Empty Sky

by Krickis

First published

Sunset has been happily dating Twilight and Fluttershy for a year now, but when they start talking about the next step in their relationship, it brings up old demons that Sunset has never quite moved on from.

Things couldn’t be better for Sunset. Her relationship with Twilight and Fluttershy has been going strong for a year now, and she loves them more every day. Everything is going fine, until her marefriends start talking about moving on to the next stage of their relationship. Suddenly Sunset finds herself reliving a nightmare she’s been trying to run away from, as demons she thought she’d long overcome return to haunt her.

A story set in the Who We Become series.

Want to read this story without reading the whole series up to this point? I summarized the relevant info in a comment here :raritywink:

Content warning: The narcotics tag is included for heavy alcohol use, not hard drugs.
Story workshopped with Wendy Gowak
Proofread by Moonlight, Krixwell, and Sapphire
Cover art by Pasu-Chan

1 – Talking to the Flowers

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Empty Sky

Chapter One

Talking to the Flowers

There were days that changed everything. Throughout her life, Sunset would argue that she had experienced more than her fair share of them. Often, at least, she knew they were coming. The date of the Fall Formal had been ingrained in her mind for months, even if she hadn’t expected it to change her quite like it had; she had planned at least a day in advance before coming back to Equestria; and while she never would have predicted she’d wind up in a relationship with Twilight and Fluttershy, she had known some change was coming the entire week before.

Other times, change caught her unaware. For instance, there was the day she fought with Celestia that had changed everything, or losing her girlfriend to the glamour of touring with a rock band. Not to mention the lingering sound of rain, which had haunted her for years.

Whether the changes made themselves known ahead of time or not, Sunset’s life could be characterized by a string of drastic changes. When she would later look back on this day, she would realize it marked another one. Not as pronounced as many of the others, but just as important.

Not that she knew that at the time. She woke up to the feeling of someone petting her mane, and she kept her eyes closed as she snuggled in closer to her marefriend. It had to be Fluttershy that she was pressed against, since she slept in the middle, although Sunset had no idea which of her marefriends was stroking her mane.

Almost as if she knew what was coming, Sunset held onto that peace for as long as she could. She kept her eyes closed and tightened her hold on Fluttershy as a smile worked its way to her face.

“Mmh.” It seemed that Sunset’s squirming had woken Fluttershy, who wrapped a foreleg around her. That had to mean it was Twilight who’d been petting her.

Sunset opened one eye, and the first thing she saw was Twilight’s smiling face. She was resting her head against Fluttershy and had her foreleg extended to Sunset. “Morning, beautiful.”

“Morning, dork,” Sunset said with a smirk.

“Hey!” Twilight grinned. “You know, I think you were cuter while you were asleep.”

Fluttershy chose that moment to wrap her free foreleg around Twilight. “Twily may be a dork, but you’re not exactly far behind, Sunset.”

“Yeah, well… I don’t show it as much.” Sunset decided to show exactly how much more composed she was than her nerdy marefriend by sticking out her tongue.

Twilight responded in turn by stretching a wing across Fluttershy to bap Sunset on the head with it. Before she could retract it, Fluttershy pulled her foreleg from around Twilight and placed it on the wing, holding it in place so that Twilight was covering her small wife with it.

“I’m surprised you two are up already,” Fluttershy said.

Sunset shimmied up a little so that she could rest her head beside Fluttershy’s. “I probably wouldn’t be, but a certain somepony woke me up…”

“No fair, you keep picking on me today.” Twilight pouted, then turned her head away. “I just thought you were so cute while you were sleeping, I wanted to pet your mane. See if I try to be nice to you again.”

“Hey now, I never said I was complaining,” Sunset said with a smirk. “But what were you doing up, anyway?”

“Well, I do have a pretty big day ahead of me. I think I –” Twilight paused to yawn, which spread to Sunset as well. “I think I should probably get ready instead of waiting to the last minute.”

“You don’t have to get out of bed just yet, do you?” Fluttershy asked with a smile. “I just want to cuddle you two a little bit to start the day.”

“I think I can manage to squeeze that in.” Twilight shifted her position so she could kiss Fluttershy’s cheek. “So what do you have planned for today?”

“Well, there are those baby bunnies. Even though they’re a week old, I’d still like to check on them and make sure they’re doing okay.”

Sunset smiled, though she felt a little bad for Twilight. “Aww, Fluttershy gets to play with baby bunnies while you have to work, Twi.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me.” Twilight had been summoned to Canterlot by Celestia for a meeting with Prince Rutherford of Yakyakistan. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but it meant spending a few days away from Ponyville on official princess business. The others had offered to go with her, but with it being a long trip and a relatively routine one, they decided Twilight, Spike, and Pinkie would go while everyone else stayed back in Ponyville.

“At least you get to see Prince Rutherford again,” Fluttershy said.

Twilight managed a smile. “Yeah, and it’s only for a few days. It should be fine.”

“So what about you, Sunset?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset shrugged. “I’ll probably be down in the workshop. I want to see if I can make any progress on that projector we’ve been working on.”

“As long as you don’t show me up by finishing it without me,” Twilight said with a smirk.

“Hey, no promises,” Sunset shot back.

“You and that projector.” Fluttershy kissed the top of Sunset’s head. She didn’t really understand the need to invent a new projector since Equestria had video projection technology already, but Sunset wanted to increase the video quality while allowing longer reels of film, giving Equestria the ability to make full-length films. “Sure you don’t want to come with me to see the babies? Their fur is coming in.”

“I guess I could make a detour for some baby bunnies.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Good.”

“Sure, just make me jealous.” Twilight finally pulled back her wing and shifted to a sitting position. “I see how it is.”

“Hey, you could come with us,” Sunset said. “What’s half an hour?”

“Uhm, missing my train?” Twilight quirked an eyebrow. “I’m not flying all the way to Canterlot with Spike and Pinkie.”

“Fair enough…” Sunset sat up as well, stretching out her hindlegs one at a time.

Fluttershy shimmied up to a sitting position, leaning back against the headrest. “Uhm, I was thinking…”

Both Sunset and Twilight turned to look at her, so she hid in her mane and squeaked out a “Never mind…”

Sunset and Twilight exchanged glances. This wasn’t like Fluttershy. She was getting better at talking to ponies, and she never had problems like this while talking to her lovers. “What is it, Shy?” Twilight asked.

“I was, uhm, I was just thinking…”

Sunset took hold of Fluttershy’s hoof and leaned against her, that way she would have one less set of eyes on her while she told them what was on her mind. “It’s okay, Shy. It’s just us.”

“Well…” Fluttershy took a deep breath. “Twily and I kind of talked about this a long time ago, actually…”

It had been a year since Sunset had started dating the couple, but she still couldn’t help but feel worried at that. If Twilight and Fluttershy had talked about it without her at some point, did that mean it was about Sunset?

“Something we talked about a long time ago?” Twilight thought for a moment, then realization flashed across her face. “This… isn’t about baby bunnies, is it?”

Fluttershy squirmed. “Well, no, not bunnies…”

“Uh, I think I’m the only one a little lost here…” Sunset looked between her marefriends.

Fluttershy looked to Twilight, and Sunset recognized she was looking for encouragement. Instead, Twilight answered for her. “I think what Fluttershy wanted to talk about was, uhm, foals.”

“Foals?” Sunset repeated, her chest growing tight. “Like… like raising foals? Together?”

“I just thought, uhm, we could talk about it…”

“We can,” Twilight answered quickly. It was good that she did, because Sunset couldn’t get her own words to work. “It’s… a lot to think about. But it’s good to talk.”

“I’m not expecting us to rush into anything,” Fluttershy said. “I just… wanted to at least bring it up.”

Twilight nodded. “What do you think, Sunset?”

Sunset blinked and tried her best to jumpstart her words. The only thing she could manage was, “So you two have talked about this?”

“A little,” Twilight said. “That was years ago, though. Remember that tour of Equestria we did? It was before that. We decided to wait until after the tour to bring it back up, and then we had the wedding to plan, and then we started dating you.”

“It just kind of kept getting pushed back,” Fluttershy said. “But now… Twily and I are married, and you’ve been with us for a year. And everything is going so good, I just… thought it might be the right time to talk about things.”

“And… I agree.” Twilight bowed her head and rested it on Fluttershy’s chest. “I’m not sure how I feel about raising foals, but… it’s a good time to talk about it.”

That made sense. The logic was impossible to argue with, and yet… it may be a good time for them to talk about it, but Sunset? She wasn’t sure there would ever be a good time for her to talk about having kids.

“Right, so…” Twilight looked up to Fluttershy. “How… do we talk about this, exactly?”

Fluttershy giggled and nuzzled against her wife. “Well, you know you pretty much raised Spike on your own already.”

“Yeah, but he’s my brother,” Twilight said. “Don’t get me wrong, I know I played a huge role in raising him, but we lived with my parents and they did the important stuff. Even when I moved out, I had them right down the street until we moved to Ponyville.”

“Uhm, Twily?” Fluttershy poked Twilight’s nose. “We live with your parents now.”

“Oh yeah…”

Fluttershy smiled at Twilight, then turned to Sunset and frowned a little. “What do you think, Sunset? Because I think Twily would be a great mom.”

“Yeah, definitely.” It was easy to agree with that, at least. “You both would.”

“And so would you,” Fluttershy said with a smile. “If, uhm, if you wanted to be one.”

“I don’t know. Well, I mean…” Sunset sat upright and forced a smile. “It’s… well, of course it’s a lot to think about. I guess I’m just a little overwhelmed.”

“That’s understandable,” Twilight said. “It’s a huge change for all of us.”

“I think we could do it,” Fluttershy said. “Twily, I know you said before how nervous you are to have kids, but you raised Spike just fine. Sunset and you both mostly work here in the castle, and I’m right in Ponyville, so there will always be someone around. And then there’s your parents and Spike here to help.”

“I think I’d be a little afraid of leaving Spike in charge…” Twilight murmured.

Fluttershy frowned. “That’s not fair, you know he’s very mature for his age. And he wouldn’t be in charge. Even if the three of us had to go somewhere together, your parents are retired, and I’m sure they’d be happy to help.”

Twilight sighed. “You’re right.” She nodded and repeated again with a bit more certainty. “You’re right. We can do this, so that’s not what to figure out. We need to decide if this is something we want to do.”

“I think… Well, I’ve always known I wanted foals,” Fluttershy said.

“I wish I was as certain as you are, Fluttershy,” Twilight said, then she smiled. “But… it’s kind of been on my mind a little too. I’ve been… thinking about how nice it might be to have somepony we could teach.”

“You’d be a wonderful teacher, Twily.” Fluttershy turned to Sunset. “Have you ever thought about having a little foal running around?”

“I… I’m sorry, but I really haven’t.” Sunset looked away, feeling like the odd one out in more ways than one. “I guess… I think you two would be amazing moms. There’s no doubt about that, I couldn’t think of anyone who could do it better. But it’s just a lot to think about.”

Sunset was aware that she was repeating herself, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say. Fluttershy also seemed to notice, but she just smiled and extended a wing to brush against Sunset. “Okay, we’ll leave it for now. Twily has to get ready for her trip, and you and I have some baby bunnies to go see. We can all take some time to think it through and come back and talk about it again in a little bit.”

“That sounds good to me,” Twilight said as she rose from the bed. “I should go make sure Spike’s ready.”

Sunset got out of bed too. Suddenly, she didn’t really want to go see baby bunnies. She didn’t want to see baby anything, really. But she’d told Fluttershy that she would go with her, so she went through her outfits looking for something to wear.

As she did, Twilight left the room. After a moment of looking through dresses, Fluttershy came up behind her and rubbed against her side. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Of course I am,” Sunset said, almost automatically. She put on an effortless smile to convince her marefriend that she meant it. “It’s just… wow, you know?”

“Try not to think too much of it,” Fluttershy said with a giggle. “We’re in no hurry.”

“Yeah, fair enough.” Sunset picked out a dress and slipped it over her head. Try not to think about it. As if she could possibly think about anything else.

But she didn’t want to upset Fluttershy, so she just smiled along as she followed her out of the castle.

What did Sunset think?

Sunset thought this was too much for her to process. It was a huge change in their lives, and one she was not prepared for. It may be true that they could handle this, but this was still going to be a choice that would define their lives for decades to come, if not forever.

She thought that this hit a little too close to something she didn’t want to think about. Fluttershy’s words had been well meant, but they reached into her and wrapped their fingers around her heart, and every time Sunset thought about them, they squeezed just a little bit tighter.

And yet, she thought it wasn’t her place to tell Twilight and Fluttershy that she didn’t want a kid. To tell them that maybe she never would. They were married, and she was just their marefriend. After a year together things were going good, but what was one year when the two of them had been together for so much longer? How could she possibly tell them what to do in their relationship?

Sunset thought that she didn’t want to think anymore. But what else could she do in this situation? All that there was to do was think, there was no turning it off. Not when the question hung thick in the air, making it hard to breathe.

She needed to get away. Away from her thoughts, away from that conversation, and, as much as she hated to admit it, away from her marefriends.

So once they had checked on the baby bunnies – which Sunset had pretended to be delighted about – she returned to the castle. She knew that Twilight and Spike would be gone by then, which meant it would only be Twilight’s parents hanging around. And if Sunset went down into the basement to work on her projector, they wouldn’t bother her until dinner time.

But… Sunset didn’t really want to work on her projector. That’s what she told Fluttershy she was going to do, but once she got to the castle, she realized she didn’t want to. Instead, she made her way up to their bedroom.

It wasn’t where she wanted to be either, not when she could practically still hear the conversation that had taken place on their bed. But the bedroom did have something she wanted in it. As soon as she was in the bedroom, she walked over to a desk with a journal on it. It had once been Celestia’s, then it passed to Twilight, and these days, it was Sunset’s. Meanwhile, the copy she used to have was now someone else’s as well.

‘Hey AJ, you busy? Got something I’d like to run by you.’

Sunset stared down at the journal for a few moments, hoping to see a reply form quickly, but none came. It wasn’t surprising; it was the middle of the day on a weekday, Applejack was probably at work.

But Sunset wasn’t in the mood to wait around. She scribbled another message in the journal, saying that she was just going to head over, then she took a purse and the journal with her out of the room.

If Applejack was busy on the farm, she wouldn’t say no to an extra pair of hands to help her. Doing farm work wasn’t exactly Sunset’s idea of a good time, but it would help her friend, and Applejack would be certain to make some time to talk about what was on Sunset’s mind. It was unlikely that Applejack would have answers for Sunset, but at least she knew why Sunset felt the way she did.

Sunset only paused once she reached the mirror that connected the worlds. She looked at her reflection and felt the familiar pull in her chest. It had dulled over time, but going through the portal always had a way of cutting through her armor.

And that pause gave her time to think about what she was about to do. Did she even want to talk to Applejack about this? Sure, if Sunset was going to talk to anyone, it would be Applejack, but…

Sunset shook her head and took a breath. She’d learned this lesson time and again – she couldn’t keep things bottled up. She’d done that too many times before, and every time, it always blew up on her.

So she put the journal in its place in the machine, took off her dress since it wouldn’t fit on the other side, and strapped the purse around her neck. Then with one more deep breath, she stepped forward.

As often as she used the portal, Sunset still hated this part. She’d gotten used to it, to the extent it was possible to get used to being pushed and pulled in all different directions simultaneously, but that didn’t amount to a whole lot.

At least it was a short experience. Only moments after she went through the portal, Sunset was stumbling out the other side. As usual, she fell to her hands and knees, but she was quick to pick herself up.

A quick look around revealed that she hadn’t been seen. That was good, it was always awkward to make excuses about suddenly appearing out of nowhere, since most of the students at CHS weren’t there for all the magic stuff that had happened during Sunset’s senior year.

Dusting herself off, Sunset started walking. She had about fifty dollars and a bus schedule stowed in her purse, but she didn’t have a phone. It would be nice to be able to call Applejack or Pinkie for a ride, but electronics stopped working if they were brought through the portal.

So with nothing else to do, Sunset walked to a nearby bench that marked a bus stop and took a seat. She asked a passerby for the time then checked the bus schedule, learning that it was about fifteen minutes before the bus arrived.

It was a painful fifteen minutes. The summer heat may not be in full swing yet, but it was uncomfortable to wait. Worse, she had nothing to keep her company but her thoughts, and that was exactly what she wanted to avoid.

What would she do? If they really went through with it, if Twilight and Fluttershy decided they did want a foal, what would Sunset do? Would she just deal with it and try to stick with them despite how she felt? Could she? She loved them both so much, she didn’t want anything to come between the three of them, but this was something she was not prepared for. For fuck’s sake, she’d only been dating them for a year!

A tiny voice in her head reminded her that a year was much more of a foundation than what she had last time, but a much louder voice reminded her of exactly how bad things like this could go. That voice echoed through her head, until she couldn’t hear anything else, and it made her want to jump out in front of the bus and hope that all of her problems could just go away in an instant.

Oh. The bus was there. It eased to a stop in front of her and its doors opened. Sunset stood up and walked in, pulling a few dollars out of her purse to insert into the machine and pay for her fare. She found a seat next to a window and stared out of it as they drove off.

Even though there wasn’t a whole lot to do on the bus, it was much better than waiting on the bench had been. It was air-conditioned for one thing, which did a lot to make it more bearable. But more importantly, since she started living in Equestria, travelling by automobile had become something of a novelty to her again. She entertained herself just fine by looking out of the window and noticing the city pass her by.

Along the way, her thoughts turned to the differences in her life now compared to when she lived in Everton. After spending her whole human life connected to the internet, she had expected technology would be hard to live without, but she missed it less than she thought she would. Her work on technology in Equestria gave her plenty to do and was very fulfilling.

But there were other differences, things that weren’t immediately apparent. When it came down to it, there was mainly one thing that could be said about life in Ponyville that she could rarely say about life in Everton.

Sunset was happy. For the first time in a long time, Sunset was actually happy with her life.

She couldn’t just give that up, no matter what came. She was happy with her marefriends, she was happy with her work, she was happy with her life. Sunset was happy, and it took a trip back to Everton to see that.

Except now it was all on the line. If her marefriends decided it was time for them to have a child, then Sunset’s good life was at risk. It wasn’t Sunset’s place to get in the way of their happiness, but if she didn’t, if she just let this happen, then she was putting everything on the line.

‘So much for not thinking about it…’

Sunset sighed and glanced around the bus. Most of the people on it were looking at their phones. Maybe Sunset did miss human technology, at least a little bit.

The bus took her most of the way to Sweet Apple Acres, leaving her with just a short walk until she was with her friend. Hopefully that would be enough to finally get her mind off this situation. Hell, doing some work on the farm may actually be a welcome relief.

Another reason to prefer Equestria – pegasi always gave ample cloud cover on particularly hot days. Without humans having control of the weather, the sun had been given free rein to beat down on Sunset as she walked, and she couldn’t even blame anypony for it.

It was hot enough that by the time she reached Sweet Apple Acres she was already covered in sweat. Maybe she’d make quick use of Applejack’s shower, just to rinse off. She walked up to the door and knocked on it, thankful the awning gave her a little bit of shade.

Of course, there was no answer. She wasn’t sure why she thought there might be – she knew they were at work on the farm already, and Apple Bloom and Granny Smith would be at CHS until school got out.

Grumbling about going back into the sun, Sunset walked around the house to get to the orchard. She placed her hand over her eyes to shield them from the sun and looked around. She didn’t see Applejack, but she did see Big Mac, so she made her way over to him.

“Big Mac!” she called when she got closer. He stopped to look at her. He was holding a bucket of apples that Sunset knew she would have trouble carrying, and yet he held it effortlessly with one arm.

He nodded as she approached. “Good afternoon, Sunset.”

“Hey, Mac. Is AJ around?”

“Nope.” He shrugged and shifted the bucket of apples. “She’s out of town on business today. Sorry.”

“Well, fuck.” Sunset frowned and shoved her hands in her pocket. “That’s what I get for coming by unannounced, I guess.”

“If you wanna wait inside you’re more’n welcome to, but she’ll probably be out pretty late.”

“No, thanks though. I probably shouldn’t stay out that late.” Sunset quickly ran through her options in her head. She could use the Apples’ phone to call Pinkie, which was probably the smartest move. But as much as Sunset loved Pinkie, she wasn’t really sure she wanted to be around that much positivity today. And while Pinkie would understand Sunset’s position with children, Sunset didn’t really feel comfortable letting down her guard enough to talk to her about it.

She could ask Big Mac to give her a ride back to CHS, but he didn’t know about Equestria and Sunset didn’t know how to explain to him why she needed to go to the school. Alternatively, she could wait until Apple Bloom got home, but she’d probably go crazy from being left alone with her thoughts in the meantime, and Apple Bloom wasn’t any better than Pinkie for actually talking about what was on her mind.

No, she’d be better off just going back to Equestria. There wasn’t anything else she wanted from Everton, so she might as well head home.

She smiled at Big Mac. “Can you just tell AJ I dropped by? I’ll see her some other time.”

Big Mac nodded. “Will do.”

Sunset turned and left him to his work, making her way back to the front of the house. She walked slowly, not in any particular hurry, and along the way she tried to think of something better to do than return to the castle and be miserable.

It hit her all at once, and then there was nothing else she could have done. Not that it would make her feel better, but well, she was already here…

Almost on their own, Sunset’s legs carried her along the edge of Sweet Apple Acres. It wasn’t even that she wanted to, it was just that there was no other choice for her.

There were flowers in bloom, but then, of course there were. They had planted them years ago now, and they had only spread since then. Years… it had been two years, and yet it all felt so close to her.

Sunset fell to her knees and ran her hand against the small headstone. She sighed and bowed her head. “Hey, Sky. I guess it’s been a while, huh?”

Sunset wasn’t sure why she said anything at all. Sky couldn’t hear her. Fluttershy had always believed in heaven and all that, but Sunset never had. She wasn’t talking to anyone but the flowers.

Sunset kept talking. It only made her feel worse, but she kept talking. “I’m doing okay. You know, life in Equestria shimmers and shines and all that. It’s a good place to be. A good place to build a life. I wish you could see it.”

Sunset bowed her head. As if Sky could see anything. Just because Sunset saw Sky everywhere she looked didn’t mean that it went both ways. “I… You know, I still see you in every child. Isn’t that dumb? I mean, you know I live with ponies now, and you were a little human girl, but I… I always see you. No matter what.”

If Sky had any reply to that, Sunset couldn’t hear it.

“It gets bad sometimes. I guess I kind of like kids? It’s a shock to me too, trust me. But only older kids, because when I see babies… they’re all you.”

Sunset took a breath to steady herself. “I miss you. And your Mama. I miss the life we were building, and I shouldn’t, because… because now I have this new life, and I’m happy, but I just… I remember that first time we got an ultrasound, and you –” Sunset laughed a little, and a tear escaped when she did. “You were so small. Barely even anything at all, but you were there. God damn it, you were there, and I could see you, and… and it was like the first time you were real to me. The first time I stopped thinking about you as just this thing that we’d have to figure out how to take care of, the first time I really thought… I was gonna be a mom. I was gonna be your mom. That became the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world. And even now, I still… I still want to be your mom.”

Sunset wiped her eyes. “And now… Now my new girlfriends are talking about having a kid, and all I can think of is you. How am I supposed to just help raise some other kid? I don’t want another kid, I just want you back…”

Sunset couldn’t help but laugh at that. “How pathetic, am I right? I mean, you can’t even hear me… You’re gone, and now there’s nothing left, and I’m just sitting around talking to myself.” Sunset stood up. “As if I ever have any answers…”

She took a deep breath and looked around. “I can’t have another kid. Not when I’m the reason you died. Not when I couldn’t make things work with your mom. Not when I can’t stop seeing you everywhere I go. It just… it wouldn’t be right.”

What was she doing? Sunset shook her head and walked away without saying goodbye. There was no point. She was only talking to herself, after all. And try as she might, she could never get away from herself.

Sunset walked, but not really to the bus stop. She wasn’t sure where she walked to, she just had to keep moving. She couldn’t stop, she couldn’t let her thoughts catch up with her. She needed to stop thinking, she just needed these thoughts to fucking stop!

She placed her hands on the sides of her head as if the thoughts were sounds she could block out just by plugging her ears. She gritted her teeth, and it was all she could do to keep from screaming in the hopes it would block out the thoughts.

And she walked. She wasn’t sure where she was walking to, but she walked into town and wandered aimlessly. She thought she vaguely recognized where she was, but she didn’t stop to figure out if that was true or not.

Her feet seemed to know where they were going though, so Sunset just let them go there. At least that was one thing she didn’t have to think about. She turned down a sidestreet here, crossed the road there, went straight through that intersection.

In the end, she only came to when she realized she was standing in front of a building’s open door. A building that she definitely knew, but also knew she definitely shouldn’t walk into.

It wasn’t that long ago. A couple of years, but it felt like yesterday. She would have walked in without any hesitation, would have just walked up to the counter and ordered a drink without a second thought.

The bar before her was nothing special, only notable in that it was walking distance to Applejack’s house. And yet, it represented so much of what Sunset had left behind.

She was better than this. She was a whole year sober, she couldn’t throw that away now. She wasn’t sure why she came here, but she needed to just keep walking.

Keep walking. This wasn’t right, wasn’t who she was anymore.

No. That wasn’t true. Sunset knew exactly why she walked here. It was what she did, it was who she was. Just like when she lost Sky. This was her answer back then too.

Sunset walked into the building and up to the bar. The last time she was in a bar, she had refused to drink and walked out with her head held high. She told herself she should do that now, but she didn’t tell herself very loudly.

“What can I get you?” a bartender asked her. Sunset hadn’t even seen him walk up to her.

Sunset shook her head, ready to tell him she didn’t need anything. “Anything,” was the only part of the thought that left her lips, however.

“Let’s start you off easy, huh?” He pulled out a wine cooler and set it in front of her.

Sunset couldn’t help but smile at the choice. Wine coolers had been the first thing she had ever drank. They barely even had alcohol, what did it even matter if she drank one? It might even help shake the restless feeling and calm her down.

She took a sip, the familiar fruity taste making her smile more. She’d missed this. Yeah, she’d just drink one wine cooler, sipping it slowly to pass the time. No big deal. Twilight drank, after all, and she was always fine.

Besides, this place was so fun. People were sitting around talking, there was good music playing, some people were playing pool. It was… okay, it was just a bar, nothing amazing. But Sunset liked the atmosphere, and for the first time, she wasn’t thinking about kids.

She finished her wine cooler and pushed the empty bottle across the table. That was it, it was time to get going, just like she’d planned.

“Can I get you something else?” the bartender asked as he threw out the bottle.

Sunset knew she should say no, but… she deserved this. She did so much back home, and it wasn’t like she was going to stay out and get wasted. No one was even home waiting for her, anyway.

“Yeah, sure.” Sure grinned. “Let’s amp it up a little, though. Got a specialty?”

“I make a mean whiskey sour.”

Definitely heavier than a wine cooler. “Sure, I’m game.”

The bartender poured a few different kinds of liquids into a cocktail shaker and shook it up, then poured it into a glass for her.

A little voice in her head told her to change her mind, but Sunset wasn’t listening. She picked up the glass, and she took a drink.

2 – Ticking Away

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Chapter Two

Ticking Away

Four days wasn’t that long in theory. Twilight had been so busy that the time passed pretty quickly for the most part, and it had been nice to catch up with Celestia and Luna. Oh, and Prince Rutherford, of course.

But even so, coming back home was a relief. True, the days passed quickly enough, but the nights spent sleeping alone were harder. She’d long since gotten used to sleeping with Fluttershy beside her, and lately Sunset as well. They were no longer at the early stage of their relationship where separation was painful, but even so, she missed her lovers and was eager to return to them.

At least Spike had enjoyed himself. He sighed as they opened the door to the castle. “And back to chores…”

Twilight rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “I think you can have the rest of the day off today. Just make sure you actually unpack this time.”

Spike chuckled nervously. “Yeah, I know.”

“Is that my Twily and Spike I hear?” Fluttershy said happily as she stepped out from the kitchen. “Perfect timing, I was just thinking about what to do for lunch.”

Twilight nuzzled her wife. “Lunch sounds great! We grabbed breakfast before leaving Canterlot, but that’s all we had today.”

“Well, come on into the kitchen and help me figure out what to make, then.”

“In a minute, I just want to bring this stuff upstairs.” Twilight turned to walk away, but she felt Fluttershy’s wing brush up against her. She looked back and got a good look at Fluttershy’s face for the first time. She looked exhausted, and there was a sort of pleading look in her eyes.

Twilight turned back to Spike. “Actually, why don’t you run upstairs and start unpacking while I talk to Fluttershy.”

“Geez, Twi, it hasn’t even been a week.” Spike laughed as he left them, but at least he left them alone.

Twilight followed Fluttershy into the kitchen and waited until the door was closed behind them before asking her about it, just in case. “Is everything okay, Shy?”

Fluttershy sighed and leaned into Twilight, who instinctively put a foreleg around her. “I don’t know…”

“Tell me what’s wrong. Did something happen?”

Fluttershy pulled away a little and looked off to the side. “It’s Sunset…”

“Sunset?” Twilight frowned. “Is she okay?”

“She’s…” Fluttershy shook her head. “I don’t know. She’s just been acting so strange since you’ve been gone.”

Although she was eager to hear more, Twilight took the time to lead Fluttershy to the table so she could take a seat before continuing. She set her saddlebags off to the side of the room before taking a seat next to Fluttershy, who leaned on the table with her head in her hooves.

“What’s going on with Sunset?” Twilight asked.

Fluttershy wouldn’t look Twilight in the eyes. “Well… she spends all her time either out of the castle or down in the basement. I know she wants to work on her projector, but she never comes up unless it’s to go out, and when she does go out, I have no idea where she goes.”

The more Fluttershy said, the more Twilight frowned. It was true that Sunset liked to get out of the castle a little more than her marefriends did, but she always said where she was going. And maybe if they were both gone, it would make sense for Sunset to shut herself away to preoccupy herself, but why would she ignore Fluttershy just because Twilight wasn’t home?

“Is she down there now?” Twilight asked.

“I think so… She… she didn’t even come up to bed last night.”

“Really?” Twilight furrowed her brow.

Fluttershy shook her head. “I went to bed and figured she was just working late and she’d be up before too long, but then I woke up in the morning and she still wasn’t there.”

Twilight glanced toward the door. “That doesn’t sound like her at all…”

Fluttershy put her hoof on Twilight’s and finally looked her in the eye. “I’m worried about her, Twily. Every time I do see her, she seems okay, but that doesn’t mean she really is. You know how good she is at telling ponies what they want to hear.”

This didn’t add up. Sunset was fine before Twilight left, what was this all about? It couldn’t be because Twilight left, could it? No, she occasionally left her lovers to go on business trips, and Sunset never reacted like this.

“I’ll go talk to her,” Twilight said. “Maybe I can get to the bottom of it.”

“Okay, but uhm… I think if we’re really going to press her, we should both be there.”

Twilight nodded. “I’ll just tell her I’m home and see how she’s doing. Then the three of us can have a talk if we need to.”

Hopefully they wouldn’t need to. Maybe Sunset would just open up to Twilight. Fluttershy could be sensitive sometimes, so maybe whatever was going on, Sunset just didn’t want to tell her about it until she talked it over with Twilight.

That… was kind of a long shot, Twilight knew, but it was the best hope she had. She stood up and made for the door, but was stopped by Fluttershy.

Although she was a good deal shorter than the alicorn, Fluttershy still reached her wing up to Twilight’s back as she nuzzled against her wife’s cheek. “I really am glad you’re back, Twily. I’m sorry you have to deal with this right as you get home.”

Twilight smiled and gave Fluttershy a kiss. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. I just wish I had been here when all this was going on.”

“I kept telling myself that maybe once you got back everything would just go back to normal…”

Twilight doubted that, but she didn’t want to say so. “Maybe. Let me go talk to Sunset and figure things out.”

Fluttershy nodded and pulled her wing away. “Okay. Love you, Twily.”

“Love you too, Shy.”

Twilight opened the door and went through it, then sighed when she was on the other side. She’d been looking forward to seeing Sunset, but now…

No. Twilight picked her head up. Sunset was her marefriend, and Twilight loved her. Whatever was going on was just something they had to get through, something Twilight would help Sunset get through.

With that thought firmly in her mind, Twilight made her way down to the basement that the two of them used as a workshop. She didn’t have a plan since she wasn’t sure what the situation was, but she hoped she wouldn’t need one.

Not wanting to sneak up on Sunset, Twilight called out to her as she descended the stairs. “Sunset, are you down here?”

“Twilight?” Sunset mumbled.

Twilight almost didn’t hear it, and when she reached the bottom of the stairs, she saw why. Sunset was lying on a couch they had brought down for work breaks, and she had clearly just woken up. She was rubbing her eyes and squinting at Twilight.

“Have you been down here all night?” Twilight asked, although she was sure she already knew the answer.

“Yeah, I got caught up in work.” Sunset stood up and stretched, then she smiled at Twilight, although she darted her eyes away after just a moment of looking at one another. “Welcome home.”

Twilight walked over to Sunset and hugged her, noting as she did that Sunset seemed to be too preoccupied with whatever was going on with her to shower recently. Twilight chose not to comment. “So what have you been up to?”

“I’ve just been messing with the projector a lot. I don’t have much to show for it though, didn’t actually manage to get a lot done.”

“That’s too bad,” Twilight said, although she was sure that wasn’t high on their list of concerns. She did see an opening, however. “Was there something on your mind that distracted you, or…?”

Sunset chuckled and nudged Twilight. “Well, I usually have a certain somepony to bounce ideas around with.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side. “You usually do fine without me. You’ve come up with some brilliant breakthroughs while I was busy with work.”

It was brief, but Twilight saw Sunset wince. She took a few steps away and sounded slightly irritated when she answered. “I guess I just didn’t this time.”

Since Sunset had her back to Twilight and couldn’t see her, she allowed herself to frown at Sunset’s tone. She decided not to press it though. Like Fluttershy said, if they were going to talk things over, all three of them should be together.

So instead, Twilight tried to cancel out her tone with positivity. “I’m sure you’ll get it. Maybe later, the two of us can take a look at it together.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Twilight walked over to the projector. It would be impossible to tell what work Sunset had done with it with just from a glance, but it didn’t look any different than when Twilight had left.

Well, there was no point in pushing that any further. “Are you hungry? Fluttershy was just figuring out lunch.”

“Not really,” Sunset said, then seemed to think better of it. “But I guess I should probably eat something.”

“Probably,” Twilight agreed. She led them up the stairs and used her magic to turn off the light when they were on their way out of the room.

Sunset winced at the brighter light of the castle out of the basement, but she didn’t say anything. Twilight wasn’t sure what to say either, so she let them walk in silence to the kitchen.

As they entered the room, Fluttershy turned to see them with a smile on her face. “There are my two favorite mares. Any idea what you want for lunch?”

“Oh, I don’t care,” Twilight said. With everything else going on, she didn’t even stop to think about that.

Sunset took a seat at the table. “Me either. I’m not even that hungry…”

“We could just do sandwiches,” Fluttershy suggested.

In truth, Twilight was pretty hungry and would have wanted to eat more than just sandwiches, but she didn’t want to dwell on that at the moment. “That sounds perfect.”

Fluttershy flitted around the kitchen, gathering everything she needed to make them sandwiches. Twilight took a seat beside Sunset and tried to think of how to broach the topic that they knew there was something Sunset wasn’t saying.

For her part, Sunset said nothing. She just sat at the table looking down at her hooves folded on it.

“Daffodil and daisy, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight smiled. “That sounds lovely.”

“And a grilled cheese for Sunset?”

Sunset looked up and managed a smile as well. “Sure. Thanks, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy hummed as she got their sandwiches ready, and Sunset went back to zoning out. Twilight wanted to say something, but she decided to wait until Fluttershy was sitting down with them.

It took a few minutes for Fluttershy to grill Sunset’s sandwich, during which the only sound was the food prep and Fluttershy’s humming. She dropped off Sunset’s sandwich first, then Twilight’s, then sat down with her own.

Twilight took a bite of her sandwich before trying to start any conversation. “Thanks, Shy.”

Fluttershy smiled. “You’re welcome, Twily.”

“Yeah, it’s good,” Sunset said through a mouthful of cheese.

“I’m glad.” Fluttershy took a bite of her own sandwich, and none of them talked for a moment.

It wasn’t like the silence was bad, exactly. They were all eating, some silence was to be expected. But Twilight just found herself unsure of what she should be doing or saying. She wanted to broach the topic that something might be wrong with Sunset, but she wasn’t sure how to do that, exactly.

Eventually it was Fluttershy who made the first move. “So what do you two want to do today?”

“I don’t know, I guess I’d just like to relax with the two of you,” Twilight said, then turned to Sunset. “Did you have anything you wanted to do, Sunset?”

“Huh?” Sunset looked confused for a moment, then quickly caught herself. “Oh, uh, I don’t know. Whatever you two want to do is fine.”

Twilight frowned a little, but she couldn’t blame Sunset for not knowing what to do when the others didn’t either. “Well, I guess there’s no point in going on a picnic since we’re eating. It’s a nice day though, we could go down to the lake for a swim.”

“That sounds lovely,” Fluttershy said. They both turned to their marefriend, who didn’t seem to be paying much attention. “Sunset?”

Sunset blinked and shook her head. “Sorry, I was just thinking. Uh, a picnic sounds nice, but right after lunch?”

“That’s… what I said.” Twilight arched an eyebrow. “That there wouldn’t really be a point.”

“Oh. Sorry, I’m just… distracted.”

Fluttershy nudged Twilight under the table, but she didn’t need to. Twilight could see just as easily that something was going on. “What’s on your mind?”

Sunset scratched her neck. “Oh, just the usual. Wondering about the projector.”

Twilight wanted to believe Sunset, but she knew how her marefriend was when she was caught up on a project. This was something different… “Sunset, is… there something you’re not telling us?”

Sunset’s eye twitched. “No, why?”

Before Twilight could answer, Fluttershy did for her. “We’re worried about you. You, uhm… you haven’t really been yourself since Twily left.”

“What do you mean?” Sunset asked nervously.

“Well, I barely knew where you were half the time…” Fluttershy said.

“Sunset, we love you.” Twilight reached her hoof across the table and placed it on Sunset’s. “We can tell when something is bothering you.”

Sunset pulled her hoof back and frowned. “Nothing is bothering me, so just drop it, okay?”

It was tempting to do just that, but the way Sunset was reacting to the questions proved to Twilight what they suspected was true. “Fluttershy said you didn’t even come up to bed last night.”

Sunset turned and scowled at Fluttershy. “I just didn’t want to wake her up by crawling into bed so late. I was trying to be considerate!”

Twilight glared back. “There’s no need to take it out on Fluttershy! She’s just worried about you, we both are! We –”

“Twily, please.” Fluttershy put her hoof on her wife’s to calm her down. “Sunset, Twilight is right. We’re worried about you because we care about you. We won’t pry if you don’t want to talk about it, but you know you can tell us anything.”

“There’s nothing to tell!” Sunset stood up suddenly. “Geez, you come back and the first thing you do is gang up on me? What gives!?”

“We’re not ganging up on you!” Twilight insisted. She wasn’t sure what was happening, she couldn’t remember Sunset ever acting like this.

“Sure feels like it,” Sunset grumbled, turning away from her marefriends.

“Sunset, please…” Fluttershy stood as well, stepping towards Sunset and extending a wing to her. “This isn’t like you. Just talk to us!”

Sunset pulled away, stepping backwards towards the door while keeping an eye on Fluttershy. “No, this is exactly like me! Just not the side of me you want me to be. Well, sorry, Shy, but I –”

Sunset went wide-eyed for a second, then squeezed her eyes shut and put her hoof to her temple.

Since the others were already up, Twilight stood as well. She took a step towards Sunset’s other side. “Sunset…”

“Don’t!” Sunset wheeled around. “Just leave me alone and –”

She stopped when she saw Spike at the door, who was looking on at the scene uncertainly. Everyone froze in place for a moment, then Sunset’s horn lit up and she disappeared.

For a second, none of the others reacted. Then Twilight sank back into a chair and let her head fall to her hooves.

What had just happened? Sunset was angry. She was angry with them! That had never happened before.

No, that wasn’t true. Twilight had seen Sunset get angry like this before, but that had been before the Fall Formal. Back then, Sunset was a completely different person, though. Was that what she meant when she said this was like her, that she was acting the way she used to?

One thing was for sure, something bad was going on with her, and she was keeping it bottled up. Twilight would need to get to the bottom of it, but trying to push for an answer had only made things so much worse.

“Did… I do something wrong?” Spike asked after a moment.

Twilight quickly picked herself up and crossed the room to put a foreleg around Spike. “Oh no, of course you didn’t, Spike.” She sighed and tried to find the words to explain it to him. “Sunset’s just… well, I don’t really know.”

“She’s going through something right now,” Fluttershy said as she approached Spike on his other side. “We’re not too sure what, but we’re going to be there for her and make sure it gets better.”

Spike fidgeted in place. “She looked like she did when all that stuff was going on a year ago…”

Twilight frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Well… back when she was spending all that time in the basement, and you went to the Crystal Empire, and Fluttershy was staying at her cottage…”

“She is?” Twilight asked. Like Spike said, Twilight hadn’t been around for that.

But Fluttershy had. “I… I guess she is.” She looked meaningfully at Twilight. “You don’t think she…?”

Twilight understood right away. Back then, Sunset had been drinking away her problems. If she was acting the same way now, then…

“We’ll just have to talk to her when she gets back,” Twilight said. “In the meantime, I’m going to check something in the basement.”

Fluttershy guided Spike away from the door. “Let’s get you something to eat while Twi does that.”

Content that Fluttershy was looking after Spike, Twilight made her way back to the basement. There wouldn’t be anything to find there. Twilight told herself that there wouldn’t be anything down there.

But she needed to be sure. She didn’t know what she would do if her suspicions were confirmed, she barely let herself form the thought. There wouldn’t be anything down there, she was just making sure.

She descended the stairs and took a look around the room. There was nothing out of the ordinary. That was a good sign, but she had to be sure. So she opened drawers, looked under tables, checked everywhere she could.

Nothing. Twilight breathed a sigh of relief as she collapsed onto the couch. She hadn’t found anything, which was exactly what she’d hoped for.

She grabbed one of the back cushions to give herself something to hold onto. What was going on with Sunset? Was she really drinking again? And if so, why?

No, she couldn’t be. They’d talked about that back in Canterlot. Sunset had gone into a bar and almost drank, but she’d changed her mind. When she eventually told Twilight and Fluttershy about it, they told her to tell them if she ever slipped, that they’d help her through it. She knew that, so it couldn’t possibly be that she was drinking again…

Twilight was sure of that. At least, she was reasonably sure. Well, okay, she wanted to be sure. Sunset would tell them. Hopefully.

All those thoughts shattered when she sat up and turned to put the cushion back. Wedged between the back of the couch and the bottom cushion was a bottle of wine.

Frowning, Twilight let the cushion fall to the floor as she levitated the bottle. The label had a picture of a human on it, so it could have only come from one place. Not that it mattered – Twilight knew no one else had stowed alcohol away down in the workshop.

So there it was. Sunset was drinking again. The only question was why?

There weren’t going to be any answers in the basement, so Twilight stood up and brought the wine bottle with her. In a last-minute decision, she tucked it into a drawer. She needed to talk to Fluttershy about this, but they didn’t need to put it on Spike too.

She walked back to the kitchen slower than she left it. She knew there was no avoiding telling Fluttershy, but that didn’t mean she was looking forward to it.

In that moment, Twilight thought maybe she did kind of understand where Sunset was coming from. Although she knew telling Fluttershy was for the best, there was a small part of her that didn’t want her wife to worry. A part that thought she could be enough to help Sunset through this without ever putting it on anyone else. And true, that was only one small part and would have no impact on Twilight doing the right thing and telling Fluttershy, but if even Twilight was feeling like that, even if just a little bit, then what was Sunset feeling?

If anything, that thought only hardened her resolve. Sunset had made a mistake, and Twilight wasn’t happy with that. But more importantly, Sunset had made a mistake, and she needed help. She was scared enough to lash out at her marefriends, and now she was Celestia knows where feeling Celestia only knew what.

She stepped into the kitchen and saw Spike was still eating a sandwich of his own while Fluttershy sat with him at the table.

They both looked up, but Spike was the one who spoke first. “Is everything okay?”

“It’s fine, Spike,” Twilight said as she sat down next to Fluttershy, who gave her a meaningful look. Unable to answer in front of Spike, Twilight just wrapped her wing around Fluttershy and rested her head on her wife’s and trusted that she would understand.

It was well into the afternoon, and there was still no sign of Sunset. Spike had run along to play with his friends, and Twilight told Fluttershy what she found. They talked about going after Sunset, but decided to give her space to hopefully cool off from the earlier argument.

But that didn’t mean Twilight was going to do nothing while Sunset was somewhere feeling alone. The bottle had a human on the label, meaning, of course, Sunset had bought it in Everton. That meant she had gone to Everton at some point, so maybe something had happened there that prompted her to start drinking again.

And even if not, Applejack was Sunset’s best friend. If anyone was going to know what was going on with her, it would be her. So Twilight wrote to Applejack and arranged a meeting with her, and now she was waiting in a coffee shop near CHS for her friend to show up.

As usual, she wasn’t waiting long. Just like her pony counterpart, Applejack liked to be punctual. She wore a warm smile as she walked in, which Twilight mirrored even if she didn’t feel much like smiling.

“Thanks for coming to meet with me, AJ,” Twilight said as she stood up.

“Don’t mention it, Twi. Come on, let’s get us something to drink while we talk.”

Twilight nodded and got in line with Applejack. Not wanting to get right into it while they were in line, Twilight asked Applejack about how she was doing. They talked about how business was going while they moved slowly through the line, which Twilight found she couldn’t quite focus on as much as her friend deserved.

Since Twilight wasn’t too fond of coffee, she ordered a hot chocolate for herself while Applejack got coffee. They grabbed some creamer and sugar packets, then took a seat at a nearby table.

“Now, what’s all this really about?” Applejack asked. “I’m glad to see ya and all, but you’re more jittery than a turkey right before Thanksgiving.”

Twilight had no idea what that meant, but she didn’t question it. “It’s about Sunset… Have you seen her recently?”

Applejack frowned and scratched her head. “Yeah, about a week ago. Why, she okay?”

“She’s not hurt or anything, but she’s not really doing too well. You haven’t seen her since then? Specifically in the past four days?”

“Come to think of it, Big Mac said she stopped by around that time. But when I wrote to her afterwards, she said it wasn’t about anythin’ important.”

“I see…” Twilight had been hoping for some sort of big revelation, but maybe Applejack was just as in the dark as she was.

“Why don’tcha tell me everythin’ from the beginning?”

Twilight took a deep breath. She hadn’t been sure if she wanted to tell Applejack about the wine bottle, but even if she did know where Sunset was, there was no guarantee she wouldn’t blow up on Twilight again. She needed help, and Applejack was just the person to give it to her.

“I found out she’s, well… she’s drinking again.”

Applejack frowned. “Do ya know why?”

“That’s what I was hoping you could tell me. The wine bottle I found came from Everton, but that’s the only clue I know. I thought maybe she came to see you and something happened.”

Applejack shook her head. “Nothin’ that I know of… And if Pinkie knew anything, she woulda told me ‘bout it.”

Twilight sighed. “Great. We sort of had a fight, then she left home. That was hours ago.”

“And you say this started four days ago?”

“Well, that’s when I left on my business trip. But I don’t think that was why she started drinking, she still had Fluttershy around. And even if she was on her own, she’s stronger than that. Something had to set this off.”

Applejack drummed her fingers on the table, then took a sip of her coffee. Eventually she sighed and shook her head. “You’re right, it don’t make no sense. Nothing else happened that might have set it off?”

“No, we woke up that morning and everything was fine. She went to go with Fluttershy to see some baby… bunnies…”

Applejack quirked her eyebrow. “Ya think a rabbit is what’s giving Sunset such a hard time?”

Twilight shook her head. “No, of course not. But we were talking about the baby rabbits and then… Well, I don’t know, it wasn’t like a big deal. I mean, it was, but we were just talking about it.”

Applejack snapped her fingers in front of Twilight to get her back. “What was it y’all talked about?”

“Well… Fluttershy brought up wanting foals.”

Applejack’s mouth fell open. “She what?

Twilight blinked, then smiled a little. “Oh, right. Well, kids, you know.”

“That’s not what’s gettin’ me. It’s just… Jesus Christ, Twi, do you really not see why Sunset might feel some kind of way about having kids?”

“What do you mean? Sunset’s great with kids!”

Applejack stared at Twilight’s perplexed expression for a moment, then she stood up and turned away. “God damn it, Sunset!” She held her hat over her face for a moment. Then put it back on her head and sat down again, her jaw clenched and her eyes narrowed.

It was all Twilight could do to watch the scene in front of her. Something about this seemed to seriously upset Applejack, but for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what. “Uhm, AJ…?”

“Just… tell me one thing. Does the name Sky Shimmer mean anything to you?”

Twilight scrunched her face up, even more confused than before. “Fluttershy’s Oubliettes and Ogres character?”

Applejack sighed. “Look, this isn’t my place to tell you about. But this whole kids thing is definitely what’s gotten to Sunset. You need to get her to talk to you about it.”

“Oh… okay.” Twilight was happy to have a lead, but she did wish Applejack would tell her a little more about it.

“Tell her that if she won’t tell you ‘bout it, I will. And be ready, because that’s gonna tick her off somethin’ fierce, but y’all need to know ‘bout this.”

“Applejack…” Twilight frowned. “Who is Sky Shimmer to Sunset?”

Applejack shook her head and put her hand on Twilight’s shoulder. “I wish I could tell ya that, Twi, but we need to give Sunset the chance to open up about this on her own.”

There was a sickening sensation in Twilight’s stomach that told her she didn’t really want the answer to that after all, but she knew she needed it. Somehow, this whole situation just got much more complicated.

Eager to get back home and see if Sunset had arrived, Twilight asked if they could call an early end to their meeting. Applejack agreed, so within moments, they were on their way out the door.

Although it was in easy walking distance, Applejack gave Twilight a lift back to CHS. She wound up leaving her mostly full hot chocolate with Applejack, said a quick goodbye, and made straight for the portal.

She was so preoccupied that the sensation of travelling through the portal barely phased her for once. She quickly shook herself off once she was back in Equestria, then made her way downstairs where Fluttershy was waiting.

In case Sunset came back, Fluttershy had waited in a sitting room near the entrance so that she might hear the door open. Twilight hoped to find Sunset in there with her, but she was alone and pacing the room when Twilight came in.

“Did you find anything out?” Fluttershy asked as soon as Twilight was through the door.

Instead of answering right away, Twilight walked up to Fluttershy and pulled her into a hug. “Applejack hasn’t seen her since before all this happened. She doesn’t think Pinkie has either.”

Fluttershy sunk into Twilight. “So what do we do?”

“There’s more. Come on, let’s sit down.”

Twilight led Fluttershy over to a couch and the two of them sat down together. Before she broke the news to Fluttershy, Twilight pulled her wife closer to her. “Applejack thinks it’s because we talked about foals. She… didn’t really explain it, but it sounds like that’s a sensitive subject for Sunset.”

“Really? But Sunset’s so good with kids.”

“Older kids,” Twilight said, only just realizing the difference herself. “She’s great with Spike and other kids that are older, but… you know how standoffish she is around Flurry Heart.”

“I guess that’s true… But is all this really because she just doesn’t like babies?”

Twilight shook her head. “I don’t think so. Applejack asked me about the name Sky Shimmer, and if I knew anything about it.”

“Sky Shimmer?” Fluttershy scrunched up her face. “What does my O&O character have to do with this?”

“I don’t think that’s it. Fluttershy, where did the name Sky Shimmer come from?”

Fluttershy quirked her head. “She was an imaginary friend when I was little.”

“So she was never a real pony?”


Twilight frowned. She had thought maybe there would be some clue there, a human counterpart to the pony Fluttershy’s character was named after. “This doesn’t make any sense. How do Applejack and Sunset even know about that name? We haven’t played O&O in ages.”

“I might have mentioned it to her back when we did play, but I don’t even remember. And even if I did, what would that have to do with Sunset not liking foals?”

“I don’t know, Shy.” Twilight glanced at a clock. It was getting late, almost dinner time, and there was still no sign of Sunset.

“So… this is all my fault…”

Twilight’s head perked up. “No, of course not!”

Fluttershy blinked, and a few tears appeared. “I’m the one who brought up foals though! If I hadn’t said anything…”

“Shy, you just wanted to talk about it. Neither of us pushed anything on Sunset.”

“But… I should’ve realized something was wrong…”

“This isn’t your fault, Shy.” Twilight kissed Fluttershy on the cheek. “And it’s going to be okay. Sunset’s going to come home, and we’re going to work this out.”

Fluttershy leaned against Twilight. “I hope you’re right.”

“I am. Trust me.”

Twilight wrapped her wing around Fluttershy, and the two of them waited together. She kept an eye on the clock, the seconds ticking away one at a time. She told herself that each one was one second closer to Sunset coming home, but it didn’t feel like that.

It felt like just the opposite. Like each second only brought Sunset further away from them, each second adding just a little bit more distance between the lovers. Only a little, but there seemed to be no end to the seconds that Sunset was away from them today.

3 – Support

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Chapter Three


The sun had set hours ago, and there was still no sign of Sunset. Twilight had tried to convince Fluttershy to go to bed, said she’d keep waiting up for Sunset, but Fluttershy had refused. How could she sleep now? Her marefriend was somewhere hurting, and it was all Fluttershy’s fault.

“Twily?” Fluttershy said tentatively. She didn’t like the question she was about to ask, wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.

“Yeah?” Twilight somehow managed a smile for her wife.

“What if Sunset doesn’t come back?”

“Don’t be silly, of course she’ll come back.” Twilight nuzzled Fluttershy. “Sunset loves us, and she knows we love her.”

Fluttershy took a deep breath. “I know you’re right, but…” She shook her head. “I just keep thinking… she tried to leave when I confronted her about drinking before.”

“That was before we were dating,” Twilight pointed out. “Sunset wouldn’t do that now.”

Fluttershy sighed, hoping that Twilight was right. It was true they had built a life together, but truth be told, Sunset had a history of running away from things.

When it came down to it, Fluttershy just couldn’t be sure what Sunset might do because she had no idea where the problem stemmed from. Why was this such a sensitive topic?

Oh, what did it matter? Fluttershy shouldn’t have assumed it would be okay to bring up such a huge step so early in their relationship. Sure, she and Twilight were married now, but Sunset had only been with them for a year. Of course this was too soon to spring something like this on her. She was just so selfish, only thinking about what she wanted and not caring enough about her marefriend.

No matter what Twilight said, Fluttershy wouldn’t be happy until Sunset was home safely. They were sitting safely on a couch in their sitting room with at least each other for comfort, but Sunset was somewhere all alone.

Fluttershy got up, not for the first time. Both she and Twilight had done their fair share of pacing around the room while waiting for Sunset to show up. Twilight didn’t even question it until Fluttershy turned towards her and said, “I want to go out and look for her.”

She had expected Twilight to protest, to say that Sunset would come back and they just needed to be patient. Instead, she just nodded. “I think that might be a good idea. But I’ll go, you should stay here in case she comes home while I’m out.”

Fluttershy shook her head. The last thing she wanted was to be left alone right now. “I don’t think Sunset is coming home tonight, Twily. She’d be home by now if she was.”

Twilight frowned. “She can’t stay out all night.”

“She could. And if she feels like she can’t come home, she would.”

Twilight kept her eyes on Fluttershy without saying anything for a moment, and she looked torn. Fluttershy knew her wife well enough to know what she was thinking. Fluttershy’s words made sense, but Twilight didn’t want to believe them.

She took a step towards Twilight and nudged her. “So we just have to find her and remind her she can always come home, no matter what.”

Slowly, Twilight nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll go ask my parents if they can wait down here.”

Fluttershy nodded and Twilight left the room. Sunset wouldn’t appreciate running into Twilight’s parents if she was already apprehensive about coming home, but they needed someone to wait for her, and it was better than asking Spike to do it.

While Twilight was getting her parents, Fluttershy focused on trying to figure out where Sunset might have gone. She was friends with all their friends, but she didn’t let her guard down with anyone quite like she did with the Applejack from the human world.

Fluttershy briefly considered she might have gone to Everton; she had teleported away, after all, so she might have just teleported upstairs to use the portal. But Twilight had used it since then, and she would have noticed if Sunset had used the portal because the book would have still been in it.

And if not Applejack, then she probably wouldn’t have gone to anyone. Their Equestrian friends weren’t likely, not when she was having trouble with Twilight and Fluttershy. Not to mention it would raise some suspicions if Sunset showed up to one of their friend’s houses on the same day Twilight came back from Canterlot.

So if she wasn’t with one of her friends, where would she be? Fluttershy thought she might have a guess, but she hoped she was wrong.

They’d know soon enough. Twilight returned with her parents, who thankfully were usually up late into the night anyway. Before they could head out, Twilight Velvet gave Fluttershy a hug. “It’ll all work out, dear.”

Fluttershy managed a small smile and a nod. “Yeah.”

“We’ll hold down the fort,” Night Light said. “See you girls later.”

They thanked Twilight’s parents and left, passing through the entry hall into the warm summer night.

“Should we split up?” Twilight said. “We’d cover more ground, but…”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I don’t want to be alone…”

Twilight nodded her understanding. “I don’t really either… So where to? We can probably rule out Rainbow’s house since Sunset can’t fly.”

“I… have another idea…” Fluttershy said. “I think I know where she might have gone, but I…”

“But you hope you’re wrong,” Twilight said sadly. “I had the same thought.”

A small part of Fluttershy hoped Twilight would lead them somewhere other than where she had thought of, but of course, she didn’t. They walked through Ponyville, each of them keeping their eyes open for their wayward marefriend, but neither of them expecting to find her.

They didn’t talk along the way. Fluttershy considered asking passersby if they’d seen Sunset, but they could wait for that until after they looked around a little bit. It could cause a scandal if ponies found out that the royal marefriend was missing, and that wouldn’t help any of them – least of all Sunset.

They paused as they reached their destination. There was some hesitation on Fluttershy’s part because she had never set hoof in a bar before, but that was a minor concern when compared to the worry that they might actually find Sunset in there.

“How many bars are in Ponyville?” Fluttershy asked. This was, as far as she knew, the closest bar to the castle as well as one of the most popular in Ponyville. She never had any reason to care about it, but Rainbow liked it.

“I don’t know,” Twilight admitted. “But Pinkie took me to this one before, and… Sunset came with us.”

Fluttershy turned to Twilight. “Sunset did?”

Twilight shifted her weight. “Before we were dating, of course. After she came back from Canterlot, she asked if I knew any good bars in the area. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time, so I just asked around and Pinkie said she knew a good place.”

Fluttershy nodded slowly. Of course, they didn’t know Sunset was an alcoholic back then. But… it was a good thing, in a way. It meant that this was the bar Sunset was probably familiar with.

Twilight was the first to move. She pushed open the door and stepped inside, then held it open for Fluttershy. She stepped in with her head bowed, but once she was inside, she looked around.

It wasn’t anything like Fluttershy expected. She realized now that she had never gotten past her childhood thought that bars were dark places where tough ponies sat around looking mean at one another. But it was properly lit, and mostly there were just normal ponies sitting around talking. There was even a pony playing guitar on a small stage to provide entertainment for everypony else.

But far more importantly, there was no sign of Sunset. Fluttershy couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or not. On the one hoof, maybe that meant Sunset hadn’t gone somewhere to drink her problems away. On the other, they still had no idea where she might be…

Twilight walked up to the counter, so Fluttershy followed. She got the attention of the bartender, who smiled when she saw who was in her bar. “Princess Twilight, and Princess Fluttershy too. It’s an honor to have you both here!”

“Thank you, but we aren’t patrons tonight,” Twilight said. “We’re looking for our marefriend, Sunset Shimmer. She’s a tall unicorn, amber coat with a red and yellow mane?”

“Oh yeah, I know her,” the mare said, causing Fluttershy’s heart to drop. If there was any hope she meant by reputation, it was shattered as she continued. “She’s been here a few times the past couple days. Had to cut her off tonight, she’d had a few too many.”

“Did she say where she went?” Twilight asked.

“Nope. Didn’t put up any argument or anything, just got kinda quiet, paid her bill, and walked off. That was maybe an hour or two ago.”

Twilight sighed. “Okay, thank you.”

The mare gave Twilight a concerned look. “I hope everything’s okay?”

Years of practice since she became a princess had made Twilight pretty good at smiling under pressure. “Nothing to worry about, we were just expecting her home by now. She probably just got caught up with a friend somewhere.”

“Alright. Well, hey, don’t be a stranger, Princess! I’ve got a drink for you on the house if you ever decide to stop in again.”

Twilight nodded. “I appreciate that. But for now, we should be going. Thank you for your time.”

Fluttershy once again fell in step beside Twilight as she led them out of the building. They stopped once they were outside, and Fluttershy leaned against her wife for support.

“Any other ideas?” Twilight asked as she put a wing around Fluttershy.

“I don’t know… Maybe she went to one of our friend’s houses after all?”

“Maybe…” Twilight looked up at the moon and sighed. “I guess the best thing to do would be to just go and ask them. Hopefully we aren’t waking them up…”

One by one, they went around Ponyville asking their friends if they’d seen Sunset. They even went to Rainbow’s, even though her house was by far the least likely for Sunset to be at.

None of them had seen her, just as they’d expected. They offered to help look for her – even Applejack, who had been asleep in preparation for an early day on the farm tomorrow – but Fluttershy and Twilight said there wasn’t a need. Part of Fluttershy did want to organize a search party, but she knew that was just silly. Sunset hadn’t been gone too long, and she could take care of herself.

“Well then, I’ll stop by the castle tomorrow to make sure all is well,” Rarity said as they assured her they didn’t need extra help in searching tonight.

“That sounds nice,” Twilight said. “Thank you, Rarity. And again, sorry for bothering you.”

“It’s no bother at all, darling,” Rarity insisted. “I was just doing some late-night brainstorming, anyway.”

With their last hope dashed to bits, they said good night to Rarity and left the Boutique so she could get back to work.

“Now what?” Twilight asked. “Maybe we should just go back to the castle? She might’ve gone home while we were out.”

“Yeah, hopefully.” Fluttershy took a look around. “Uhm, maybe we could do a flyby of Ponyville before then? Just a quick once over.”

Normally Fluttershy preferred to walk to get around, but this was far from a normal situation. Twilight nodded her agreement, and they took to the air.

They both looked around as best they could. It was hard to tell at night, but at least there was reason to hope that Sunset’s colors would stick out. They flew side by side, Twilight scanning the ground on the left and Fluttershy searching the right.

It was slow going since neither of them wanted to risk missing her. They paid particular attention to the lake, fields, the town square, anywhere outside that Sunset might have decided to go to hang out.

“What do we do if she’s not at the castle?” Fluttershy asked as they exhausted most of their options and were left with nothing to show for it.

“I don’t know…” Twilight admitted. “Maybe she rented a hotel room for the night? I don’t know how many bits she left with.”

They’d never find her if she was at a hotel, but that gave Fluttershy another idea. “What about my cottage?”

“Oh! Good idea, Shy.”

They shifted course and flew towards Fluttershy’s cottage. The cottage had mostly been transformed into a place for Fluttershy to take breaks while she was taking care of the animals in the surrounding area, but it was still somewhere that Sunset might go if she needed a place to sleep without going home or disturbing her friends.

Flying to Fluttershy’s cottage was much faster than walking would’ve been. They’d already looked over the rest of Ponyville, so they didn’t have any reason to take it slow. They zipped through the summer air as effortlessly as fish through water, quickly coming to Ponyville’s edge.

They began their descent near the cottage, but Twilight hung back. Fluttershy noticed a moment later and stopped as well, looking up at her wife. “Is everything okay?”

“Look over there,” Twilight said, pointing off into the distance. “Is that her?”

Fluttershy squinted and stared into the distance. Twilight’s eyes had to be better than hers, because Fluttershy didn’t see anything. There were some colors, sure, but they looked like flowers to Fluttershy.

Then she noticed a patch of red and yellow. She couldn’t see nearly well enough to know if it was Sunset, but it was certainly worth getting a better look.

Without answering Twilight, Fluttershy started flying over towards the colors. Twilight followed closely behind her, and as they approached, Fluttershy realized where they were headed exactly.

Is this really somewhere Sunset would go? The closer they got, the more Fluttershy realized it might actually be Sunset they were looking at, but the location was certainly unexpected.

It was the field of flowers near where Twilight had first told Fluttershy that she loved her. It was a very important spot to the two of them, and Sunset knew that. Was that why she chose to come here?

And then all at once, Fluttershy realized it was Sunset. She put in an extra burst of speed and landed nearby her. She was lying on her back and looking up at the stars, and she didn’t react to Fluttershy’s landing even if she must have heard it.

Twilight touched down a moment after Fluttershy did and stood beside her. “Sunset?”

For a brief moment, Sunset didn’t answer and Fluttershy found herself panicking, wondering what was wrong. Then Sunset finally sighed and answered without turning to look at them. “How’d you find me?”

“We looked everywhere,” Twilight said. “Eventually Fluttershy thought you might be in her cottage.”

Sunset let out a mirthless laugh. “Did you know Discord is living in there now?”

“He has been around a lot…” Fluttershy admitted, then shook her head. That wasn’t really important right now. “Sunset, we’re worried. You ran off without telling us where you were going or when you’d be back…”

Sunset forced herself into a sitting position. “Of course you’re worried about me… Everyone’s always worried about Sunset Shimmer, wondering when she’s going to fuck things up again.”

“It’s not like that!” Twilight said. “It’s just, you know… we love you. And… we know you’ve been drinking again…”

Sunset winced and turned away for a moment, then turned back with a scowl on her face. “Yeah, okay. I’ve been drinking. So what? I’m not a kid, I can take care of myself!”

“No one’s saying you can’t!” Twilight said. “But… you know you have a problem with alcohol. You agreed to stop drinking, you –”

“Stop it!” Sunset put her hoof to her forehead. “Just… Jesus, just leave me alone! You have no idea what’s going on with me right now, and if you did…”

Fluttershy took a step forward. “What if we did, Sunset? What do you think would happen if you just talked to us about whatever’s on your mind?”

Sunset glared at her for a moment, then turned away. “Just forget it. It doesn’t matter. This is all a mistake, I’m clearly not someone who should be meddling with your relationship.”

“You’re part of our relationship, Sunset!” Twilight sounded like she might cry, and Fluttershy couldn’t blame her. She’d never known Sunset to direct this much anger at her marefriends, and it hurt to hear.

“We love you,” Fluttershy said, stepping closer once again. She surprised herself by keeping her tone so level. She was never good at dealing with ponies being angry with her, after all. Maybe it was because she knew that the pony Sunset was really angry with was herself.

She needed Fluttershy right now. She needed somepony who loved her, and there that was all that mattered.

“Yeah, well, love isn’t enough to fix things sometimes.” Sunset looked up at the stars again, but instead of looking wistful, she looked angry. “It sure as hell isn’t this time…”

A moment later, Sunset’s anger gave way to confusion as Fluttershy threw her forelegs around Sunset. “You don’t mean that,” Fluttershy said. “You don’t. You love us, and you don’t want to lose us any more than we want to lose you. You’re just scared of something bigger than you.”

“Let go of me, Fluttershy,” Sunset said, a note of panic creeping into her voice.

Fluttershy shook her head and held her tighter. “Never. You can try whatever you want to get away, but I’m not letting go of you.”

“Why?” Sunset’s voice sounded thick. Fluttershy was breaking through the wall she was trying to put up to protect whatever pain she couldn’t bear to let go of. “Why don’t you just leave me alone!”

“Because we love you,” Twilight said, joining Fluttershy by holding Sunset’s other side. “Because we know that you don’t want to be this angry.”

“We’re always going to be here for you,” Fluttershy said. “I know it’s hard, I know you messed up, but it’s never too late to start again.”

“But… but I…”

“Shh.” Twilight stroked Sunset’s mane as she finally started crying. “We’re here, and we’re not letting you go again.”

“I was too weak!” Sunset bowed her head and a sob fell out. “I knew better, but I couldn’t keep away from it, and I…”

“It’s okay,” Fluttershy said. “You’re stronger than you know. Strong enough to start over.”

“No, I’m not!” Sunset looked at Fluttershy with tears in her eyes. “I couldn’t keep away from drinking. I’m nothing but a useless drunk, same as I’ve always been, and I don’t deserve to be with you.” She turned towards Twilight. “Either of you.”

“You’re amazing, Sunset,” Twilight said. “You inspire me every day, because I know how hard it can be for you. And even if you slipped this time, it doesn’t mean you have to give up, because we’re not giving up on you.”

Sunset broke down and started crying, leaning into Twilight as she did. Twilight held her up while Fluttershy cuddled against her. “I… I really fucked up…”

“Don’t worry about that,” Fluttershy said as she nuzzled against Sunset. “We just want you to get better, and we’re going to help you do it.”

Sunset tried to wipe her eyes, but she was still crying. “I don’t deserve you two…”

“You do,” Fluttershy said. “You deserve so much more than you know, Sunset. I used to feel like I didn’t deserve any good things in my life, but then you and Twily helped me see that I do deserve to be happy. Both of you did, and we’re going to do the same for you, no matter how long it takes.”

Sunset forced herself up and wiped her eyes. “I love you two… I’m so sorry…”

“It’s okay,” Twilight said. “Just… talk to us. No matter what’s going on, you can always talk to us about it.”

“But… maybe tomorrow,” Fluttershy suggested. “For now, we should get you home and into bed.”

Sunset nodded meekly, and Twilight supported her as they started to walk. Fluttershy took Sunset’s other side, and the three of them walked back into town.

“What made you come all the way out here?” Twilight asked as they walked.

Sunset huffed. “It’s dumb…”

“I’m sure it’s not,” Twilight said.

“Well, at first I did plan on going to Fluttershy’s cottage, but then Discord was there and I was worried he’d tell you two, so I left. Then, well… that’s where we went on our first date.”

Sunset was blushing, but it made Fluttershy smile. She had always thought of it as a place that was special to her and Twilight, and never stopped to think of how they’d made it special for Sunset too. “See, our lives are all tangled up now. There’s no separating us anymore.”

Fluttershy was worried about passing through Ponyville, but there weren’t many ponies out, so no one paid them any mind. They passed through the sleepy town without incident, even if they walked through it slowly.

It didn’t matter. Fluttershy would walk all night if that’s what it took. They had their marefriend, and things were going to work out now. Everything would fall into place, just as long as they had each other to lean on. As long as she could feel Sunset’s warmth beside her, everything would be okay.

They passed by the bar they’d visited earlier, and Sunset bowed her head low. Fluttershy pressed a little tighter to her, and Twilight spread a wing over her back, as if they were protecting her from it. In some way, perhaps they were.

After they’d passed the bar, Sunset seemed to do a little better. They were almost home by that point anyway, and she had her marefriends to keep her safe.

She stopped in front of the castle and looked up at it. “People like me don’t deserve to live in castles…”

Fluttershy nudged her as Twilight used her magic to pull open the door. “You deserve to live with us. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a giant castle or a tiny shack, we stick together.”

Sunset smiled a little. “I’d live in a hole in the ground if it meant I got to be with you two.”

Twilight led them in, then left them for a moment to tell her parents they were home. She came out with them rubbing their eyes, and Fluttershy felt bad for leaving them in the sitting room for so long.

“Glad you’re okay, dear,” Twilight Velvet said, giving Sunset a hug.

Sunset looked perplexed. She was never really sure around Twilight’s parents. She hugged her back, but didn’t look her in the eyes when they pulled apart. For once, Sunset seemed to be rendered speechless.

The five ponies all made their way upstairs, Velvet and Night Light in the lead, Twilight following after, and Fluttershy and Sunset trailing behind. Fluttershy suspected she’d appreciate the distance between themselves and Twilight’s parents.

They said their good nights at the top of the stairs, then Velvet and Night Light left for their own room. Twilight and Fluttershy brought Sunset to the bedroom, but Twilight stopped before going in.

“Don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but…” She smiled sheepishly. “Maybe we should get you cleaned up before bed?”

Sunset blushed deeply, but she only nodded. It was true she didn’t exactly smell good. Fluttershy was pretty sure she hadn’t bathed since Twilight left, and now there was a scent of alcohol clinging to her as well.

They brought her into the bathroom next to the bedroom, and Sunset stripped out of her clothes while Fluttershy got the water going. Once it was nice and warm, she gestured for Sunset to get in.

“Do you want to be left alone, or would you like some company?” Twilight asked.

Sunset frowned a little. “I… I’ll be fine on my own.”

Fluttershy giggled and climbed into the still filling tub with her marefriend. “Maybe you’ll be fine, but I’m not ready to let go of you yet.”

Sunset blushed, and Twilight scooted her over to get in as well. “That makes two of us.”

The bathtub was fairly large, big enough for two ponies to use it at once comfortably. Still, three ponies was pushing it, but none of them complained. Fluttershy would almost have been content just to splash around in the water without actually bathing.

Almost, but Sunset did definitely need a bath. Although Sunset could of course bathe herself, both of the others played a part in cleaning her. Because there wasn’t enough room to submerge herself, Twilight had to help scoop water up in her magic to pour on Sunset to get her mane wet. Meanwhile, Fluttershy helped scrub her coat down to get those hard to reach places.

Although she seemed a little embarrassed at first, soon Sunset started enjoying herself. Since she was the only one who needed the bath, the others focused on pampering her. By the time they were done, the sour smell of alcohol and sweat was replaced with the aroma of lime and coconut.

Once they were out, dried off, and wrapped in fuzzy bathrobes, they finally made their way into the bedroom. The difference in Sunset was clear as day. Not only did she smell and look better, but she seemed happier too, more like her usual self.

She took her usual spot on the edge of the bed, and Fluttershy surprised her by pushing her into the middle. “Poor Twily, she’s been worried sick about you and you were just going to deny her snuggles?”

Sunset laughed a little and grinned sheepishly. “She usually gets by snuggling you just fine.”

“Not tonight,” Fluttershy said, and no one argued. She climbed into bed beside Sunset, and Twilight took the other side. Both of them snuggled in close to their marefriend.

Sunset took a deep breath. “You two are so good to me… I don’t deserve you.”

“Shush,” Fluttershy said. “No more of that.”

“Yeah, you’ll just have to accept you’re stuck with us,” Twilight added.

Sunset smiled a little. “I… should explain myself.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “Tomorrow. You’ve had a rough day, it can wait.”

Sunset sat upright, causing Fluttershy to frown. “No, it can’t. Because… because I don’t know if I’ll tell you tomorrow. You need to know about Sk–” She squeezed her eyes shut tight, and Fluttershy thought she might start crying again.

“About Sky Shimmer?” Twilight said as she sat up as well.

“How do you know about that?” Sunset asked.

“I don’t,” Twilight assured her. “I only know the name. I… talked to Applejack. I told her you were acting strange, and that it started when we brought up having foals. She asked me if the name ‘Sky Shimmer’ meant anything to me, but she didn’t tell me more than that.”

Sunset took a deep breath. “Sky was… She’s my daughter.”

“Your daughter?” Twilight’s eyes went wide at the realization. Although Fluttershy was just as taken aback as Twilight was, she wrapped her forelegs around Sunset and held her close.

“Mine and Fluttershy’s,” Sunset said. “The other Fluttershy’s, obviously…”

“You never mentioned you have a daughter,” Twilight said.

Sunset shook her head. “I don’t. She… she died. Well, actually, she was never born. There was a car accident, and… and Sky didn’t make it.”

“But I don’t understand,” Twilight said. “You were pregnant?”

“Not me, Fluttershy was.”

“But then who was the father?”

“Twilight,” Fluttershy said, her tone direct. “You know who the father was.”

“I do? I… Oh. Oh, no…”

“She was our daughter,” Sunset said, her tone making it clear that nothing beyond that mattered. “She was ours, our little Sky Shimmer. We were going to raise her, it was always supposed to be the three of us against the world.”

“You poor thing,” Fluttershy leaned her head against Sunset’s shoulder.

“I can’t imagine what that must have been like,” Twilight said, wrapping her hoof around Sunset’s.

“I loved her.” Sunset blinked, and a tear fell. “No, I still do. It’s so stupid, she was never even born, but… She meant everything to me.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Fluttershy asked. “It’s no wonder you reacted the way you did when I brought up foals. I never would have suggested that if I knew.”

“Because… it’s not my place.” Sunset looked down at the bed. “Of course you want to have kids, you’re married, and you’d be great moms! You should have kids! And I’m… I’m just your marefriend, so… so I don’t want to tell you what to do with your marriage.”

“How about our relationship,” Twilight said sternly. “You know, the one that includes you? Sunset, I love you, but that’s just stupid! We never wanted you to blindly go along with it, that’s why we asked what you thought, and –”

“Twily,” Fluttershy said, causing her wife to bow her head.

“Sorry… I guess I’m just… a little upset that I didn’t see it was bothering you.”

“Me too,” Fluttershy said. “I do want foals, but not if it’s going to make you unhappy. Because you matter to me so much. I don’t need to be a mother, but I need you in my life. I love you, Sunset.”

“I love you too.” Sunset leaned her head against Fluttershy. “And I think… Well, I don’t know, but maybe someday… Maybe I will be ready to have kids.”

“And that’s something we can talk about when that time comes,” Twilight said. “But not before that. We aren’t going to push you into anything.”

Sunset shimmied back into bed, lying on her back so both of her marefriends could snuggle up with her. “I think I want to get my shit together before I think about kids. I thought I was sober, but then when things got a little too hard…”

Twilight reached her hoof across Sunset’s chest. “I think that’s a good idea. And I know you can do it.”

“Me too.” Fluttershy reached her hoof to Twilight’s, so they were holding hooves over their marefriend. “And we’ll be there with you the whole way.”

“Although…” Twilight frowned and lifted her head a bit to look at Sunset better. “I hate to say it, but we might be in over our heads. We tried doing it ourselves once, and well…”

“And it failed,” Sunset said simply. “You’re right. I just… I don’t know what to do…”

“That’s easy,” Fluttershy said as she nuzzled her head against Sunset. “You ask for help.”

“Well, here we are…” Sunset looked up at the building uncertainly.

Fluttershy brushed against her. “Remember, no matter what happens in there, we love you and we’re proud of you. It’ll be okay.”

“Fluttershy’s right,” Twilight said from her place on Sunset’s other side. “And everyone here knows what you’re going through.”

Sunset shrunk back a little bit. “Can’t I just… try really hard to be better?”

“You could,” Twilight said. “We’re not forcing you.”

Sunset frowned. “You’re supposed to say, ‘No, this is the only way to get better.’ Then I’ll groan about it but do it anyway.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “Sorry, Sunset. I don’t think it’s that easy.”

“No. No, of course it’s not.” Sunset took a deep breath. “I got this. Right?”

“Of course you do,” Twilight said. “Are you sure you don’t want us to go in with you?”

“No.” Sunset shook her head and looked up at the building, which was currently in use by an alcoholics support group. “I know I have you two supporting me, but… I think I need to know I can also do this on my own.”

Twilight nodded. “You can.”

“And even if it’s too hard on your own, that’s okay too,” Fluttershy said. “Love you, Sunset.”

“Love you, Fluttershy. And you too, Twi.”

Twilight smiled and kissed Sunset on her cheek. “Love you too, Sunset.”

With one more deep breath, Sunset took a step forward. She only looked back once, and when she did, she saw both her marefriends smiling and waving her off. Then she turned back ahead and walked into the building.


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“Hey, Sky. Bet you weren’t expecting to see me again so soon. I wasn’t really planning on visiting again already, but after everything that’s happened, well… you’ve just been on my mind a lot.

“So I guess the big news is that I’m three months sober. Again. It’s strange though, it doesn’t feel like a setback. I mean, I was a full year sober until I screwed that up, but… it feels okay. It’s not like I’m starting back at square one, I hit a bump, but all that progress I made is still there.

“I’m not doing it on my own this time, though. There’s a weekly meeting I go to with other ponies who are going through the same thing. I was nervous at first, and it didn’t take long for the press to catch wind of it, but it hasn’t been too bad. It’s what I should have done a year ago, when I first decided to do this.

“To think, all this happened because I miss you so much. No, wait, I didn’t mean it to sound like that. It was all on me, not because you’re, you know, not here. It’s just… it’s still hard, you know? I don’t know, I guess you’d have no idea what I was talking about. You’d be just learning how to say ‘Mama’ right about now, huh?

“Speaking of your Mama… look out for her, will you? I’m learning time and time again that no one gets by on their own, and well, I don’t know if she really wants to see me. She’s got your Aunt Rainbow to keep her company, but… Heh, there’s a scary thought, Aunt Rainbow Dash. Nah, that’s not fair, I bet she’d be good at it. You’d love her, I’m sure.

“I’ve also been thinking… about me. And what I want out of the future. All of this happened because I never really confronted the fact you’re gone – there, that’s a better way to put it. And now, well… Now I am. I told my girlfriends about you, and they’ve been really supportive. And… it’s nice to finally get to talk about you. I wish I had more to say, but you know. It’s not some deep dark secret anymore.

“And that’s got me thinking, maybe someday… No, not maybe. I want to be a mom. I’m not ready, not yet, but I want to be. Someday. And I will be. I think… I think I owe it to you to try again. You were such an important part of my life, but you would never want me to be so stuck on that one part that I hold myself back.

“That’s the real reason I wanted to come see you. See, I don’t believe in heaven, or any kind of afterlife, you know? But I always talk to you, and I guess maybe I’m just talking to myself, but… there’s a reason.

“Because back when we lost you, when your Mama was in the hospital, I prayed. First time for everything, right? Well, I prayed that she would wake up. And she did. And ever since then, I just kinda thought, you know. I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. I’ve been wrong a lot.

“So I could be wrong. Maybe there is a heaven, and maybe that’s where you are. And maybe you really can look after your Mama, and if that’s true… Well, someday I think it’s very likely you’ll have a little sister or brother. So please, when that time comes, look out for them too. Because let’s be honest, with me as a mom, they’ll need all the help they can get.

“I was gonna say ‘I hope you don’t mind me trying to move on’, but you wouldn’t. I know that now. So instead I’ll just say the one thing I really wish I got the chance to say to you. I love you, Sky. I love you, and no matter what happens, you’ll always be here in my heart.”