Sunset got off the bus and checked her phone as she walked up the short driveway to her house. It was a little bit after eight. Twilight's science conference was supposed to have ended at seven, so she would probably be getting home any minute, if she wasn't there already. Sunset didn't see any lights on, but she could easily be in the living room or in their bedroom, neither of which were visible from the front.
She let herself into the house, slid out of her boots, and hung up her jacket. Her fingers lingered on the soft leather for a moment. There wasn't anything especially interesting about the jacket, she was just lost in thought, her mind wandering down bittersweet paths of memory.
She gave herself a mental shake. With a heavy sigh, she closed the closet door and turned toward the dark house.
"Sunset?" Twilight Sparkle's extremely welcome voice came from the other end of their house.
"Twilight, you are here!" Her spirits lifted a little bit, and a faint warmth in her stomach fought back against the evening's chill. There were still no lights on, but the room seemed a little brighter regardless.
"I just got home myself." Her voice drew closer and the kitchen light turned on. "I was kind of surprised you didn't beat me here."
Sunset Shimmer stepped into the kitchen herself and a smile crept across her face as she took in the sight of the one person she most wanted to see. Twilight was still wearing what Sunset thought of as her "Professor Twilight" outfit: a button-down shirt and tie with a light purple sweater vest over them, and her favorite purple skirt.
"Yeah, after the wake we went back to my aunt and uncle's house for a while," Sunset said, answering the unspoken question. "Of course, everypony wanted to know everything that I've been up to since the last time I visited Equestria. We talked a bit about you, actually. But mostly we were just remembering Uncle Silver, telling stories and—" she broke off with a sniffle, though her smile got a little wider as she thought about the too-rare time spent with her family. "It was really nice."
Sunset stood there with glassy eyes looking downward, shoulders hunched in, and her left hand holding her right elbow. Though she was smiling, it was subdued, showing no teeth.
Twilight Sparkle's analytical mind took in the details in an instant and, concluding that her girlfriend was clearly hurting, Twilight ran to embrace her. She drew Sunset's head down to her shoulder and gently stroked the thick red-and-yellow hair.
Sunset wrapped her arms around Twilight's middle and held her snugly, savoring the closeness and comfort.
"I am so sorry that I couldn't be there," Twilight said for probably the dozenth time since she'd heard the date of the funeral.
"Don't be silly. That conference was really important for you." Sunset tightened her grip. "Nopony wanted you to miss it to go to a funeral for someone you only met once. Especially not me."
After another few seconds Sunset took a shaky breath and stepped back so that she could look into Twilight's huge, concerned eyes. She left a hand on the small of the other girl's back, unwilling to break the connection completely.
"How did your presentation go?"
"Good! Nerve-wracking, but I think it went really well. Nobody asked any questions that I wasn't prepared for, and I may actually have won over a couple of sponsors with the Medical Uses of Equestrian Energy section."
"'Equestrian energy?'" Sunset asked with mild amusement.
Twilight's cheeks went faintly pink, and she sheepishly rubbed the back of her neck.
"Yeah. Most scientists really don't like the word 'magic,' so I have to call it something else when I'm talking to them. And what is magic, anyway, besides energy that we don't fully understand yet?"
"Fair enough. I'm glad they liked it, though." Sunset stepped in again and placed a warm, lingering kiss on Twilight's lips. "I'm so proud of you."
Twilight hummed happily and went back in for another.
"I'll tell you all about it," she promised when they broke apart for the second time. "Tomorrow. I've had enough science talk for one day."
That was a lie; Twilight would talk about her research into Equestrian magic twenty four hours a day if she could. She clearly knew that Sunset wasn't in the mood for it, though, so she was making an excuse.
"Have you had dinner?" she asked.
"Oh, Faust," Sunset groaned dramatically and clutched her stomach. "I think I've had about three dinners' worth. If you leave Aunt Fire's house hungry, it's your own fault."
Twilight giggled. "Okay. Well, I was just thinking I would put something mindless on TV and settle in for the night. I'd say we both deserve it after today."
Sunset let Twilight lead her into the living room and to the loveseat. She sat down and leaned back into the corner of it. Twilight sat next to her and cuddled into her side, then reached up and pulled Sunset's arm down around her. She already had something queued up, some cop show that she'd apparently intended to watch until Sunset got home.
Twilight looked up at Sunset to see if she approved. Sunset gave her a quick nod and a half-smile, so Twilight hit play and settled in to watch. With her head resting where it was, she could hear Sunset Shimmer's heartbeat. She thought that gentle pulsing might be one of her favorite sounds in the world, like a constant affirmation that Twilight wasn't alone anymore.
Sunset looked at the television without much interest. She'd already forgotten the name of the show, even though it had been on the screen only a few seconds ago. The truth was, she really didn't care what they watched. Right then she just needed to be close to the one she loved.
Although the plot was hardly complicated, she still wasn't keeping very good track of it. Something about one of the cops making a bet with his captain that he could steal the captain's watch off his wrist, and bringing in a thief to help, and everything spiraling from there. It was absurd, and would actually have been pretty funny if she were in the mood for it. Twilight was certainly laughing a fair amount. It was just that focusing enough to understand the humor seemed like too much effort, too unimportant for her to bother with it.
Sunset had read once that grief was like a fragile object sitting loose inside a box. It could stay there for a while and things would be fine, but anything—or seemingly nothing—could shake that box and send the grief bouncing around inside it. It had seemed like a really weird metaphor at the time, but now, for no reason she could tell, she suddenly felt hot tears pricking her eyes again. Her throat was tightening up and sorrow was twisting inside her chest. Nothing had happened that should have shaken her, but that fragile little orb of grief had broken open anyway.
She tried to keep her breathing steady so she wouldn't disturb Twilight, but her body betrayed her. Her breath hitched, and Twilight looked up with concern to see that she had a hand over her mouth and tears running down her cheeks.
Twilight sat up straight, her own face echoing Sunset's pain.
"Oh, Sunset," she said gently, and reached out toward the quietly suffering girl. "Oh honey, come here."
Sunset didn't resist as Twilight pulled her in and softly kissed her forehead.
"It's okay," Twilight murmured to her. "You can let it out. I'm here for you, for anything you need. You're going to be okay."
Her caring touch was enough to break down Sunset's facade completely. Sunset had cried a bit with her family, but not like this. She'd loved her uncle Silver Shine, for all that she'd barely seen him in the years since she left Equestria. He'd been such a kind old stallion, with a dry sense of humor that never failed to make her laugh.
The guilt she felt over not visiting more often only compounded her sorrow at losing him, and now that she was safe in Twilight's arms it all came pouring out. She sobbed heavily into her girlfriend's shoulder and clung to her like a lifeline. Her fingers dug desperately into the fabric of Twilight's sweater vest as if afraid that she'd be swept away.
The television kept playing in the background, now completely unnoticed.
Twilight ran her warm hands across Sunset's heaving back and shoulders, stroked her hair, and planted another soft kiss on top of her head. She held Sunset as tightly as she could, as if she could hold her beloved's grief-wracked heart together with just her embrace. Sunset wished she would keep talking. Even if she didn't say much of anything, just hearing her voice was soothing, but Twilight had never been very good with words.
As it turned out, there was an option that didn't require her to say anything.
Sunset, her face still buried in Twilight's shoulder, sniffed wetly and made an inquisitive sound.
"You can use your ener—I mean, your magic. If you want to."
Sunset looked up. Her puffy, tear-streaked face showed her surprise. Over the years she'd decided that her empathy magic was a huge invasion of privacy. She still wore her pendant at all times, but she used it very rarely. Only with the other person's permission, or in extreme circumstances when she needed the insight to protect herself or others. She'd only tried it a couple of times on Twilight, with consent, and had found that knowing exactly what her partner was thinking and feeling was equal parts wonderful and frightening.
For Twilight's part, though she'd been willing to experiment a little, she'd quickly decided that she wasn't comfortable with someone else—even her significant other—rooting around in her head like that. Sunset had promised to respect her boundaries and that had been the end of it, until now.
"Are..." Sunset's voice caught in her throat, and she fruitlessly wiped her eyes with the palms of her hands. "Are you sure?"
Twilight nodded and gave an encouraging smile.
"I'm sure." She leaned her forehead against Sunset's as if to invite her in. "There are things I want to say to you, but I don't have the right words to do it. Go ahead; I'm ready."
Sunset Shimmer reached out hesitantly with her unique power. Her eyes turned pure white and she disappeared into Twilight Sparkle's mind and heart.
The first thing she always noticed was the smell. It didn't seem like a person's consciousness should have a scent, but they all did, or at least there was something that Sunset's mind interpreted as a scent. Twilight's was a unique mix of old books and the cleaning supplies they used in the lab, overlaid with a soothing hint of lavender.
Her thoughts were often scattered, running in a dozen different directions as she considered various plans and their likely outcomes, hypotheses and evidence, theories and the flaws in them. There were usually sharp spikes of anxiety as she tried to manage everything in her life, to keep it all measured and controlled, to make everything perfect.
Right now there was none of that. Every thought in Twilight's amazing, beautiful mind was of Sunset Shimmer and how best to help her. She wanted to hold Sunset close, to tell her that in time she would be okay again, to ease her pain and share her burden. To tell her that she'd always be there. She wanted so badly to say just how much she loved Sunset, so when no words had been able to encompass that feeling she'd found a way to express it without words.
Most of all, there was warmth. Warmth like sharing a down comforter on a cold night; like hot soup when she was feeling sick; like stepping into the sun after spending too long in a too-cold laboratory. Like a hug that reached down to Sunset's very soul and held it, sheltered it, kept it safe.
Sunset blinked slowly as she came back to herself. Twilight's face was right in front of hers, every line of it showing love and concern, those huge purple eyes looking for a sign of how she was feeling. She wiped the tears from her cheeks. More replaced them, but Sunset paid them no mind as she sighed contentedly and snuggled into Twilight's embrace.
"I love you, too."