Chasing Shadows

by astrolatryy

First published

Flash Sentry is used to weird magical mishaps by now. The guy his age sprawled unconscious in his backyard, however, is a new one.

Flash Sentry is used to weird magical mishaps by now. His ex is a horse from another dimension who uses the magic of song to fight off whatever monster's shown up in town this week on the regular, and grows a mane and tail while she does it.

The guy his age sprawled unconscious in his backyard, however, is a new one. 

Written for the M/M Shipping Contest 2022. Special thanks to my beta reader Sadie who has grown adept at fighting off my inner critic with a sword. <3


View Online

There is a dude lying unconscious in Flash Sentry's backyard.

He knows for sure that there wasn't a dude lying unconscious in his backyard about two minutes ago, because he'd glanced out the window while he was sprawled over the couch playing video games on his Switch and there was definitely nobody there.

But then there was—this weird whooshing sound like a big gust of wind, and a horrible kinda clattering sound that made Flash wonder if the raccoons got into the trash can again, and he looked outside and the guy was just. There.

And he's definitely never seen him before. He thinks he'd recognize seeing a guy like him before; he's got this long, dark black hair that flows over his shoulders, mullet-length, and he knows he'd remember a hairstyle like that.

Flash also knows there's probably some weird magic shit involved in this guy's appearance. Like, look, the first time when he saw his ex turn into a demon he'd had an existential crisis for a whole week wondering if that shit was real or not, and if he really had been crushing on a princess from another world. Like, he knows he's got a thing for authority, power, presence, but shit, man, actual royalty? No wonder that never went anywhere, girl was way outta his league.

But by the fourth time, when he'd gone to that summer camp with the rest of Canterlot High and weird magic shit went down because of course it did, he was mostly glad that the Rainbooms were competent at what they did. Also glad that Sunset was on their side now, because, damn, even without the demon thing that girl could kick ass.

All that to say that there's definitely something not… right about this guy being here. If he's lucky, he'll just have been transported here from the other side of the city or something. If he's unlucky…

…well, his memories of that time with the actual, literal sirens are kinda vague, but the example still stands tall in his head. For all he knows, the moment he touches this guy's hand he's gonna get zapped into a demon himself or something.

But also. There's a guy his age just kinda lying in his backyard, hair all askew, eyes closed (and shit, at least he's still breathing), and he can't just leave him there. Poor guy's gonna be totally confused if he wakes up in someone else's backyard with nobody around to explain what the fuck just happened to him.

Flash rests a hand on his hip and sighs internally. Fine. He does sports, and the guy looks kinda skinny in that I don't go outside unless I'm forced way, so he shouldn't be that heavy. He'll carry him inside, put him on the couch, and hopefully this guy doesn't end up being a vampire or whatever shit.


The dude startles awake with a sudden, sharp breath that Flash can hear all the way from the kitchen. He leaves the ham sandwich he was making forgotten on the counter as he jogs into the living room, mentally crossing his fingers and hoping the guy doesn't zap him with a mind control beam as soon as he looks him in the eyes.

Said guy seems to be just sitting up on the couch when Flash gets his eyes on him, running a hand through his dark hair to neaten it like he's got all the time in the world. He glances around, looking at the television's dark screen, the glass doors leading outside, the potted plant in the corner that Flash always forgets to water, the open wall between the kitchen and the living room…

…finally, his eyes rest on Flash, and he holds his breath despite himself. One moment passes, two. The dude doesn't say anything; he just kinda looks at him, eyebrows furrowing a little like he's trying to figure something out.

Flash looks back at him, rocking back on his feet, waiting for the dude to say something.

The dude looks at him.

Eventually Flash decides—well, he hasn't tried to mind control him yet, and he honestly looks more lost than anything, so. Might as well speak up.

"Hey, uh…." Fuck, how does he explain this to him? He leans on the doorway and slides his hands in his pockets, trying to come off as more casual than awkward. He doesn't think it's working. "So, you just kinda? Showed up? Outside? I don't know how you got here, or why you ended up unconscious in my backyard, but I figured you wouldn't want to wake up in the dirt, so I brought you inside."

The dude blinks a couple times. "...ah," he says. "I suppose I should thank you."

His voice is much deeper than Flash expected out of a guy who looks like that, rolling like a thunderstorm with its presence. He sounds like the kinda guy he'd hear leading the debate team—not the kind of guy who'd show up unconscious in his backyard with nothing but some clothes to his name.

"So, do you…" He rubs the back of his neck. "Where were you before you showed up here? Do you have a name or anything?"

"Sombra," he says at once, and hey, cool, at least Flash can stop calling him 'that guy' in his head now! "I… I don't know."

Oh boy. "You don't know? Do you have some place you came from, or something? Like a hometown?"

The way this is going, Flash is starting to suspect this guy might be from 'out of town' in the other way. Though, to be fair, he doesn't seem to be acting like he remembers Twilight (the princess) was the first time he met her. 'Sombra' seems to be moving pretty naturally, and he seems like he knows what his hands do and how to work them.

"," Sombra says, looking down at the floor, eyes narrowed. "I don't know. I don't… remember."

Well, fuck. "Do you remember anything?" Flash says, a bit worried. He doesn't know next to anything about how magic works, but he's pretty sure the portal everyone knows is in the base of the Canterlot High statue doesn't take memories.

"I know my name," he says. "...nothing else."

That doesn't leave him with very many options. He was thinking about letting Sombra hang out here for a couple hours while he tried to figure out where he came from, maybe call a few people to let them know that their friend showed up suddenly at his house… but now he doesn't have anywhere to return him to. Nobody to track down, either. Sombra's all alone in a strange place, with no memory, and there's a good chance he isn't even in the same universe he started in.

"Well…" Flash says, scratching the back of his head. He sighs. "I'm going to be honest, I have no idea what happened to you. You probably don't have anywhere else to go, and my parents aren't here for the weekend, so… you can crash here for now, alright?"

Sombra looks at him curiously. "You'd let a stranger with no memory sleep in your own home?"

Flash huffs. "What else am I supposed to do? I'd be a real dick if I left you out there on your own."

He walks over to the couch, offering Sombra a hand. "So come on. Let me show you around."


Sombra may not be as… obviously unfamiliar with the world around him as Twilight was, but it doesn't take a genius to put two and two together as Flash sees the way he eyes pretty much anything with a screen and a plug. So he starts explaining as he goes—that's the television, it displays images and videos when it's on. That's a digital clock, it's the same as your regular circular one, just looks a bit different. Oh, the hall's lit up by electrical lighting—pretty neat, huh?

Is it weird to have some kid show up in his backyard and the first thing he does is show him around the house? Maybe. Maybe another person would've taken him to the police by now, let them sort everything out. But this town has like, three cops, total—and Flash knows for a fact none of them knows shit or fuck about the weird magical bullshit that's spread into his daily life in a fine, sparkly mist.

In fact, if he took Sombra to anyone, it would probably be… probably Sunset Shimmer. It's been weird interacting with her again on friendship terms, but it's… it's been nice. It reminds him of all the things he loved about her during their relationship, the fire in her eyes, how damn smart she was—but without the constant hanging heavy dread above it, the thought that she might turn on him again for some small perceived mistake, as vicious as a viper. As vicious as the she-demon she really did turn into at the end of that Fall Formal.

As much as he enjoys her friendship, he can't see himself ever being in a relationship with her again. Too many bad memories. She's moved on, become better, and he's just happy to have her for advice and a good laugh.

It's so weird to think about the fact that she's totally actually really a unicorn from another dimension, even though he's seen her and the girls' magical transformations at least twice by now. Seeing the horn spiraling from her forehead and the elegant, cow-like tail she has in that form does nothing to offset the fact how human she is the rest of the time.

But it is a reminder that if anyone at Canterlot High knows what to do about weird magic shit, it's her.

Unfortunately, since it's the weekend, he knows that she and the girls are probably out in any number of places doing any number of things, which makes it really difficult to find her without calling her. And he's been wanting to get Sunset's number again, it's just the kind of question that he finds impossibly awkward to bring up. Like, they're just friends and all, but the question always has that certain implication and he doesn't want her to feel pressured by it.

Oh, well. He'll just wait until Monday—by then he'll have to figure something out about where Sombra is going to stay, too, since he can't hide him in a closet for a whole week. Obvious dumb jokes aside about how Flash is supposed to be the only one in the closet in this household, the thought of Sombra just hiding from his parents in his house while he's away at school would stress him out too much.

Sombra seems to not be too offended by Flash explaining the obvious to him, at least; by the time they get the rest of the way through his house to Flash's bedroom, Sombra actually takes the lead in walking inside, gesturing to his electric guitar with a curious tilt of his head. "What is this?"

Do ponies have guitars? is his first, ridiculous thought; he'd think a pony couldn't strum the strings with their hooves, but then again, he'd thought a pony couldn't do a lot of things before he learned what Equestria was.

He decides to just roll with it. "Oh, that's my guitar!" he explains, plunking himself down onto his bed and pulling the guitar from its stand. "It's an electric one, that means you have to plug it into an amp so it sounds good. Makes it sound different from an acoustic—that's the name for a guitar that doesn't need to be plugged in."

Sombra seems interested, nodding along as he explains, and Flash keeps his guitar plugged in nearly all the time so it's easy enough to bring his fingers to the strings and strum a few notes.

He makes a face—one of the strings is out of tune—and reaches up to fiddle with the pegs, strumming experimentally as he hears the sound change. "I'm the lead guitarist in my band, Flash Drive," he says. "We do mostly electric rock stuff, some pop sometimes, but the Rainbooms kinda have 'pop' nailed, so…"

He laughs softly to himself. "Sorry, you're probably not getting any of that." He strums out an experimental chord or two to check the tuning. "Sounds good, though. What do you think?"

Sombra brings himself down to sit beside Flash on the bed, feather-light. "May I try?" he asks, extending one hand out towards the neck of the guitar. He's wearing nail polish—black—Flash notices. Kinda goth, or maybe punk.

He shrugs a shoulder. "Sure, just be careful with it," he says, handing it over.

Sombra holds the guitar well enough for someone who just learned what a guitar is. Not perfect, though, and Flash leans over to correct his handiwork. "Here," he says, his hand nearly brushing against Sombra's, "Put your hand a little higher on the neck, like—yeah, like that."

Sombra hums to himself appraisingly. His fingers strum gently over the strings, once, producing a soft gradient of notes.

"Yeah, like that!" Flash says, smiling. "But, hey, are you left or right handed?"

Sombra pauses for a moment. "...left."

"Oh, yeah, so it's easier if you flip the guitar so you're holding it like…" Flash reaches over and gently takes the guitar from Sombra's hands, turning it so that the neck is in his right hand instead, "...this."

Sombra nods, once again brushing his fingers over the strings with just enough tension for them to make a sound.

"Yeah, you've got it! Okay, so do you see those bars on the neck the strings are running over?"

Sombra makes a soft sound of acknowledgement.

"So, to make different notes, you put your fingers in between the bars to hold down the strings. Try it with one?"

Sombra's brows furrow a little as he places his pointer finger down high on the fretboard, his thumb stroking over the strings gently. He does it a few more times to hear how the note's changed, then switches to strumming just the one string he has trapped beneath his finger, head tilting in thought.

It's nice watching him figure out how to play. There's something elegant about it, surprisingly; Sombra is completely unfamiliar with the instrument, Flash knows that, but he approaches it with a kind of intelligent precision that he likes watching. He's so deliberate about it.

"You've got a good instinct for that," Flash says, smiling.

"...thank you," Sombra says, looking at him oddly. "Do you play often?"

"Oh, yeah, all the time. My band's not the biggest, so we don't get gigs that often, but Canterlot High does a lot of music-related events, and I like practicing. It's fun to learn new songs."

Also, the literal music-is-magic thing. He's never had a transformation himself—and isn't sure how to feel about the idea of it—but he swears he can feel some kind of power behind the notes when he really gets into it. Something about playing in harmony with the rest of his bandmates, getting into the flow during a performance and becoming one part of a whole…

…it sounds silly, but in those moments he can understand why the girls transform when they sing.

"So, uh," Flash says, rubbing the back of his neck. "Do you want to hear me play something?"

"Sure," Sombra says, handing the guitar back to him, and he can't help but smile a little at the shine he sees in his eyes.


Sombra settles in well enough, all things considered. Flash still isn't really sure what to make of him—or even what to think about what he might be. The most likely option is that he's a pony, right? Some poor guy who stumbled through the portal and managed to get his memories taken in the process or something, he doesn't know.

The problem with that is that the portal has always dropped ponies off at Canterlot High. And he seems to remember something Sunset mentioned offhandedly about the other side—something about it being in Princess Twilight's library or something? Whatever the case, he doesn't think random ponies are about to stumble through into the land of the apes anytime soon.

And why would he be missing his memories? And, and—Sombra may be totally unfamiliar with the world around him, but he doesn't seem to be having any trouble with his body. Hell, he can play guitar, and he can play it pretty well for someone who just had a guitar handed to them for the first time.

Could he be just another human like him? That's a possibility. It's more possible than the first option, Flash thinks. But then where does that leave him? Why would he have appeared so suddenly in his backyard, of all places?

Ugh. He needs answers, and as much as he surprisingly doesn't mind the guy living in his house, he knows he's not going to get them from just hanging around him. Sombra said he remembers nothing, and he's inclined to believe him on that front. So that just leaves asking Sunset.

Which leaves an entire weekend to kill, and since Flash didn't really have anything planned for the weekend besides hanging around his house playing video games, he ends up spending a lot of time around Sombra. And it's… nice. It's surprisingly nice.

Sombra's the quiet type, and also the type to accidentally sneak up on people without meaning it, as he realizes when Sombra shows up behind him in the kitchen to ask for something and he nearly drops his plate.

He's quiet—quietly calculating, with a kind of sharp intelligence behind the eyes that makes Flash stop for a moment each time he sees it. Sombra might not remember much about this world, if he's even from here at all, but he's determined to learn everything about it he can no matter what. Flash takes to letting him use his computer to research stuff—he doesn't know how to type properly on the keyboard, but he picks up how to use it pretty quickly, another sign that he's probably not a pony stuffed into a human body.

But beneath that kind of nerdy surface is a surprising type of fire, as he finds out when he's playing video games on the couch one day and Sombra leans over and asks if he can try.

He loads up Mario Kart because it's one of the quickest pick-up-and-play video games he owns, and he figures it's easy enough to learn.

And Sombra gets—he gets really into it. There's that first moment where he's just figuring out what the controls do for the first time, Flash lets him take a few laps around Baby Park to let him get used to it; and then Flash gets into a match with him, loads up a pretty casual cup, thinking he'll go easy on him 'cause it's not like he even knew what a video game was before this—

—and the look on Sombra's face when Flash inevitably beats him for the first time and Sombra turns to him and grins threateningly, all sharp and cocky, this kinda I won't let you do that again? It makes his heart skip a beat.

Also, apparently the guy has fangs. Like, real-ass long, sharp canines that look like they go down far enough to touch his tongue when he has his mouth open, and Flash knows that's probably a warning sign of something but. Wow. He's surprised it took him this long to notice.

Sombra is also apparently a huge night owl, which Flash learns when he wakes up in the morning the first day to see Sombra still sleeping on his couch, his hair practically a dark cloud covering the pillows. This is further proven when Flash shuffles into the living room at nearly midnight and gets whiplash from seeing a dark figure standing outside just past the sliding glass door, only for his tired brain to catch up and recognize the guy he invited to live in his house until he could figure out what the hell is going on with him.

Sombra looks over his shoulder when he slides open the doors, acknowledging him with a soft nod before turning back to… stargazing?

"Hey man," Flash says, rubbing his eyes. "I'm going to bed soon, are… are you going to still be up?"

"Mm. For a few more hours. I won't be tired for a while yet," Sombra says, which is just… kind of ridiculous, considering it's nearly twelve already.

"Huh. Well, don't stay up too late." He laughs softly to himself. "Or do, I guess. It's not like you have school tomorrow."

It's not like the guy has school at all, actually. He doubts he's registered for any classes—not like that matters, Canterlot High has a history of taking new students without asking too many questions about paperwork. Same line of thought as their free meal policy, anyone who shows up in the cafeteria has the right to two free meals a day even if they don't go to class. But Sombra doesn't seem like the type to let himself be confined to a classroom that easily.

Flash looks up at the stars himself, watching the few little lights twinkling in the sky. They're prettier out on the road, he knows, farther away from town where there aren't as many lamps to block out the darkness. But the view isn't half-bad here, and in late August there's barely even a chill.

"The stars…" Sombra starts, drawing Flash's attention back to him. "...they are different here. Somehow, I know that much."

One more point for the 'not from around here' column, then. Or maybe he is from this world, just from a bigger city. Hell, it doesn't clarify much.

Flash glances up at the stars again, thoughtful. "I'm glad you remember something. Does anything else come to mind?"

Sombra's quiet for a long moment. " is supposed to be colder, the night. I—I remember snow… crystals."

A sigh so soft Flash nearly misses it. "It is difficult. I believe… whatever I have… the memories come easier when there is something to remind me of them. I have a feeling such things will be in short supply."

Another reason why he should go see Sunset as soon as possible about this. "Well, tell me if you remember anything else, yeah? I'm going to bed."

As Flash turns to go back inside, he reaches out to pat Sombra on the shoulder without really thinking about it. "Night."

Sombra fixes him with an unreadable look. "Good night, Flash Sentry."


Late on Sunday, Flash Sentry sits himself down on the couch next to Sombra. "So."

Sombra turns to him from where he's been watching—some sort of nature documentary? Huh. ""

"My parents are going to be back tomorrow," Flash says. "And I'm going to be in school, so you won't be able to stay here any more for the week."

Sombra doesn't seem surprised by this; he just raises his eyebrows a little at him. "I assume you have some sort of plan?"

"Uh, yeah," Flash says, kicking his legs. "I was thinking, we have two problems, right? You don't have anywhere to go once my parents get home, and you don't remember anything about who you are or where you came from."

Sombra inclines his head, nodding once for him to continue.

"I know a girl who I think can help solve both problems. Her name's Sunset Shimmer, and she's…" He rubs the back of his neck, laughing to himself a little. "She's one of the smartest girls I know. She's got experience with stuff like this. If anyone can figure out what's up with your memories and set you up with a place to stay, it's her."

"You speak like I'm going to meet her," Sombra says.

"Yeah," Flash replies. "I was thinking… my parents aren't going to be home until tomorrow afternoon, so we still have some time. You'll just get up with me and I'll take you to Canterlot High so we can talk to her. Does that sound good to you?"

"It sounds as good a plan as any," Sombra replies neutrally. "I'll admit, I'm interested to see the kind of company you keep."

"Ah, well." Flash rubs the back of his neck. "Honestly, I'm not that close with anyone at school. I mean, I hang out with the sports guys, and my band members are alright, we just… don't have anything in common besides the sports or the music?"

He huffs to himself. "I guess Sunset's the one who really gets me, but we've only started being friends again recently. I, uh…"

He gives Sombra an awkward smile. "We've got some history together, let's just say."

Sombra tilts his head, making a small, curious noise, but he doesn't say anything further on the topic. Which is great, because Flash feels like he'll melt into a puddle if he ends up telling Sombra any more about his supremely awful social life. He'd start hanging out with Sunset's group—he's sure the girls would be happy to have him—except they're kind of a huge trouble magnet and he already has enough weird magical shit in his life as is. Pinkie Pie alone gives him headaches if he tries to think about her for more than a couple minutes.

After a beat, Flash leans back on the couch and starts watching the nature documentary Sombra's got his eyes on with him for lack of anything better to do. It's not that bad, surprisingly, even though the documentary isn't really his thing. There's just something about just hanging out with Sombra on the other side of the couch, stealing glances at him every now and then when he thinks Sombra won't notice that's… nice.

It's stupid, he should be glad that Sombra will have someplace of his own to sleep (hopefully) after this, but… he'll miss the company.


Flash shivers as he walks down the sidewalk with Sombra at his side, rubbing at his forearms. "Brr," he murmurs under his breath. This is ridiculous. Summer's not even over but this morning seems determined to make his arms into popsicles.

It's even more ridiculous that Sombra beside him seems unfazed; the red, fur-collared jacket that Flash didn't know he had (apparently he'd found it where he'd shown up) is draped over his shoulder rather than being worn.

Sombra's eyes linger on him, amused, as another shiver runs through his body. Flash can see a little uptick at the corner of his mouth and can't help but roll his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah, not all of us are immune to the cold like you are."

"You should have brought a coat with you when you noticed the chill, then," Sombra comments, sounding far too smug. Flash rolls his eyes at him again, harder.

"Look. One, it's August. In case you didn't know, it's not supposed to be this cold. Two, I was halfway out the door by the time I noticed, and if I ran back inside to grab a jacket we were going to be late."

And here Sombra is prancing around with bare arms in what must be fifty degree weather.

Which reminds Flash of that comment he made the other day, and now he's curious. "Hey, the other night… you said it was colder where you came from?"

Sombra takes a break from looking smug at him to narrow his eyes in thought. "...yes. This air feels… more familiar, but not quite right. I…"

His eyes trace up to the stars, their expression distant, like he's looking a thousand miles away. "Lights in the sky… they would be fading by now in the sunrise. How do I know this…?"

Flash blinks. "Do you mean the aurora borealis?"

Sombra snaps his fingers. "Aurora! That sounds familiar, yes."

Flash shoves his hands into his jean pockets, wishing again that he'd thought to bring a jacket. Instead he's stuck looking enviously at the perfectly warm jacket that Sombra has uselessly slung over his shoulder. He's not even using it.

The aurora, though… if he's used to seeing auroras, he's got to be from somewhere up north, right? Some kind of arctic conditions. Which both does and doesn't help narrow things down. He's from somewhere arctic, yes—but where does Flash even start with that? He doesn't know where people live up there.

Hopefully Sunset will have more answers than he can figure out on his own, because all he knows is that it's freezing, and he really wishes he did run back in to grab his jacket even if it might have made him a bit late, and—

A heavy bundle of fabric hits him with a flump, and Flash startles. only barely catching the coat that Sombra has apparently seen fit to dump into his arms.


He shuffles the red fabric around in his arms to see Sombra looking at him expectantly.

"You want me to put this on?" Flash huffs. "I'm not that cold—"

Sombra raises his eyebrows at him. "You look like a pathetic little thing left out in the snow."

Flash would cross his arms if they weren't occupied by Sombra's coat. "We can't all be from—what, from the arctic? Come on, give a guy a break."

"I could simply take the coat back."

Even just bundled up against his chest, the coat does an excellent job at blocking out most of the chill, it's definitely made for the winter. Flash's arms tighten around the fabric.


Flash huffs. "This is going to be big on me," he says, turning Sombra's coat around in his arms to find the armholes.

It is very warm. It is kind of big on him, but not as big as he expected; it's more too long in the torso than anything else, and he finds that the slightly too-long arms are perfect to protect his hands from the chill. The fur collar is snug and soft around his neck and the coat is lined on the inside in a similar way, immediately blocking out most of the cold as he pulls it tight around him.

Sombra shoots him a smug look.

"Shut up," Flash says.

Sombra hums innocently, sing-song, as he tucks his hands behind his back and continues walking like they didn't just have that whole exchange.

Flash rolls his eyes, but pulls the coat tighter around him anyway.


"...and, yeah, her band's got great sound and I'm not even a hip-hop kind of guy, but her lyrics are super repetitive. I don't mind the ego, that just comes with a girl like her, but she should—oh, hey, we're here." Flash blinks out of a conversation about his fellow bands upon noticing the Canterlot High statue rising high up ahead.

He glances over his shoulder curiously at Sombra, wondering if he'll have any kind of reaction to the giant horse statue at the front of the school. Maybe the sight of the portal will spark recognition?

No luck. Sombra appraises the statue like he usually does with unfamiliar surroundings; a sweep of the eyes, a bit of a nod, and then his eyes trace back to meet Flash's. He tilts his head at him.

Flash tries not to feel awkward about the way he's been caught looking. There's not even anything to be embarrassed about, he's just curious. "Sunset and her friends will probably be in the cafeteria. Come on, I'll lead you in."

"The faculty won't mind my presence?" Sombra asks.

"Nah," Flash says, waving his concerns off with a hand as he walks up the front steps to the school. "Canterlot High has always been kinda fast and loose about that stuff. If a kid starts attending here and they aren't officially on the record, they've got a reason to want to be here, right?"

Even more so now that the principals are well aware that there is a portal to another world on their front lawn. He supposes the ratio of evil monsters to lost ponies looking for a safe haven is good enough that they haven't seen a reason to be more strict about their attendance policies. Although he guesses maybe being stricter about it would have stopped that whole mess with the sirens…

…maybe not. He's pretty sure they used their magic to brainwash the principals too, in hindsight. How else would that whole Battle of the Bands mess have happened?

Sombra takes his words in stride, though he does notice the guy keeping a little close to him as they walk through the halls. He can't blame him; everything must be so unfamiliar and weird to him. He's been taking it all in surprising stride—Flash knows he wouldn't do nearly so well if he was suddenly dropped into another world.

Huh. They're as weird to the ponies as the ponies are to them, aren't they? The other world has sparkly magic as an everyday thing, and they have public school and electronics.

At least they don't have actual monsters. Flash is still certain he'd end up captured by some weird mind-control vampire or whatever within five minutes of stepping foot into the other world.

Flash only makes it a couple steps into the cafeteria before Sombra stops suddenly beside him.

"What's up?" Flash asks, turning to see that distant, thousand-yard stare look on Sombra's face again.

"Those girls, over there at the table…" Sombra says, looking unfailingly at the table where Sunset and her friends are sitting, because of course he is. "There. The one with the star in her hair. She seems familiar, as if I should know her somehow."

He's of course talking about the—other Twilight, which Flash has only just started to get used to. And of course, Sombra recognizes Twilight of all people. The chance that Sombra is from around here in any sense has dropped to basically nothing.

Sunset has noticed the two of them by now, sharp-eyed as she always is. She stands from the table and walks across the cafeteria to them, curiosity bright in her eyes. "Hey, Flash, new guy." Her eyes linger on Flash for a moment. "Nice jacket."

This is the point where Flash remembers that he is, in fact, still wearing Sombra's jacket. Fuck he hopes he's not blushing.

"Thanks, it's, uh, it's his," Flash says, wrapping it tighter around himself and refusing to acknowledge the way that Sombra's looking down at him with a lopsided smirk, smug about it as seems to be his default emotion for these kinds of things.

"Speaking of which, who's this? I've never seen you around before," Sunset says, thankfully not lingering on the topic of his jacket as she turns eyes to Sombra.

"My name is Sombra," he replies, and Flash takes that moment to cut in.

'He's actually… something I was hoping to talk to you about," Flash says, rubbing the back of his neck. "...not here. I'm pretty sure he's from… 'out of town', but it's a bit more complicated than that."

"Oh," Sunset says, suddenly looking at Sombra with a much more appraising look. "Okay. Let me go tell the girls, and I'll meet you outside."


"So," Sunset says after Flash has explained everything he knows to her. The two of them are standing just outside the Canterlot statue, out in the cold—again—and Flash refuses to feel embarrassed about the way he's still wearing Sombra's coat. At least Sunset has a nice leather jacket to her name. "He showed up in your backyard three days ago, with basically no memory, and no clues except for the fact that he's from the arctic and recognizes Twilight Sparkle?"

"Pretty much," Flash says, shrugging. Sombra is standing beside him with his arms crossed, looking down at Sunset with an unreadable expression. He's been quiet for most of this explanation. "And he doesn't have anywhere to go."

"Right." Sunset says. "Well, the good news is, I have a good guess for where he's from. Do the words 'Crystal Empire' ring any bells?"

That sounds familiar. Flash thinks he remembers Sombra mentioning something about crystals during the weekend.

Sombra's eyes widen with recognition, then narrow. "That is… that is why I appeared where I did."

"What?" Flash asks.

Sombra looks at him. "Your counterpart in the other world, he lives in the Crystal Empire. I recognized you—only slightly, but enough that…"

Sombra goes quiet again, one fang peeking over his lip as he worries at it in thought. It'd be endearing if Flash wasn’t so concerned about the implications of his words. "I have the feeling I chose to appear near you. But why? What does this mean?"

"This portal is the only way I know of to cross between the two worlds," Sunset says. "And it's always kept memories intact. You must have lost your memory some other way…"

She sighs. "I don't know. I have about as many answers as you do, Flash. I'll…" She twirls a strand of hair around her finger in thought. "I'll write to Princess Twilight. She's been to the Empire more recently than I have. Maybe she'll know something I don't."

She laughs a little to herself. "At least I can help with one thing. I remember what it was like when I came through the portal for the first time… not having anywhere to go was the worst of it. I live alone in an apartment now—there's enough space for two people if you sleep on the couch, Sombra."

"And as for now?" Sombra asks.

"How about you come to school with the rest of us, since you already know Flash?" Sunset asks. "I can introduce you to the other girls. Maybe talking to Twilight will jog your memory."

"I would like to stay close to Flash," Sombra says, nodding. It's an unexpectedly nice comment and Flash has to look away to hide the dumb smile that's decided to appear on his face. Pull yourself together, Flash.

"Then it's settled. Come on," Sunset says, turning back towards the doors and gesturing for Flash and Sombra to follow. "Let's get back inside. It's cold out here."


And that's that, for a few weeks. Sombra settles into school life as quickly as he's adjusted to everything else about the human world. He's a little weird around other people, Flash notices, tends to sit alone in the cafeteria unless one of the girls specifically invites him to sit at their table, and he doesn't seem to have made any other friends… but to be fair, Sombra never struck him as the sociable type, anyhow.

That makes it feel even nicer when Sombra always seems happy to see Flash around. Knowing that Sombra doesn't particularly reach out to his peers, just stays in the corner reading books or staring out through the cafeteria window, and yet the guy still wants him around.

They talk a lot in between classes. Mostly it's Flash doing the talking, catching him up on school gossip, talking about the next game he has or the next gig he's going to play over the weekend. Sometimes he's just being a music nerd—he's pretty sure Sombra doesn't completely understand what he's talking about a lot of the time in that regard, but it's nice that he listens anyway. Sometimes Sombra will prompt him with a question or two about the human world, something he's been researching, and Flash will answer his questions the best he can. More and more now Sombra's started getting into stuff that even Flash can't answer, so he has to ask one of the girls—Twilight or Sunset, usually—instead. He really is kind of a nerd, but, hey, Flash likes nerds.

Sombra seems to be getting along well enough with Sunset, which is nice considering he's currently living in her apartment. Sunset says he's pretty quiet, keeps to himself. She mentions that she asked him a few things about Equestria, wondering if he'd pick up on something, but considering she was only in the Crystal Empire… once… (She says this in the particular tone of awkward she gets when she's talking about the person she was before the whole Fall Formal incident. Flash doesn't pry.) it's difficult for her to ask any particular questions that might spark his memory.

"What is the Crystal Empire, anyway?" Flash asks her at some point, curious. The name keeps popping up.

"Oh, it's a city-state located north of Equestria," Sunset answers. "I don't know much about it, to be honest. It was still cursed when I was Princess Celestia's student, and she never really brought it up. The most I've heard about it is from Princess Twilight's letters to me. Her sister-in-law is princess there."

Flash blinks at her. "Is royalty a… family thing over there, or…?"

Sunset laughs. "It's totally coincidence, can you believe it? She actually ascended after her brother married Princess Cadence."

That brings up so many more questions than answers. Flash settles for, "Cadence? Like, the Dean at Crystal Prep… High…"

The name suddenly clicks in his mind. "This is giving me a headache," Flash declares. Like every time he chooses to ask about Equestria does.

Sunset pats him on the back consolingly. "You'll get used to it. Eventually."

Flash murmurs something unintelligible as he puts his head in his hands.

The magical land of the pretty pastel ponies is a mystery Flash will leave to people who don't still reel every time someone he knows personally decides to sprout wings because they got really into the song they were playing.

That's a great idea, because soon after that there's another mystery that falls directly into his hands—

—the day he looks outside on a crisp summer morning and there is snow falling from the sky.


View Online

"All this snow and they still didn't give us a snow day!" Flash can hear Rainbow Dash complaining as he trudges his way up to Canterlot High. He remembered to grab a jacket this time, but it's still damn cold out and the chill keeps getting in through his hood. He almost wishes he had Sombra's coat back, but he just knows the guy would look so very smug about it if he asked and he's not that desperate.

"Darling, it's not even half a foot yet," he hears Rarity reply as he turns the corner to see the girls grouped up in front of the horse statue, chatting in their usual half-circle. There's a twist of flaming hair missing from their usual group, though, and Flash glances around for any sign of Sunset as he walks up to them.

"Hey girls," Flash says, to various waves and hi's. "Where's Sunset?"

"She texted 'n said she was runnin' late," Applejack replies. "Somethin' about warmin' up her—"

The rumbling sound of a motorcycle engine echoes across campus like a roaring dragon, growing closer.

"—motorcycle," Applejack finishes. Flash Sentry grins.

He's been on Sunset's motorcycle with her exactly once back when he was still dating her. She'd wanted to show off to him and he hadn't quite clocked how much she was just using him back then—he doesn't hold it against her now, he knows she's changed—and, damn, was he impressed. More impressed now, honestly, now that he knows she'd only had about a year or two to get used to a human body instead of something with four legs and a tail. She drives that thing like a professional.

Speaking of which, there she is, flame-painted and rumbling down the street like she owns it. He's so caught up in the sight of it that he almost misses the person with her; Sombra's dark hair bound up in a matching helmet to hers, hands at his sides as he—

—is he sitting on it sideways?

He is, with his head tilted in a way that Flash just knows he's grinning even though he can't see his expression under the helmet, seeming not at all afraid of the thought that he might fall off it if he loses his balance.

Sunset slows to a stop at the curb and Sombra hops off as she kicks the stand down, removing the helmet with a toss of his dark hair that makes it seem like a rolling thunderstorm, or a cloud of smoke. He absentmindedly runs a hand through his hair as he sets the helmet down on the second seat of Sunset's motorcycle and says something to her too low for him to catch—not like Flash would catch it anyway, really, because all he's doing right now is staring.

He seems totally in his element in the snow, too, carrying himself with a kind of regal, comfortable confidence even as the snowflakes begin to dot his hair and the back of his coat. It's the first time Flash has actually seen him wearing it, too, and it fits him; the fur collar high around his neck in particular makes him look striking, kingly. In that moment Sombra could ask him to jump and Flash would only ask how high?

Sombra turns and finally sees Flash, visibly brightening—in the subtle way he does, a tilt of the head a little higher, the eyes a little softer—and it's all Flash can do to give him a wave, trying to act casual. "Hey."

"Flash," Sombra greets, striding to his side. "You seem cold. Are you certain you don't need to borrow my coat again?"

"Oh, shut up," Flash says, giving him a gentle punch in the arm. "I bet you'd melt in the summer heat."

"Then I'm lucky that summer seems to have ended early."

"I wanted to talk to all of you about that, actually," Sunset says, drawing everyone's attention. "I don't think this is just a freak snowstorm out of nowhere. I think this is connected to Equestrian magic."

Her eyes meet Sombra's. "More specifically, I think this is connected to you."

Sombra tilts his head thoughtfully, nodding his chin at Sunset to prompt her to elaborate.

"I mean, come on. You show up with only vague memories about the snow at the same time the temperature starts dropping without warning. You mentioned remembering the arctic, and now it's started to snow."

"It would make sense. I have the feeling that you're correct… though it stands to say that I do not know where this snow came from, or what it is being caused by."

Sunset shrugs. "I figured you didn't. I'm just here to tell everyone to keep an eye out. We don't have many clues about what's going on right now, but it never hurts to keep a sharp eye on things. This stuff gets weirder before it gets better—" She laughs. "—as we all know."

Flash almost wants to sigh. Of course things couldn't be as easy as getting Sombra settled in his new life. And of course he's getting caught up in the magical mishap of the month.

He steals a glance over at Sombra. It can't be all bad, he supposes. He didn't want to leave Sombra behind when he first met him, and he doesn't want to just leave him to whatever magic he's at the center at now. He might not be a Rainboom, but he'll try his best to get them both through this unscathed.


Waiting for the other magical shoe—horseshoe?—to drop feels like holding his breath underwater. Flash wants to do something, but what is there to do? He's sure the girls have already poked around at the portal enough, and Flash has gone over the place where Sombra appeared in his yard so many times that he's certain there's nothing to miss. The only lead they really have is Sombra, honestly, and unfortunately that seems like a lead that's run out of options.

Sombra doesn't mention remembering anything else, and Flash is hesitant to bring it up to him. It feels a bit… personal. Like, if he was dropped into another world knowing fuck all about both it and himself, he'd feel pretty vulnerable about it. That's Sombra's personal history. If he wants to bring something up about it, he will—until then, Flash is just happy being his friend.

They start hanging out more outside of class, too. Sunset manages to acquire Sombra a phone—somehow—and Flash isn't surprised to find that Sombra is the type of person who texts with perfect grammar, punctuation and all. It's kinda funny. He feels like he's texting a professor sometimes, only for said 'professor' to totally break character with blurry photos of stray cats and links to the metal songs he's started getting into.

Flash has been teaching him more guitar whenever Sombra swings by his place. It's nice; the two of them hanging out side-by-side on the couch or in his bedroom, Flash correcting his grip or his notes every now and then but more often just leaning back and listening as Sombra makes his way through the chords. He'd love to get him his own electric guitar, he knows Sombra's partial to the sound. Just sucks that a decent guitar is so expensive…

…he takes him to the mall anyway, just to look around. It's half a way to get Sombra to reveal what kind of electrics he likes so Flash can take note of it if he ever gets the money to buy him one, half just showing Sombra another aspect of human life he's sure he's unfamiliar with.

And half just an excuse to hang out some more with Sombra. (Yes, that's three halves, but he's got a C in Algebra II so it's not like he cares.)

It's to his surprise, then, when Sombra notices a storefront and drags him halfway up an escalator to see it. It's less of a surprise when Flash notices the sign hanging over the storefront and can't help but laugh; Hot Topic in big, bright, bold letters and Flash all but elbows Sombra in the side. "Should've known that would be your thing."

"You should have brought me here sooner, then," Sombra replies, amused. "Shall we?"

It is absolutely, totally not his type of store; he feels like he sticks out like a lightning bolt as soon as he walks in. Like a gaudy orange stain on the dark walls.

Sombra just smirks at the look on his face and pulls him closer with a tug of his wrist, getting an ungainly noise out of Flash as Sombra gestures him closer to the jewelry section.

"Don't worry about the employees. They don't bite," Sombra says, chuckling.

"How are you more confident here than I am?!" Flash breathes, feeling ridiculous, but kneels down to check out the earrings with Sombra too, glancing at him to see the two sets of fang-shaped metal earrings that Sombra first showed up with still in his ears. The raw metal aesthetic fits him, honestly.

Then again, Sombra's the type to pull off just about anything he wears. He carries himself like that.

They get a few packs of earrings at the Hot Topic and then Sombra is once again leading him through the mall, eyes high on the store signs like he's searching for something. He stops in front of a clothing store, hums to himself, and then drags Flash into that too. It's all he can do to trail behind like a helpless duckling,

He sees what's on Sombra's mind soon enough as Sombra ends up leading him over to the jackets.


"You can't say your current hoodie is sufficient enough for the cold. I've seen you wearing that poor, thin thing. It doesn't even have a drawstring," Sombra says. The shit-eating look on his face says he knows exactly what he's doing with this.

"Yeah, yeah, like you're showing me this out of the goodness of your heart. My jacket's fine," Flash argues, crossing his arms.

"Certainly. That is why you cling to mine like a lamb to its mother, yes?"

Flash is certain his face must be red by now. "If I get a new jacket, will you shut up about it?"

"Perhaps," Sombra says.

In the end he does end up walking out of the store with a much nicer jacket for the snowy weather—puffy, dark, with the kind of hood he can really feel keeps in the heat even just in the insulated environment of the store, and fur-lined on the inside.

…like Sombra's. Because it's comfortable. He stoically ignores the amused look Sombra gives him as he tugs it off and hangs it over his shoulder. He won't give him the satisfaction of a reaction.

Instead, as they walk out of the clothing store, he says, "I was thinking about taking you to look at the guitars. They're kind of expensive, so it's just to look, but I thought you might like looking at more brands than just mine."

"That sounds excellent," Sombra replies. He opens his mouth like he's going to say something else, but he doesn't get a chance, because just then the power shuts off for the entire mall, plunging them into darkness.

Sombra's arm is around his shoulders in a heartbeat, pulling Flash against him protectively. "What was that?"

Flash has to take a few moments to reply. "Uh, that was—the power went out. It's not supposed to do that. I have no idea what's going on."

He can hear hushed, frantic voices echoing all throughout the mall. Down below on the lower level he can see people starting to gather, nervous.

In the sudden quiet, he can hear a distant, howling wind. Flash shivers, and it's not from the cold.

"That is the sound of a snowstorm," Sombra breathes, in that distant I'm-remembering-something voice. "The sound of cutting, cold wind howling against a shield."

Or against the front of a mall.

"Come on," Flash says, reluctantly pulling away from Sombra's grasp. "We should… we should get down to the lower level. See if everyone's okay."

Sunset and the girls work here after school, right? The thought is surprisingly comforting. There might be a freak snowstorm howling its way through town outside, but at least the girls have their rainbow magic superpowers to make everything right.

He hopes.

The ground floor of the mall is filled with clustered, nervous teens whispering to each other in the darkness. Flash keeps an eye out, searching for any sign of one of the girls, as Sombra sweeps an arm around his shoulder again and leads him to the closest entrance to the mall.

The glass facade facing outside has been coated in a thick wall of white. Flash can't see anything else—not the cars he knows are lined up in the parking lot, not the planted trees, not even the few feet leading up to the automatic doors. It's all just snow. He's never, not once in his life seen a blizzard this vicious. How did a snowstorm like this even form so fast?

Magic, he knows, exhaling nervously. "Any thoughts?" he asks, looking up at Sombra.

Sombra still has that thousand yard stare to him. The fact that a snowstorm as vicious as this is familiar to Sombra is a little concerning, but, well, if he had to be trapped in this mall with anyone, it might as well be the guy who knows how these things play out already…

"That won't hold against the snow," Sombra says, bringing Flash back to a sharp, terrified present.

"Are you—are you sure?"

"I am certain. I have seen storms such as this—" Sombra cuts himself off to grab Flash by the back of his hoodie, yanking him bodily backwards just in time for a terrible crack! to ring sharply through the mall.

The glass shatters inward in an awful explosion. Flash thinks just quickly enough to pull his hood up and hunker down against Sombra—who's pulled the two of them around a corner and against a nearby wall—before a wall of howling wind races into the mall and an ice chill like nothing he's felt before cuts through him to his very bones.

The snow is vicious and opportunistic, cutting at any little bit of exposed skin it can reach; Flash hisses through his teeth with the pain of the sudden temperature change, clinging close to Sombra without thinking.

He can barely see—barely hear. The wind of the storm is howling in his ears and his only landmark for where he is right now is the warmth of Sombra's body heat, the feeling of his long, dark hair whipping against them as Sombra says something that is quickly snatched by the noise of the blizzard.

"We have to get out of here," Flash says, pushing his head up against Sombra's shoulder in an effort to make himself heard.

He can feel Sombra's hand tighten in the fabric of his hoodie. The other reaches for his own, taking his wrist gently and guiding it to the smooth plaster of the wall they're pushed up against.

"We will have to follow the wall," Sombra tells him, voice heavy and commanding. "It is far too easy to get lost in a storm such as this. Be careful."

"I'm not leaving your side," Flash says. He'd look him in the eye if his eyes weren't stinging from the snow. "Lead the way."

Side by side, his shoes crunching in the building snow, Sombra pulls him tight against him and the two of them trace blindly against the mall's inner wall, their only sign that they're going the same direction. Eventually the texture of the wall begins to change—Flash feels glass beneath his fingers and knows they're near a storefront.

The snow isn't nearly as blinding inside. Sombra takes no time in leading the two of them behind the counter and sitting behind it; Flash figures the store owner won't mind, wherever they are. It's a tiny little electronics store that he swears he's been to before—maybe one of the girls works there? Fuck, where are they?

He thunks his head back against the counter and takes a few moments to breathe. "That wasn't natural," he says to Sombra.

"It wasn't, and yet I know I've seen that kind of storm a thousand times," Sombra remarks, curling a fist. "I should know… it is so frustrating not to remember. Like forgetting a word and having it at the tip of your tongue."

"Sunset said you were from some place called the Crystal Empire, right? They've gotta have some way of dealing with the storm, right? Some kinda magic, maybe?"

Sombra frowns. "They had… a weapon of some kind, I believe. A—" He huffs a soft breath of laughter to himself. "A crystal. But I suppose that much is obvious."

"A crystal weapon…" Flash laughs, too. "Yeah, that doesn't narrow things down much. I know the girls have a set of crystals they get their powers from." And come to think about it, didn't that crown Sunset caused all that trouble with during the Fall Formal incident have a special crystal in it too…? At least the weird magic has a theme.

The whistling sound of the wind from the storm outside battering the store suddenly recedes. Flash peeks over the counter to see Rarity standing in the doorway, a human-sized crystal shield behind her blocking out the worst of the storm.

"Hello? Is anyone—oh, Flash, there you are, I was worried sick. Is Sombra with you?"

"He is," Flash says, gesturing with his head. "Where are the others?"

"The girls are going all around the mall trying to find anyone who was caught in the storm. You two are the closest to an entrance I've seen—are either of you hurt?"

Flash runs a hand over the cloth at his neck and winces to feel a few shards of glass digging into the fabric of his hoodie. At least none of them made it through the clothing… "I'm fine. Sombra?"

Sombra nods at him, and he nods in turn at Rarity. "We're good. Do you girls have a plan to deal with the storm?"

Rarity sighs nervously, but nods. "Once we're certain everyone's safe, we're going to go to the source and, ah, 'pony up'. Hopefully our magic will be enough to push the storm back… if not, I suppose we'll shelter in the mall and wait for outside help. Sunset has been trying to contact the princess."

"Good luck," Flash says, feeling a little useless. "We'll stay here until you're done or one of you comes back to get us. Does that sound good?"

"It certainly does. I assume you have a means of contacting us?"

"Uh—" Flash falters, not having gotten Sunset's number yet.

"I do," Sombra says, fingers tracing the shape of his phone in his pocket, who apparently has.

"Excellent," Rarity says. "Hopefully the storm won't be enough to disrupt the signal, yes? I promise one of us will come check on you if it does."

And with that, Rarity turns on her heel and leaves, letting the wind and snow pour back into the shop once more. Flash falls behind the counter and exhales shakily, nerves rattled. He's been magically mind-controlled—twice—watched the other Twilight Sparkle rip holes through reality and gotten trapped by thorny vines thicker around than his torso, but yet this storm scares him the most.

It's the fact that there's not a person behind it, at least as far as he's seen. It's just a storm. It's just a particularly vicious snowstorm with the wind power to shatter glass, like a tornado that could give him frostbite. It's not another person driven mad with magical power, who at least has enough sense not to kill him outright. It's almost normal. The storm does not care about the shards of glass in his hoodie. The storm wouldn't care if he froze to death within. It's just…

…it's just a storm. It's just a fucking snowstorm.

And his hands are shaking.


"Mm?" His tone sounds a bit softer than he's used to. Has he noticed how shaken Flash is?

"You said you've been in storms like this before," Flash says. "How did you manage to make it through?"

Sombra is quiet for a long moment. "I was… often on the outside, looking in. I saw others survive them, heard… tales. Even then, everything I manage to remember feels like a distant dream—a life lived by someone else. I remember this third-hand.

"I remember those with the strength of will to keep standing even as the snow lashed icy whips against their bodies. I remember those who forced themselves to keep walking, though the wind howled and the path ahead seemed vanished. They kept going because they had no other option but to survive. They kept going because they wanted to survive, even though their world was nothing but pain.

"Most of all, they kept going because of their love for others. Even though their whole world was a nightmare of frost, even though they had no hope, they took one step in front of the other because they had somebody waiting for them at home.

"That was how they survived. Their love was a shield against the uncaring frost of the world."

Sombra looks over at him and laughs, quietly. "And as for the moment, although we may be trapped, we are currently trapped in a place with an exceeding amount of food, water, and clothing supplies, with excellent shelter from the winds outside. Furthermore, although I am unfamiliar with the magic you speak of these girls wielding… I have a feeling it is immensely powerful. We are hardly in a difficult situation at all. We will be alright."

Flash huffs, picking his head up to give Sombra a look. "You could have opened with that."

"You asked about my memories," Sombra replies, arching an eyebrow.

He manages a little bit of a laugh. "I guess I did.



He feels it before he sees it: a rush of power over his skin, tingling like he imagines being in a lightning storm would be like, sugar-sweet.

The wind gusts weakly once more, sending a small flurry of snow into the storefront that Flash and Sombra are still holed up in, and then it fades. Flash dares to get up onto his knees and peek over the counter again.

There's still a thin layer of snow piled up on the floor from where the storm blew it in. Flash is honestly a little glad it's still there; he doesn't want to know what would happen if all that snow melted at once. The chill's still ebbing around his fingers, but it's not the vicious, biting thing it was just a minute ago. He loosens the zipper of his hoodie and turns back to Sombra. "Hey, I think they—"

He pauses. Sombra is staring dead through a wall, eyes blanker than he's ever seen, like he isn't even registering Flash's presence. "Sombra? You there?" Flash asks, kneeling beside him, all thoughts of the snow outside forgotten.

Tentatively, he puts a hand on Sombra's shoulder. Sombra seems to start at the sensation, breathing sharply through his nose with a jolt. He glances over at Flash. "Apologies, were you talking to me?"

"Were you remembering something?" Flash asks. "You seemed pretty out of it for a moment there. I was worried."

Sombra hesitates. "...I am uncertain. Something about that wave of power… it isn't the same, and yet…"

He shakes his head. "It is nothing. I'm fine."

Flash leans back, frowning. "If you're sure, dude."

Sombra rolls his shoulders and stands, offering a hand to Flash absentmindedly; his eyes are resting on the glass at the front of the store. He seems distracted.

Flash takes his hand and stands, too, going to rub the circulation back into his fingers now that it's not nearly as cold. He never thought he'd be grateful for thirty degree weather. "We should go find the others," he says. "Make sure everyone's okay."

Sombra hums an acknowledgement and Flash reaches back to wrap a hand around his wrist, leading him out into the wider mall. (Hey, is it his fault he doesn't want to let go of him after what he just went through?)

It's easy enough to find the girls. Just look for the most technicolor, sparkly thing in the mall—also, the wings and horns help. Hard to miss Rainbow Dash when she's hovering a couple feet over the others grinning like she could fly a marathon with those things.

Sombra laughs softly when he sees them.

"What?" Flash says, grinning at him. "You mean it's not ridiculous that the girls of Canterlot High's most popular band can turn into horses?"

"Ponies," Sombra corrects, making Flash do a double-take. He's only ever heard Sunset correct him like that.

"Do they—" Flash starts, feeling ridiculous. "—do they seem familiar to you?"

Sombra tilts his hand so-so. "It's amusing seeing them in-between, even if I don't quite remember why that is. They're little humans playing at being ponies."

Flash snorts softly. "Glad to hear the other side finds it just as crazy."

Sombra tilts his head, nodding at one of the girls. "Shouldn't that one—Twilight, was it? Shouldn't she have wings?"

Flash's eyes flick to Twilight pushing her glasses awkwardly up with one finger, eyes tracing over the horn currently residing on her forehead. Now that he thinks about it… "Huh. I think you're remembering the other one. I wasn't really… paying attention…" Read: was reeling from magical brainwashing. "...when I saw her transform, but I remember she had wings and a horn."

She looked beautiful like that, honestly. Sunset does, too, all fire and power, the smile on her face telling him she's in her element like nothing else. Like this feels natural to her. It probably does.

He wonders how Sombra looked in the other world. This isn't his natural appearance, right? He can't even tell from just looking at him. Sombra walks in this world like he owns it, regal bearing, chin tilted up, sharp eyes. Flash knows he'd last all of five minutes in the pony world, but he'd risk it just for a glimpse of him.

It's at this point that the girls finally notice them. Sunset's eyes settle on them and Flash registers her horn lighting up for half a second before there's a sharp crackle of something like ozone and she's suddenly in front of them. It's evidence to how Sombra's not from around here that he doesn't even flinch at the sight; Flash on the other hand jolts so hard that Sombra settles a hand on his shoulder. Sunset smiles at him apologetically.

"Hey," Flash says with a little wave.

Sunset, to his surprise, barely acknowledges him—there's a little bit of a lingering glance and then her focus is wholly on Sombra, her expression sharp and serious.

"Princess Twilight wrote back to me," she says by way of explanation. "She wants to see you. Now."


Flash feels inexplicably like a kid in trouble at school making the long walk down to the principal's office as he accompanies Sombra to the Canterlot High statue.

Sunset didn't explain much. Just that Princess Twilight wanted to see Sombra yesterday, and—in a softer, more hesitant tone so that Sombra couldn't hear—that Flash might not want to be around for the conversation.

Well, fuck that. He's been at Sombra's side since he showed up here. He's not abandoning the dude just because Princess Twilight might want to have a messy conversation with him, or that he might get even more confused and caught up in weird magical pony shit. Sunset wasn't there when the storm hit. And she wasn't there before when he first got to know Sombra. Just because Sombra's currently living in her apartment for lack of a better place to go doesn't mean she knows him like Flash does.

No, he's sticking close, sink or swim.

"Got any ideas for what this might be about? You knew Princess Twilight, right?" Flash says, sticking his hands in his hoodie pockets casually like he's not incredibly nervous about this.

"Mm," Sombra says with a distant tilt of his head. "I have my suspicions."

He doesn't elaborate, which makes Flash even more worried. But he doesn't push. If Sombra wanted to tell him, he would tell him. And it's not like he's not going to find out in a few minutes anyway when Twilight comes through.

But, fuck, it must be serious if Princess Twilight's coming back through the portal. After all this time. He should be excited about it—and he kind of is, it'll be nice to see her again—but he doesn't feel any of that hopeless, longing rush he did when she first started coming through the other world.

It's kinda freeing to get over it, to be honest. Sunset was right. He can't spend all this time pining over someone who lives full-time in another world, anyway. And what would an actual princess have in common with some high school music nerd?

They round the corner just in time for the surface of the statue to ripple with pastel rainbow light. Flash takes a step back, heart flipping in his chest, suddenly more nervous than ever. Sombra raises his head, staring down the portal like a challenge.

Princess Twilight steps through, and she looks just the same as she ever did. It's weird seeing her unchanged, honestly; she's even wearing the same clothes she normally does, and Flash takes half a moment to wonder how clothing works through the portal. Is that just her everyday outfit, or…?

His train of thought vanishes as she locks eyes with Sombra, her eyes narrowing to meet his in a standoff. The only time he's seen Twilight ever look like that at someone was with Sunset, or the sirens—people she's seen as a threat. What on Earth…?

Before she can say anything, the portal ripples behind her again, lower to the ground. Flash gets to see Spike leap through, shaking himself off awkwardly as the portal's surface smooths behind him.

Sombra regards Twilight with an expression of idle interest, but as soon as Spike shows up, his entire expression shifts.

Spike's eyes snap up to meet Sombra's. "You!" he says, and if anything is weirder than watching a dog speak like it's totally natural it's watching a dog bark out the word you like a challenge, fangs bared.

Sombra's head tilts back with lazy confidence, arms crossing over his chest. "Ah. I remember you."

"You better. I'm the one who saved the Crystal Empire from you! I kicked your—"

"—Spike!" Twilight cuts in, picking him up under the shoulders to settle him in her arms. "Enough."

Sombra raises an eyebrow at her. "I assumed you'd let him go on."

"Don't tempt me," Twilight says, looking him in the eyes. There's a moment of unspoken tension—a fire burning between the two of them, and for a moment, Flash wonders if either of them are going to snap.

Twilight sighs, deflating. "Sorry, I'm… I'm trying to be nice. I'm a princess for a reason—I should believe in second chances more than anypony—um, anyone else. And if Sunset's right, you don't even remember a lot of what you did. You haven't done anything wrong here. It's unfair of me to treat you like you have."

"Uh, hey," Flash cuts in, scratching the back of his head awkwardly. "Not-pony here? What's going on?" More importantly, what did Sombra do in the other world?

"Oh, Flash!" Twilight startles. "I didn't even notice you! Right, I remember Sunset mentioning that you were the one who found… Sombra. Come on, let's…"

She pauses, eyes flicking to Sombra. "Are you sure you want him to know?"

"I would hardly be a good friend to him if I left him in the dark," Sombra replies. "Isn't that what you stand for, Princess?"

Okay, that's definitely not a neutral tone Sombra has in his voice. Kind of challenging. Twilight's eyes narrow at him. "You shouldn't use my title or his feelings as a power play, Sombra."

Sombra stills. Flash hears him exhale slowly, softly; he glances over his shoulder to look over at Flash. "You are right," he says. Twilight blinks.

"Flash Sentry…" Sombra says, his voice gentle. "I may not remember much of who I was. But I remember enough that what you will hear from the Princess about my past… I know it will not be pleasant."

He slips his hands into his coat pockets with another soft sigh. "You may choose to leave, and keep yourself in the dark. Or you may choose to stay, and listen to the details of my sordid past. I will let you decide."

Sombra speaks like he's telling Flash his cat died. But all Flash sees is the look in Sombra's eyes. Sombra speaks like he's done some truly terrible things, and maybe he has. But Flash looks back at the expression written on Sombra's face, and all he sees is a guy who cares so much about what Flash thinks of him—cares so much about Flash's feelings above his own that he gives him the opportunity to listen to the worst things he's ever done spilled across the table, because he thinks Flash deserves to know.

That's a pretty good thing, he thinks. Because Flash has experience with someone who treated him like a tool to be used, like garbage to be wadded up and tossed in the trash, but he also has experience with that same someone recognizing her mistakes and changing. Sunset Shimmer is his friend, now. Maybe even one of his best friends, 'cause it turns out the things that drew them to each other still stayed the same even after all of that.

The thing is, he knows people can change. And he thinks Sombra's changed, too.

Sunset and Twilight both know some pretty awful things about Sombra's background, and everyone involved is treating him like he might turn tail and run as soon as he learns what they are.

But all he sees is Sombra looking him in the eyes and saying, basically: you'll hate me for this, but I'll let you listen, anyway.

He thinks that's a pretty good reason to stay.

"Sombra." He huffs. "My ex turned into a she-demon at the school dance and tried to make the school into her personal army. She regretted it. She changed, and now I'm friends with her."

Flash shrugs. "You can't do worse than that."

Sombra looks at him for a long moment, dumb-struck.

It's Twilight who interrupts to get them back on course. "Well, in that case…" she says. "Let's sit down, and I'll tell you everything I know."


Flash sits side-by-side next to Sombra at one of the little round plastic tables that students can sit at outside to eat, having cleared away most of the lingering snow from the surface. On the other side of the table, Twilight's sitting down with her fingers laced. Spike is sitting in her lap almost like a normal dog—almost, except his little doggy eyes have not stopped glaring at Sombra over the table for the last minute.

Flash almost can't blame him. Turns out 'turning into a demon at the Fall Formal' doesn't hold a candle to 'enslaving an entire city's worth of ponies and banishing them into nothing for a thousand years'.

A thousand. He's still reeling from the mention. Is Sombra really that old?

Sombra himself has his arms crossed over the table, looking distantly through the cheap plastic instead at anyone else involved. His brows are furrowed in heavy thought.

"I do remember the things you speak of," Sombra says. "Spike is most familiar to me, followed by you. I believe I would remember Cadence quite sharply if I met with her counterpart in this world… even now the memories of her form are still there. The color of her magic. The feather down of her wings…"

He sighs. "But I remember all these things like a distant memory. Like I am watching them from the outside; a spectator looking in on another's life. You fought your way through someone else's tower to retrieve someone else's bane. The ponies gathered around while someone else looked on with hateful fear—someone else was destroyed that day, when the Crystal Heart activated."

He says the word 'destroyed' so casually, but Flash can see the way his hand tightens around his arm.

Sombra is quiet for a long moment.

"I have a theory," he says at last.

"Go on," Twilight says. "What is it?"

"The moment I remember most keenly was the moment of my destruction. When the crystal ponies' love tore through me, anathema to my very being… I was shattered. Scattered into a thousand tiny wisps of the thunderstorm I once was."

His eyes flick sharply up to Twilight's. "But you cannot kill a shadow, can you? Even splintered as I was, I persisted. Those wisps lingered in the little nooks and crannies of the Crystal Empire—the darkest shadows where even love cannot go. The places I carved out for myself in the Empire when I ruled a millennium ago."

A soft exhale. "I believe when the mirror to this world first activated in the Crystal Empire, a part of me slipped through."

Twilight leans her head curiously, one hand fidgeting with a strand of her hair in thought while another runs down Spike's back absentmindedly. "But the portal first activated moons ago. What you're talking about makes a lot of sense, but wouldn't you have reformed when Equestrian magic first came through?"

"I would have," Sombra says. "If not for the sheer purity of said magic. Your counterpart and her friends called upon the magic of Harmony around me recently. It was… stifling, for lack of a better word. I can only imagine that a shade of myself, damaged from exposure to the Crystal Heart's magic to begin with, would have been unable to reform in those early days."

Twilight's nodding along, a spark in her eyes like she's just put everything together. "But the magic that leaked into the human world didn't stay purely harmonious for long. The sirens took the power of Equestria's magic and used it to brainwash the entire school. I bet they would have moved on to worse if we hadn't stopped them."

She taps her nails against the table thoughtfully. "But their magic was quickly countered by our own, and their gemstones were shattered. Then, afterward, with my own counterpart… it would have been the same cycle. Someone here using magic for their own ends before the Bearers here restored the balance with their own power of Harmony. But as magic becomes more and more widespread around the portal, and it naturally becomes more wild—influenced by the will of the people around it, even if they aren't trying to use it for themselves…"

Twilight blinks, eyes focusing back onto Sombra. "So what are you now, then? If, um, you don't mind me asking."

Sombra pauses. "I have been trying to answer that question for myself. Clearly, I am no longer the monster of shadows which ruled over the Crystal Empire. I do not feel as if I have been taken from another world and reshaped into a form which is not my own—I consider this body mine and mine alone.

"Certain religions have the concept of reincarnation, yes?"

Twilight nods.

"When the former king of the Crystal Empire was destroyed, a piece of his soul tore loose and hid for a time. When the portal open, that fragment fled into another world. Disconnected from its original source, it became something… else. Something more."

Sombra gives her a meaningful look. "I am no longer the Sombra from the world you knew—yet I am not some independent concept, either. I carry much of his memories with me. I am a reflection, perhaps, from a shattered mirror. Sombra reincarnate.

"Most of all—" he says, leaning back and lacing his hands. "—I am myself."

"I see," Twilight says. "That has some fascinating implications—the theology alone is…"

She cuts herself off with a laugh, running a hand through her hair. "I'm getting ahead of myself. Thank you for sharing all this, Sombra. I know this must be incredibly personal to you."

"In return for the explanation which clarified much of my memories, it is only fair," Sombra replies.

"Your theory also explains the phenomenon which Sunset mentioned to me earlier," Twilight says, raising a hand to catch a few snowflakes. "It's not supposed to be winter in this world, is it?"

"It's August," Flash huffs.

"I thought so. I think this is because of what you mentioned earlier, Sombra. If you were able to access this world when the portal opened, what's to say other magic didn't find its way through too?"

Sombra tilts his head. "Are you implying that when I found my way into the human world, so too did part of the magic in the Crystal Empire?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying," Twilight says. "I think it was held in check by all the magic concentrated around the portal, the magic of harmony. But the magic has started to spread out, now, and become something of its own. There's nothing holding the snow magic back anymore. The Bearers here can hold it back for a little while, but if the pattern stays consistent… this is only going to get worse."

"So how can we deal with it?" Flash asks.

"That's always the question, huh?" Twilight smiles at him. "Lucky for you, I have a solution in mind. The other side of the portal isn't located in the Crystal Empire anymore, so no more magic from there is leaking through. All you have to do is neutralize the existing magic, and everything should go back to normal."

She laughs. "Normal for you guys, anyway. And even luckier, the Crystal Empire already has a solution for this sort of thing."

"The Crystal Heart," Sombra says.


Sombra huffs a breath of amusement. "I doubt the inhabitants of the Empire would let anyone here go back and borrow their precious Heart."

"No, I don't think Cadence would be very happy with that," Twilight says, smiling. "But the Crystal Heart is meant to protect an entire Empire. You don't need that much power. You only need enough to drive the snow away."

"What is the Crystal Heart, anyway? You never explained that part to me," Flash says.

"The Crystal Heart is an ancient magical artifact which acts as a focusing lens for love magic," Sombra explains. "Powered by the combined love of the ponies it protects, it projects an aura of that same magic over the Crystal Empire, shielding it from the constant, raging snow of the north. It is, in essence, the reason for the Empire's continued existence."

"Precisely," Twilight says.

"So what do we have to do to get our own Crystal Heart over here?" Flash says.

"I don't know for sure," Twilight says. "But I know that this world mirrors ours very precisely, down to the artifacts within it. When Sunset stole my crown, she tried to replace it with the version this world had—the painted cardboard cutout used to crown the princess of the Fall Formal.

"I also know that the mirror version of Equestria's Crystal Empire is Crystal Prep Academy here. I'll bet you they have some replica of the Crystal Heart somewhere. If you can get your hands on that, and figure out some way to power it, that's the best chance you have to drive away the snow."

Twilight bundles Spike back into her arms and stands. "I'm sorry I can't stick around to help you guys."

"Don't worry about it," Flash says, sounding more confident than he feels. "It'd get confusing with you and the other Twilight around at the same time anyway, yeah? Good luck with… whatever princesses do over there in pony-land."

"Thanks," Twilight says, smiling. "And good luck with your problem here. Both of you."

Flash leans sideways on the table and watches her leave, quietly marveling at the fact that the sight of a girl walking through what should be solid stone barely even registers to him as 'magic' now. Maybe he is getting used to this.

Eyes on the back of his neck. He feels Sombra looking at him before he speaks. "...Flash."

"Yeah?" Flash says, turning. "Are you okay?"

Sombra blinks. "I am… fine, as always. I simply…"

He sighs. "You seem to truly not care about what I was. Perhaps I am not quite the same as the monster who enslaved the Crystal Empire, but I am still… similar. Surely you have seen by now my fangs?"

"Well, yeah," Flash replies. "I think they're neat."

Sombra stares openly at him.

"Look, I wasn't kidding when I said my ex literally turned into a demon at the Fall Formal. I was there. It was a whole thing. And yeah, maybe overthrowing and enslaving an entire empire doesn't really hold a candle to that… but that isn't the person you are now. Both ways. You said it yourself that you are literally not the same person you were when you did those things, right?

"Remember back in the mall when the storm hit. You didn't have to stay with me to protect me from the storm. I've seen how selfish people can be. You could have run for safety and left me for dead."

"I would never—" Sombra breathes.

"Exactly," Flash says. "That's what I mean. You aren't the same person you were when you did those things because you've changed. You woke up in a new world with barely any memory of who you were, and you chose to stay by my side. You chose to be friends with me. And when worst came to worst… you kept me safe.

"That's who you are, Sombra. Not some memory. Not some half-forgotten story parents tell their kids to scare them into behaving. You're you. And you're my friend."

Sombra stares at him for a few long moments, jaw working like he wants to say something but can't quite find the words.

And then, without warning, he pulls him into a hug.

Sombra is just as warm against him as he was when Flash hid from the storm against him. His hair is soft and he's holding him close and without hesitation, Flash holds him back.

Muffled by the shoulder of his hoodie, he almost misses Sombra whisper quietly to him, "Thank you."



View Online

So. Flash has to find this world's equivalent of the Crystal Heart before the snowstorms get out of hand and they're all buried in twelve feet of ice and frost. Easy, right?

Ha. Flash isn't cut out for this. He almost wishes the girls could just deal with this while he cowers in his house and waits for the storm to be over.

But, hey, he wanted to be useful, right? Wanted to stop feeling like such a bystander while the world around him spiraled into technicolor chaos without his say-so. And he was the one there for Twilight's explanation, so he feels some kind of responsibility to also be there for the search for the Crystal Heart.

Besides, he knows Sombra would prefer to work with him over everyone else. And that's a nice thought—that's a really nice thought—and considering Sombra and his memories are still the best shot they have for finding this damn thing and getting it to work in the first place, well. He guesses he's in this sink or swim.

The first thought that came to mind when Princess Twilight mentioned finding the Crystal Heart was some ridiculous heist. This world's Twilight could sneak him and the gang into the school after hours, and they could search room-by-room, just barely dodging getting caught and having a great time of it, maybe some magical mishap happening and them barely making off with the Heart by the skin of their teeth.

Or, on second thought, he could just… ask.

Thus comes one of the top ten most awkward conversations of his life as he seeks out this world's Twilight Sparkle and explains everything to her.

Luckily for him, she seems too involved in the mystery that's just been placed in front of her to notice. "I can't say I've ever heard anything about a Crystal Heart before," Twilight says, chewing on the end of her pen. "But then I've never really gotten to research much about Crystal Prep! The school's been around for more than a century, but they lost a lot of records in a big storm a decade ago."

Twilight taps the end of her pen at the corner of her mouth. "I bet Cadence could tell you more. She was so excited to become Dean, she's been doing more research about it than even I have, and that's saying something!" She laughs. "I could invite you two over for dinner tomorrow? Cadence wouldn't mind, she loves meeting my friends."

"Sure," Flash says with a shrug, ignoring the fact that if just getting in an involved conversation with her is awkward then outright dinner is going to be miserable.

Sombra's eyes linger knowingly on him after Twilight walks off. Flash elbows him in the side.


Flash whistles when he sees Twilight's house for the first time. It's a two-story manor kind of deal, complete with an elaborate flower garden in the front yard dusted softly with a layer of snow and swirling, ornately wrought iron fencing. "I guess the kind of money that gets you into a private school also gets you some nice things."

Sombra hums in agreement. "It's a lovely place."

Flash looks up at him mischievously. "Fit for a king?"

Sombra barks out a sudden laugh. "Hardly," he says, throwing an arm over Flash's shoulders. "Shall we?"

"I guess," Flash says, resisting the urge to lean into him. "Can't stand out here admiring the greenery forever."

He wishes he could. They make their way up to the front doorstep and Sombra rings the doorbell. On the other side he hears frantic footsteps, Twilight's voice yelling distantly, Coming!—and then a softer voice that only vaguely sparks recognition, like he's heard it once or twice but in a totally different context. "I'll get it!"

The door opens and Flash finds himself face-to-face with Dean Cadence. "Oh, hello! You must be the friends Twilight mentioned."

Remembering something about Sombra mentioning remembering her the strongest, he turns to look at him, worried. Sombra falters for a brief moment—he can see the lingering glance in his eyes—but then his arm slips off of Flash's shoulders and he inclines his head in something like a bow, the very picture of perfect grace. "Miss Cadence. A pleasure to meet you."

Cadence's eyebrows reach her hairline, but she smiles with a hand over her mouth, flattered. "Aren't you polite! Please, just Cadence. It's what everyone calls me."

"Of course," Sombra says, smiling warmly without teeth.

Flash almost feels awkward not greeting Cadence with nearly the same manners. Then again, he'd be even more awkward if he tried that whole miss-paired-with-a-little-bow thing. Only Sombra could act like he was serving in a royal court and not have it totally stick out like a sore thumb.

"Come in, come in!" Cadence says, gesturing them inside. "Twilight will be down in a moment."

The inside of the house is just as nice as the outside. It's not over-the-top luxurious or anything, no gold trim, but there's subtle swirly detailing on the purple-painted walls and Flash can feel how soft the carpet is even through his sneakers.

"Now," Cadence says, tugging Flash's attention away from examining the wallpaper. "Twilight mentioned you two had a few questions you wanted to ask me about Crystal Prep Academy?"

"Yeah! Uh," Flash glances over at Sombra, who probably has more precise and interesting questions to ask her than he does. He doesn't even go to Crystal Prep, damn it.

"Ah, yes. We're researching into the history of the school—call it a side project of ours." Sombra takes the cue quickly enough, at least.

"Well, you've certainly come to the right person," Cadence says with a bit of laughter in her voice. "I've been working on researching and restoring the academy's records since I became Dean. It's hard work, for sure, but it's a very fascinating project. What would you like to know?"

"The school was founded more than a century ago, yes? By who?" Sombra asks.

Cadence lights up. "That would be Dean Amore!" she says, clasping her hands together excitedly. From the subtle flinch that runs through Sombra's body at the name—Flash doesn't frown but does lean in closer to him—he seems to recognize it.

"It's tragic, but her name was struck from the records by the previous Dean," Cadence continues. "I ended up finding her name in the most unexpected place. Shiny and I were going through old family albums together one morning, and there she was. Can you believe it? Me, distantly related to the founder of Crystal Prep Academy?"

"Hi guys!" a voice from the stairs behind them says, interrupting Cadence. Flash turns to wave at Twilight—her hair slightly messy and tied into a bun around two pencils—trying his best to smile at her without it being obviously awkward. She's just so much like the Twilight he knows. It's funny; he finds it strange that Sunset is a horse, but even stranger that this Twilight isn't a horse. "Are you already asking Cadence about the history of Crystal Prep?"

"Yep!" Cadence replies. "I was just telling them about Dean Amore."

"Oh, yeah, how you found her in your family photos!" Twilight says, smiling. "Isn't it neat? Her, distantly related to the very founder of Crystal Prep Academy?"

"It's fascinating," Sombra replies, saving Flash the trouble of having to carry conversation. "Do you know why Dean Amore founded the school?"

Cadence frowns in thought. "We're a little unsure of that. Because so many of the records were tampered with or destroyed, it's hard to find why, exactly, she decided to create Crystal Prep in the first place.

"I went through her history and found that Amore originally worked at another school, the name of which has been lost to time. I found a few fragments of papers from her that complained of a poor working environment—that the faculty were unfriendly, unkind, and treated the students beneath them like—well." She laughs softly, humorlessly. "Like slaves, I suppose."

Well, they're on the right track. And Flash is quickly learning how good Sombra is at controlling his expression. It's only because he knows him and he's been hanging out with him for so long that Flash catches the way his shoulders tense at the word.

"So, Amore struck out on her own and founded her own school," Cadence says. "One dedicated to supporting the students under its care rather than denying them; where every student in its halls would have equal opportunity."

She sighs. "It seems that the deans before me took it far from that intended purpose. It's been difficult work, separating fact from fiction and helping rid the school of its worst habits. It takes a lot to convince students that, up until now, have seen their fellow peers as enemies and competition rather than friends that they can make relationships and cooperate with each other."

She smiles a little sheepishly at the two of them. "But I'm certain you two didn't come here to hear me complain about my duties. Was there anything else you wanted to ask?"

"This research you've been doing…" Sombra says. "In relation to Dean Amore—have you heard anything about a 'crystal heart'?"

Cadence's eyes light up. Twilight leans in; to his amusement Flash finds that Sombra is doing the same thing himself. "Oh! Now where did you hear about that?"

Sombra makes a vague gesture.

"When the school was first founded, Dean Amore wanted to create something to represent her ideals of love and unity—similar to the statue on the front lawn of Canterlot High representing their ideals of bravery and friendship," Cadence says. "Eventually, Amore came up with the idea of the Crystal Heart: a heart-shaped statue displayed in the very center of the entrance hall of the school for all to see. Students were encouraged to come up to the Heart to see and even touch it—she felt that a statue locked away behind glass wouldn't get the meaning to sink in."

Cadence sighs. "Sadly, the Crystal Heart was shattered a long time ago, around when the Academy's records became scarce. I suspect the Heart was broken on purpose by one of the deans who disagreed with Amore's ideals."

"So you don't have the Heart anymore?" Flash asks, a little concerned.

"Oh, I didn't say that!" Cadence says, brightening. "While most of the Heart has been lost to the years, I actually managed to get my hands on a few fragments. I have one stored in my desk up at the Academy, and I keep one here in my nightstand."

She runs a hand against the back of her hair. "It sounds silly and a little sentimental, but I like having a piece of the Heart nearby. It makes me feel truly connected to the Academy."

Flash's eyes slide subtly to make eye contact with Twilight while Cadence is focused on Sombra. Twilight's eyes flick from Cadence, back to Flash. She nods slightly.

Alright. That's the Heart covered. They'll just need to figure out a way to power it. Flash thinks he'll leave that to the girls—considering his track record in his love life, Flash thinks he's supremely unqualified to wield the power of love anytime soon.

"One more thing," Sombra asks, and Flash blinks.

"Lay it on me," Cadence replies.

"Have you ever heard of a girl named Radiant Hope? Perhaps a student at the school?"

"Oh, I know that name!" Twilight exclaims. "Radiant Hope was Crystal Prep's very first valedictorian! I always looked up to her."

The way Sombra's head snaps to Twilight as she says that is more intense than Flash has ever seen. "What happened to her after she graduated?" Sombra asks, intent.

"She went on to get her medical degree and revolutionize the surgical field," Twilight says. "She was incredible—one of the best surgeons ever heard of in the field. She invented so many new procedures, helped so many people… I always wanted to change the world like her, one day."

"You speak of her in the past tense."

"Well, yeah." Twilight shrugs. "The school was founded more than a century ago, remember? She died a few years ago of a stroke. It was really a shame. She'd been retired for a little over two decades, of course, but it was still so sad when it happened. It's always a little sad to see someone as brilliant as her go."

Sombra's expression is unreadable. This is not a great sign, Flash knows, because that means whatever expression he's covering up with a wall of stone is something he doesn't want others to see.

He shifts his position a little so that he and Sombra's arms are hidden behind his torso. Tentatively, he reaches back to take Sombra's hand.

Sombra grabs him with a white-knuckled grip, lacing their fingers with a kind of desperation that worries Flash. Outwardly, he's crystalline; his expression shifting only a little as he tilts his head and says, "Thank you. I think that's everything I wanted to know."

"Thank you for asking!" Cadence says, brightly cheerful. "You know, it's not that often that we get students interested in the Academy's history…"


Dinner with Cadence and Twilight is not nearly as painfully awkward as he expected, mostly because Flash instead spends the entire time sneaking glances at Sombra, concerned. The name Radiant Hope doesn't ring any bells for him, but clearly she must have been important to Sombra somehow, if he's shaken up like this by the news of her death.

Also, Sombra keeps lacing his fingers with his underneath the table, squeezing his hand occasionally like he wants reassurance that he's there, and Flash is glad to be there for his friend but the warmth of his hand in his is utterly distracting.

Somehow he manages to make it through dinner and goodbyes without utterly embarrassing himself. Sombra is cool, cold, and polite as he always is—but his hand is still laced with his, and Flash worries.

Eventually they make it outside. It's as cold as it has been for the last couple of weeks; late evening with the sun fading on the horizon, the chill is even worse, and Flash can't help but shiver.

"Stupid," Sombra teases, but he can hear his heart isn't quite in it. "When will you remember to bring that coat I made you buy?"

"It wasn't that cold when we got here," Flash complains, pulling his free arm tight to his chest and leaning against Sombra for his warmth.

He pauses. "...Sombra?"


"Are you… alright? You seemed pretty shaken up when you asked about Radiant Hope."

"I am…" Sombra's fingers tighten around his. "I should be… fine."

"You obviously aren't now, Sombra," Flash says. "Don't mess around with the 'what ifs'. Just talk to me."

Sombra looks up at him, staring into his eyes for a long moment, every muscle unhappily tense.

Then he gives a long, long sigh, leaning into Flash like a drooping plant.

"She was my friend, once," Sombra says, low. "She meant everything to me. She… she saved my life."

He sighs, deeply. "The Crystal Empire was not meant for creatures like me. When I rose to overthrow it, she foolishly went to the princesses for help, thinking she could still save me. Instead, the princesses came to overthrow me in turn, and sealed my fate.

"I spared her and let her run to the princesses because she was my best friend… more than that, even. It was my love for her that doomed me—and my anger at what she'd done that doomed her in kind.

"I cast two curses when the princesses rose to overthrow me. One would seal the Crystal Empire away in limbo for a thousand years, because if I could not rule the Empire, nopony could.

"The other…" He pauses. "...the other would seal her away beneath the Empire, until I came to retrieve her. She would be trapped unaging for a thousand years, and a thousand more after that—as long as it would take, for I was patient, and I knew that it might take just that long for me to reach her."

The expression on Sombra's face is deeply unhappy. "The place I sealed her away in… was already a prison for something else. I know—even if my other self managed to pull himself together from his scattered scraps and retrieve her, she would not be the mare I loved a thousand years ago. The darkness would have changed her, reshaped her into a creature as great and as terrible as me."

"And I, in this world, have to contend with the memory of a dead woman who never knew me and never will. I will never get to hear her voice. I will never get to see her smile. I will never…"

Sombra takes a choked breath. Flash can see the glimmer of tears in his eyes and pulls him closer, arm over the shoulders just like Sombra does with him.

"It is foolish. I am the shadow of the stallion who actually knew her. I am a reflection cast through a shattered mirror—I never truly knew her, just as she never truly knew me. All I have of her are distant, half-held memories belonging to someone else. I should not be despairing over her as I am."

"You know," Flash starts, and Sombra looks at him.

"You know, I'm not the best at love. I mean, you've heard about my ex," Flash says, with a little bit of a laugh. "The thing is, that means I've had my heart broken a good couple times. And the first few times, I was thinking—why am I even torn up over this, you know? That girl didn't—didn't give a shit about me. Why do I care about her so much?

"But the thing is, nobody's gonna show up to give you shit because your grief isn't good enough. The police aren't going to come knocking down your door because you aren't doing love right. You can be a complete mess, you can be just—just a puddle of tears on the couch, sitting in yesterday's clothing, and nobody's going to stop you.

"The heart feels what it feels, alright? Sometimes that's crying over the girl who dumped you like you were trash because you loved her more than she could ever love you back. And sometimes…" He sighs. "Sometimes it's crying over a girl you loved, 'cause you're never going to get the chance to love her like you really want.

"And that's okay. That's okay. You're allowed to have feelings, alright? You're allowed to grieve, no matter how stupid you feel like it is.

"And, Sombra?"


"I don't know much about Hope, but it sounds to me like she was a wonderful friend. You were lucky to have her. I'm so, so sorry you lost her."

Sombra gives him a strangled look.

Then, without warning, he buries his face in Flash's shoulder and begins to cry.

Flash just holds him close and lets him sob.


View Online

The first sign that Flash Sentry is going to have one hell of a Saturday morning is when he's woken up in bed by the sound of howling wind.

The second sign that Flash Sentry is going to have one hell of a Saturday morning is when that sound is punctuated by the terrible crashing of shattering glass.

Flash bolts upright in bed, staring down his bedroom door like something might burst through and kill him. It doesn't, but he can actually see little whorls of snowy wind curling and swirling beneath his door, and he's pretty sure that sound was the sound of the glass door caving in.

Well, fuck.

Flash grabs his phone and scrolls to the group chat the girls made with him and Sombra. (Finally, he managed to get Sunset's number. Shamefully, it wasn't through asking her himself; he just grabbed it off the group list when Sombra invited him to the voice chat.)

Nearly two hundred unread messages. If he couldn't guess, surprise, Flash Sentry! A huge snowstorm hit the town this morning and it has not let up. Alongside the frantic buzzing of the group chat, he has several weather warning alerts left unread in his notification bar and Flash has no idea how he managed to sleep through those. Damn it.

Trying not to let his fingers shake—still hearing the howling of wind outside in his ears and pretty damn certain that the only thing between him and the cutting, cold snow is exactly one bedroom door, which is starting to feel flimsier and flimsier by the second—Flash types out a quick message to the group chat about how he just woke up, he heard something shatter in his house, he's pretty sure he's trapped here by the storm but he really doesn't want to open the door to check.

Then he drops his phone back on the bed and gets dressed at what must be world record speeds.

Back to the group chat. Sunset's dropped a pretty solid wall of text explaining the situation. Tl;dr: the snowstorm rolled in early that morning before the sun rose, hasn't let up since. Principals Celestia and Luna have set up the high school as a safe haven from the storm; they're keeping the place warm and serving soup in the inner classrooms where the storm hasn't gotten to them yet. The girls have been all around town trying to do damage control, they've gotten most of the students holed up safely in the school by now.

Twilight wasn't home when the storm hit because she was having a sleepover at Fluttershy's, something about helping her with a research project. This is unfortunate, because Fluttershy's house is across town from Twilight's, and Twilight has only just managed to get home to grab the Crystal Heart shard they need to beat back the storm.

Sunset gave us your address, Twilight texts, because of course she did. I'm the closest to you, so I'm going to go pick you up as soon as I can, okay? Hang in there, Flash.

Thanks, I'll try my best, Flash replies, only wondering after he puts his phone down how Twilight is going to manage that in this storm.

Well, he'll find out.

And find out he does after thirty minutes or so when he hears the honking of a car outside, loud enough to cut through even the shrieking winds of the storm. Flash pulls his winter coat tight around himself and grits his teeth, hoping he'll be able to navigate to Twilight through the blizzard.

Turns out, he doesn't need to. He opens his bedroom door and makes his way through the snow-drenched rest of the house—ugh, it's in his socks—opening the front door to find a narrow horizontal path to the street cleared completely of snow, parted like red waters.

Twilight is standing valiantly on the sidewalk, hair whipping sideways in the wind, arms outstretched beside her and horn curving elegantly from her head, both hands and said horn glowing with power.

She's using her telekinesis to hold back the snow!

"Flash!" she shrieks. "Hurry! I can't hold this for much longer!"

"Coming!" Flash says, breaking into a sprint for the minivan he can see parked against the curb. He flings the side door open and tosses himself in, landing safely sprawled across two of the seats.

To his surprise, there's someone already sitting in the driver's seat. He'd recognize that shimmery, tri-tone hair anywhere. "Dean Cadence?"

Cadence looks over her shoulder at him and smiles. "The very one. Are you alright, Flash?"

"I'm fine, just a little cold," he says, shaking out his hands. "What are you doing here? I mean, not that I'm not grateful—"

Cadence laughs. "Did you think I was going to stay on the sidelines while you saved the day? I was at the Friendship Games too, remember? Twilight explained everything to me when I caught her snooping in my bedroom. Really, I would have just given the Heart to her if she'd told me…"

Speaking of the Heart shard, there it is, sitting pretty on the dash. It shines beautifully in the sunlight, but Flash can't quite imagine a little blue gemstone like that saving the city.

Then again, seven little gemstones were apparently all it took to save Camp Everfree, so what does he know?

The side door opens and Twilight hops into the front seat next to Cadence. "Okay, hi! Are you okay, Flash? Is there anything you need me to do before we go?"

"No, I'm good," Flash says. "Let's go."


It is a damn miracle that Cadence manages to drive them to Canterlot High through that much wind and snow. To be fair, having Twilight around helps; she has to keep her head low so her horn doesn't bump into the roof of the car, still ponied up as she is, but outside Flash can see how the snow swirls and twists away from the windshield and the wheels, caught in a cloud of magenta.

The van slows to a stop outside the signature horse statue and Flash gets out first—good thing, because as Twilight gets out she sways and nearly falls, leaving Flash to stop her from cracking a tooth on the concrete.

"Whoa, careful!" Flash says. "Are you alright?"

"I'll be… fine…" Twilight says, rubbing at her temples. "I didn't know I could strain my magic like that. Some rest should fix me up, later. We have to keep going!"

Flash has to agree. He's up past his ankle in snow and the wind just keeps howling, howling, battering at them like a cat particularly determined to knock a box off a table. Snowdrifts spin and dance in the flurry and ice bites at Flash's hands, neck, and face, making his eyes watery and his nose red.

The only reason he can see more than a foot in front of him, in fact, is because of the six girls standing guardian outside Canterlot High's entrance, their hands linked and their bodies back-to-back as a shimmering technicolor bubble of light keeps the snow at bay.

"Girls!" Twilight cries.

"Twilight!" the girls cry.

"Oh my gosh, I was so worried—" Fluttershy says.

"Do you have the crystal?" Sunset says, eyes flicking between Twilight and Cadence behind her.

"I do," Cadence confirms, cupping it solemnly in the palm of her hands like it'll save them all. It just might. "What do we need to do with it?"

"And where's Sombra?" Flash asks.

"Sombra's inside," Sunset says, jerking her head behind her. "As for the crystal… hand it to me? Let's see what we can do."

Sunset lets go of the girl next to her with one hand, giving room for Twilight to fill in a space with the girls while Sunset examines the crystal, turning it over and over in her hand. "It should have activated by now, shouldn't it?" Sunset says, sounding worried. "Usually these things are pretty intuitive. It just—feels right."

"The last I saw it used—" Sombra's voice is sharp and commanding as always, cutting through the sound of the wind and drawing everyone's attention. "—it was at the center of a faire. The Heart works because it is powered by the love of many, not just the few. I believe to get the crystal to work, you will have to rally the hearts of the majority here."

"You couldn't have told us that earlier—?" Sunset huffs.

"I can do that," Cadence says, taking the crystal back from Sunset.

"You can?" Flash asks.

"If there's one thing I'm good at—" Cadence says, stretching her hands with a twinkle in her eye. "—it's speeches."


The gymnasium is packed with crowds of students murmuring to each other. Their nervous voices rise above the crowd into one distinct sound—a sound full of the uncertain terror and worry that Flash feels. He doesn't even think twice about reaching for Sombra beside him, lacing his hand with his.

Sombra gives his hand a squeeze, but says nothing as the two of them watch Cadence stride into the midst of the crowd.

"Students of Canterlot High!" she says, the microphone taped to her vest picking up her voice loud and clear. (This is the second time now that Vinyl Scratch's impromptu sound systems have saved the day, Flash thinks. He should really get her something.)

The sound of the students speaking to one another fades to a murmuring, uncertain halt.

"I understand that right now we live in uncertain times. A freak snowstorm has descended on the walls of Canterlot High and the wind blows fierce and destructive outside. But you have been through worse, haven't you? When the sirens came to this school, you were here to watch the Rainbooms blow them away! When you were here when wild magic descended on this school, you were here to watch Sunset Shimmer talk it down.

"This terrible storm has been caused by an equally as terrible magic, yes. But you have dealt with rogue magic in the past, haven't you? This school is strong. You, all of you, are strong, and brave, and persevere against all odds."

Cadence raises the crystal in her hand high above her head, so everyone watching can see. "This is a shard of the Crystal Heart that the founder of Crystal Prep Academy made a hundred years ago. It represents love, and unity, and perseverance above all else.

"A storm rages outside these walls, but it does not have to! You can defeat it! We can defeat it! Even shattered, the Crystal Heart has power far beyond a blizzard like this! Think of the unity this school shares between its students—the love we have for each other! We will not freeze as long as we have each other to warm us!

"Come together, Canterlot High, and use the love and light in your hearts to banish this storm for good!"

A collective cheer goes up between the students. Flash stands and watches Cadence, so encaptured by the passion with which she speaks that he finds he's believing it himself.

He nearly misses Sombra dragging him away from the bulk of the crowd. There is a sharp, solemn look on his face, one that immediately grabs Flash's attention. He's never seen him look that serious. "Sombra?"

Sombra lowers his head to meet his, hands on his shoulders, forehead nearly touching. "Flash. I have something to tell you."

"What is it? What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry."

Flash has about half a second to process this before something surges in the students crowding around Cadence, and the shard of the Crystal Heart in her hand lights blue.

A shockwave of power washes over him, sharp as pop rocks, sweet as cotton candy. He can taste it in his mouth, feel it on his tongue—the way his heart skips a beat, the way it begins to soar as he feels, actually feels, the respect and love the students here have for each other. The way they understand each other. The way they're unified as one—Canterlot High, never give up, never let a fellow student fall alone—

—he'd be more caught up in this, in the rush, if it weren't for the sensation of Sombra's nails digging into his shoulder and the way he hisses terribly with pain as he falls into him. He can see—fuck, he can see smoke rising off of Sombra, like something burned. Small cracks are beginning to spiderweb their way over Sombra's skin and what the fuck, what the fuck—

"What the fuck," he hisses, his first instinct to wrap his arms around Sombra and draw him close as if maybe that'll fix it. "Sombra. Sombra, what—"

Sombra is laughing, a low, humorless sound that he can feel against his chest. "The—Heart. It is a weapon, is it not?"

Sombra picks his head up to look him in the eyes. It looks like it hurts him to even try. "It is a weapon against my kind. The umbrum, the shadow ponies. Even bound in human form, I am still a fragment of the shadow the Empire has tried so hard over these years to destroy."

"You knew this?!" Flash wants to scream but the terror in his chest chokes it out. "The whole time, you just—and you didn't—"

Sombra smiles at him. The fangs in his mouth have somehow grown longer, sharper. There is shadow dancing in his eyes. "What would you have done if you knew? You would have stalled, desperately trying to find another plan, desperately trying to find another way. Too long. It would have taken you too long, and this little town would have been buried under a mountain of ice and snow. You would have frozen to death, all for the sake of one little monster."

"You idiot, we should have found another way!" Flash says. "There's always another way, there's always a way to save the day—that's how magic works! Couldn't we have put you through the portal, or—"

"What do you think—" Sombra stops to cough, hard, the sound wracking his chest as dark shadow flows out of his mouth. "—think that would do to me? I am defined by my absence, my shape here in the other world. Perhaps if I crossed the portal I would simply collapse into a wisp of shadow. Or become the monster you know me as in those stories, the one willing to shackle hundreds of ponies to my will to get my way."

"You—" Flash is not going to argue with him about this, not now, not when he can feel him getting lighter in his arms. "You should have told me," he says, hating how broken his voice sounds. "You should have told me because—"

He chokes. Chokes on the words, chokes on the realization—except it's not a realization at all, not a sudden one. Like sinking all the way into a warm bath; that kind of feeling of 'oh. Yeah, I should have seen this coming.'

"—I love you."

Sombra's eyes widen—sharply-slitted, now, wisping from the edges. The slits make him look more beautiful, Flash thinks, and so does his hair, wisping around him like spilled oil, nearly iridescent.

"You fucking idiot," Flash says, grasping as tightly to him as he can, white-knuckled. "Don't leave me."

Sombra lunges forward and kisses him.

Flash has kissed people before, of course he has. It's not a new sensation. And yet it's completely new the way Sombra does it; pushing insistently into him, warm, warm as he always is, the whisper of his smoke trailing around Flash like just grabbing hard to him with his hands isn't enough. There are fangs at his lips, sharp, and yet though they push smooth at him they don't threaten to pierce once. Sombra is a monstrous thing, most monstrous in this moment, where the magic of the love around them is threatening to tear him apart—but Flash doesn't care about that.

All Flash cares about is him. Always him, from the moment he saw him for the first time and thought—I'm not leaving him alone.

And Flash refuses to leave him alone now; clinging tight to him as though he's crumbling, because he is, and Sombra may be a damn idiot but there has to be a way. There's always a way to save the day, there's always a way to save people, because magic is belief and he believes—oh, he believes so fucking hard, with every fiber in his heart, that he can save him.

Flash's eyes flutter open as he breaks for air, hands tangling desperately in Sombra's smokey hair—

—and he sees a shimmer of blue light on him, protective, like a shield. Sombra glances down at an arm full of spiderweb cracks and chips that still hasn't managed to fall apart yet, only because the cyan of love magic is holding him together like a glass sculpture of himself, and he laughs.

"Of course," Sombra says. "Stupid, foolish magic."

"Always a way," Flash says, breathing relief—and he leans up and kisses him and thinks about him, thinks about the way he grins like he's going to rule the world someday and Flash would let him, thinks about how he throws himself into the things he's truly passionate about wildly, and freely, and without fear of falling; thinks about the gentle moments where Sombra tells him about the things he's learning about the world, the history he knows and the history he wants to, the way his eyes shine proud when he manages a difficult chord on the guitar for the first time.

He thinks about him, and how he loves him, and Flash holds him tight and doesn't let go.

He doesn't let go.

-—— [EPILOGUE] ——-

"You know, I've been hearing strange stories about last year's Fall Formal," Sombra says, teasing, hand warm around his. "Something about a she-demon…? I certainly hope that doesn't happen again."

Sunset, who is walking towards the both of them looking like she wants to say hello, puts her head in her hands and sighs. "You turn into a demon one time…"

Her head pops back up and she grins. "Hey Flash, Sombra. I was wondering if you'd show up at the Formal this year. Thought maybe you decided to stay home, you know, I hear people have a history of turning into demons at these things."

"How do you both manage to crack jokes about this?" Flash says, looking bemused. "Sorry we're late, Rarity wanted to do some last-minute changes to Sombra's outfit."

It's not like it isn't absolutely stunning. Sure, he's certain Sombra could manage to look handsome in anything, but damn if Rarity isn't a professional. She's put Sombra in a deep red tailcoat swirling with black floral patterns, almost like smoke, sharp and gothic. Silver accents and a button-up shirt make him look like he's just stepped out of the Victorian ages. For jewelry Sombra wears sharp, pointed metal bracelets and diamond-shaped earrings that hang from his piercings like waiting guillotines.

Sunset raises her eyebrows at them. "Rarity got here ten minutes ago. I feel like you two are late because of some… other reason."

She snorts. "You still have lipstick on your cheek, Flash."

"Fuck," Flash says, to low laughter from Sombra as he tries to wipe it off with a sleeve. "You never tell me anything, Sombra."

"I thought it was sweet," Sombra—who is wearing the black lipstick he's stained Flash with—says. "Now they know you're mine."

"You really do have a type, Flash," Sunset says, raising her eyebrows again.

"Shut up," Flash says, going red. "You're both terrible, you're both awful. Why did I agree to go to the Formal knowing either of you were here?"

"Because you love me," Sombra hums, sing-song, taking his chin with a hand. "And I am simply too handsome to resist."

Sunset rolls her eyes. "I'll let you two flirt out here, I'm going inside."

"Come on, let's go inside too, it's cold," Flash complains. He never thought he'd be grateful for the regular late-night fall chill of the Formal, but he's still going to complain about how cold his arms are.

"You should have brought a coat, then," Sombra says, laughter in his voice, and he leads him inside hand-in-hand.