Shine Your Way

by RadiantBeam

Chapter 1: Shine Your Way

Redemption, Sunset Shimmer was rapidly learning, was something you never stopped working for.

That wasn’t a lesson that could be easily condensed into a letter to Twilight; in fact, in general, the former student of Celestia found it was a hard lesson for her to put into words at all, mostly because she was still in the process of learning it. Oh, certainly, she’d made considerable progress compared to her starting point after the Fall Formal. Defeating the Dazzlings in front of the whole school (and saving the human world in the process) had done quite a bit to endear her towards her classmates.

But not everyone was so willing to forgive and forget, even in light of that.

It wasn’t nearly to the level that it had been before the Battle of the Bands, and for that Sunset was grateful. But the anger and resentment still lingered, either in small, open factions or bubbling under the surface of some so-called friendly interactions. For every person Sunset could count on her hand that was willing to finally, truly accept the new her and support her, there was another person that still glared at her in the hallway, or turned their back on her when she approached, or watched her like they were waiting for the exact moment she revealed her redemption was all a trick.

It shouldn’t have bothered her, and on some level it truly didn’t. Sunset knew that her friends believed in her. She knew that for the majority of the school, she was accepted and liked, genuinely liked instead of the act everyone had put on when she’d ruled Canterlot High with an iron fist. She could never truly ever please everyone. She’d done too much damage for all of it to go away, even after defeating sirens from another world.

It shouldn’t have bothered her.

It didn’t bother her.

It truly didn’t. She kept telling herself that, and a large part of her believed it; a large part of her believed that if she kept working at it, kept trying and trying and trying, eventually no one would glare at her with hate in their eyes. Eventually no one would whisper something low and venomous as she passed by. Eventually no one would look at her like they were waiting for her to become the next big problem.
It shouldn’t have bothered her.

And as much as she told herself that it didn’t bother her—as much as a large part of her believed it—there was a small, small part of her that whispered constantly in the back of her mind, no. No, she didn’t believe it. It bothered her.

It bothered her, and that would have been okay if the voice whispering in the back of her mind hadn’t sounded exactly like the voice she’d used when she’d been a demon.

So she told herself it didn’t bother her. She didn’t talk about it to any of her friends, even as she knew they could see and hear the same things she did and they were concerned. She didn’t even mention it in her letters to Twilight.

In retrospect, maybe burying all of that doubt and anger and uncertainty was—you know. A bad idea. But talking about it certainly didn’t seem like a good option either, when the thoughts ran a little too close to her old personality for her liking.

But it was easy to ignore thoughts like that when they were whispered in her ear by a demon she was trying to outrun.

In every book and every movie ever made, there was a rule that if a character suffered from a nightmare they had to jolt awake panting, shooting up violently from the bed. In the most extreme cases, screaming would usually be involved.

Compared to that, waking up from a nightmare in real life was almost disappointingly dull. Sunset didn’t jolt awake, she didn’t shoot up violently from her sleeping bag (which would have been a bad idea anyway, considering the small group of high school aged girls sleeping around her) and she most certainly didn’t scream. She simply lay there, staring up at a dark ceiling, blinking and taking deep, slightly shaking breaths.

It wasn’t until she blinked again and wiped at her eyes that she felt the moisture. Her fingers came away warm and wet, and Sunset exhaled shakily.


Okay then.

She gingerly squirmed out of her sleeping bag and got to her feet, mindful of the messy sprawl of bodies. The sleepover this time, after much discussion, had been held at Applejack’s; Pinkie’s place was perfectly large and friendly, and the pizza had been delicious, but no one needed to eat that much whipped cream, even for breakfast. It had been a good chance for Twilight to see other aspects of her human friends, as well. She’d come through the portal to spend the weekend, and the girls intended to take full advantage of it.

But for now, all of that was the last thing on Sunset’s mind. What mattered now was remembering where everyone was sleeping, so she didn’t accidentally step on someone and wake them up—she didn’t want to deal with the questions, especially when out the window she could see the sun just barely creeping over the horizon. She didn’t need to talk about it, anyway. She just needed to wash her face, maybe get a quick snack, and go back to sleep.

Her fingers trembled, and she curled them into fists to still them, wiping more furiously at her eyes when tears continued to rise.

She didn’t need to talk about it.

Winona was right outside Applejack’s bedroom door, but nudging it open and slipping out past her without waking her up was easy enough. Mindful of the rest of Applejack’s family, Sunset crept through the hallway and paused first in the bathroom. She didn’t bother turning on a light; that would attract attention. She used her hands to guide her, turning the water to cold and splashing her face.

The shock of the cold seemed to finally get rid of the tears, at least. And the distraction of drying her face and brushing loose strands of hair out of her eyes managed to finally, finally still her trembling fingers.

It wasn’t much, but Sunset would take it.

She moved down the stairs on light feet, keeping one hand on the wall to guide her; the sun was coming up, painting the sky outside in various shades of pink and yellow, but it was still barely enough light to see considering the early hour. Thankfully, once she was done with the stairs it was an easy trip to the kitchen, and after a moment of debate Sunset ignored the fridge entirely and headed for the cabinet, fishing out a glass.

She’d thought she’d been hungry, but her mouth was still dry from—crying, she guessed. Crying in her sleep. She’d just get some water, have a drink, and go back to bed. As long as she was quiet and quick, no one would ever know this moment was even happening.

Of course, as the saying went: the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

“Sunset Shimmer?”

The nearly full glass clattered into the empty sink, splashing water everywhere. Sunset just barely managed to contain a shriek of surprise, even if she turned around to see her unexpected visitor way too sharply. To her credit, at least, Twilight Sparkle had the decency to look sheepish; she smiled weakly and lifted a hand. “Sorry,” she said, keeping her voice low. “It’s only me. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“… Right.” Sunset breathed out slowly, sagging for a moment against the counter as she just stared at the Equestrian princess. After a moment, she laughed. “You’re too quiet, you know that?”

“You think this is bad, you should see me teleport. Spike hates it when I do that.”

Sunset chuckled again at the thought, low and throaty, before she turned back around and picked up her glass. To her relief, she hadn’t cracked it; it seemed the drop hadn’t been hard or long, despite her shock. She refilled it with water, took a sip as she turned around, and blinked.

Twilight was still standing in the entrance to the kitchen, leaning against the doorframe. For a comical moment, the two ponies turned humans simply stared at each other. Sunset took another sip.

“So,” she began, “come here often?”

The other girl snorted at that. “Depends,” she hummed. “Are we counting the one in Equestria? Because if we are, I come to Sweet Apple Acres fairly often, yes.”

Sunset shrugged, smiled. “That’s part of the fun of it. Seeing things on the other side, just… different.”

“I suppose so.” For a moment, purple eyes drifted over the kitchen. “It’s amazing, really. For everything in this world that’s different from Equestria, so much of it is still the same. I really must study it at some point. It could be a fascinating paper.”

“Or a good story,” Sunset replied.

“My mom’s the writer, not me. Still, you’re right; she’d probably have a field day with this place.”

Twilight spoke of her mother with warmth, with affection, and Sunset swallowed the all too familiar burn of jealousy she could feel rising in her throat. It was just another reminder of something the princess had that she’d never had, but… no. That was a dangerous path, and it wasn’t her fault. Twilight was lucky to have had the life she’d had. She was lucky that her life hadn’t been Sunset’s.

If Twilight had been different in any way, she may not have extended her hand to Sunset during the Fall Formal—may not have believed in her and counted on her when no one else would. Twilight’s friendship was well worth anything she had that Sunset had never had, and that thought was enough for the burn to die completely, replaced by a pleasant warmth.

They stayed that way for a moment in oddly comfortable silence, Sunset sipping from her water the whole time. After a few minutes had passed, Twilight made her way from the doorframe and into the kitchen, sitting down at the table. Still, neither of them spoke.
Sunset almost wished the moment could last forever.

Almost, because of course the second she thought that, the moment ended.

“So.” Twilight glanced at the clock hanging in the kitchen. “Do you want to talk about why you’re up at… oh whoa, okay, that’s earlier than I thought.”

Sunset winced ever so subtly, setting down her now empty glass. She leaned back against the sink, crossing her arms over her chest in a gesture that was subconsciously defensive. “I had a nightmare,” she muttered. “You know, a bad dream?”

“I know what a nightmare is.” Twilight’s voice was dry, but her eyes were gentle. Sunset blew out a breath and glanced away, focusing on the pattern of the wallpaper. Maybe if she just left it at that—if she didn’t talk, and let the silence state the obvious—Twilight would take pity on her and leave her alone. She could certainly hope.

Unfortunately, Twilight hadn’t become the Princess of Friendship for nothing.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she repeated, her voice so soft that it sent a small shudder down Sunset’s spine. “The girls are worried, you know. Every one of them has told me you haven’t been yourself lately.”

Sunset’s fingers tightened ever so subtly against her arms. “Did they?” She tried to keep her voice even, tried to keep her emotions controlled, but it was early in the morning and she was still raw from her nightmare; she couldn’t fight back the bitterness that seeped into her tone. “Are you sure they’re worried, or do they just want to give you a heads up so if I go raging she-demon again you’re on standby to blast me with a rainbow?”

Twilight didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to. As good as the brief outburst felt, it was a short-lived sensation that was quickly buried by crushing guilt, and Sunset groaned as she shifted again, rubbed her eyes. She tilted her head back, stared up at the ceiling. “Sorry,” she said. “That wasn’t fair. They aren’t like that.”

To her credit, the princess gave her fellow student a moment to compose herself. When Sunset finally gave in to the inevitable and looked at Twilight, however, she saw that despite her outburst the other girl was smiling. “Well,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “Now I know what’s bothering you.”

Sunset drew a blank. “Excuse me?”

“You’re right. Your friends are genuinely worried, because they don’t think you’ll go ‘raging she-demon’ again.” Twilight leaned forward now, resting her chin in her hands. “So who does look at you like they expect you to become that?”

Sunset froze.

She opened and closed her mouth several times, but the words wouldn’t come out. After a moment she laughed, sagging back against the sink completely and bracing her elbows against the counter. “Sneaky, sneaky,” she drawled. “You’ve got a manipulative streak, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight shrugged. “I’ve gotten better at reading people’s emotions, what they really mean when they talk.” She paused. “You aren’t exactly hard to read right now.”

Sunset smirked, feeling wildly over her head and for once not caring a single bit. “Enlighten me, then. What am I saying to you?”
Another shrug. “Oh, I could tell you. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t tell someone how they feel. Only they can tell you.”

She smiled again, and like her eyes it was warm and soft, open and gentle.

“So, I’ll ask again. Do you want to talk about it?”

It would have been so easy to say no. It would have been so easy to not even say anything at all; to just walk right past Twilight and back up the stairs, leaving her behind entirely. It would have been so easy that Sunset considered it, even if only for a brief moment.

But she’d been keeping everything bottled up ever since the princess had gone back through the portal, ever since she’d realized that what she’d done wasn’t good enough; that not everyone would forgive her. If what she’d been ignoring so far had manifested in a nightmare that had driven her to tears in her sleep, then she didn’t want to know what else it could do to her.

And, quite honestly, she was tired.

“I was a demon again.” Her voice was quiet. “In my nightmare. It wasn’t even the Fall Formal, I just—I was a demon. And I was destroying the school. I was hurting people, even Snips and Snails, and they… they were the ones who helped me the first time. I was destroying everything, hurting everyone. I didn’t even have a reason. I just wanted to hurt them all.”

“But you aren’t a demon,” Twilight pointed out.

“Aren’t I?” Sunset laughed, and it wobbled dangerously before collapsing into a dry sob as everything came rushing to the surface. “I haven’t stopped being that demon, Twilight. Not to everyone at school. There are people who still look at me like they think I’ll become that again, even after the Battle of the Bands. People that want me to become that again, to prove themselves right about me.”

Twilight was quiet for a time, digesting this brief outburst. Sunset swallowed, scrubbing at her eyes when they stung, but it didn’t help as much as she’d hoped; the tears had risen, and it seemed now nothing would stop them from falling.

Finally, Twilight took a low breath. “It’s okay to be angry,” she murmured. “I know you didn’t have… the best reputation, but the girls love you. There are people who genuinely believe in you and support you now. It’s okay to be upset because some of them are still—“

“No it’s not!”

The last word was a full blown sob, the loudest Sunset had been during this entire conversation; it seemed that along with her composure, her desire to keep her voice down had gone flying right out the window. It may not have been a scream, but it was enough for Twilight to shut up, her mouth clicking shut as she realized Sunset had more to say.

“It’s not,” she repeated, standing straight and her hands balled into fists as tears streamed down her face. “Because that was how I was before. I was always angry. I didn’t think anyone understood how great I was, I thought I was better, and I was so angry that no one understood that! And then, with you…” She rubbed furiously at her eyes. “You came through the portal after me and that made me even angrier, because you had everything that I wanted, everything I thought I should have had! And…”

Sunset sucked in a breath, and her throat ached like it was bleeding.

“And look what I did,” she rasped. “I became a demon bent on destruction because I stole something that was never mine in the first place. I brainwashed a whole school to do my bidding. I would have stormed through that portal and made Equestria burn.”

She wiped at her eyes again, sniffed. Her nails had dug so deeply into her palms that she’d drawn some blood, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. It was as if her outburst had drained her of everything, physically and emotionally. Sunset didn’t think she’d ever been this tired before.

And the tears just wouldn’t stop.

“It’s not okay for me to be angry,” she whispered. “Because if I… I’m scared that I’ll become that again. Because before I was so angry, all the time. I don’t want to go back to that.”

Her palms were stinging, and Sunset was fairly certain that after this she might curl up somewhere alone and sleep for days. By some miracle, her outburst hadn’t woken up anyone in the house; either that or if anyone was awake, they were considerate enough to not come barging into the kitchen. Considering that would mean that Pinkie was also awake, Sunset sincerely doubted the latter option.

That was good. Tonight was supposed to be fun, light, happy; this whole weekend was supposed to be everyone enjoying Twilight’s company before she returned to Equestria. Sunset having a breakdown in the early hours of morning would have considerably dampened the mood, if everyone had seen it. It was bad enough that Twilight had witnessed it, even if it seemed to have been her intent all along to get Sunset to talk.

She probably hadn’t expected this, though.

After a few seconds had passed and Twilight didn’t speak, Sunset inhaled deeply and rubbed at her eyes. At some point during her outburst she’d been able to look at the other girl, but now she lowered her eyes as she focused on taking deep, quiet breaths that didn’t shake. She heard the sound of the chair being pushed back, of footsteps, and flinched without meaning to; she didn’t know what Twilight intended to do, but if the other girls got wind of her current emotional state, Sunset would never hear the end of it.

Friends weren’t supposed to keep things from each other. Not like this.

Except judging by her footsteps, Twilight wasn’t heading out of the kitchen and back upstairs to fetch the others. If anything, her footsteps were moving further into the kitchen, towards Sunset.

And then Twilight hugged her—something warm and gentle and tight—and for the second time in so many minutes, Sunset froze. “Twilight?” she choked out, and almost didn’t recognize her own voice. It was ragged, shaking ever so slightly still. No doubt the crying combined with her letting all of her emotions loose had done a number on it.

“It’s okay for you to be angry.” The words were murmured into her hair. “It’s okay. I completely get why you don’t think it is, but it is. You’re already so much better than you give yourself credit for, Sunset. The person you used to be would never have worried about these things the way you do now.”

She gave Sunset a gentle squeeze and pulled back, tugging her sleeve up between her fingers so she could help rub the other girl’s eyes dry.
“But this? Keeping everything locked up because you’re scared? This isn’t good, either. This hurts you. Just because you’re angry doesn’t mean you’ll go back to that. It means you have to talk to your friends, let them help you. Let me help you.”

Sunset sniffled, exhaled shakily. After a moment of hesitation in which Twilight seemed to be figuring out how what she wanted to do translated from pony to human, she leaned forward and bumped her forehead affectionately against the other girl’s. Sunset understood immediately; for unicorns, brushing horns was a gesture of affection and comfort, and this was the closest thing to a human equivalent for it. She leaned into it, closed her eyes.

“And honestly…” Twilight sighed. “If there are people in school who still haven’t forgive you? That’s their problem, not yours.”

Sunset opened her eyes at the words, met Twilight’s gaze. “That’s a pretty hard lesson to learn,” she said.

Twilight smiled, and it was slightly sad. “I know. If you ever need to talk about it, well, I’ve learned some pretty hard lessons myself.”

Sunset considered it for a moment, then pulled away slightly from Twilight. “There’s a place not far from here,” she began hesitantly. “It’s one of those twenty-four hour coffee places, but it also sells tea and hot chocolate. It’s a pretty short walk, just down the street.”

Twilight’s smile became a grin now, warm and delighted at the obvious invitation; the fact that it was being offered at such an early hour didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest. “I love coffee,” she said, then winced. “But, um…”

Sunset got it, laughed. “Don’t worry, princess. I’ll pay. It’s cheap.”

Twilight’s grin came back full force, and as Sunset headed back upstairs and grabbed her wallet and two jackets for the morning chill, it occurred to her that when she’d woken up from her nightmare that she hadn’t expected things to quite as they’d unfolded.

But maybe that was for the best.

Twilight squirmed into the jacket she offered, and then once they left the house hesitated only a moment before holding out her hand. It was a wordless offer, and Sunset took it, twining their fingers together and giving Twilight’s hand a light squeeze as they started walking.

No, not but, she thought. It definitely was for the best.

Author's Notes:

Written for a Tumblr short story prompt, "Things you said when I was crying." It was supposed to be a short story, but eight pages later the whole thing clearly ran away on me.

Hope you enjoyed!

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