No. I have all day to spend with you.”

“Oh? Are you going to be my little helper today?”

Sunset forced a smile as she turned to Rose. “You bet. Anything you need, just let me know..”

“Mmm.” Rose leaned back and closed her eyes. “That’s good. I know I can count on you.”

“Of course, Miss Rose. Always.”


It had been a hard day. During the hours Sunset was with Rose, she went back and forth on how responsive she was. When she did respond, she usually remembered Sunset, but always seemed to think she was still a child.

Sunset stayed into the evening, despite the fact that Rose had fallen asleep an hour before she left. She wanted to be around if Rose woke up and needed anything, even though she knew that the hospital staff would take care of that. In the end, she only left when it was time to pick up Fluttershy from work.

There was one more thing she needed to do before she left the hospital, though. On her way out of Rose’s room, she pressed the nurse call button, then waited at the door. A minute later, the same nurse she talked to before walked up.

“Is everything alright, miss?” he asked as he walked up.

“Yeah, sorry to bother you, but I didn’t know who to ask, and…” Sunset realized she was about to start rambling and paused to take a breath before continuing. “I wanted to know how she’s doing. Has her dementia been getting worse?”

He seemed to weigh his options for a moment. “It would really be better if you waited until the morning to talk with the doctor. She’ll be in around eight, and she could tell answer your questions better than I could.”

Sunset knew that was reasonable, but she didn’t know how she could possibly hold out until the morning. “Just… could you tell me how long she has?”

He seemed to see something in Sunset’s face, although she wasn’t sure what that was. Regardless, his tone became more solemn as he answered more openly. “A month. Maybe two. When dementia is rapidly progressive like hers is, everything progresses quickly, right up to the end.”

Sunset shut her eyes and nodded her head. That was exactly what she thought.

“I’m very sorry, miss. She’s been holding out okay, all things considered.”

“And there’s no cure, is there?” Sunset knew the answer already, but she had to ask.

The nurse shifted in place and looked off to the side. “I’m afraid not, no.”

“Thanks for telling me. I’ll get the details from her doctor when I can.”

“At least she has people like you who care about her. She seems to have visitors almost every day.”

At least there was that. If anyone had earned that love and support, it was definitely Rose. And now, Sunset was going to make sure it was every day. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Alright. Take care of yourself.”

Sunset barely registered his well wishes as she walked away. They fell flat to her. All she thought about was how each step she took put more distance in between herself and Rose Petal.


Sunset wasn’t really supposed to be out in the garden gazebo. She had been told to go to her room after trying to steal from her potential new mom’s purse, and no one had told her it was okay to come out again.

And yet, she had. Sunset had always had a problem with staying in one place for too long, so after dinner – which she ate alone in her room when she refused to talk to anyone again – she snuck out and went into the garden.

It wasn’t even that she didn’t think she’d get caught, just that she didn’t care. So when Rose Petal found her, Sunset didn’t think much of it.

Rose’s question did take her by surprise, however. “Lovely evening, isn’t it, Sunset?”

Sunset was silent until Rose took a seat next to her, then she quietly mumbled, “It’s alright.”

“It’s very calming out here. Helps me clear my mind when I need to think.”

Sunset stared down at the floor. “I guess.”

“Have you thought about our conversation earlier?”

How could she not have? It had only been a few hours, after all. She remembered the question Rose had asked, and she gave her answer. “No.”

“I see. Well, whenever you’re ready to talk, you just let me know.” Rose stood up. “It is getting late though. Don’t stay out too long, Sunset.”

Sunset could hardly believe Rose would give up that easily. As Rose started to walk away, Sunset jumped to her feet. “No, I don’t want to be adopted.”

Rose stopped and turned back to Sunset, who was blushing furiously and trying to avoid her eyes. “Really? Every kid wants a loving family.”

Sunset shoved her hands in her pockets and tried to ignore her blush. “I don’t. Kids like Sugar Breeze want families like that. I’d rather sta– I’d rather not deal with anything like that.”

Rose placed her hand on Sunset’s back to guide her back to the seat, and kept an arm around her while she sat down. From anyone else, Sunset wouldn’t have tolerated the touch. Only Rose could get away with something like that.

“If you really don’t want to be adopted, you could have just told me.”

Sunset frowned. “It doesn’t matter. It’s your job to get kids like me adopted.”

“Not entirely. It’s my job to take care of you, and sometimes it’s my job to help parents adopt or foster kids.” Rose leaned in and smiled. “But what I really want is what’s best for you. And if you think living here is what’s best for you, then I have no problems with that.”

Sunset looked up at Rose’s smiling face, every bit as warm and welcoming as Sunset had ever seen it. “Really? I can stay here with… I don’t have to deal with stupid parents?”

Rose laughed. “Well, no. But you do have to be better behaved. And really, Sunset, I promise things will be much easier if you just stop and talk to me once in a while.”

Sunset tried, but she couldn’t keep the hint of a smile from her face. “Maybe.”

“So was that what this was all about today?” Rose asked. “You didn’t want them to pick you?”

That was part of it. Sunset had also known who their second choice had been. “Yeah, that was it.”

Rose sighed, but it was with a smile on her face. “You really are an interesting child.”

“That’s what everyone keeps telling me.”

They sat side by side as the evening slowly turned to night. Sunset wasn’t sure why Rose insisted on keeping her hand on her back, but she never said anything about it. They didn’t speak at all, in fact, simply sitting in silence without quite as much distance between them as Sunset would have liked.

It was just as well. When Sunset did decide to speak, she found it words didn’t seem to improve things. “Miss Rose?”

“Yes, Sunset?”

Sunset found she wasn’t sure what to say. Something along the lines of ‘thank you’, although she wasn’t really sure what she would be thanking Rose for. Besides, somehow that didn’t feel like enough.

“Never mind.”

She expected Rose to press her to answer, or maybe to make another comment about how strange Sunset was. But instead, she just smiled and squeezed Sunset’s shoulder, then went back to silence.

Somehow, the moment found a way to speak for itself.

13 – Stormfall

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Chapter Thirteen

Storm Fall

There were always a million different things on Sunset’s mind these past few months. Ever since they found out Fluttershy was pregnant, there had barely been a moment’s rest. Her fears of being a parent, and her excitement for the same. The anxiety and anticipation of a court battle, and the uncertainty for when it would be. Managing finances and the inevitability that they would somehow need to find a new house with a second bedroom. A certain question to ask Fluttershy, which had been on her mind more and more. And, of course, Rose Petal and her health worsening by the day.

So many things, and none of them ever left Sunset’s thoughts. They all took hold of her, intertwining and tangling her in a web of insecurities and hope. And as busy as it all had been, she was left in a constant daze wondering where one ended and another began.

Perhaps that was why she didn’t recognize him at first. While Sunset was leaning against her car and waiting for Fluttershy to get out of work, a man approached her. He was a little taller than she was, with deep cerulean skin and ash-grey hair, and he smelled of alcohol. He looked familiar, but Sunset couldn’t figure out from where.

“Don’t suppose I could bum a cigarette?” he asked.

Sunset shrugged. “Sorry, don’t smoke.”

He grunted and walked towards the animal shelter. “Figures.”

Sunset watched him for a moment, still unable to place where she might know him from. He walked into the shelter and out of sight, so Sunset pushed it from her mind. He probably just shopped at the store she worked at or something, not worth dwelling on. Besides, she had enough to think about. Still, she was glad Fluttershy didn’t work in the front anymore, since he didn’t seem like he’d be a pleasant client.

As she returned to killing time on her phone, Sunset almost wished she did smoke. Just something to ease the stress she’d been feeling, especially after everything with Rose Petal. It had been one of her bad days, where Rose didn’t recognize Sunset at all and only talked about how she wanted to go home, and at that only if she even talked at all.

Sunset hated the fact that she wasn’t looking forward to returning the next day. Even good days were hard. For three weeks, Sunset had been visiting Rose almost every day, and not once had Rose been aware of the situation around them. When she recognized Sunset, Rose always seemed to think she was still a child.

Some days she’d have to apologize for fighting with Dew Drop and Sugar Breeze, kids she hadn’t even seen in almost a decade. Some days she had to pretend she was still dating Flash Sentry, or that she was still in the school journalism club. Day after day, Sunset had to play whichever role would make Rose happy, when all she wanted to do was apologize for having left in the first place.

‘What’s taking so long?’ Sunset wondered. Since Fluttershy still couldn’t drive on her own, Sunset still had to bring her home from work. Most days, Sunset didn’t mind; she still wasn’t thrilled about the idea of Fluttershy driving, and she hated relying on their friends to do it. But on days like this, Sunset just wanted to go home.

She looked towards the building and realized she could hear voices carrying from inside it, and they didn’t sound happy. The last thing she needed was to walk in on some family that was angry their new cat had scratched up the sofa or whatever people got mad in an animal shelter about, but she walked towards the building anyway.

Half of the realization struck as she was walking towards the door and saw the same guy who’d asked for a cigarette through the window. Realizing that he was the one yelling and remembering that he’d smelled of alcohol motivated her to walk faster.

The other half of the realization hit her only after she walked inside.

“– my daughter!”

While Fluttershy was thankfully nowhere to be seen, one of her coworkers was across from the man that Sunset now recognized, holding his hands out in a ‘stop’ motion. “Sir, you need to calm down and leave right now.”

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing here!?” Sunset asked as she grabbed Stormy Skies by his shoulder. “How dare you show your face after what you did!?”

Stormy Skies brushed Sunset’s hand away and glared at her. “Who the hell are you? Mind your own business!”

He tried to turn back to Fluttershy’s coworker, but Sunset stepped in between them. “If you don’t leave right now, I swear to God I will fucking kill you!”

“Both of you need to leave right now, or I’m calling the cops!” the man behind the counter said, but neither of them paid attention to him.

Stormy Skies balled his hands into fists. “I don’t know who the fuck you think you are, but do not toy with me, bitch! I need to see my daughter, so get the fuck out of my way before you get yourself hurt!”

“She’s not your daughter, you disgusting piece of shit! And you can –”

Fluttershy’s scream pulled everyone’s attention to her. She was staring at the two of them with one hand over her mouth and the other protectively on her stomach.

Stormy Skies reacted first. “Get out of my way.” He pushed Sunset aside, catching her off guard with how strong he was, and started walking towards Fluttershy.

Sunset stumbled and fell. She reached to grab Stormy Skies’ leg, but missed.

“You stupid bitch. The fuck do you think you’re playing at?”

“Get away from me,” Fluttershy spat.

Stormy Skies started to laugh. “What, you think you can talk to me that way all of a sudden. I’m going to –”

No one ever heard what Stormy Skies thought he was going to to do, because Sunset had gotten back on her feet just long enough to tackle him to the ground. Fluttershy screamed again, but Sunset barely noticed.

They toppled to the ground together. Sunset threw a quick punch at the back of the head. She wound up for another, but he twisted and knocked her off of him.

She was able to scramble backwards and regain her footing by the time he rose. This time, he completely ignored Fluttershy in favor of keeping his focus on Sunset. It was just what she wanted.

“Sunset stop! Stay away from him!” Fluttershy screamed. She was crying.

“Stay out of this, Shy!” Sunset screamed. “Just get out of here!”

“I don’t know what the hell your problem is, but you’re dead.”

Sunset just smirked. “What’s the matter? Not man enough to hit a girl that hits back?”

“You asked for it.” Stormy Skies lunged at Sunset, who failed to dodge. His fist connected with her side and she fell to one knee.

Stormy Skies laughed and stepped closer, so he was looming over her. “Where’s that big mouth now, little bitch?”

Sunset took advantage of her position to throw a punch at his crotch. He doubled over in pain. Sunset pushed herself up and into him, slamming her shoulder into his face. He stumbled backwards, so she pressed forwards, pushing him to the ground

She wrapped her hands around his neck, and she finally had only one thought going through her mind. “I told you I’d fucking kill you. You worthless…”

Even with all her weight pressing down on his throat, Sunset wasn’t strong enough to keep him down. He grabbed her hands and pried them off, then rolled so he was on top. He kept hold of both arms, pinning her to the ground.

Seeing him positioned above her reminded Sunset that Fluttershy had been forced into the same position, and her fire burned even brighter. But no matter how much she wanted to make him burn for what he’d done, she wasn’t strong enough to push him off.

The feeling of helplessness only lasted a moment, however, as Fluttershy’s coworker pulled him off of her. She scrambled to her feet as the fight was picked up by the two men.

Sunset knew she wasn’t strong enough to fight him, but it didn’t matter. She grabbed the first thing she could find, an empty pet carrying case which she grabbed by the cage door, and started swinging it at Stormy Skies.

She knocked him to his hands and knees, then kept swinging. He tried to turn towards her, only to be met with a pet carrier to the face.

“Stop it! Enough!” Fluttershy’s coworker said. When Sunset didn’t listen, he grabbed the pet carrier himself, so Sunset instead kicked Stormy Skies in the ribs. She tried for a second kick, but he managed to catch it and rolled over, catching her off balance and causing her to fall.

Everything went out of focus as Sunset hit the ground. The back of her head slammed into the hard floor, and for a moment, Sunset couldn’t make out anything around.

Her vision faded back in first, although everything looked blurry. She still couldn’t hear when she tried to force herself to her feet. She didn’t make it that far, falling again, this time onto her side.

Sunset struggled to breathe and not pass out, only trying to stand again a few seconds later, once things were a little less blurry. She still felt dizzy and all sounds were muffled behind a constant droning screech, but at least she didn’t fall.

Stormy Skies was also on his feet, although he was bent over and holding his side. Fluttershy’s coworker was standing in between the two of them, an open palm outstretched to each.

Sunset wasn’t sure what her next move would be. There was no way she was done with him, not while he was still breathing. but it felt like if she tried to do anything more than standing, her only move would be to fall to the ground. Hell, even standing felt like it would be too much of a challenge to keep up for long.

But before she could move or fall, Fluttershy ran to her side and braced her. “Shy, what are you doing? I told you to get away.”

Fluttershy didn’t answer, but she didn’t leave either. She held Sunset up while keeping all her focus on the ground.

“You really are an idiot,” Stormy Skies said through slurred speech. “I can’t believe you’d keep that thing in you. You should cut it out.”

Fluttershy’s hand that she wasn’t using to support Sunset went to her stomach. Sunset gritted her teeth, but found she couldn’t even manage a response.

“Call off this stupid trial, you can’t win it anyway.” Stormy Skies managed to stand up straight, looking a lot better than Sunset felt. “Drop the charges or you’ll regret it.”

“Not happening, asshole,” Sunset said. The effort was obvious in her voice, but she continued anyway. “You’re gonna get what you deserve.”

“If this trial goes through, neither of you two are gonna be around to see it. I promise you that.”

“Let’s go then.” Sunset tried to pull away, but Fluttershy kept a firm hold on her. “Come on, let’s finish this shit.”

Stormy Skies laughed, and Sunset knew she had to be a pathetic sight. “Always hated mouthy bitches. I’ll enjoy kicking your ass some more.” He pointed to Fluttershy. “You’ll be next, and I’ll be doing everyone a favor when I make sure that thing is never born.”

Sunset jerked her arm from Fluttershy and ran ahead. Before she could reach Stormy Skies, the other guy caught her. With his attention turned on Sunset, Stormy Skies ran past the two of them.

“Fluttershy!” Sunset and the coworker both lunged at him at the same time, bringing Stormy Skies to the ground.

Everything became a mess after that, as Sunset and Stormy Skies continued to try and exchange blows. The other guy tried to keep them separated, earning himself more than his fair share of damage in the process.

Sunset wasn’t vividly aware of anything until she felt someone grab hold of her by both arms and pull her back. As she struggled in vain to get free, she saw a police officer pin Stormy Skies to the ground.

“Everyone back off!” the officer holding Stormy Skies announced. “Stop struggling!”

Sunset gave up her own struggle, and unfortunately, so did Stormy Skies. She looked around and saw Fluttershy was crying again while her coworker was standing off to the side with his hand over his eye. One cop approached them and asked if they were okay, while another lingered on the sidelines.

As the reality of the situation settled in, Sunset began to relax, in a sense. Her instincts to fight back wore off, and she realized how lucky they were that the cops had arrived.

She didn’t feel so lucky when the one who still had a hold of her spoke. “Sunset Shimmer. Gotta say, I was hoping we were done running into each other.”

Sunset frowned. “Officer Swift Star. And Officer Blue Stripe, of course. Can’t believe I didn’t recognize you two.”

“It has been a while,” Swift Star said.

“Don’t suppose you’ll let go of me so I can make sure my girlfriend’s okay?”

“Afraid not. You have a history of running, you know.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “What? I haven’t been dumb enough to try running from you for, like, five years now. Besides, I’m sure you’ve got my address on file somewhere.”

“I’ll let you go when I know what’s going on here.”

Arguing wasn’t going to help her, so she just turned to Fluttershy. “Uh, you okay, Shy?”

Fluttershy tried to dry her eyes. “I-I’m…” She nodded when she was unable to talk.

“Is anyone else in the building?” Blue Stripe asked.

“No,” the coworker answered. “It was just me and Fluttershy finishing up for the night when these two showed up.”

There was another siren approaching, and Sunset was barely able to turn and see that it was an ambulance. She turned towards Blue Stripe and spoke as calmly as she could manage. “That man has a criminal case against him and is not supposed to be anywhere near Fluttershy. He deliberately came here to find her, and he threatened her. Can you get him out of here?”

Blue Stripe looked past Sunset at Swift Star, then nodded. “I’ll take him outside for medical attention and send a paramedic in here.”

Blue Stripe got Stormy Skies to his feet, then walked him out the door. Sunset breathed a sigh of relief at knowing he was no longer in the same room as Fluttershy, then decided to try her luck again.

“Look, I’m not gonna run. There’s three cops in here, probably more waiting outside. Fucking handcuff me if you want, just… let me go.”

It took a moment, but Swift Star relented. “Don’t go anywhere.”

He let go of her, and Sunset gingerly stretched her arms. It hurt, but everything else did too. “Can I go across the room to see my girlfriend?”

“I think you’re fine right here.”

A paramedic came in and approached Sunset first, but she refused until he checked on the others. Fluttershy said she didn’t need medical attention as she hadn’t been involved in any of the physical conflict, so her coworker was the first to get the once over.

Once he checked out, the paramedic returned to Sunset while one of the officers began taking statements from him and Fluttershy. The paramedic examined her for cuts and bruises, checked her vitals, shone a flashlight in her eyes, and had her follow his finger with each eye. Aside from some bruising, she seemed to be okay, with only one concern.

“Any head injuries?”

“Yeah, I fell and hit the back of my head pretty hard.” Sunset tried to touch where she’d hit it with her figures, only to realize it hurt more than she’d noticed right away.

“Let me see.”

Sunset bowed her head so he could get a good look.

“No bleeding. Any loss of consciousness when you hit your head?”

“No. Well, maybe. I guess I kinda blacked out, but I think it was only for a second.”

They ran through a list of symptoms, about half of which Sunset had experienced – dizziness, ringing in her ears, and blurred vision. She knew what was coming before he said it.

“You’ll need to get checked out for a concussion. It’s not likely to be a big deal so long as it’s treated, but if left alone it could be fatal.”

Sunset sighed. That was exactly what she needed. “Alright. I’ll get it looked at.”

The paramedic turned his attention to Swift Star. “Want me to take her to the hospital?”

“Fluttershy can take me,” Sunset said. She didn’t really want to go to the hospital at all, and she certainly didn’t want to go in an ambulance.

“Let’s see what’s going on outside, then we’ll figure that out,” Swift Star said, completely ignoring Sunset. He addressed the officer who had been questioning Fluttershy and her coworker. “I’m gonna step out to check with Blue Stripe.”

“Roger. I’ll hold things down in here.”

At least Swift Star was leaving her alone. Sunset knew he had more reason than most to be skeptical of her, but she didn’t appreciate having him hover around her as if she was the villain.

With him out of the room, Sunset figured it was safe to finally talk to Fluttershy. She was stopped by the cop who had been taking statements, though. “I’ll need to get your account of what happened, ma’am.”

Sunset frowned, but she knew there was nothing to do but get it over with. “I was waiting outside to pick up Fluttershy from work when I saw Stormy Skies enter the building. I didn’t recognize him right away, though. I’ve never met him, only saw some old pictures. Then I heard him yelling so I came running in.”

“Could you hear what he was yelling about?”

“Not while I was outside, I could just tell he was angry about something. When I came in he was yelling about wanting to see Fluttershy, though. He’s her stepfather and was abusive to her, he has a criminal case against him for it. So I got in his way and we started arguing. I don’t really remember a lot of what was said, but things turned violent when he didn’t leave. Oh, I do remember that he threatened Fluttershy and said he was gonna make sure her baby was never born.”

The officer made notes of everything Sunset was saying. “What about the others?”

“Fluttershy wasn’t ever involved, she was just on the sidelines to everything. The other guy tried to keep us apart, I don’t think he was ever trying to jump into the fight or anything.”

“Which one of you started the physical fight?”

“He pushed me. I think that was the first physical thing. I might’ve thrown the first punch, but it was only because I was worried about Fluttershy and what he’d do if no one stopped him.”

The officer finished taking down notes then looked up. “And you two fought until we showed up?”

“Yeah. I don’t know how long it was.”

“Anything else you’d like to add?”

“No, I think that’s about it.”

“Alright.” The officer nodded and put away the notepad, then turned to Fluttershy and her coworker. “Is there a security camera?”

“Yeah, I’ll pull up the footage,” Fluttershy’s coworker said.

The officer followed him to another room, leaving only one cop remaining with Fluttershy and Sunset. Finally, Sunset found the chance to approach Fluttershy.

“Hey, Shy. How you holding up?”

Fluttershy looked up at Sunset and barely held back her tears. “I’m… I’m okay. W-what about you? Do you, uhm, hurt a lot?”

Sunset shrugged, ignoring that it hurt to do so. “I’ll be okay. They want me to go to the hospital in case I have a concussion.”

“Oh…”

“It’s nothing to worry about, though. Even if I do have a concussion, it shouldn’t be a big deal to get it taken care of.”

“I’m sorry…” Fluttershy’s eyes fell back to the ground. “This is all my fault…”

“Don’t be sorry, it’s not –”

As Sunset reached out to touch Fluttershy’s shoulder, Fluttershy flinched, derailing Sunset’s thoughts. All Sunset could do was pull her hand back awkwardly rub her neck.

Neither of them seemed to know what to do, so they stood beside each other in awkward silence. It wasn’t long before Swift Star came back in, although all he did was head to the back where the other officer had gone to watch the video footage.

They were left waiting with no explanation of what was going on. Sunset didn’t know what to say to Fluttershy, and even if she did, she wasn’t sure they were in the best place to talk much anyway.

They waited long enough that Sunset considered using her need to go to the hospital as a way of getting them away from the scene, but the cops returned from the back before she had a chance.

Swift Star directly addressed Sunset. “So here’s the deal. He says you were the one to instigate things, attacking him unprovoked.”

“Of course he does,” Sunset grumbled.

“He’s lying,” Fluttershy said, almost simultaneously. “He lies about everything, Sunset wouldn’t –”

Swift Star held up a hand to silence them. “Camera footage confirmed what you said, he pushed you down first and was displaying aggressive behavior before you showed up. But it did also show you pressing the assault after you two had been separated, and that you used a weapon to attack him.”

Sunset winced. She could see how this was going. “What about verbal provocation? He was threatening Fluttershy.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything, and you’re not being charged with anything right now. But the camera doesn’t have audio, so that’s exactly what we’re gonna need to sort out with you. But first, you need to see a doctor, then we can talk.”

He looked towards the door and the paramedic from earlier walked over. Sunset just frowned. “Don’t suppose I can just have Fluttershy take me?”

“Afraid not,” Swift Star said. “Trip to the hospital, then to the police station so we can talk.”

“But that’s not fair!” Fluttershy said. “Sunset wasn’t… She wouldn’t…”

Swift Star addressed Fluttershy. “I’d also like to talk to you about Stormy Skies and these charges against him. Sunset was right that he wasn’t allowed to be here, and he seems to have come here looking for you specifically.”

“But…”

“Shy,” Sunset said, forcing her voice to be calm, “it’ll be okay. We just… need to get things sorted out. You can talk to them about Stormy Skies while I go to the hospital, and who knows? Might even get him locked away until the court case.”

Fluttershy looked like she still wanted to protest, but she folded. “Okay…”

“Everything’s gonna work out. Rainbow’s usually up late, call her and have her come get you when you’re done. We’ll get the car later.”

Fluttershy didn’t lift her head, but she gave a small nod.

“See you soon, Shy.” Sunset turned to the paramedic. “Well, let’s get this over with.”

At least none of the officers seemed to think she needed an escort to the ambulance. She looked for Stormy Skies on the way out, but he was already gone.


It was well into the night by the time Sunset was free to go. She had to undergo numerous tests to make sure her cognitive functions were all intact, but at least that had been all. She was told she’d need to come back for a CT scan if symptoms started to develop, but that there was no sign of any damage. With her promise that she would take it easy and be on the lookout for any abnormal developments, she was allowed to leave.

Of course, she only left the hospital to go to the police department. That was even worse, since whether they were accusing her or not, Sunset couldn’t help but feel like it was ludicrous that she even needed to be questioned.

They went over a more detailed play by play of her story, lingering mostly around the part where she charged Stormy Skies with the pet carrier. It was a slow and, Sunset felt, overly thorough process for something so simple. Stormy Skies was in the wrong, any idiot could see that.

And eventually, that was the verdict they seemed to reach. They wouldn’t disclose any information about him to Sunset, but they did release her with no charges. Rather than wait in the police station for a moment longer than she needed to, Sunset stepped outside as soon as they said she could go.

Leaving the station was the first welcome relief she felt since the whole thing started. Even when they said she was free to go, it had been hard to really feel anything but frustration at the situation happening in the first place. But it was well into spring, and the cool night air felt great after the stuffy police station.

Sunset pulled out her phone and brought up Fluttershy’s number. She waited for just a moment, remembering the way Fluttershy had flinched away from her in the pet store, then tapped the call button.

It hardly rang at all before Fluttershy answered. “S-Sunset?”

“Hey, Shy. How’re things on your end?”

“Th-they’re good.” Fluttershy took a few steadying breaths, which carried over the phone. She sounded like she’d been crying. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine with me. I just got out of the police station, no charges or anything. And the doctor said it doesn’t look like I have a concussion or anything else to worry about. So see, everything’s just fine.”

“Good. I’ve been…” Fluttershy inhaled sharply, clearly about to cry again. “I’ve been so worried.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. But everything’s okay now. Are you with Rainbow?”

“Yeah. We went to her house.”

“That’s good, I’m glad you haven’t been alone.”

“Could we, uhm… Well, Rainbow said that we can… that we can stay here. Is… Is that okay?”

Sunset would prefer to go home, but she was already concerned enough over Fluttershy’s reaction. If she felt more comfortable at Rainbow’s then that’s where they would go. “Yeah, I’ve got no problem with it. We can stay the night there.”

“Alright. I’ll tell her you’re ready to be picked up. You’re still at the police station?”

“The one on central, yeah.”

They said their goodbyes and hung up, leaving Sunset nothing to do but wait. She’d wanted to ask Fluttershy what she’d talked to the cops about and if she knew anything else about Stormy Skies, but she wasn’t sure that doing so over the phone would be the best approach.

Without any other distractions, Sunset spent the whole time thinking about what had happened. She wondered if she could’ve handled things better, and knew that she probably could’ve. As much as she pointed at the shove as the first instance of violence that started the fight, that hadn’t really been what pushed Sunset to attack him.

So what if she had just ignored it? Just gotten back up and put herself in his way again? Would he have actually attacked her? Sunset doubted it, and even if he did, that would’ve only made him look even worse on the camera. If Fluttershy had just locked herself in another room while they waited for the cops to show up, she wouldn’t hurt all over and Fluttershy wouldn’t have to be worried about her.

And, most of all, Fluttershy would never have flinched away from her touch.

Twenty minutes of waiting gave Sunset a lot of time to think thinking. She finally managed to drag her thoughts from the fight by the time Rainbow pulled up, but that was only by focusing instead on how horrible work would be in the morning.

Sunset was surprised and disappointed to see Fluttershy wasn’t in the van, although she could hardly blame her for not wanting to go back out. “Hey, Rainbow,” she said as she climbed into the passenger’s seat. “Thanks for coming to get me.”

“No problem.” Rainbow waited until Sunset’s door was closed, then pulled away as she was buckling up. She kept glancing towards Sunset as if she wanted to say something, but couldn’t seem to find the words.

“How’s Fluttershy?” Sunset asked, as much to fill the silence as to actually find out.

“She’s… kind of a mess. Seeing him again, you know…”

“Yeah, it had to be really hard on her. Not sure that I helped on that one…”

“She’s been worried about you.”

“Yeah… I screwed up big time.”

Rainbow glanced her way again. “So, uh… you get any good hits on him?”

It was Rainbow’s tone as much as anything that made things click into place for Sunset. All the glancing wasn’t because she was disappointed at all; it was exactly the opposite. “A few, yeah. Shy tell you what happened?”

“I think she downplayed it.”

“She tell you I beat him down with a pet carrier?”

“No!” Rainbow could no longer contain her grin. “I wish I could’ve seen that!”

Sunset found herself grinning too. At least someone was on her side. She launched into a full account of what had happened, finally getting the chance to live up the moment, at least a little. She still knew she never should’ve done it, but at least she also knew that Stormy Skies finally got a little taste of what he deserved and that she had been the one to give it to him.

“I’ve gotta start working out a bit more though,” Sunset said as she gingerly stretched her sore arms. “I wish you had been there, or AJ. I’m big, but not that strong. Either of you could’ve done a lot more damage.”

Rainbow laughed. “Yeah, maybe we can get you to the gym or something. At least come jogging with me once in a while.”

“After today, that sounds like a great idea to me. Uh, maybe after I rest up a bit, though.”

“Yeah, fair.”

The celebratory tone of the conversation was enough to get Sunset feeling pretty good about everything as they drove to her house. She quickly ran in to get some pajamas for her and Fluttershy and clothes to change into in the morning, then she was back in Rainbow’s van and laughing about everything again as they drove off.

But of course, that good mood could only last until they reached Rainbow’s house. That was when the reality of the situation came back into focus as Sunset thought about talking with Fluttershy, who was sure to be much less enthusiastic.

Rainbow pulled into the driveway and clicked a button on the garage door remote in her van to get to open it. The size of her house had surprised Sunset the first time she saw it. It wasn’t excessive by any means – two above ground stories and a basement – but it had been enough to make Sunset feel a little inadequate every time she visited.

They pulled into the garage, and Rainbow clicked the button to close the door again. “Parents are asleep, so we gotta be quiet on the way in.”

“You got it.”

Sunset silently followed Rainbow to her upstairs bedroom. Along the way, she tried to figure out what she’d say to Fluttershy. She had a feeling she knew what what had caused Fluttershy to flinch, but she didn’t like the conclusion she’d reached and struggled to find another. At least she had Rainbow’s support; there was no one better to have on her side than Rainbow Dash when it came to keeping Fluttershy happy with her.

But as they walked into Rainbow’s room, Sunset quickly found she had no reason to be concerned. Without hesitation, Fluttershy jumped up from where she’d been lying on the bed to run over and throw her arms around Sunset, who barely managed to keep from crying out from the unexpected pain.

Rainbow closed the door softly behind them while Fluttershy started crying and Sunset did what she could to comfort her. “It’s okay, we’re both okay now.”

Sunset led them back to the bed, where she and Fluttershy sat on the edge. Rainbow lingered awkwardly by the door, clearly unsure what to do in this situation.

“I… when they t-took you away, I thought… I just…”

“I know, but everything’s alright now.” Sunset tapped on her head and ignored how tender it was. “Thankfully this hard head of mine is actually good for something once in a while. Doctor said to be on the lookout for things like continuous headaches and lightheadedness, but I should be fine.”

“Did, uhm, did the police give you a hard time?”

“Not really, just a lot of questions.” Sunset shrugged it off as if she hadn’t hated every moment of the day. “What about you? They wouldn’t tell me anything about what was going on with you.”

“I was okay. Everyone was nice to me.” Fluttershy tried to show a smile, but it fell away once she got a look at Sunset’s face. Sunset hadn’t had the chance to check out her reflection, but she new it couldn’t be a good sight. “Uhm, they told me he would be in jail for a little while at least. Maybe even until the trial.”

“That’s fantastic! Worth a trip to the ER and a few hours of awkward questions, as far as I’m concerned.”

Fluttershy nodded. “You’re right, but… I was… I was so scared!” Tears started rolling down Fluttershy’s cheeks again. “I didn’t know what he would do to you, and then you… I can’t believe you…”

“Come on, Shy, I’m pretty tough you know. And hey, at least I didn’t have to crawl out of a crater this time.”

Fluttershy didn’t seem comforted.

“Shy…” Rainbow took a seat on Fluttershy’s other side. “Sunset did what she needed to for you to stay safe. And, you know, everything’s okay now.”

Fluttershy looked at Rainbow, and there seemed to be something unspoken passed between the two of them. Eventually Fluttershy cast her eyes back to the ground. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry is the last thing you need to be,” Sunset said with a smile.

“So, uh…” Rainbow said, displaying her complete lack of subtlety as she changed the subject. “Guess you two haven’t really had a chance to eat anything.”

“Oh, I guess not,” Fluttershy said. “I haven’t even really thought about dinner.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured.” Rainbow stood up and walked over to the door before turning back. “I’ll go see what we’ve got.”

“I’ll help,” Fluttershy said, standing up herself.

“Shy, relax.” Rainbow grinned. “I’ll just make some pizza puffs or something, no need to worry about it.”

Rainbow left the room before Sunset could realize that could be a bad idea. “Do… you think she realizes pizza puffs usually have meat?”

“Uhm…” Fluttershy frowned. “I’ll go make sure.”

“Let’s both go. Her parents’ bedroom is upstairs, right? We shouldn’t have to worry so much about noise down in the kitchen.” Sunset shifted awkwardly. “And… I’ve had enough being by myself tonight.”

Fluttershy looked at Sunset and smiled. “Alright, Sunny.”

They stood up, but on the way to towards the door, Fluttershy stopped suddenly. “Oh!”

“Is everything okay?” Even though she had insisted she hadn’t been hurt, Sunset’s mind immediately started racing with all the things that could’ve happened to Fluttershy.

But Fluttershy just smiled and placed her hands on her stomach. “Sky’s moving.”

“Oh my god!” Sunset’s hands shot to her mouth as she beamed.

Fluttershy looked back to Sunset, and her smile shifted. It was hard to place what she might be thinking, but Sunset got the impression that she was somehow came to some sort of a realization.

Fluttershy took hold of Sunset’s hands and pulled them to her stomach. “Can you feel her?”

“No.” Sunset chuckled. “You sure you’re not just hungry?”

Fluttershy laughed. “I think I can tell the difference between a rumbly stomach and our daughter.”

That was something Sunset was sure she’d never get tired of hearing. They had finally found out Fluttershy was having a girl, and they were ecstatic. For about a week, Fluttershy had even been able to feel her moving. Sunset, however?

“Nope, I’m getting nothing.” She bent down to talk to Sky Shimmer. At eighteen weeks, she was still developing her ears and couldn’t hear yet, but it never stopped them from talking to her. “Hey, Sky. You gotta kick a little harder, little lady. Let me know you’re in there.”

Sunset placed her ear against Fluttershy’s belly to try and listen, but all she heard was Fluttershy’s stomach grumbling. “Okay, that was just you being hungry.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Yeah. Let’s go see if Rainbow has something easy to make that doesn’t have meat so the two of us can eat.”

Sunset stood up and took Fluttershy’s hand. “Three of us. Sky also needs to eat, you know.”

“Hmm, maybe that’s what all the fuss was about. Is that it, Sky? You’re moving around because Mama hasn’t had anything to eat?”

“Come on, we gotta be quiet going downstairs.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Fluttershy walked to the door, then stopped when she had her hand on the doorknob.

“Shy?”

Suddenly, Fluttershy turned around and placed her hands on Sunset’s shoulders. She stood on her tiptoes so she could kiss Sunset, who placed her hands on the small of Fluttershy’s back as she kissed her back.

When she had first learned Fluttershy was pregnant, Sunset had taken note of how wonderful she had felt the first time they said ‘I love you’ to one another. She had told herself that she would come back to that moment when times were hard, and it would give her strength.

But as it turned out, she didn’t need to. Times did get hard, and this day had been the hardest so far. But somehow, even after everything that had happened that day, Fluttershy still made Sunset feel grateful for all the turns her life had taken, and excited to see what turns were yet to come. Every day with her, Sunset found new perfect moments as they built their life and their family together.

They pulled apart and smiled at each other, then without another word, Sunset followed Fluttershy out of the room.

14 – Things Unsaid

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Chapter Fourteen

Things Unsaid

The shuffling of people rising to their feet and making their way to the door echoed through the church. Some made directly for the exit, while others congregated around the edges to speak with one another now that the service had ended.

Fluttershy, however, remained seated. It was easier for her to wait for others to get out of the way before getting up. She was, after all, twenty weeks pregnant. She still got around well enough for the most part, but mobility was beginning to be an issue.

As the people around her thinned out, Fluttershy used the back of the pew in front of her to keep steady as she rose to her feet. She made her way to the door without looking at anyone, pretending she wasn’t aware of how some of them stared at her.

As usual, Sunset was already there waiting for her. Fluttershy smiled once she saw her, even if it was a smaller smile than she’d really like to show her girlfriend.

Fluttershy was not blind to what some members of the church thought, especially the older members. No one knew the full story since Fluttershy didn’t talk to the others much, but it was easy to pick apart some of the pieces.

A young lady, barely out of school, who was very visibly pregnant. No man had ever attended church with her, and she did not wear a ring. Another woman had come to church with her at first, but after only two services, she would only show up at the end and wait in the doorway.

Occasionally Fluttershy would catch a few words of gossip. The less worldly busybodies seemed to assume they were either sisters or roommates, and that Fluttershy’s boyfriend must have left her when she became pregnant. A few others had come closer to the truth, and all Fluttershy could do was to try not to think of their opinions on the matter.

“Hi, Sunny,” Fluttershy said as she reached the door.

“Hey, Shy. How was the service?”

“It was nice.”

The two of them walked to the car side by side, but they did nothing that could be construed as romantic. Fluttershy was a gay Christian. Even if she hadn’t heard some of it firsthand from poorly concealed murmurs around her, she was well aware how people would think of that.

As with most things concerning her faith, Sunset was either unaware or unconcerned about the things people said. Or maybe she just thought Fluttershy hadn’t noticed, so she didn’t want to bring attention to it.

It was hard to say, and Fluttershy didn’t dare ask. Although Sunset had never once said anything against Fluttershy’s growing connection with her faith, Fluttershy knew she didn’t hold religion in particularly high regard. At best, Sunset seemed to consider it bizarre.

And besides, she seemed to be in a good mood, and Fluttershy didn’t want to disrupt that. She grinned as she walked, and spoke with a playfulness in her voice. “Hmm, you haven’t asked what I did today,” Sunset said with a grin.

“Oh! I’m sorry, that was rude of me.” Fluttershy frowned, cursing herself for getting so lost in her thoughts. “Uhm, what have you been up to all morning?”

“Oh, nothing.” Sunset seemed to be trying to fight it, but her grin was growing from cocky to excited. “Just got you a surprise is all.”

“A surprise? But why?”

Sunset shrugged. “Well, let’s see… You’re twenty weeks, so we’re halfway there. We could both use some good news after the past few weeks. And… hmm, I swear there was one more reason…” Sunset took a chance to look around the parking lot for prying ears as she pretended to try and remember her last reason. “Oh yeah! Because I love you.”

Fluttershy blushed and wished Sunset wouldn’t be so open, at least not until they got to the car. “Thank you, Sunny, that’s very sweet. But you know I don’t need anything.”

“Well, truth be told it’s not just a gift for you.” They reached the car, but Sunset went to the back seat rather than the front. “It’s for Sky, too.”

Sunset opened the back door and pulled out an acoustic guitar, which she handed to an awestruck Fluttershy. “Sunset, you didn’t! This must’ve cost a fortune!”

“Aww, it wasn’t that much. It’s secondhand, and I negotiated a good price for it.” Sunset grinned sheepishly. “Plus I worked out a payment plan, I’ve been paying it off for the past few paychecks. Just finished today.”

Fluttershy strummed the guitar, smiling at the sound. “You still shouldn’t have.”

“Come on, Shy. What are you gonna do? Shred some lullabies for Sky on my electric guitar?”

Fluttershy could already see it. When it was time for Sky to get to sleep, Sunset would carry her to her crib as Fluttershy carried the guitar. She’d play a gentle song, and both of them would sing quietly in a duet. Sky would fall asleep in Sunset’s loving embrace before they even reached the crib, so she’d need to be lowered in gently. Once she was tucked in, Fluttershy and Sunset would stand side by side and watch their beautiful baby girl dream peacefully.

“It’s wonderful, and I love it.” Fluttershy held the guitar tightly, as if it were an animal that needed love. “Thank you so much, Sunny, I can’t wait to start practicing!”

Sunset was all smiles as she got in the car. “We’ve got someone else you can practice for if you want.”

Fluttershy blushed at the thought as she walked around and got in the other side. “I think I should work on it alone at first. Miss Rose doesn’t need to hear all my mistakes.”

Sunset shrugged. “She wouldn’t even notice.”

Although Sunset tried to play it cool about Rose Petal, Fluttershy could tell that she was distraught over the elderly woman’s declining health. She visited almost every day, and when she could, Fluttershy would go with her. Rose had never once remembered Fluttershy, and she’d usually need to be reintroduced several times each day, but she did usually know who Sunset was.

“You should play something for her,” Fluttershy suggested. “I bet she’d really love to hear you play.”

“Yeah, if she doesn’t think I’m like six or something today.” Sunset couldn’t quite manage to feign indifference. She started the car and backed out of the parking spot, then managed to smile again as she left the parking lot. “But I guess we could bring it and see if she’s feeling up to listen to me clumsily strum through a song or two.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit. You’re really good.”

Sunset chuckled. “I’m okay, I guess. I’d probably be a lot better if I kept practicing after the Rainbooms fizzled out. Once we stopped performing, I pretty much just let my guitar gather dust until you came along.”

“And I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.” Fluttershy smiled and tried playing a few notes. It was awkward and difficult to play in the car, but at least her fingers found the frets she wanted easily enough. She imagined she’d adapt to playing the acoustic guitar just fine, but for now, she set it on the floor between her legs as they drove.

Sunset looked back at the church before turning onto the main road. “Hey, Shy? I’ve been wondering, what’ll happen with church and stuff when Sky’s born?”

Fluttershy looked at her quizzically. “Uhm, you do know I don’t have to go every week, right? I’ll just stop going until I feel well enough again.”

“Oh, yeah, I know that part. I meant more, like, with Sky. Did you, er, want her to go to church and stuff too?”

“Oh…” Truthfully, Fluttershy hadn’t given it much thought. She had always gone to church with her parents, and had taken it as a given that Sky would do the same. “I guess… it doesn’t really matter when she’s a baby. You could just watch her while I’m at church, if, uhm, if you don’t mind.”

Sunset frowned. “You say that like she isn’t my daughter too. Of course I’ll watch her.”

Fluttershy felt guilty for making it sound like Sunset wasn’t also Sky’s mom, but the reminder that they were going to be a real family together made it hard to feel too bad. Every time Sunset said something about their future as parents or called Sky her daughter, Fluttershy felt a sudden rush.

Although she did have to remember that Sunset being Sky’s mom would mean figuring out what to do about things they didn’t agree about. “I guess… we’ll have to figure out what’s best when she’s a little older. I, uhm, I do think she should be baptized, though…”

“Oh, okay. So uh, that’s just like a one-time thing, right?”

“Mmhm. Then she can just spend Sunday mornings with you. And… maybe when she’s a little older, I could try taking her and seeing how she likes it?”

Sunset hesitated. Fluttershy knew she wouldn’t have anything against Sky taking up religion if that’s how she felt, but that wasn’t really what they were talking about. As a child, Sky’s interest in religion would be directly related to what they taught her, and Sunset probably wasn’t thrilled at the idea of teaching her daughter something she didn’t believe in.

But before too long, Sunset smiled. “Yeah, I guess that sounds fair. Although I gotta ask, do any kids actually like going to church?”

“I did.”

“Wait, really? Even when you were little and you could’ve been playing with friends or watching cartoons or whatever?”

Fluttershy shrugged. “I got to wear pretty dresses and all the adults were really nice to me, and I liked all the stories and songs. Besides, that’s how I met Rainbow Dash.”

Sunset suddenly started laughing, although Fluttershy wasn’t sure what was so funny about that. “You met Rainbow Dash in church!?”

“Yes. We were in a prayer group together with the other kids. We didn’t –”

Sunset’s laughter cut Fluttershy off. “You met her in a church prayer group? Oh man, this just keeps getting better!”

Fluttershy frowned and looked out the window.

“So wait, did she get dressed up in pretty little dresses and sing songs and everything?”

Fluttershy ignored the question. The last thing she needed was for Sunset to learn that yes, Rainbow did in fact sing songs, and that it had been an early inspiration for both of them to take up singing.

“Gosh, it’s just… so hard to imagine.” Sunset’s laughter subsided, but the amusement was all too clear in her voice.

“Yeah. How could someone ‘cool’ like Rainbow ever like something like that…”

It was obvious that Sunset picked up on Fluttershy’s tone, but she hadn’t exactly been trying to be subtle. “Uh, everything okay, Shy?”

Fluttershy didn’t answer.

“Are you… mad at me?”

“No,” Fluttershy lied.

“What’s on your mind?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Shy… I’m sorry if I said something that bothered you.”

“I said it’s fine.”

Neither of them spoke, letting only silence pass between them. It was one thing for Sunset to not be interested in religion. While it would be nice to share that part of her life with the woman she loved, she understood that Sunset hadn’t grown up with religion as part of her life, and she didn’t expect her girlfriend to pick it up just because she was religious.

But it was another thing for Sunset to laugh about it, especially when she knew the reason Sunset was laughing was because she saw the whole thing as silly. Sure, it was fine for someone like Fluttershy to believe in that kind of thing, but when it was someone like Rainbow then it didn’t make any sense.

Fluttershy shifted in her seat, drawing her attention to the guitar as it rested against her legs. The gift had been incredibly thoughtful, and Sunset had given it to her just a few minutes earlier. She should be grateful, but instead she was mad at her over something dumb. The best thing to do would be to drop it, apologize, and put the whole thing behind them.

Instead, Fluttershy stayed silent for the rest of the ride. By the time they reached the hospital, she felt more angry at herself than at Sunset.

She was worried that Sunset would be upset with her, but her tone only sounded cautious as she spoke. “So, here we are.”

In a way, that was worse. It just reminded Fluttershy that she had snapped at her girlfriend for no reason. And it seemed Sunset was afraid of her snapping again, as if Fluttershy could ever be hostile towards her. It wasn’t like Fluttershy was the one who had violently exploded a few weeks ago.

Fluttershy immediately regretted even thinking something like that. She knew Sunset had only wanted to protect her from Stormy Skies, and it wasn’t like she cared about him getting hurt. But she hadn’t quite managed to shake the memory of Sunset looking so angry, or of the fact that her anger had taken such a violent form, or of the thought that maybe Fluttershy herself might make her that angry somehow…

“Fluttershy?”

“I’m sorry,” Fluttershy said before she even knew what she was apologizing for. There was usually some reason for her to apologize, after all.

“You feeling okay?” Sunset asked. “You’re kind of zoning out over there.”

“Yeah, I’m…” Fluttershy lowered her head. She couldn’t tell Sunset what was going through her mind, she could never tell Sunset she had thoughts like that about her. “I’m just feeling a little dizzy is all.”

“Oh! Want me to run in and get a water or something from the vending machine?”

Sunset was always so considerate. She did everything she could just to make Fluttershy feel comfortable, and it was stupid to be afraid of her. “No, I’ll be okay. Stretching my legs and getting a little fresh air on the way in will be good for me.”

“Alright, stay there a minute.” Sunset got out of the car and quickly went around to the passenger side. She opened Fluttershy’s door and held out a hand to help her up.

There was no need, but it was a nice gesture, so Fluttershy accepted her help. Once she was out of the car, Sunset took the guitar in one hand while offering her other arm for support. Fluttershy blushed as she linked her arm around Sunset’s, although nothing more intimate happened.

“Here, let’s take a seat on the benches,” Sunset suggested. “That way we can get some more air before going in.”

“It’s fine, Sunny. I’m feeling better already.”

“You sure? I could get you something to eat or drink, and you could try playing the guitar if you’re feeling up to it.”

“I’m sure. Let’s not keep Miss Rose waiting.”

Although Sunset looked like she might protest for a second, she shifted to a smile and led them inside. “Right, gotta get there soon in case she’s got somewhere to be.” She kept hold of Fluttershy’s arm to help steady her though, and Fluttershy didn’t bother to point out that she didn’t need it.

They stopped by the front reception, where they were immediately recognized. “Welcome back.”

“Morning,” Sunset said.

“It’s, uhm, it’s afternoon, Sunset…” Fluttershy said.

“Fifteen minutes after noon does not count as afternoon.”

“I think it technically does,” the receptionist said. She typed something into her computer, then her smile disappeared without a trace.

Sunset didn’t seem to notice. “I mean I guess, yeah, it’s technically afternoon. But it has to be one before you really call it afternoon!”

“You two are here to see Rose Petal, right?” Something in the receptionist’s tone was off.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Sunset said, her own smile fading as well. “Is this a bad time?”

The receptionist opened her mouth for a moment, then closed it and winced. Fluttershy knew what was coming without being told, and she suspected Sunset did too.

“During the night, Rose Petal passed away. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ll have the doctor come down to talk with you.”

Sunset stared without responding. Fluttershy expected something, maybe denial or anger or… something. But Sunset only stared.

Fluttershy wasn’t sure what to say, so she led Sunset to a seat. Sunset sat down, but she seemed to be in a daze. She still didn’t say anything.

“Sunset, I’m…” Fluttershy didn’t know what else to do, so she just wrapped her arms around Sunset.

Slowly, Sunset reached an arm around Fluttershy as well. She didn’t say anything, and neither did Fluttershy.

Even though Fluttershy barely knew Rose, she was on the verge of tears. She wasn’t even sure if she’d be crying for Rose or for Sunset. She chanced a look up at Sunset’s face, and saw she looked unfocused.

“It’s, uhm…” She wanted to say ‘it’s going to be okay’, but she couldn’t. She knew too well what that felt like, and that it would only make Sunset hurt more. “I love you, Sunny.”

“Yeah,” Sunset muttered slowly. “Love you too, Shy…”

It was obvious that it was only an automatic response. Sunset’s mind was somewhere else, and Fluttershy didn’t know how to bring her back.

They sat in silence until the doctor came. When she arrived, Sunset stood up to shake her hand. Just like that, she was already back to playing the calm and collected role. If Fluttershy didn’t know her better, she wouldn’t even notice anything was wrong.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” the doctor said. “You should know she went peacefully in her sleep.”

“So… what happens now?”

“Tenderheart is in charge of her affairs. I have a phone number she left for anyone who wants to get in contact about the funeral.”

“She’s the resident nurse at New Horizons. I know the phone number.”

It all seemed so casual, even if it was anything but. And the more they talked, the more it looked like Sunset was on top of everything. It was almost enough to convince even Fluttershy.

While the tone of the conversation remained solemn, they moved down a list of things to talk about quickly and with surprisingly little sentimentality. They talked about how they had known this end was inevitable, about how Rose was comfortable in her last days, that Sunset had helped with her regular visits, and the surprise of suddenly finding out like this.

The whole conversation couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes, then the doctor was on her way to her next patient while Sunset and Fluttershy were walking out of the building. Sunset walked with one hand in her pocket and the other around the guitar. She kept her eyes on the ground, and Fluttershy struggled to find something to say to her.

She never found anything, though. The best she could do was when they reached the car and she offered, “Uhm, maybe I should drive.”

Sunset continued to the driver’s side anyway. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll drive.”

Fluttershy hesitated, but Sunset didn’t. She laid the guitar in the back seat then got into the front, leaving Fluttershy standing outside the car on her own.

With nothing else to do, Fluttershy walked to the passenger’s side and got in. She left the door open and her seatbelt off to keep Sunset from driving away. “I love you, Sunny.”

Sunset’s response was detached and distant. “Love you too.”

“I, uhm…” Fluttershy struggled with her words. She wanted to insist that Sunset let her drive, that she wasn’t in a state to do it herself, but she had never been good at insisting. “I really don’t mind, if uhm, if you wanted me to drive.”

“It’s fine.” Sunset turned to Fluttershy with, of all things, a small smile. “I’m fine. I promise.”

It was true that Sunset seemed fine, although Fluttershy didn’t understand how she could be. “A-are you sure?”

Sunset took a deep breath. “Look, Shy… Yes, I’m upset. Of course I am. Rose was a big part of my life growing up, and I… I’m sad she’s gone. She deserved a lot better than…” Sunset’s voice caught in her throat, but she took another steadying breath and managed to continue with an even tone. “She deserved better than that.”

Sunset paused for a moment, so Fluttershy placed a hand on hers. She met Fluttershy’s eyes and spoke evenly as she continued. “But I think this past month has maybe given you the wrong idea about me and Rose. We weren’t really… close. I mean, I wasn’t close with anyone back then, you know? And then I moved away and didn’t even try to visit for like two years. Don’t get me wrong, I respect her so much. She was an amazing woman, and she should still be here to look after all her kids. That’s the main reason I wanted to visit her though, because how much I respect her and how unfair it was for this to happen.”

Fluttershy squeezed Sunset’s hand, who in turn smiled at her again. “I appreciate you being here for me, and trying to make things easier. But really, you don’t need to worry so much. I’m fine, Shy.”

Although she wasn’t fully convinced, Fluttershy shut her door and put on her seatbelt. “Okay, as long as you’re sure…”

Sunset started the car and left the parking lot. “I’ll drop you off at home, then I’ll head over to New Horizons. I want to talk to Tenderheart and see if there’s anything I can do to help with the funeral.”

“Oh, you don’t have to drop me off, I’ll go with you.”

Sunset smirked. “Thanks, Shy, but I’m really okay. I can handle this on my own, no need for you to worry about it.”

Fluttershy knew better than to try convincing Sunset she shouldn’t be alone, so she took a different approach. “I know you don’t need me there, but I’d still like to go. It’s not like I have anything else to do at home.”

“You could catch up on school work, practice guitar, just… do anything other than sit around for a depressing conversation like this.”

“I… I’d actually rather not be alone…” It wasn’t a lie, exactly, but Fluttershy knew she actually would be okay on her own. But if there was one thing she could count on, it was that Sunset would be more likely to agree if it was for Fluttershy’s sake rather than her own. “I know I barely knew Miss Rose, but… I’d still rather be with you right now, if… if that’s okay.”

Sunset looked her way while she paused at a stop sign, then turned her eyes back to the road as she resumed driving. “Yeah, okay. I should’ve thought about that, sorry.”

“It’s okay!” Fluttershy said quickly. “I know you’re just trying to think of what’s best for me.”

The drive to New Horizons was a little worrying, but ultimately went by without incident. Sunset focused more on the road than on conversation, and yet there were still a few times she had to stop a little more suddenly than usual or took a little longer to notice a light had changed to green.

It was enough to convince Fluttershy that she had been right to offer to take the wheel, but not enough to make her bring it up again. And really, there weren’t any close calls or anything serious, even if Fluttershy’s hand was gripping the armrest tightly the entire time.

The drive felt much longer than it needed to, as Fluttershy kept constant surveillance of the cars around them in case something popped up that Sunset wouldn’t have time to react to. She debated turning on the radio to possibly ease Sunset’s nerves, but she wasn’t sure if it would just provide another distraction that pulled from her already strained attention. She continued debating for the entire trip, unable to act on even a decision as small as that.

All the worrying was for nothing, however. They reached New Horizons safe and sound, and Sunset found a parking space.

It was the first time Fluttershy had ever seen the place where Sunset had grown up, and she found it looked much nicer than Sunset’s description had made it sound. It was a yellow two-story building, well kept and inviting. There were children running around outside, playing away in the Sunday afternoon without a care.

“This place seems nice,” Fluttershy said. It was the first time she’d tried to start a conversation in a while, having stopped when she noticed how distracted Sunset’s driving was.

“It’s okay, I guess.” Sunset turned off the car, but she didn’t get out. Instead, she stared up at the building, no doubt due to memories that came rushing back at the sight of it.

“It’ll be okay, Sunny,” Fluttershy said as she placed her hand on Sunset’s shoulder. “I’m here.”

“Yeah.” Sunset didn’t react to Fluttershy’s touch, and after a moment, she opened her door. “Well, let’s get it over with.”

Fluttershy lingered just a moment as she watched Sunset leaving the car, wondering what was going through her head and wishing she would let her in. But wishes weren’t going to do anything for them, not now, so she soon got out of the car as well.

Sunset led the way to the building, Fluttershy remaining a few steps behind. Sunset stopped to look back when she reached the door, but she opened it before Fluttershy could say anything else to her.

The inside of the building reminded Fluttershy of a school office, with pictures of New Horizons over the years. Fluttershy recognized Rose Petal in many of them.

“Hi, I’m here to see Nurse Tenderheart,” Sunset said to the receptionist.

“I’m afraid she’s very busy today. Is it an important meeting?”

“Yeah. It’s about Rose Petal. Guessing that’s what she’s busy with?”

“Oh! Oh yes, it is. I’ll call her and let her know you’re here. Name?”

“Sunset Shimmer.”

“Sunset… wait, didn’t you used to live here?”

Fluttershy looked around as Sunset and the receptionist talked. If Sunset found it hard to be in what was once her home, she didn’t act like it. In fact, Sunset once again seemed perfectly composed, almost as if nothing tragic had happened at all.

As she looked, one picture in particular caught her eye. She turned back to Sunset to ask about it, but she was still talking with the receptionist, so instead she walked over herself to get a closer look.

It was a group photo, with somewhere around twenty kids. It could’ve easily passed for a school classroom photo, except that the kids were all different ages. But mainly, there were only two people Fluttershy focused on.

The youngest and shortest kids were in the front while the staff were off to the side or in the back. Down in the front row all the way on the end was a young amber-colored girl with red and yellow hair. She didn’t even bother trying to smile for the camera, instead glaring at it as if she would rather be anywhere else.

And standing beside her was an elderly woman, though not quite as elderly as Fluttershy had ever seen her in person. Her hair was mostly maroon, even if she already had silver streaks in it, and she was much less thin and frail looking.

“I always hated taking those photos,” Sunset said from behind Fluttershy.

“Really? But you just look so happy here,” Fluttershy teased. in different circumstances, Fluttershy would’ve loved to learn more about Sunset when she was growing up, especially with pictures like this one. Even if she was determined to look as miserable as possible, Fluttershy couldn’t help but find her adorable.

“We took one every so often. I never really got it. I mean, some kids were only here for like a week or two, there’s no way they could ever get an accurate snapshot of the residents over the years.”

“Well, what about now? You must’ve known some of these kids. Isn’t it nice to have a way to look back at your old friends?”

Sunset frowned and pointed to an enthusiastic young girl. “Dew Drop. We went to kindergarten together, and I made her cry a lot. I didn’t even try to, it just seemed like every other time we talked I did something that made her cry. And this –” Sunset indicated another girl “– was her best friend, Sugar Breeze. We got into a physical fight once because I tried to steal her toy. Even when we weren’t getting into full-blown fights, we argued all the time.”

“Oh…” Fluttershy wasn’t really sure what to say. Sometimes she almost forgot that Sunset wasn’t the same person she used to be.

Sunset shrugged. “I don’t have a lot of memories worth looking back on. But it’s fine, I have a future to look forward to instead.”

Even if her tone suggested nothing was wrong, the way Sunset’s eyes were drawn to Rose in the picture said otherwise. It was hard to blame her for not wanting to get too personal in the lobby of the group home she grew up in. Fluttershy just hoped that she would open up once they were home.

But that was a question for later; for now, they had a meeting. “Hello, Sunset,” a blue woman with seafoam green hair said. “Come this way, we can talk in my office.”

They followed the woman whom Fluttershy assumed to be Nurse Tenderheart down a hall. Once they left the lobby, Fluttershy found the building had a much more homey feel to it. There was softer lighting and personal knick-knacks dotted the walls.

Even the office they were brought to felt more informal than Fluttershy had expected; the first aid and basic medical supplies looked out of place against the personal possessions and pictures.

“It’s been a long time, Sunset,” Tenderheart said. “I wish we were catching up under better circumstances.”

“Me too,” Sunset said. She took a seat across from Tenderheart’s desk and gestured to Fluttershy. “This is Fluttershy, my girlfriend.”

“Hello, Fluttershy.” Tenderheart extended her hand and shook Fluttershy’s.

“It’s, uhm…” Fluttershy had to stop the automatic response of ‘it’s nice to meet you’, since the circumstances were anything but nice. “I’m sorry about your loss.”

“Yes, it’s hard to imagine Miss Rose being gone, I’ve known her for many years now. Not quite as many as Sunset, but a fair few.”

Sunset’s eyes drifted down to Tenderheart’s desk. “Yeah, even just being here makes me feel like, you know, she could pop in at any time.”

“This must be so hard for you… I know how close you and Miss Rose were.”

Sunset picked her head up. “I’ll be okay. I did want to talk to you about the funeral though, and see if there’s anything I can do to help.”

Tenderheart smiled sadly. “That’s very thoughtful of you, but there’s no need to trouble yourself.”

“It’s no trouble! I want to help if I can.”

Tenderheart shook her head. “What I mean is that everything is all taken care of. All that I have left to do is contact the funeral home and figure out the date. We all knew this was coming, after all, so we’ve had time to prepare.”

Sunset’s head drooped again. “Oh, I see.”

Tenderheart slid a book from across her desk to where Sunset and Fluttershy could see it. “I was just looking through this before you stopped by. A few of us have been digging through the mountain of photographs we’ve got in storage here to make a photo album of Rose’s life.”

The book was already opened to an early page, and the black and white pictures showed a much younger Rose, who couldn’t have been older than thirty. Between the colorless photos and how young she was, she would’ve been unrecognizable if Tenderheart hadn’t told them whom they were looking at.

“This is such a nice album,” Fluttershy said. “I didn’t realize she’d worked here so long.”

“Yeah, she said it was still the New Horizons Orphanage when she started working here,” Sunset explained as she looked over the pictures. “Back before they decided Group Home was a nicer name.”

“She started working here when she was eighteen,” Tenderheart said. “Of course, I’m sure Sunset’s probably heard even more of that than I have.”

It was subtle, but Fluttershy noticed the way Sunset had pursed her lips at the comment. But whatever she was feeling was quickly pushed away as she looked up at Tenderheart. “Are there any pictures from way back then? I’ve never seen any of her when she was that young.”

“As a matter of fact, there is one.” Tenderheart flipped to the first page of the book, which had a picture of several older ladies and one younger one in identical uniforms standing together. “That’s Rose on the end there, on her first day working at New Horizons. I wouldn’t have recognized her if she hadn’t told me about that day herself.”

Sunset reached her hand to the photograph, tracing her fingers along the edges. “Geez, she was younger than me there.”

“They were so happy to have her work with them that they took that picture to commemorate her first day. Getting a picture taken was a big deal back in those days, you know. But given the circumstances, they decided it was worthwhile.”

Again, Sunset gave the smallest indication something about that comment seemed off to her, just a little wince that was only noticeable to Fluttershy because she’d been watching her so closely. Since Sunset didn’t enquire, Fluttershy did for her. “The, uhm, circumstances?”

“Well, back in those days, New Horizons was a genuine orphanage. These days the caretakers here are all hourly employees who are only here for their scheduled shifts, and kids are placed into foster care whenever possible. But back then, the kids were expected to be long-term residents, and the caretakers lived here with them.”

Sunset nodded slowly. “Rose told me a little about that on my first day here. She said they all lived together like a family.”

“Oh, I see,” Fluttershy smiled as she thought of what that would be like, to not just get a new job, but a whole new lifestyle. “It must have been a big deal whenever someone new came to work with them.”

“Yes, I imagine it was,” Tenderheart said. “But especially Rose, since she’d already lived here so long.”

Sunset’s eyes darted towards Tenderheart, and Fluttershy could tell she didn’t want to ask, so again, Fluttershy asked for her. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, well Rose grew up here. I don’t know what happened that she wound up living at New Horizons as a child, but she’s said that her family here is all the family she ever had.”

Although Fluttershy was sure that Sunset didn’t know Rose had been an orphan, she didn’t let any of the surprise work its way into her voice. “Don’t suppose there are any pictures of her when she lived here as a kid?”

Tenderheart sighed. “I don’t think so, but I’m actually not sure. There aren’t many pictures from back then, although there are a few photographs could be her. But who’s to say? They aren’t all dated or organized, so we can’t even compare the children in them to how old she would’ve been at the time. And while we have some old records with the names of children that would’ve lived with her, matching them to photographs would be an impossible task.”

Sunset just nodded and turned the page, finding more old black and white pictures of Rose. They spent a long time looking through pictures, and Fluttershy got the impression it was good for both of them. Tenderheart didn’t know the context for most of them, but she did share what she knew when she did.

The earlier years only had fewer photos, with Rose aging ten to fifteen years in only a few pages. Then slowly, the pictures grew more consistent. Eventually they turned to color, and Rose began looking a little more like the elderly caretaker that Fluttershy had seen standing beside Sunset in the lobby photograph.

Remembering that photo made Fluttershy realize something inevitable was coming. She couldn’t help but look forward to it a little, although she wondered how Sunset would take it.

Sure enough, about three quarters of the way through the book, a picture of Rose standing with her arm around a young Sunset popped up. Sunset wasn’t glaring at the camera, although she did look apathetic.

“Wow, a real ray of sunshine there, huh?” Sunset joked.

Fluttershy ignored the thickness in Sunset’s voice. “How old were you there?”

“That was probably middle school, so I was maybe eleven or twelve.”

“There’s a few with you in there,” Tenderheart said with a smirk. “And you’re not smiling in any of them.”

“Yeah, I had a pretty major attitude problem.”

“There is actually one picture of you two that isn’t in there, though.” Tenderheart watched Sunset with a sad expression. “When I heard from one of the hospital nurses that you started visiting her, I made sure to set it aside for you. I knew you’d come to see me once the time came and, well… You should have it.”

Tenderheart opened a drawer under her desk and pulled out a frame, which she passed to Sunset. The photo inside must have been from when Sunset had first moved to New Horizons, considering how young she was in it.

She was only five or six, and she was sitting on a couch next to Rose. Or at least, she must have been sitting up at some point before the photo was taken, but then she’d fallen asleep. She was lying against Rose, who had an arm around the sleeping girl. An open book sat on her lap, and Rose was smiling happily. And even if she was asleep, Sunset somehow looked happy too.

“That one was with her personal things in her room. She kept it on her bedside table.”

Sunset kept her eyes on the picture, and Fluttershy could tell she was trying her best to keep it together. Fluttershy put a hand on Sunset’s shoulder. “It’s a really nice picture.”

Sunset swallowed and nodded, setting the picture down in her lap. “Yeah, it is.”

Even if Sunset’s voice was surprisingly level, Tenderheart’s gentle smile proved she’d seen the brief crack in Sunset’s armor as well. “I know you meant so much to Rose, and she’d be so proud of who you’ve become.”

Sunset just nodded and looked back at the picture.

Before anyone could say anything else, Tenderheart’s phone rang. “Sorry, one moment,” she said to Sunset and Fluttershy before answering it. “Hello? Okay. No, it’s fine. I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Should we get out of your hair?” Sunset asked as Tenderheart hung up the phone.

Tenderheart sighed. “It’s been so nice reminiscing with you two, but it’s time for me to get back to work.”

As Tenderheart stood up, Sunset and Fluttershy followed her lead. “Are you sure there’s nothing else I can do to help?” Sunset asked.

“No, thank you. Oh, but do give me your phone number, I’ll call to let you know when the service is.”

Tenderheart got Sunset a pen and paper, so she wrote her number down. They thanked her for letting them look through the photo album and walked with her back to the lobby. They said their goodbyes, and she left them to go greet a young man in a suit.

Sunset led them out front, where they stopped and lingered.

“How are you feeling?” Fluttershy asked.

“I’m fine,” Sunset insisted. She did sound fine, but she still didn’t make for the car.

“Want to take a walk?” Fluttershy suggested. “I, uhm… I know it must be a lot to sink in.”

“Actually… a walk sounds nice.”

Sunset started walking, but rather than head down towards the sidewalk, she walked over the around the building. Fluttershy followed, and just hoped they wouldn’t get yelled at by anyone for loitering somewhere they obviously weren’t supposed to be.

Sunset led them to the back of the building, and soon Fluttershy could see their destination clearly. There was a garden behind the group home, full of lush flowers around a picturesque gazebo.

“This was always my favorite part of New Horizons,” Sunset said as they stopped to admire the flowers. “Even better than the library. Hell, I even liked it better than my bedroom, so long as no one else was out here with me.”

“It’s very pretty,” Fluttershy said.

Sunset nodded. “It’s Rose’s garden. She was always out here, planting things or pruning them. Even roped me into helping her once in a while.”

“Hmm, I bet you were quite the gardener.”

Sunset smirked. “Nah, I’ll leave that to AJ. I never really had the knack for figuring out what branches needed to be trimmed and all that.”

They walked along a little further, stopping at a shrub. “Figures,” Sunset muttered. “I’d kinda hoped these would be blooming.”

“Oh? What kind of plant is this?” Fluttershy was pretty sure she already knew.

“Roses,” Sunset said, confirming her suspicion. “But these ones aren’t everblooming, they’re the kind that only bloom once a year. It’s a little early for them to bloom right now, but you know. Would’ve been nice.”

Fluttershy stepped close to Sunset. “Sounds like you know more about gardening than you let on.”

Sunset blushed and scratched her head. It was funny seeing Sunset be modest about something for once. “Well, I’m still no expert.”

They continued walking until they reached the gazebo, where Sunset stopped to sit. “I used to sit out here a lot. Rose did too.”

Fluttershy sat beside her. “I can see why. It’s so peaceful here.”

They sat in silence. Fluttershy hoped it was helping Sunset. She wanted to move things along at Sunset’s pace, but it was so hard to tell what she was thinking when she would only keep insisting she was fine.

After a few minutes, Sunset opened the back of the picture frame. She opened it to reveal the photograph itself, being careful to make sure the picture didn’t fall out. Like Tenderheart had said, the picture didn’t have any date written on the back, or any other marking.

Sunset closed it and frowned. Fluttershy quirked her head, which caused Sunset to blush. “It’s… dumb.”

“What’s dumb?”

Sunset shook her head and looked away. “I don’t know. I guess I was just thinking, you know, she’s had this for all this time. Maybe… maybe she really did want me to have it. Like, she knew this was coming or something. And, I don’t know, maybe there’d be some kind of note for me or whatever.”

Fluttershy took Sunset’s hand in her own. “That’s not dumb. I… I kept looking for something secret like that too, when my mom passed away. I kept hoping she left me one last message, and I just had to find it.”

Sunset let go of Fluttershy’s hand to instead place an arm around her shoulders. “I guess there’s no knowing what someone would’ve said if they just had one more chance.”

“I know it’s hard, but you know she loved you. She kept that picture, after all.”

“Yeah.” Sunset looked down at the picture. “I’m just surprised. There was so much about her I never knew. I mean, I didn’t even know she was an orphan. I lived here for eleven years, how could I not… not know that.”

“You were little. It’s normal to not think about stuff like that as a kid.”

“I guess…”

Sunset didn’t sound too convinced, but Fluttershy didn’t know how to convince her. It wasn’t like she could even draw from her own experiences, since she could remember asking her mom about her life when she was Fluttershy’s age, whatever age that happened to be at any given time.

It was hard to say how long they sat out there, but eventually it was Sunset who stood up. “We should head home. Nothing left to stay around here for, after all.”

“Okay.” Fluttershy stood to follow Sunset. “I, uhm, maybe I should drive.”

“Really, Shy, I’m fine. I’ll drive, don’t worry so much.”

Fluttershy wanted to protest, but like always, she didn’t. She simply followed along back to the car and got in the passenger seat.

“Can you hold this for me?” Sunset asked as she held out the picture.

“Of course.” Fluttershy took the frame carefully, examining it again as she did.

She held it just a bit tighter as Sunset started the car. The anxiety from the ride to New Horizons kicked back up, and she once again resolved to be an extra pair of eyes on the road.

“Thanks for coming with me.” Sunset pulled out of the parking spot, shifted into drive, and they were on their way. “That was probably pretty awkward for you in there.”

“No, not at all.” Fluttershy chanced a smile. “Besides, I got to see how cute you used to be. That was worth coming for all by itself.”

Sunset chuckled. “Yeah, such a cute little bitch. I mean, I know I was unhappy about a lot of stuff, but seeing pictures from back then just reminds me how much of that was my own refusal to try and be happy.”

“Hmm, your poutiness was kind of cute in its own way, though.”

“If you say so.”

“I do.”

Maybe the day really had been helpful, since Sunset’s driving had improved. She was back to talking casually while she drove, and managing the car with her usual expert skill.

Fluttershy relaxed a bit more as they made their way home without the sudden stops and distant driver. They even had the foresight to stop and get food along the way, since neither of them was in the mood to make lunch.

By the time they returned home, Fluttershy thought she was beginning to understand what Sunset meant when she said she was fine. It wasn’t so much that she was fine, but more that she’d be fine. While Fluttershy had taken years to come to terms with the death of her mom, that just wasn’t who Sunset was.

Sunset would be fine, and if the day ever came that she wasn’t, Fluttershy would be there for her. It was as simple as that, and there was no need to keep worrying about it.

When they got home, Sunset brought in the guitar and drinks while Fluttershy carried the picture and food. They brought everything inside and set it on the living room table, then Fluttershy got a better idea.

She picked the frame back up and brought it to a bookshelf. The bottom shelves were filled with books, but the top one had a number of knick-knacks and mementos. Fluttershy moved them aside, then set the picture of Sunset and Rose next to another one that showed Fluttershy and Breezy Day.

“There,” Fluttershy said. She turned to see Sunset standing behind her and smiled. “What do you think?”

Sunset studied the picture for a moment then smiled as well. “Looks good. But we should eat while the food’s hot. Maybe after that we can break in the new guitar.”

Fluttershy knew Sunset was just trying to keep it together, but maybe that was okay. Maybe all Sunset needed was to keep distracted, then eventually, she’d be as fine as she said she was. Either way, all Fluttershy could do was stay by her side and be ready if she needed someone.


It was still dark when Fluttershy woke up. She’d almost slept through it, Sunset was so quiet, but something reached through her dreams and called her out of them.

“Sunny? Are you crying?”

Sunset didn’t answer, instead just gripping Fluttershy’s arm tighter.

“There there, it’s okay. I’m here.”

Fluttershy pulled Sunset closer, wrapping her arms around her. Sunset buried her face in Fluttershy’s shoulder and her sobs grew louder.

“It’s okay, Sunny.” Fluttershy mimicked what Sunset did whenever she comforted Fluttershy after a nightmare and stroked her hair while speaking gentle reassurances. “I’m here, everything will be okay.”

“I… I can’t believe she’s… she’s…”

“I know.”

“She said… she said it was like a family… when everyone lived at the orphanage. But… then in the end… it was just me. Just me and her living there.”

“She really loved you.”

“But I… it was just me and her… But then I left! I left her alone, and I… I never even looked back!”

“Oh, Sunny… Shh, it’s okay. She loved you, and she was always happy when you visited her.”

“Now… now she’s gone, and I never… I never…”

Sunset couldn’t finish her sentence as she began crying again, and Fluttershy just did what she could think of to comfort her.

“It’s okay, Sunny. Shh, it’s okay. She knew, I know she did. I promise, everything will be okay.”

15 – In Harmony

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Chapter Fifteen

In Harmony

Another crowd of people walked past as Fluttershy and Sunset looked through them for a familiar face.

“I don’t think she’s in this group either,” Fluttershy said.

“Doesn’t look like it.” Sunset checked her phone. “Any minute now, though.”

All around them, people were greeting friends and family members, but it seemed that the two of them would have to keep waiting. But, as Sunset had said, that would only be for a few minutes or so.

The crowd dispersed quickly as new arrivals made their way to the luggage claim, leaving just those who were still waiting for a different flight to come in. Fluttershy was giddy with excitement as they waited, and even if she tried to play it cool, it was clear Sunset was excited too.

Fluttershy’s text tone went off. She checked her phone to see a message from Pinkie, which read ‘The package has been received >_>’. Fluttershy smiled and texted back that they were still waiting, then put her phone away as another group of passengers deboarded.

“Do you see her?” Sunset asked as they both scanned the crowd.

“No… Maybe she’s not in this one eith–”

Fluttershy was cut off by a high-pitched squeal of delight. She broke into a grin as she saw Rarity and ran to meet her. She barely even noticed Sunset’s amused muttering behind her. “There she is.”

Rarity and Fluttershy met halfway and hugged excitedly. “Oh, I’ve missed you so much!” Rarity exclaimed. “And just look at you! You’re positively glowing!”

Fluttershy giggled as they hugged. “I’ve missed you too, Rarity.”

“Welcome back, Rarity,” Sunset said, pulling her attention from Fluttershy.

Rarity pulled away and beamed at Sunset. “Oh, don’t even think you’re getting away that easily!” She spread her arms wide open. “Come here so I can tell you how much I’ve missed you as well!”

Sunset grinned as she accepted the hug. “Hmm? Oh, you were gone?”

Rarity laughed and messed up Sunset’s hair. “You’ve been spending too much time with Applejack, I can already tell.”

“Yeah, that’s probably true.” Sunset pulled away from the hug, but her grin remained. “But seriously, it’s so good to see you again. Things aren’t the same around here without you.”

Even though she was the one who messed it up, Rarity immediately set to fixing Sunset’s hair. “Oh, it is so nice to be back, even if it is only for a week. I simply can’t wait to see everyone.”

“Speaking of which, they’re probably waiting for us,” Sunset said. “Plus we should get down to the baggage claim.”

“Pinkie texted me just a minute ago,” Fluttershy said as they started walking. “She said they got Twilight.”

“All together again at last!” Rarity exclaimed happily. “And one of us with another on the way!”

Fluttershy blushed and placed her hands on her stomach. “Not for a few more months though.”

“Oh, I know, but I’m still bursting with excitement! Tell me though, how are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, just a little dizzy every now and then. The first few months were a little hard. That’s when I had morning sickness, nausea, all sorts of icky feelings. But these days, I haven’t had too many problems.”

“Good.” Rarity addressed Fluttershy’s stomach as they walked. “Your Auntie Rarity expects you to be a perfect darling to your dear mother, young lady.”

Fluttershy smiled and rubbed her stomach. “She is. Uhm, usually.”

“You know, she can actually hear that now,” Sunset said. “Well, maybe. Probably too much noise to really make out individual sounds, not to mentions all the noises from inside Fluttershy’s body, and…”

Sunset trailed off when it became clear Rarity hadn’t paid attention to a single word after hearing that Sky’s developing ears were finally able to pick up sounds. “Oh! I’m so sorry, Sky darling, I do hope you know I didn’t mean to raise my voice at you…”

“Uh, you know ‘hearing’ isn’t the same as ‘understanding’, right?” Sunset said. “If she hears you at all, you’re just a muffled voice.”

Rarity was undeterred. “I love you, Sky! I’m very excited to meet you!”

Fluttershy giggled, even if a few onlookers caused her to blush. “And I’m sure she’s excited to meet you, too. But uhm, I think she might be asleep right now.”

“Hard work growing a body,” Sunset said. “I think this is your flight’s baggage claim.”

Rarity looked up at the sign in surprise. “Oh dear, I would’ve walked right past it. Thank you, Sunset.”

“One of us has to be the sensible one.”

“Don’t give me that, I’m on vacation. I’m allowed to keep my head in the clouds a bit.”

People were still gathering to collect their luggage, so the conveyor belt hadn’t started moving yet. At Sunset’s insistence, they walked over to some nearby benches. Fluttershy felt guilty when a young man gave up his seat for her, but there was nowhere else to sit and it was getting harder to stand for long periods of time.

“How far along are you?” he asked while they all waited for the luggage.

“Twenty-two weeks,” Fluttershy answered. That was becoming a more common question, since these days she was undeniably pregnant rather than just gaining weight.

“My sister just had her first last month. It really is something else, the first time you actually get to hold them. Even more so for the mother, I’m sure.”

Fluttershy nodded and smiled, although she couldn’t imagine how she could ever love Sky more than she already did.

It was only a short wait until the conveyor belt started, then everyone but Fluttershy made their way over to it. She stood to go as well, but Sunset and Rarity both insisted they could handle it and that she should stay seated, and her legs were a little too sore to argue.

She lost sight of Sunset and Rarity as they waited for the luggage to come down, but she enjoyed the chance to just relax. The airport was so full of people that it was easy to feel overwhelmed, so she took the chance to close her eyes and focus on happier thoughts.

Her fingers found their way to the locket she wore around her neck. Soon there would be a picture of her daughter opposite the one of her and Sunset. Her own little family all together.

Even with the tough few weeks that they’d had – the ordeal with Stormy Skies, losing Rose – her excitement only grew with each passing day. Although she knew that many of her friends and even Sunset had reservations about the pregnancy when they first found out, those days were well behind them. Now everyone had come together just for Sky Shimmer, and her friends couldn’t be more excited.

And even if the unexpected appearance of Stormy Skies had been terrifying, it had ended with a silver lining, as he was still in jail. Times had been hard, but as long as the future remained so bright, Fluttershy could deal with a few hard times.

“God damn, Rarity, did you need to bring everything?”

“Sunset, I assure you, this is only the essentials.”

Fluttershy opened her eyes to see Sunset struggling with three bags, while Rarity had two more and her purse.

“Jesus, woman, you’re here for a week!” Sunset exclaimed, unconcerned about the fact she was drawing attention. “I don’t even think I own this much shit!”

Language, Sunset.” Rarity strolled over and set her bags down to offer Fluttershy and hand in getting up. It was hardly needed, but Fluttershy accepted all the same. “There are delicate young ears listening, after all.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Sky doesn’t know what ‘shit’ means, give me a break.”

“Uhm…” Fluttershy glanced around. “True, but there are other kids, you know…”

Sunset winced at that realization. She had never been good at censoring herself around children. “Maybe it could be good practice for you. Pretend like Sky is already learning words so you have to be careful what you say around her. That way once she’s born, you’ll already have a head start.”

Sunset sighed. “Fine. You win. I’ll try to watch what I say so that our daughter’s first words aren’t swears. Now can we get out of here? This stuff is heavy.”

“I’ll carry something,” Fluttershy said.

“No,” Sunset and Rarity answered together.

Fluttershy rolled her eyes and held out her hands. “Sunset, you know the doctor said I can still lift and carry things fine.”

Sunset and Rarity exchanged looks, then eventually Sunset handed Fluttershy the smallest piece of luggage. “You sure you’re okay? Not dizzy or anything?”

The bag was even lighter than it looked, so she barely helped with the weight, but at least Sunset’s arms weren’t quite so full. “I promise I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t sure.”

It seemed to be enough for Sunset, if only barely, so she led them back to the elevators. They managed to get into one right when they got to them, and even though it was only a few floors to where they parked, Sunset promptly set her bags down.

“I could take one of the other ones,” Fluttershy reminded her.

“Hmm? No, I got it!” Sunset flashed a grin. “They aren’t that heavy, I’m just… confused why you needed so many for one week.”

“If you must know, most of these things aren’t going to be returning with me.” Rarity grinned as if it was obvious. “I couldn’t possibly come all the way from France without bringing a few souvenirs for everyone, now could I?”

“Five bags of souvenirs?” Sunset asked incredulously.

“Three. Two of them are my personal items.”

“Still seems like a lot to me. If you really wanted to give out souvenirs, couldn’t you just get a few knick knacks?”

“I have a lot of people I want to give things to,” Rarity said with a shrug. “That one’s for friends, this one’s for family, and that one there is for Sweetie Belle.”

Sunset arched an eyebrow. “You brought an entire bag of stuff for Sweetie Belle?”

“But of course! I do miss her tremendously.”

“You’re gonna spoil that girl…”

They reached their stop, and despite her insistence that the weight wasn’t a problem, Sunset still grunted as she lifted the luggage back up. Fluttershy caught Rarity’s eyes on the way out of the elevator, and they both laughed at how stubborn Sunset could be.

Sunset walked quickly to the car, likely eager to drop off her bags. Fluttershy and Rarity walked more leisurely behind her.

Of course, Fluttershy had felt Rarity’s absence immediately. The two of them had always been particularly close, even among their close-knit group, and Fluttershy missed her friend from the first day she left. But it wasn’t until they were side by side once again that Fluttershy realized exactly how much she’d missed Rarity, and how much more normal things felt with her around again.

“Here it is,” Sunset said as they caught up, “the car you’re stuck paying off for like two years.”

Although Sunset was trying to sound nonchalant about it, it was obvious that she still felt weird, even months after they first got the car. Fortunately, Rarity wasn’t having any of that. “We all did our part for the car, and I don’t regret the decision in the slightest. I trust you two have been finding it helpful?”

“Definitely.” Sunset opened the trunk and worked on fitting Rarity’s luggage in it. “It’s a lot better than getting the others to drive us everywhere, even if we still need to rely on them when Fluttershy and I both have work.”

“Oh, you don’t drive, Fluttershy?”

“I’m still learning.” Fluttershy opened the back and set one of Rarity’s bigger suitcases on the seat before either of the others could protest. “I don’t have my license yet, so I can’t drive myself if Sunset has to work. But Sunset and Pinkie have been taking me on driving lessons, and I’m getting a lot more comfortable with it.”

Rarity cast her a concerned look. “Driving with Pinkie? I do hope she’s taking it easy with you…”

“Pinkie’s been a great teacher,” Fluttershy said, a little upset at how quick everyone was to assume Pinkie couldn’t take things seriously when she needed to.

“Yeah, we’ll get Fluttershy driving on her own soon. If not before, then once Sky’s born for sure.”

“It must be hard to work driving lessons in with everything else.” Rarity placed a hand on Sunset’s shoulder. “That’s fine, Sunset, I can just fit the rest in the back with me.”

It wasn’t like Sunset could’ve gotten more in the trunk anyway, so she closed it. “It’s been hard to fit anything in, to tell you the truth. But we’re finding time where we can, and Fluttershy’s school semester is over in a few weeks.”

Fluttershy had hoped that all the talk of making time for her driving lessons would lead to her actually getting some practice in, but Sunset walked to the driver’s side without comment. Fluttershy didn’t press for anything though, deciding there would be time for that later.

“I’m taking next semester off. There’s just so much going on with the baby, it’d be too hard to keep going to school full-time.” Fluttershy frowned as Rarity got into the cramped back seat. “Here, give me that one, I can keep it at my feet.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me, darling, I’ll be fine.”

Fluttershy felt guilty for having Rarity be crowded by bags after she had just gotten off of a nine-hour flight, but she could see that arguing would just hold them up for longer.

“I do hope that won’t interfere with your studies too much,” Rarity said once Fluttershy was in the front seat.

“I’ll be fine. I’m still taking two online classes, so I won’t be completely away from school. Just, uhm, I won’t actually be in school.”

“That sounds like the way to do it.”

“It was Sunset’s idea,” Fluttershy said proudly.

“Yeah, we figured better that than have her missing class when Sky’s ready to come out,” Sunset said. “And Shy’s job said they’d work around her schedule needs, so if she works in the mornings and I do evenings, one of us will always be around to watch Sky.”

Rarity smiled. “Well, it certainly sounds like you two have things figured out pretty well.”

“Only because Sunset’s so good at all this stuff,” Fluttershy said. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

Sunset shrugged. “Have one less thing driving you crazy?”

“Or one less thing keeping me sane.”

Sunset chuckled as she started the car. “If you say so.”

“And how about you, Sunset?” Rarity asked as they drove out of the airport’s parking garage. “Is your job as accommodating as Fluttershy’s?”

“Not as much, but I can usually flex my hours a little if I need to. For now, at least.”

“For now? Is something changing with your job?”

“Hopefully.” Sunset grinned. “A manager just left, so there’s an opening. I’m up for promotion.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Rarity clapped her hands. “And I dare say, it’s about time.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there for years now. Even Lucre can’t deny it’s time for me to move up. It’ll mean I’ll have to be more available for work, but shit, I’m already working forty hours anyway.”

“Language,” Fluttershy reminded gently.

“Sorry. But yeah, it’d be nice to keep things flexible until Sky’s a little older, but the extra money is too big to pass up.”

Rarity nodded. “Yes, of course. I hate to ask such a delicate question, but how are the two of you holding up financially? I could possibly –”

“We’re fine,” Sunset said. She spoke gently, but firmly. “We really appreciate it, but you’ve already done much more than we could ever ask you for. Besides, even if Lucre can’t pull his head out of his a– can’t see that I’m the right choice, we should be alright.”

For once, Fluttershy was in agreement with Sunset on turning down the help. “We’re doing okay now that I’m working too, and we think we’ll be fine even after Sky’s born. But we’ll let you know if we need anything.”

Rarity seemed more satisfied with Fluttershy’s answer than Sunset’s. “Well, I suppose I can trust you to follow through with that at least, Fluttershy.”

“So speaking of work,” Sunset said in an obviously forced subject change, “how’s yours going these days?”

That was apparently the wrong question. “Ugh, I’m trying not to think about work.”

“Fair enough.”

“It has been going very well, even if I’m terribly busy all the time these days. Don’t get me wrong, I do love being involved in fashion, but it’s certainly a lot more work than when I was simply doing it out of passion.”

Fluttershy wondered if that’s how she would feel once she was a veterinarian. “Do you at least have enough time off to enjoy Paris?”

“Oh, certainly! There’s so much to do and see, you two really must come some time.” Rarity caught sight of Sunset’s expression and cut her off before she could protest. “Some time in the distant future, of course. Relax, Sunset, I shan’t be dragging you back with me this time, much as I may want to.”

Fluttershy giggled. “So, are you still swept off your feet every time a handsome stranger with a dreamy accent talks to you?”

Rarity grinned. “Why, Fluttershy! If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re teasing me. Sunset, what have you done to my shy little butterfly, I barely recognize her.”

“Yeah, I corrupt everyone eventually,” Sunset answered proudly.

Rather than back down like she usually would, Fluttershy pushed herself to keep the teasing up. “That, uhm, that didn’t sound like a ‘no’.”

Rarity giggled. “Well, if you must know… Yes! It truly is such a romantic place, and those accents…” She sighed contently.

“Learning any French, or too busy just listening to people talk to hear the words?” Sunset asked.

“Oui!” Rarity snapped out of her daydream and smiled. “J’apprends vite, c’est facile!”

“What’s that, ‘where’s the bathroom’?”

Rarity sighed. “Quelle vulgarité…”

“Hey, if I have to watch my French then so should you.”

“Écoute, pétasse. Je–”

“Okay!” Fluttershy said loudly. She may have only taken a little bit of French back in high school, but she knew enough to get the gist of what was going on. Fluttershy looked around for a way to change the subject, her eyes landing on her purse. “I, uhm, I have some new ultrasound pictures I don’t think you’ve seen yet.”

The others both snickered, but they let the subject move on. As Fluttershy showed off the newest ultrasound pictures, Sunset joined her in telling Rarity about how Sky Shimmer was developing.

At least there was no need to linger on awkward subjects with Sky. Between her own growth, Fluttershy’s pregnancy symptoms, and their future as moms, they never ran out of things to talk about. Sometimes Fluttershy worried she talked too much about their daughter, but no one ever seemed to mind the topic.

The conversation kept up as they drove to Rainbow’s house, where they had decided to meet up. It wasn’t normally their first choice, but it was conveniently close to Rarity’s parents’ house, making it easy for her to head there after. Besides, Rainbow’s parents would be at work anyway, so they had the whole house to themselves.

It was a point of frustration that they were meeting with Rarity right after she landed in the country. She had wanted to meet Sweetie Belle and their parents right away, but they had decided that they’d simply do dinner that night together. Everyone, even Sunset, had taken the time off from work, but Rarity’s parents had decided not to bother and to send Sweetie Belle to school as usual.

At least Rarity was happy enough to see her friends to avoid dwelling on it. She remained in high spirits as they arrived at Rainbow’s house. As expected, everyone else’s vehicles were already parked outside. Since the driveway was full, Sunset parked on the street.

While Sunset and Fluttershy exited the car, Rarity looked over her luggage. “Let’s see… I think this is the one I need.”

“Here, I’ll get it,” Sunset offered. She waited for Rarity to get out of the car, then pulled out the suitcase.

Fluttershy led the way to the house, but they were stopped before they made more than a few steps from the car. The front door swung open and a pink blur shot out at an impossible speed.

“Rarity!”

“Pinkie!” Rarity staggered a few steps back at the sudden hug, but she managed to keep from falling over. “Oh, I’ve missed you too!”

Although she smiled at the sight, Sunset left the two of them to bring the suitcase inside. Fluttershy lingered back with the others. In just a moment, Rainbow, Applejack, and Twilight all appeared in the doorway.

Fluttershy put a hand on Pinkie’s shoulder. “Alright, Pinkie, let’s give the others a chance to greet Rarity too.”

“I’m not stopping them,” Pinkie said without letting go of Rarity. “In fact…”

“Pinkie, what are you – woah!”

Pinkie used her other arm to pull Fluttershy closer, hugging her and Rarity at the same time. Seeing no reason to object, Fluttershy returned the hug to both of them.

“Er, perhaps we should move this inside, at the least?”

“Okie doki.” Pinkie let go of Fluttershy, but not Rarity. She kept one arm behind her back, and used the other to sweep behind Rarity’s knees, picking her up like a baby and carrying her towards the door.

“Pinkie Pie! Put me down!” Despite her protests, Rarity couldn’t stop laughing.

“But you said we should go inside.”

“Well, yes, but I’m capable of… you know what, never mind.” Rarity sighed and placed her arm behind Pinkie’s neck for support. “It’s good to be home.”

Fluttershy giggled as she followed them to the house. She expected Pinkie would put Rarity down outside so she could greet her friends, but she didn’t even stop.

Rainbow tried to greet her on the way past, but didn’t get very far. “Hey, Rarity, long time no… Uh, guess we’re heading inside then.”

“Rarity said we should go inside, so that’s where we’re going!” Pinkie called as she walked into the house.

Applejack and Rainbow followed Pinkie into the house, but Twilight lingered to greet Fluttershy. “Hello, Fluttershy.”

“Hi, Twilight. It’s so nice to see you again.” Fluttershy extended her arms, and Twilight accepted the hug.

“How are you feeling?” Twilight asked.

“I feel good.” Fluttershy placed her hands on her stomach. “Sky’s already so well behaved, I’ve hardly had any problems.”

“Hmm, interesting…” Twilight brought her hand to her mouth, seemingly contemplating something. “Do you think it’s been unusually good? Compared to what others experience when pregnant, I mean.”

“I, uhm…” Fluttershy shifted uncomfortably. “I’ve never known anyone who was pregnant, Twilight.”

“Right. Has the doctor said anything that made it seem like something’s different from other pregnancies?”

“No…” Fluttershy furrowed her brow. “Why, uhm, why do you ask?”

“Oh, sorry! I’m getting ahead of myself.” Twilight adjusted her glasses. “I’ve just been thinking… The seven of us are the only humans who have experienced magic firsthand. Well, that we know of anyway. And so I’ve been wondering if that’ll affect the baby at all.”

“Oh…” Fluttershy protectively covered her stomach. “Do you… do you think something bad could happen?”

Twilight frowned at Fluttershy’s response. “No no, I didn’t mean it like that! I mean, well, you said yourself it’s been going smoothly, right? It could be a good thing!”

Although she could see Twilight’s point, Fluttershy couldn’t help but shake the feeling that there was already enough to worry about without adding magic to the mix.

Her reservations didn’t seem to be shared by Twilight, however. “There’s so many possibilities! She could be the first human naturally attuned to magic! She might even –”

“She’s a regular baby, Twilight.”

Both pairs of eyes turned towards Sunset as she stepped beside Fluttershy and put an arm around her. Twilight blushed and turned away. “I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Again.”

Sunset addressed Fluttershy instead. “Rarity brought gifts for everyone, and Rainbow’s eager to get to passing them around. I don’t think Rarity would start without you, but…”

Fluttershy giggled. “I’ll come in and make Rainbow settle down.”

They walked inside hand in hand, with Twilight following nervously behind them. Fluttershy was conflicted on Sunset’s sudden appearance; on one hand, she was glad for an excuse to leave that conversation, but on the other, she didn’t want any more negativity to pop up between Sunset and Twilight.

When Twilight first transferred to CHS, she and Sunset had been inseparable. It was the first time Sunset had someone around who was as smart as she was, and they both clearly enjoyed having the chance to work together on complex problems that no one else has any hope of understanding.

And for Twilight, that meant magic. She seemed determined to learn whatever she could about it, and at first Sunset went along with it. They’d even invited the Twilight from Equestria to join them in researching the effects of magic on their world.

But then the two of them started to disagree about their studies. Twilight swore that she’d learned her lesson about messing around with things she didn’t understand during the Friendship Games, but she and Sunset had different ideas about what that meant. Sunset wanted them to only learn enough about magic so that if another threat came along, they’d have a better idea of how to handle it. But Twilight wanted to learn so much about it that it could be used safely.

Shortly after they graduated, things came to a head and the two of them got into an intense argument about it. The end result was Sunset refusing to help Twilight with her studies any longer. After that, Twilight became distant, and she suddenly decided to attend a college out of state. Sunset and Twilight had only spoken sparingly since then.

And now for the first time since then, they were in the same room. Sunset hadn’t seemed to hold any lasting ill will towards Twilight when they’d discussed her upcoming visit, but Fluttershy couldn’t help but be concerned.

For better or worse, Sunset and Twilight sat far apart from each other once they got in the living room where all their friends were. They’d brought a few extra chairs in so everyone had a place to sit, which were all arranged in a rough circle around a table with food on it. Most of the chairs really weren’t close enough to the table to get to the food, but at least they tried.

Fluttershy and Sunset took a seat on the couch next to Rainbow, while Twilight sat a few spaces down, putting Applejack in between them. On their other side, Rarity was sitting in a lounge chair while Pinkie was sitting on its armrest, leaving the final chair empty.

Applejack nodded towards Fluttershy as they sat down. “If y’all are hungry, I came over early to make sure there was more than just a bag of chips for us to eat.”

Rainbow shot her a dirty look. “I had dip to go with the chips!”

Fluttershy giggled, then turned her attention towards the table. Alongside the chips and dip Rainbow had ready for them, there was also hummus, falafels, dried fruit and nut mix, something that looked like balls of bread, and pigs in a blanket.

“Don’t mind me if I stuff my face for a bit,” Rarity said in between mouthfuls of food. “In-flight meals can only hold one over for so long.”

Sunset laughed. “You could’ve asked us to stop somewhere on the way over, we would’ve gotten you something to eat.”

Rarity looked up from the pig in a blanket that she was about to bite into. “And delay seeing everyone? I wouldn’t dream of it!”

“Well now that we’re all here, I could make ya somethin’ a bit more filling,” Applejack suggested.

“No no, this is quite good enough.” Rarity popped the finger food into her mouth, then got up to pull her suitcases closer to the chair.

While Rarity looked through her luggage, Fluttershy took one of the bread balls to try. She was surprised to find there was cheese inside, and not at all surprised to find it was delicious. Even though only she and Sunset were vegetarians, their friends always made sure there was plenty of food for them to eat.

“Since I’m not able to be here for Christmas and birthdays, I thought I might make up for it now!”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Pinkie said. “You being here is enough of a gift all on its own!”

Rarity laughed. “Oh, I just couldn’t come back home without bringing a few small things for everyone. And if I’m going to bring gifts, I might as well go all the way!”

The gift Rarity pulled out was wrapped in colorful paper, and even had a bow on top. The bow had gotten kind of squished during the trip, but it was otherwise a perfectly pristine present.

Rainbow Dash leaned forward in her seat. “Okay, so we know you didn’t have to, but since you did, let’s get to opening them!”

“Patience, Rainbow,” Fluttershy chided gently.

Rarity only laughed, however. “Don’t fret, Rainbow, I promise yours is coming and it’ll be worth the wait. This one is for Pinkie, however.”

“Ooh ooh!” Pinkie bounced on the armrest excitedly as she took the present. She gave it a gentle shake and pressed her ear to the package. “Is it a puppy!?”

“Yes, Pinkie,” Rarity said with a smirk. “I got you a puppy, put it in a box, then packed it in my suitcase for a nine-hour flight. I was so sure someone at the airport would tell me that wasn’t allowed, but it turns out the only thing they wanted to confiscate was the banana I brought.”

“Wow, what jerks!” Pinkie narrowed her eyes. “I’m going to get you so many bananas to make it up to you.”

“You’re driving me bananas!” Rainbow snapped.

Pinkie rested her arm on the present and leaned forward. “You don’t drive bananas, silly. Where would you even sit?”

“Oh my god…” Rainbow slumped in her seat.

Fluttershy giggled. “I think someone’s just grumpy because she stayed up late and didn’t get enough sleep last night.”

Rainbow groaned loudly.

“She was in PJs until just about ten minutes before everyone arrived,” Applejack said.

“What’s it matter, you all have seen me in pajamas before!”

Applejack sighed, but everyone else just laughed. Sunset took pity on her and pushed Pinkie to open her present. “So let’s see that puppy, Pinkie.”

Pinkie gleefully tore off the wrapping paper, revealing a black hat box. She removed the lid to find it was full of many smaller bags and packages. “Hey, this isn’t a puppy!”

Rarity giggled. “Your gift comes from all over France. You’ve got bêtises from Cambrai, violet candies from Toulouse, salted butter caramel candies from Brittany, calissons from Aix, and pralines from the Franco-Belgian border.”

Pinkie opened one of the candies and popped it in her mouth. “Aww, they’re almost as sweet as you! Thank you so much, Rarity!”

Rarity reached into her suitcase and pulled out a smaller square present, which she also handed to Pinkie. “And one more.”

“Another one!?” Pinkie wasted no time in ripping the paper off the second present. She opened the box inside and pulled out a snow globe. It depicted a townscape with a river through it, and a beautiful bridge running across the river as the piece’s centerpoint.

“Well, I wanted to get you something that you’d be able to have long after you’ve devoured all those sweets. That’s the Barrage Vauban in Strasbourg, which is known for its rich food. I’m certain you’d love it there.”

Pinkie shook it and watched as the snow flitted around the scene. “I already love it right here! Thanks, Rarity.”

“You’re quite welcome, darling.” Rarity returned the hug that Pinkie offered, then went back to rummaging through the suitcase. “And so that the rest of us might have some peace, why don’t we do Rainbow’s next?”

The present she pulled out was large, square, and flat. Pinkie jumped to her feet before the others could and brought it to Rainbow.

“Well, I think it’s safe to say this one isn’t a puppy either,” Rainbow said. There wasn’t much it could be, so when she tore apart the wrapping, it wasn’t surprising to see it was a vinyl record.

Even though she Rainbow didn’t get very many albums in vinyl, her mouth fell open when she saw the cover. “Oh. My. Gosh.”

The cover was a black and white picture of a large city shown from above, with the band logo at the top reading ‘Cochinchine’. Much more noteworthy, however, was the silver writing on it, which read ‘pour Rainbow Dash’ and was signed by each band member.

“I remember that you like them, so when I got the chance to work with them on their tour outfits, I just knew this would be perfect!”

“You met them!?” Rainbow turned her wide-eyed stare towards Rarity. “That is so awesome!”

Rarity grinned. “Well, only briefly. They were quite delightful people.”

“This is so cool! Thank you!”

“Told you it would be worth the wait.” Rarity pulled out another gift and handed it to Pinkie. “This one’s for Twilight.”

“For me?” Twilight said quizzically as Pinkie brought her gift. “Thank you, but you didn’t need to get me anything.”

“Oh, but of course I did! I’m a little unsure about your gift, but I do hope you’ll like it.”

Twilight grinned as she held up the obvious book. “Well, I think you definitely had the right idea, at least.”

Unlike the others, Twilight carefully removed the paper, ignoring Pinkie, Rainbow, and Applejack’s chants to just rip it off. To no one’s surprise, inside was a hardcover book. Alongside the hardcover, the gold-leafed pages, bookmark ribbon, and textured cloth dust jacket marked it as a premium edition.

“ ‘Vendémiaire’ by Émule Zélée. This is one of my favorites.” Twilight flipped open the book and smiled. “And it’s the original French text! This is a really cool gift, Rarity. Thank you so much.”

“I do hope it’s okay,” Rarity said despite Twilight’s obvious enthusiasm. “I know you don’t read French, but I thought it could still make a nice display.”

“Are you kidding? I love it! I’ve been thinking of picking up another language to round out my studies, so this will give me something to look forward to.”

Content that Twilight enjoyed her book, Rarity moved on to the next one. “And here’s Fluttershy’s.”

Fluttershy sat up straighter as Pinkie brought her a small box. Unlike Rainbow’s and Twilight’s, there was no telling what was inside this one. “Oh, Rarity, you shouldn’t have. You’ve already –”

“Tut tut, I don’t want to hear it,” Rarity said with a finger wag. “It’s always a pleasure to treat my friends.”

Fluttershy smiled and tore off the paper, a bit less enthusiastic than Rainbow or Pinkie had, and revealed a box of perfume. “La Mini-Jupe Blanche,” she read, hoping she pronounced it correctly.

“That’s all the rage in Paris right now, and I know it’s just your scent.”

If anyone knew what perfume Fluttershy would like, it was certainly Rarity. She opened the box and pulled out the bottle, spraying some on her wrist to smell it. “Ooh, that’s wonderful! Thank you, Rarity.”

Sunset laughed. “Is that a gift for Shy or for me?”

“Well, I do hope you’ll enjoy it as well,” Rarity said. “But we’ll get to your gift in a moment, it’s packed way at the bottom I’m afraid.”

Sunset had always felt awkward about receiving gifts, so she waved Rarity’s comment off. “Take your time, I’m enjoying watching everyone else get theirs.”

“Then that brings us to Applejack!” Rarity pulled out a long and thin box, which Pinkie brought to Applejack.

“This one’s a bit heavier than it looks,” Applejack said as she hefted the box. She shook it a little and grinned. “I know France is supposed to be really big on wine, but ya know I don’t go for all that fancy stuff.”

Rarity matched her grin. “Trust me, I know. I think you’ll like this quite a bit though.”

Applejack tore open the paper, finding a wine box underneath. But when she opened the box itself, what she pulled out was a glass bottle of cider. She laughed as she held it up for everyone to see. “Well, shoot. Guess ya do know me a bit better than I gave ya credit for there.”

“That’s another regional specialty, it comes from Brittany. And I promised a friend there that I’d bring back some Sweet Apple Acres cider to share the cultural experiences.”

For Applejack, the idea that her family’s cider would be enjoyed as far away as France was probably as good as trying the French cider would be. “Well I reckon we can make that happen. Thanks a bunch, Rares.”

“You’re very welcome, AJ dear. Now then, just Sunset’s left.”

The next gift was square and seemed soft, like folded fabric. As Fluttershy thought of it, she was actually surprised Rarity hadn’t given more clothes.

“Last chance for a puppy,” Sunset said as she took the gift from Pinkie. She tore open the paper and held up a large winter jacket.

“I know it’s out of season right now, but I remember you wearing that same leather jacket all winter long, so I thought you might appreciate something a bit warmer when the time comes this year.”

“It’s great, Rarity. I love it.” Sunset examined the jacket. Fluttershy doubted Sunset could tell just from looking at it, but it was clearly a designer jacket of very high quality. Sunset noticed the brand name on the tag and laughed. “Hey! You got me the bitch jacket!”

Rarity frowned. “Sunset, please, the brand is Bichette.”

“I reckon Sunset’s a little big to be a bitchette,” Applejack said. “If anyone’s a bitchette around here, it’s probably Rainbow.”

Rarity facepalmed. “It’s pronounced ‘bee-shet’! Bichette!”

“You know, Bitchette would be a pretty cool name for my band,” Rainbow said.

Sunset stood up and tried on the jacket. “How do I look?”

“I think you look quite dashing,” Fluttershy said.

“I have to agree with Fluttershy,” Rarity said, still casting dirty looks to Applejack and Rainbow. “I think that jacket is very you.”

“Yeah yeah, Sunset looks great.” Rainbow grinned excitedly. “But seriously, what do you guys think? Bitchette is a pretty cool punk band name, right?”

“Do y’all really wanna be the bitches?” Applejack asked.

“Not just the bitches, Bitchette! It’s like, owning the term, you know?”

“I… don’t think I really get it…” Twilight said.

“I kinda like it,” Sunset said. “A lot of punk bands have names like that.”

Rarity nodded. “It does have a sort of unconventional girl power vibe to it.”

“I guess you could at least bring it up with Lightning Dust and Lemon Zest,” Fluttershy added.

“How is the band going?” Rarity asked.

“They’re really good!” Pinkie exclaimed before Rainbow had a chance. “I got to watch them practice last week, and they killed it!”

Rainbow grinned. “Yeah, I’d say we’re shaping up pretty good. Hey! We’ll have to perform for you all while Rarity and Twilight are in town!”

“Ooh, that’d be a treat,” Rarity said.

“Maybe we could make like a mini show out of it! It’d be good practice since we want to start playing concerts as soon as we can.”

“That sounds like it’ll be fun,” Twilight said. “What else do you have to do before you can start playing shows?”

“Well, the main thing right now is we’re looking for a rhythm guitarist.” Rainbow jerked her head towards Sunset and Fluttershy. “But the only two guitarists I know both said no.”

Sunset placed one hand on Fluttershy’s back and the other on her stomach. “Yeah, as cool as that would be, something tells me we’re not gonna have time to go playing shows and keeping up with band practice.”

“And all the noise, and touring…” Fluttershy added.

“But wait, we’re not the only guitarists you know,” Sunset said. “You could ask Flash. You know, if the whole all-girl band thing isn’t the what you’re going for.”

“Oh, I uh…” Rainbow scratched the back of her head. “I wouldn’t mind if it’s a guy, but I thought, you know, that might be kind of weird for you two.”

Sunset laughed. “Really? Flash and I made up back in school, I don’t care if you invite him to join your band.”

The look Rainbow cast them made it clear to Fluttershy that Sunset wasn’t the one Rainbow was really concerned about. She didn’t want to point that out directly though, so she just smiled and added, “And Flash is a great guitarist. He’d be perfect for your band.”

Rainbow caught on that Fluttershy was assuring her she wouldn’t be jealous of Sunset’s ex-boyfriend being around. “Guess I’ll ask him then. I don’t know if I have his number anywhere though. We haven’t really kept in touch since high school.”

“I’ll ask him for you.” Sunset pulled out her phone and opened her text messages. “We still keep in touch.”

“Cool, thanks! Just don’t make it sound like a sure thing, he still needs to meet with the others and make sure we all sound good together.”

“Yeah, I got you.” Sunset finished her text and put away her phone.

“You know, I kind of miss being in a band,” Twilight said. “It was a lot of fun.”

“Heck yeah it was!” Pinkie exclaimed. “Ever since I saw Bitchette playing last week, I’ve been practicing the drums again.”

“Oh cool!” Rainbow said. “We’ll have to jam together sometimes.”

“Hmm…” Pinkie contemplated something, then jumped up. “Idea! Why don’t we jam, now!?”

Rainbow considered it as well. “Well, I do have some spare instruments. I’ve got a spare guitar for either Shy or Sunset, and a bass for AJ. I don’t think Lemon Zest would mind if Pinkie played on her drums. I don’t have a keyboard though…”

“It would hardly matter, I haven’t played once since leaving,” Rarity said. “But playing together could be fun, and Fluttershy, Twilight, and I could sing harmony.”

Even though she had just brought up playing together, Twilight still fidgeted in her seat. “Oh, I haven’t sung in so long though, I don’t know…”

Of all people, it was Sunset who decided to talk her into it. “I’m sure your voice is a good as ever. Besides, we’ll just be playing for fun.”

“I guess you do have a point…” Twilight thought about it for a moment more, then smiled. “Alright, I’m in.”

Applejack chuckled. “You know, I do pull my bass out once every now and then. Haven’t really kept up with it like some of y’all have, but I reckon I’m good enough to play a few songs.”

Pinkie jumped into the air. “Aww yeah, the Rainbooms are back together!”

“For an informal jam session,” Sunset said, then turned to Fluttershy. “If you want to, of course, Shy.”

“Why not? It’ll be fun.” Fluttershy placed a hand on her stomach. “Just, uhm, as long as the music isn’t too loud. Sky’s hearing is just starting to develop, and I don’t want to damage her little ears.”

“You got it,” Rainbow assured her. “One calm jam session coming up!”

“That means no pounding drum solos,” Applejack said pointedly to Pinkie.

“I know, I’ll make sure to play quietly for little Sky.”

Everyone followed Rainbow down to the basement, where she had her band stuff set up. For most of them, it was their first time being there, since they had always used Sweet Apple Acres to practice for the Rainbooms.

It was even the first time Fluttershy had been down there since Rainbow had cleared it out several months ago. As much as she felt guilty for it, she’d been far too busy with Sky to see Rainbow’s new band perform yet.

It wasn’t a particularly grand sight to behold, but it did make for a nice practice room. There was plenty of space for everyone and a mini fridge to keep refreshments for long practice sessions. A small couch took up most of one wall, which would only comfortably sit two people. Lemon Zest’s drums were set up in the back, and there was a guitar rack with two electric guitars and one bass.

Rainbow handed the bass to Applejack, then grabbed one of the guitars. “So who’s playing?”

Sunset looked to Fluttershy, leaving her to decide. “Oh, uhm, I think Sunset should play. I don’t really know very many songs yet, only a few really simple ones.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit.” Sunset took the guitar and slipped the strap over her shoulder. “I’ll start us off, but if you want to switch just let me know. I’ve got no problems letting you take over.”

Fluttershy doubted that would be happening, but she just nodded and stepped up to a microphone. “What song should we – oh!”

“Is everything okay?” Sunset asked.

“Yeah, someone just woke up is all.”

Everyone forgot their places as they ran over to Fluttershy. She smiled and looked around at all her friends. “Sunset was able to feel her move the other day. Anyone want to try?”

There was a chorus of agreement, and Rarity wound up being the first to place her hands on Fluttershy’s stomach. She was so gentle that Fluttershy had to laugh and put her hands on top of Rarity’s to press down a little harder.

“I don’t feel anything…”

“Here, this might work.” Sunset pulled out her phone and turned the flashlight on. While everyone but Fluttershy watched her in confusion, she pressed it against Fluttershy’s stomach.

“Oh! Oh oh oh oh! I felt her move!” Rarity squealed with delight.

“Ooh ooh! Me next!” Pinkie said.

“Maybe we should let Twilight try?” Fluttershy suggested. “Since she’s only here for a few days.”

“Me?” Twilight looked around in surprise. “Well, okay then…”

“What was with the flashlight?” Rainbow asked while Twilight got in place.

“Sky’s eyes are starting to develop,” Sunset explained. “They’re still not open yet, but she’s starting to be able to detect light. So sometimes a bright light will suddenly make her move.”

“Wow, that’s so cool,” Twilight said. A moment later, she broke into a grin. “I felt her too!”

One by one they all took turns trying to feel her. Not everyone was able to, but they’d all have plenty of chances later. Each week, Sky was getting bigger, and soon her movements would be more defined.

With so many friends wanting their turn, it was a while before they finally got back to the music. But Fluttershy was glad for the delay. It reminded her how much everyone was with them, and how much they all cared about one another.

And that included Sky Shimmer. Fluttershy often thought about how Sky and Sunset were her chance to finally be part of a family again, but that wasn’t fair. She had a wonderful family of sisters who were always by her side, no matter how far apart their lives took them.

When everyone had their turn, they returned to the music. There weren’t enough microphones for everyone, but that was okay. In truth, Fluttershy kind of liked crowding around a single mic with Rarity and Twilight. Applejack would occasionally step close enough to be in range of the mic as well, while Sunset and Rainbow shared the only other one and Pinkie simply managed to sing loud enough to be heard over the music.

Somehow, the seven of them found a way to be in perfect harmony.

16 – The Sound of Rain

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Chapter Sixteen

The Sound of Rain

“Fluttershy, you almost ready?”

Fluttershy groaned in response.

Sunset stood up from the couch where she’d been waiting and walked into the bedroom. Fluttershy was lying on the bed half dressed. Even though they were at risk of running late, Sunset climbed into bed with her. “Still not feeling well?”

“No…”

Sunset kicked her shoes off, then gently cuddled around Fluttershy. She slowly traced her fingers around her exposed stomach and addressed their daughter. “Come on, Sky, take it easy on your poor mama…”

As if in answer, Sunset felt a small movement. It made her spirits soar, but she kept that from showing since Fluttershy was feeling so miserable.

“I just can’t wait for this to be over with…” Fluttershy grumbled. She placed her hand on Sunset’s and softened her tone to add, “For more than one reason.”

“Yeah, me too.” Sunset took a deep breath, enjoying the content feeling of lying with Fluttershy for a few moments longer than she knew was wise. She had to get to work and Fluttershy had to get to school, but the sense of peace she felt was too good to disturb.

Of course, it would be better if Fluttershy was feeling better. It was nothing to worry about, just pregnancy hormones making her feel bad, but naturally that was only so much comfort when she was feeling sick.

“Maybe you should stay home today,” Sunset suggested, aware that they were running out of time.

“No, I can go.” Fluttershy sat up, so Sunset did as well. “Can you pass me my clothes?”

Sunset did as she was asked, handing clothes to Fluttershy then putting her shoes back on while Fluttershy got dressed. Although Fluttershy moved a little slower than usual, she still got herself ready to go quick enough.

“How do I look?” Fluttershy asked once she was dressed and off the bed.

Sunset grinned and stepped closer, pulling Fluttershy into a kiss. “Beautiful.”

Fluttershy managed a smile at the compliment. “I love you, Sunny. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Sunset shrugged. “Get your own clothes instead of having them handed to you? Doesn’t seem like that big of a loss to me.”

Fluttershy shook her head and hugged Sunset. “You wouldn’t say that if you were in my position. Some days, that’s a lot more than it sounds like.”

“Yeah, I know.” Sunset kissed the top of Fluttershy’s head. “Sure you wanna go to school? I’m sure you can make it up if you miss it.”

“Sunny, it’s the final exam. I’ve got to go.”

“Yeah, I suppose that’s true. Well, you ready to get heading out then?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

They left the bedroom, but Sunset hesitated before heading out the front door. “Think you could get a little something to eat on the way?”

“Ugh, no, I wouldn’t be able to keep it down.”

Sunset frowned. “Okay, but I’m grabbing you a granola bar. Maybe if you start feeling a bit better you can eat it later.”

Fluttershy waited by the door while Sunset grabbed the snack. “We’ll see. Thanks, Sunny.”

“No problem.”

Once Fluttershy had her granola bar tucked away in her purse, they left the house. As soon as they were in the car and she was buckled up, Fluttershy was leaning against the window looking miserable.

Sunset considered trying to get her to stay home again, but she knew that Fluttershy had a point about final exams. It would be harder to make up, and she would only be further along in her pregnancy by the time she had the chance. Besides, once all her exams were out of the way, she wouldn’t have to worry about school again until after Sky was born.

Since Fluttershy wasn’t much in the mood for talking, Sunset just let the radio play as she drove to her school. They were already running a bit late and she was wary of some dark clouds in the distance, but she was able to drive fast enough to make up the time and reach the school before it started raining.

“Go kick ass in there, Shy!” Sunset said as she dropped her off.

Fluttershy leaned down as she was out, smiling at Sunset through the open door. “Language, Sunny.”

Sunset grinned. “What? It’s a special occasion! Ass kicking is appropriate today!”

Fluttershy laughed and shook her head. “Alright, I guess it’s okay this time. Now hurry to work before you’re late.”

“Wait, you’re forgetting something.”

Fluttershy cocked her head to the side. “I am?”

“Yeah, come here.”

Fluttershy half crawled back into the car, so Sunset leaned closer and kissed her. “There, now you’re really ready to kick ass!”

Fluttershy giggled. “Okay okay. Now get going!”

“Love you.”

“Love you too.”

Fluttershy climbed out of the car and closed the door. She stepped away and waved, then walked into school. Sunset smiled until she saw Fluttershy pause and look unsteady on her feet, but then she was walking back towards the school again.

She knew Fluttershy was fine, that it was just hormones and she’d be okay in a bit, but she still hated to see her girlfriend like that. Not that there was anything she could do now. And anyway, Fluttershy was capable of taking care of herself for the day, so Sunset shifted back into drive and exited the parking lot.

Along the way to her job, the rain started. Just a bit, nowhere near enough to make it hard to see. Maybe it would even be a good thing; if the rain kept up while she was at work, it would deter customers and make her day that much easier.

And maybe soon, she wouldn’t have to deal with customers so much at all. They were still short one manager, and Golden Lucre would be making his decision about Sunset’s promotion any day. He had to, waiting much longer was only making scheduling more difficult, and then there was still training before Sunset could be expected to manage the store on her own. The sooner he promoted her, the sooner the store could get back to its standard operation.

Sunset was optimistic about her chances. There was hardly anyone else going for the position, and she had more experience than any of them. Not to mention that for the past four months, ever since they’d found out Fluttershy was pregnant, Sunset had gone above and beyond giving her all at work.

Which meant arriving on time every day, and despite the setbacks, today was no exception. The clock reported that she had five minutes before her shift started when she arrived, giving her plenty of time to get inside and punch in.

The rain was just starting to pick up, so Sunset ran to the store. The air conditioning felt colder than usual due to being wet, but she ignored that as she made her way to the office.

The time clock was just outside the office in a small hallway. Sunset usually didn’t have any reason to go into the office, but she put on a friendly smile and popped her head into the open door anyway.

All she had wanted to do was greet Golden Lucre if he was there. It was good to remind him that she existed and present herself as the type of friendly person that would be perfect for store management. But then as she looked into the room, she completely froze in place.

Golden Lucre was there, but he wasn’t alone. Standing beside him was a woman close to Sunset’s age, and she was wearing a manager’s uniform. She had pink skin and blue strands in her light yellow hair, and as soon as she turned to Sunset, both of them matched each other’s speechless expressions.

In his usual manner, Lucre seemed unaware or disinterested in the obvious awkwardness present in the room. “Ah, good morning, Sunset. Afraid we’ve decided to hire someone with a bit more managerial experience for the position. Don’t worry though, I’m sure your time is coming soon enough.”

Sunset wasn’t sure which of the two of them she wanted to yell at more. In the end, she barely held it together enough to give a half hearted reply. “Oh, alright then.”

“In the meantime, I’d like you to meet our newest team member, Sugar Breeze.”

Sugar Breeze composed herself before Sunset could and walked across the room. “We’ve actually met before.” She seemed to be studying Sunset closely as she held out her hand. “Hello, Sunset. It’s been a long time.”

‘It could stand to be much longer,’ Sunset thought bitterly, but she smiled as she shook Sugar’s hand. “Yeah, never would’ve thought I’d run into you again.”

Whatever Sugar was looking for, she seemed to find it. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she gripped Sunset’s hand tightly, although with her back to Lucre, Sunset was sure he didn’t notice. “I have to say I feel the same.”

Sunset knew she wasn’t just talking about the surprise appearance. Neither of them ever wanted to see the other again, that much was obvious. But since Sunset’s back wasn’t turned towards Lucre, all she could do was maintain a friendly smile.

“Well, I better get to work,” Sunset said as she stepped away from the two of them. For once she was looking forward to dealing with customers, if only because that would be better than dealing with Lucre and Sugar Fucking Breeze.

If they said anything else to or about her on the way out, Sunset didn’t hear it. She barely heard or noticed anything as she walked back through the store. She didn’t even so much as look at the registers, where she was supposed to be going, walking right past them.

She hadn’t planned to go to the bathrooms, but that was where she wound up. She walked straight for one the stalls, slamming the door shut behind her, and she screamed.

After a moment, a voice came from another stall. “Uh… are you –”

“Fuck off!”

There was another moment’s pause, then someone flushed a toilet and left without bothering to wash their hands.

Sunset wanted to scream again, but she gritted her teeth and held it inside. How dare he? After everything Sunset had done for this store, how dare he hire someone else instead of promoting her? He couldn’t even admit it was his decision when he literally owned the store – he had said ‘we decided’ as if there was some high council that had convened to determine Sunset’s fate.

Little by little, Sunset’s senses started returning to her. But instead of leaving the bathroom, she just leaned against the stall wall and pulled out her phone. She flipped through her text messages until she found Flash.

‘Just letting you know your uncle’s the world’s biggest dick’

She shoved her phone back into her pocket and folded her arms. She wasn’t even sure why she texted Flash, it wasn’t like he could do anything.

Several minutes ticked by while Sunset did nothing. Objectively she was trying to calm down, but she knew that would be impossible. There was nothing calm about this situation, Lucre had betrayed her and he had, of all fucking people, used Sugar Breeze to do it. And sure, Sugar didn’t know she was getting in Sunset’s way when she took the job, but that look of hers had been confirmation – their past would keep them from ever being anything other than enemies.

It was enough to make Sunset want to walk out of the store right there and then. To hell with it, let them figure out what to do without her. But… she had a family now, and as shitty as her cashier’s paycheck was, they needed it desperately.

So with nothing else to do, Sunset sucked it up and walked back into the store.


The day did not improve. Throughout Sunset’s shift, she watched as Sugar Breeze pranced around the store, learning how to do all kinds of shit Sunset had known about for years. Lucre had wanted someone with more experience? What, more experience being a suck up bitch? Because Sugar sure as fuck didn’t have much else on Sunset.

Although the two of them didn’t speak again, Sunset definitely caught Sugar Breeze looking her way a few times. And judging from her expression, she did not have high opinions of what she saw.

All day long, Sunset exchanged glares with Sugar. No doubt her foul mood bled into everything else she did as well. Not that she really cared much; she may need her job, but after what Lucre had done, she would be damned if she was going to fight for it.

The day passed painfully slowly. By the time it was over, Sunset felt like she might scream at the next person to speak with her. As such, she didn’t speak to anyone on her way out.

She frowned as she looked out the door. The rain was pouring down outside, and she’d need to cross the parking lot. She thought about buying an umbrella before she left, but that would mean talking to a coworker and giving Lucre more business. She then thought about stealing an umbrella before she left, but decided it would be too big to get away with.

But the rain was better than the store, so she stepped out into it. She hunched her back to try and keep as much of herself dry as she could, and walked steadily to the car.

She tried to open the door, realized it was locked, then stood in the rain as she fumbled to get her keys out of her wet jeans. By the time she got into the car, she was soaked.

Once the door was shut and she was safely in from the rain, Sunset let her head fall onto the steering wheel. Part of her wanted to scream some more, but a much larger part of her didn’t have the energy.

She leaned back and slumped in the chair, aware that she should get going. Instead, she pulled her phone out of her pocket. The screen had water droplets on it, but her clothes were too wet to dry it off with, so she ignored that. Checking the time underlined the fact that she should go, since she still had an errand to run before picking Fluttershy up from school. That is, if there was still any reason to bother with the errand.

Instead, she returned the missed call she had. The phone rang a few times, then Flash’s voice answered. “Hey, Sunset. Bad day at work, I take it?”

“You don’t even know the fucking half of it.”

“Aren’t you trying not to swear so much with the baby –”

“Not now, Flash!”

After a moment’s pause, Flash’s tone made it clear he knew this wasn’t a time for jokes. “Okay. So what happened?”

“I didn’t get the promotion.”

“Ouch. Did he say why?”

“He said he ‘wanted someone with more experience’.”

“Are you serious? You’ve been there for four years, how much experience does he want?”

“Oh, it’s a fucking load of shit. The bitch he hired? I lived with her back in New Horizons. She’s a god damn year older than me! How much more experience could she possibly have!?”

“Geez, that’s messed up. I’m sorry, Sunset, I wish there was something I could do.”

Sunset sighed. “Yeah, I know.” Even though Flash had tried smoothing things over between them, it hadn’t mattered. Ever since Sunset broke up with his nephew, he’d had it out for her. Always doing just enough to keep her miserable, without ever doing quite enough to make it clear he was targetting her.

She hadn’t called Flash to get him to do anything, though. “I just… I don’t know what to tell Fluttershy…”

“She knows how he is. She’ll know it’s not your fault.”

“Yeah, but…” Sunset leaned her head against the window and watched the rain come down. “I’ve kind of… mislead her a little bit.”

Flash’s voice was uncertain. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve let her believe that we’re doing okay with money, and we really aren’t. I mean, we’re doing okay now, but we’re one big expense away from being totally fucked!”

“One big expense like a baby.”

“Exactly. I thought, you know, there’s nothing to worry about. I’d get the promotion, we’d have a few months before Sky’s born to save some money, everything would be good. But now…”

“Hey, Sunset, it’ll be okay. Didn’t your friends say they’d help if you needed money?”

Sunset scowled. “They’ve done too much already. They bought us a fucking car, and Applejack’s still buying us groceries. I can’t ask them for more than that.”

Flash hesitated, and Sunset knew what was coming before he said it. “Maybe… you’re gonna have to. Sky’s what’s most important, you know?”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Sunset hated that he was right. “I’m gonna try to figure something else out though, see if there’s some way I can do this without relying on them. Please don’t tell anyone until I have a chance to figure things out.”

“Don’t tell anyone?”

“Well, they’ll know I didn’t get the promotion. But don’t tell them about the money.”

“I guess…” Flash didn’t sound so sure. “Just don’t try to do too much on your own, you know? And remember that I’m around too if there’s anything I can do.”

“Yeah, I know. Thanks, Flash.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“I’m gonna get going. I have to pick up Fluttershy from school.”

“Alright, I’ll talk to you later then.”

“Later.”

Sunset hung up and tossed the phone on the passenger seat. She lingered for a moment more as she watched the rain, then she started the car.

It wasn’t like Sunset felt better, exactly. But talking to Flash allowed her raw anger to shift form, becoming instead a more dull sense of apathy. Her life had never gone the way it should, why had she thought it would start now?

It was hard to see on the way out of the parking lot, and even harder once she was on the road. The windshield wipers moved frantically, but the rain came down faster than they could displace it. Sunset was forced to drive slowly, and since she decided to fulfill her errand after all, she drove in the opposite direction of Fluttershy’s school.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Rarity would ask about it, Sunset wouldn’t have bothered. The whole point had been that with the promotion, she and Fluttershy would finally be able to live a comfortable life together. Or at least live one out of poverty, if only barely. What was the point now?

But still, Sunset drove slowly and carefully to the jewelry store that she and Rarity had visited the week before. With the rain keeping any sane person away, Sunset had an easy time finding a good parking spot right in front of the store. At least she wouldn’t get too much wetter when she trudged through the rain again.

Sunset didn’t bother to run, only keeping her head down to keep the rain from her eyes as she entered the store. Looking up, she saw the only other person there was a sales clerk.

“Hello there, how can I help you today?” she asked, ignoring the fact that Sunset was dripping water all over the floor.

“I have a ring to pick up,” Sunset said as she approached the counter. “I was told it would be ready today.”

“Alright. Name?”

“Sunset Shimmer.”

The sales clerk typed into a keyboard. “Ah yes, just one moment.” She disappeared into a back room, then returned with a small black box.

She opened it to show Sunset, who couldn’t even manage a smile. The band was silver with a green gemstone in the middle. Of course, diamonds were traditional for engagement rings, but Rarity had been certain Fluttershy would prefer emerald. “It’s perfect.”

The clerk set the ring down on the counter and typed into the keyboard again. “And it looks like you’re all paid up, so if you’ll just sign here, you’ll be good to go.”

The document before her seemed to be a release form of some sort, indicating that Sunset had picked up the ring. With how much she and Rarity had spent on it, it was no surprise they wanted legal documentation that the transaction had been completed. Sunset didn’t bother to read any of it, signing her name to whatever end.

“It really is a gorgeous ring,” the clerk said as Sunset handed back the paperwork.

“Yeah. Beautiful.”

“Here’s your proof of purchase, and…”

Sunset didn’t pay much attention as the sales clerk explained what each item she put in the bag was. Mostly different forms – warranties and all that, most likely. If she found a reason to do so, Sunset was sure she could figure it out later.

She waited until the clerk was finished, thanked her, and took the bag. She folded it up so that water couldn’t get into the opening, then held it close to her chest for added safety as she walked back into the rain.

At least she’d been smart enough to have her key out this time, so getting into the car was much easier. She still was too wet by the time she got in, but there was no sense worrying about that.

Instead, she worried about the ring. She pulled it out of the bag, opening the little black box to look at the ring itself.

It was supposed to be perfect. Things were supposed to be better. Sunset would get the promotion, then she’d tell Fluttershy and they’d pick a date to go out and celebrate. They’d have a nice dinner out on the town with their friends, then maybe go for a walk in the evening together.

While they were both feeling good and looking forward to their future, that’s when Sunset would ask her. She hadn’t worked out all the details of where they’d be, or what she’d say. But she would ask Fluttershy to marry her, and Fluttershy would say yes, and they’d be happy.

Sunset looked down at the ring and didn’t feel very happy. What was she supposed to do? It wasn’t like she thought Fluttershy would say no just because Sunset didn’t get the promotion. But everything was different now. The ring was supposed to be a token of their new life together, a life that they could build into something worth having. It would herald in a new wave of happiness for the two of them, a way for them to fully commit to one another and to the family they were starting.

It was supposed to be, but it wasn’t. Now if she proposed, they would have a discount wedding where they spent no expense. They would return to their tiny little house that didn’t even have a seperate room for their daughter. They would save what little money they could for the little time they were able to, then they’d lose it all within months of having a baby to provide for.

Yes, they’d love each other. But love did not buy food, or diapers, or clothes. Their love would not build a life, not on its own.

Sunset stared down at the ring. It was supposed to be perfect. And now? Now it was just a ring in a box.

She snapped it shut and threw the box back into the bag. She haphazardly tossed it in the back seat, letting it come to rest on the floor, where Fluttershy wouldn’t notice it. Later, while Fluttershy was at work, Sunset would find a better place to hide it.

With her errand over and no sign of the rain letting up, Sunset started the car and found her way back onto the road. The entire time she drove, flashes of the life that could have been danced through her mind, hypnotic as the sound of the rain against metal and glass and the constant motion of the windshield wipers.

She barely noticed the trip to Fluttershy’s school. The car stopped and started almost automatically, as Sunset herself drove it on autopilot. At some point, even the thoughts faded away, leaving nothing but bitterness and rain.

It didn’t even occur to her how late she was until she brought the car to a stop. Before she could pull out her phone, Fluttershy was walking through the rain towards her.

Fluttershy reached the car and tried to open the door before Sunset realized it was still locked. She scrambled to open it while Fluttershy stood with her arms crossed. Once Sunset got the door unlocked, Fluttershy got in the car without a word.

“Sorry I’m late,” Sunset said.

“It’s fine,” Fluttershy said in a tone that was not at all fine.

Whatever was going on, they could talk about it at home. No sense getting into a discussion in the middle of a parking lot when it was clear that neither of them was in a good mood.

Sunset did want to say something to Fluttershy, though. She just wasn’t sure what. More than anything, she just wanted to hear Fluttershy’s voice. To feel that sense of peace only Fluttershy could bring into her life. To feel like maybe this, too, could be okay.

No words came. Sunset drove, turning from one street to the next, and there was nothing but silence and rain.

That only lasted so long, however. “Why were you late?” Fluttershy asked after a while.

Sunset was sure she tried to keep it from her voice, but some of an accusatory tone had worked its way into Fluttershy’s question. She frowned as she answered. “Might not have noticed, but there’s some pretty bad weather right now.”

“You’re an hour late because the rain?”

“I got held up at work. Sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

The same tone. Fluttershy was rarely this upset, especially at Sunset. She decided against waiting until they were home to figure out why. “So what’s up? You sound miserable.”

“It’s been a bad day.”

“Okay…” Sunset wasn’t really in the mood to pick things apart, but she wanted Fluttershy to air out whatever was bothering her so she could go back to her usual self. She needed at least that much to go right after the day she’d had, she needed Fluttershy’s support. “How was the final?”

Fluttershy bowed her head. “I knew the answers to most of the questions. I know I did. But then I couldn’t think. Like everything was there, but it was all fuzzy.”

Sunset nodded. “That sounds like what the doctor said to expect. Memory issues, trouble focusing. It’s the pregnancy hormones.”

“I already know that,” Fluttershy said curtly. “Knowing why isn’t going to pass the exam for me though.”

Sunset picked up a little speed. “Just trying to remind you not to be too hard on yourself.”

“I just don’t want to fail my class.”

Normally, Sunset would try to comfort Fluttershy in some way. It was what she did best, after all; talk her way out of problems. But no comforting words came to mind, so she said nothing.

“Plus my feet hurt, and I’ve been bloated all day, and I’m just… I feel so miserable.”

“Yeah, that’s the –”

“I know it’s the hormones.”

Sunset narrowed her eyes and bit her tongue.

Fluttershy turned to look at Sunset for a moment, then turned away. “And then I waited for an hour in the rain.”

Sunset glanced over to give her an incredulous look. “You were in the rain the whole time?”

Fluttershy folded her arms and glared at the floor. “No, not the whole time. Just part of it because I wanted to get away from the school.”

Sunset shook her head. “Why would you go out in the rain? Even if I wasn’t held up, that’s just dumb.”

“I went back after a few minutes. Then I was waiting for you all wet.”

“Hey, don’t pin that on me. I didn’t tell you to wait in the rain.”

“I didn’t say it was your fault.”

“No, you just made it sound like it was.”

Fluttershy was quiet for a moment, but Sunset could feel her glare. “You could’ve at least texted me that you’d be late.”

Sunset gritted her teeth as she turned too quickly for the weather. “Look, I’m sorry that you had a bad day, but you don’t need to jump down my throat about it. My day’s also been pretty shitty, and I don’t need that right now.”

Fluttershy turned back to the window. “Sorry to be a bother.”

It was as if she was deliberately trying to get under Sunset’s skin. That was the one thing Sunset had been working nonstop to convince Fluttershy otherwise of since they started living together.

Well, if that was how she was going to be, the rain would be all the answer she’d get. Sunset knew that some moodiness was expected as another side effect of the hormones, but she had spent all morning trying to take care of Fluttershy.

She’d gone to work where she had to smile through being insulted by Lucre and Sugar Breeze, she’d trudged through the rain, she’d been given a cruel reminder of a life that should have been, and now she was being attacked by the one person who had the potential to make things better.

“You should slow down,” Fluttershy said, only half interested.

“I know what I’m doing,” Sunset insisted.

Fluttershy huffed. “Why don’t you let me drive more?”

“What?” Sunset reared her head back and gave Fluttershy a bewildered look. “It’s fucking pouring down rain! You need more practice driving in the rain before you do something like this.”

“I didn’t mean right now!” Fluttershy snapped, as if that was somehow supposed to be obvious. “But you never let me drive anymore. It’s been months since I’ve been able to drive.”

“It has not been months! And it’s not like I’m stopping you, Jesus, you make it sound like I’m forcing you into some bullshit rules I made up for the hell of it.”

“Sunset, language!”

“God dammit, she’s not going to pick up swearing before she’s fucking born!”

Sunset was aware Fluttershy was looking at her, but neither of them said a word. Sunset focused on the road ahead of them with its limited visibility, made all the more difficult by some asshole behind her with high beams on.

She flipped the switch on the rearview mirror to dim the lights, and for a moment, there was silence. Just the car driving, the windshield wipers, and the rain.

Then another sound started. A sound that proved to Sunset that yes, she could be made to feel even worse. Fluttershy started crying.

At first, Sunset just kept her attention on the road. But even if Fluttershy tried to muffle the sounds, each sniff drowned out Sunset’s fiery anger. Even the ashes dissipated in the rain, leaving her nothing but empty.

“Hey, I’m sorry…” Sunset said gently. She turned to try and smile at Fluttershy, but she couldn’t. It would be forced, and Fluttershy deserved better than that. “I didn’t mean to snap, I just… Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m really sorry I yelled at you.”

When Fluttershy looked up at her, Sunset found a little bit of an authentic smile after all. “It’s okay,” Fluttershy said, sounding more okay than she had the previous two times she’d said that. “I’m sorry too, I – Sunset look out!”

Sunset turned back to the road to see a car had swerved into their lane. She slammed on both the horn and the breaks, but the car didn’t stop. She felt the wheels hydroplane, and immediately knew she’d been going much too fast.

Several things happened at once, too many for one single moment. Sunset tried to scan the environment to get a better idea of her surroundings, the car started drifting on its own to the right, Fluttershy screamed, and a horn sounded from somewhere.

The front of the car hit something, Sunset wasn’t even sure what. They started spinning, with no control over what happened. Sunset looked towards Fluttershy, who was silhouetted by high beams.

A horrible sound of impact joined in with their screams, and the car kept moving. Sunset’s shoulder slammed into her door as everything turned the wrong way.

Still, the car kept moving. Sunset couldn’t see what was happening, only feel it as she was thrown around as much as her seatbelt would allow. The only thing she was aware of was the horrible roar, her body moving out of her control, and screams.

Everything came to a stop, and Sunset realized the one screaming was her. She tried to look around, but everything was dark. She felt sick more than hurt, and it took her a moment to realize that they were upside down.

“Fluttershy?” she croaked, an automatic question that she hadn’t needed to think about asking. “Fluttershy, are you okay? Hey. Hey! Fluttershy! Fluttershy, answer me! Please, Shy, answer me!”

The only answer was the sound of rain.

i

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What was happening? Everything felt wrong. Bright lights. Slivers of movement. And someone… someone was crying.

People were talking, voices rapid and loud. The words all jumbled together. Something about blood?

Someone was crying. Crying. Was it Sunset? Or Sky? Don’t cry. I’m here. Everything will be okay.

The crying stopped, but the light grew brighter. Silhouettes blurred in and out of perception.

Where was Sunset? She should be here. What was happening? What had happened?

The people were doing things to her. Fluttershy didn’t understand. What were they doing? Why was she here? Where was she?

Nothing made sense. Thoughts jumbled together so that they could all fade away as one, only to be replaced by more confusion.

Sky. Is Sky okay? Please, God, let her be okay. She needs to be okay.

Someone was talking, but it was different. Quieter. Softer. A voice that cut through the sounds of whatever was happening. It called to her.

The voice was familiar, but distant. Fluttershy knew who it was, but that didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be.

“Fluttershy.”

She tried to look around, but she was unable to move. She had to go. She had to find the voice.

“Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy closed her eyes, and everything faded away. Even the sounds from the room around her ceased to exist. There was just her and the voice.

“Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy woke up with a start, sitting upright on her bed. She looked around, but all she saw was her bedroom. The sun was just barely rising, and she knew she should get back to sleep, but all she could think about was that strange room with all those shadows looming over her.

If she stayed in bed she might fall back asleep, and she didn’t want that. She rose, the wooden floor cold against her bare feet, and she crossed the room.

In need of a way to keep busy, Fluttershy grabbed a hairbrush. It was sitting atop a black dress, which she’d be wearing later for the funeral. She hated even looking at it, it was just another reminder that she was gone, as if Fluttershy could ever forget that.

She stared at her reflection in the mirror as she brushed her hair. She hated it. Why did she have to look so much like her? Why did her own image have to be another reminder? Just like the dress. Just like the dream.

When she closed her eyes, Fluttershy could still hear that voice calling her. She gripped the hairbrush tightly in an attempt to keep from crying, but she cried all the same.

“Mama…”

ii

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“Figured you’d be here.”

“I need to be.”

“I understand why ya feel that way, but ya also need to get some rest.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Have you slept once since she… since everything happened?”

“Here and there. I’m fine. I need to be here when she wakes up.”

“Guess I can’t fault ya for that. Coulda answered your phone at least.”

“I… I didn’t know what to say. It’s not like there’s any change. She’s still… she’s…”

“I know, I know. Of course you’ll tell all of us the second she wakes up, I wouldn’t bother you about that. But I was callin’ about you, Sunset. Are ya at least eating?”

“Yeah.”

“Bullshit.”

“…yeah. I think I ate today. I don’t really remember.”

“That’s what I figured. Brought ya something.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Come on, eat a little. For me, if not for yourself. I’m worried about you.”

“Fine.”

“Ya know, the rest of us are here too. We could work something out, stay in shifts so that way someone’s here when she wakes up. I know ya want it to be you, but…”

“I’m staying, AJ. It’s my fault she’s here.”

“Hey now, none of that. This ain’t your fault.”

“It is.”

“It’s not.”

“If I’d paid more attention to my driving, I could’ve reacted better.”

“Ya couldn’t’ve controlled some idiot driving into your lane, Sunset. This isn’t your fault.”

“But if I hadn’t been going so fast, I could’ve stopped. if I kept my eyes on the road better, I could’ve done something different. This is my fault, AJ. I know you don’t want to believe it is, but it is.”

“Jesus Christ, Sunset, are ya really that determined to be the villain every time you don’t save the day? Ya did all ya could, all anyone could ask of ya. No one blames you, Sunset. No one but you.”

“I’ll believe that when Fluttershy and Sky are okay.”

“…Sunset…”

“Yeah, I know. I know okay. She’s dead. She’s gone and she’s not coming back. And it’s all… it’s all…”

“Shh, come here. Go on, let it out.”

“I just… I can’t do this, AJ! I can’t, I can’t…”

“I know. But you still will. I’m here for ya, and so are Pinkie and Rainbow and everyone else. And Fluttershy’s gonna be okay, I promise.”

“If she doesn’t make it, I don’t… I don’t know what I’ll do…”

“She will. Listen to me, Fluttershy’s gonna be just fine, ya hear?”

“And Sky…”

“…”

“Do you… do you believe in heaven?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“I don’t. I never have. Or anything else like that.”

“Sunset…”

“So… if there isn’t a heaven… Then what does that mean for Sky?”

“I don’t want to tell ya what to believe, but… Something as good as that little girl, well… I just don’t believe that she can just be gone, just like that. There’s gotta be a heaven, Sunset. There’s just gotta be.”

“I just… I wish I could be sure of that.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“AJ, could you… stay here with me tonight? I… I don’t want to be alone…”

“Yeah, I’ll stay right here. Don’t you worry about that.”

“Does it… ever stop hurting?”

“…Mostly, yeah. It takes a long time, and sometimes it comes back and hits ya again. But someday, I promise you you’ll feel alright again.”

“I want to believe that, but… I feel so hollow.”

“I understand. But you can trust me.”

“And… and you’re sure Fluttershy will wake up?”

“Of course I am. I promised, didn’t I?”

“Yeah. Thanks, AJ.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“And when she wakes up, maybe… maybe that’ll mean you’re right about heaven, too.”

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Everyone wanted to talk to her. To tell her that they were sorry for her loss, to ask her how she was holding up. And for each of them, Fluttershy would have to lie. She had to pretend like the world hadn’t fallen from her below her. She had to put on the brave face and show them that she could be strong, even without her Mama.

All Fluttershy wanted to do was run away. The entire service, all she could think of was being back in her bedroom, where she wouldn’t be surrounded by people she barely knew, and where she could at least have a wall separating her from him.

She sat beside her father as someone spoke to the crowd about her Mama. He had never known her, but he was speaking about her life and the effect she’d had on others. Of course, it wasn’t like Fluttershy herself would be able to speak. All she could do was cry.

Her father sat stoically beside her, face unreadable. But Fluttershy had seen him crying the night before. For a moment, she had felt empathy for him during their shared grief. Then he hit her for having seen him cry, and all she could think was that if Mama was still here, he wouldn’t dare.

So Fluttershy just watched someone who never knew her mom talk about how she left behind a loving husband and daughter. Fluttershy thought differently. She’d died, and love had died with her.

After he was done, other people took to the podium. At least they had known her in some fashion, although none of them had been close to her for years. Her Mama’s declining health had prevented her from being close to anyone except her daughter and husband.

But at least they’d known her, which should have made it better. But instead, all Fluttershy could think was that none of them knew her like she did. Even her father hadn’t known her like Fluttershy had. Day in and day out, Fluttershy had been the one by her side. She had been her Mama’s world, just as her Mama had been hers.

And now, she was gone.

When everyone finished talking, they were supposed to each take a turn walking past the open casket to say their final goodbyes. Some people had tokens they would leave with her. Fluttershy had wanted to bring a sunflower because they were her Mama’s favorite. Her father had said that was stupid, so she had brought nothing.

He took the front of the line, with Fluttershy behind him. She watched his face as he looked into the casket, and saw it move from one unreadable expression to the next.

Fluttershy didn’t want to look. Her Mama was gone, and her body wouldn’t hear any last goodbyes. But she was expected to, and she dare not disappoint, so she stepped up after her father had left.

She looked into the casket and saw a young woman who looked very much like her Mama, but who wasn’t her. She was covered in blood, and her hands gripped her stomach protectively. As Fluttershy looked down at the scene, she swore she heard a baby crying.

She was expected to move along, so she did, and she did not think of the woman who looked so much like herself again.

iv

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Snow and ice crunched underfoot as Sunset walked. Everything around her was frozen, a wasteland of white and blue. A flurry of snow danced around her as she walked, whipped wildly by the winds cutting up around her. The falling frost stuck to her skin and obscured her surroundings past the point of recognition.

There was no telling how long she walked for, or even where she was walking to. It didn’t matter. Both time and distance were irrelevant to Sunset. She shivered in the cold, holding her arms close to her body in a fruitless attempt at keeping warm.

As she walked, she became aware of something. A flash of darkness against the white, only visible for a moment before it was consumed by the relentless snow. Sunset picked up her pace as she approached the place where it had been.

It was another person. Sunset was sure of that when she saw the figure again. But once again, the snow seized all color, defying Sunset’s attempts to close the distance.

“Hello?” Sunset called as she walked even faster still.

The only answer was the sound of wind.

A memory flashed, but then it was gone. All that there was in its place was ice.

Undeterred, Sunset continued after the person. “Hello, is someone there?”

A figure formed before her, coming into focus with each step through the snow. Sunset recognized the small form of a child, shrouded in darkness as if silhouetted by a light that she couldn’t see.

“Hey, are you…” As Sunset approached, more and more details of the child before her became apparent. Whoever it was had their back to her. “Are you okay?”

The figure turned towards Sunset, who stopped in her tracks as she was struck by recognition. “It’s time,” Applejack said.

Something was wrong with her voice, and she was only around eleven or twelve years old, but it was undeniable that Sunset was looking at Applejack. Sunset broke into a run, desperate to close the distance between them, but she stopped again as the horror of what she was looking at became apparent.

Her normally bright orange skin was pale blue, and neither her hair nor clothes moved in the wind. When Sunset didn’t walk closer, Applejack did it herself. Even her movement was wrong, as she seemed to practically drag herself.

Sunset took a step back as Applejack approached, but she kept coming. “Applejack, what… what happened…?”

Applejack stopped a few feet from Sunset and held out her hand. “You did.”

Up close, Sunset could see what hair Applejack still had was frozen to her skin, as were her clothes. Her body looked bloated, and patches of skin were black with frostbite. She knew exactly what she was looking at, but it was impossible.

“No.” Sunset shook her head. “No, you lived that day. This… this didn’t happen.”

“It’s time to go, Sunset.”

Sunset didn’t want to touch Applejack. She didn’t want to be near her, didn’t want to look at her. But she also couldn’t stop herself. As if she were being pulled by strings, Sunset reached out her hand and placed it in Applejack’s.

It was like nothing she’d ever felt. Or like a memory of a feeling that she’d tried to forget. Applejack’s hand froze to Sunset’s, and it burned as it did. The small icy touch was enough to make Sunset feel like her whole being was on fire.

Applejack ignored Sunset’s pain. She pulled the older woman along with more strength than a child should possess, all without a word. Sunset could only follow. Her hand was fused to the young girl’s by ice that worked its way into Sunset’s veins, leaving them frozen together by more than just their skin.

The wind howled as Applejack pulled Sunset along, until the ground fell from below them.

Sirens approached as Sunset struggled with the seatbelt. She tried to get ———— to respond, but she was met with only the sound of rain.

Everything burned, and whether by fire or ice, Sunset couldn’t tell. All that there was in the world was darkness and pain.

Then a voice cut through the darkness. A shrill cackle that had echoed through her head for years. Sunset’s voice, full of all the pain and malice she had once held so close.

“Did you really think things could be better for you?” Sunset’s voice asked. It came from within her and around her. “Did you really think you deserved better?”

“No! This is wrong!” Sunset fought against the darkness, trying desperately to separate herself from it. “I defeated you!”

Sunset’s voice laughed again. “Sorry, Princess, but not quite.”

The world shot into focus. She was floating above the ruins of Canterlot High School, and everything was on fire. On its own, her body descended in front of the statue, and Sunset saw herself in the reflective surface.

She saw a demon.

She saw fire given solid form.

“Defeated me?” Sunset watched as her mouth moved to speak words she hadn’t meant to say. “You are me, Princess. The weak part of me that’s stupid enough to think she could ever be happy.”

“You’re wrong,” Sunset shot back. Her mouth in the reflection didn’t move as she spoke. “I’m stronger than you. And with my friends, I –”

“Your friends?” Her mouth curved into a wicked grin, and Sunset realized she was only able to speak when the demon allowed her to. “Friends like this, perhaps?”

She spun around, and Sunset saw Twilight collapsed on the ground. Her skin was badly burned, and that was only where it hadn’t been melted away. Exposed bones were broken, leaving her limbs splayed in unnatural angles.

Sunset just laughed again. “What’s the matter, Princess? Can’t handle the person you are?”

“This isn’t me! You did this, I didn’t…”

“Is that what you think? There is no me and you. There’s only you and your inability to accept the fact that you’re responsible for your own actions.”

“But this didn’t happen! I was stopped, I didn’t… I wouldn’t… I’m not this person anymore.”

Sunset turned back to the statue. “Then let’s see what the new you is capable of.”

She stepped forward, into the statue, and the world disappeared around her.

There was so much blood. That was all Sunset could think as they loaded ———— into the ambulance. There was so much blood.

There was no ice.

There was no fire.

There was nothing.

The world around her was nothing but ash. That was all that was left, everything else had been burned away. And deep down, Sunset knew that was all her doing.

Sunset had been here before, even if it sometimes felt like she’d only imagined it. She’d walked the path of ashes to face the things she’d done. She’d walked it to its end, and then she kept going.

“You may have faced your past, Sunset Shimmer, but you have not been held accountable for it.”

The voice struck her with more terror than any other could. It was the one voice Sunset could not bring herself to face again, and the one voice she always longed more than any other to hear.

Sunset did not want to face it now, but her body turned on its own. She turned, and then she was frozen where she stood. Unable to move under the weight of angry magenta eyes.

“It’s time you faced your judgement,” Princess Celestia said.

“I… I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to…”

Other figures rose from the ashes. Cadance, who had only wanted to be Sunset’s friend and was punished for it. Applejack, scarred from years of being Sunset’s favorite target and a past that they still never spoke of. Princess Twilight, who Sunset had tried to take everything from for no reason other than she had been able to succeed where Sunset had failed. The Twilight she has once gone to school with, forced apart from the only friends she’d ever had because Sunset hadn’t trusted her enough. Flash, manipulated and betrayed. Rose Petal, abandoned.

There were others. Rarity, Pinkie, and Rainbow had never been safe from her torment. Snips and Snails had been the only ones who had stood by her for a time, until Sunset replaced them with better friends. Teachers, students, people, ponies, so many faces that Sunset could hardly recognize, could never hope to put names to.

There were so many, and Sunset knew she had hurt all of them. There was nothing she could say for what she’d done.

“But that’s not me anymore,” Sunset said meekly. She turned away, unable to keep staring at the crowd. “I’m better than that now.”

“And you think it is for you to decide that you can erase your past?” Princess Celestia asked her. “Do you believe the past damage has ceased to exist because you’ve decided it has?”

“No, I just…”

Sunset couldn’t find any other words to say.

She would apologize. Although she’d said it before, she could never say it enough. She would face her victims and apologize for the things she’d done. A thousand times, of take what it took.

As she lifted her head, she found there was only one person there.

“Sunset…”

“Fluttershy!”

Sunset ran towards Fluttershy. She was bleeding. There was so much blood, and it had been spilled by Sunset. By her anger and her carelessness. What good were her intentions when she could only cause pain?

Fluttershy fell to the ground. Even as Sunset reached her hands out to grab her, she disappeared, leaving nothing but ash in the place of the one Sunset had hurt more than any other.

No. There was one more.

Sunset heard a quiet voice. She had never heard it before, but she knew immediately who it was.

“M-mom… why did you let me die?”

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“Mama! Wake up!”

Even though her eyes didn’t want to open, a smile still found its way to Fluttershy’s mouth. It always did when she heard that sweet little voice.

“Mama! Come on, you gotta wake up!”

Fluttershy didn’t open her eyes, but she smiled wider. “Oh? I do?”

“Yes! It’s Mother’s Day, you can’t sleep in today!”

Fluttershy playfully turned away. “I don’t know, that seems like a good reason to sleep in if you ask me.”

She heard the sound of someone climbing on the bed, then felt two little hands shake her shoulder. “No! Me and Mom made you a surprise!”

“A surprise?” Fluttershy opened one eye and turned towards her daughter. “What kind of a surprise?”

Sky Shimmer looked towards the door. “I’m not supposed to say. You gotta see it.”

“Oh, well in that case…” Fluttershy grabbed her daughter in a hug and rolled over, holding her like a teddy bear. “I’ll have to see after I get a bit more sleep!”

“Mama, no!” Sky said through her laughter. “You can’t go back to sleep!”

Fluttershy pretended to snore, which made Sky giggle more.

“What’s going on in here?” Sunset asked from across the room.

“Mama won’t get up, she’s pretending to sleep.”

“Pretending pretty poorly, too.” Although she kept her eyes closed, Fluttershy felt the bed move as Sunset sat on it. “I’m the only one who snores in this family.”

“Mom! Help me get Mama up!” Sky struggled to get away from Fluttershy’s hug, but she couldn’t break free.

“Help you?” Sunset asked. “Oh, I think you’ve got the wrong idea.”

Sunset flopped on top of both of them, and even Fluttershy couldn’t keep herself from laughing out loud.

“It’s Mother’s Day, which means us mommies have to team up against daughters like you!” Sunset used her position to start tickling Sky, who did her best to wriggle away.

“Make sure you get her behind the knees,” Fluttershy said without opening her eyes. “That’s her weak spot.”

“Mama! You’re supposed to help me!”

Fluttershy finally opened both eyes to look at Sunset and Sky. Sunset let up in her attack at sight of Fluttershy waking up, giving Sky a chance to catch her breath. It gave Fluttershy a chance, too.

“Who said I’m not helping?” Fluttershy lunged at Sunset, tickling her behind the knee. That was more than just Sky’s weak point, after all.

“Fluttershy!” Sunset managed through her laughter. She only barely got the one word out, and couldn’t manage any others.

Sky joined in, helping Fluttershy tickle Sunset. She was much bigger than either of them, and her attempts at squirming away proved much more successful. Still, she only managed to corner herself between the bed frame and the wall.

“Okay! Okay! I give up, you win!”

Fluttershy and Sky both grinned proudly at their victory.

“What am I going to do with you two?” Sunset asked.

“Hmm… You could get rid of us,” Fluttershy suggested.

“Nah, I don’t like that idea.”

“Oh. Well then, I guess you’ll have to love us unconditionally then.”

“I think I can manage that.” Sunset beamed at both of them, then took note of how dishevelled Sky had gotten. “Come here, you.”

Sunset pulled Sky over to her and smoothed out her hair. It looked like it had been tied up somehow before, but that had come undone. Sky sat patiently as her mom worked out the now tangled mess of pale yellow and pink.

“I had it all braided before you decided to make a mess of her,” Sunset teased as she worked.

“Oh? Was I the one that started tickling?” Fluttershy countered.

“I don’t like it this long,” Sky said. She frowned, but she didn’t try to get away. She was far too well-behaved for that.

“No?” Fluttershy said as she brushed a strand behind Sky’s ear, revealing more of her golden eyes and the freckles that dotted her pretty baby blue face. “I guess we could always cut it all off.”

“No!” Sky said, pulling away just a little. “Not all of it!”

Fluttershy laughed. “How would you want it then?”

Sky thought for a minute, then pointed just a little above her shoulder. “This long.”

“That’s pretty short, Sky,” Sunset said as she finished untangling it. “You’re lucky to have nice long hair like your mama.”

Sky pouted. “I guess…”

“If you don’t like it long, we can try cutting it short,” Fluttershy said. “It’s only hair, it’ll always grow back.”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah, of course.”

That brought the smile back to Sky’s face. Even though they’d picked out the name before she was born, Sunset always said her smile was the reason they named her Sky Shimmer, since it shone like a sunrise.

“Now then,” Fluttershy said. “What’s this I hear about a surprise?”

“Oh!” Sky shot up. “We made breakfast!”

“Aww, you two didn’t have to do that,” Fluttershy said.

“Sure, but we wanted to do something nice for you,” Sunset said.

“What about you though?” Fluttershy asked. “You deserve to be treated on Mother’s Day, too.”

Sunset grinned. “Well, if you wanna keep that in mind around dinner time…”

Fluttershy laughed and threw a pillow at her.

Sky took hold of one of each of their hands and tried to pull them away. “Come on! Before it gets cold!”

Fluttershy giggled. “Okay, okay. Let’s go.”

They both kept hold of Sky’s hands as they climbed off the bed, letting her lead them out into the living room.

“You know,” Sunset said quietly as they walked, her tone much darker than it had been. “This can’t last forever.”

Fluttershy frowned. “I don’t want to leave.”

“Fluttershy, you need to wake –”

“I don’t want to.”

They all stopped in place as Sunset frowned. She let go of Sky’s hand and slowly drifted away from them. “Shy… I need you… Please, please wake up…”

“Mama?”

Fluttershy pulled Sky closer, wrapping both arms around her.

Sky rested her head against Fluttershy’s stomach. “Mama, I’m scared…”

“Shh, everything will be okay.” Fluttershy stroked her daughter’s hair. Sunset was still talking, she was pleading for Fluttershy to wake up. Didn’t she understand? Didn’t she see how much better things were this way?

“Don’t leave me, Mama…”

“Never.”

Sunset’s words grew more and more distant. Fluttershy loved Sunset, she loved her with all her heart. But it was Sky who needed her more than anything, and Fluttershy was never going to let her go.

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“God… I… I’ve never done this before, but… But I don’t know what else to do. I know that there’s no reason for you to do anything for me. I know I’ve never believed in you, and… even now, I can’t really bring myself to believe this will work, but… I need to try.

“I wish I did believe. I wish I thought Sky was in heaven, and that we’d be together again someday. I wish I could think that maybe Rose had to go when she did so that someone was there to look after Sky until Fluttershy and I get there. I wish I could give life and death meaning like that. I really do.

“I just can’t. I can’t. No matter how much better it would be, I can’t believe that. But… but Fluttershy does. She believes in heaven, and in you, and in all the stuff that’s just too good for me to wrap my head around.

“I think… that’s the part that really gets me about the whole thing. I think that it’s hard for me to believe anything as good as, well, as you could actually exist. I think for me… Fluttershy is the closest I can come to that. She’s so good, she’s the best thing someone like me could believe in.

“She… she doesn’t deserve this. She deserves to stay here with the people who love her. You know that. You have to know that. If you’re real, you have to know that Fluttershy doesn’t deserve to die.

“And if someone does, if someone has to go, then please… let it be me. I’ve done so many bad things that I’ll never be able to take back. I’ve tried to do a few good ones, but I know that doesn’t make up for it. But Shy… she’s perfect. Or as close to perfect as anyone ever could be. So please… let it be me instead of her.

“…There was something that happened. That night at the lake those years ago. Something that I never understood. When I was under the ice, I couldn’t see anything. And then… I saw the sun. I knew that was the way to go, and if I hadn’t, well… Applejack wouldn’t be here today.

“But that’s impossible. The sun had set, and the no light could get through the ice. I know that, but I saw it, and it led me to safety. I kind of always thought… maybe that was something. Maybe I didn’t just imagine that.

“And now I’m thinking… If you did that, if you helped me get Applejack to safety, then maybe you can help me now. Show me what to do. Give me, I don’t know, some sort of sign that I can use to figure out how to help Fluttershy.

“I don’t know what I’d do without her. And I know she’s too good for me, and that I could never deserve someone like her, hell, I don’t deserve to be happy at all. So even if she hates me, even if she wants to blame me for everything that happened and never wants to see me again, just…

“Please let her wake up.”

17 – The End of the Dream

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Chapter Seventeen

The End of the Dream

It sounded like a lullaby. Something Fluttershy might play for Sky Shimmer to help her fall asleep. It invited her back to dreams, and Fluttershy longed to accept. But it also called for her to wake, and as much as she fought it, that held the stronger pull.

Some part of her knew, even before she dared to think it. Some part of her had known the moment it happened, when the first flashes of terror had reached her even in her dazed state. Some part of her had known, and it had tried to keep the rest of her from finding out.

But it had failed.

Fluttershy opened her eyes. Her vision was as blurry as her memories. There was white and blue and lights, and that was all she could see of her surroundings. The soft music followed her into consciousness, not a dream after all. It clashed with a harsh and steady beeping sound, neither noise concerned with the other. Her mouth held a horrible dry taste.

The worst was the way she felt, though. She didn’t hurt. There was no sensation as simple as pain. She felt wrong, as if she wasn’t in her own body. She didn’t try to move, not at first. She didn’t want to. She wanted to fade back into the blissfulness of sleep.

Because if she was awake, she would have to think about what had happened. She would have to acknowledge the only logical outcome. She would have to know what she would be told when she asked the question she would have to ask, and she would have to hear the words even if she didn’t need them.

If she was awake, she would have to face the fact that she felt hollow, and she would know exactly why.

A sharp breath brought the sound of music to an end. As the lullaby faded, so too did the dream. Fluttershy was awake.

“Fluttershy?” Rainbow asked.

If there had been even a sliver of hope that she might get to sleep again, Rainbow’s voice had shattered it. Fluttershy tried to say Rainbow’s name, but her voice could not form anything as coherent as that.

“Fluttershy! Oh my God!”

There were sounds first. A guitar knocking against a hard surface, the strings resonating slightly with the force. A chair scraping against the floor. Three footsteps.

Then a blur of many colors entered her field of vision. Fluttershy’s eyes adjusted slowly as she stared up at Rainbow.

“Fluttershy! You’re awake!”

Even as dazed as she was, Fluttershy could tell Rainbow sounded happy. She tried to speak again, to slightly better results. “R-Rainb…”

“Hold on! I’ll get a doctor!”

“W-wait…”

Rainbow disappeared from Fluttershy’s field of vision. She took a couple of steps away, then returned after a moment. “Okay, I paged the doctor, so someone should be coming.”

“I… what…”

“Shh, take it easy.” As her vision adjusted, Fluttershy could make out Rainbow’s worried expression. “You’ve been out a while, Shy. Let’s just wait for the doctor to get here.”

“How long…”

“Uhh…” Rainbow looked away for a second. “A week. You’ve been out for a week.”

“Su… Sunset…?”

“Oh my gosh!” Rainbow disappeared again. “That’s right, I have to tell her!”

Fluttershy finally felt the pain as she moved her arm. It made her suddenly realize that her whole body hurt, but she ignored that. Even though moving her arm from her side to her stomach was a short distance, it took tremendous effort.

Still, she had to. She had to see, even if she knew what she would find. She didn’t have a choice.

She knew. She knew before her hand ever reached her stomach. She knew before she’d woken up. Fluttershy knew, and yet, she couldn’t believe it. She didn’t want to. She wanted to believe that her stomach would be even bigger and firmer from the week she’d slept, from Sky growing, from things being the way they were supposed to be.

But her stomach felt soft and didn’t protrude. There was nothing there aside from excess fat that her body had stored in preparation for Sky. Her fingers tightened around the thin fabric that covered her. It hurt to grip, but she barely noticed.

For years, Fluttershy had practiced crying quietly. Even when she was safe from Stormy Skies, she would always make as little noise as she could when she cried. This time, however, Fluttershy screamed. The sound hurt coming out of her throat, but that was nothing compared to the pain in her heart.

“Shy!?” Rainbow ran back to her side immediately. “Woah, okay, maybe… Maybe you should ease up on your grip there…”

It took a second for Fluttershy to register that Rainbow had taken hold of her hand. She was trying to get Fluttershy’s hand back to her side, but that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, Fluttershy grabbed Rainbow’s arm with her other hand and held as tightly as she could.

“R-Rain… Rainb-bow… Sky…” Fluttershy could barely get the words out through her tears to begin with, but at Sky’s name, her crying doubled. Instead of the question that she didn’t want to ask, guttural noises forced themselves out of Fluttershy’s mouth.

“Shy, I’m…”

Rainbow trailed off, and Fluttershy continued to cry. She barely noticed Rainbow’s presence, although she continued to hold her hand. She barely even noticed when someone else entered the room.

“Fluttershy?” a woman’s voice said. “I’m Doctor Caring Heart, and I’ll be taking care of you. I brought you some water. How are you feeling?”

Fluttershy didn’t answer. She didn’t even stop crying, although it subsided somewhat as the doctor approached.

“She just woke up,” Rainbow said. “And, she… she’s not taking it well.”

“Fluttershy, can you hear me?” Caring Heart asked.

“Y-yes…” Fluttershy turned to face Caring Heart, lifting her head a little bit.

“Good. And how about your vision. Can you see how many fingers I’m holding up?”

It was still a little blurry, but Fluttershy could make it out well enough. “Three.”

“Very good. Do you think you’d like to try drinking some water?”

It hurt to stretch her arm out for the cup, but she didn’t have to reach far. When she saw Fluttershy move to take it, Caring Heart brought the cup nearer to her hands. She waited until she was sure Fluttershy’s grip on it was secure before letting it go.

Swallowing also hurt, but it eased some of the dryness in her mouth. She didn’t need the doctor’s reminder to take little sips slowly; she didn’t think she could manage to do otherwise.

As Fluttershy drank, the doctor checked the beeping device next to the bed. “And how are you feeling? Any severe pain or discomfort?”

“Everything… hurts.” Fluttershy tried to look over her body a little better, but she was covered in a blanket. All she could see clearly was that she was in a blue hospital gown and that she had an IV sticking out of one arm. There was another tube that seemed to come from her face, and she realized it connected to her nose. She wasn’t sure how she hadn’t felt it before, and it made her wonder what else was going on with her body that she was unaware of.

“I’m not surprised. Frankly, it’s a miracle you’re alive. Does any part of your body hurt more than the rest?”

Fluttershy wasn’t even sure of that herself, she hadn’t had the chance to properly take inventory of how she was feeling at all. But it didn’t matter, there was one thing that she couldn’t keep avoiding. “My… my daughter…”

The doctor turned to her and Fluttershy could read it on her face. They had both known it was coming, even if they both had already known the answer. “I’m sorry, but she didn’t make it.”

The words struck worse than any blow ever could. Even though she had already known. It wasn’t like she’d even been foolish enough to hold any hope. She had known, but she had still needed to hear the words. And they hurt worse than anything she had felt in her life.

Everything else was suddenly unimportant. The doctor and Rainbow both tried to get Fluttershy to respond, but she couldn’t care. It didn’t matter. Nothing did. How could it? How could life just continue on when Sky had been taken from her?

Sky. Sky Shimmer. Her perfect little baby girl, who had come into her life unexpectedly and then had become the center of her world. She had been nothing more than a small bump and the occasional movement, just a scan on a computer screen, only a few months of discomfort.

And yet, she had been so much more. She had been the focal point of everything Fluttershy dreamed about. She had been the source of Fluttershy’s happiness. She had been the reason for her to keep going.

Fluttershy hadn’t even once stopped to think about that. How everything had been for Sky. She had found a job so that she could support her daughter. She was learning to drive so that she could bring her to the places she needed to go. She had taken time off from school so she could focus on being a mom.

Sky Shimmer had been everything. And now she was gone.

Although she was done crying, at least for the moment, Fluttershy completely detached from what was going on around her. When she proved unresponsive to questions, the doctor proceeded to examine her as best she could. Fluttershy didn’t speak, but she didn’t resist either.

The world would move on, but Fluttershy did not have to move with it. If the doctor found anything worrying in her examination, she didn’t say. Or perhaps she did, and Fluttershy simply hadn’t heard. It didn’t matter. Nothing did.

That belief was called into question when the door opened. Fluttershy didn’t bother to turn and look at who entered, not until she heard Sunset’s voice. “Fluttershy…”

Fluttershy turned and their eyes met. Sunset was the only person who was going through the same thing, the only one who could truly understand what Fluttershy felt. Fluttershy looked to her for some sign of understanding, some knowledge that they were together on this. Instead, she found Sunset smiling.

“You’re awake.” Sunset walked across the room and gently took hold of Fluttershy’s hands. “I was so scared. I thought… I thought you’d…”

The doctor addressed Sunset. “Her vitals are good. A little weak, but well within expectations. But she’s been unresponsive since she heard about her daughter.”

“Could you give us a little bit?” Sunset asked without taking her eyes off Fluttershy.

“Of course. Page me when she’s ready to talk, or if there’s any sign of problems.”

The doctor left the room, leaving Sunset, Rainbow, and Fluttershy. Although Fluttershy expected Sunset to talk, it was Rainbow who spoke next. “I’ll step out to call the others and let them know Shy’s awake.”

Sunset nodded. “Good idea, thanks.”

Then Rainbow left and it was just the two of them. They were silent for a moment more, until Sunset finally spoke. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up, I had work. But I left as soon as I got Rainbow’s message.”

“Sky…”

Sunset’s gaze fell to their hands. “Shy, I’m… I’m so sorry…”

The tears came again as Fluttershy had to face the fact there were some problems that even Sunset couldn’t fix. Sunset didn’t say anything. What was there to say? No words could ever make things better.

Instead of words, Sunset sat down on beside her. They were cramped on the tiny hospital bed, and Fluttershy was too sore to attempt to make room for both of them, but it didn’t matter. Fluttershy leaned against Sunset, who put an arm around her back and gently nuzzled against her head, and it meant more than words possibly could.

The two of them stayed pressed together in silence as Fluttershy cried. In the past, moments like this would bring Fluttershy comfort until she finished crying. Now each tear only made her feel emptier, and the only comfort Sunset’s presence could give was that she didn’t have to be empty alone.

Even when Rainbow returned, Sunset remained where she was. “Applejack and Pinkie are on their way. Rarity wanted to call, but I told her it probably wasn’t the best time.”

“Thanks, Rainbow,” Sunset said.

“So, uh…” Rainbow shifted nervously. “Feeling any better, Shy?”

When Fluttershy didn’t answer, Sunset did for her. “I think it’ll be a while before she’s really feeling better.”

“Yeah, of course…”

“Uhm.” All eyes turned to Fluttershy. “What… what happened t-to Sky?”

At first, no one answered. Fluttershy pulled away enough to look at Sunset, who was looking elsewhere. Fluttershy took a shaky breath before asking again. “Sunset, what happened to our daughter.”

“We buried her.” Sunset’s lip shook as her mouth tried to form more words.

“She’s at Sweet Apple Acres,” Rainbow added quietly.

Sunset rested her head on Fluttershy’s again, and she felt tears drip onto her shoulder. “You woke up,” Sunset said, voice shaking. “When Sky was… when she was born. You woke up, but you didn’t… say anything. Just… screamed. Then you went back to sleep.”

“I don’t remember that. I only remember being in the car.”

“Good. It’s better. That was just… just pain.” Sunset wiped her eyes, although the tears continued to come. “I didn’t know what to do without you. What you’d want. They were going to cremate her, but we thought it’d be… better to have somewhere to visit her. And the house is… who knows how long we’ll live there. But Sweet Apple Acres will always be there, and it’s… it’s…”

Fluttershy placed her hand on Sunset’s cheek and swallowed her own tears. She tried to answer, tried to tell Sunset she approved of the choice, but she couldn’t speak. Instead, she nodded and hoped that Sunset would understand.

Hours passed in a blur. Once Sunset managed to stop crying, she asked Fluttershy if she was ready for the doctor. In truth, she wasn’t, but she did want to get out of the hospital. If answering the doctor’s questions was the only way to do that, then she would answer them.

The doctor didn’t ask Sunset to get off the bed, so she remained beside Fluttershy. Many times during the examination, Fluttershy felt like locking up again, but Sunset was always there to bring her back. Still, it was hard to talk when she knew it was only a normal routine for the doctor, hard to imagine anything could ever be normal again.

Pinkie and Applejack arrived while the doctor conducted her exam. Pinkie ran over to the bed as soon as she was in the room, hugging both Fluttershy and Sunset together. A stern look from the doctor and gentle guidance from Applejack brought her to the side of the room. She cried quietly as she sat between Rainbow and Applejack, who both did their best to comfort her so the doctor could finish.

There didn’t seem to be any cause of concern, so the doctor left with the promise that someone would be by to check on Fluttershy soon. Things should have gotten easier then, but without the script to follow, Fluttershy was forced to find her way through the maze of conversation on her own.

Everyone had the same things to say. They were so happy that she was awake. They had been so worried about her. No one mentioned Sky.

It was hard. Everyone was so happy. Fluttershy understood. They were happy because she was awake, they had been scared. She would feel the same way if any of them woke up from a week-long coma. But Fluttershy’s world had crumbled, and everyone else was just so happy.

Everyone except for Sunset. She put on a good act. She even joked around a little bit when Applejack said that she’d practically lived in the hospital for the past week. But then her eyes would meet Fluttershy’s, and the pain would be there. Even when she laughed. Even when she smiled.

It was later than Fluttershy expected by the time someone came to see her. It was a nurse, and she brought another glass of water and a plate of food for her. She gave her the water right away, although she kept the food on a table out of reach.

Seeing it made Fluttershy realize how hungry she was, but there was a bigger question on her mind. “Can I go home?”

The nurse frowned at the question, and Fluttershy knew the answer. “The doctor wants you to stay overnight to make sure you’re feeling better before you leave. There’s no sign of anything to be worried about, but it’s important to be sure.”

“I want to go home.”

“Shy…” Sunset placed a hand on hers. She hadn’t moved from the bed since she’d arrived. “This is important. And… if anything happens, we don’t have a car to bring you back.”

No one had mentioned that. “The car doesn’t work anymore?”

Sunset frowned and looked away. “Yeah, I… I don’t know how much you remember, but it completely flipped over. But don’t worry about that right now, we just need to worry about you.”

Fluttershy couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping in the hospital, not after she’d already been unconscious for a week. Thankfully, Sunset seemed to know what was on her mind. “I’ll stay in the hospital with you all night, so you won’t be here alone.”

It wasn’t like she could really argue. She hadn’t even tried to stand yet, and she didn’t need to try walking to know she wasn’t going to be getting around on her own. What choice did she have? “Okay…”

“Can she change into regular clothes?” Sunset asked the nurse.

“Not with the catheter in. And she’ll be stuck with that until she’s removed from the IV and nasogastric tube.”

Fluttershy found herself feeling embarrassed and self-conscious. She hadn’t even realized that she was hooked up to a catheter, although she knew that was only logical.

“How long does she need those for?”

“Lucky for you, I brought something to see about removing that nasogastric tube now.” The nurse took the plate of food he’d set aside earlier and brought it to Fluttershy. “I heard you’re a vegetarian, so I thought celery and potato soup might be a good bet.”

Alongside the soup, there was a bread roll and a cup of fruits. It looked similar to a school lunch – utterly average. Fluttershy managed to sit more upright, as much to show she could move on her own as to get more comfortable, and Sunset adjusted the bed so she could still lean back if she wanted to.

She tried a spoonful of the soup first, and found it was only slightly warm. Still, it tasted amazing. She could hardly believe how good it was, and began eating ravenously.

Her appetite seemed to amuse her friends. “Heh, I never knew anyone to eat hospital food like that,” Applejack said.

The nurse laughed. “I assure you it’s as bland as it looks. That’s just what happens if you haven’t had any solid food in a week.”

“Don’t worry, Shy,” Pinkie said. “We’ll get you something nice and tasty soon!”

“This is great,” Fluttershy said.

“Be careful when you do start eating better food,” the nurse said. “Stick to blander food at first and work flavors back into your diet. Not that you’ll have to worry about that while you’re here, though.”

The nurse waited while Fluttershy ate, wanting to make sure she could eat the more solid food as well. Although she was still hungry when she finished, the nurse told her that she’d have to wait for more; no matter how much food her body wanted, her stomach could only handle so much at a time. The nurse left them with a bag in case she wound up not being able to keep the food down, then left to check with the doctor about removing the IV and catheter.

“Feel a little better with something in your stomach?” Applejack asked.

“A little.” It was true in a sense. Physically, Fluttershy was starting to feel just a bit better, even if she still felt horribly weak. In the sense that truly mattered, however, Fluttershy wasn’t sure if she’d ever feel better again.

“You’ll be good as new in no time!” Rainbow insisted.

Pinkie walked to the foot of the bed. “Maybe we can start exercising those legs while we wait. Come on, try lifting your left leg for me!”

“Uhm, Pinkie? I’m not wearing underwear.”

Pinkie facepalmed. “Oh, right. Okay, everyone to the other side of the room so Fluttershy can move her legs without worrying about us!”

It was a good idea, and it might help her get out of the hospital. But Fluttershy didn’t have it in her to go along with it. “Not right now, Pinkie… I, uhm…”

“Everything okay, Shy?” Rainbow asked.

Fluttershy looked around the room at all her friends, letting her eyes fall on Sunset last. “I’m… happy you all came.” That wasn’t true. Fluttershy wasn’t happy about anything. But it was good her friends came, and that was the sort of thing she was supposed to say. “But, I, uhm…”

“It’s been a crazy day,” Sunset continued for her. “For Fluttershy more than anyone. I think she’d like some quiet for now.”

“I’m sorry…”

“No need to apologize,” Applejack said.

Although Rainbow looked momentarily upset, she soon smiled comfortingly. “Yeah, we’ll see you tomorrow, right? And by then we should be able to bust you out of here!”

“How about me and Rainbow drop the bike off at your house?” Applejack suggested. “Rainbow can drive it, and I’ll follow behind and bring her back to get her van. Then when y’all are ready to leave, I’ll come pick ya up.”

Sunset looked at Fluttershy then tossed Rainbow the key. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. Thanks, guys.”

“No problem,” Rainbow said. “And call us if you need us.”

“Of course.” Fluttershy couldn’t manage a smile as her friends left, but she would at least keep it together as they said their goodbyes. “Can, uhm, can someone call Rarity for me? Tell her I’m sorry for not calling myself, but…”

“Aww, she’ll understand,” Pinkie said. “I’ll give her a call.”

“Thanks, Pinkie.”

They all hugged Fluttershy and Sunset in turn and echoed Rainbow’s sentiment about being a phone call away. Rainbow and Applejack left first, with Pinkie following behind them. As she reached the door, however, she stopped and turned back.

Even though they’d just hugged, Pinkie walked back to hug Fluttershy again. Her voice was much softer than usual as she spoke. “I… I’m really sorry about…”

Fluttershy had to hold in the tears threatening escape, but she found she appreciated what Pinkie was trying to say, even if she couldn’t quite get the words out. “I know. Thank you, Pinkie.”

As they pulled apart, Pinkie looked like she too might start crying at any moment. But she held it together and offered one more sad smile as she turned to follow the others.

The door shut behind her, and Fluttershy and Sunset were alone. At first neither of them said anything. They didn’t even look at one another. While their friends were with them, Fluttershy had been so focused on keeping herself together that she wasn’t exactly sure what to do now that she didn’t have to.

“I’m sorry,” Sunset said eventually. “I’m so sorry… This is all my fault…”

“It’s not your fault.” It was almost an automatic response. There was no way Fluttershy could blame Sunset for what had happened.

“But if I’d paid more attention, none of this would’ve happened.”

“Sunny, please,” Fluttershy said, voice thick. She leaned her head against Sunset and wrapped both arms around her. “Please, it’s not your fault.”

Sunset didn’t answer, and Fluttershy wasn’t sure if she understood or not. It wasn’t Sunset’s fault. Fluttershy didn’t just believe that, she needed it to be true. She needed this to be anything, anyone’s fault other than Sunset’s.

Sunset held her, and that was answer enough. It wasn’t long before Fluttershy started crying. Not long after that, Sunset did as well. Neither of them spoke, neither of them had anything to say. The only sound was their tears as they tried to fill some of the emptiness with each other.

The silence between them spoke louder than words could. It spoke of all the firsts they’d never see. First words, first steps, first day of school, first crush. It spoke of lullabies that would never be sung, of cuts and scrapes that would never be kissed.

It spoke of lessons that they would never have to learn. Of never having to find out the best way to chase a monster from a closet. Of never having to remember how to relate to someone so young. Of never having to learn that their precious baby was no longer a baby as she grew into a woman.

It spoke of silence. Of never hearing the sound of little feet through the house. Never hearing songs sung in a language adults weren’t meant to understand. Never being asked for ‘just one more’ after a bedtime story. Never hearing a little voice say ‘I love you’.

It spoke of emptiness, which was all that remained for them.


It had been a long night, and a long day followed after. The evening had seen the nurse return to remove the catheter and IV, followed by her first steps. Fluttershy had felt weak on her feet, much more so than she had expected. It was like learning to walk again, as if since Sky would never be able to experience first steps, Fluttershy had to take them for her.

Dizziness and atrophied muscles made it a challenge, but one worth taking. Being mobile again meant she was able to wear her own clothes, and Sunset had thought to bring both pajamas and regular clothes. She had to keep the hospital gown on, but she was able to wear pajama pants with it, and it did make her feel just a little more at ease.

It did little to make the night bearable, however. Sunset had finally been told to stay off the bed so Fluttershy could rest, but she snuck back to it in the night. It was cramped, but lying with Sunset in the dark was a far bigger comfort than wearing her own pants had been.

In the morning, Doctor Caring Heart returned to check on her again and do more tests. The three of them went for a short walk to work out her legs and show that she’d be okay when she left, and Fluttershy hid how tired it made her. She was still told it would be a little while before she was discharged, although even Sunset didn’t really understand why.

Their friends visited one by one, keen to not overwhelm her again. Pinkie snuck Fluttershy in some food, which was a godsend after the small meals the hospital provided. Rainbow played them songs on Fluttershy’s guitar, which had been the one she’d been playing when Fluttershy had first woken up. Rarity cried when Fluttershy called her, giving a similar rundown as the rest of her friends had the day before. Applejack came in the evening, and insisted that she’d be there until they left.

In the end, it was with reluctance that she was discharged that day at all. They were advised that it would be better to keep her under observation for at least a few days after she’d been out for so long. Fluttershy had refused.

If it had only been home waiting for her, she wouldn’t have been able to. She wanted to go home, but she had never been able to stand up for herself enough to challenge a professional opinion. But she had somewhere else to be, and she was not waiting a moment longer than she needed to.

She walked out of the hospital leaning on Sunset. Applejack walked on her other side in case she needed more support, although she managed well enough without it. Getting into Applejack’s truck had been difficult, and she needed Sunset’s help to do it, but getting away from the hospital was a relief.

Sunset sat in the back next to her, leaving Applejack alone in the front. She drove noticeably more carefully than she normally would as they exited the parking garage and entered the city streets.

“Here.” Sunset held out her hand for Fluttershy, her locket dangling from it.

“Oh.” Fluttershy’s hand reached for her neck for a moment. She hadn’t even realized she wasn’t wearing it. “Did you have that the whole time?”

“Yeah, but I… I wanted to wait until we were leaving to give it to you.”

Fluttershy looked down at it. The chain was broken, and the locket itself was scratched up. When she tried to open it, she found it was stuck shut.

“I’m sorry, I know it’s really important to you…”

“It’s okay.” Fluttershy held it up to look at it in the light, relieved that she still had it at least.

“I don’t know how it came off, but I found it when I was going through the car. I was looking for something else, actually.”

“What, uhm… what happened with the car?”

Sunset frowned. “Well, it’s totaled. Only thing we’ll be able to do with it is sell it for parts and scrap metal. But for now, we’re still waiting on the insurance company.”

Applejack grunted. “Course they’re bein’ right pains in the ass about it.”

“Yeah, but the important thing is you’re okay,” Sunset said. Fluttershy frowned and her hands went to her stomach.

The car ride made Fluttershy feel dizzy, although she kept it to herself. She didn’t want to worry the others, and especially didn’t want to have them bring her back to the hospital. She couldn’t go back there, not while they had somewhere far more important to be.

In part due to her dizziness and in part because she didn’t feel much like talking, Fluttershy kept her focus on her window. The city rolled by slowly as they drove through, approaching the outskirts of it block by block.

Sweet Apple Acres had always been a favorite place of Fluttershy’s. It felt like a slice of nature set apart from the rest of the city. There was the apple orchard of course, as well as a substantial flower and vegetable garden Granny Smith had started many years ago. It was also right on the edge of Everfree National Park, which Fluttershy had loved to visit long before she’d known Applejack.

And now there was something else to draw her in. Applejack parked in the front and they all got out, Fluttershy with Sunset’s help again. But instead of going with them, Applejack turned towards the house. “I’ll give you two a bit. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Sunset nodded, then placed an arm around Fluttershy’s back for support once more. She led them off to the side, away from both the house and the road, closer to the apple orchard.

They didn’t talk as they walked. All day, they had found precious little to say when they were alone together. Still, it wasn’t just because she was weak on her feet that Fluttershy leaned against Sunset.

Although it was tucked away enough from the road that passersby wouldn’t notice it, the grave was easy to see as they approached. The dirt was still freshly turned, and there was a wooden cross to mark it.

Fluttershy broke away from Sunset and ran forward. She was unable to keep upright and fell to her hands and knees as she reached the grave, and she didn’t attempt to stand back up. Tears came freely as she looked down at the spot where her daughter lay.

Sunset kneeled beside her and placed an arm around her again. Fluttershy couldn’t tell if she was also crying over the sound of her own sobs.

She pushed herself onto her knees and reached one hand to the earth, feeling the still loose soil. She couldn’t bear to think that her daughter was under there. Her other hand reached for her stomach, where Sky should be.

It wasn’t right. Fluttershy had been allowed to live, while her darling Sky Shimmer had not. Sky was innocent, pure. How could she be taken from them without even a chance at being alive?

Sunset reached both arms around her and buried her face into Fluttershy’s hair. Sunset’s body shook against her own, and Fluttershy found herself holding onto her so tightly, as if at any moment Sunset might be taken from her as well.

“It’s not fair!” Fluttershy gripped Sunset even tighter.

“I know…” Sunset muttered between sobs of her own. “I know…”

There was something about seeing the grave. Something about feeling the dirt, and about knowing who it covered. It was real in a way that nothing at the hospital had been. It was real, and it hurt. It hurt in a way that Fluttershy had never known anything could, even after losing her mother. Fluttershy could feel the pain in her chest as her heart broke yet again.

The pain didn’t stop. Eventually the tears did, but only because her body was giving out. After everything that she had experienced since waking up, it was finally too much, and Fluttershy was ready to give in.

Sunset’s sobs subsided as well, but the two of them remained in front of the grave. They sat clinging to one another, if not as forcefully. Fluttershy took a better look at the sight they chose. It was further from the house than she expected, decided so it would be out of the way no doubt. Far enough from the orchard so they wouldn’t have any reason to worry about tree roots upending it. Indeed, it was almost closer to Everfree than to Sweet Apple Acres, and a patch of wildflowers grew nearby.

Fluttershy found herself standing, and Sunset followed after. She walked over to the flowers and kneeled to pick some. Sunset joined her, picking her own bouquet.

When they’d each gathered enough, they returned to the grave to place them on the soil. It hardly seemed like enough, but then, nothing ever could.

“We should plant flowers here,” Fluttershy said.

“Okay.” Sunset’s hand found Fluttershy’s. “I wanted to wait until you were awake to pick the headstone. Applejack made this one for now.”

Fluttershy nodded. She let go of Sunset’s hand to hold onto her instead, and they didn’t say anything else. Fluttershy had hoped to find some sort of peace by visiting Sky’s grave, but she wasn’t sure peace would ever find her again. She had found something close enough, at least.

It was night by the time they walked back to the house, still in silence. Sunset knocked on the door, and Applejack soon answered. “Was wonderin’ if y’all were comin’ back. Do ya wanna stay and eat, or feel like headin’ home? Course you’re also welcome to stay the night if that’s what ya wanna do.”

Sunset looked at Fluttershy and read the answer on her face. “I think we’d like to go home.”

Applejack nodded and stepped outside. “Figured as much.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a key, which she offered to Sunset. “Why don’t you take my truck? That way if y’all need anything or wanna go somewhere, ya don’t have to worry about anything.”

Sunset hesitated. “You sure?”

“Yeah, I won’t need it for a few days. I reckon ya ain’t been shopping once without Fluttershy. Figure the two of ya might wanna do that tomorrow, or just go out or whatever. Besides, we got Big Mac’s truck if we need anything.”

Sunset took the key. “Thanks, AJ.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just one condition though.” Applejack put her hands on her hips. “You two get yourselves somethin’ good to eat tonight. Lord knows ya both need it.”

Sunset showed a weak smile. “Alright, alright. I’ll stop somewhere on the way home.”

Applejack grinned. “You better, or else you’ll have me to answer to.”

They each hugged Applejack and said their goodbyes, then turned towards the truck. But before they got too far, Applejack stopped them. “I know it doesn’t mean much, and ya won’t believe it, but… It’s gonna be alright. Things get better.”

Fluttershy wanted to take comfort in the words, but she couldn’t. She just stared at the ground and waited for Sunset to find some answer for them. “Yeah. I’ll see you soon, AJ.”

“Take care, you two.”

They resumed walking to the truck, and Sunset again helped Fluttershy get in before going around to the driver’s side.

When she got in, Sunset simply stared down at the key in her hand for a moment. Fluttershy knew Applejack’s gesture was well-meaning, of course, but she couldn’t help but wonder if it just made things more difficult on Sunset.

She wanted to say something to comfort her, to remind her that she had every confidence in her driving, but the words didn’t come. After a few moments more, Sunset started the truck and drove away.

“Hungry?” Sunset asked as she drove.

“I don’t know.”

“Me either. AJ’s right though, we should eat. You especially.”

“Yeah, I just…” Fluttershy frowned.

“Yeah, I know.”

Since Fluttershy couldn’t bring herself to ask for anything specific, Sunset chose for them. She picked a diner that they both liked and they ordered their meals to go. Although Fluttershy wasn’t really in the mood to eat, her body was still making its own demands on that front, so she knew that she wouldn’t have any problems getting food down.

Then what? Another night like the last one? Sure, it’d be in their own bed, but she didn’t see sleep coming. And while sharing the same silent misery with Sunset gave its own sense of comfort, Fluttershy had felt more than enough misery over the past few days.

Sky Shimmer was gone. She was gone, and she was not coming back. Fluttershy didn’t want to find out what that would mean for her future, but she would all the same when the time came. Fluttershy was not a mother, and there was no sense in trying to be one anymore.

“Can we stop somewhere else?” Fluttershy asked as they drove away from the diner.

“Of course. Where did you have in mind?”

“Uhm…” Fluttershy felt a pang of guilt, but she ignored it. Anything would be better than dealing with what else she might feel during the night. “The liquor store.”

“The what?”

“Or wherever you get wine and stuff.”

Fluttershy didn’t look at Sunset’s expression, but she could hear the frown in her voice. “Shy, you know you shouldn’t –”

“I just don’t want to hurt.” Fluttershy inhaled sharply. “You feel the same way, right? And… and that’s supposed to…”

“It doesn’t make the pain go away,” Sunset said. “Believe me. It just… Makes you care a little less that it’s still there.”

“That’s enough.” Fluttershy could feel the pain growing in her chest again. “I don’t want to feel anything, Sunny. Please, just for tonight…”

Sunset was silent, but she turned down a street that Fluttershy knew didn’t lead to their house. Fluttershy kept her eyes pointed at the floor. She didn’t want to look at Sunset, didn’t want to read her reaction. And she didn’t want to look out a window, for fear of seeing her own reaction reflected in it.

They pulled into a parking lot, where Sunset told Fluttershy to wait for her. Fluttershy understood – Sunset had a fake ID, but Fluttershy didn’t. If they both went in, they might both get ID’d, and then they wouldn’t be able to get anything. Still, it had been the first time that Fluttershy had been truly alone, and she hoped Sunset hurried.

While she waited, thoughts of what Sky would think plagued her. It was ridiculous. Sky wouldn’t have been able to think anything, even if she had been alive. And yet, Fluttershy still felt the disappointment all the same.

Mercifully, Sunset was quick to return. She brought two bottles and set them on the seat behind them. One was a wine bottle, which she recognized. The other was square, and Fluttershy wasn’t sure what was in it. She’d seen bottles like that growing up, however.

As she expected, they didn’t speak for the rest of the drive home. Fluttershy wanted to find something to say, but even simple topics proved impossible to focus on.

It felt odd to return home. It should’ve been comforting. Fluttershy wanted it to be comforting. But all she felt was a sort of resignation.

She brought the food inside while Sunset brought in the alcohol and Fluttershy’s guitar. She stopped to take a look around as she entered the house, unsure of exactly what she was looking for. Whatever it was, she didn’t find it.

Fluttershy set the food on the living room table and sat down on the couch, preferring that over the wooden kitchen chairs. Sunset disappeared into the kitchen for a moment, then came back with cups and utensils for dinner.

“We gotta eat too,” Sunset said as she sat down. “We’re already being irresponsible enough by drinking.”

“Okay.”

Sunset placed two little shot glasses on the table and grabbed the square bottle.

“What is that?” Fluttershy asked as Sunset poured.

“Whiskey. It burns, and you’ll hate it.”

Fluttershy expected Sunset to explain why they were drinking that, but she just drank hers. “Better to get it all in one go.”

Fluttershy frowned at the drink, half expecting Sunset had purposely gotten something horrible to discourage her. But she wouldn’t know until she tried it, and they also had the wine too.

She followed Sunset’s advice, drinking the whole thing in one gulp. It was worse than Sunset made it sound, painful as it went down her throat. She was left coughing afterwards, and her eyes watered.

And yet, the pain somehow helped. It pulled her away from the pain in her chest to focus instead on the drink. Fluttershy understood Sunset’s choice, and when she turned to face her, she could read the pain in Sunset’s face. It chased away her doubts and she knew this was something they both needed.

Wordlessly, she held out her glass for another.

~ End Act II ~

18 – Disconnected

View Online

Act III

Summer Storms

Chapter Eighteen

Disconnected

“This is Fluttershy, but I can’t get to the phone right now. Leave a message and I’ll be sure to get back to you.”

If the past two weeks were any indication, that was unlikely to be true. Still, Pinkie held onto hope that this time would be different, and left her message after the beep. “Hiya, Fluttershy! Applejack and I are gonna hang out, so I thought I’d see if you wanted to join us. Give me a call back and let me know, bye!”

Even just a response would be enough. If Fluttershy didn’t want to hang out with her and Applejack, that was okay. It would be wonderful if Fluttershy and Sunset got out of the house and spent some time with their friends, but they needed space, and Pinkie understood that.

It didn’t make her feel better, though. It had been two weeks since Fluttershy had woken up, and Pinkie still hadn’t heard from her. She opened her text messages and pulled up Sunset’s message history. It was mostly full of messages from Pinkie, with the occasional short response from Sunset. Undeterred, Pinkie typed another message.

‘Hey Sunset! Gonna be by your neighborhood tonight, wanna meet up for dinner?’

In truth, Pinkie had no particular reason to go to Sunset and Fluttershy’s neighborhood. No reason aside from them, of course, although that was more than enough.

Pinkie stared down at her phone and sighed. All she could do was hope for the best. Her friends deserved the benefit of the doubt, after all. This time might be different. They might actually call her back this time.

And while she waited for that, she really did have plans with Applejack. She debated waiting around a few minutes before heading out, just in case Fluttershy called her back, then decided she would gladly double back if she needed to. After making sure her phone volume was high enough that she’d hear it ring while she was driving, Pinkie walked to the door.

She stopped before going through and turned back to a plush alligator. “Keep an eye on things while I’m out, Gummy!”

Gummy gave her a blank stare.

“Aww, I knew I could count on you!”

Confident that her house would be safe in Gummy’s felt claws while she and her family were all out, Pinkie stepped outside and locked the door behind her. There was a light drizzle, but Pinkie didn’t mind. A little summer shower never hurt anyone, and the water droplets were nice and warm against her skin.

Once she was in her minivan, she considered the same thing she’d considered almost every day – stopping by Fluttershy and Sunset’s house unannounced. It felt more and more like that was the only way she’d get to see them, but Pinkie knew they needed space and didn’t want to intrude. It was just… she never could shake the feeling that even if they needed space, they didn’t need quite so much as they were giving themselves.

But Pinkie wouldn’t do that. No matter how much she wanted to, she would be better than that. Her friends needed her, and if they needed her to be somewhere else for a little while until they were ready to see her again, that was okay. Even if it hurt, Pinkie could do that for them.

Still, they never left her thoughts as she drove to Sweet Apple Acres. The rhythmic motion of the windshield wipers kept time with Pinkie’s thoughts. Fluttershy had never learned to drive in the rain. Pinkie wondered if she’d still be giving her driving lessons. Their last one had been before Rarity visited, which was over a month ago. And after what happened, Pinkie wondered if Fluttershy would want to be behind the wheel again.

She wondered how Sunset was handling work. She had never liked her job at the best of times, and there was no way this was making things any easier. She needed space even from her friends, and yet she had to spend every day smiling for strangers. Pinkie didn’t know how she did it.

But most of all, she just wondered about her friends. What they were doing. If they were taking care of themselves the way they should. If they’d be ready to see her soon. If they stopped to think about her from time to time.

‘It’s not about me,’ Pinkie reminded herself. Fluttershy and Sunset were hurting, and Pinkie couldn’t make her own desire to see them into the more pressing issue.

It was hard to get rid of the negative feelings and intrusive thoughts, but Pinkie at least managed to dull them a little by the time she reached Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack deserved to see a friendly face, after all.

Pinkie parked behind Applejack’s truck and looked around for any sign of Applejack herself. It was early summer, so it wasn’t time to start harvesting apples, but she usually had some sort of work to do around the orchard.

When she didn’t see her, Pinkie decided to take a look around. It would be easier to call and let her know she’d arrived, or even to do it the old fashioned way and knock on the front door, but the rain was still light enough to not worry about getting a little wet. Besides, it seemed more fun to try and find her friend first.

That was what the day was supposed to be about, after all. The past two weeks had been tense for everyone. Everything was the hardest for Fluttershy and Sunset, of course, there was no doubt there. But still, they’d all been stressed while Fluttershy was sleeping, and they could all use a little more fun to get things back to normal.

An afternoon with Applejack and an evening with Rainbow seemed as good a way to do it as any. Well, maybe not as good as any. The best times were when they were all together, of course. But everyone had their own stuff going on, which made group outings a lot harder to plan than when they were in high school.

One on one time could still be a ton of fun, though. And a walk around Sweet Apple Acres was always a good way to start. Pinkie first checked around the barn, but Applejack wasn’t back there. The apple orchard was huge and would be impossible to comb through, even if Pinkie had a comb that was big enough. She still looked around it as best she could and still didn’t see Applejack. And since she’d parked right by Applejack’s truck, Pinkie knew she wasn’t working on that.

That only left the garden or inside the house. The latter was far more likely, since the garden was mostly tended to by Granny Smith, but she’d already checked everywhere else. She figured she might as well finish what she’d started.

It was a good thing she did too, since to her surprise, Pinkie did find Applejack as she approached the garden. She wasn’t, however, tending to the plants. She was near the garden, standing alone in the rain over a small plot of dirt.

Although she had initially planned on surprising Applejack by popping up unexpectedly, Pinkie decided to take a more casual approach upon seeing where her friend was. She walked up beside Applejack and joined her in looking down at the little grave.

“Ya ever just… wonder what coulda happened?”

“All the time.”

Applejack turned towards her with an expression as solemn as her voice. “You know, I didn’t even think keeping her was a good idea. Even told Sunset as much when we first found out. But then… they were just so happy. I’ve never seen Sunset that happy ‘bout anything in all the years I’ve known her.”

“They both were. They would’ve been great moms, too.”

“Yeah…” Applejack opted to keep her attention away from the Sky in the ground and looked instead at the one above them. Pinkie pretended to believe the wetness on her face was only from the rain. “Kinda wonder if they’ll ever try again. I know it’s way too soon to be thinkin’ too much about that now, but you know. Seems like if they plan for it next time, it might be even better.”

There was something unstated in what Applejack said. Something she didn’t want to say out loud, but which had clearly been on her mind a lot. Pinkie pretended she hadn’t noticed. “There won’t ever be another Sky Shimmer though…”

“True.” Applejack looked back down at the ground. “I just… I want them to be that happy again.”

“I know. Me too.” Pinkie looked away from both Sky and Applejack. “Have you seen them lately?”

“Yeah, I saw Sunset a couple of times.”

“How’s she doing? I haven’t seen her since the hospital.”

“She’s, er…” Applejack adjusted her hat. “She’s doing alright. You know, all things considered.”

It was hard to even pretend she believed that, especially when Applejack lied about it so poorly. “I wish she’d call me back. I just want to help make them happy again.”

Applejack patted Pinkie on the back. “I know. And they know that too. But they got a lot to work through before they’re even ready to be happy again.”

Pinkie frowned, knowing that her message hadn’t really gotten through properly. “I know, but they shouldn’t be all alone.”

“They’re not alone. They got each other. Besides, remember when Fluttershy’s mom passed away? We dragged her out of the house and made her spend time with us because we thought that’s what she needed, but then it turned out she wanted to just spend time with Rainbow instead.”

Pinkie didn’t really need the reminder, that had been on her mind for weeks already. “You’re right, but…”

“This isn’t any different. Fluttershy just ain’t like you and me. She’s not gonna feel better if she’s surrounded by people, no matter who they are. And trust me, I know Sunset. More than anything, she needs to be the one deciding what she’s doing or else she’ll just resent us for forcing it on her.”

It wasn’t that Pinkie disagreed with Applejack. But she’d already known better than to drag them out to do something in public. She’d learned that much years ago, and she wasn’t planning on making the same mistake twice.

But she didn’t want to argue with her friend, especially considering where they were. “I guess you’re right. You know best, AJ.”

Applejack turned back towards the grave for a moment, then gestured away. “Anyway, I doubt ya came over to be all sad.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Pinkie said, although she followed Applejack as they walked away. “I’m happy to spend time with a friend, no matter what we talk about.”

“Thanks, Pinkie. I reckon there just ain’t much to say, though.”

Pinkie glanced back at Sky’s grave and wasn’t quite sure she felt the same way. But if Applejack didn’t want to talk about that, then she wasn’t going to press it. “Okie dokie. So, what’s on the agenda for tonight? Parcheesi? Scrabble?” Pinkie grew a wicked grin. “Risk?”

“No!” Applejack shot back quickly. “You really think I want a repeat of last time? We’re playin’ Monopoly tonight.”

“Monopoly? How is that better than Risk?”

If anything, Applejack’s grin was even more sinister than Pinkie’s had been. “Because this time, it’s a game that I’m good at.”

“Oh ho ho! Just you wait until you see what you’re in for! My parents didn’t name me Pinkamena Realtor Pie for nothing!”

“You’re parents did not name you Pinkamena Realtor Pie.”

Pinkie sighed and shook her head. “So little faith… It’s okay though, I’ll go easy on you.”

They laughed and shoved each other playfully as they walked into the house. Every week, the Apples had a family game night. All of their friends had joined in from time to time, Pinkie most of all. She’d become a regular at the Apple’s house, stopping by most nights to play with the family.

Even as she walked in the door, she was greeted as if she was another part of the family. “About time you two showed up!” Apple Bloom said from where she was lying on the couch.

“Some of us don’t get a summer break, AB,” Applejack shot back.

Apple Bloom sat up on the couch and opened the game box on the table in front of her. “Pinkie’s on summer break.”

“Pinkie has work,” Applejack pointed out before Pinkie could answer.

Pinkie put an arm around Applejack’s shoulder. “I could’ve come sooner, but I didn’t want to make AJ look bad by beating her here.”

“Yeah, she looks bad enough all on her own,” Apple Bloom said with a smirk.

“Is that AJ and Pinkie?” Granny Smith called from the kitchen.

“Yepperoni!” Pinkie called back.

“Could one of you get Big Mac from the basement and the other come give me a hand?”

“Coming, Granny!” Pinkie left Applejack to get Big Mac while she walked into the kitchen. She found Granny had several plates of food ready, including both home baked goods and store bought snacks.

“These look so good!” Pinkie said as she picked up a plate of cookies.

“Thank you, Pinkie. But try to save some for the rest of us this time, hmm?”

Pinkie blushed. “That happened one time!”

Granny chuckled as she carried chips and dip into the living room, Pinkie trailing behind her. She and Granny Smith doubled back to get the rest of the snacks while Apple Bloom set up the game. By the time they came back, Applejack and Big Mac were coming upstairs from the basement. Pinkie was surprised to hear a third set of footsteps coming up after them.

“Oh, hi, Sugar Belle!”

Sugar Belle smiled. “Hello, Pinkie. Hope no one minds if I join you all tonight?”

Pinkie rubbed her hands together. “As long as you don’t expect me to go easy on you. Tonight is Pinkie’s night to shine!”

“You win like every other week, Pinkie,” Apple Bloom pointed out.

Big Mac took a seat on the couch next to Apple Bloom, Sugar Belle sitting beside him. “Eeyup.”

“Not this night.” Applejack sat down on the floor next to the couch. “This is my favorite game, ain’t none of y’all gonna beat me at it.”

“I thought your favorite game was that card game with the apples,” Pinkie said.

“Shush, I have a lot of favorite games.”

“We’ll see if it’s still your favorite when I whoop your butt!” Apple Bloom said. “I call banker!”

Big Mac fixed her with a glare. “Nothing doin’. You cheat too much.”

“Do not!”

“Do too.” Applejack moved the pile of money to her side of the table. “I’ll be the banker. Y’all know I’m too honest to cheat.”

“Sugar Belle, do you wanna be banker?” Pinkie asked. “You’re the guest after all.”

“Oh, sure. But aren’t you a guest too, Pinkie?”

“No,” all three Apple children answered at once.

“Pinkie’s more like… extended family,” Apple Bloom said.

“Yeah, we’re like cousins or something!” Pinkie added.

“Could even be, considering how far back the Apples and the Pies go,” Granny added. “But enough yappin’, time for me to show you youngins how it’s done!”

They each picked their pieces and started the game, letting Apple Bloom go first since she was the youngest. Once or twice they got into arguments over which house rules were in effect, but they managed to keep the game much more friendly than it could’ve been, considering which game they were playing.

And it was nice having the chance to play with Sugar Belle. Big Mac had started dating her a few months earlier, and he was finally starting to bring her around the family a little more often. They were still getting used to being together, embarrassed by small touches with family present.

It made Pinkie happy to see, as couples always did. She loved being around love, and seeing them happy together made her heart soar. At the same time, it hurt to see. In every touch, Pinkie saw Sunset’s gentle encouragement. Every time Sugar Belle cautiously joined into the family’s good-natured jabs at one another, Pinkie saw Fluttershy trying to join in with Sunset and Applejack’s jokes.

She wanted to be happy with the reminder of her friends. Heck, she wanted to be happy just because she was with friends and Big Mac and Sugar Belle were so cute together! But… Pinkie wasn’t happy. She wanted to be, she should’ve been, but she wasn’t.

“Pinkie?” Apple Bloom said, pulling her out of her daze. “It’s your turn.”

“Oh, right.” Pinkie laughed it off even though she was unsure of how long she’d been zoning out for. She took the dice and rolled them, moved her pieces, and paid Granny Smith for landing on her property.

She tried to focus on the game after that, but she couldn’t bring herself to get back into it. It was all she could do to keep from zoning out too often and to try to watch her behavior so she wouldn’t worry her friends. Still, she couldn’t help but notice the looks Applejack gave her from time to time.

They managed the game with surprisingly few heated discussions. Big Mac was the first to fold to bankruptcy when he couldn’t afford to stay at Sugar Belle’s hotel. Her reign was soon ended by Apple Bloom, but none of them were able to stand up to the real estate empire of Granny Smith.

“No fair!” Apple Bloom said as she landed on one of Granny Smith’s properties and was unable to pay.

Granny just laughed gleefully as the last of her opponents fell. “What did I say? None of you kids have the business sense to beat an old expert like me!”

“Guess we learned who the real master is,” Pinkie said to Applejack.

“Yeah, suppose there wasn’t any real chance of winning.” Applejack and Apple Bloom worked on getting everything put away. “Wanna stay for dinner?”

Pinkie had originally planned to do just that, but when she looked at the couch, she saw Big Mac and Sugar Belle holding hands. “I’d love to, but I’m supposed to be meeting Rainbow.”

“Gotcha. Well, tell her hi for me.”

Pinkie felt guilty for the lie. While she did have plans with Rainbow, they weren’t planning on meeting up until later. But she shook her guilt off and smiled for her friend. “Will do!”

She said goodbyes and gave out hugs to everyone, promised she’d see them all next week, then left the house. She couldn’t remember ever leaving a friend’s house early before.

The guilt only grew as she walked through the rain, which had picked up a little during the game. By the time she got in her minivan, she couldn’t even bring herself to start it. “Come on, Pinkie,” she said aloud, “you love spending time with the Apples!”

“I know, but…” she tried to answer herself, but realized she didn’t know what to say. She could tell that seeing Big Mac and Sugar Belle had reminded her of Sunset and Fluttershy, and that had been upsetting. But she couldn’t place why, exactly. Why had the connection been so strong? Why had it been as upsetting as it was? Even visiting Sky’s grave hadn’t been as bad as watching two of her friends being happy together.

She pulled out her phone, which had no new messages or texts. She opened up the message app and selected Fluttershy’s name. None of her recent messages had any reply, but she sent another anyway.

‘Just finishing up at Applejack’s. Hope your day has been as great as you are! And if not remember you can always call your friend Pinkie Pie! ❤️😉❤️😉❤️’

“Come on, Shy, please message me back…”

The phone remained silent. Pinkie debated messaging Sunset as well, but decided against it. Instead she started her van and pulled out of Applejack’s driveway.

Between the rain and how late it was getting on a weekday, there wasn’t too much traffic on the road, which made the drive a good time to think. Of course, Pinkie wasn’t really interested in spending more time in her own head, so she turned up the radio and sung along loudly as she drove to Rainbow’s house. It worked to drown out the thoughts, at least a little.

Even though she was sure she would’ve heard it, Pinkie still made a point of checking her phone once she parked outside of Rainbow’s house. As expected, there were no new messages.

She resigned herself to the fact that she wouldn’t be hearing from Fluttershy for the night and got out of the van. The rain wasn’t the only reason she kept her head hung low as she walked up the driveway to the front door.

She stopped before knocking, taking a moment to fix a smile onto her face. She was here to spend time with a friend, and she wasn’t going to drag Rainbow down by being sad.

Confident that she’d be greeting her friend with a smile, Pinkie knocked on the door. A moment later, it opened to reveal a pink woman with blue hair. “Oh, hello. Hope you’re not here for band practice, they already finished up.”

As usual, Pinkie got the impression that Firefly couldn’t quite remember all of her daughter’s friends by name, even the ones who’d known her for years. She never let that get to her though, preferring to just smile as if Firefly knew exactly whom she was talking to.

“No, Rainbow and I were just gonna hang out.”

Firefly stepped aside to let Pinkie in. “She’s down in her cave. Try to get her to see the sun one of these days, would you?”

“Sure thing, Mrs. Firefly!”

Firefly laughed at being called ‘Mrs.’, as she always did. Even though Pinkie was well aware of the house’s layout, Firefly still showed her to the door that led to the basement. She didn’t follow her down though, just pointing out the time and asking that they keep the noise down.

Pinkie descended the now-familiar steps. For years, the basement had just been used for storage. But when Rainbow started her band, her parents had allowed her to transform it into a practice area. These days it had also become Rainbow’s usual hangout, where she often liked to entertain guests.

Before she reached the bottom, Pinkie realized Rainbow was playing a song. After the Rainbooms had broken up, Rainbow had decided to leave the pop rock act behind to form a punk band, but the song she was playing now didn’t seem to fit into either genre.

It was quiet, the type of ballad that would normally be played acoustically. Rainbow almost always played an electric guitar, even for traditionally acoustic songs, and this was no exception. What was an exception, however, was how she played the song. Soft and clear, with the notes plucked one at a time rather than strummed. There was no hint of distortion on the guitar, and her voice was quiet and as melodic as she was capable of making it. It sounded like the type of song that Fluttershy would write.

“…part of me that wishes there was something I could do. At the end of the day –”

The bottom step creaked, and Rainbow stopped suddenly. Pinkie continued as if nothing was amiss, walking into the room with her smile firmly in place. “Hiya, Dashie. New song?”

“Pinkie! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

Rainbow was clearly embarrassed, and it was easy to see why. If that was a song she wrote, it was much more personal than the type of songs she liked others to hear.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to.” Pinkie flopped over the back of a couch, so that she was upside down with her legs hanging off the top. “It was a really nice song though!”

Rainbow blushed and looked away. “You weren’t supposed to hear it…”

“Well, why not?” Pinkie swung her legs over the couch and sat up properly. “It sounded really pretty, and I’d love to hear the rest of it.”

“No way. It’s not even done, anyway…” Rainbow strummed a chord and seemed to mutter to herself more than to Pinkie. “Besides, it’s just some stupid sappy thing. I probably won’t even bother finishing it.”

“What? You’re being too hard on yourself. Here, maybe I can help!” Pinkie stood up and felt dizzy from standing so soon after tumbling over the couch, and she wound up falling back onto it.

“It’s… not really a song that needs drums. Or, you know, anything really. Like I said, it’s just dumb.”

“I don’t think it’s dumb.” Pinkie didn’t want to push Rainbow too hard if she really didn’t want to share the song, but she didn’t like hearing Rainbow put herself down. “I don’t think anything you’ve written has been dumb.”

Rainbow couldn’t hide a grin forming. “That’s because I’ve only ever played you the cool stuff.”

Pinkie smiled at an opportunity. “Okay, so prove me wrong.”

“What?”

“Well, I still think all your songs are cool. So if you want to prove me wrong, then you’ll have to play me this one. Then I can decide if it’s cool or dumb.”

“And why would I want to do that?”

Pinkie shrugged. “It’s up to you. I already know it’s a good song.”

Rainbow played a few notes. Pinkie couldn’t tell if it was part of the song or not. “It’s just… kinda personal, you know?”

“That’s okay, you don’t have to play it. But you know… it is only me here.”

Rainbow looked at Pinkie and seemed to be conflicted. Eventually she looked down at the guitar. “Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Of course I do! I’d never laugh at you.”

Rainbow took a deep breath, then started to play.
“A penny isn’t worth the thoughts
That storm away in my head
And nothing too can pay the cost of
What happened in that hospital bed
But there’s a part of me that wishes
There was something I could do
At the end of the day
I’m still useless to you

Words can’t wrap themselves around
The way you must feel
Stuck in a reality that always feels too real
What am I supposed to say to you
About an experience I’ve never been through?
If only I knew

Are you thinking of what coulda been?
All the jokes and laughs and little things
I’ve been thinking about them too
All of the ups and downs a child brings
Calls are just another noise she’ll never hear
And another thing I can’t bring myself to care about
Is that how you feel when you ignore us all?
Are you too busy looking for another way out?”

The song stopped suddenly, reminding Pinkie that she was sitting in Rainbow’s basement. The whole time she was listening to the song, her mind had been somewhere else. While her body couldn’t be near Fluttershy and Sunset, her mind was never far apart from them.

“And… that’s all I have so far,” Rainbow said, looking at her guitar rather than at Pinkie.

Pinkie spoke quietly, almost afraid to break the spell Rainbow’s song had created. “Dashie, that was really good.”

Rainbow blushed. “I guess maybe it’s alright. You know, if you’re into songs like that.”

Once again, Pinkie felt like Rainbow was selling herself short. It was true that the song was an odd fit for her, and her naturally raspy voice wasn’t usually suited for melodic songs. But it gave it an edge of realness that carried through the lyrics, and Pinkie couldn’t imagine it being any other way.

She wanted to tell Rainbow that, but she couldn’t figure out how to get the words out. So she smiled instead, and said, “I think it’s great. You should totally finish it.”

Rainbow smirked and strummed a few chords absentmindedly. “Maybe, but I dunno. I mean, it’s not like that’s ever gonna be a Bitchette song, you know?”

“You can write songs for other reasons,” Pinkie said. She wanted Rainbow to finish the song. She wanted to hear it once it was done.

“I guess. But hey, if you wanna hear something really cool, check out this one!”

Without waiting for Pinkie’s response, Rainbow started playing a song that was much more in her usual style – loud and fast. And not just the music, but the way Rainbow sang it. For her new band, she’d abandoned proper singing in place of a much harsher style. It was a good song, and Pinkie enjoyed it, but for all its intensity, it didn’t hold nearly as much power as the other one did.

Of course, she still clapped at the end and praised Rainbow for her talented song writing.

Rainbow got them each a beer from a mini fridge she kept in the basement, and they sat on the couch together and talked about music and how practice had gone. Rainbow’s band was becoming more and more her primary focus, and Pinkie was happy to hear things were going well. Still, it felt like they were avoiding talking about what was really on their mind.

And they were. Rainbow had to know that as well as Pinkie did. Neither of them really had music on their minds, that was just the best distraction at hand. And it could only hold out for so long.

“So, uhm…” Pinkie had to turn away as she broached the awkward topic. “Have Fluttershy and Sunset seen you all play since Rarity and Twilight were here?”

Rainbow managed to keep her voice calm. She must’ve known the question or one like it was coming. “Fluttershy has. Haven’t managed to drag Sunset over yet, though.”

“Oh.” Pinkie had to fight off the frown. “How’s she doing.”

Rainbow’s voice faltered a little more on that one. “She’s… okay.”

Pinkie turned to face Rainbow. “Really?”

Rainbow shifted nervously. “Well, you know… what do you want me to say? Of course she’s kind of fucked up over everything, who wouldn’t be? But she’s getting around pretty well, she’s leaving the house to hang out, she’s talking about going back to work and stuff. I think she’d doing pretty damn good. Probably better than I would be.”

Pinkie nodded. “Yeah, she’s tough.”

“Exactly. It’s only been a couple weeks, it’s gonna take some time before she’s back to normal. But she’s doing her best, and I know she’ll be alright.”

Pinkie wanted to believe that too. It was just so hard when all she had to go by was what her other friends told her. But she wanted to have faith in her friends, including in Rainbow’s judgement of what was going on, so she decided to change the subject slightly. “Kinda funny to imagine her hanging out with a punk rock band.”

The new subject seemed like a good choice, since Rainbow grinned broadly. “Yeah, she’s a little out of place with how loud the rest of us can be. The rest of the band likes her, though.”

“Of course they do! Who doesn’t like Fluttershy?”

“Heh, true. Plus it’s kinda hard not to like the girl who always makes sure we’ve got plenty of food and drinks for our jam sessions.”

Pinkie snickered. “I hope you’re including her more than that.”

Rainbow shrugged. “It’s not like we’re making her get us stuff. She joined in on guitar once when Ringo bailed, but she says she likes just hanging out more.”

“Uh oh. Ringo bailed on practice already?”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah. To tell the truth, I’d kinda rather if it was Sunset or even Fluttershy in the band. Shy’s still pretty new to guitar so I get why she doesn’t want to join a band where she’d be struggling to keep up, but shit, she shows up even when she’s not in the band!”

Although they had asked Flash Sentry to join, he said he was too busy to commit to it. Instead, he suggested that the bassist from his old high school band could join on rhythm guitar. Although Ringo was a decent enough player, he didn’t seem to take it as seriously as the others did.

“Maybe he just needs to get used to playing with you guys more?” Pinkie suggested.

Rainbow shrugged. “I guess. I’m serious about Fluttershy, though. Only reason I don’t try to get her in the band instead of him is because she’s too embarrassed to play unless she’s had a few drinks.”

Pinkie frowned. “Fluttershy’s drinking?”

Rainbow’s head shot up as she realized what she’d said, then she continued in the most normal tone she could manage. “A little bit. We all usually have a few beers or whatever when we get together. She’s not, you know, getting wasted or anything like that.”

“Is that… safe though? After the accident?”

“I guess?” Rainbow drained the last of her beer and tried to throw the can into the trash. She missed, and it clattered against the floor. “She says it’s alright, and I’m sure she knows what she’s talking about.”

“I’m worried about her.”

“Pinkie, it’s fine.” Rainbow nudged her playfully. “Do you really think I’d let anything bad happen to Fluttershy? She’s gone through a lot, and if a few drinks helps her loosen up and actually have a little fun, then is that really a bad thing?

“I guess not…”

“And you know, I’m not gonna let her get plastered. Not that I’ve had to stop her or anything, she only ever has one or two drinks.”

Pinkie found herself with the same feeling of wanting to trust her friends, even when she was inclined to keep worrying. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“Hey, why don’t you swing by on Friday? We’ve got another practice session, and then we could show you the new stuff we’ve been working on.”

Pinkie managed a smile. Since Fluttershy liked going to the practice sessions, maybe Pinkie would actually get to see her there. “Sounds good. I’ll absolutely be here!”

With that topic firmly closed, Pinkie looked down at her drink and found she didn’t want it anymore. She handed it to Rainbow. “Want the rest of this?”

Rainbow took it, but wore a confused expression. “You not feeling good or something?”

Although she wasn’t sick, Pinkie decided it was still true in another sense. “Yeah, I… I think I’m gonna head home early tonight. I… probably just need some sleep.”

“Oh, uh, okay.” Rainbow took a drink of the beer Pinkie left her. “Well, it was cool seeing you. Hope you feel better.”

“Yeah. Thanks, Dashie.” Pinkie stood up and walked to the stairs. Rainbow must’ve chugged the drink, because on her way out, she heard the empty can land into the garbage.

Most of the lights were off in the house when Pinkie reached the top of the stairs. She walked out as quietly as she could, making sure the door was locked behind her.

The rain had picked up some more. It was starting to look like a thunderstorm might be around the corner. Pinkie didn’t pay much mind to that, however, practically shuffling to the minivan.

That was twice in one night that Pinkie had left her friends earlier than she planned. And for what? All she would do when she got home was be alone, and Pinkie hated being alone.

She checked her phone again when she got into her van. There were still no missed calls or messages. She wanted to reach out again, but she knew how she looked. So desperate to hear from her friends that she was constantly bothering them when what they needed was time to themselves.

She tossed the phone onto the passenger seat, refusing to be more of a pain than she already had been. She’d spent time with both Applejack and Rainbow, and she loved spending time with them. Why did she need more than that? Why couldn’t she just be happy?

Why wasn’t it good enough that her friends had told her Sunset and Fluttershy were fine? They had said the same thing – both of them were holding together as best they could under the circumstances. They would both be fine in time.

Did she not trust her friends? No, that wasn’t it. She did believe that both Applejack and Rainbow knew what they were talking about, and that Sunset and Fluttershy really would be okay. It was just…

It was just that Sunset had Applejack, and Fluttershy had Rainbow. While they had all been friends since high school, each of them also had their best friend that they’d known for even longer, someone they could always turn to. Sunset and Applejack, Fluttershy and Rainbow.

And what about Pinkie? Back in high school, they had been one big group. But since then, it felt more and more like they were separating, even among the friends who stayed in town. And as everyone partnered up, Pinkie was just… there. One piece, disconnected from the rest of the puzzle.

Against her better judgement, Pinkie picked up her phone again. But she didn’t try to make a call or send a text. She just turned on the screen and looked at the background.

It had been hard to get it all in one shot. But with Rarity and Twilight visiting at the same time, how could they not take a group picture together?

Fluttershy stood in the middle, Sunset beside her. Her hand rested protectively around Fluttershy’s stomach as they scrunched together to fit everyone in. Rainbow stood on Fluttershy’s other side, one hand around her shoulders, the other in the devil horns sign. Applejack was next to Sunset, and she’d dropped her hat onto Sunset’s head for the picture. Twilight and Rarity both kneeled in front, Twilight looking a little unsure of what she should be doing, Rarity holding her arms out as if she were showing off her beloved friends to the world.

And Pinkie? Pinkie had been there too. She was standing behind the camera, making sure everyone else was in their perfect place for the perfect photo.

19 – Limitations

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Chapter Nineteen

Limitations

How did people do things like this? After spending her final months with her friends at CHS, Twilight had thought that she’d finally gotten the hang of talking to others. And she had! When she already knew them…

Another sideways glance at the girl studying at the next table showed that she was still hidden behind a pile of books. Good. Twilight had prepared for this interaction, and it was time to see it through. It wasn’t like it would be hard. Just go over and say ‘hi’. Well… probably not just ‘hi’, she should introduce herself.

‘Hello there! My name is Twilight Sparkle and I’ve been watching you for days now! Want to help me study magic?’

Twilight sunk back into her seat. She may not have known much about making friends, but she was pretty sure that wasn’t how it usually worked.

Although, come to think of it… that wasn’t too far off from how she’d gotten to know the only friends she’d ever had.

Twilight shook the thought from her head. There was no way she was going to go up to one of the smartest students in school and start rambling about magic; she would have to make this look like her interest was much more traditionally academic.

How hard could that be? Twilight loved science! She’d loved it for a lot longer than she’d known about magic, and chemistry was a fascinating field. A few years ago, Twilight would have been thrilled to have the chance to talk to someone as academically minded as she was about something she enjoyed so much.

‘Yeah right…’ A few years ago, Twilight would’ve done anything to avoid even the most basic of conversations with her peers, let alone one where she was seeking help. But at least that was one thing making friends had changed: Twilight now realized she rather enjoyed spending time with others under the right circumstances. Still, others were usually the ones to start those circumstances.

Well… how would that go? What would Sunset do?

‘Hey, sorry to bother you, but I noticed what you’re studying and I was wondering if you had time to help me with a few questions I’m struggling with.’

There, that was perfect. Twilight just had to be like Sunset. Just… without getting all holier than thou and forbidding Twilight from studying what any idiot could see is the biggest breakthrough in all of human history!

Twilight closed her eyes. Yes, be like Sunset without that part. Nervously, Twilight rose to her feet.

Every step was small and her eyes never left the floor, but Twilight slowly made her way over to the table next to hers. She would have tried to practice what she’d say in her head, but all she could do was keep thinking about how big of a fool she was about to make herself look.

She stopped at the edge of the table and cautiously looked at the other girl. She was still engrossed in her studies, not even so much as glancing at the intruder. Twilight took a deep breath. “Uhm, hi…”

The other girl didn’t acknowledge her.

Twilight cleared her throat. “Uh, my name’s Twilight Sparkle. You’re Moon Dancer, right?”

“I don’t do tutoring,” Moon Dancer answered without looking up.

“Oh! No, it’s nothing like that! I just…” ‘Wanted to ask you some questions… Yeah, that definitely sounds like tutoring…’

Moon Dancer turned away from the book to fix Twilight with a glare. “Are we getting somewhere? I have a lot of studying to do.”

“Maybe I could help!” Twilight took a seat across from Moon Dancer and pulled over one of the books she hadn’t been using. “I’m pretty good at studying.”

Moon Dancer propped her book up in between them. “I don’t need any help.”

Twilight stayed sitting, watching the book that stood between the two of them. This never would’ve happened to Sunset… But Twilight had to try again. This needed to work.

“I… think we got off to a bad start,” Twilight said to the book since Moon Dancer still wouldn’t look at her. “What I really wanted to talk about is… a partnership.”

Partnership. That was a better word. Or at least, it seemed like it was until Moon Dancer answered without putting the book down. “Not interested. Besides, we’re not even in any classes together.”

Twilight couldn’t give up that easily. “I know, but that’s exactly it. This isn’t a school project, it’s a private research project I’m working on. I’ve been trying to work on it on my own, I even took up quantum physics for it! But I think to even begin to understand something of this proportion, I’d need a lot more knowledge from a lot more fields. I think chemical engineering might be a good starting point.”

At least Moon Dancer set down the book, but she kept the glare. “So let me get this straight. This isn’t a school project, so it’s not going to help me graduate. This isn’t a chemistry project, so it’s not going to help me in my career. And the whole reason you’re coming to me is that you’re just some physics major who doesn’t even know what a single-displacement reaction is.”

“A chemical reaction where an element reacts with a compound and displaces one of the other elements in the compound.”

They locked eyes for a moment, and eventually, Moon Dancer folded. “Okay, so you know some basic chemistry. Clearly not enough, or else you wouldn’t bother coming to me.”

As much as she hated to admit to not knowing something well enough, Twilight could only nod. “I was top of my class in chemistry and every other scientific field at Crystal Prep, and then I did more independent studying after that. I can keep up, but I’m not an expert.”

“And since you’re coming to me, I’m guessing you already know my qualifications.”

Twilight nodded again. “I looked into a number of candidates before deciding you would be the best fit. I know you’re also extremely well rounded in your studies, and one of the brightest students this school has seen in your field.”

The flattery didn’t seem to get through to Moon Dancer. “And is anyone else on this project?”

Twilight hesitated, although it was an easy answer. “I… did have another research partner for a while. She was brilliant, but we ran into a… disagreement on how to proceed with our research. In the end, she decided she’d rather not be involved anymore.”

Moon Dancer glanced at a clock, then folded her hands on the table. “Okay, I’ll regret this, but I’m curious now. What exactly is this project?”

Ah, there it was. The hard part. It was inevitable that they’d come to that, but Twilight still had no idea what to say. Obviously ‘studying magic through the lens of the known sciences’ was not going to get her anywhere.

But for every moment that Twilight hesitated, Moon Dancer began looking a little less sure. She had to say something.

“This project is big. Huge. It’ll bring everything you know into question, probably multiple times over. To say it’s the scientific breakthrough of the millennium is an understatement; it could be the biggest advancement the world has ever seen!”

Moon Dancer’s book went back up. “Yeah, I knew I’d regret it. Next you’ll be telling me about healing crystals and N rays.”

It was probably not a good idea to point out that after everything she’d seen and heard about, magic crystals could quite plausibly be used for healing. “I’m serious. And… and I can prove it.”

“Oh?” Moon Dancer didn’t put down her book. “Go ahead then.”

Twilight took a deep breath and looked down at her hand. It would be so easy. But no, she couldn’t do that. She needed to try another approach. “Just… come to my room this afternoon. I can show you my research and you’ll see what I mean.”

The research alone would never be enough, and Twilight knew it. Sure, it was impressive, but only to someone who already accepted as a basic principle that magic was real. It’d be like trying to explain trigonometry to someone who refused to believe math existed.

It didn’t matter that Twilight didn’t know how to backup her claim, because her phone started ringing before she even got an answer. She pulled it out of her purse with the intention of silencing it and returning the call later, but she stopped when she saw who was calling.

She gave a sheepish smile to Moon Dancer, well aware of how horrible the timing was. “I’m sorry, but I really need to take this. I’ll, er, get back to you later.”

Before Moon Dancer could reply, Twilight was already turning away. She slid her thumb to the right on the screen and pressed her phone against her ear. “Hello?”

“Hi, Twilight,” Fluttershy said meekly.

“Hi, Fluttershy. How’s it going?” Twilight regretted the question as soon as she asked it.

“It’s, uhm…” There was a pause, but Twilight wasn’t sure what to say to fill it. “Do you… have some time to talk?”

“Of course!” Twilight pushed through the library doors and made her way towards her dorm room. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“I… I don’t know…” Fluttershy’s voice sounded strained.

Twilight waited for a moment, but it didn’t seem like Fluttershy was going to continue on her own. “How are you feeling? Getting plenty of rest?”

“Sunset’s been taking care of everything around the house, and I’ve only left to go to Rainbow’s.”

“Good. You need to take it easy.”

“Mmm…”

“Oh, of course you know that though.” Twilight was wary of parroting the same things she knew Fluttershy must have heard countless times in the past three weeks, but she couldn’t help herself. It was the first time she’d heard from Fluttershy since she’d woken up. Ever since the accident, Pinkie had been the only one keeping Twilight informed on what was going on. “You’re getting around okay?”

“Yes. I’ve been doing –” Fluttershy’s voice caught in her throat and was replaced by a sharp breath. “I’m… I’m okay.”

Twilight winced at the sound of her friend’s voice. “It’s really good to hear from you. I’m sorry I haven’t called, I just… wanted to give you space.”

“It’s okay. I… Rarity and Pinkie call all the time, and I… I never know what to say…”

And yet, here she was calling Twilight. It was obvious there was more going on than she was saying; Twilight was well aware she wasn’t as close with Fluttershy as either Rarity or Pinkie were. She’d been a regular part of their group, all seven friends inseparable for the final semester at CHS, but she didn’t have the years of history that everyone else did.

But even if it was clear that Fluttershy had to have something she wanted to talk to Twilight about, neither of them brought it up. Instead, they talked in awkwardly strained exchanges all the way to Twilight’s dorm.

Spike was quick to run up to Twilight when she entered, as he always was. “Twilight! How’d it go?”

Twilight bent down to scratch behind his ear. “I’ll tell you about it later, I’m on the phone right now.”

“Was that Spike? How’s he doing?” Fluttershy asked.

“He’s good. He’s grown a lot since you saw him, not a little puppy anymore. He misses you all, though. Poor guy doesn’t get to talk to people much these days.”

“I guess it would bring some unwanted questions if he did.”

Twilight took a seat on her bed, so Spike jumped up and curled beside her. She pet him as she talked. “Yeah, and I’m terrified of what might happen if the wrong sort of people found out I have a magic talking dog.”

“Have you, uhm…” Fluttershy hesitated for a moment, and her tone sounded uncertain when she continued. “Do you… still study magic?”

Twilight grimaced. Fluttershy had stayed out of the argument between Twilight and Sunset, but if she finally decided she did want to take a side, it was pretty clear which one she’d take. Twilight put on what she hoped was a casual tone and was glad Fluttershy couldn’t see her. “No, of course not! I mean, it’s not like there’s much to work with since I left Everton. Well, except for Spike, but you know I’d never experiment on him.”

“Oh. Right.” Did Fluttershy sound disappointed? That didn’t make any sense.

“Why do you ask?”

“I…” Fluttershy stalled, and didn’t have much more success when she tried again. “I…”

“Fluttershy?”

“You said… you said Sky might be special.”

Twilight’s body froze and her mouth fell open. “Wha–”

“You said she could be magic.”

Twilight looked around in panic, but there was no one to help her figure out how to handle this turn in the conversation.

“Because… because we are, she might… there might be something different with her.”

Twilight angled the phone so that the rapid breaths she tried to calm herself with wouldn’t carry over the line. “I… I know, I did say that, but…”

“Twilight, please.” Fluttershy’s voice was growing desperate. “Please, I need you to tell me that there’s something… something we can do. That there’s… Somehow she isn’t… That we can…”

“I… I’m sorry, Fluttershy.” The words felt like rocks being forced from her throat. “Even if I did understand magic better, I really don’t think there’s anything anyone could do. It’s… it’s been a month since she –”

“Don’t.” Fluttershy took a few sharp breaths of her own, but she didn’t manage to keep the sound of tears from coming through the phone. “I can’t do this, Twilight… I can’t…”

“Shh, it’s okay.” It wasn’t. They both knew that. But what else was she supposed to say? Twilight had no idea what it was like to go through something like that, had no idea what else she could say to someone who did. “You can make it through this, Fluttershy. Not because of magic, but because you’re strong enough to pull through.”

“I’m not!” Fluttershy was no longer holding back the sound of her crying. “It hurts. It hurts so much, and I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Twilight also didn’t know what to do, and she suspected Sunset didn’t either. So it was time to look for someone who did. “Have you considered going to therapy? It could really help.”

Fluttershy sniffled and tried to recompose herself. “No. I’ve never done anything like that.”

“You should think about it. And talk to Sunset, of course. You know, I’ve been to therapy for my anxiety, it’s really nice to be able to talk to a professional who understands and can help you.”

“Maybe…”

Even just getting Fluttershy to consider it would be a good first step. “I can look into it for you if you want. I’m sure I could find someone in your area that your insurance covers.”

“Thank you, but… I’ll… talk to Sunset first.”

Even though Fluttershy wouldn’t be able to see, Twilight nodded. “Right, of course. And… well, the same goes for her too. I’d be happy to find something for both of you.”

“I don’t think Sunset would want to do that…”

Truthfully, Twilight didn’t either. Sunset never did seem like the type to let anyone help with her problems. “Maybe not, but you should at least bring it up to her.”

“Thank you.”

Twilight smiled, happy she was able to do something after all. “You’re welcome.”

“Uhm…” Fluttershy paused. “I… I have another question, but…”

“Ask away! Anything I can do to help.”

“Do you think there are… other worlds? Besides Equestria.”

“Well…” That sounded like a safer topic, even if she was confused at the sudden shift. She didn’t have much she could say about it, though. Twilight had mostly focused on the one other world they already knew about, but she had given unknown worlds at least a little thought. “Sure. If there’s two, why not more, right?”

“That’s what I was thinking. And… do you think they’d be like Equestria is?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well… like how there’s another Fluttershy and another Twilight in Equestria. Do you think there are more worlds with other versions of us?”

“Probably. I can only speculate, of course, but certain multiverse theories postulate that there are infinite universes with infinite variations. And even if it’s not infinite, we know that a parallel universe does exist. It’s not a stretch to say there are more.”

“So… there could be entire universes like ours, but where things happened differently?”

Twilight shrugged. “In theory, yes. Why do you ask?”

“I was thinking about the, uhm, the Friendship Games…”

Oh. Twilight didn’t like where that was headed. But it was too late to take it back now, so Twilight just frowned through the rest of Fluttershy’s question.

“There were lots of holes. Like… like portals to another world.”

Twilight nodded slowly. “To Equestria.”

“Yeah. But, uhm… do you think it would be possible to… to do that again, but go somewhere else?”

Twilight furrowed her brow. “Somewhere else? Like where?”

“I… I don’t know… One of the other universes.”

Twilight took a deep breath. “I don’t even know how I did that. You know I wasn’t really in my right mind when all that was happening. I think the portals went to Equestria because that was where the magic came from, so who knows if I could’ve made portals to somewhere else. Or even if there is a somewhere else. And even if we knew all that, that wouldn’t mean I could do it again.”

“So… even if there is another universe where… where Sky’s still…” Fluttershy started crying as she trailed off.

Exactly what Fluttershy was asking for clicked into place, but Twilight once again wasn’t sure what to say. It was reasonable for Fluttershy to want to have a solution that gave her back her daughter, but holding out hope for a magical solution was only going to make it harder for her to move on.

“Fluttershy, I’m sorry but… she’s gone.”

The sound of tears stopped suddenly with a sharp inhalation, but Fluttershy didn’t answer.

“I know you don’t want to hear that, and I don’t want it either. I wish there was something I could do, but…” Twilight trailed off as words failed her.

After a moment in which neither of them spoke, Twilight sighed. “I’m still here for you, if I can be. Please, think about therapy. It sounds like it could be really helpful for you.”

Fluttershy still didn’t answer, and it occurred to Twilight that not only did she not hear her friend’s voice, she didn’t hear anything at all. “Fluttershy?”

There was still no answer, so Twilight pulled the phone away from her ear and found that the call had been disconnected. She winced and fell back on the bed, covering her face with her arm. “Stupid…”

“Was that Fluttershy?” Spike asked as he nudged his way under her arm.

“Yeah…”

“Why’d you tell her you aren’t studying magic anymore? And what’s she want to get to another world for anyway?”

Twilight idly stroked his fur. Even if she could explain it to him, she wasn’t sure how. Despite his ability to speak, Spike was still a dog. He was only two years old, which did mean he was full-grown for a dog, but he had limited life experience and lacked a human brain. At best, he had the intelligence of a child.

Which was why she had to try. Spike’s growth and education rested entirely on her, so she had to take a lesson in emotions where she could get it. “Remember how I told you Fluttershy had an accident and her baby wouldn’t be born? She was hoping somehow magic could help bring her back.”

“Oh…” Spike rested his head against Twilight’s shoulder for a moment, then lifted it suddenly. “Well, you’re going to help her right?”

Twilight sighed. “I wish I could, Spike… But there’s nothing in this world or in Equestria that can do what she wants.”

“Poor Fluttershy…”

“Yeah…”

Twilight wondered if she should call Fluttershy back. Probably not. She’d hung up because Twilight had gone and said something stupid that made her feel bad; calling her would only stir up more trouble.

She did pick up her phone, though. She tapped the text message app, then scrolled down to Sunset’s name. The last message was from eight months ago – an argument that they had never resolved. Twilight glared as she looked at the last exchange, as if she could somehow send her disdain as an attachment through the phone.

But that wasn’t why she’d pulled up the message, so she took a deep breath and tried to remember that some things were more important than an old grudge. She typed out a message.

‘Just got off the phone with Fluttershy. I might have accidentally upset her. Could you tell her I’m sorry? And I think it would be worth looking into therapy after everything that happened, I think it would really help her.’

Twilight read back the message without hitting send. She could already hear Sunset’s voice in her head.

“She doesn’t need therapy, she just needs time to adjust without people like you making things worse. She already has enough going on without you piling stuff on top of it.”

That wasn’t fair. They had their differences, but Twilight knew Sunset would never react like that. But knowing that didn’t stop her from deleting the message without sending it.

Twilight set her phone down on her bed and lay still while petting Spike. Nothing about the day had gone right, and she wasn’t sure how to salvage any of it.

Not that she wound up having the chance to think about it before something else popped up. A knock on the door pulled her out of her thoughts. Wondering who it could possibly be, she rose to her feet to answer it.

To her surprise, Moon Dancer was on the other side. For a moment, both of them just stared at one another after the door was opened; Twilight in confusion, Moon Dancer in annoyance.

“Oh, Moon Dancer,” Twilight managed after letting the silence sit for entirely too long. “I didn’t expect to see you again today.”

“You did tell me to stop by,” Moon Dancer pointed out.

“Well, yeah. But I never even told you where I live.”

Moon Dancer rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I live on the same floor as you.” To accentuate her point, she pointed at a door down the hall. “Not very observant for someone who’s supposed to be smart, are you?”

Twilight looked between the door and Moon Dancer. How had she never noticed that? It wasn’t like she ever paid attention to who lived in the rooms around her, but Moon Dancer had been on her radar for weeks.

Kicking herself for being so absent-minded, Twilight forced a chuckle and stepped to the side. “So… why don’t you come in and we can talk?”

Moon Dancer didn’t move right away, and Twilight was left wondering if she really wasn’t going to come in. But after a moment, Moon Dancer entered and Twilight closed the door behind her.

“Sorry about earlier,” Twilight said. “I wasn’t expecting that call. A friend of mine is going through something really awful and needed to talk.”

For some reason, Moon Dancer gave a mirthless laugh. “Huh, so you have friends?”

Twilight furrowed her brow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.” Since it was the only chair in the room, Moon Dancer took a seat at Twilight’s desk. She propped her head up on her hand and didn’t quite look at Twilight. “I’m just surprised to hear you actually putting a friend before a study project.”

Twilight frowned. “You don’t even know me. So why does it feel like you have something against me?”

Moon Dancer lifted her eyes to meet Twilight’s. “You really don’t remember at all, do you?”

“Remember what?”

Moon Dancer held Twilight’s eyes for a moment, then turned away. “Nothing. So what’s this project?”

What was that about? No matter how smart Moon Dancer was, Twilight was beginning to think maybe she wasn’t the type of person she wanted to involve in a magical study after all.

She looked to Spike out of habit more than anything, but he just shrugged. It wasn’t like he could really give his opinion, he knew better than to talk around someone new.

Twilight pushed up her glasses. She’s gotten Moon Dancer to agree to listen, she should at least give her the chance to show she could be trusted. “Well, I’m sort of studying a new field. But the thing is, the whole thing is a huge secret. So if we’re going to work on this together, I need to know I can trust you to keep everything under wraps.”

“Look, you came to me. You have to be able to tell me something if you want me to sign up for this.”

“I came to you because of your academic track record, but you haven’t given me a lot of reason to want to trust you with it.”

Moon Dancer leaned back and folded her arms. “We’ve met before, you know.”

That caught Twilight off guard. “We have?”

“Typical,” Moon Dancer spat. “Fifth grade? We were partners on every single group project!”

Twilight thought back. There had been a girl she worked with on a few projects, but she couldn’t remember much about her. “That was you?”

“We sat next to each other all year! I even invited you to my first sleepover for my tenth birthday.”

“What? But I didn’t go to any sleepovers in elementary school.”

Moon Dancer turned away. “Yeah, I never said you showed up.”

Twilight pressed her hand against the bridge of her nose and sighed. “I’m sorry. I was pretty bad at the whole friendship thing back then.”

“You seem pretty good at it now,” Moon Dancer said bitterly.

Yeah, Twilight was really great at friendship now. That’s why she’d just upset one of her friends and failed to even so much as message another. “I don’t know about that, but I do try to be more thoughtful towards others now.”

Moon Dancer turned back towards her for a moment and seemed to be studying her. Regardless of what she found, she turned away again without saying anything.

Twilight was torn. On the one hand, she couldn’t deny she’d probably been a pretty lousy friend back in elementary school, and she felt bad for doing something that had clearly hurt Moon Dancer’s feelings. On the other hand, having a research partner who was still holding a grudge from nine years ago wasn’t exactly appealing.

While she was debating what to do, Spike got off the bed and walked over to Moon Dancer. She smiled at him and stroked his head. As he leaned into it, he cast Twilight a look that Moon Dancer couldn’t possibly understand.

Well, that settled it. Twilight stepped closer to the two of them. “Moon Dancer, I’m really sorry for how I was back then. But I’m willing to start over if you are.”

At first, Moon Dancer just kept petting Spike without saying anything. Then after a moment, she sighed and smiled. “Yeah, alright. Guess I can’t stay bitter forever, huh?”

Twilight smiled as well. “Well, I guess you could, but I doubt it would make you very happy.” She extended her hand. “So… friends?”

Moon Dancer smirked and shook Twilight’s hand. “Sure, friends.”

“Alright!” Spike said. “I knew you’d do the right thing!”

“Spike!” Twilight grimaced as Moon Dancer screamed.

“What?” Spike shrugged. “You said it was okay to talk around friends.”

Twilight facepalmed. “I meant friends who already know you can talk!

Spike pouted. “But it’s no fun staying quiet all the time…”

Twilight sighed and bent down to pet him. “I know… But it’s really important. Who knows what would happen if the wrong person finds out? You could even be taken away from me.”

“But… Moon Dancer isn’t the wrong person. She’s a friend now!”

“Yeah, but –”

“This is incredible!” Moon Dancer slid off the chair to her knees so she could better look at Spike. “Is he some sort of animatronic? He feels so lifelike!”

Spike struck a pose. “That’s because I am! I’m one hundred percent dog!”

“He is,” Twilight said. “I know it’s hard to believe, but Spike got himself mixed up with some magic and, well, he can talk now.”

“You say that like you weren’t involved too,” Spike said.

Before Twilight could reply, Moon Dancer cut in. “Wait, did you say magic?

Twilight and Spike exchanged looks, then she turned to Moon Dancer and grinned. “So… how would you like to hear about that research I’ve been doing?”


“Alright, so what’s the big news?”

Twilight turned to see Sunset walk into the garage that served as her workshop. She beamed and held up her newest accomplishment for her friend to see. “I just finished it!”

Sunset walked closer and examined the device in Twilight’s hands. “Is that what I think it is?”

A circular device rested in Twilight’s palm. It resembled a compact mirror with a clamshell design. “Close! It’s based on the one I used during the Friendship Games, but I’ve improved the design considerably. This one is much safer, promise. It’ll only detect magic when it’s activated without siphoning it.”

Sunset didn’t seem reassured. “How do you know?”

“I’ve read and reread all the notes we’ve made from our research, and the information Princess Twilight sent has been just as insightful as it is fascinating. In theory, this should –”

“In theory.” Sunset frowned and crossed her arms. “Twilight, you can’t possibly think using this thing is a good idea!”

“What?” Twilight asked softly. She looked between Sunset and the device in her palm. “Sunset, I know so much more now. This one will work, trust me.”

Sunset sighed. “How do you still not know enough to realize you don’t understand what you’re dealing with? I don’t even understand how magic works in this world, and I grew up around it!”

“That’s why we need to keep studying it, and this will help!” Twilight held up the device as if looking at it for long enough would convince Sunset’s mind. “Please, I need you to trust me with this.”

“No.” Sunset held out her hand. “You know I want to trust you, Twilight. But I can’t, not with how you’ve been acting, and not with this. This has to stop.”

“What do you mean?”

“Give me the device.”

Twilight pulled her hand back, holding the device to her chest. “Sunset, please…”

“I know you think you’ve learned a lot about magic, but be reasonable. You can’t possibly know what that thing will do, not without testing it. And we won’t have a way to test it until it’s too late.”

That wasn’t true. Twilight had already tested the device, but she couldn’t tell Sunset that. She could never tell Sunset about that. “Sunset, I… I need this. I need you to help me with it.”

“Listen to yourself! You’re obsessed! Magic is dangerous. You of all people should know that.”

“I do!” Twilight’s fingers gripped the device so tightly that her hand started shaking. Twilight knew that better than anyone, and that was precisely why this was so important.

“I don’t want to argue with you.” Sunset fixed Twilight with a glare and nodded towards her extended hand. “But I can’t let you do something this dangerous. Give me the device.”

Twilight glared back. She was about to refuse, then something caught her eye – a purple glow from behind Sunset. The other girl couldn’t see, but it encased a paint can. Twilight gasped and turned away, she knew what came next.

She needed Sunset to leave immediately, so she held out the device. She didn’t look, but she felt Sunset remove it from her hand.

“I’m sorry, Twilight.”

“Just go!”

There was a moment’s pause, then Twilight heard Sunset’s footsteps as she walked away. She waited until the door opened and closed, then fell to the floor and cried.


Twilight was still angry. Every time she remembered that moment, she felt herself fill with rage at Sunset’s refusal to help her when she needed it most. It didn’t matter how many times she rationalized Sunset’s point of view, or how much time had passed. Twilight was angry.

Even after spending the whole afternoon going over notes with Moon Dancer. Even after the relief of having someone at her college that shared her excitement and agreed to keep it secret. All day, Twilight had thought of Sunset. And she was angry.

It was late. Moon Dancer had left hours ago, and Twilight should be asleep. She never did sleep much, though. She didn’t like what happened when she slept. Didn’t like the things she saw.

Not that she didn’t also see them when she was awake sometimes.

“It’s not fair, is it?”

Twilight closed her eyes to try and shut out the voice. It didn’t work.

“You did everything right, and she still wouldn’t trust you.”

No. Don’t listen to her. Never listen to her.

“You were right, you know. That device would have worked perfectly.”

“Why won’t you just go away?” Twilight asked.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t need to look, she knew who it was, but she did anyway.

A figure that looked very much like Twilight herself floated in the air beside her. She was taller, had wings and a horn that looked like it was made of pure light, and her skin was the color of midnight.

“You know, you could do so much if you’d just let me help you.”

“No.”

The figure floated around Twilight, appearing on her other side. She kept her hand in place, so that her arm was wrapped around Twilight’s shoulders. “All this business of trying to study magic with science, and here I am ready to give you all the answers.”

“I said no.”

“Twilight?” Spike said sleepily, but she barely recognized it.

“And just think about what you could do! Here, I’ll give you a little insight for free.” The figure leaned in so that her mouth was right next to Twilight’s ear. “You’re right about other worlds. There’s far more than just two. And your friend who wants to go to one where her daughter is alive? I could make that happen.”

Twilight balled her hands into fists. “I don’t –”

You could make that happen.” The figure backed away, hovering in the air without ever needing to use her wings. “You could be what reunites them with their child. Think about how happy they’d be. Then Sunset would finally understand that you were right!

“Stop it!” Twilight glared at the figure. “I wanted Sunset’s help so I could learn to get rid of you!”

The figure only laughed. “That isn’t going to happen. You and me? We’re quite inseparable now.”

“Go away!” On instinct, Twilight threw out her hand. It became surrounded by a purple aura, as did a book from across the room.

The book flew through the air directly at the figure. It was propelled by nothing more than her force of will, by her magic. The book passed through the spot where the figure had been, but she vanished before Twilight’s eyes.

“Twilight, snap out of it!”

Twilight looked down to see Spike had his front paws against her leg. She dropped to the floor and held him tightly. As always, Spike was the only one who she could turn to, the only one who could help keep her grounded.

“Was it her again?” Spike asked softly after a moment.

“Yes…” Twilight said. As always, Spike hadn’t been able to see or hear the figure. A testament of Twilight’s failures, Midnight Sparkle existed only to torment her and no one else.

“We’ll get her,” Spike reassured her. “Moon Dancer will help.”

“I hope you’re right, Spike.”

From some distant place, Twilight could hear laughter. She squeezed her eyes shut and held Spike tightly, and tried in vain to ignore the voice that only she could hear.

“Sunset was right about one thing. You have no idea what you’re dealing with, Twilight Sparkle. But don’t worry. No matter how dark it is, Midnight is here to watch over you.”

20 – Lost for Words

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Chapter Twenty

Lost for Words

Sweat rolled down Rainbow Dash’s face as the heat from the spotlights beat down on her. She barely even noticed it over the thunderous pounding of the drums providing the backbeat and keeping time, the deep rumbling of the bass giving the music a floor to build off of, the roar of the rhythm guitar guiding the melody along at breakneck speeds, and her own guitar solo screeching out above the rest of the music.

Even with the intensity of their show, the crowd’s cheers still reached her. They were screaming her name, dying for every note she could deliver to them, every one of them longing to stand where she stood.

Although the music was already intense, the song picked up as it reached its crescendo, individual notes no longer standing out as all four band members pushed their instruments to the limits. Rainbow ran to the front of the stage, stopping just short of jumping into the crowd that so badly wanted everything she could give them.

She raised her guitar as she played the last notes, then she let the strap catch it as she dropped it to hold her fist in the air triumphantly. The thunder didn’t stop when the music did, as the audience only seemed to cheer louder. The heat rose with the sound as jets of fire shot up from the back of the stage and every light in the building focused on them – four people illuminated in front of a sea of thousands.

Or at least, that’s what would have happened if there were spotlights, or pyrotechnics, or more than one person in the audience. But at least Fluttershy’s cheers were getting a little bit better.

“That was so cool!” Fluttershy carried over four bottles of water, handing them out to the band members in turn. “I love what you did with the guitar at the end, Dash.”

Rainbow grinned and took a bottle from Fluttershy. “Thanks. Think it’ll go over well when we’re playing for a crowd?”

“I’m sure it will.”

“Don’t worry, Dash,” Lightning Dust said, “I’ll still find ways to take some of that spotlight off your hands for you.”

“Yeah, I’m sure the audience is gonna line up to watch the bassist,” Rainbow shot back.

Lightning Dust smirked. “Once they see me playing they will!”

“If we ever get to play a show,” Ringo said as he took off his guitar and set it off to the side. Rainbow had to suppress an eye roll.

“We’re gonna kick ass!” Lemon Zest said before Rainbow could address Ringo’s impatience. She continued to tap one drumstick against the drum even as she took a bottle from Fluttershy. As near as Rainbow could tell, she didn’t seem to be doing it consciously

“Hell yeah, we are!” Rainbow said. “But I think we still have a little work to do before we’re ready to hit the stage. Zest, your drumming is kinda all over the place still. We’re counting on you to help keep time.”

Lemon Zest stopped tapping her drumstick and set it down so she could flash a thumbs up. “Got it. I’ll tighten it up.”

Even though she could be over excited, Lemon Zest was nothing if not a perfectionist. Rainbow knew she could count on her. “I think you kinda got more into the groove of it towards the end, though.”

“Uhm…” Fluttershy brushed a strand of hair out of her face. “I think you might’ve just stopped noticing… You started your solo a little early.”

Rainbow frowned. “Again? Sorry, I just kinda… got too into it, I guess.”

“Hey, it’s cool!” Lemon Zest said.

“Yeah, you’ll catch up to me soon,” Lightning Dust added.

“I think we’ve practiced enough,” Ringo said. “No one’s going to notice if we’re a few beats off, they don’t even know our songs yet.”

“Ringo, you haven’t even been playing with us for a whole month!” Rainbow pointed out. She didn’t understand how he could be sick of practice already, but comments like this kept coming up.

“Actually, I think he’s got a point,” Lightning Dust said. “Yeah, we’ve still got some kinks to work out, but we sound pretty damn good. And we’re not gonna get scouted on our first gig.”

“That is true,” Lemon Zest said. “And getting used to playing in front of people we don’t know is an important part of being a band too, right?”

At least when it was the others, Rainbow could understand their eagerness. It had been almost a year since Rainbow had first started talking to Lightning Dust about possibly starting a band. Lemon Zest joined later, but that was already six months ago.

Still, Rainbow knew Bitchette wasn’t at the level the Rainbooms had been, and that made her uneasy. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye out for any possible gigs. Playing in front of an audience isn’t too different, though.”

“Maybe not for you,” Lemon Zest said. “Some of us haven’t been in a real band before.”

“Just one of us, love.” Ringo pulled out his phone and checked it, then put it back in his pocket. He picked up his guitar, but instead of putting it back on, he brought it over to its carrying case. “Anyway, now that we’re all settled on the gig business, I’ve gotta run.”

“What?” Rainbow grimaced. “We agreed that we’ll look for one, not that practice is over.”

Ringo didn’t seem to pay her any mind, picking up his guitar case and walking towards the stairs. “Sorry, would love to stay and jam some more, but I’ve got a date tonight.”

“What do you mean you’ve got a date?” Lightning Dust asked angrily. “Why the hell would you schedule a date the same night we’ve got band practice?”

Ringo shrugged. “We just had practice the other day, so I figured this would be a quick one. And hey, don’t sweat it! We sounded killer!”

Rainbow gritted her teeth. “Ringo, we –”

“Catch you next week then!”

Without another word, Ringo ascended the stairs and left the others glaring in his wake.

“Are we sure Flash isn’t still mad at Sunset?” Rainbow asked once they heard the door at the top of the stairs close. “Because I’m starting to think he sent us Ringo as revenge.”

“Flash wouldn’t do that,” Fluttershy said, although even she was scowling.

Lightning Dust took off her bass. “If this is what he’s like now, just imagine if we make it big. Dude’s already a fucking diva.”

“So now what?” Lemon Zest asked. “Should we just keep going without him, or…?”

Rainbow looked to Fluttershy and thought about asking her to fill in again. But when she turned away from the stairway, it was with a dejected expression. Rainbow would probably be able to lift her spirits, but it would probably be better to try and ease into it. “Let’s just take a break for now. We’ve been at it for a little while already.”

“Works for me.” Lemon Zest stood up and stretched, then walked over to the mini-fridge and helped herself to a beer. “Anyone else want one?”

“I’ll take one,” Rainbow said. They didn’t normally drink until after practice was over, or at least until closer to the end, but maybe it would help her calm down.

“I’m good with water for now,” Lightning Dust said.

“Uhm, I’d like one, if that’s okay,” Fluttershy said. It was still kind of strange to imagine Fluttershy drinking beer, or even drinking at all. But even if she was never the first to start drinking, she usually joined in when someone else started.

Rainbow took a seat on the couch next to Fluttershy. “Think maybe Flash knows some trick to getting him to cooperate?”

“I don’t know. I, uhm, I could have Sunset ask.”

Lemon Zest handed them each their beer and returned to the stool behind her drum kit. Rainbow popped her beer open and took a sip. “Nah, I’ll ask him. We started talking again since Sunset suggested him for the band.”

Lacking any other proper seats, Lightning Dust sat on the couch’s armrest next to Rainbow. “That, or see if he knows someone else.”

Rainbow frowned. She didn’t like the idea of kicking him out of the band. She didn’t like the idea of kicking anyone out, not that anyone else was causing problems. But she couldn’t deny Lightning Dust had a point. The rest of them all clicked, both as a unit working together and as musicians and where they wanted to go. Ringo was undoubtedly talented, but he seemed to be along for the ride, and at times, not even that.

“I’ll talk to Flash,” Rainbow said. “We should at least make sure we give him a fair shot.”

“Fine. But can we agree that if this keeps up, we’ll try to find someone else?” Lightning Dust asked.

No one answered at first. Rainbow wished she hadn’t asked. It was one thing to address the problem if and when it came, but to make plans for it when he wasn’t even around to answer for himself just went against the way she imagined a band should be.

“I guess I agree,” Lemon Zest said while Rainbow was still figuring out what she thought. “We need someone reliable. What happens if he can’t make a show or something?”

“He’s uhm…” Fluttershy folded as everyone looked at her, her train of thought stopping in its tracks.

“What’s up, Shy?” Rainbow asked.

“Well… I don’t think he’s quite good enough to keep missing practice, either.”

“Fluttershy’s right,” Lightning Dust said. “If he was carrying us or something, it’d still be shitty, but at least he’d have a point about not needing the practice. Even if he shows up for a gig, he’ll still be the weakest link as long as we keep practicing without him.”

Regardless of how Rainbow felt, it seemed everyone else was in agreement. Even Fluttershy could see it. “Alright. If he doesn’t step it up, he’s out.”

Even though everyone had weighed in on the decision, none of them really seemed excited about it. But if they were going down that road, they might as well go down it. “So does anyone know another guitarist if it comes to that?”

“If we did, we would’ve picked them instead of Ringo,” Lightning Dust pointed out.

“Yeah, guess that’s true…”

“Uhm…” Fluttershy fidgeted in her seat.

Rainbow grinned, her spirits soaring at the thought of Fluttershy offering a replacement. There were only two people she could possibly suggest, after all. “What’s up, Shy?”

“Well, you do know someone else. But, uhm, I can understand if you don’t want to ask him…”

Him. That wasn’t good, Rainbow was hoping she was going to suggest either herself or Sunset. “Who did you have in mind?”

“What about that guy you dated a while ago? Uhm, Pointed Note?”

“Sharp Note.” Rainbow frowned. “And I didn’t date him. We just… made out a couple of times.”

“Class act, Dash,” Lightning Dust said, flashing a thumbs up.

“He’s a guitarist though?” Lemon Zest asked. “He any good?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Rainbow shrugged. “He was in a band at the time, they were kind of a big deal in the local scene.”

“Oh yeah? What band?” Lightning Dust asked.

“Seven-Bullet Colt.”

Both Lightning Dust and Lemon Zest snapped to attention. “You know the guitarist of Seven-Bullet Colt?” Lightning Dust asked.

“Dude, we gotta try to get him in Bitchette!” Lightning Dust said, then thought better of it. “Er, if Ringo doesn’t shape up, of course.”

Rainbow scratched at her neck awkwardly. “Yeah, that’s… not gonna happen. We, uh, we don’t get along so well. The first time I met him we got into a fight and I kinda… punched him.”

Lemon Zest went back to tapping idly with one drumstick. “Oh. Guess that’s out then.”

Lightning Dust didn’t seem to mind the turn of events, however. “You punched the guitarist of Seven-Bullet Colt? Hell yeah, Dash! But then if that was the first time you met, you made out after punching him?”

“What, no! I didn’t say that. I made out with him first and then punched him, it was just the same day is all.”

Lemon Zest grinned and pointed the drumstick at her. “You said it was a couple times though. So what’s the story there?”

Rainbow kicked herself for letting that detail slip. “Alright, fine. We met at one of his concerts and got to talking after the show.” She couldn’t help but roll her eyes as she added, “He said he noticed me in the crowd.”

Fluttershy brushed a tuft of Rainbow’s multi-colored hair. “You, uhm, you do kind of stand out.”

“So, what, you get tired of his cheesy pick-up lines?” Lightning Dust asked.

“Nah, after the show we went to a party. Things were going pretty well until we ran into his girlfriend there.”

“Ouch.” Lemon Zest winced. “You tell her that her boyfriend’s a creep?”

Rainbow shrugged. “Tried, but she didn’t really wanna listen. So I just socked Sharp Note one and stormed out.”

Lightning Dust clapped her on the back. “I’d say it sounds like you taught him a lesson, but making out with him another time kinda cancels that out.”

“Yeah, probably.” Rainbow drank the rest of her beer. She considered grabbing another, but decided she’d better not if they were ever gonna get back to practice.

“So what about the time I met him?” Fluttershy asked.

Dammit, wasn’t Fluttershy supposed to be on her side? Maybe Lemon Zest would drop it if she asked them to, but Lightning Dust? No way, Rainbow was going to have to get through the whole story. “That was at one of Pinkie’s birthday parties. He wasn’t even a guest, he just heard something was going on at the laser tag and decided to crash the party. He went on this big spiel about how he hadn’t told me about his girlfriend because they were breaking up anyway, and that now he was single.”

“Oh gosh, you fell for that?” Lightning Dust asked, her tone halfway between laughter and disgust.

“Psh, no.”

“Uhm…” Even if for just a moment, Fluttershy let a small smirk show. “I did walk in on you two when you were –”

“I’m getting to that!” Rainbow said before Fluttershy could give the full account. No matter how nice it was to see Fluttershy smile again, even just a little, there was no way Rainbow could let her be the one to tell the story. “Remember how I had just broken up with Silver Script? You and Pinkie wouldn’t stop looking at me like I was all super heartbroken or whatever. So I figured, you know, I’d show you two that I moved on!”

“Right,” Lemon Zest said with a mischievous grin. “That’s why you were making out in the dark laser tag room. Makes perfect sense”

“She noticed, didn’t she?” Rainbow shot back. “Clearly it worked. Anyway, after that I told him I’d call him then blocked his number.”

Lightning Dust pushed her playfully. “Once again, class act, Dash.”

“Alright alright, enough of my hookups. What about you, Dust? What’s your weirdest hookup story?”

“Eh, I don’t have anything that interesting. Some of us like to make our hookups work, you know?”

Rainbow pushed Lightning back. “Cut the crap and gimme the details, Dust.”

Lightning played a lick on her bass before answering. “Alright, fine. Remember that at least I tried to let you have the spotlight though, because my story’s about to knock yours out.”

That just made Rainbow grin wider. “Okay, now I gotta hear this!”

Lightning Dust smirked. “Well, it started out in a bar.”

“Naturally,” Lemon Zest said. Lightning Dust was the only member of the band old enough to drink legally, and many of her stories seemed to start in bars as a result.

“All the best stories do!” Lightning Dust grinned. “So anyway, this guy comes up and buys me a drink. We talk for a bit, and he’s pretty cool. Funny, cute, you know, about as good as your getting from a random bar dude.”

Rainbow smirked. “And you called me the classy one.”

“Well it’s not exactly making out in laser tag, but you know. I make do. So anyway, we hit it off pretty well and we’re ready to take it somewhere else, but I run to the bathroom first. And mind you, by this point I’ve had a few drinks. I’m not drunk but I’m kinda buzzed. So I walk out of the bathroom and see him, and I figure what the fuck, we’re pretty much definitely spending the night together.”

“Oh god.” Rainbow facepalmed. “Did you two start doing things in the bar!?

“No no, nothing like that.” As her story went on, Lightning Dust’s grin grew bigger. “But I go over to him and practically jump on the guy, right? So I start kissing him, and even buzzed I can tell he’s a little confused. But I figure, hey, he wasn’t expecting me to start things like that.”

Rainbow was pretty sure she saw where it was going, but she couldn’t decide between laughing and hiding her face out of secondhand embarrassment. “Don’t tell me…”

Lightning started laughing at her own dumb story. “So I’m kissing this guy, and he’s just… going at it. I dunno, into the whole spontaneous thing I guess. But then the next thing I know, the guy I should be kissing walks up, and I shit you not, it’s the same fucking guy!”

“Wait, what do you mean?” Rainbow asked.

“So that whole time we were talking, he didn’t bother to mention ‘hey, I’m here with my twin brother’!”

Holy shit!” Rainbow burst into laughter. She has expected the wrong guy, but not twins.

“That’s insane!” Lemon Zest said through laughter of her own. “So then what happened?”

“They were pretty cool about it, kinda awkward. Wound up kinda ruining the evening though, since nothing else happened.”

“Yeah, guess it would be kind of a mess to sort that out,” Lemon Zest said.

“Yeah, I guess. I could’ve gone home with both of them as far as I was concerned.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I’m sure they’d of loved that.”

Lightning Dust shrugged. “Hey, no love like brotherly love, am I right?”

“No,” Rainbow said. “Very much no.”

Lightning Dust just laughed it off. “Anyway, that just leaves you, Zesty.”

“What?” Lemon Zest looked between Rainbow and Lightning.

Rainbow grinned. “Come on! Hit us with your best hookup story.”

“Oh, uh… Pass.” Lemon Zest preoccupied herself with getting something else from the mini-fridge. “Anyone want anything? We got some soda.”

“Yeah, I’ll take one,” Rainbow said, the others echoing her. She waited until Lemon Zest handed out the sodas to press for more. “So this must be a pretty good story if you’re trying to get out of it.”

Fluttershy put a hand on Rainbow’s shoulder. “Now now, if Lemon Zest doesn’t want to tell us, that’s okay.”

“It’s uh…” Lemon Zest pointedly looked away. “It’s not like it really compares to either of your stories…”

“What’s the big deal?” Lightning Dust asked. “Afraid we’re gonna judge you or something? I was almost the middle of a twincest sandwich and Dash fucked some dude in public.”

“We did not fuck!” Rainbow insisted.

Lightning ignored her. “You’re not hanging with your Crystal Prep friends, Zest. Whatever it is, we’re not gonna give a shit.”

Fluttershy frowned, and it was easy to see what was on her mind, even if she wasn’t close enough with Lightning Dust to say anything. Rainbow considered making Fluttershy’s point for her, but she didn’t really like the idea of secrets between the band.

“Zest, come on. We’re all friends here.”

Lemon Zest looked between them and then turned to stare at her soda instead. “It’s kinda funny you mention my CPA friends, actually.”

“Sexy private school hookup?” Lightning Dust asked with a grin.

Lemon Zest blushed. “Something like that…”

“Sneaking kisses in between classes?” Rainbow teased.

“It was, er… it was at a slumber party, actually.”

Oh, so that was what she was embarrassed about. Rainbow shrugged, not seeing how Lemon Zest could think that would be a big deal. They both knew about Fluttershy, after all. “Okay, so you fooled around with a girl.”

“Well, yeah…”

“Wait…” Lightning Dust narrowed her eyes. “Which girl?”

Lemon Zest blushed harder and wouldn’t look at anyone. “Indigo Zap…”

Lightning Dust stared wide-eyed. “You fooled around with my little sister!?

Crap. No wonder she hadn’t wanted to say anything. All Rainbow could do was stare as the situation unfolded.

“Uh, yeah…” Lemon Zest cast a nervous glance at Lightning Dust before turning away again. “Only one time.”

“Hey, you know…” Rainbow looked to Fluttershy for help, but she seemed equally unsure what you say. “That sort of thing happens, right? No big deal.”

“Oh my god…” A grin slowly crawled across Lightning’s face. “Oh my god! Oh, this is fucking great! She’s never going to hear the end of this!”

Even with Lightning Dust’s reaction, Lemon Zest still grimaced. “You’re, uh, not mad then?”

Lightning Dust laughed. “No? Why would I be mad? This is hilarious! Oh man, and she’s always been so sure she’s straight!”

Lemon Zest finally cracked a smile. “She wasn’t saying that when she was reaching under my bra.”

That got Lightning Dust laughing harder, which dissipated the remaining tension. “Uhm…” Fluttershy fidgeted nervously. “Maybe she’s just… afraid to talk about it. Your sister, I mean.”

Lightning Dust waved dismissively. “She knows I don’t care about that.”

“Maybe, but…” Fluttershy picked her head up to look at Lightning. “I knew my friends would be okay with it, but it… it still took me years to finally tell anyone.”

Lightning Dust rolled her eyes. “Fine, I won’t tease her too much. She’s not getting off scot-free, though!”

“So what happened between you two?” Rainbow asked, eager to get the conversation going somewhere that wasn’t Fluttershy trying to tell Lightning Dust how to talk to her own sister.

“It wasn’t like it was a big deal or anything. The whole thing started as a dare, even if we did kinda get into it. But you know, we were at a slumber party, things weren’t gonna get too heavy.”

Rainbow threw out her hand in disbelief. “You just said her hand was under your bra!”

“Yeah, but that’s as far as it got. And our friends were kinda around at the time, so like, I think it was more of a joke. You know, a ‘if you’re gonna sit there and watch here’s a real show’ kind of deal. We all laughed about the whole thing after that.”

Rainbow shook her head. In all the slumber parties she’d had with her friends, there were never any make outs or reaching into other girls’ underwear. “So what about after the party?”

Lemon Zest shrugged. “I don’t know, it never came up.”

Although Rainbow couldn’t see how that could be a satisfactory answer, Lightning just laughed. “Geez, wish all my drunk makeouts ended that smoothly.”

Lemon Zest smiled. “Oh, we were sober.”

Lightning laughed again. “You two just made out in front of all your friends straight sober?”

Fluttershy actually let a small giggle out. “I, uhm, I don’t think anything about that was very ‘straight’.”

“Alright alright, enough about me.” Lemon Zest turned to Fluttershy. “We haven’t heard Fluttershy’s crazy hookup story yet.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy’s eyes instantly shot to the floor.

It was a shame; not only was she was still getting used to joking around with people out of their high school friend group, but she hardly laughed at all since the accident. And yet once she finally did, she immediately went back to feeling awkward.

It was probably best to just answer for her. “Pretty sure Shy hasn’t ever done that sort of thing.”

“What!?” Lightning Dust asked in mock disbelief. “You’re telling me that Fluttershy hasn’t been running off to secret orgies!?”

Fluttershy blushed, but she didn’t seem to be offended. “I’ve, uhm, I’ve only ever been with Sunset…”

“Yeah, and you two seem pretty chill,” Lemon Zest said. “Not the type to have wild crazy stories.”

“I don’t know…” Rainbow looked at Fluttershy suspiciously. “One time, I swear I saw them hold hands in public.”

“Woah now,” Lemon Zest said, “let’s not go slinging accusations like that around.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Well… maybe once or twice.”

It was good to hear Fluttershy laughing again. She’d been pretty sullen in the two weeks after the accident, and had just started to laugh again. Rainbow knew there was no way she was even close to ready to move on from everything that happened, but she was doing a little better, day by day.

Even if it was slow, at least Rainbow could see things getting better with Fluttershy. Only with Fluttershy, though. Rainbow decided to use the current topic to try and get some answers on that. “Speaking of Sunset, how’s she doing lately?” she asked casually. “I haven’t really heard from her.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy’s smile fell away a little at the question. “She’s doing okay.”

It was pretty clear that there was more going on than just ‘okay’, but Rainbow didn’t expect to get the rest out of her yet. Fluttershy barely knew Lightning Dust and Lemon Zest, after all, and there was a good chance of that leading to a very personal conversation.

“Cool,” Rainbow said, even if it was anything but. “You gotta try to get her to come here with you sometime.”

“I’ll, uhm… I’ll talk to her about it.”

Rainbow wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that. She wasn’t really sure of anything going on with Fluttershy for that matter, so she decided to find out. “So, uh, I was gonna grab pizza for us tonight. Since Ringo bailed, wanna just get it now?”

“I’m down for pizza!” Lemon Zest said.

“Might as well,” Lightning Dust agreed. “Not much point in practicing without a full band, I guess.”

Rainbow loved how predictable they were. There were a few minutes of arguing over where to get pizza from, but Rainbow put her foot down and picked a local pizzeria that conveniently didn’t deliver. Then there was some more arguing about what exactly to get.

In the end they decided on three pizzas – a standard pepperoni because that was almost obligatory, a supreme because it was Rainbow’s favorite, and some sort of vegetable thing for Fluttershy since she only ate rabbit food.

And once Rainbow called to place the order, all that was left to do was go pick it up. She grabbed her keys and turned to Fluttershy. “Feel like coming along for the ride, Shy?”

Fluttershy smiled, as Rainbow knew she would. She wasn’t close enough with the others to want to hang out with them without Rainbow. “Sure.”

“We’ll be back soon!” Rainbow said to the others, then quickly left before either of them could offer to tag along.

Rainbow waited until they got to the van before saying anything to Fluttershy. She didn’t wait much longer, however, turning to Fluttershy even as she was getting into her seat.

“So what’s really going on?”

Fluttershy glanced towards the door as if she might leave now that she knew why Rainbow had wanted to get her alone, but she just sighed and put her seatbelt on. “It’s… it’s been hard. On both of us.”

Rainbow nodded. The last thing she wanted to do was stir up painful things. And if she was sure that’s all it was, that they were both still dealing with the effects of the accident, then she’d just leave it alone.

She turned on the van and backed out of the driveway. “Yeah, of course. I just… I worry about you, you know?”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

Rainbow frowned. “Don’t be. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I don’t want you to worry about me. I’m doing… I’ll be okay.”

As if Rainbow could ever not worry about Fluttershy. She’d worried about Fluttershy ever since they were little kids, and she wasn’t about to stop now. “So, uh, how’s Sunset taking it?”

A glance towards Fluttershy revealed she was looking out the window. “She’s… she’s keeping it together. Uhm, probably better than I am…”

Of course, all of this was much worse for Fluttershy. “That’s good. I’m glad she’s there for you.”

“Yeah…”

Fluttershy sounded unsure, so Rainbow waited for her to continue. She didn’t, however, simply continuing to stare out the window.

“Something wrong?”

Fluttershy finally turned from the window, but Rainbow couldn’t make out her expression with her eyes on the road. “I don’t… no, it’s fine.”

“Doesn’t really sound fine.”

Fluttershy made a sound like she was going to speak, but nothing else came.

Rainbow wished she knew what to say at times like this. She could tell Fluttershy wasn’t saying something, but what was she supposed to do? Try to force it out of her? That might just make things worse. She wasn’t like Sunset and Rarity, Rainbow didn’t have the ability to say the right things to get things to happen gently. She was blunt and to the point, and when that wasn’t the best approach, she was just lost for words.

Still, she had to try. This was for Fluttershy, after all. “You, uhm. You know you can always talk to me, right?”

“Of course I know that.”

Rainbow glanced at Fluttershy, but neither of them said anything. So much for her brilliant plan to get the two of them alone so they could talk. All she’d found out was that they were both having a hard time with things, and she already knew that. Once again, Rainbow was useless when Fluttershy needed her the most.

They drove the rest of the way in silence, and Rainbow was sure she’d screwed up. The whole point of getting Fluttershy out of the house was to get her mind off things and have fun. And no matter how she looked at it, the silent drive was anything but fun. The best thing that could be said about it was that it was short.

And then, as if Rainbow was the one who needed the mood lightened, Fluttershy was the first to speak as they walked into the pizzeria. “Think the rest of us will get to actually eat more than a slice?”

Even though it was a testament to how much she failed that Fluttershy was the one cracking a joke, Rainbow smiled anyway. “With the black hole waiting at the house? I dunno. How do you think Lemon Zest puts away so much pizza and stays so skinny?”

“You say that as if I haven’t seen you eat half a pizza in one sitting.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s fair.” Rainbow laughed as she walked up to the counter. “Got an order for Rainbow Dash.”

The cashier disappeared for a moment and returned with three large pizza boxes. Rainbow paid for the order, thanked him, and turned to find Fluttershy staring out the window. “Come on, better get these back while they’re still hot.”

“Yeah…” Whatever Fluttershy was looking at made her frown. She quickly turned away and held the door open for Rainbow.

They both walked over to the passenger side, and Rainbow handed Fluttershy the boxes once she was in before going around to get in herself. She started the van and backed out.

“I’ll have to try to learn your secret,” Fluttershy said.

Rainbow shot her a quizzical look before shifting into drive and leaving the parking lot. “What secret?”

“Yours and Lemon Zest’s. About how you two manage to keep the weight off.”

“Oh, uh…” Rainbow shrugged. “I go jogging sometimes. You could come with me if you want.”

“Maybe…”

After another look at Fluttershy, Rainbow realized she wasn’t just looking down at the floor, she was looking at her stomach. As if she needed another reason to feel bad about that part of her body, she’d actually gained weight in the past month.

That was yet another thing that Rainbow didn’t know how to talk about. This wasn’t the first time Fluttershy had made comments about her weight, and it always left Rainbow at a loss. As with all things, she wanted to support her friend, but she couldn’t really imagine Fluttershy going jogging with her. At least not until things had more time to settle.

The topic of Fluttershy’s weight drove them back to silence as Rainbow drove them back to the house. The whole trip wound up being worse than a waste of time, because Rainbow was pretty sure she’d just made Fluttershy feel like crap. She could only hope things got better once they were back inside.

“I don’t really…” Fluttershy said before Rainbow could open her door, but she didn’t finish her thoughts.

Rainbow turned to look at Fluttershy. “What’s up?”

“Uhm.” Fluttershy closed her eyes and took hold of the locket she wore around her neck. “I… I’m not really sure what’s going on with Sunset lately.”

“What do you mean?”

“She just seems so… distant. She’s always really calm but it’s like she’s not actually there.”

Rainbow frowned. “I guess… she’s just getting by in her own way.”

“That’s what I thought, but…” Fluttershy shook her head. “I shouldn’t complain…”

“Come on, Shy. Tell me what’s going on.”

Fluttershy winced. “It’s just… she writes to Twilight so much lately. And, uhm, the other Fluttershy.”

Rainbow fidgeted in place. “Yeah, that’s never not gonna be weird…”

“I wonder… sometimes it feels like maybe she’s telling them things she thinks she can’t tell me.”

“She knows she can talk to you about anything.”

Fluttershy looked at Rainbow like she was going to disagree, but then she changed her mind. “Yeah, you’re right. Anyway, we should get back to the others.”

“Wait, Shy –”

Fluttershy didn’t wait, leaving Rainbow alone in the van. Rainbow sat in confusion as Fluttershy saw herself into the house, trying to make sense of what Fluttershy might be feeling.

It was understandable that Sunset was going through a lot, but she should make more of an effort to be there for Fluttershy. She was the one who had actually lost… who needed support the most. And what was up with talking to Twilight and the other Fluttershy instead of the one she was living with?

It was just another thing on the long list of things Rainbow didn’t know. At least that was one way Rainbow could understand how Fluttershy felt – she knew exactly what it felt like to not know what was going on with someone she was supposed to know everything about.

But sitting around in her van was just as useless to Fluttershy as her words were, so she got out and walked to the house. At least once they were inside and hanging out with the others again, Fluttershy might feel a little better for a little while.

If that was all Rainbow could do for her, then at least she’d be there to do that much.

21 – Holding Onto Hope

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Chapter Twenty-One

Holding Onto Hope

To be fair, no one really liked funerals. Sure, a lot of people appreciated them. They could be a good way to remember and pay tribute to a loved one, reconnect with friends in shared grief, and swap some stories. But enjoy them? No, no one actually enjoyed funerals.

But Applejack? She had a special sort of hatred for them. A bitterness that she never let show. She’d go through the motions because funerals were just the sort of thing one was supposed to do in the wake of a tragedy, and she’d never say a word against them out loud.

Funerals meant a lot of people would come. And a lot of those people? Well, near as Applejack could tell, they couldn’t be bothered to come when the person they were honoring was alive. Of course, that didn’t apply to everyone. But how many relatives had made time only after their deaths?

And of those friends and family who couldn’t manage to come and say ‘hello’ once in a while instead of waiting until they had to say ‘goodbye’, how many of them really cared? Sure, they probably weren’t heartless. If they had the choice, they’d want the deceased to still be alive. Maybe they were even genuinely sad about it, at least a little. But really, how many would come if they didn’t feel obligated?

Not to mention the people who didn’t even know the person whose funeral they were attending. People like Applejack, who was standing awkwardly in the back because there weren’t enough chairs for everyone. People who were supposedly there to show support, but who were mostly just taking up room.

Applejack watched as person after person told their stories about Rose. At least there was that; plenty of people did seem to have been touched by Rose’s life. Still, story after story involved people lamenting that they hadn’t seen her in far too long.

Occasionally she looked to where Sunset and Fluttershy were sitting in the front, but she could never tell how they were reacting. She could only barely see them, Fluttershy’s bright pink hair standing out in the mass of black. And with their backs turned towards her, It wasn’t until Sunset herself stood up to speak that Applejack could see her face.

It was hard to tell from across the room, but Sunset looked more composed than Applejack had expected her to be. She calmly walked up to the podium and looked out at the crowd of people who had gathered. Applejack kept her eyes pointed at Sunset so she might see a comforting face if she looked her way, but if Sunset ever noticed, Applejack wasn’t aware.

“I know it’s been said already, but I want to thank everyone again for coming out,” Sunset said to the crowd. “It would mean so much to Rose to have all her family in one place. More than anything, that’s what she always wanted. For all of her kids, for all of us, to be one family.

“I know a lot of you probably would have rather never seen me again. For those of you who don’t know me, my name’s Sunset Shimmer. I was a ward at New Horizons Home for Children for twelve years. And if we ever lived there at the same time, there’s a very high chance that I was nothing short of awful to you.

“I’m not here to explain myself, not that I could give much of an explanation. I’m here today because of one person who never stopped believing in me, even when that was all I deserved.” Sunset paused to look back at a TV screen against the wall, which they’d arranged to display a slideshow with pictures of Rose.

“Rose always believed in me, could always see that I had it in me to be a better person.” Sunset turned back to the crowd. “It tears me up to know that she never got to meet me after I finally decided to try and be just that. Especially because I know that I would never have become who I am today if Rose hadn’t been there supporting me for those twelve long years.

“And not just me. Rose believed in everyone, could always see the potential of every one of her kids. I remember the day I realized that. It was breakfast before school, and she was being her usual self. Trying to get sleepy high schoolers to eat more than just a piece of toast for breakfast. And I just remember watching her as she did and realizing… she knew every one of those kids. Not just knew their names, but really knew them. She talked to every one of us just a little bit differently, always knew what was going on with each kid and what to say to them because she knew them.

“I remember wondering how. She had to have watched over countless kids in her life, how could she possibly still know each and every one as an individual? I never really figured it out. To this day, I still don’t understand how she did it.”

Sunset paused again as she watched the screen change from one picture to another. “I wish I understood her better. I think I could be a better person today if I did. I don’t think I’m the only one. We could all be a little more like her.”

Sunset bowed her head before continuing. “If there’s one thing I do know, it’s that no one could ever love more than Rose did. I don’t think I could ever truly be like her, but I will try to take at least that one lesson with me. That a heart never fills, that there is always room to love more, and that we can and should try to extend that love to as many people as we can. And if we can all learn that lesson from Rose’s life, well, I don’t think there could ever be a better way to honor her.”

The crowd clapped as Sunset stepped away from the podium, even if it was somewhat muted in respect for the solemness of the situation. Applejack joined in, impressed that Sunset had held it together for the whole speech. She watched for any sign that she was distressed as she took her seat beside Fluttershy once again, but near as Applejack could tell, she was perfectly composed.

Whether by design or by chance, no one else from the audience stepped up to the podium. The funeral conductor did so instead, offering his closing words. “I’d like to take a moment to read you a passage from the scripture.”

Applejack bowed her head and half listened to the words, half wondered if they would’ve actually meant anything to Rose. It wasn’t that Applejack had any problems with religion – she was Christian herself, and had spent her childhood in church. She felt as strong of a connection with faith as she ever had, but she couldn’t help but think that only someone who was way too into religion would prefer the conductor’s words to close the service over Sunset’s.

Still, when he finished, Applejack joined the others in answer. “Amen.”

The funeral conductor reminded everyone that New Horizons had opened its doors for any who wanted to speak and reminisce about Rose’s life in a more homey setting, and that all were welcome to attend.

With that, somber piano music started playing over the speakers and everyone was free to do as they wished. Some left quickly, but most people clustered into small groups so they could talk a bit, congregating into small spaces as much out of the way as they could manage.

Applejack waited as people shuffled around, letting those that were there for Rose find their friends and family among the crowd first. She hoped it’d be easier to move through the crowd as it thinned out from people leaving, but it wound up being harder as people expanded outwards from where they’d been sitting.

“Excuse me. Pardon me.” Applejack tried to make her way through the crowd as gingerly as she could. It proved harder to keep track of Sunset and Fluttershy with everyone standing and moving around, and once or twice Applejack lost sight of them completely. Thankfully, Sunset was tall enough that she popped back into Applejack’s field of vision easily enough every time.

By the time she reached Sunset, she and Fluttershy were talking to two people Applejack recognized but hadn’t expected to see. Snips and Snails had been close to Sunset at one point – well, as close as anyone had been to her before the Fall Formal – but for reasons Applejack had never been aware of, they hadn’t remained friends afterwards.

“– few time,” Snips said as Applejack walked up.

“But uh, she didn’t know who we were,” Snails said.

“Yeah, she didn’t usually recognize me either,” Sunset said.

Snails noticed Applejack first and waved awkwardly. “Hi, Applejack.”

Applejack went to tip her hat, then realized she wasn’t wearing it. “Howdy, you two. Been a while.”

“I didn’t know you knew Miss Rose,” Snips said.

“ ‘Fraid I didn’t, although it sounds like she was an upstanding woman.” Applejack placed an arm around Sunset’s shoulder. “I came in case Sunset needed me. What about you two?”

“We, uhm…” Snails looked to Sunset.

“We met at New Horizons,” Sunset said. It was answer enough, since anything else would likely be a difficult subject at an already difficult time.

“Yeah.” Snips looked between Applejack and Fluttershy, then back to Sunset. “So… are you going to stop by there?”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah, I am. Not exactly sure how happy most of the people there will be to see me, but you know. Gotta at least drop by.”

“Uh, well you know, at least we’ll be there,” Snails said.

Sunset smiled. “Of course. I guess I’ll see you two there.”

“Right.” Snips nodded. “See you there, Sunset.”

Snips and Snails started to walk off, but didn’t get very far before another familiar voice stopped to greet them. “Snips, Snails. How are you two holding up?”

“Hi, Flash,” Snips said as everyone turned to face him. Applejack couldn’t help but think that he sounded happier to see Flash than he had to see Applejack. “We’re doing okay.”

“That’s good to hear.” Flash gave them a thumbs up. “And just so you know, I’m always around if either of you need anything.”

“Thanks, Flash,” Snails said.

“You two heading to New Horizons?” Flash asked.

“Yeah, we were just heading out,” Snips answered.

“Cool, guess I’ll see you there.”

“Alright. Bye, Flash.”

Flash waved them off, then turned back to Sunset. “Hey, Sunset.”

“Hi, Flash.” Sunset gave Flash a slightly confused look. “Please don’t tell me you came all the way out here just because of me.”

“I did know Miss Rose too, you know,” Flash said.

“Yeah, I guess that’s true.”

“Besides,” Flash said, “it looks like you already have your own entourage even without me.”

“Applejack gave us a ride here. All I have is a motorcycle again.” Sunset turned towards Applejack. “Her staying was a surprise, though.”

Applejack wasn’t sure if it was the best idea, but she decided to try and keep the mood light with their usual jokes. “Sunset, I don’t rightly think you’re fine on your own on a good day.”

Sunset smirked. “Yeah, maybe you have a point there.”

It wasn’t something most people would pick up on, but Applejack immediately noticed that Sunset hadn’t offered a rebuttal of her own. If Sunset’s usually quick wit had slowed down to the point where she wasn’t going to make a crack at Applejack, there was no way she was doing as well as she pretended.

Well, there was nothing to it but to stick close to her and try to cheer her up as much as was possible in the circumstances. Applejack would start by stroking her ego a bit. “Nice job stealing the show with that speech there.”

“I don’t know about that…”

“Aww, come on.” Applejack nudged Sunset. There was no way her false modesty would hold for long. “No one wanted to speak after you, if ya hadn’t noticed.”

“It was a really nice speech, Sunset,” Flash added.

Fluttershy took a small step towards Sunset, then moved away again. Applejack had been too preoccupied with Sunset to notice, but it dawned on her that Fluttershy hadn’t spoken at all yet.

“How you doing, Shy?” Sunset asked.

“Uhm… I’m okay…” Fluttershy said quietly.

Sunset frowned. “Maybe we should get outside. Probably less crowded in the parking lot.”

Applejack and Flash agreed, while Fluttershy said nothing. Taking her agreement as a given, everyone followed Flash outside.

Everyone shielded their eyes as they walked out into the parking lot. Although the funeral parlor had been well lit, the summer sun was still a little blinding. It was early afternoon, the services having been planned to end with enough time for the second half to be at New Horizons.

The parking lot wasn’t empty, but there were far fewer people cluttered around it. Sunset looked pointedly at two young women as they stepped out, who both stopped their conversation to stare back. Sunset led them in the opposite direction.

“Feeling a little better out here, Shy?” Sunset asked.

Fluttershy kept her eyes on the ground. “A little…”

Flash looked at her like he wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure how to get it out. In truth, Applejack felt the same way.

Neither of them had to say anything, however, since someone else took notice of Sunset and approached them. “I figured you’d come out here after everything was done.”

The woman who was approaching looked vaguely familiar, but Applejack couldn’t place who she was. But Sunset seemed to know her, as she turned and smiled at her approach.

“Yeah, it was a little crowded in there.”

“I was very sorry to hear about Rose. I know that must’ve been hard on you.”

“We knew it was only a matter of time,” Sunset said. “I’m glad I got to see her before it happened. And I have you to thank for that. Now I just wish I listened to you sooner…”

“I wish I’d done the same, to tell you the truth. It’d be a stretch to say Rose and I were friends, but I did always enjoy her company. I kept telling myself that I’d visit her sometime. I knew she was getting older and figured we’d both enjoy a friendly chat, but then there was always work.”

Sunset looked a little surprised by the response, then turned to look at the ground. Her own reply felt a little less controlled than her usual responses. “Yeah. It just always felt like there’d be more time.”

“It always does.”

Sunset hooked her hands into her pockets and looked back at the woman. “Hey, Violet? Can I ask something kind of personal?”

“Shoot.”

“Why do you work so hard?” Sunset furrowed her brow. “I don’t think I ever really thanked you for everything you did. I don’t even think I know everything you did for me.”

Violet smirked. “That’s likely. I don’t make it a point to let my kids know about all the behind the scenes work.” She regarded Sunset for a moment, both women maintaining eye contact. There seemed to be something passed between them, but Applejack was unaware of what that was. “To tell you the truth, I ask myself that same question. I’ll let you know if I ever find the answer.”

Sunset just nodded, as if she suspected the answer already.

Violet turned to look at Fluttershy. “I’m sorry to hear about your other loss as well. I hope you two are managing okay in these hard times.”

Fluttershy looked at Sunset, who didn’t seem to have an answer either. Applejack smiled and inserted herself into the conversation. “You can count on me to keep an eye on these two, ma’am.”

Violet smiled at Applejack. “I’m glad to hear that. It’s nice to know Sunset has such good friends these days.”

“Trust me, we couldn’t get rid of Applejack if we wanted to.”

Violet’s smile grew a bit bigger at the name. “Applejack. I’m afraid I didn’t recognize you, but we’ve met before. It’s nice to hear you two are still friends after all these years.”

Applejack found herself at a disadvantage, because she still couldn’t place where she and Violet could’ve met. She decided to just ask Sunset another time, though. “Yup. Like she said, they’re stuck with me now.”

Violet nodded. “I’ll leave you to your friends, then.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a small notepad and a pen and jotted something down. “I don’t normally do this, but… here.” She tore the page off and handed it to Sunset. “My personal number in case you ever need to get a hold of me. Feel free to call if there’s ever anything I can do for you.”

Sunset seemed somewhat puzzled by the gesture, but soon smiled appreciatively. “Thanks, Violet. That means a lot to me.”

Violet didn’t seem to know exactly where to go from there, so she just gave an awkward nod and took a few steps away. “You two take care of each other.”

“Will do,” Sunset said as she and Fluttershy both waved her off.

“Guess you’re pretty popular today,” Applejack said.

Sunset frowned. “Yeah. And it’s probably just getting started…”

Applejack placed a hand on her shoulder. “Ya know you don’t have to go to the thing at New Horizons if you’re not feeling up to it.”

Sunset shook her head. “Nah, I’m fine. Besides, I told Snips and Snails I’d meet them there.”

“Maybe, but they’d understand if you changed your mind.”

“I could always head over and tell them,” Flash suggested.

Sunset turned to Fluttershy, who still had her eyes fixed to the ground. Rather than say anything to her, she turned instead to Applejack. “Hey, AJ. Think you can take Shy home for me?”

Applejack frowned and addressed Fluttershy, who looked surprised at the question. “Sure, if that’s what ya want. You not feeling well, Fluttershy?”

“I’m, uhm…” Fluttershy shook her head.

“Flash, mind if I hitch a ride with you?”

“No problem. And I can bring you back to your place whenever you’re ready to leave.”

Sunset nodded, then turned back to Fluttershy. “I’m sure I won’t be out too late. You should get some rest.”

Fluttershy frowned. “But, uhm… Are you sure?”

Sunset smiled confidently. “Yeah, I’m fine, Shy. Besides, I’ll feel better if I know you’re not forced into being uncomfortable.”

“Okay, if you’re sure…”

“Guess I’ll see you later then,” Applejack said to Sunset. “Gimme a call if you need anything.”

“Yeah, of course.” Sunset turned to Fluttershy. “See you at home, okay?”

Fluttershy just nodded.

Sunset waved them goodbye as she followed Flash to his car. Applejack gave Fluttershy a smile and jerked her head towards her truck. “Well, no point stickin’ around here then. Shall we?”

Fluttershy nodded again and followed Applejack to her truck. Applejack was pretty sure there was more going on than Fluttershy not feeling well, and she had a pretty good idea of what it was.

That could wait, though. Hopefully just getting away from the funeral would get Fluttershy feeling a little more talkative. Applejack retrieved her hat from the dashboard and placed it on her head, then backed out carefully due to all the people hanging around the parking lot, and they were on their way.

Fluttershy kept her eyes fixed on the window as they drove. Applejack turned on the radio to fill the air with sound since she suspected Fluttershy wouldn’t be ready to talk for a while yet. It was a fairly quiet drive, but not uncomfortably so. That was one good thing about being with Fluttershy; the two of them had always been comfortable in silence.

Meanwhile, Applejack could try and figure out a plan. Things were easy with Sunset; the two of them understood each other and could cut right into the heart of nearly any matter. But with Fluttershy? That would require a lot more care and tact. Especially if this whole thing was about what Applejack thought it was about.

It was Fluttershy who spoke first, exactly as Applejack had hoped. It seemed getting some distance from the funeral had done it after all. “Uhm…” Fluttershy looked tentatively towards Applejack before deciding on the floor instead.

“What’s goin’ on, Shy?”

“Do you… think I should’ve stayed with Sunset?”

Applejack shrugged. “She’ll be alright. She’s with friends, and she knows she can leave if she wants to.”

“Maybe. But she still won’t.”

That gave Applejack pause. It was true, and she couldn’t deny it. Even if Sunset wanted to, she wasn’t gonna leave until everyone else was.

“Yeah, she’s a stubborn one. But you know, if you’re not feeling well you’re not feeling well. Nothin’ to do ‘bout that.”

Fluttershy fidgeted. “It’s not even… I’m not sick or anything.”

There it was. Looks like it was time to get into that. Applejack pulled up to a red light, so she took the chance to smile at Fluttershy and tapped her head. “What’s goin’ on in here is just as important, ya know? So wanna tell me what’s going on in there?”

Fluttershy looked at her hesitantly, but she didn’t answer until the light changed and Applejack’s attention was back on the road. “Everything’s just been… hard lately.”

Applejack nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”

Fluttershy made a small noise then turned back to the window.

Applejack waited a moment to give her a chance to elaborate, but it soon became apparent that she wasn’t going to. “Hey, it’s okay, Shy. Everyone understands. Things will get easier, and until they do, you just keep taking everything one day at a time.”

“Sometimes…” Fluttershy’s voice was even quieter than usual. When Applejack glanced towards her, she was staring down at her hands folded in her lap. “Sometimes it’s hard to… to even want to make it through the day…”

Applejack frowned, unsure of how to answer.

After a moment, Fluttershy shook her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Applejack said quickly. She glanced at Fluttershy again while figuring out what to say and saw she hadn’t moved at all. “You know, if ya ever need to talk to someone about anything…”

“I know.”

Applejack struggled for something else to say, but she wasn’t able to think of anything. What was she supposed to say to that? She knew Fluttershy was hurting, but to make a comment like that…

One thing Applejack was sure of was that she couldn’t be the only one who found that the silence felt much less comfortable the rest of the way.

She was still full of uncertainty as they pulled up to the house. “Well, here we are.”

“Yeah…” Fluttershy unbuckled her seat belt but didn’t get out of the truck right away. She put her hand on the the door then stopped, turning instead to Applejack. “Uhm… would you like to come inside? We could have a late lunch together. If, uhm, if you didn’t eat already, that is.”

Applejack smiled at the offer. She wasn’t really keen on leaving Fluttershy alone anyway. “I ate before picking y’all up, but I’m still happy to stay awhile all the same.”

She cut off the engine and exited the truck, following Fluttershy inside. The house was hot, although Applejack had expected as much. Sunset had never had an air conditioner, only a heater for the winter and fans for the summer. But at least the dress she’d chosen for the funeral was light enough to not be too hot, even if it was all black.

They walked into the kitchen, so Applejack took a seat at the table. Fluttershy opened the fridge and looked through it. “Would you like a drink? We have a few kinds of wine and beer.”

Applejack frowned. “Are you… sure it’s okay for you to be drinking after, well, you know?”

“Oh.” Fluttershy’s head popped up, blushing as she turned to Applejack. “I didn’t, I mean… I just thought you might want…”

Applejack grinned and shrugged. “What, now that you drink ya forgot we can have a good time without that? I’m fine with just juice or soda.”

Fluttershy smiled and nodded. “Of course.” She ducked back into the fridge for a moment and retrieved a bottle of soda. She set it on the counter, got out two cups, and filled one for each of them.

“Thanks,” Applejack said as she took the drink. She took a sip as Fluttershy sat down across from her. She waited a few moments to make sure Fluttershy wasn’t going to bring up a conversation before asking, “So whatcha been up to lately?”

Fluttershy shifted in place, and Applejack already knew what her answer would be. She’d heard as much from Sunset, after all. But it would be a way to get the conversation going where it needed to go.

“Not a whole lot.” Fluttershy lowered her eyes to the table as she spoke. “Mostly I’ve just… stayed around the house.”

Applejack nodded. “Sure. Hope you’ve been able to get plenty of rest.”

Fluttershy’s answer came slowly. “Sometimes I think I’m getting a little too much rest. At least I go to Rainbow’s some days.”

Applejack had known that as well, although she also knew that despite how Fluttershy made it sound, Rainbow had a hard time getting her to leave the house. But Applejack just smiled as if she were completely unaware. “Glad to hear that.”

Fluttershy gave a small smile as well, then turned away again. Although she had been the one to invite Applejack in, it seemed she didn’t know exactly what to talk about now that they were together.

But Applejack did, even if she didn’t know how to get there exactly. She inched a little closer. “Must get lonely being here on your own so much, though. You know, you can always call me too. I may not have a cool rock band to entertain with, but I could always bring you ‘round Sweet Apple Acres. Not a bad place to relax, if I do say so myself.”

Fluttershy tensed up, and Applejack realized too late what Sweet Apple Acres now meant for Fluttershy. She couldn’t even manage to own up to her poorly thought out words though, and simply pretended to not notice Fluttershy’s reaction.

Eventually it fell to Fluttershy to reply. “Uhm, I’ll… think about it.”

All Applejack could do was nod. She had wanted to talk about how Fluttershy was doing after her loss, but not like that.

While Applejack was floundering to find a way to backpedal the conversation, Fluttershy surprised her by being the next to speak. “Uhm, Applejack?”

“Yeah?”

“How does Sunset do it?” Fluttershy looked up at Applejack. “She hasn’t stopped at all. She’s still working five days a week, she’s been doing all our grocery shopping, all the chores around the house…”

Applejack offered a comforting smile. “Ya know, people work through stuff like this in different ways.”

“I know, but…” Fluttershy cast her eyes down again. “I can’t do anything. I’m home all day, but I don’t do anything. I’m way behind in my school work, and I haven’t even gone to church since everything happened…”

“Well, maybe I can help with some of that.”

Fluttershy smiled a little. “That’s sweet of you, but it’s not even something I really need help with. I just need to sit down and get to work on it, really.”

Applejack nodded. “And I’m sure you can do it. But I didn’t actually mean the school work, ‘fraid I’d be at a bit of a disadvantage with that. Was talkin’ ‘bout church. I could go with you if you want.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy turned back to Applejack. “I, uhm, I didn’t know you went to church.”

Applejack scratched her neck. “Well, I don’t exactly go regularly. Used to, when my parents were around, but then life just got too complicated.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I stopped going when I lost my mom too…”

Applejack was pretty sure that was for different reasons; for her, it was just because there was too much to do around the farm. And even though they probably could’ve fit Sunday church into their schedules, Granny Smith had wanted the kids to be able to spend whatever time they could on the weekend just being kids.

But dwelling on the loss of their parents was the last thing that Applejack wanted to do, and the last thing that would be helpful for Fluttershy. “I wouldn’t mind going again though. I could go with you to your church if you want, or we could go to mine if you want a change of scenery.”

“Maybe…” Fluttershy sighed. “But I’m… I’m not sure if I want to… At least not yet.”

“Of course. Well then just so you know, whenever you’re ready, the offer still stands.”

Fluttershy bowed her head low enough that her long hair fell in front of her face, strands falling all the way to the table. “How… how could God let something like this happen?”

The question cut through Applejack’s ability to offer a positive outlook. That had been something she herself had asked many years ago, and she had never found an answer. “I don’t know, Fluttershy… I wish I did, but…”

“I just…” Fluttershy’s voice came out thick and she wrapped her hands around her stomach. “I want her back…”

“I know,” Applejack said softly. She bowed her head, well aware of how useless the words she was about to say would be. “I guess… They say God works in mysterious ways, you know?”

Fluttershy lifted her head for a moment, showing there were tears in her eyes. “This isn’t mysterious, it’s cruel.”

“I know.” Applejack wondered if she should stop talking, but she knew there was another side to this that Fluttershy wasn’t acknowledging. “But, well… Y’all can do this parenting thing later, when you’re more prepared for it. Ya know how hard this would’ve been on you two right now.”

There were still tears in her eyes when Fluttershy lifted her head once more, but this time they were accompanied by a glare. “Sky isn’t replaceable.”

Shit, she definitely should’ve just stopped talking. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t of said that.”

Fluttershy folded her arms and turned away. “I… I think I’d rather be alone for now.”

Applejack winced. Why the heck had she said something like that? “If that’s what you really want, then I –”

“It is.”

Applejack hesitated a moment, trying to find something to say that would make up for her dumb comment. But there was nothing, so after a moment, she stood up. “Alright then. Just… call me if you change your mind.”

Fluttershy didn’t answer, so Applejack sighed and saw herself out. She hoped with every step that Fluttershy would say something, even if it was just to tell her off for being such an idiot, but nothing came. Within moments, the door was closed with Fluttershy alone on the other side.

Although she made her way to her truck, Applejack leaned against it rather than leave immediately. It wasn’t like there was anything she could do by hanging around, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave just yet. The conversation with Fluttershy had taken several disastrous turns, and she didn’t like the thought of leaving her alone.

Not that there was much she could do about it. Fluttershy had been clear that she didn’t want Applejack around. Shockingly clear, actually; Applejack had never seen her assert herself so clearly before. Now if only she could do that for something other than to berate Applejack…

With no point in sticking around, Applejack eventually got in her truck. Before driving off, she pulled out her phone. She had only planned on sending a text to Sunset, but she realized that while her phone had been on silent from the funeral, she’s gotten a missed call and voicemail from someone else.

She decided to send the text first, informing Sunset that Fluttershy still wasn’t feeling so great. She hated adding another problem for Sunset to solve on today of all days, but there wasn’t much choice in the matter. Someone needed to check on Fluttershy, and who better than Sunset?

With that done, she played the voicemail.

“Hey, Applejack, it’s Trail Blazer. I ran out of the solar film, and wasn’t sure where to get more. Tried calling Big Mac too, but I’m just getting his voicemail. Give me a call and let me know when you can.”

Applejack frowned, wondering why Big Mac wasn’t answering his phone. It only took her a moment to realize that the reason probably began with ‘Sugar’ and ended with ‘Belle’. She really couldn’t leave the farm for even one day.

She started the truck and turned the radio off, then tapped ‘return call’ on her phone. She couldn’t blame Trail Blazer for not knowing something; this was only his third day working on the farm, after all.

After a couple rings, he answered. “Hey, Applejack. Crisis averted, your sister came home and showed me where it was.”

There was some good news, at least. Applejack started driving away as she spoke. “Roger that. Everything else goin’ smoothly?”

“Yeah, no problems here. I just took an early lunch while I was waiting, so I wasn’t even sitting around twiddling my thumbs.”

“Good to hear. I’m on my way back now, should be there in twenty.”

“Alright, see you then.”

Applejack hung up the phone and set it on her lap. After the fumbled conversation with Fluttershy, it was good to have something go well. She turned the radio back on as she drove herself home.

It had taken some convincing to get Granny on board with it, but she had eventually agreed to Applejack’s plan of hiring extra help for the farm. As Sunset had suspected, Big Mac came around easier than Applejack feared, and Apple Bloom had been on her side from the beginning. Granny fumed about it, but in the face of everyone else’s agreement, she had folded.

Still, she had only agreed to hire one extra person. Applejack had hoped for a few, but she knew when to take what she could get. And although it had only been a week since she and Big Mac had interviewed Trail Blazer, he seemed to be more than competent.

‘Maybe things can finally look up from here.’ Apple harvest season was right around the corner, and between having an extra set of hands and Apple Bloom being another year older, it should be manageable even if Sunset and Fluttershy weren’t able to help this year.

Her thoughts remained on the harvest the rest of the way home, sparing her from worrying much more about the mistakes of the day. It was growing late in the afternoon, right around quitting time for Trail Blazer, but his car was still parked in the driveway.

Figuring he was just waiting for her to get back before heading out, she made straight for the orchard once she got out of her truck. He wasn’t hard to find, as he had quite literally left a trail for her to follow.

With the harvest only weeks away, it was time for final preparations. One of the last things they did prior to harvesting was lay a reflective solar film down on the ground beneath the trees. This bounced sunlight back into them from below, which improved the apples’ coloration. While that didn’t necessarily do anything for the taste, it made the apples look better, which made them sell better.

It wasn’t a hard job, but it was time-consuming. A perfect task for the new farmhand. While Big Mac was out running errands and Applejack was attending the funeral, they’d left Trail Blazer to lay out the solar film. All Applejack had to do was follow it to find him.

When she did, she also found Apple Bloom was still lending him a hand. “Looks like y’all got a lot done today.”

Trail Blazer turned and grinned. A golden brown hand reached up to wipe the sweat off his brow, brushing aside his reddish brown hair. “Thanks to Apple Bloom here. She gave me a lot of pointers that really helped.”

Predictably, Apple Bloom let the compliment go straight to her head. “Yeah, looks like I single-handedly saved the harvest again.”

Applejack smirked. “Single-handedly, huh? I dunno, looks to me like only one of you is doing enough work to break a sweat.”

Apple Bloom shrugged. “Aww, that’s just ‘cause it’s so easy for me that I didn’t sweat at all!”

“Oh yeah? Then I guess you wouldn’t mind doing the rest yourself then.”

Apple Bloom raised her hands, palms out. “Well you see, I would, but I have to finish that book report before school starts!”

Applejack placed her hands on her hips. “Hold on a second, didn’t you tell Granny that ya already finished that report before going to Sweetie Belle’s sleepover last weekend?”

That wiped the grin clear off Apple Bloom’s face. “I, uh… I think I hear Granny calling me!” Without waiting for a response, Apple Bloom turned to run off, shouting a goodbye to Trail Blazer as she left.

“Hope she wasn’t a nuisance while ya worked,” Applejack said. She didn’t believe for a moment that Apple Bloom had actually done any work without Applejack or Big Mac around to supervise her.

“Not at all,” Trail Blazer said as he went back to placing down the solar film. “She gave me some tips that helped speed things along, and it was nice to have some company.”

Applejack helped straighten out the film as they walked. “We won’t usually leave ya on your own like this, unless we put you on deliveries later. Most jobs on the farm go better with at least a few people, and between me, Big Mac, and Apple Bloom, there’s sure to be someone around most of the time.”

“Sounds good. I love the scenery around here, but it definitely goes by faster with someone to work with. Now if you tell me there’s some way to beat this heat, this job will be perfect.”

Applejack chuckled. At least there was cloud overcast keeping things from being too hot. Looked like it might rain, too. “Afraid not. Course we always have plenty of cold drinks that you’re more than welcome to, but there’s no stopping that summer sun.”

“Suppose there’s always a catch, huh? Speaking of, aren’t you hot out here in all black?”

Applejack shrugged. “Not exactly what I’d normally wear to work, but it isn’t so bad with the breeze.”

“Fair enough.”

Applejack looked over the orchard. Trail Blazer had covered a lot of ground throughout the day, but they’d be working on it for at least the rest of the week. “Still, I’d rather not get my fancy clothes too sweaty. What d’ya say we call it a day and head inside for a bit to get you cooled off?”

Trail Blazer stood up straighter. “You won’t hear me complaining about that.”

The two of them made their way back to the house, being careful not to step on the solar film. Things could turn around. The harvest was around the corner, which was sure to be a good time for Sweet Apple Acres. And while her friends were going through a hell of an ordeal, she knew they were strong enough to make it through. The day had been a low point, but that didn’t mean it would stay that way.

No matter what, Applejack had to believe that.


There was really no reason for Applejack to be awake. It was almost midnight, and she would have to wake up early in the morning to get to work, as she always did.

And yet, she was lying awake in bed when her text message tone went off. It wouldn’t have been enough to wake her had she been sleeping, but it was enough to get her attention as she stared at her ceiling.

She had a feeling who it would be, and checking only confirmed her suspicion. The message was from Sunset, asking if she was awake. That could only be bad; it was all Applejack could do to hope it wasn’t too bad as she messaged back that she was. Sunset’s reply dashed that hope to bits, however.

‘Can I come over?’

That wasn’t just bad, it was worrying. Sunset knew perfectly well that Applejack needed to be up in the morning, and she wouldn’t ask this lightly. Applejack texted a confirmation to Sunset, then reluctantly pulled herself out of bed.

She found her way to her dresser with only the light of her phone and found a pair of pajama pants to wear. She didn’t bother changing out of the tank top she was in. The clouds had teased rain all afternoon, but they didn’t deliver. It was a hot summer night, and she doubted Sunset would care how she was dressed.

Since the rest of the Apples would be sleeping, Applejack left her room and crept through the house as quietly as she could. Better to meet Sunset outside where they could talk openly without worrying about waking the others.

Once outside, she took a seat on the porch and waited. Although she had been unable to sleep while she was in bed, now that she was out of it, she suddenly felt much more tired. She checked her phone in time to see the minute roll over to midnight, and hoped that whatever Sunset needed to talk about, they’d be able to discuss it quickly. She knew better, but it never hurt to have hope.

Sunset must have been coming from somewhere other than her house, or else she had sped the whole way. There was no other way to explain how quickly she arrived. Unfortunately, Applejack liked neither option, and either was likely.

Still, she smiled welcomingly for her friend as she walked off the porch to greet her. Sunset stopped in the driveway and dismounted her motorcycle. She had a soft cooler bag strapped around one shoulder, and when she took off her helmet, she had no smile of her own to show.

“Hey there, Sunset,” Applejack said as they met halfway. She noticed Sunset was still wearing her black clothes from the funeral.

“Hey, Applejack.” Sunset already spoke with a defeated tone.

In an unspoken agreement, they walked around to the back of the house. There was a picnic table they could both sit at while being away from the house and the people sleeping inside it.

They didn’t speak as they walked. Whether it was because Sunset didn’t want to risk making too much noise for the Apple family, or because like Applejack she simply wasn’t sure what to say, they walked to the back of the house in silence.

Sunset set her helmet and the cooler on the picnic table, then took a seat, Applejack taking the one next to her. Sunset opened the cooler and pulled out a bottle of wine and two plastic cups.

“Classy,” Applejack said as she took the cup Sunset handed her.

“Didn’t feel like picking broken glass out of my cooler,” Sunset pointed out as she opened the bottle.

“Fair enough. What’re we drinking?”

Sunset held up the bottle for Applejack to see, although it was too dark to make out anything other than the light pink color. “It’s a Rosé.”

Applejack nodded her understanding and held out her cup. Sunset filled it, then her own, and they drank together.

The wine was dry, which had never been Applejack’s favorite. She didn’t comment though, deciding it was appropriate under the circumstances.

“So how’d things go after I left?” Applejack asked.

“Awkward. But no big surprise there.”

“No one gave you a hard time?”

“Nah. Mostly just spent the afternoon with Flash, Snips, and Snails.”

Applejack nodded. “I never knew they lived at New Horizons with you.”

“Yeah. To tell the truth, I honestly have no idea why they were there.” Sunset seemed to have some sort of negative feelings on that, and she took another drink of her wine. “They tried to tell me once when we first met, but I shot them down. A little late to start getting personal on them now.”

“Was I just imagining it, or were they not really thrilled to see me?”

Sunset turned to her and smirked. “Sorry, but I think they kinda blame you girls for taking me away from them.”

“Thought that might be it. Suppose I can see how they feel that way. So why did you stop hanging out with them? Doubt it was for our sake.”

Sunset swirled around her wine and took another drink. “They just… remind me too much of how I used to be. And, you know, I don’t think our relationship was ever really good for any of us.”

“Guess that makes sense.” Applejack took a sip of her own drink as well. “But you know, you’re not that person anymore. It was probably good for y’all to get the chance to catch up a bit.”

“I guess.”

It was clear Sunset didn’t really agree, but that didn’t really matter. It wasn’t like she had come over to talk about Snips and Snails. It wasn’t even likely she wanted to talk about anything that had happened at New Horizons at all.

No, they both knew this meeting was only about one thing. Applejack took another drink, and her tone shifted to be more serious as she asked, “So how’s Fluttershy doing?”

Sunset took a long drink of wine before answering. “She’s asleep.”

“Figured as much.”

“Funerals… are hard for her. Especially now.”

Applejack nodded. “Yeah, that’s understandable. She held it together pretty well, though. You both did.”

Sunset set her drink off to the side and folded her hands on the table. “I don’t know what to do with her. I know she’s hurting so much, but… I don’t know how to help her this time…”

Applejack placed a hand on Sunset’s shoulder. “Ya just gotta be there for her. That’s all she wants.”

Sunset shook her head. “No. That’s not all she wants.” She turned towards Applejack and looked so tired. “I can’t give her what she really wants. No one can.”

Applejack held her gaze for a moment before speaking. “It gets easier. But you two need to lean on each other until it does.”

If the words had any positive effect, Sunset didn’t show them. Instead, she turned away and finished draining her cup of wine.

The effort was obvious in Sunset’s voice when she spoke, forcing herself to sound more positive. “Got some good news, actually.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Twilight finished that Equestria-wide tour she’s been on over the weekend. They’re back in Ponyville now, and she wants to come visit.”

Well look at that, maybe things really were looking up. “That’ll be nice. Been a while since we got to see her.”

Sunset nodded and refilled her cup. “Yeah. Finally, something to look forward to.”

Applejack frowned as she watched Sunset drink. “You sure that’s a good idea?”

Sunset frowned. “Why wouldn’t it be? Like you said, we haven’t seen Twilight in a while. Should be fun.”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “The wine. Talkin’ ‘bout you drivin’ home.”

“Oh.” Sunset grinned. “Come on, AJ, you know I can handle my booze. And not that I’m planning on going crazy or anything, but I’ve driven that bike completely wasted before. Never crashed once.” Sunset winced and her tone grew dark. “Well, never crashed on the bike, I mean…”

That was painful to hear. Applejack knew Sunset still blamed herself for the car crash, but she didn’t know how to change her mind. So instead, she drained her own cup and held it out for a refill – the least she could do was make sure there was less wine for Sunset to drink.

“Anyway,” Sunset said, her tone brightening as she filled Applejack’s cup, “it’s late and hardly anyone’s even on the road.”

“I guess that’s true.” Applejack took a large gulp of wine. “But you know, you’re more than welcome to crash here if you need to.”

“Thanks, but I really should get home to Shy. She’ll worry if she wakes up and I’m gone.”

“Gotcha. Then just be careful.”

“Yeah yeah, I promise.” Sunset took another drink, then smiled again. “There’s something else about Twilight, though. She’s bringing Fluttershy. Her Fluttershy, obviously.”

“That should prove interesting. Suppose you already told our Fluttershy?”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah. I can tell she feels weird about it, but I mean, that’s to be expected. She doesn’t have any problems with it, though.”

“Good. Don’t rightly know what I’d think if the other Applejack came to visit.”

Sunset grinned. “Yeah, one of you is about all I can handle.”

Applejack nudged her playfully. “And more than you deserve.”

They both laughed, which helped dissipate some of the tension. It was good to hear Sunset laughing and joking around again. Definitely worth missing some sleep over.

“So when are they coming?” Applejack asked.

“Friday.” Sunset looked off to the side. “They wanted to come on Sunday, but I have work, so we thought Friday would be better.”

It didn’t escape Applejack’s attention that Sunset had said “Sunday” instead of “my birthday”. Frankly, she was surprised that Twilight knew that was coming up. Sunset had never liked her birthday, and made a point of telling as few people as possible about it. It had taken months of prodding for Pinkie to find out when they first became friends.

But since Sunset had opted to not address the looming day, Applejack followed suit. “Kinda short notice, but I reckon we can get everyone together for that. We meeting up here?”

“If that’s alright.”

Applejack nodded. “Sure, don’t see why not.” Sweet Apple Acres was the most obvious place, since they couldn’t meet up at CHS anymore and Sunset’s house was on the small side for group gatherings.

Sunset hesitated before speaking again. “And… they don’t know Shy and I are dating…”

“Say what now?”

Sunset fidgeted in place. “I know, I should’ve told them, but…” She sighed. “Twilight is really insecure about Fluttershy. And obviously the two Fluttershys are completely different, but… I don’t know, I just don’t want them to get all weird.”

“So what do they know?”

Sunset grimaced. “I… told them I’m dating someone named ‘Morning Breeze’…”

Applejack shook her head and held out her hand. “Sunset, that’s… that’s so stupid! Does Fluttershy know about that?

“Of course she does.”

“And what’s she think of you keeping it a secret that you’re dating her?”

The fact that Sunset didn’t answer right away said plenty all on its own. Applejack turned away from her. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“I know what I’m talking about!” Sunset said defensively. “I know that Twilight always comes across as calm and collected, but trust me, I know another side of her. She’d freak out if she knew I was dating her marefriend’s double.”

“I’m not even arguing with you there.” Applejack couldn’t figure out how Sunset wasn’t seeing what the real problem was here. “I’d hope she could be an adult about this, but like you said, I don’t know her like you do. But you know, you’re choosing to protect Twilight’s feelings over Fluttershy’s. Don’t tell me you don’t see how screwed up that is.”

“I am not! I wouldn’t do anything to hurt Fluttershy!”

“Not doing anything is hurting Fluttershy! You two have been together for almost a year, you’re building a life together, for Christ’s sake, you were gonna raise a daughter tog–”

“Shut up!” Sunset jumped to her feet, fists clenched. “I know that! Don’t you think I fucking know that!?”

Applejack gritted her teeth. “Well, I fucking hope so, but after hearing that I gotta wonder.”

Sunset grabbed her helmet. “Excuse me for thinking you’d have my back.”

As she turned to walk away, Applejack stood up and grabbed her arm. “Don’t be like that. You know I’ve got your back, always. But you’re making a mistake here. It’s not too late to fix it though, you just gotta tell Twilight what’s been going on.”

“No.” Sunset pulled her arm back. “If you’re not going to keep quiet about it, then I’ll figure out somewhere else to bring them.”

Applejack could’ve stopped Sunset easily. She knew the right things to say that would make Sunset turn around, and if it came to force, she was stronger.

But where would that get her? Sure, she could make Sunset stay, but she couldn’t make her listen. And arguing was never going to change her mind.

The best she could hope for as she watched Sunset storm away was that Sunset would sleep on her words and change her mind. It wasn’t likely, but she had to have hope. It was all she had in times like this.

She sighed and sat back down, noticing the cooler and wine bottle were still on the table. She picked the mostly empty bottle up and sighed, realizing that neither of them had finished their second cups.

There wasn’t any point in pretending to enjoy the wine anymore, so she dumped both cups out, along with the ice from the cooler. She capped the wine and put it back it in the empty cooler, figuring she could give it back to Sunset on Friday if she didn’t see her sooner.

Applejack looked up into the night sky, hoping to see stars. But all she saw were storm clouds as the first droplets of rain finally started. It didn’t matter. If anyone was there looking down on them, they must make for a pretty sorry sight.

Well, if there was anyone up among the stars looking down on them, Applejack was going to go where they couldn’t see her. She grabbed the cooler and made her way back to the house, where she could go back to lying awake in bed with only hopeless hopes for comfort.

22 – Calm Before

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Chapter Twenty-Two

Calm Before

The mirror stood before them. Of course, Fluttershy had seen it before, and she knew what it was. She had even seen Twilight and Spike go through it on occasion. But this time was different. This time, she was going with them.

“Nervous?” Spike asked.

“A little,” Fluttershy answered as she looked up at the mirror. It looked much taller than it had before.

“It’ll be okay.” A wing draped across her back, and Fluttershy turned to see Twilight smiling at her. “I know it’s a little weird to imagine, but I promise everything will be alright. Spike and I will be right there with you.”

Fluttershy nuzzled against Twilight. “I know. And I am really excited to finally meet Sunset.”

Twilight returned the gesture, nuzzling Fluttershy. “It’ll be fun. How about I go on ahead so I’m there when you come out, and Spike can go through with you?”

Fluttershy took a step back and smiled. “That sounds like a good idea. Should I, uhm, wait a little while before going through, or just go in right after you?”

“Just give me enough time to move out of the way so that you don’t fall right on top of me.” Twilight stepped up to the mirror, then turned back and smiled. “See you on the other side.”

She stepped forwards, and then she was gone.

Fluttershy took a steadying breath and felt a claw rest on her shoulder. She turned to see Spike had stepped up to replace his sister in offering a comforting smile. “Just wait, it’s so cool over there! You’ll love it!”

Fluttershy wasn’t convinced, but she nodded anyway. She liked seeing him excited and didn’t want to do anything to dampen his mood. “So we just walk into the mirror?”

“Yup, just like Twilight did. Nothing to it.” Spike gently guided her a few steps closer to it.

Fluttershy stared at her reflection in it. There wasn’t anything out of place about it, just the same yellow pegasus she saw in her reflection every day. Beside her stood the same purple and green dragon that had become a regular part of everyday life for her since she’d started spending more time staying with Twilight at the castle. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing hinting at anything magical.

And yet, on the other side was a whole other world that Fluttershy had never managed to so much as picture clearly. A world that only had one sapient species, where everyone walked around on two legs. It was so strange to imagine, and even stranger now that she knew she was about to experience it firsthoof.

“I think that’s long enough,” Spike said. “Ready?”

She wasn’t, but she knew she never would be, so she nodded anyway. “Let’s go.”

The two of them stepped forward together.

It felt like Twilight’s magic at first. But whereas that had come to be a comfortable sensation as Fluttershy had grown used to it, this only grew worse. She felt herself being pulled along, while at the same time, something seemed to want to hold her back. Neither force would give up its hold on her, and she felt herself stretch between two extremes.

Until suddenly the force holding her back relented, and Fluttershy shot forward. For one moment, the only thing she was aware of was falling. Then she felt someone catch her, and two forelegs wrap around her.

“It’s okay,” Twilight said. “I’ve got you.”

Slowly she realized she could hear the sound of rain, and feel the droplets on parts of her. Only on certain parts like her hindlegs; Twilight must be using her magic to shield most of them. It felt colder than she was used to back home, and somehow wetter. It hadn’t even been raining in Ponyville, but it seemed that it was here.

It took a moment more to realize that she couldn’t see because she had shut her eyes. When she opened them, everything was blurry, and Fluttershy’s first look at this new world was at its ground. She felt like she was farther from it than she should be, and wondered if she had instinctively started flying in reaction to the shift in her situation.

Only… she couldn’t feel her wings flapping. In a moment, she realized she couldn’t feel her wings at all.

Before she could think much of that, however, a purple and green dog walked into her field of vision. “You made it!” Spike said.

It was unmistakably Spike’s voice, at least, although it was strange to hear it come out of a dog. Thankfully, he and Twilight had told Fluttershy to expect as much, so it wasn’t as big of a shock as it could’ve been.

But if Spike was a dog, then that meant…

Fluttershy lifted her head and saw Twilight smiling. At least, it was definitely Twilight’s face. She knew that what she was looking at was Twilight as a human, but that was even weirder than seeing Spike as a dog. At least she had known what a dog looked like; nothing could’ve prepared Fluttershy for how strange it was to see Twilight as some creature she had never seen before.

“Welcome to Everton,” another voice said. Fluttershy turned to see another human, who was holding an umbrella over them. That was why Twilight’s magic wasn’t keeping them all dry, it wasn’t magic at all.

The human was amber-colored with a red and yellow mane. And although Fluttershy wasn’t used to humans enough to say for sure by appearance, she’d definitely had a mare’s voice. She reached out a foreleg and set her hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder, smiling excitedly. “It’s nice to finally meet you face to face, Fluttershy. I’m Sunset Shimmer.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy blinked a few times and looked between Sunset and Twilight, both of whom seemed amused.

“It does take a little getting used to,” Twilight said.

“More than a little for some of us,” Sunset added. She pulled her hoof back and used it to scratch her neck. As she did, Fluttershy realized how little it actually looked like a hoof.

‘That’s right, Twilight said humans don’t have hooves.’ Fluttershy couldn’t quite remember what the appendage they did have was called, but whatever it was, that meant she had them as well.

She looked down at her foreleg – no, her arm, she knew that much – at her arm to see a little bit of herself for the first time. Like Sunset and Twilight, she didn’t have a hoof at the end. Instead, she had what looked more like one of Spike’s claws, with five digits attached to a palm.

“If you turn around, you can see yourself in the statue,” Twilight said.

Fluttershy did as she suggested, discovering they were at the base of a statue. Like Twilight had said, the surface was reflective. She saw what she knew was herself, even though she looked so strange.

It was a bit like looking into the funhouse mirror, only stranger. Fluttershy smiled at her bizarre reflection and noted the two people standing beside her. She realized she had come here specifically to meet Sunset, but she hadn’t even managed to say hello.

She turned back to give her a smile. “Hello, Sunset. I’m sorry, I got a little distracted when you introduced yourself.”

“It’s fine,” Sunset said with a grin. “Trust me, I understand. Want try walking around a bit? Or should we get out of the rain first?”

“I don’t mind the rain,” Fluttershy said. She looked down at her legs, noting that there were only two of them. Although she was wearing clothes now, parts of her legs were exposed. She realized that without fur the water was hitting her skin, which explained how much colder it was. “I think I should try to get used to these, if that’s okay.”

Sunset and Twilight each stood on one side of her, keeping hold of one arm each. It was a good thing; Fluttershy stumbled more than once as she tried walking on two legs. Sunset also held the umbrella, under which the three mares stuck closely together to try and keep dry. Not that it proved very effective. Fluttershy wondered why she bothered, it wasn’t raining that much.

Spike followed along beside them, undeterred by the rain. “Not bad! You’re a lot more graceful than Twilight was the first time we came.”

“I wasn’t that bad,” Twilight protested, although her blush said otherwise.

Sunset snickered. “Did you try walking around on all fours too?”

“Too?” Twilight asked. “So I wasn’t the only one of us to make a foal of myself, then.”

“Not by a long shot.” Sunset chuckled. “My first trip through the portal was… well, let’s just say I’m glad you three weren’t around to see it.”

“Well, I’m glad I have all of you,” Fluttershy said. “I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to come all by yourself.”

“Me either.” Twilight looked down at Spike and smiled. “Even if he didn’t know any more about the world than I did, I’m glad I had Spike with me.”

Spike held his head higher as they walked. Fluttershy was about to comment on it, but something else caught her eye. Someone was waiting nearby under an umbrella of her own and watching them with a huge grin on her face, and there was no mistaking who it was. “Pinkie Pie…?”

If the pink poofy mane had somehow left any doubt, the way Pinkie squealed and ran over would’ve erased it. “I was wondering when you’d notice me! I wanted to come meet you right away, but Sunset said it might be better to let you get steady on your feet first.”

“Hi, Pinkie. It’s, uhm, nice to meet you.” Fluttershy giggled a little at how silly it was to be ‘meeting’ Pinkie Pie for the first time. They had met as teenagers when Pinkie had first moved to Ponyville, and then became close friends after Twilight did as well.

And even if this Pinkie wasn’t the one from Equestria, it was hard to tell by her greeting. She held out her arms for a hug as if she and Fluttershy were just as close as they were with each other’s doubles.

Fluttershy mimicked her actions, holding out her arms. Twilight and Sunset let go of her as she did, and Fluttershy took a small step on her own to move closer to Pinkie. She still felt awkward on her feet, but fortunately, Pinkie closed the rest of the distance for them. At least hugging was as easy as it was in Equestria, and it felt just as nice.

“This is so exciting!” Pinkie said as she pulled away from Fluttershy. She didn’t pull back too far, however, keeping both of them under the umbrella. “Everyone else is waiting to meet you at Sweet Apple Acres. I just know you’re going to love them!”

“We didn’t want to overload you with too many people all at once,” Sunset added. “Especially, er, the other Fluttershy. Plus we really don’t need other people seeing the two of you together.”

“Yeah, that would be pretty hard to explain,” Twilight said.

That was still something Fluttershy wasn’t sure she was quite ready for, but she knew she never would be. “I think I can walk around well enough now. Should we get going?”

“Sure, as long as you’re ready.” Sunset gestured toward where Pinkie had been waiting for them. “Pinkie’s parked across the street.”

“I call front seat!” Spike said, running ahead of the others.

“Spike!” Twilight called after him. “Remember not to run in the streets here!”

He didn’t get much of a head start, stopping before reaching the street. It didn’t look anything like the ones in Equestria, and Fluttershy wouldn’t have recognized it as one without the others mentioning it – unlike the dirt or stone ones she was used to, this one was some sort of black material with lines on it.

He waited there for the others to catch up. Sunset gave her umbrella to Twilight before ducking under Pinkie’s, and Twilight shared it with Fluttershy. They walked slowly so the two umbrellas could keep them covered, which suited Fluttershy just fine – the last thing she needed was to try and run like Spike had.

Everyone seemed to take caution before crossing the street, looking down both directions before they did. It made Fluttershy a little uneasy. Twilight had assured her this world was completely safe, but how could it be if something as simple as crossing a street was cause for caution?

No one but Fluttershy seemed to think much of it though, and crossed as soon as they had checked. Fluttershy stuck close to Twilight, just in case.

They made their way towards a bunch of things that Fluttershy had never seen before. Spike walked close to Fluttershy’s legs and explained things a bit. “Those are cars, humans use them to drive around. That’s how we’ll get to Sweet Apple Acres.”

Although really, that explanation didn’t help nearly as much as Fluttershy would’ve liked. “Oh, I see.”

Twilight seemed to realize how confused she must be. “Remember the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 3000? They’re a lot like that, but more advanced and without the apple cider maker.”

“They’re much cooler,” Spike assured her.

“I don’t know,” Pinkie said. “How can something called the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 3000 not be way better than a car?”

“You wouldn’t say that if you saw it,” Twilight said. “Human technology is amazing, much better than what we’ve got in Equestria.”

“This world does have its perks,” Sunset said as they walked up to one of the cars. It was larger and more box-shaped than most of the others. “Here we are, Pinkie’s minivan.”

Pinkie pulled something out of her pocket and squeezed it, and the minivan beeped and lights flashed for a moment.

“What was that?” If Fluttershy didn’t know better, she would’ve thought it was magic.

Twilight smiled. “That was nothing compared to what human technology can do. Just wait until we start driving.”

Sunset and Twilight both pulled on what seemed to be handles and opened doors on the minivan while Pinkie walked around to the other side to do the same. Before Sunset could get in, Spike darted in front of her. “I called front seat!”

Twilight frowned at him. “Spike…”

Sunset just laughed it off. “It’s fine, he’s a guest.” Once he was in his seat, she shut the door behind him.

Twilight climbed in next, taking the farther of two seats in the middle row. It proved awkward to do with her new body, but Fluttershy managed to climb in as well, sitting down beside Twilight. Sunset sat in the row behind them, and Pinkie sat in the front behind what seemed to be some sort of controls.

“You have to put on your seatbelt.” Twilight demonstrated by taking hold of what Fluttershy realized must be a seatbelt and pulled it across her body. “Like this. Then this end snaps into this piece.”

Fluttershy found a seatbelt on her chair as well and mimicked the action as best she could. The seatbelt locked into place as she snapped it into the connector. “Like this?”

“Exactly! You’re doing really well for your first time with hands.”

“A lot better than I did,” Sunset added.

“Everyone buckled up?” Pinkie asked.

“We’re all set,” Sunset said. “Take us away, Pinkie.”

“Alrighty! Everyone hold onto your ponies, because here we go!”

Fluttershy cocked her head to the side and wondered what ‘hold onto your ponies’ meant, but she forgot in an instant as soon as Pinkie started the minivan. It made a loud noise at first, which soon became a continuous hum as the whole thing vibrated.

They started moving. First they slowly moved backwards as Pinkie guided the minivan out from the cars it had been between. Then she adjusted something on of the controls, and they started moving forwards toward the street instead.

“Wow, this is incredible,” Fluttershy said. “Is this how all humans get around?”

“Depends how far you’re going,” Sunset said. “But generally yeah. Cars are the most common way to get around town.”

Once they were on the street, they picked up speed. Fluttershy was amazed at how fast they were going, and she suddenly understood why they had taken the time to look down the street before walking across it; she didn’t want to imagine what could happen if someone wasn’t careful around something so big that travelled so fast.

Although once the thought dawned on her, she found it hard to get it out of her head. She trusted her friends – if they thought this was safe, she knew it must be – but that didn’t erase her worries. She didn’t even want to imagine what might happen to them if they crashed into something.

The idea was too much for her, so she instinctively reached for Twilight’s hoof. Or whatever it was, since they didn’t really have hooves anymore. Twilight smiled at her. “You know, hands are actually a lot better at this.”

‘Oh, right, they’re called hands.’ Twilight had told her that, but there were so many things to try and remember about this world. She resolved to remember this one more clearly since it would probably be pretty silly to call them the wrong thing if it came up.

Fluttershy looked down at their hands. “What do you mean?”

Twilight maneuvered the digits attached to her hand to link them between Fluttershy’s, then closed them around her hand. Fluttershy smiled at the feeling, she liked being tangled up in Twilight.

Twilight looked down at their hands and blushed. “I’ve never actually done this.”

“Really?”

“Well, not like this. Pretty sure when people lace their fingers like this, it means they’re dating. Otherwise they just cup their hands together like this.”

Twilight shifted her fingers so they weren’t laced between Fluttershy’s anymore. Fluttershy smiled and switched them back. “I like this way better.”

They both smiled at each other, then blushed when they heard Pinkie. “You two are so cute together!”

“I have to say I agree with Pinkie on this one,” Sunset said, leaning forward in her seat so she was closer to the couple. “It’s no wonder you two became Equestria’s favorite power couple.”

Twilight fidgeted in her seat. “I don’t know if I’d say that, exactly…”

“Whatever you say. So, uh, remind me how that whole country-wide tour thing went again? You know, the one that focused on the two of you being a lovable couple.”

“It was about a little more than that,” Twilight protested.

“Yeah, but almost everypony was really happy for you two,” Spike pointed out.

Twilight fixed a glare on him. “Spike, whose side are you on?”

“Silly Twilight,” Pinkie said, “there’s no sides! We’re all on the side of you two being super good together!”

Even if she appreciated the sentiment, Fluttershy only blushed more as their relationship continued being the center of attention. She decided to try and change the topic. “So, uhm, are the Fluttershy and Twilight from here a couple too?”

“No,” Pinkie answered. “To tell you the truth, I think Fluttershy has her eye on someone else.”

“Oh, really?” Twilight asked. She kept her tone level, but Fluttershy noticed how she fidgeted ever so slightly. Fluttershy hoped that whoever it was, it wasn’t Rarity. The last thing that they needed was for a reminder of that awkward ordeal.

“Besides, the other Twilight doesn’t even live in town anymore,” Sunset said.

“Oh yeah, you told me that.” Fluttershy felt guilty for forgetting. “She moved away for school, right?”

“That’s right. Don’t know if she’s got anything going on in the romance department.”

If the Twilight and Fluttershy of this world weren’t a couple, it was probably better to just leave all discussion about either of their love lives alone. Fluttershy wouldn’t care one way or another whom the Twilight from this world decided to date, and she was sure Twilight would say the same about the human Fluttershy.

But saying it wouldn’t make it true, and Fluttershy noticed how her marefriend went rigid at the conversation. Better to talk about something else, even if Fluttershy wasn’t exactly sure what.

“Hey, Fluttershy,” Sunset said, erasing the need to find a new topic. She handed Fluttershy a rectangular device with a picture of a kitten on it. Something inside illuminated the whole thing, making it easier to see.

“Aww, how cute.” The kitten was staring at a shoe and poised to strike.

“Watch.” Sunset tapped the picture, and it suddenly sprang to life. The kitten darted forward and latched onto the shoe, kicking at it with its hindlegs.

“It’s moving!” Fluttershy said in amazement.

“That’s called a phone,” Twilight explained as she took the device from Sunset. “Humans use them for all sorts of things!”

“Once in a while we even call people on them,” Sunset said with a smirk. Fluttershy could tell by her tone it was a joke, but she didn’t get it.

Twilight continued to show her films of animals, or ‘videos’ as Sunset told her they were called. It was nothing like the films they had in Equestria, which were simple, lacked color, and required a large projector to work. This was so lifelike, and there seemed to be no end of videos for them to watch. Twilight said that was because of something called the ‘internet’ and tried to explain what that was, but Fluttershy was too busy watching all the cute animals.

That kept her attention for the rest of the way to Sweet Apple Acres. It felt like only moments passed before Pinkie announced they arrived and Sunset took her phone back.

Like everything else, Sweet Apple Acres looked different from the one in Equestria, but it was still unmistakable. Even aside from the apple orchard connected to it, it was the same red with purple roof paint job, with a large barn just behind it.

As the minivan came to a stop, someone who could only have been Applejack walked out of the barn. She stayed back where she was protected from the rain, but she gave a friendly wave.

“It’s so strange how similar everyone looks,” Fluttershy said quietly.

“I know, it does take some getting used to.” Twilight squeezed her hand and smiled. “But don’t worry, I know you’ll love everyone.”

Fluttershy smiled back and nodded. Even if these weren’t her friends from Equestria, there was no reason they wouldn’t get along wonderfully.

“Speaking of that though…” Sunset said. “The tricky thing is that Granny Smith and Big Mac don’t actually know about Equestria. Apple Bloom went to school with us, so she knows, but Big Mac had already graduated by the time everything happened.”

“Oh…” Fluttershy glanced at the house.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Sunset continued. “Big Mac is at his girlfriend’s house today, and Granny Smith never drops in on our group parties as long as we don’t get too loud. We’ll just stick to the barn and no one should notice.”

“Sure but… don’t you think it would be better to be open with your friends?” Twilight asked. “What’s the point of hiding something so important from them?”

“You know, I think Twi has a point,” Pinkie said. She turned off the minivan and turned around to face Sunset. “Sure, it’d be a little weird at first. But I think telling them would make things a lot easier, and that everyone would feel better about it afterwards.”

Sunset seemed to be addressing Pinkie more than Twilight. “This just… isn’t the best time. We’ll worry about that later, let’s just have fun today!”

“I guess that sounds reasonable,” Twilight said. “But do think about telling them later. I’m sure they won’t have a problem with it, and I’d be happy to come and help you explain things.”

“Thanks, Twi, but I –”

Before Sunset could finish, Applejack opened the door from the outside. “Now I don’t know how y’all do it in Equestria, but ‘round these parts, we usually get out of the vehicle once we get where we’re goin’.”

“Hello, Applejack,” Twilight said as she undid her seat belt. Fluttershy couldn’t figure hers out, so Twilight helped her. “It’s great to see you again.”

Applejack hopped in to get out of the rain, sitting on the floor inside. She tipped her hat at Twilight. “Same to you. Been too long since your last visit.” She looked past Twilight and grinned at Fluttershy. “And I’ll be. You really are the spittin’ image of the Fluttershy that’s waitin’ in the barn.”

Fluttershy blushed. “It’s, uhm, nice to meet you.”

Applejack chuckled. “Don’t worry, I think everyone feels just as awkward as you about this whole thing.”

“I don’t!” Pinkie said brightly as she left the minivan, Spike following behind her.

Applejack ignored her and continued addressing Fluttershy. “But we’re all thrilled to finally meet you, and I’m sure we’ll all get over the weirdness in no time.”

It seemed that no matter what world, Applejack was Applejack. It was comforting, and made Fluttershy feel a little less nervous about meeting the others.

Of course, the doubles of her friends weren’t really whom she was most nervous about meeting. As much as she could, Fluttershy had tried to keep from thinking too much about the human Fluttershy on the way over. But now that the two were almost face to face, that was all she could think about.

‘It’s just like Applejack said, she’s probably just as nervous to meet me.’

Twilight and Applejack were the next to leave, with Fluttershy following behind and Sunset bringing up the rear. Once they were out, they quickly made their way to where Applejack had waved to them. The awning from the barn kept most of the rain off of them.

Before heading inside, Applejack took the chance to give Twilight a hug. She opted to keep things a little more casual with Fluttershy, holding out her hand.

It was clearly the human equivalent of a hoof bump, but Fluttershy had no idea what she was supposed to do. She held out her hand gingerly, mimicking what Applejack did as best she could. “I’m, uhm…”

Applejack laughed. “Right, guess y’all don’t really shake hands where you’re from.” She took hold of Fluttershy’s hand, cupping her fingers around it like Twilight had told her that friends did, and shook it. “That’s sort of a way that us humans say ‘nice to meet ya’.”

Fluttershy smiled. “It’s nice to meet you too.” As they let go, it occured to Fluttershy that she had already said that, which caused her to blush. No one seemed to notice though, and they all followed Applejack back to the barn.

“Everyone else is all inside,” Applejack said as she held the door open for them. “Now we can get this party going!”

As soon as they stepped through the door, they heard Rainbow’s voice. “Okay. This is freaky.”

Rainbow Dash was staring wide-eyed at the group, but Fluttershy barely even noticed her. Standing beside her was another Fluttershy, as if she were looking in the reflective surface of the statue again. As far as Fluttershy could tell, the only difference between them was the clothes they were wearing. Both Fluttershys locked eyes, neither saying a word.

“It’s not really different than when both Twilights were here,” Apple Bloom said. Fluttershy hadn’t even noticed she was in the room. “Besides, that’s no way to greet our guests!”

She ran over to the others and held out her hand for Fluttershy like Applejack had. “Hey there, I’m Apple Bloom.”

Fluttershy couldn’t bring herself to turn away from her double, not until she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see that Twilight was smiling. “Yeah, it… takes some getting used to.”

Fluttershy blinked and shook her head, then shook Apple Bloom’s hand. “Nice to meet you all too,” she said, although she couldn’t keep from turning back to the other Fluttershy.

After a moment, Rainbow led her over to the group. She still didn’t speak at first, so Rainbow did instead. “Geez, you two look like twins! This is wild!”

Although her reaction was bigger than the others, Rainbow quickly started grinning excitedly. She placed a hand on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “Welcome to Everton, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy wasn’t exactly sure if there was an appropriate response to the gesture, so she just smiled and hoped that would be sufficient. “Thank you.”

Likely realizing that all the attention was a little much for the shy pegasus, Twilight spoke up and drew some of it away. “It’s so good to see you all! What has everyone been up to lately?”

That seemed to be all the prompting that Rainbow needed to launch into an explanation of her band. While she told them about it, Applejack led them into the barn where there were chairs, refreshments, and some sort of device that played music.

As they walked over, the other Fluttershy glanced towards her. “Uhm, hi…”

It was weird hearing her voice, mostly because it wasn’t Fluttershy’s voice. It was close, but not quite right. Considering they were alike in every other way, Fluttershy couldn’t imagine why they would sound different.

It made her feel a little better though. It was good to have a distinction from her double, made her feel more like her own pony again. She smiled. “Hello.”

The other Fluttershy gave a small smile of her own, then took a seat on the other side of Rainbow Dash, which put several people between the two of them. Fluttershy was almost hoping for the chance to get to talk a little, if only to ease both of their nervousness, but she could hardly blame her for being overwhelmed.

Fluttershy folded her hands in her lap and listened to Rainbow’s story. She didn’t understand everything, but she didn’t mind; it was enough that everyone was so welcoming to her.

“Ahem.” Everyone looked up at Pinkie’s voice, which was being amplified. She held a microphone and stood by a large moving picture device. “Who’s ready for a karaoke party!”

Fluttershy blushed at the thought of singing and hoped they wouldn’t ask her to.

“So, uhm…” Twilight stood up and held out her hand. “Want to try dancing as a human?”

Fluttershy took Twilight’s hand and smiled. “Sure, but I have no idea how.”

“To tell you the truth… I don’t either. But we can still have fun.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Right.”

“Oh, I love karaoke!” Apple Bloom ran over to the device with Pinkie. “Can I sing too?”

“Of course you can!” Pinkie pulled out another mic and handed it to Apple Bloom, then turned and pointed to Rainbow. “And don’t think you’re sitting this one out! I want to see everyone on the floor shaking their tails!”

Fluttershy turned to look down her back in puzzlement. She was pretty sure humans didn’t have tails, but she hadn’t actually checked under her clothes yet. Sunset must have noticed, because she laughed and placed her hand on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “It’s just an expression.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy blushed and turned her eyes downwards. Only for a moment though, then Twilight led her away from the chairs where they could dance.

Their dancing didn’t actually amount to much, which Fluttershy was thankful for. They moved back and forth roughly in rhythm to the music, only taking small steps that she could manage.

Meanwhile, she watched the room around them. The other Fluttershy moved closer to Sunset, which reminded her of Pinkie’s comment that the Fluttershy here had her eye on someone else.

Just as she was hoping Twilight wouldn’t notice, Applejack walked over to Rainbow. She gestured towards Sunset and Fluttershy and said, “Guess that leaves you and me, partner.”

“What?” Rainbow asked. “Pretty sure I can manage to dance just fine on my own.”

“Aww, don’t be a poor sport!” Applejack grabbed hold of Rainbow’s hand and dragged her out towards the others. “Everyone else has a partner.”

Rainbow noticed the other Fluttershy and Sunset, which seemed to change her mind. “Fine, I guess. But don’t expect me to slow dance. Pinkie, AB, kick it up a notch!”

Fluttershy turned back to Twilight and smiled. That should keep Twilight from worrying what her double was doing.

And if that wasn’t enough, Apple Bloom and Pinkie followed through on Rainbow’s request and switched to a livelier song that pushed Fluttershy and Twilight’s mutual bad dancing to its limits. Soon, Fluttershy could only focus on her steps and laughing at all their mistakes, lost to everything going on around them.

At least, until Spike suddenly spoke up. “Hey, what about me?”

Everyone broke into laughter, which made for a great start to their karaoke party. It wasn’t long before the singers rotated out, although Fluttershy never dared step up to the mic. The other Fluttershy did, though; she and Rainbow sang a duet after Pinkie and Apple Bloom were done.

They all shuffled dance partners as the singers changed, with Spike finally getting to dance with someone as he and Fluttershy tried their best together. It seemed he was just as out of place dancing with four legs as Fluttershy was with two. She took hold of his front paws in her hands and the two of them more or less stumbled around, but they both had a lot of fun.

With both of their partners preoccupied, Twilight and Sunset shared a dance as well. Although Twilight was clearly less sure on her feet than the others – not to mention she had never been a great dancer in Equestria – it was clear that she was better at it than Fluttershy was. She and Sunset seemed to have a lot of fun together, which made Fluttershy happy to see.

Once the song was finished, Pinkie cut into Sunset and Twilight’s dance. “You should sing a duet with Fluttershy next!”

Fluttershy immediately worried, but momentarily realized that both Pinkie and Sunset were looking at the other Fluttershy.

“Sure, I’m up for that.” Sunset grinned as she walked up to the mic. “What do you say. Shy?”

Fluttershy looked at her for a moment, then turned away. “Uhm… I think I’m done singing, actually. Maybe you and Twilight could sing a song?”

Sunset stopped in place and grimaced. She glanced at Twilight, then back to Fluttershy. “Are you… not feeling well?”

Fluttershy looked back at Sunset and hesitated for a moment. “Uhm… no, not really. Actually…” She turned to Rainbow Dash. “Do you… think you could take me home? I’m… feeling a little out of it.”

Rainbow gave Fluttershy a puzzled look, but it shifted to a frown as she turned to Sunset. “Sure, we can head out.”

“I’ll come with you,” Sunset said.

Fluttershy shook her head. “You should stay here. I know how much you were looking forward to seeing Twilight and, er, Fluttershy.”

Sunset looked between the couple, both of whom could only return confused expressions. There was clearly something more going on than what the human Fluttershy was saying, but the pony Fluttershy had no idea at all what it could be.

‘Is it because she has a crush on Sunset?’ Fluttershy wondered. It felt strange to think that might be it, since she herself had never acted like that back when she had a crush on Rarity, even when she would gush over stallions that had caught her eye. ‘Remember, she’s not me though.’

Whatever was going on, the human Fluttershy followed Rainbow out of the barn. A simple look around confirmed that no one really seemed to think that it was anything so simple as ‘feeling a little out of it’.

“Uhm,” Fluttershy asked no one in particular, “do you… think she wanted to leave because of me?”

Sunset sighed. “No, I don’t think so.”

Fluttershy still wasn’t sure about that, and a look at Twilight suggested that she felt the same. If that was the case, she couldn’t really blame her, but still… ‘I wish we could’ve worked out whatever it was.’

Sunset lingered where she was, watching the door even after the other Fluttershy and Rainbow were gone. After a moment, Applejack approached her and put an arm around her shoulder. Sunset shook her head, then turned to the others and smiled awkwardly. “So… are we still doing karaoke?”

Everyone looked around, unsure of what to say. Or at least, everyone except for Spike. “Can I sing next?”


It took a while, but the party eventually managed to turn around. They humored Spike with one more song for him to sing, then moved on to a board game that they didn’t have in Equestria. The rain only seemed to come harder, which ruled out anything outside of the barn, but that was alright.

Fluttershy was a little worried when Rainbow Dash didn’t come back after dropping off the other Fluttershy, though. She kept from saying anything about it; they had enough reason for concern, after all.

Once they were past the melancholy feeling, the hours passed quickly. Good conversation, fun party games, and tasty pizza kept things going smoothly into the night.

It was late by the time they returned to Pinkie’s minivan to get back to the portal. The rain had picked up to the point where it threatened to be a thunderstorm by nightfall, so they had to dash through it. But even with the rain, and even if Fluttershy was exhausted from the day and all the new experiences, she was glad that she’d come.

Even through the rain, Pinkie and Sunset both offered to make the final walk back to the portal with them. They would have declined both, but Twilight requested Sunset accompany them so they could talk. Fluttershy felt guilty for excluding Pinkie, and she knew Twilight felt the same, but they had something private that they wanted to talk with Sunset about.

At least it would keep Pinkie dry. She left them with both umbrellas, which helped keep them dry a little even with the rain coming down harder. Twilight and Sunset each held an umbrella on either side of Fluttershy, who carried Spike so he wouldn’t be walking through the water.

“Alright, what’s going on and how afraid should I be?” Sunset asked once they’d made it a good distance from the minivan.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Twilight assured her with an eye roll. “We just… wanted to ask how you’ve been doing.”

Sunset smirked. “Pretty sure that’s usually something you ask when you start hanging out with someone, no matter what world you’re from.”

“And have you make up something because Pinkie was there?” Twilight asked. “We’re just… worried. We want to make sure you’re really okay, and I know you don’t want to talk about that with everyone else around.”

“Uhm, especially because of Morning Breeze…” Fluttershy said. Sunset had told them about her relationship with her girlfriend and its ups and downs. “She… wasn’t at the party today.”

Sunset chuckled. “Considering there were two Fluttershys? I think it would’ve been a bit much for her.”

“Is that really the only reason?” Twilight asked skeptically. “You’ve been together for a while now, you could tell her about Equestria. And you know, we’d both love to meet her.”

“I… don’t think that’s going to happen.” Sunset shoved her hands in her pockets and kept her eyes on the ground. “To tell you the truth, that’s not the only reason she wasn’t there today. Things have been… complicated between us lately.”

“Well then lucky for you we have two relationship experts here!” Spike said.

Fluttershy blushed. “I don’t know about expert… But we’d be happy to help if you let us.”

“Thanks, I really appreciate that.” Sunset showed them a smile that almost convinced Fluttershy she was okay. “And I’ll be sure to write to you if I need any advice. But right now, I think we just need to figure some things out on our own.”

“If you’re sure…”

Fluttershy placed her hand on Twilight’s shoulder. “Remember, we agreed not to push her.”

Sunset chuckled. “So this was pre-planned then?”

“Well, we have been worried for a while now…” Twilight said as they reached the portal. “There is one other thing before we go.”

“After that interrogation?” Sunset grinned. “This time I’m definitely afraid.”

Twilight looked at Fluttershy, who smiled and nodded. She turned back to Sunset with a smile of her own. “We wanted to ask you to come back to Equestria.”

Sunset’s grin fell away and she blinked a few times. “Wait, what? Twi, I’ve… I’ve kinda got a whole life here now.”

“Oh! Not to move back.” Twilight grinned sheepishly. “Just… visit. It’d be nice to spend some more time with you, and we think it’d be good for you to get away for a bit too. And maybe then you could catch up with Princess Celestia!”

“And, uhm… Morning Breeze could come too,” Fluttershy added. “If you want.”

They’d hoped that Sunset would be excited by the invitation, but she looked anything but. She turned away, frowning. “I… I’ll think about it.”

Twilight and Fluttershy exchanged looks. Before Twilight could say anything else to convince her, Fluttershy stepped in. “Please do. We won’t push you, but we are worried about you.”

Sunset finally smiled. “Thanks you two, but I’ll be fine. I promise.”

“Will you also promise to think about our offer?” Twilight asked. “And I mean really think about it.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Yes, Twi. I’ll give it some thought and get back to you. Promise.”

“Alright then.” Twilight stepped closer to give Sunset a hug, handing off the umbrella as she did. “Take care, Sunset. And remember we’re always around if you need us.”

“That goes for both of us,” Fluttershy said as she took her turn at giving a hug.

Spike squirmed a little as he was pressed between the two hugging mares. “Yeah, that goes for both of them.”

Sunset laughed and ruffled the fur on his head. “Aww, I don’t get any doggy help?”

“Uh, dragon?”

“Not from where I’m standing, pup.”

“And that’s why I’ll keep my amazing help to myself.”

Spike and Sunset both laughed, then Sunset glanced over to the portal. “It was great seeing you three.”

“It was nice to finally see you too,” Fluttershy said. “And happy birthday.”

They turned back to the portal, leaving Sunset blushing at her birthday reminder. Fluttershy turned to Twilight before stepping away from the umbrella. “Does it, uhm, ever get easier?”

“Not really.” Twilight took hold of Fluttershy’s hand. “Well, maybe a little if we go together.”

Fluttershy smiled and squeezed Twilight’s hand. That was one thing she’d miss once they were back, although she’d be happy to get wing hugs again. “That does sound a little easier.”

Hand in hand and with Spike by their side, the couple stepped back through the portal, returning to the life they were familiar with.

23 – Highs and Lows

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Chapter Twenty-Three

Highs and Lows

There was little doubt that Sunset not taking her birthday off was by design. If anything, she may have even specifically arranged to work just to have an excuse to avoid going out on it. It was no secret that her birthday was never her favorite day, after all.

So it was with some guilt that Pinkie had encouraged everyone to get together for it anyway. But in the month since the accident, they’d only had one group outing – Sunset’s proper birthday party several days before, which had turned sour as soon as Fluttershy and Rainbow left. It was time to try for a better one!

Besides, it was only for dinner. Just the five Everton friends meeting up after Sunset was out of work, nothing fancy or time-consuming. And Pinkie was positive that it was something they needed to do.

It was clear right from the start that Sunset wasn’t into the idea, but Pinkie had managed to get Applejack on board, and she’d managed to get Sunset. At least Sunset was being a good sport about it.

“I swear, if someone comes out singing a song, I’m leaving.”

Well, she was trying. “Yeah, I really doubt that this is the kind of place that does that sort of thing,” Rainbow said with a smirk.

That was true; the restaurant was a cheap bar and grill in a seedier part of town. It wasn’t horrible by any means, but it was the kind of place that one would need to specify that it was clean when complimenting it, since that was by no means a given at a location like this.

In short, it was not at all the kind of place that Pinkie would ever approve of for her friends’ birthdays. Not that it mattered though, as Rainbow had only needed to tell Sunset one thing about it for her to agree.

“How’s everyone doing over here?” Lightning Dust asked as she walked over to their table. It was sort of strange to see her waiting on customers, as nothing about her ever said ‘customer service’, but she did a good job.

Maybe too good. Rainbow raised her glass. “I’ll have one more of those mixed drinks.”

“You got it. Anyone else?”

“None for me, thanks,” Applejack said. “I gotta work in the mornin’. I’ll take a water though, if ya don’t mind.”

Sunset downed the last of her drink, apparently determined to go round for round with Rainbow. “I’ll have another.” It was all Pinkie could do to not wince at the sight. This would be her third one, and they didn’t go light on the alcohol here.

“Uhm, I’m okay. I’m still working on this one.” Fluttershy took another small sip of her own. That was a relief, as she was also on her second.

“Alright, so we got a hangover for Rainbow and Sunset, and we’re trying to avoid one for AJ.” Lightning Dust looked to Pinkie. “How about a soda for the designated driver?”

“Sounds good,” Pinkie said. “Thank you, Lightning!”

Lightning Dust walked off to get their drinks, and Rainbow grinned at the others. “Told you this place was cool.”

“Yeah, this is my kind of place,” Sunset said, leaning back in her chair. She smirked and took a bite of her grilled cheese. “Or at least it would be if they had more vegetarian options.”

Rainbow shrugged. “Gotta make do with what you can, I guess.”

Pinkie still wasn’t sure this restaurant was a good idea. There really wasn’t anything wrong with it, even if it lacked any sort of wow factor, but their only reason for being there was for the drinks. None of them were old enough to drink legally, but since Lightning Dust knew Rainbow, she just made a show of checking their IDs then pretended they were old enough.

And Pinkie didn’t have a problem with that normally; although she was the designated driver for the night, she did usually drink when her friends were. But it worried her to see alcohol involved after their previous birthday get-together had gone poorly. And of course, watching Fluttershy take another sip of her drink made her even more uncomfortable. It had only been a month since her accident, after all.

It was hard to tell if the alcohol helped Sunset unwind or just made her more irritable. As far as Pinkie could tell, it seemed to somehow do a little of both. Still, she couldn’t just give up on trying to cheer her friend up. “See, it’s just five friends having dinner together. You don’t even have to think of it as a birthday thing.”

“I guess…” Sunset turned her attention to finishing the last of her meal.

Fluttershy took hold of Sunset’s hand. “We just want to spend the day with you because we care about you.”

Sunset sighed and for a second, Pinkie thought she was going to complain about that as well. But then she managed a smile, even if it was an exasperated one. “Yeah, I know.”

On her other side, Applejack clapped Sunset on the back. “Aww, don’t mind her. You know how people her age get.”

Pinkie wasn’t sure teasing Sunset about her age was helpful. “Applejack, you’re older than her.”

That wasn’t true, strictly speaking. None of the others seemed to have noticed the discrepancy in Sunset’s age, but Pinkie had figured out that she was somehow a lot older than she said she was. There was no telling how much older since she wouldn’t talk about it, but that was probably at least part of why she didn’t like to celebrate her birthday.

Applejack just smirked. “Maybe, but some of us wear the years a little more clearly than others.”

“Yeah, that is true.” Sunset nudged Applejack playfully. “But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll grow up someday.”

It was nice to see Sunset joking around. As usual, Applejack just seemed to know exactly what to do with Sunset, even if it had seemed like the wrong thing at first. Maybe things really weren’t that bad after all.

Lightning Dust soon returned with their drinks, to the thanks of everyone at the table. Since everyone was either finished with their food or would be soon, she also brought the check. Sunset reached for it, but Applejack got it first.

“Nothin’ doin’, I got this one tonight.”

“I can help,” Pinkie said, already reaching for her wallet.

“With all the drinks we’ve had?” Sunset tried to grab the check, but Applejack moved it away. “Come on, you’ve got to let me pay something!”

Without ever looking at the check, Rainbow pulled out some money and set it on the table. It was more than enough to cover what she’d ordered. “We got it, Sunset.”

Sunset frowned, but didn’t try to convince them.

“You know, uhm, it… it wouldn’t be so bad to let our friends treat you once in a while,” Fluttershy said.

“I just don’t want anyone putting themselves out just for me.” Sunset took a large drink and looked off to the side. “Besides, it’s not like we have any reason to try and save money anymore.”

It was immediately clear that those words were as painful for Fluttershy to hear as they were for Sunset to say. No one said anything, though. No one wanted to be the one to address that topic.

Instead, Applejack placed money on the pile then passed the check to Pinkie, who did likewise. Even though they’d ordered nine drinks between everyone, the place was cheap enough that it wasn’t too bad split three ways. And even if Pinkie had been the cheapest since she’d only had soda, she was more than happy to cover a third herself, as well as chip in to leave Lightning Dust a generous tip.

Silence hung over them as they waited for everyone to finish their drinks. Fluttershy finished hers quickly, and Pinkie didn’t care if she finished her soda or not. Since Applejack probably felt the same about her water, it was mainly Sunset and Rainbow that they were waiting on.

For better or worse, Rainbow seemed to be eager to hurry things up. She drank quickly, and Pinkie was left unsure if she was more worried about that or about where the conversation might go. But if all the booze was getting to Rainbow, she didn’t show it.

On the other hand, Sunset sipped hers slowly. She didn’t seem to be aware that the others were waiting on her, and there was no more doubt about how the alcohol was affecting her: Sunset was definitely looking more irritated the longer they sat there.

The table’s mood was so low that even Pinkie struggled with what to say. But that didn’t mean she could just give up. Better to try shooting for a conversation, no matter how benign it was. “So, guess we’ll have to keep this place in mind next time we want to get together.”

Applejack nodded, clearly happy to have something to build a conversation on. “Yeah, I reckon it was a good suggestion, Rainbow.”

“Yeah.” Rainbow barely seemed to be paying attention, and it occurred to Pinkie that she was glancing at Sunset even though she hadn’t said anything in the past few minutes.

“What did you think of it, Fluttershy?” Pinkie asked.

“It was, uhm…” Fluttershy looked down at her empty drink. “I think I’d like to come back.”

“The drinks are pretty good.” Sunset punctuated her sentence by taking a large drink which made Pinkie frown.

“Can I have some?” Fluttershy asked. Sunset obliged and passed the glass.

“Are you… sure about that, Shy?” Pinkie asked.

Fluttershy hesitated when the drink reached her lips.

“The doctors didn’t say anything about not drinking,” Sunset pointed out bitterly. “Since we’re all tiptoeing around the subject.”

Fluttershy winced, then took a long drink.

Rainbow narrowed her eyes and didn’t pull any punches in her tone. “Yeah, imagine us having a little tact. Almost as if it’s a sensitive subject.”

Sunset matched her glare. “Excuse me? I think I know that a hell of a lot better than any of you do.”

“Any of us?” Fluttershy set the now empty glass down.

“I didn’t mean you, obviously.”

“No, you just wanted to get upset at our friends who came out to show you a good time.”

Sunset frowned and turned away. “Don’t give me that, I said I didn’t want to go out tonight.”

“Can you just get over yourself!?” Rainbow rose to her feet. “Jesus, we want to celebrate your birthday with you, and you make us out to be the bad guys for it!”

Sunset stared at her incredulously. “I didn’t say that! Just for fuck’s sake, I tell you I don’t want to do something, then you’re surprised when I don’t have fun doing it!”

“Alright fine! We’re a bunch of assholes for taking you out on your birthday!” Rainbow pointed accusingly. “But that doesn’t excuse you making Fluttershy feel like shit.”

“What?” Sunset stood up as well. “I didn’t –”

“Sunset.” Applejack rose as well and took hold of her arm. She didn’t yell, but she did speak forcefully. “We’re going for a walk. Now.”

Although Applejack took a step towards the entrance, Sunset stayed where she was. “I’m not a fucking kid, AJ.”

“Could’ve fooled me.” Since Sunset wouldn’t move, Applejack folded her arms and fixed her with a disapproving stare. “Ya maybe wanna start acting your age? Realizing when someone’s tryin’ to help you would be a good first step.”

“Yeah, okay, I know you all did a lot for me by taking me out tonight. And I do appreciate the thought, but I just wanted to stay home!”

“That’s nice and all, but I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about you and me goin’ for a walk ‘fore you say somethin’ you’re likely to regret.”

“Oh, right, because this is my fault.”

“I didn’t say it’s your fault, just that you’re actin’ like a child about it.”

“So what, it’s my fault then?” Rainbow asked. “Because where I’m standing, there’s only person –”

“Not helping!” Applejack shot at her. “In fact, both y’all are acting worse than children right now. And if you’re not gonna take a walk to calm down, then I think it’s best for all of us if we just drop it and get out of here.”

That’s something I can agree with,” Sunset muttered. On top of the fact that the mood was growing increasingly hostile, it had to have occurred to her that everyone was staring. Without waiting for the others, Sunset turned and walked out of the building.

Everyone else hesitated. Pinkie had been so taken aback by her friends’ sudden hostility that she’d wound up shrinking away from it as much as she could without leaving her seat. Looking around now, she saw that Fluttershy had done the same. She looked like she was on the verge of tears.

Well now, that wouldn’t do. Not while Pinkie Pie was around! “She probably just wanted that walk after all.”

“What the hell is her problem?” Rainbow asked. “Has she been acting like that a lot, Shy?”

“It’s… it’s my fault.” Fluttershy kept her eyes on the table and her voice quiet. “I shouldn’t… shouldn’t have pushed her to come today.”

Rainbow frowned. “No way, this is not your fault.”

It was silly to try to play it off as if nothing happened, and as much as Pinkie liked silliness, this didn’t quite seem like the time. “I think maybe everyone had a little too much to drink. Applejack’s right, we should probably call it a night.”

It really wasn’t ‘everyone’ so much as ‘Sunset and Rainbow’, but there was no way Pinkie was going to say that right next to Rainbow. Besides, the end result was the same; they all agreed to head home for the night, so Applejack led the way out of the restaurant.

They found Sunset leaning against Pinkie’s minivan, waiting for them. At least the rain that they’d been having for the past few days had let up, so she wasn’t wet while she waited. She kept her eyes off her friends, but Pinkie thought she looked more embarrassed by her outbreak than upset.

She unlocked the minivan and everyone climbed in. Rainbow sat up front, which was good – it would be harder for her to talk to Sunset if she wasn’t right behind her. Sunset and Fluttershy took the middle row, with Applejack sitting behind the couple.

The whole way to Rainbow’s house, the only sounds in the car came from the radio and Pinkie singing along to it. She had hoped that she could get the others to join in with her, but she had no success.

It was probably for the best. Silent car rides with friends might be uncomfortable, but it was better than… whatever that had been back at the restaurant.

Maybe things would turn around after they dropped Rainbow off. “Good night, Dashie,” Pinkie said as Rainbow left the vehicle. “Thanks for the suggestion, we’ll have to go again sometime!”

“If we’re not banned after that,” Rainbow muttered. If Sunset heard her, she chose to pretend otherwise. Although there was no doubt that Sunset must’ve heard when Rainbow turned to Fluttershy to tell her, “If you need me for anything, call me. Alright, Shy?”

Fluttershy seemed more uncomfortable than appreciative of the gesture. “Uhm, of course. Good night, Dash.”

“Night, Shy.” Rainbow addressed the others, but not all of them. “Later, AJ, Pinks.”

She closed the door, and Sunset didn’t show any indication that anything had happened at all. Well, no big indication, at least. Pinkie was now positive that her expression was one of shame.

“Next stop, Applejack’s!” Pinkie announced as she pulled out.

Conversation came a little easier with Rainbow and Sunset separated, although Applejack’s tone was clearly still forced. “So uh… how ya feelin’, Sunset?”

“I’m fine,” Sunset answered, although she didn’t sound like it. She sounded exhausted.

“You just need some sleep,” Pinkie said. “Tomorrow, you’ll be good as new!”

“Yeah.” Sunset leaned her head back. “I just need some sleep.”

It was good to hear Sunset’s voice without her yelling, even if they didn’t hear much of it. The drive to Sweet Apple Acres was almost as quiet as the one to Rainbow’s had been, and Fluttershy didn’t talk at all.

When they reached Applejack’s house, she paused on her way out to give hugs to both Sunset and Fluttershy. “Y’all let me know if ya need anything.”

“I think we’ll manage,” Sunset said. “See you, AJ.”

“You two take care.” Since it would be hard to hug Pinkie in the driver’s seat, Applejack just patted her arm. “G’night, Pinkie.”

“Good night, Applejack.”

Even after she was out, she stopped to wave goodbye. “You two next,” Pinkie said as she waved back.

“Yeah…” Sunset sighed.

“Everything okay?” Pinkie asked, then thought better of it before Sunset could answer. “Wait, you’re probably tired of that question. Let’s try another one: Why does everyone assume that woodchucks can’t chuck wood? I bet they could if they tried.”

Fluttershy gave a small laugh, and Pinkie caught Sunset glancing at her as she looked behind to back up. “I’m… sorry, Shy. I acted like an ass all evening.”

Pinkie shifted into drive as she pulled onto the road and kept her eyes off the couple to give them as much privacy as she could. She did listen intently, however.

“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you to go out when you didn’t want to.”

Sunset sighed. “No, it was fine. I just went and made a mess of the evening… Rainbow was really pissed.”

“Let me worry about Rainbow.”

“I should apologize to you too, Pinkie. And, well, to everyone.”

“No need to worry about me,” Pinkie assured her. “I’m just happy to hear you two sounding better.”

“Don’t worry,” Sunset said with a bit of her usual cockiness showing through again, “I’ll be sure to take good care of Fluttershy.”

“You sure about that?” Pinkie asked with a grin. “I always kinda thought it was Fluttershy taking care of you.”

“Pinkie, Pinkie, Pinkie…” Sunset chuckled. “Come on now, you should know those aren’t mutually exclusive.”

“I don’t think I do much to take care of anyone these days,” Fluttershy said sadly. “I can’t even take care of myself…”

“You take care of lots of people,” Pinkie said. “You always make me feel better when I’m feeling down.”

“Pinkie, you’re never feeling down,” Sunset said.

“Well not when you two are around, silly! How would you ever know?”

“Oh, so it’s both of us now?” Sunset asked.

“Of course it is!”

Fluttershy laughed, which was a sound Pinkie loved hearing. It had been too long since she’d heard Fluttershy sound happy. “I wish we could just have a day like this. Laughing and making silly jokes, just like we used to.”

“We can,” Sunset said. “I know I kind of messed things up tonight, but things are going to get better. I promise.”

“You know, we don’t have to call it a night,” Pinkie pointed out.

“What do you mean?” Fluttershy asked.

“I mean that the three of us should hit the town!” It was for the best that they dropped off Rainbow, and Applejack did have work in the morning, but that was no reason for the rest of them to give up on the night.

“I… I don’t know,” Fluttershy said. “What would we even do?”

“Whatever we want! We could catch a late movie, or see if there are any good bands playing, or see if the arcade is still open, or anything!”

“I… I don’t know…”

“Well… why not?” Sunset asked. “We can just go home if that’s what you want, but you did just say you wanted to do more fun things. So what do you say? A night out could be good for both of us.”

Pinkie glanced in her rearview mirror in time to see a slight smile crawl across Fluttershy’s face. “You know what, you’re right. Let’s do it, Pinkie.”

“Alrighty, now that’s what I wanted to hear! Look out Everton, because here we come!” Pinkie turned onto a different street, one leading downtown. Her spirits soared as she drove, confident that nothing could go wrong now.


It was easy to see exactly where the night had gone wrong. The three friends had first gone to a movie, which had been the highlight of the night. While a movie wasn’t the best for socializing, Pinkie was sure that’s why Fluttershy had suggested it. They had all liked the movie, even if Pinkie liked seeing her two friends cuddling up together while they watched it even more.

After that, Pinkie had suspected they’d call it a night, but they didn’t. They wound up walking around downtown looking for places that were still open, and stopped into a bar to get a few sodas and watch a little live music.

Which, in retrospect, it had been a terrible idea for reasons other than their ludicrous prices.

Since none of them knew anyone inside and they didn’t have fake IDs, it wasn’t like they could get alcohol. At least, Pinkie wouldn’t have been able to get alcohol. Sunset struck up a conversation with the bartender where she sprinkled in some light flirting, an offhand comment about how annoying it was that all the kids were out of school for the summer, and capped it off with casually ordering a drink.

Somehow, Sunset had managed to get the bartender to completely neglect to ID her with nothing more than her boundless charisma. Pinkie wondered if that was how she got alcohol regularly, but decided she didn’t really want to know.

‘It’s okay,’ Pinkie told herself. ‘We’re just gonna watch a little more of the show, then I’ll get the two of them home. It’s not like she’s really drinking too much.’

“Can I get a couple more?” Sunset asked the bartender, who obliged far too willingly. Sunset passed one of the drinks to Fluttershy.

“This guy really isn’t that good…” Fluttershy said about the performer as she drank some of her… whatever it was. Pinkie tried to not pay too much attention.

“He’s not that bad,” Sunset said. The guy was playing guitar and singing along to a recording of the other instruments.

“I guess. But Dashie’s band is much better.”

Sunset chuckled. “Yeah, you would say that.”

“It’s true.”

“I agree with Fluttershy,” Pinkie said. “Bitchette has been sounding really great lately.”

Sunset smirked. “Maybe they could come play here. Then we can get free drinks as part of their entourage.”

“I don’t think it works that way,” Pinkie said, although Sunset didn’t seem to hear over the sound of Fluttershy’s laughter.

“I think they could get into much better places. That we could also get free drinks in.”

“Well, I’m all for that!”

They both laughed and Sunset put an arm around Fluttershy. “Love you, Shy.”

“Love you too, Sunny.”

“So, uh…” the bartender said from behind them. “You two together then?”

Sunset momentarily looked shocked, but it was completely gone by the time she turned around. Flirting was one of the ways she’d gotten him to skip the ID check, and finding out she was taken might burn that bridge.

But Sunset just looked at Fluttershy and beamed. “Yup! Imagine, someone like me with a girl like this? I mean, how lucky can I get?”

The bartender was clearly irritated, but couldn’t say anything without looking like a jerk. “Yeah, sure. Well, you two enjoy yourselves, I should check on my other customers.”

They waited until he left, then Fluttershy laughed. “I… don’t think we’re getting any other drinks.”

“Yeah, me either.” Sunset finished off her drink, then set the glass down roughly on the counter. “Well, whatever. It was good while it lasted.”

“Yeah.” Fluttershy finished hers, then mimicked Sunset with her glass. They both laughed again.

“Wanna get out of here?” Sunset asked.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

Pinkie breathed a sigh of relief, then followed the couple out of the bar. It was great to see the couple happy, but Pinkie didn’t care what they said. It wasn’t good to drink that much after such a bad accident, and she was wary of another blow up like in the restaurant.

“Where to next?” Sunset asked, looking around.

“What do you say we get you two home?” Pinkie suggested.

She was prepared for them to protest, but not for how good they would be at it. “Aww, come on, Pinkie.” Sunset wore the biggest grin Pinkie had seen on her in ages. “You gotta help me show this lovely lady a good time!”

Fluttershy blushed and grabbed hold of Sunset. She normally was too shy to go for public displays of affection, and yet here she was, holding onto her girlfriend in the middle of a crowded downtown sidewalk. “Please, Pinkie?”

Well that just wasn’t even fair. Pinkie resigned herself to her fate with a smile on her face. “How can I say no to that!? What’s next?”

“I think we should go…” Sunset started walking, with Fluttershy still holding onto her. “This way!”

Fluttershy just giggled.

‘As long as we stay away from anywhere with more alcohol, it doesn’t really matter. They already drank what they’re going to, and this way I can keep an eye on them.’

Sunset seemed to notice something and stopped. Pinkie couldn’t tell what it was, because Sunset quickly turned to face Fluttershy instead. “Shy, I love you. I love you so much.”

Fluttershy smiled. “And I love you too, Sunny.”

“And you know… I’m always going to love you, no matter what.”

“I’ll always love you.” Fluttershy beamed and pulled herself closer to Sunset for a kiss.

Sunset kissed her, then stepped back and grinned. “And I want to prove it. So that way, no matter what happens, you’ll know that I love you and always will.”

“Silly Sunny, you don’t need to prove anything, I already know that.”

“I know, but I want to.” Sunset gestured across the street to a shop, and Pinkie’s mind reeled when she saw what kind of shop it was. “I’m gonna get a tattoo!”

Fluttershy’s face moved from shock to wonderment, but she shook her head anyway. “Sunny, you don’t have to do anything like that.”

“Yeah, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” Pinkie said. “I mean, a tattoo? That’s forever! Shouldn’t you think about it a bit more?”

Sunset shook her head. “Nope. I already know. Yeah, it’s forever, but so are we.”

“I just don’t want you to regret anything.”

Sunset chuckled. “Come on, I’m not gonna get Fluttershy’s name across my ass. How could I regret something tasteful like… butterflies. Three butterflies for Fluttershy.”

Pinkie still wasn’t convinced. “That does sound really nice, but –”

“Exactly!” Sunset turned her attention back to Fluttershy. “Come on, what do you say, Shy? You think it’s a good idea, right?”

“I…” Fluttershy stepped forward again and leaned her head against Sunset’s chest. “Do you really want this?”

“I do.”

“Then… I do, too.”

It was the way they looked at each other after speaking that changed Pinkie’s mind. Or rather, that melted away her ability to speak her mind. She was by no means convinced that this was a good idea, but she wanted so badly for them to be this happy from now on. This sure that no matter what, things would work because the two of them would make them work.

“Alright then, what are we waiting for!” Pinkie raised a fist in the air and led the charge to the tattoo parlor. “Let’s get you those butterflies!”

There was always the chance that the tattoo parlor would be closed, but they soon found that wasn’t the case. Within minutes, Sunset was telling an artist what she wanted and rolling up her sleeve so he could get to her shoulder.

He did a few sketches, they agreed on a price, and she signed some forms. It was a straightforward process that took maybe half an hour, then they were inking it in.

“Does it hurt?” Fluttershy asked as he worked.

“A little,” Sunset answered. “Not too bad. It’s more like a mild stinging sensation that just keeps going. So you know, not great, but it’s worth it.”

“It definitely is,” the tattoo artist said. Predictably, he was covered in tattoos, many of which had to have hurt a lot more than a few butterflies on a shoulder.

They watched as the butterflies took shape. Between his hands, the needle, and the ink, it was hard to see the ones he was working on while he did them, but they could clearly see the ones he finished when he moved onto another.

The butterflies were two-toned, pink wings and teal bodies, which stuck out nicely on Sunset’s amber skin. Pinkie had to admit, they did look great. Maybe she really wouldn’t regret them in the morning.

“Uhm,” Fluttershy said as they were finishing up, “would… do you think I could get one, too?”

“What?” Sunset nearly turned so quickly that she risked messing up the tattoo. “You sure about that?”

“I… I’d like a sun.” Fluttershy looked at Sunset and smiled. “A red and yellow one, in the same place.”

“I don’t know, Shy,” Pinkie said. “Isn’t this a little sudden?”

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Sunset said. “I’m sorry, Shy, but we don’t have enough money for another one right now. Maybe another time.”

“Oh…” Fluttershy cast her eyes down.

It was perfect. It didn’t come down to any of them deciding if this was a good idea or not, it simply wasn’t feasible. Which was why Pinkie shocked herself with what she asked next. “Are you sure you really want this?”

Fluttershy looked at her, equal parts determination and love for Sunset. “I am. I know I want to do this.

Pinkie took a deep breath then smiled. “Then I’ll pay for it.”

Of course, Sunset was quick to shoot it down. “No way, you don’t have to do that.”

Before Pinkie could answer one way or another, Fluttershy was already speaking up. “Sunny… I really want to do this. I love you, and I want to show that just as much as you do.”

Sunset hesitated, and the tattoo artist finished as she did. “Tell you what, since this is a couple thing I’ll give you a special rate on the second one. If we get it done tonight.”

Sunset sighed. “Fine, but at least let me cover part of it.”

They switched places and Fluttershy went through the same process that Sunset did. It was strange to see Fluttershy sitting in the chair for a tattoo, and Pinkie could only wonder what Rainbow would think.

“Ow!” Fluttershy winced when the needle touched her skin, but she held still.

“How you doing, Shy?” Sunset asked.

Despite the needle, Fluttershy managed to smile. “I’m looking forward to this being done, but I’m alright.”

Because it was one solid picture, the sun was a little harder to watch come to life than the butterflies had been. Still, it was incredibly cool to see what they could, and Pinkie found herself jealous of both of her friends. Maybe someday she’d do something similar.

The whole time he worked, the tattoo artist joined them in friendly conversation to help keep Fluttershy’s mind off the needle. She didn’t talk much, but it was clear that it helped her a lot.

“All done,” he said after a while. He brought over a mirror for Fluttershy to examine herself. The yellow showed up a lot less on her yellow skin, but it was a distinct enough shade to be visible. And more importantly, the couple would both know it was there.

Although her doubt still never fully left, watching Sunset and Fluttershy beam at each other quieted it more. After a few suggestions on how to best take care of the tattoos, the group was on their way out. They all left the tattoo parlor with no regrets, and all they could hope for was that they’d still feel the same in the morning.

“So are we ready to head home now?” Pinkie asked once they were out.

“I know I am,” Sunset said. “As much as I love the tattoos, I’d also love to go and lie down after getting mine.”

“I agree completely,” Fluttershy said. She reached for her arm, remembered herself, and left it alone. “It’s itchy.”

“I heard that gets worse over the next few days,” Sunset said. “Can we stop at a store on the way back for some of the lotion the guy recommended?”

“Sure thing,” Pinkie said. “I can’t wait to see what everyone says after this one.”

“Me either,” Fluttershy said. “But really… I already know what the only person who matters thinks.”

“Yeah, me too.” Sunset paused as they reached the minivan. “Love you, Shy. Forever.”

Fluttershy giggled and kissed Sunset before opening the door. “Love you too, Sunny. Forever.”

Pinkie couldn’t help but beam as brightly as if she were the one in love. ‘Please let things work out for them… Please, just let this work.’

24 – Little White Lies

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Chapter Twenty-Four

Little White Lies

Being four thousand miles from her friends was no reason for Rarity to not be a part of their lives. If anything, it meant that she had to try that much harder to be there for them. Anything less than her best was simply not good enough for her friends.

That was why she was up into the early AM hours even though she had to get up in the morning. What was missing out on a little sleep in the face of supporting one of her best and oldest friends?

Even so, as Rarity flipped through TV channels and sipped on yet another tea, she did hope that Fluttershy would call her soon. She could wait all night if she had to, but on tonight of all nights, she so very much hoped she would not have to.

“…un nouvel épisode des Aventures Animalières de Pinceau! Aujourd'hui, nous nous intéresserons au plus maléfique de tous les animaux – le lapin.”

Rarity changed the channel, even if that sounded like a show Fluttershy would like.

“…deux poney princesses et soeurs qui faisaient régner la paix…”

Something about that one gave her déjà vu. She changed the channel quickly.

“…The Last Warmare, bientôt dans les salles –”

The commercial was interrupted by Rarity’s phone ringing. She quickly turned off the TV and checked it to see the call was from a messaging app, just as she’d hoped. She smiled as she answered. “Fluttershy! Allô!”

“Hi, Rarity.”

“So don’t make me wait another moment; how did everything go?”

“It was nice. A little much, but that’s okay.” Fluttershy sounded happy, which was great to hear. She hadn’t sounded like that much during their regular phone calls over the past two months. “It was nice to see everyone again.”

“I trust they went easy on you? Your first day back at work shouldn’t be too difficult.”

Fluttershy laughed. “Yes, it was very easy. They barely gave me anything at all to do, it was almost like I was new all over again.”

“They just want to get you back into things slowly.”

“I know.”

That had been what Rarity really wanted to talk to Fluttershy about – her first day back to work was a huge deal, after all – but now that they were on the phone, there really wasn’t any reason not to check in on how the other aspects of her life were going. “And how are things with Sunset?”

There was a worrying hesitation on the other end, then Fluttershy answered quietly. “Uhm, give me a minute…” Fluttershy must have held the phone away from her mouth, because she sounded further away when she said, “I’m going to sit outside for a bit.”

There were a few moments of silence during which Rarity sipped her tea, then she heard a door open and close. “That bad?”

“It’s… I just don’t want to bring things back up…”

That didn’t do anything to reassure Rarity, but but she shoved those concerns down. Fluttershy deserved her best, of course. “Why don’t you tell me what happened? Maybe I can help somehow.”

“Thank you, but… I don’t think you can.”

“Be that as it may, you should still talk about it. You must’ve needed to get something off your chest if you decided to bring the conversation outside. And into the rain, from the sound of it.”

“It’s been raining nonstop lately… I hate the rain ever since…” Fluttershy took a deep breath. “I’m dry here, though.”

“Be that as it may, you could’ve stayed inside. I’m sure you must have a good reason for stepping out, and you know there is no sense in beating around the bush.”

Fluttershy sighed. “You’re right… The thing is we sort of had another argument.”

“I see.” Fluttershy had told Rarity about a few arguments they’d had. One might hope that getting tattoos of each other could have reaffirmed their devotion to one another, and that the arguments would cease. One would, however, be as sorely disappointed as Rarity was in finding that to not be the case.

“This time it was about the insurance money.”

“But I thought everything was settled with the insurance company?” It had taken some time, but the insurance company had finally reimbursed Sunset for damages during the car crash. The car itself was beyond repair, or so Rarity had been told, but they’d be able to get a new one in its place.

“It is. The money was deposited into Sunset’s bank account, and should clear within a few days.”

“Well, that’s wonderful! Whatever could be the matter then?”

“Sunset is.”

“Oh. I see.” In truth, Rarity didn’t see at all. Even when they had their little lover’s spats, Fluttershy never so blatantly blamed Sunset before. “What, er, has she done, exactly?”

“She doesn’t want to do anything. That’s the problem.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Fluttershy sighed deeply once more. “I thought we would get a new car. Then I could finally learn to drive and I wouldn’t need to rely on other people to get around. Plus it would help with groceries, and just…”

“I understand. One motorcycle between two people is not nearly enough. Particularly when only one of you can drive it.”

“Exactly! But Sunset doesn’t want to get another car.”

Rarity furrowed her brow. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why ever not?”

“She won’t say so, but I’m sure it’s because then she’ll have to finish teaching me to drive it. I… I don’t think she trusts me to drive.”

It was easy to see where Sunset’s hesitation came from, but that certainly was taking things a bit too far. “Now that’s just silly. Your lessons were going so well, she has no reason at all to doubt you.”

“She just seems so distant lately. I don’t know what she’s thinking most of the time.”

“Darling, you simply must put your foot down on this! If you want, I can give her a piece of my mind as well.”

“I’ll talk to her again. You don’t have to worry yourself about it.”

“Alright, but do remember that I’m happy to help if I can. We’ll change her mind about this, don’t you fret.”

“Thanks, Rarity.” There, at least Fluttershy was sounding a little better.

And with that in mind, it was probably a good place to leave their conversation. “I’m terribly sorry, darling, but I really should be getting to bed.”

“Oh! It’s really late there, isn’t it?”

“No need to apologize, it’s hardly past my usual bedtime.” That was a lie, and one aided by Fluttershy’s poor grasp on time zones. Try as she might, she never could quite remember that Rarity was six hours ahead of her. “Do let me know how things go.”

“Will do. And thanks again.”

“Think nothing of it, darling. Now go in there and don’t take no for an answer!”

Fluttershy giggled. “Alright. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Rarity hung up and found a yawn work its way out right on cue. At least there was no doubt that she would sleep well.

She frowned as she noticed the half-filled teacup. She’d forgotten about it, and now she found herself wholly uninterested in finishing it. She should at least rinse the cup, but she couldn’t even find the energy to dump it.

It had been a busy day, and another busy one was waiting for her in the morning. In the end, Rarity barely found the energy to turn her lights off on the way to bed.


Rarity and mornings had never seen eye to eye, and it was not likely they ever would.

A coffee mug took a place beside the tea cup from the previous night. Rarity had never been terribly fond of coffee, but one had to use what they could on days like this.

Rarity idly checked her phone while she drank. She opened the group chat app that she used to keep in touch with her friends back in Everton, and surprisingly, she saw that Sunset was online. Early morning for Rarity was the middle of the night for Sunset, so that was worrying.

Knowing that Sunset would have some excuse or other ready if Rarity messaged her, she instead opted to call her. Hopefully she would catch her unaware and get the real answer about what she was doing up.

“Hey, Rarity.” Although Sunset didn’t sound great, that wasn’t unexpected. Frankly, it was something of a miracle that she even answered at all. She was known to ignore calls at the best of times, which this certainly wasn’t.

“Hello, Sunset. You’re up rather late, I see.”

“No rest for the wicked.”

Rarity allowed a small smile as she drank more coffee. “I do know the feeling. But that doesn’t explain why you are up.”

“I dunno, pretty sure turning into a demon nets you wicked status for life.”

“Now now, do not tell me you’re still losing sleep over that.” Sadly, if anyone was going to beat herself up over something that happened two years ago, it would be Sunset.

“Nah, I’m just joking.” Sunset stifled a yawn, which still found its way to Rarity. “I don’t really have a good reason to be up. No need to worry about me, though.”

“Come now, darling, I worry about you whether I need to or not. You really ought to know these things by now.”

“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to convince you not to. I’m pretty stubborn, I’m told.”

“Nor does that mean you’ll ever succeed.” Rarity found herself grinning in spite of herself. Although there was clearly something going on, Sunset was simply too much fun to talk to. “And since you won’t convince me not to worry, you might as well drop the act. What’s the real reason you’re awake so late on a work night.”

“Damn it. Do you really have my work schedule memorized?”

“Well, it’s not hard to remember the days you work when you work all of them.”

Sunset laughed. “Alright, you got me there.”

Really, it had been a guess. But since Sunset worked five days a week, it was a safe guess that any given day was a workday.

“The truth is… Fluttershy and I had a fight.”

Rarity winced. “Yes, Fluttershy mentioned something about that.”

“No, another one. After you got off the phone with her.”

The conversation was feeling much less fun all of a sudden. “About the car again?”

“So she did talk to you about that.”

Rarity didn’t like the hint of accusation in Sunset’s tone. “Yes, just as you are going to now. I’m your friend, and I want to be there for both of you. She tells me you don’t want to buy a new car.”

“Did she tell you why though?”

As was often the case when discussions like this happened, Sunset’s tone was that of someone sure she was about to make the winning play. Rarity wouldn’t mind the tone if she wasn’t usually right.

“Well, not exactly. But I can hardly think of a good reason to not get another car for the two of you.”

“I want to put the money towards her school tuition.”

“Oh.” As usual, Sunset had managed the winning play. “But I thought she had financial aid to cover the costs?”

“For most of it, yeah. And we can cover the rest for the rate she’s been going, but if she doesn’t start taking more classes, she’s not looking to graduate for years to come. If we invest the money in her future, she’ll be able to start going to school full-time. This is the best chance we’ve got to achieve her dream of becoming a veterinarian.”

‘Really, Fluttershy?’ While Fluttershy’s point was still clear, how could she possibly not see Sunset’s point as well? “And what did Fluttershy have to say about that idea.”

“Not much,” Sunset said irritably. “She was just so focused on getting a new car. And yeah, I get it. It will suck not having a car for a bit, but that’s something we can work out. The money could even go to both, save some for school and some for a car.”

“It’s enough for both? Then what’s the issue, exactly?”

“Because the only way it’s enough for both is to get a cheap used car and hope it doesn’t need too much work. Which isn’t exactly reassuring, but that’s not what I want to do anyway. The smartest thing to do is to start a car fund and a school fund, then just keep paying into both.”

Rarity took another drink of coffee. “That is very forward thinking.” She knew Sunset could be a little pushy sometimes, but she was at a loss for why Fluttershy couldn’t see this was a good idea. “I’ll talk to Fluttershy. Maybe I can get her to come around to the idea. Perhaps I could even help pay –”

“No,” Sunset said quickly and sharply. She sighed. “I’m sorry. I do really appreciate it, but we can do this. You’ve done way more than enough already, and really, it’s not like we don’t know how to make things work without the car in the meantime.”

“Okay, have it your way.” Rarity knew a losing battle when she saw one. Besides, it sounded like she might have to save her strength for another battle. “Nevertheless, I shall still talk with Fluttershy. Perhaps if she sees someone else thinks this is for the best, she’ll come around to the idea.”

“Thanks, Rarity.”

“Now then, I hate to run but I do have a busy day ahead of me. And you need to get to bed.”

Sunset laughed. “Yeah, alright. I’ll get some sleep.”

“Good. And don’t think I’m above asking Fluttershy to make sure you did. I expect to hear that you two were cuddled up together no later than – goodness, is that the time? I really do need to get going, I’m afraid…”

“Go, I’ll be fine.”

“You better be! Au revoir!”

“Bye.”

Rarity hung up the phone and downed the remaining coffee, ignoring the fact that it was still too hot for comfort. With no time to waste, she jumped to her feet to begin her day.


“Suri, could you give me a second opinion on this?” Rarity gave her design one last once over for what must have been the hundredth time that day, and for the hundredth time, she could not be certain she liked what she saw.

Suri Polomare gave the dress a cursory glance before returning to her own project. “Mhm, looks good.”

That wasn’t quite the second opinion Rarity had hoped for. “You hardly looked at them! Please, Suri, I need this to be perfect!”

Suri rolled her eyes. “Everything you do is perfect, okay? You’re Hoity Toity’s favorite after all.”

It was disappointing that even after all these months, Suri still hadn’t improved her attitude. They should have been the best of friends. They had arrived in France together to study under Hoity Toity, both of them coming from Everton, and were even the same age. They had been on opposite sides during the Friendship Games, but if anything, that ought to have been a lesson in putting such petty differences aside.

But no matter how nice Rarity was to her, Suri always met her with warm indifference. She had a knack for always saying things that sounded nice with a smile on her face, but also making it perfectly clear that she didn’t actually care.

Fortunately, someone much more helpful walked in. Coco Pommel had been nothing short of wonderful to Rarity since they’d met, and even if she wasn’t a designer herself, she had a keen eye and more than enough knowledge of the field.

Unfortunately, she didn’t walk in alone. Coco entered the room beside her boss, Hoity Toity. And although he was also Rarity’s mentor, asking his opinion of the outfits was simply not an option; he had much to teach his protégés, but he believed in giving lessons at his whim and then letting them sink or swim on their own merits. Even asking Coco’s opinion near him would be too risky.

Well then there was nothing else to it. Rarity would just have to fall back on her own self-confidence! “Bonjour, Monsieur Toity! And Mademoiselle Pommel, so lovely to see you!”

“Hi, Miss Rarity,” Coco said while Hoity Toity looked over her designs. “How are the final adjustments going.”

“Quite well, I think,” Rarity said, hoping one of them would offer some insight into whether or not that was the case.

These are the designs you’re submitting?” Hoity Toity said with a frown.

Every impulse told her to deny it, to say that she was still working on it or that she would have something different completely. But every impulse was resisted, and Rarity answered with her head high. “Yes. I’m quite satisfied with them.”

Hoity Toity looked them over once more, then showed a rare smile. “That’s the confidence I want to hear. These outfits are sure to stand out during the show.”

Considering Hoity Toity had outfits of his own in the show, that was immensely high praise from the seasoned designer. “Thank you, Monsieur Toity.”

“I have high expectations for you,” Hoity Toity said as he left the outfits. “Coco, make sure Rarity has everything she needs for Friday’s showcase to be perfect.”

“Yes, sir.”

Perfect. With Coco’s help, Rarity was sure to make the most of her remaining time. And since Hoity Toity was leaving them in peace, she wouldn’t even need to worry about him thinking she relied on her friend too much.

“Coco, give me a hand with this.”

Or Suri could make pleasant sounding demands to try and monopolize Coco’s time. Honestly, Rarity wasn’t sure why she was even surprised.

Coco looked uncertainly at Rarity. “But Monsieur Toity asked me to help Rarity.”

Suri laughed dismissively. “Oh, come on! You heard him, her designs are already perfect, okay? But this I need to get the staff ensembles sewn together and we’re running out of time.”

‘You wouldn’t be running out of time if you hadn’t protested the job so much,’ Rarity thought bitterly. Every staff member’s outfit at the fashion show had been designed and assembled by apprentice designers. Suri hadn’t been happy about being left out of the show and had wasted design time to try and convince Hoity Toity to change his mind.

But Rarity forced the bitter lump back down her throat and offered a sweet smile instead. “Never fret, I’ll manage for a time. Go on and help Suri with her outfits. While the staff outfits may not be part of the show itself, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the best we can give them! Although I would like your assistance once you two are done.”

“Of course,” Suri said with a smile that Rarity couldn’t possibly trust. “And just wait until Hoity Toity sees my work now that I can really show him what I can do.”

Rarity rolled her eyes and returned to adjusting small details on her dresses. Since both Rarity and Suri were apprentice designers to Hoity Toity, they had worked together on the staff outfits in the past. Meaning, of course, that they bickered over the best approach. But now that Rarity was in the show, it had fallen to Suri to work on the outfits solo.

Or rather, it seemed that Rarity would be the one working solo. ‘Now now, this is no reason to go getting myself down and out about things. I’ve done plenty of projects all on my own! I just need to perfect six stunning designs by tomorrow that will set the tone for my entire career! So… no pressure.”

The clock ticked through the minutes at a rate that was normally reserved for hours, each one stretching into eternity. The designs had been crystal clear in her head for ages, but as she worked them into reality, things shifted. For the better, she assured herself, but each small change rippled into the next small change until they created the waves that she was drowning under.

But while she had never been the strongest swimmer, if there was one thing Rarity had going for her, it was her tenacity. It didn’t matter if she was stranded, and it didn’t matter if she was sinking – nothing was going to keep Rarity from rising above on albatross wings and soaring.

“Idea!” she said suddenly. She wheeled around and marched to the other side of the studio where Coco was still assisting Suri. “Suri, I simply must steal Coco away from you for a moment!”

Suri put on her trademark plastic smile, but Rarity wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Before she could no doubt make an argument that she needed Coco more, Rarity shut it down. “I need to completely rework several of my designs, and I feel Coco’s input and assistance will be simply invaluable.”

“Maybe, but –”

“Coco, if you’d please.”

“Of course, Miss Rarity.”

The way Coco smiled as they left Suri floundering in their wake didn’t escape Rarity’s attention. She hid it well, but she did have a bit of a mischievous side.

“Are you really going to rework the designs?”

“I already have,” Rarity said, tapping her head. “It may not be on paper, but I’ve got everything down in here. That’s why I simply must have you working with me to get it out here.” Rarity gestured to the mannequins with their now-defunct outfits on them. “No one else could possibly be in sync with me enough to pull this off.”

Coco nodded and smiled. “I’ll do my best!”

“I hadn’t a thought to the contrary.”

“You’re really changing the designs after Hoity Toity already gave his approval?” Suri said with a grin. “You should just take the win when you can get it.”

“This is about more than Hoity Toity. I need these designs to impress everyone at the show on Friday. Approval simply isn’t good enough. Now if you don’t mind, we’re going to be very busy getting things ready.”

Suri huffed and went back to her own outfits, allowing Rarity and Coco to get started. “So what’s the plan.”

“Close your eyes,” Rarity instructed, and Coco obliged. “Imagine endless ocean as far as you can see, nothing but waves upon waves. But you’re above it all! An albatross, soaring above the water, unrivalled queen of the ocean skies!”

Suri laughed. “That’s your idea!?”

Coco ignored her and opened her eyes. “I think it’s great inspiration. So were you thinking feathers for accents?”

“Yes, and waves of blue for the trim.”

“I’ll get us some supplies.”

Rarity couldn’t resist throwing her arms around Coco. “Thank you so much, I’d be truly lost without you!”

Coco patted her on the back as they hugged. “It’s my pleasure, Miss Rarity. I’ll also print up some pictures for inspiration.”

“Brilliant idea.” Rarity pulled away, but kept her arms on Coco’s shoulders. “Only… do you think it’s wise? Perhaps I shouldn’t change things so late in the game…”

“Now now, you’re Miss Rarity! You can do anything! I’m positive that you can pull this off.”

Rarity shook her head. “No, darling. We can together!”

“Right!” Coco nodded, then excitedly ran off to get everything together.

“Touching,” Suri said.

“Miss Polomane, I do believe you were just telling me how much work you’ve left for the last minute. Perhaps it would be wise to get back to it?”

“Just finished, actually.”

‘Good, then we’ll have the studio to ourselves.’ Rarity wore a wry smile as she turned around. “So soon? One might wonder if you ever really needed Coco’s help to begin with.”

“Sometimes I forget how good I am.”

“Don’t we all, darling. Well, enjoy your time off.”

“Oh, I will. Have fun staying up until midnight to try and get this done in time.”

“Tata!”

Mercifully, Suri left. While she waited for Coco to come back, Rarity spent her time doing what work she could on her own.

The time flew as effortlessly as her albatross would, and Coco returned long before Rarity had expected her to. “I hope I chose the right colors.”

Rarity examined the materials coco brought and beamed. “Darling, these are exquisite.”

Coco handed her the inspiration printouts. Rarity flipped through various pictures of the ocean and albatrosses, noting one detail in particular. “We simply must work this eye design into the makeup. Will you model for me?”

Coco’s mouth fell open and she blinked. “Me? But I’m not a model.”

Rarity chuckled. “Well I can’t very well put makeup on the mannequin, and I would so like to see how the whole thing turns out. Besides, you’d make a positively lovely model, Miss Pommel. Especially with that delightful blush you’re now sporting!”

“M-Miss Rarity…” Coco giggled. “Okay. If you think I’m good enough, then of course I will.”

If time flew by when Rarity had begun her redesign, then it escaped her completely while she worked with Coco. As Rarity had suspected, Coco made for a wonderful model, and her seafoam green hair even gave Rarity some more ideas for how to tie everything together.

She only hoped that Coco felt the same. She certainly seemed to be enjoying herself, but as daylight faded, Rarity did have to wonder if there wasn’t somewhere else she’d rather be.

Although if there was, she did a poor job of showing it. Even when she announced she was going to go get them dinner, Coco showed no hints of growing weary assisting Rarity.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather turn in for the night? I would understand completely if you did. And it really is just a few more minor alterations I’d need to make.”

Coco shook her head. “You can’t fool me, I know this is more than a few minor alterations. I couldn’t leave you now.”

Part of Rarity wanted to argue so that her friend wouldn’t be so clearly putting herself out. But she really did need the help… “Okay, but you simply must let me make this up for you when I have the chance!”

“If you insist. I’ll be back in a little bit.”

Rarity only felt the exhaustion when Coco left. They’d been at it for hours, and would be at it for at least a few more. It looked like Rarity was heading for another night in the studio suite – one of two small cots that they kept in a corner to accommodate their need for occasional naps during the long hours they worked.

But first, a small break was in order. Rarity picked up her phone to check the time, which reminded her that she had something she needed to do. And with the studio to herself, there would be no better time to do it.

She opened the chat app she used to talk to her friends across the ocean and found Fluttershy on it. She wasn’t online, but Rarity tried calling her anyway.

After a few rings, Fluttershy answered. “Hello, Rarity.”

Rarity sucked up all the exhaustion and put on a positive voice. “Fluttershy, darling! You simply must see these designs I’m working on!”

“I’d love to. You’ll have to send me some pictures when they’re done. Are they for Friday’s show?”

“Yes! Coco and I have been working on them all day.”

“Really? You aren’t overworking yourself again, are you?”

Rarity looked at the still incomplete dresses and frowned. “No, I dare say I’ve learned my lesson. I’m already relaxing at home.”

“Good.”

“So how was work today?” Rarity asked, eager to change the subject before she caught herself in a web of little white lies.

“Good. I’m actually at work now, but you caught me on lunch.”

“Oh, I hope I’m not interrupting.”

“It’s fine, I haven’t been very hungry anyway.”

“Fluttershy…”

“I’m still eating. Just… a little less.” Fluttershy hesitated, then added, “Although I was late because Sunset got held up at the store, so she wasn’t home on time to bring me. I had to have Rainbow Dash come all the way over to get me.”

“Oh dear, I hope they weren’t terribly cross with you.”

“No, not this time. I think everyone just thought I was still getting used to being back.”

“That is good to hear. And before you go worrying about it, I’m certain that Rainbow doesn’t mind.”

“She says