Second Chances: A Redemption Story

by Cyrano


Chapter 8 - Monsters

Sunset Shimmer gawked at Twilight Sparkle.

            “You know?” said Sunset and Adagio, simultaneously. Their narrowed eyes met and Sunset felt a spark of electricity pass between them. Their impromptu staring contest ended when Twilight spoke again.

            “Yeah,” she said, looking at the floor.

            “How long have you known?” The lack of scorn in Adagio’s voice caught Sunset off guard. In fact, a lot about this situation was catching her off guard. For starters, how did Twilight Sparkle, the human, know Adagio Dazzle, the Siren? Furthermore, why were they hanging out at the mall together?

            “After we first met I asked a couple of people at school if they’d heard of you.” A dangerous look flashed across Adagio’s features, and Twilight raised her hands to calm her. “I didn’t tell them what was going on! I just asked them if they recognized your name… and they did.”

            Adagio frowned, and looked as if she was about to respond when Rainbow Dash interjected impatiently. “And what is going on?”

            Twilight looked to Adagio – almost as if she was asking for permission – who scowled at Rainbow, before shrugging her shoulders and stuffing her hands into the pockets of her hoodie. “There’s no hiding it now,” she muttered.

            Twilight nodded. She looked back to her assembled friends, nervously wringing her hands together. “I’m tutoring her.”

            Sunset blinked. She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, but that wasn’t it.

            “Tutoring her in what?” asked Pinkie Pie.

            “The usual things,” responded Twilight, “math, history, chemistry–”

            “Hold on, timeout!” interrupted Rainbow, making a ‘T’ shape with her hands. “Why does she need tutoring? She hasn’t even been to school since we whooped her butt at the Battle of the Bands!” She punctuated the statement by fixing Adagio with a smug look.

            “She goes to school,” said Twilight, rubbing her arm. “Just, you know, not our school.”

            Adagio’s eyes bore into Twilight’s back. Looks like she’s said too much, thought Sunset.

            “But if she’s not attending Canterlot High,” said Rarity, thoughtfully, “then that would leave–” she clapped her hands to her mouth. “–you couldn’t possibly mean–”

            “Crystal Prep,” finished Applejack. The group let out a collective gasp.

            “Brilliant deduction,” said Adagio, sarcastically, “would you like a prize?”

            Pinkie Pie’s face lit up, only for her hopes to be dashed as Applejack placed a hand on her shoulder and shook her head.

            “Since when does Crystal Prep let two-bit bad guys in, anyway?” asked Rainbow. “Or were they that desperate after we won the Friendship Games?”

            “The Friendship Games ended in a tie,” Fluttershy reminded her, her voice little more than a whisper coming from the back of the group.

            “Whatever,” said Rainbow, with a shrug.

            “That’s enough!” said Sunset, much more forcefully than she’d intended. She couldn’t help it; she needed time to process everything, but more importantly she needed to get Twilight away from the Siren and figure out exactly what was going on. “If you know what she is, then you know she’s manipulative and–”

            “Sunset!” Twilight cut her off. Sunset realized that her little outburst had drawn the attention of other mall-goers. “Can we talk about this in private?”

            “Yeah,” said Sunset. Private was exactly what she needed. “We can talk in the stairwell, there’s a door just over there. Girls, keep an eye on Adagio.”

            “Aye-aye!” said Pinkie Pie, with a salute. Adagio did not share her enthusiasm.

            “If you think I’m going to wait here with them then you’re delusional.” She turned on her heel. “I’m leaving.”

            “Wait!” said Twilight, reaching out and grabbing her arm. Adagio stiffened, and Sunset instinctively took a step forward to protect her friend. “Don’t go,” said Twilight, “I’ll talk to Sunset, we’ll get all of this cleared up, and everything will go back to normal, okay?”

            Normal, right. Sunset expected Adagio to shake free of Twilight’s grasp and storm off, but she didn’t. Instead, the Siren looked Twilight in the eyes, grit her teeth, and sighed. “Fine,” she said, not disguising her irritation, “I’ll wait. But I’m not talking to them.”

            “It’s not like we’re dying to talk to you, either,” said Rainbow.

            “Thanks,” said Twilight, quietly to Adagio. The familiarity between the two only deepened Sunset’s suspicions, and she clapped her hands together.

            “It’s settled, then,” she said. “We’ll meet you girls at the food court. Come on, Twilight.”

            The pair separated from the rest of the group and made their way to the stairwell and, as expected, the dingy side stairs were devoid of other mall-goers. The door had barely closed behind them when Sunset began to lay into Twilight.

            “How did you meet her?” she asked. “What does she really want? Did she try to sing to you?”

            Twilight held up her hands, as if trying to block Sunset’s barrage of questions. “Slow down!”

            Sunset took a deep breath. “Sorry. Okay, just start from the beginning, and don’t leave anything out. We’ll need as much information as we can get if we’re going to figure out what Adagio’s up to.”

            Twilight folded her arms. “And what makes you think she’s up to something?”

            “Well, why else would she seek you out?” Twilight frowned, and Sunset immediately regretted her choice of words. “You know what I mean,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “Don’t you think that’s even a little suspicious?”

            “But she didn’t seek me out,” said Twilight. “Dean Cadance called me and asked if I’d be willing to tutor someone. Neither of us knew who the other would be until we met at the library – I practically had to beg her to stay!”

            “What? Why?”

            “She thought I was the other Twilight – the one from Equestria. I don’t have to explain why that might be weird for her.”

            Sunset rubbed her chin. “If it’s all so innocent and coincidental, then why hide it? Why didn’t you tell us once you found out what she was?”

            Twilight looked away. “I considered it, but…”

            “But what?”

            “She asked me not to tell anyone, and–”

            “Innocent people don’t make you keep secrets from your friends.”

            “Let me finish! She asked me not to tell anyone, and that she was trying to make a fresh start at Crystal Prep. After I found out what she was – what she did –  I just…” Twilight looked her square in the eyes, her face flushed with determination. “I want to help her, Sunset, like you helped me, and how the girls helped you. I want to give her a chance.”

            Sunset shook her head. “It’s not the same, Twilight.”

            “Why not?”

            “She’s a Siren – a monster!”

            “Midnight Sparkle was a monster.”

            The room was silent for a few seconds, before Sunset spoke again, her voice subdued. “So that’s what this is about. Twilight, you’re not Midnight Sparkle.”

            “I know,” said Twilight, “but that’s why I know I have to help her. If I can come back, so can she.”

            Sunset opened her mouth to argue, but stopped. Adagio wasn’t like them, she hadn’t been turned into a monster, she’d been born one. But did that really mean she couldn’t change? Sunset wanted to say yes – it would be so much simpler that way – but if there was one thing she’d learned in this world was that anything could change. Friends could become enemies, enemies could become friends, but could a Siren really learn the first thing about friendship?

            Sunset remembered a broken girl climbing out of a smoldering crater, and sighed.

            “Tell me about her,” said Sunset.

            “What?”

            “You’ve spent some time with her, right? Tell me about Adagio Dazzle when she’s not trying to take over the world.”

            “She’s…” Twilight trailed off. “Sorry, it’s hard to sum up a whole person, you know? She’s a good student, maybe not in the traditional way, but she’s getting there. She works hard, she listens, and she’s dedicated to not just regurgitating the materiel, but learning and understanding it.”

            “So, she has good work ethic,” said Sunset, “but what’s she like personally?”

            “She can be stubborn, and more than a little perplexing, but she can also be smart, funny, kind… I thought tutoring would be a lot of work – especially after I found out about who she was – but watching her become comfortable with the materiel, and with me, has been so fun and rewarding. If you could see that side of her, Sunset, I just know you’d feel the same way.”

            Twilight’s description didn’t sound at all like the Adagio Dazzle Sunset had met, but at the same time she couldn’t help but wonder what Twilight would think of the Sunset Shimmer who, just a few short months ago, had held the students of Canterlot High in her tyrannical clutches.

            “It sounds like you like her a lot.”

            “I do,” said Twilight. Twilight’s smile had returned, but there was something different about it. Sunset had seen this side of her before, but she couldn’t quite remember when.

            “Alright,” said Sunset, “I think I’ve heard enough. For the record, I still don’t trust that Adagio isn’t up to something, but I trust you, Twilight. If you really think she’s changed, or that she has the capacity to change, then let’s help her.”

            Twilight’s eyes went wide. “You mean it?” she asked.

            “Yeah, I mean it. Besides, worst case scenario, at least we can keep an eye on her.” Twilight cocked an eyebrow at her. “I’m kidding! …mostly, anyway. Just promise me that you’ll keep your eyes open for anything even remotely suspicious.”

            “I will.”

            “And you’re certain she didn’t try to sing for you?”

            “I am.”

            “Not even a note?”

            “Sunset.”

            “Okay, okay, I get it. I think we’ve kept everyone waiting long enough, we should probably get back out there.”

            Sunset opened the door to the stairwell and held it for Twilight, who thanked her and stepped through. Twilight walked with a spring in her step, though Sunset found it hard to share her enthusiasm. She wanted to believe Twilight was right, and that Adagio Dazzle really could be redeemed, but a little voice in the back of her mind told her she was making a huge mistake.

            When Twilight and Sunset found them, Adagio and the rest of the Rainbooms had moved to the food court.

            They sat at separate tables, far enough to keep their hushed conversation from Adagio’s ears, but close enough to ensure she remained within their line of sight. She met their suspicious looks with an air of apathy, but beneath the table her hands fidgeted restlessly.

            Adagio was in the middle of a mental rehearsal of the inevitable confrontation (a maddeningly difficult exercise, due in no small part to not knowing what poison Sunset Shimmer was pouring into Twilight’s ear) when she spotted Twilight (and Sunset) through the crowd. The two girls shared a look before splitting up, with Sunset approaching the Rainbooms and Twilight making her way towards Adagio, who suddenly felt her heart lodged firmly in her throat. Twilight took the seat across from her.

            Neither of them spoke.

            Where should she even start? Should she apologize for keeping the secret from Twilight? Should she be upset that Twilight had talked about her behind her back after she’d explicitly told her not to? Should she demand answers, or should she stay on the defensive and deny whatever accusations Sunset had assuredly levied against her?

            “You’ve got to be kidding me!” The outburst from the Rainbooms’ table stirred Adagio from her thoughts. The rainbow-haired one (Rainbow… something) had slammed her hands on the table and was in the middle of a heated argument with Sunset Shimmer, while the others appeared to be trying to defuse the situation. Twilight, who had craned her neck to survey the drama unfolding at the other table, turned back to Adagio with a sheepish look on her face.

            “So,” she said, the word hanging in the air.

            “So,” replied Adagio.

            Twilight cleared her throat and straightened her skirt beneath the table. “This is kind of awkward, huh?”

            “Just a bit.”

            Once again, they lapsed into silence, the awful din of the mall buzzed in Adagio’s head, making it hard to think.

            “Look,” said Adagio, finally, “Twilight Sparkle, I should have told you–”

            “No, it’s okay. How do you even bring something like that up?”

            I wasn’t intending to, thought Adagio, resisting the urge to glare at Sunset Shimmer. “But you already knew.”

            Twilight nodded. “I did.”

            Adagio stared at Twilight, who looked as uncertain as she felt. It was time to voice the question that was on both of their minds.

            “Where do we go from here?”

            Twilight looked down at the table as she struggled to find the right words. “I talked to Sunset – I mean, obviously, you were there – not for the talk – for the, um–”

            “Twilight Sparkle,” said Adagio, reaching her hand across the table and placing it over one of Twilight’s own in a gesture of comfort. It seemed to have the opposite effect, as both girls flinched and Adagio quickly withdrew her hand. Like Twilight, Adagio fixed her eyes on the table, trying to suppress the heat she felt rising in her cheeks.

            After a moment, Twilight continued. “She thinks you’re a monster.”

            Adagio flinched. Of course she did; Sunset Shimmer was a pony, and ponies were all the same. But Twilight Sparkle – this Twilight Sparkle – was a human.

            “And what do you think?” asked Adagio.

            “I think… I think you’re my friend.”

            That hadn’t been the response she’d been expecting. Adagio looked up at Twilight, puzzled. “You think we’re… friends?”

            “I do,” said Twilight.

            The notion was absurd. Twilight Sparkle was her tutor, an ally of her most hated enemies, and a pawn in Adagio’s game of magical conquest. Sure, she couldn’t deny that she enjoyed the time she spent with Twilight, and the thought of losing her had been… distressing, but that was only because of Twilight’s key role in her plan. No, she was more than a pawn, perhaps it would be more apt to call her a bishop, a rook, or, perhaps…

            …a friend.

            Adagio frowned. Sirens didn’t make friends. Ponies (and humans, she supposed) were pitiful creatures; weak individually, they made ‘friends’ so that, together, they might stand a chance against stronger, more powerful beings.

            Monsters.

            But Adagio was a human now, and if she returned to Equestria without her magic, who knows what she would become? Had she not allowed herself to be helped by Twilight? If pathetic creatures sought friendship to make up for their weakness, and Adagio had sought out Twilight Sparkle…

            “I’ve never had a friend before,” said Adagio.

            Adagio felt Twilight’s hand close around her own, and this time neither of them pulled away.

            Sunset Shimmer cleared her throat.

            Twilight must have felt Adagio tense up, as she squeezed her hand reassuringly. Sunset had come alone, but Adagio could feel five pairs of eyes on her from a table across the way. Sunset’s arms were crossed, and her eyes lingered momentarily on the pair’s linked hands.

            “How’d it go?” asked Twilight.

            Sunset rubbed her neck. “Results were… mixed. They’re not entirely convinced that she’s not up to something.” She paused. “And neither am I.”

            “She’s right here,” hissed Adagio, earning herself a pointed look from Sunset, who continued.

            “But if you’re sure you trust her–”

            “I trust her,” asserted Twilight. Adagio suppressed a twinge of guilt.

            “–then that’s all we can do. We can’t tell you who to be friends with,” said Sunset, glancing back to the other table, “though, not everyone agrees with that sentiment.”

            An uncomfortable silence fell over the group.

            “So, that’s it then?” asked Twilight.

            “I guess,” said Sunset, “I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure where we go from here. This wasn’t exactly how I thought I’d be spending my Saturday afternoon.”

            “Tell me about it,” said Adagio.

            “Well,” said Twilight, “since we’re all here…”

            Adagio didn’t like where this was going.

            “Why don’t we take this opportunity to clear the air? If the girls get to know the real you, then they won’t have any reason to worry.”

            There stood the problem. The Rainbooms had already met the real her, and it had been disastrous. The thought of spending any time whatsoever with them made her feel physically ill, and yet there were gears turning in her head. As uncomfortable as it would be, if she was able to convince the Rainbooms that she wasn’t a threat, then there would be nothing standing between Adagio Dazzle and the return of her magic. But on the other hand, it meant associating with the very people who stole it from her in the first place.

            Not that any of that mattered, because there was no chance the Rainbooms would want anything to do with her.

            “I think that’s a good idea,” said Sunset.

            Adagio balked at Sunset’s willingness to go along with Twilight’s suggestion. Perhaps she wasn’t the only one with an ulterior motive after all.

            “That’s great!” said Twilight. She looked at Adagio. “What do you think?”

            “I think that they hate me,” said Adagio.

            “That’s not entirely true,” said Sunset, sheepishly. “They’re understandably cautious about you showing up out of the blue and hanging out with Twilight. But, if you have nothing to hide, then there shouldn’t be a problem, right?” She cocked an eyebrow.

            Other than the fact that I hate all of you? thought Adagio. “No, no problem,” she said through gritted teeth.

            With narrowed eyes, Adagio and Sunset glared at one another, before finally Sunset turned away. “Great,” she said, though from the tone of her voice it was clear there was very little about it that she found ‘great’, “I’ll let the others know.”

            As Sunset walked away, Twilight shot Adagio a worried look. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?” she asked.

            “It was your idea, Twilight Sparkle,” responded Adagio.

            “I know, but–”

            “No buts. I might not like them, but I can tolerate sharing a building with them for a little while if you think it will help. But if they try to blast me with friendship magic I’m using you as a human shield.”

            “Noted,” said Twilight. “But I do think it will help. If they see you the way I see you, there’s no doubt in my mind that all this unpleasantness will be behind us before you know it.”

            “I don’t think anyone sees me the way you do,” muttered Adagio, casting her eyes downward.

            Twilight gave her hand another reassuring squeeze. It was a simple gesture, the touching of hands, but none the less, Adagio couldn’t help but feel comforted by the small embrace. Twilight’s hand was warm and soft, and the way it cupped her own felt almost as if the two were meant to fit together, two separate pieces coming together to form a singular whole.

            She supposed human hands were just designed to hold one another.

            For a while neither of them spoke. Eventually, Sunset and the rest of the Rainbooms left their table and began their approach. Twilight stood up to greet them, her hand drifting away from Adagio’s but leaving much of its warmth behind. Reluctantly, Adagio followed suit, and was met with looks of suspicion and skepticism.

            She couldn’t blame them, but none the less she found herself irritated by it.

            “Okay,” said Twilight, “now that all of that’s behind us, I was thinking introductions are in order.”

            “But we’ve already met!” said the girl with the puffy, pink hair.

            “I know, Pinkie, but this is different. An introduction not between humans and Sirens, but between people. A fresh start.” No one stopped her, so Twilight continued. “Adagio, allow me to introduce you to my friends, Sunset Shimmer, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Fluttershy. Girls, this is Adagio Dazzle.”

            Rainbow Dash stepped forward. “Now that we all know each other, why don’t we top it off with a friendly handshake. Sunset, you go first.”

            Suddenly the Rainboom’s ire was no longer focused on Adagio, but upon Rainbow Dash herself. Sunset Shimmer crossed her arms. “Dash,” she said in a dangerous tone.

            “What?” said Rainbow Dash, indignantly. “I’m just saying, this would be a lot easier if you’d just–” She was cut off by a sharp elbow to the rib from Applejack. “Oww, fine, whatever. Don’t blame me when she’s all red-eyed and we have to hit her with another rainbow.”

            Adagio eyed Rainbow Dash closely. Why did she want Sunset to shake Adagio’s hand? From the reaction of the other girls, Adagio was certain there was something that she was missing, and she didn’t like it.

            “Alright, Twilight,” said Applejack, “since you’re the one putting together this little shindig, what’re we doing?”

            “Well, my mom wanted me to pick up a couple of outfits to wear to school – I can’t exactly keep wearing my Crystal Prep uniform – so I guess we could start by doing a little clothes shopping.”

            “Why didn’t you say so, darling!” said Rarity. “I know the perfect place. Come Monday you’ll be turning heads up and down Canterlot High!” Rarity took Twilight’s hand and began to lead her out of the food court and back into the mall proper.

            “I-I don’t think that’s necessary,” stuttered Twilight.

            “Perhaps just the one head, then,” said Rarity coyly, causing Twilight to blush and Adagio to bristle, unconsciously.

            The group fell in behind Twilight and Rarity, with Adagio bringing up the rear. She stuffed her hands in her pockets, and hung back just far enough that she didn’t have to join in with any of their conversations. It might even have worked, if one of the girls hadn’t slowed down to talk to her.

            “Hi!” said Pinkie Pie, wearing an almost frighteningly cheerful expression.

            “Hi,” said Adagio, keeping her gaze fixed directly in front of her. With any luck, the girl would get the hint and leave her alone.

            She should have known better, this hadn’t exactly been her lucky day.

            At first it seemed as though Adagio had gotten her wish, but then she started to notice things – flash of pink in the corner of her eye, the slightest hint of cotton candy in the air – and when she turned back to see what Pinkie Pie was doing, the girl staring intently at her, barely an inch a way.

            Adagio recoiled in surprise and disgust. “What are you doing?!” she demanded.

            “Sunset said that Twilight said that you said that you changed, so I wanted to see for myself!” She rubbed her chin. “You look the same to me, though.”

            “Well, do it from over there,” said Adagio, putting some distance between them.

            “Okey-dokey-lokey!” said Pinkie Pie, and for a few, glorious, seconds, Adagio knew some semblance of peace. Then Pinkie Pie started asking questions. “So, are you and Twilight friends?”

            Adagio hunched her shoulders in irritation. Part of her wanted to ignore the question, but in her heart she knew that would only encourage the girl to probe further. Besides, she’d already basically admitted to herself that she might possible consider Twilight Sparkle something akin to what these girls could consider a ‘friend’. If saying it now would make earning the Rainboom’s trust that much easier, then that was that.

            “Yes,” she said, “we’re friends.” A slight smile tugged at Adagio’s lips, but she fought it back. Where had that come from?

            “Twilight’s my friend, too! And since you’re the friend of my friend, that makes us friends!”

            Adagio shuddered in repulsion. The way Pinkie Pie described it, friendship sounded like some sort of communicable disease, and Adagio had just been infected.

            She thought about it for a moment. Maybe she’s onto something.

            But whether or not friendship was a disease, that didn’t change the fact that Pinkie Pie and Adagio were not friends, and Adagio had to make sure that was abundantly clear.

            “That’s not how it works,” she said.

            “Yes, it is,” said Pinkie Pie, matter-of-factly.

            Adagio scowled. “You don’t just get to decide to be friends with somebody.”

            “No, silly, that’s exactly what you do!”

            “I think I get some choice in the matter,” insisted Adagio.

            “Nope!” said Pinkie Pie.

            Adagio felt her nails digging into her palms within the pockets of her hoodie, and was about to retort with a less than friendly response, when another of the Rainbooms broke formation and fell into position between Adagio and her tormentor.

            “Pinkie,” said Applejack, “why don’t you go talk to Fluttershy about the bake sale for the animal shelter. You had some ideas about the cupcakes, right?”

            “So many!” said Pinkie Pie, before rejoining the rest of the pack. Adagio noted that even her walk had an annoying bubbliness to it.

            “Sorry about that,” said Applejack, “she can get a little excited. You get used to it.”

            Adagio was absolutely certain she would not get used to it. “I’ll take your word for it.” She glanced at Applejack. “You’re not going to insist on being my friend, are you?”

            “Nope. To be frank, I’m a bit skeptical about the whole situation. But Twilight seems to trust you, and I trust Twilight, so I’m giving you a chance – we all are.” She gave a pointed look at Rainbow Dash, who was giving Adagio the stink eye from over her shoulder. “Some of us are happier about it than others.”

            So, Pinkie Pie (inexplicably) wanted to be her friend, Rainbow Dash wanted nothing to do with her, and Applejack was on the fence. That was… something. Just as long as they kept their noses out of Adagio’s business, she could tolerate whatever these girls could throw at her.

            Probably.

            The group arrived at the clothing store, and promptly split off into smaller clusters to do some browsing of their own. Adagio took the opportunity to rejoin Twilight, who clung desperately to an ever-growing stack of clothes, courtesy of Rarity.

            “R-Rarity, I can’t afford all of this!” protested Twilight, helplessly.

            “Of course not, darling,” said Rarity with a scoff. “But you simply must try them on if we are to find the perfect outfit!”

            “It doesn’t have to be perfect–”

            Rarity responded with a scandalized gasp. “Nonsense – I won’t hear another word of it! Now, I think this blouse is just your color...”

            Rarity tossed another item atop the already towering pile, causing it to sway precariously. Adagio took a step back, not wanting to be in the blast zone when Twilight’s scrawny arms inevitably gave out under the weight, only to collide with someone standing behind her.

            “Hey, watch it!”

            Rainbow Dash glared at her in irritation, a look that Adagio was happy to return. “You were the one standing behind me, you watch it!” she spat.

            “Whatever,” said Rainbow Dash with a shrug.

            Adagio growled, biting her tongue to stop herself from saying anything Rainbow Dash might regret. It’s for the plan, she thought, for the plan, for the plan… She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again, only to see Rainbow Dash’s stupid, smug face looking back at her. Her blood began to boil, and Rainbow Dash must have picked up on her frustration, as she shot her a self assured smirk.

            That was it. If Adagio was going to get through this without jeopardizing her plan, that meant doing so without murdering any of the Rainbooms, and unfortunately that included Rainbow Dash. She needed space.

            “If you’ll excuse me,” said Adagio, before ducking into an aisle and putting as much distance between them as possible. Or so she thought. Behind the very next display, leaning against the wall and wearing an insufferably arrogant smile, was Rainbow Dash.

            Adagio’s eye twitched. How had Rainbow Dash beaten her here? It didn’t matter, she was done pretending to be nice. If Rainbow Dash wanted to pick a fight, then a fight she would get. Adagio grabbed a shirt that she had neither the money nor the intention of purchasing and held it up to her chest, pretending to be trying it on.

            “If it wasn’t clear, I’m trying to avoid you,” she said, not taking her eyes off the shirt.

            “I know,” said Rainbow Dash, “but someone has to keep an eye on you – make sure you don’t try anything.”

            Adagio laughed callously. “Like what?”

            “I don’t know. Steal.”

            “Steal? Please, stealing is beneath me.”

            It wasn’t.

            “Well, whatever you’re up to, I’m not going to let you get away with it.”

            Adagio looked up, giving Rainbow Dash a devilish look. “And who’s to say I haven’t already?”

            “Aha!” said Rainbow, pointing a finger accusingly. “So you admit it!”

            Adagio rolled her eyes. “No, I was mocking you. Are you always this dense?”

            It was Rainbow Dash’s turn to growl.

            “Besides, if I was up to something, do you really think you’d be the one to figure it out?”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “Do I really have to spell it out for you? You just about gift wrapped your magic for us at the Battle of the Bands – what with all the arguing and showing off. You’re practically an honorary Dazzling!”

            It was Rainbow Dash’s turn to laugh. “Sorry, not interested. You’ll have to recruit somewhere else.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “All I’m saying is my friends are here, and you’re all alone.”

            “I’m not alone. I have Twilight Sparkle.”

            Rainbow Dash’s hands balled into fists and she took a step forward, menacingly. Adagio reflexively backed away. She might not think much of Rainbow Dash, but she had no delusions that she would win if it came to exchanging blows. Besides, getting into a fistfight wasn’t exactly conducive to getting the Rainbooms to trust her… though this argument hadn’t been, either, but that was Rainbow Dash’s fault, not hers.

            Adagio would never find out if Rainbow Dash had intended to hit her, for at that moment Applejack stepped out from an aisle and stood between the two girls. Her look of amusement dissolved into suspicion as she looked between them.

            “Everything alright here?” she asked.

            “Just fine,” said Adagio.

            “Yup,” agreed Rainbow Dash. They glared at one another.

            “...Right. Well, c’mon, you two, I got something I want to show you.”

            “What is it?” asked Rainbow Dash. Adagio’s curiosity was similarly piqued.

            “Trust me, you’re going to want to see this for yourselves.”



           

            “No, this won’t do at all. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking!”

            Applejack had lead them to the dressing rooms where, standing before them in what was, perhaps, the single most hideous dress Adagio had ever seen, was Twilight Sparkle.

            “Put that in the ‘no’ pile, dear, and put on the next one,” said Rarity, ushering Twilight back into a stall. The door hadn’t been closed for more than a second when Rainbow Dash erupted into laughter.

            “Rarity, what the heck was that? She looked like an eggplant!”

            “I can hear you, you know!” came Twilight’s muffled voice from behind the door, which only made Rainbow laugh harder. Adagio couldn’t help but chuckle.

            “It looked better on the shelf,” said Rarity, before shooting Applejack a pointed look. “You didn’t bring them over here just to poke fun, did you?”

            “Maybe,” replied Applejack, trying unsuccessfully to hide her snickering.

            Rarity huffed. “Well, I’m sure the next one will be better.”

            It was worse.

            Rainbow Dash fell to the floor, clutching her stomach as she cackled like a hyena. Even Applejack could no longer contain herself, and laughed openly while wiping a tear from her eye.

            “Sugarcube, you look like the losing end of a fight between a sunflower and an orangutan!”

            “I think I might have grabbed that one by mistake,” said Rarity, daintily covering her mouth with her hand.

            “Adagio?” Twilight looked at her with her big, puppy dog eyes, and for a moment, Adagio was severely tempted to reassure her.

            A second look at the dress fixed that.

            “It’s terrible,” admitted Adagio.

            Twilight slumped and returned to the stall. “I hate clothes shopping,” she muttered, electing a shocked gasp from Rarity.

            “You don’t mean that!” she said, approaching the stall. “Why don’t I come in there and help you put an outfit together?” Twilight didn’t respond, but the door opened just enough to allow Rarity to slip inside.

            By that time, Applejack and Rainbow Dash (and, though she hated to admit it, Adagio) had each managed to compose themselves.

            “Rarity’s got a real eye for fashion, but I tell ya, sometimes she puts together some real doozies.”

            “Like your outfits at the Battle of the Bands?” asked Adagio.

            “You’re one to talk,” said Rainbow Dash.

            “And what does that mean, exactly?”

            “That’s rich coming from the girl who wore that purple getup to school,” said Applejack. “You know, the one with the spiked heels?”

            “And what was wrong with that?” asked Adagio. Applejack and Rainbow Dash shared a look, before resuming their laughter, and to her surprise, Adagio didn’t feel the urge to return the insult. Instead, she found herself laughing with them.

            Maybe the heels had been a bit much, but she was trying to take over the world, after all.

            “Well,” said Applejack, “you’re dressing more sensible now. Maybe that says something.”

            Maybe it did.

            The stall door opened once again and Rarity emerged. She cleared her throat. “Ladies, your attention, please. I believe we have a winner.” With a flourish, Rarity opened the door and stepped aside, revealing Twilight standing behind her.

            Adagio’s jaw dropped.

            Perhaps it was the contrast with the horrific dresses that had come before it, but Twilight looked absolutely radiant. She wore a purple skirt with a starburst pattern and frills on the bottom, a rose vest over a pale blue blouse with short, puffed sleeves, a pair of matching socks that reached just below her knee, and, to top it all off, a cute little bowtie. It was dorky and adorable (there really should be a word for that!) and, as far as Adagio was concerned, Twilight really pulled it off.

            “What’s with the bowtie?” asked Rainbow Dash. Applejack elbowed her in the ribs. “Ouch, same spot!”

            “Now that’s what I’m talking about,” said Applejack, giving a thumbs up. Twilight turned her gaze upon Adagio, who quickly snapped her mouth shut.

            “What do you think?” Twilight asked.

            Suddenly, Adagio became distinctly aware that she was staring at Twilight. But where was she supposed to look? She looked over Twilight once more, felt a flash of heat in her cheeks, before fixing her eyes to the floor.

            “It’s, umm, really… nice.”

            Nice? Come on, you can do better than that!

            “Do you not like it?” There was something about the vulnerability in Twilight’s voice that grabbed hold of Adagio’s heartstrings and pulled.

            “No,” said Adagio, “I mean, I do like it! It looks really good. I really like the...” everything “...socks.”

            She did really like the socks.

            “Are you sure?”

            Adagio pulled herself together and looked Twilight in the eyes. “I am.”

            A hint of pink returned to Twilight’s cheeks, mirroring Adagio’s own, and she smiled. Rarity gave them an inquisitive look, but said nothing.

            “Alright, I’ll change back into my regular clothes and we can get out of here.”

            Rarity frowned. “But what about the rest of the–” Twilight gave her a pleading look. Rarity sighed. “Very well, but mark my words, one of these days, Twilight, you’ll look into your closet and realize you have an entirely new, entirely fabulous, wardrobe.”

            “And I’ll have you to thank for it,” said Twilight, with a smile.

            “We done here?” asked Rainbow Dash.

            “Unfortunately,” lamented Rarity. She watched Twilight return one final time to the stall, before turning towards Rainbow Dash and Applejack. “Why don’t you two go find Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Sunset. We’ll meet you outside.”

            “But what about–” started Rainbow Dash, only to be cut off by Rarity.

            “I assure you I have everything here completely under control.”

            Rainbow Dash’s eyes darted between Rarity and Adagio, and after a moment of deliberation, she relented. “Alright, just don’t take too long.”

            “C’mon, Dash, I bet we’ll find Fluttershy at the pet store ‘cross the way.”

            Applejack and Rainbow Dash walked off, leaving Adagio alone with Rarity. Adagio would have been content to wait for Twilight in silence but, once again, fate had other plans.

            “So, you and Twilight?”

            Adagio had to do a double take. “I’m sorry?”

            “Twilight, dear, she’s tutoring you?”

            “Oh,” said Adagio. For a second there she’d thought that Rarity was implying… well, it didn’t matter. “Yeah, she is.”

            “Well, you certainly made the right choice. I couldn’t imagine a better tutor than Twilight.”

            “It wasn’t exactly a choice,” said Adagio, “it just sort of… happened.”

            Rarity touched a finger to her lips, thoughtfully. “Well, nevertheless, private tutoring sessions with Twilight Sparkle – I know a certain young gentleman who would love such an opportunity.”

            Adagio stiffened, and Rarity watched her intently. She was talking about Timber, a subject that brought with it a whole flurry of emotions that Adagio both did not understand, and did not want to deal with. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her hoodie and cast her gaze upon the tiled floor.

            “Yes,” continued Rarity after it became clear that Adagio wasn’t going to respond, “yes, it was a shame to hear about what happened on their date last night.”

            “Wait, what?” Rarity now had Adagio’s full attention. Had something happened after Twilight and Timber had left last night?

            Rarity must have picked up on Adagio’s sudden shift in demeanor, as a knowing smile spread across her lips and she leaned in conspiratorially. “Well,” she said, lowering her voice dramatically, “you didn’t hear this from me, but–”

            Rarity stopped abruptly as Twilight stepped out of the changing room, holding her new outfit in a neatly folded pile before her.

            “But?” prompted Adagio, but Rarity only winked at her and waved Twilight over.

            “Twilight, darling, we were just talking about you!”

            Twilight blinked, and glanced at Adagio. “You were? Nothing bad, I hope.”

            “Perish the thought! Adagio was positively singing your praises!”

            Adagio opened her mouth to argue, but closed it again. What was Rarity playing at? On the one hand, her story was certainly better than admitting they’d been gossiping about Twilight’s love life (not that Adagio cared, of course), but Adagio would be more comfortable if she understood Rarity’s motivation.

            At least Rainbow Dash had been straightforward.

            “Oh,” said Twilight, a slight blush finding its way once more to her cheeks.

            “Well, I’m sure the others are waiting on us, so let’s not dally!”

            Rarity led them to the to the counter so Twilight could pay for her clothes, only to hold the entire process up by searching her purse for a discount card, leaving Adagio and Twilight to stand quietly behind her, exchanging little smiles and brief moments of eye contact that brought back memories of the long night they’d spent at the library.

            Timber couldn’t take that from her.

            “Ah, here it is!” proclaimed Rarity, proudly producing the card and laying it on the counter before them. A bored looking employee swiped the card and ushered Twilight (who looked apologetically at the small line forming behind them) forward to pay. The employee quickly bagged Twilight’s purchase and sent the girls on their way.

            “Thanks for helping me, girls,” said Twilight as they exited the store. “I really hate shopping by myself.”

            Rarity waved a hand dismissively. “Think nothing of it, dear.”

            Adagio shrugged. “I didn’t really do anything.”

            “Nonsense, darling, you had some lovely things to say about her… socks.”

            Adagio rolled her eyes, and Twilight stifled a giggle.

            “The important thing was that you were there,” said Rarity. “Sometimes that’s all that matters. Oh, look, there they are. Girls!” Rarity raised a hand and waved down the rest of the Rainbooms, who were waiting by a bench. Adagio and Twilight fell in behind her as they approached.

            “Holding up okay?”

            Adagio shrugged in response to Twilight’s question. “I’m fine.”

            “You sure? Because if you want to leave–”

            Adagio stopped in place. “Twilight Sparkle, if I wanted to leave, I’d have left already.”

            That wasn’t entirely true. Adagio did want to leave, it was simply lower on her priority list than convincing the Rainbooms she wasn’t a threat, and not disappointing Twilight Sparkle.

            “Alright,” said Twilight, though she didn’t sound entirely convinced. “I just don’t want you to feel obligated to stick around just for me.”

            “That is literally the only reason I’m here.”

            Again, not entirely true, but it was enough for Twilight.

            “Well, thanks, I’m glad you’re here.”

            “I’m glad you’re here, too.”



           

            ‘Hanging out’ was somewhat of a foreign concept to Adagio.

            It wasn’t as if she didn’t understand it – because really, what was there to understand? – it was merely something she had precious little experience with. In Equestria, despite being at the peak of her magical might, Adagio had always sought more. More power, more magic, more of everything. After her defeat and banishment to this world, she spent her time struggling to get by on what little magic she and the other Sirens had been able to wring out of the (mostly) magicless humans. Even after being defeated once again, this time by the Rainbooms, Adagio still did not have the luxury of a break – Crystal Prep was anything but a free ride, and Adagio spent every moment either scheming or clawing her way back from the brink of oblivion. Even her time with Twilight was primarily spent studying. As such, the idea of ‘just doing whatever’ sat poorly with her.

            The Rainbooms did not share her reservations.

            After they’d finished their clothes shopping (although, by the end of the day, Adagio was convinced that Rarity was never truly finished clothes shopping), and now lacking a specific goal, proceeded to do absolutely nothing.

            Okay, so it may not have been literally nothing, but it certainly felt that way to Adagio. They meandered aimlessly through the West Canterlot Mall, prattling on about this and that, occasionally stopping into whatever happened to catch their interest, and even then, rarely making a purchase.

            For the most part, Adagio found herself lingering at the back of the group, an outsider looking in on a world she didn’t fully comprehend. Every now and then one of the girls (usually Twilight) would slow down and try to make conversation. It was a pointless exercise, but Adagio would do her best to indulge them. After all, this was all part of the plan, right?

            The hours passed slowly, but eventually the ‘hanging out’ came to a close. It began with the girls lamenting the various responsibilities they had to return to (unsurprisingly, the act of doing nothing ended when one was forced to do something), and from there moved on to discussing their assorted means of egress.

            It was during this conversation that Adagio received a text message from Sugarcoat.

            ‘We are going to get food at the WCM, if you still want to come.’

            So, Adagio was trading time at the mall with one group of girls she didn’t particularly like (with one exception) for another (again, with one exception). A little voice inside of her cried out, wanting nothing than to go back to her room and not talk to another human until Monday, but she ignored it. Spending time with Sugarcoat might not have been part of her plan but, unfortunately, Adagio was a human now, and humans had to eat.

            Besides, she was already here.

            ‘I’ll meet you there.’

            She looked up from her phone at Twilight, who had, moments ago, offered Adagio a ride home with Cadance and Shining Armor.

            “Thanks, but I think I’m going to stick around here for a while longer.”

            “Oh,” said Twilight, “okay.” It was clear that she was curious, but was polite enough not to pry.

            Rainbow Dash was not.

            “Why?” she asked. “Meeting up with the rest of your Siren buddies?”

            “My roommate, actually,” replied Adagio, curtly. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

            Rainbow Dash huffed. “A likely story.”

            “Dash,” said Sunset in a warning tone, “keep it up and Fluttershy will make you walk home.”

            “Goodness, I would never–” Fluttershy caught Sunset’s look and cut herself off. “Right, walk.”

            Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, but dropped the matter nonetheless.

            The Rainbooms shared heartfelt (and, in Adagio’s opinion, somewhat excessive) goodbyes, and began to trickle out of the mall, until only Adagio, Twilight, and Sunset Shimmer remained.

            “You sure we can’t give you a ride home?” Twilight asked Sunset, who waved her off.

            “Thanks, but it’s a nice night, and I’m in the mood to stretch my legs.”

            Twilight put her hands on her hips and pouted. “Both of you turned down a ride home – do I smell or something?”

            Like lavender, Adagio remembered. Sunset laughed.

            “It’s okay, Twilight, really.”

            Twilight looked like she was about to respond, only to be interrupted by the buzzing of her phone. “That’s my ride,” she said. “I’ll see both of you on Monday!”

            And with that, Adagio Dazzle was alone with Sunset Shimmer.

            Adagio shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Sunset Shimmer rubbed her neck. Neither of them looked at the other. There was a long, pregnant pause before Sunset broke the silence.

            “Okay, I’m going to say this once and get it out of the way: I know what it’s like. I’ve been the former villain, the girl on the outside wondering what’s so special about the whole ‘friendship’ thing, or if there was any way I could learn to actually like these girls. So, if you’re really serious about turning things around, and you need to talk to someone who’s been there… I’ll be around.” She looked Adagio in the eye, her expression hardening. “Twilight’s putting a lot of faith in you, and it’s going to crush her if it turns out to be misplaced. So, if this is just some game you’re playing to get back at us, keep her out of it.”

            There was a stretch of about twenty minutes between Sunset’s departure and Sugarcoat’s arrival that Adagio was left to consider Sunset’s words. On the one hand, returning to her full strength was all Adagio had dreamed about since her first night in this world. It was the goal that kept her going through the darkest of times, and was the focus of all of her machinations. But on the other hand…

            Twilight Sparkle.

            It was foolish to think she could have them both. The Rainbooms would never allow her to have her magic back unopposed, but defeating them would mean losing Twilight. Of course, when the world was hers and the hearts and minds of all of its people were under her control, she could simply tell Twilight to forgive her, couldn’t she?

            Adagio didn’t realize she’d been pacing until she abruptly stopped. Suddenly she felt sick to her stomach and cold, so very cold. She imagined Twilight standing before her, an adoring smile plastered across her face but a dullness in her eyes that – despite it being a figment of her imagination – shook Adagio to her core. Twilight would do whatever she asked her to – they all would – but, for the first time, thinking of her conquest felt… wrong. She could simply not put Twilight under her spell, dooming Adagio to lose her first and only friend, but the alternative – the mental violation of Twilight Sparkle – was so much worse.

            Adagio looked down at her trembling hands. Maybe she was a monster after all.