“Ya’ll sure about this, sugar cube?” Applejack asked, tossing a loaf of bread into her basket as she did. “I mean, I trust Sunset but I ain’t sure I trust the Sirens yet, even if Aria’s makin’ a good case for’em.”
“That’s the thing, I’m not sure,” I admitted, shifting uncomfortably as I walked down the grocery aisle by her side. “Sonata is… weird, and yes, I know, pot and kettle.”
“She’s somethin’ like a million years old,” Applejack jibed, nudging me good-naturedly with her elbow. “I’d be shocked if she weren’t an odd duck.”
“Except I’m pretty sure she’s weird even by their standards,” I replied, rolling my eyes as I judged her back.
“Talkin’ about Sonata Dusk, right?” Applejack asked, nodding to herself as I grunted in the affirmative. “Alright, yeah, I’d buy that.”
“So… what do I do?”
I was fidgeting nervously with a box of protein bars. Not because I wanted them, I just needed something to fidget with. My mom bought me one of those spinners a few years back when they were popular, which proved to be a mistake.
My hand-eye coordination is such that I sent the little bastard spinning into Spike.
Applejack gave me a considering look that lasted a few moments before she shook her head and sighed.
“Look, Sugarcube, I’m all for givin’ folks second chances,” Applejack started, showing a few big bags of cereal, “but I ain’t gonna tell ya it’s the right thing to do, ‘cause the fact is I got no clue. You gotta make that decision, you gotta decide if you’re gonna trust her.”
“Is it… is it awful that I want to trust her?” I asked in a small voice as we made our way to the self-checkout.
Applejack gave me an odd look.
“Why would it be awful?”
I bit my lip and looked away, grimacing as I asked: “why do you think?”
“Ah, right, the Sunset and Aria thing,” she said after a moment, “Well I ain’t gonna say it’s a great look, but refusing’ to admit you were wrong ain’t exactly better.”
I flinched at that.
“Especially if she really is trustworthy,” Applejack pressed as she swept her purchases over the reader. “Then you’re doing her a disservice ‘cause of somethin’ she ain’t had no part in.”
“She’s Aria’s sister!” I countered
“And that don’t mean a darn thing!” Applejack snapped, her tone turning forceful enough to put me back a step. “She ain’t her sister’s keeper, never mind that she’s the youngest sister outta all’a them.”
I looked down, unable to meet her eyes. She wasn’t wrong, but I hated being called on it.
“Now listen, Twi’,” Applejack said calmly, her voice more relaxed now, “I ain’t sayin’ you gotta trust her, but she deserves the same thing anyone deserves, and that’s to be judged as who they are, not who they’re related to, y’hear?”
“I… guess I can’t really argue with that,” I replied with a grimace, “it’s hard to separate them, though.”
“Aria ain’t wronged you s’far as I know, Sugarcube,” Applejack said and I felt a flare of irrational anger.
“She took S-” I started the bite the words out, but choked on them as Applejack gave me a flat stare.
That was unfair and I knew it, and I hated myself for even having the thought. No one had ‘taken’ Sunset away from me, Sunset wasn’t an object, I had been awful and driven her away all by myself.
But it was so much easier to blame Aria. To blame any of the Sirens even if it was unfair.
“Sorry,” my voice came out hushed as I paid for my own small purchases and followed Applejack out of the store.
“Ain’t me ya gotta apologize to, hon,” Applejack shook her head, putting a hand on my shoulder as she did and squeezing. “Look, ya’ll want my advice ‘bout this Sonata business? I say give’r a fair shake, ain’t less than anyone deserves, y’know?”
I sighed and stopped outside the grocery store, shuffling a little as I wrapped my arms around myself. It was cold outside, it was a rare almost-cloudless winter day, but nothing could really warm up the Canterlot winter, so I pulled my purple sweater more tightly around me.
“AJ?” I looked up and the farmgirl cast me an inquisitive look over a shoulder. “Am… am I a bad person?”
Applejack grimaced and shook her head.
“Nah,” she answered with her own sigh, “you’re just hurtin’, when folks hurt they swing wide.”
“What’s wrong with me?” I looked up at Applejack, pleading for an answer. “This… this isn’t who I’m supposed to be.”
“Ain’t sure anyone’s supposed t’be anything in particular, Sugarcube,” Applejack said gently, giving me a friendly nudge. “You’ll be just fine, though, at least that's how I reckon it.”
“Glad someone thinks so,” I grumbled as I followed Applejack to her truck and helped load up our groceries. “H-hey… AJ?”
“Ayep?” Applejack asked as she pushed a bag into place behind the seats.
“I think I’ll go back and talk to Sonata,” I looked up at her, and Applejack smiled at me.
I’d always loved Applejack’s smile. It was so wide and warm, and it was impossible to feel anything but welcomed when she did it. Those bright, emerald eyes of hers sparkle clear and clean in the winter sunlight, and I smiled back almost reflexively.
“Good t’hear, Sugarcube,” Applejack said with a nod. “For what it’s worth, Aria ain’t that bad when ya get t’know her. Me’n Rares have been on a couple double dates with her’n Sunset, and I reckon her sister can’t possibly be worse.”
“I guess that’s fair,” I replied with a half-smile, feeling the same sting in my heart I always did whenever I thought about Sunset. “Thanks, AJ.”
“Anytime, darlin’,” Applejack replied as she slid into the driver’s seat and coaxed the ancient Ford to life. “Now let’s get on home, you can have a bit a‘fore ya take off.”
“That… sounds pretty great actually,” I said, smiling a little as my stomach grumbled in agreement.
The thumping bass rumbled and rolled even through the crystal-glass double doors of the Lounge.
I knew I was dithering but I’d never actually come here by myself before and I wasn’t really sure how to do it.
The first two times I'd been with Rainbow Dash, the third time was with Pinkie, and the fourth was the time I’d met Sonata at the bar after coming in with Fluttershy. All of them just sort of… walked in like they owned the place, and with the best will in the world the only thing I can own while walking into a place like this is a panic attack.
I had tried to get more in the groove of the place with a new outfit, but I’m not sure even Rarity’s skills could make me less mousey. I adjusted the calf-length black jacket she’d lent me, still feeling uncomfortable in the lacy, curved-hugging blouse and tight slacks she’d picked out.
It’s not that I didn’t think I looked good, I just can’t really… walk the walk, as Rarity would say. If I ever got onto a catwalk I’d probably make it three wobbly steps in before face-planting off the edge.
All said, the clothes were nice but they didn’t really help my confidence.
“Name?” The massive bouncer stared down at me and, intellectually, I knew he was a perfectly friendly man even if I’d never had a conversation with him myself, he was never less than cordial with everyone after all.
He was still… very large, though.
“T-t-t-Twilight S-Sparkle?” I’m not sure why I said my name like it was a question, and that got a raised eyebrow, but he looked down at his clipboard, thumbed a few pages, nodded, then motioned for me to pass.
“Welcome back to the Lounge, ma’am,” Backstage said with a warmer smile. “Good to see you again.”
“G-good to see you, too, I guess,” I tried to smile at him, but I think all I managed was a weird rictus.
He laughed a little, though, which was probably the best outcome I could hope for, and waved me in.
“Miss Dusk said you’re welcome at the bar whenever you arrive,” he called after me.
“O-oh, okay!” I tried to smile at him again, and I think I did a little better this time because I got a friendly nod from him before he turned back to his duty at the door.
Sighing, I wiped the sweat from my brow and shuffled inside.
As Sonata had promised, the Lounge was sparsely populated compared to Leather Night. A part of the small gathering of clientele, I suspected, was because I had come in quite early, but I didn’t have anything else to do. Finals had come and passed a week and a half ago, and I had a few weeks to burn, including Christmas and New Years, before the new semester started.
Winter vacation wasn’t quite as relaxing as I wanted it to be, though.
“Move it or lose it, short stock.”
I stumbled as someone shouldered past me, and I realised I’d be standing and fidgeting in the doorway of the Lounge for a minute or two.
“S-Sor-” I began, turning around, and then froze.
Aria Blaze was staring impassively at me, her dark, glittering gem-tone eyes fixed on me, and I felt like I was being pinned to the wall and examined. She was wearing a voluminous winter coat the color of coal, and her hair was tied back near the base of her skull, sending her long two-tone locks in a narrow stream down her back.
Her signature green cap was sitting on her head, turned backwards.
It was while she had me in her sights that I got my first real chance to get a good look at her.
I mean… sure, I’d seen her before, but I’d mostly avoided looking at her because she was almost always next to Sunset. That meant that, other than when we’d met in the Marexican restaurant at the Crystal Emporium, this was the first time I’d had the chance to really look at her.
There wasn’t any getting around it… Aria Blaze was gorgeous.
She had the slight, slender proportions of an old Roaman athlete, all long legs and whipcord muscle, backed by a perfect complexion, sharp patrician features, and piercing eyes.
“Sparkle, right?” Aria said gruffly, and I nodded.
She knew who I was, we’d been at a few of the same friendly get-togethers that Pinkie threw since she and Sunset had basically become accepted as a ‘thing’ that was going to happen whether everyone liked it or not.
“She’s not here yet,” Aria said after a moment of awkward silence.
“W-Who?” I asked dimly, and then had to mentally restrain myself from slapping my palm to my face. “I…. I mean, no I’m not… I’m not here to see Sun-... h-her, I’m here for something else.”
Aria raised a single delicate eyebrow that told me she didn’t quite buy my story which was probably fair. I wasn’t entirely sure I bought it either, if I’m being honest.
“Right,” Aria said, her tone dry and disinterested. “Well, like I said, she’s not here now, but she will be if you wanna talk to her.”
“Why would I want to?” The words came out bitter as I glanced away, but not before I saw the look on Aria’s face instantly darken.
“Yeah, more like why would she,” she spat, her voice suddenly venomous, and she shouldered me out of the way one more time before moving past me. “Bitch.”
The last word came out like a dart to hammer straight into my chest.
“Fuck you!” I snarled, whipping around as red washed over my vision, and I snapped an arm out to grab her by the hair, and yanked her violently back towards me.
Aria let out a high, startled shriek of surprise as she overbalanced, and I already had my arm cocked back to take a swing at her while she was off-balance.
Except she wasn’t.
Aria twisted and folded like a piece of human origami, contorting around me to seize me by the wrist as I brought my arm around to land a blow. I can’t even really account for where she was at any given time… it was like trying to identify a specific patch of water in a moving river the way she flowed around me.
One moment I was standing, feet planted on the ground getting ready to literally slap a hoe, and the next I was sailing through the air weightlessly for a brief moment before I was brutally reacquainted with the ground vis a vis our mutual friend, gravity, and her bitch of a wife, physics.
“Ow,” I groaned, stars spinning around my eyes as my strained for breath and stared up at the ceiling of the Lounge. “What… how did I-?”
A set of treads that I was vaguely able to identify as converse before they were planted on my face pinned my head to the ground. I realised, belatedly, that I must have lost my glasses somewhere between my flight and crash-landing.
“You’ve got some real fuckin’ moxie, Sparks, 'cause there’s only one girl in this world that gets to pull my hair,” Aria hissed in a deadly tone, and my one eye that was free of her shoe was staring up at a pair of violence-crazed amethysts. “You think you’re purple now? By the time I’m done with you you’re gonna be ultra-fuckin’-violet.”
What was I THINKING?!
I just took a swing at Aria Blaze! ARIA BLAZE! I just tried to hurt Sunset’s psychotic girlfriend for whom Sunset is, unabashedly, equally psychotically devoted to! And I did it right in the middle of her workplace which meant she could probably beat me into a fine paste and no-one would say a thing!
Aria raised both hands, still staring down at me as she curled her right hand into a fist, put it to her left palm, and cracked her knuckles.
It sounded like popcorn.
Honestly, I’d always thought that kind of thing only happened in movies, and at the time I thought it was pretty cheesy, not to mention kind of silly.
Realistically, it was actually terrifying, made moreso by the look of unrestrained murder in Aria’s eyes.
“I’m gonna enjoy this way more than I ought to,” Aria said, her face splitting into a violent grin as she tensed and flexed, and I took the cowards way out by closing my eyes.
Well, that was a fun life, hopefully I’m less of a moron in my next one.
That was an odd sound, and I blinked and opened my one eye that was free of boot-sole.
Aria was bent double with a look of excruciating pain on her face, her body trembled, spasming and twitching in equal measure as if she was rapidly losing control her muscles. I looked past Aria and up, not really knowing what to expect, but somewhere in the back of my mind I imagined it might be Sunset, back to rescue me again.
To my shock, Sonata Dusk stood over her older sister with her left hand gripping Aria’s neck from behind, her fingers flexed like a claw and digging into the bared skin at several points around her spine. As Aria spasmed again, I looked lower and saw Sonata had driven two fingers an inch and a half deep into Aria’s side just below her floating rib.
“Aria,” Sonata said in a voice that was as cold as a granite mountainside. “Go to your room.”
Rather than reply, Aria just let out a strangled wheeze, and I swear I heard Aria’s spine crackling. It took a few moments, but eventually Aria let out another, slightly different sounding wheeze, and gave a vague approximation of a nod.
The tension dropped from Sonata’s body like it had never existed, and Aria stumbled drunkenly away. She only looked back once, to glare at me as I sat up floundering for my glasses, and then paled as she glanced over my shoulder before staggering away towards the VIP section of the Lounge.
I looked over my shoulder, perching my glasses back in place as I did, to find Sonata smiling beatifically at me.
“W-what-?” I gasped as she held out a hand to pull me to my feet. “What was that?”
“Acupuncture,” Sonata said with her usual vacuous grin.
“I’m… I’m a strong seventy-five percent sure that wasn’t acupuncture,” I replied with a dumbfounded stare.
“That means it was at least twenty-five percent acupuncture, though!” she chirped in reply as she took my hand and began guiding me towards the bar.
“Okay, I am one hundred percent sure that’s not how statistical likelihood works,” I shot back with a dry, disbelieving laugh. “What did you do to her?”
“I stopped her from hurting you,” Sonata replied a little more seriously as she got me to a barstool and help me sit down. “That’s all.”
I sat down gingerly, my whole body still throbbing, and I rubbed the back of my head before pulling my hand back and glancing down at it with a flash of panicked certainty that it was going to be covered in blood.
“You just… shut her down,” I said, still in shock, “she was beating me like a drum and you just-”
“Pssh, like that’s the first time I’ve ever had to pull Aria off of someone,” Sonata said with a laugh, waving a hand and laughing a little before picking up a glass and pouring a measure of liquor. “Once, back in Byzantium, Aria got into it with this copper merchant who tried to short us,” she slid one shot to me and poured another for herself, “and Adagio was drunk off her poof on grain alcohol because we’d just been banished and that’s kinda her thing when she’s moody.”
“What happened?” I leaned in and picked up the glass by reflex.
“So he gets out his ledger, right?” Sonata laughed before taking a sip, “and he’s showing her the transaction, but Aria can’t read, so she just gets angrier, and then she grabs his ledger and starts beating him with it!”
“Aria can’t read?!” I asked in shock, but Sonata just shook her head.
“Well, she can read now, but before we got banished she was a Myrmidon, that’s our warrior caste, see?” Sonata killed the rest of her shot and poured herself another. “They’re not exactly warrior poets, the Empress liked her army big, strong, and dumb, so Aria never got taught formally. She figured it out around… ugh, I dunno… the Crusades?”
“Wait? Big and strong?” I glanced back towards the way Aria had gone. “But she’s so…”
“Right?” Sonata chortled, slugging back another drink. “Isn’t it hilarious? Back in Equestria, Aria was like… half again as big as me and a few lengths bigger than ‘Dagi, but then we get over here and she’s all runty!”
I snorted, laughing despite my aching ribs, and lifted the glass to my lips and drank without thinking.
It was sweet.
Fruity-sweet, and it burned a little going down, but it was delicious.
“What was that?” I asked in disbelief, staring at the glass.
“Marillenschnaps,” Sonata held up a dusty-looking bottle of amber glass. “It’s a Germane brandy made from apricots! Fruit and berry liquors are my jam! Get it?”
“That was awful,” I replied dryly, before holding out my glass. “Another.”
“Ooh, looks like we found a winner!” Sonata cheered, filling my glass again as she did. “It’s one of my favorites, too.”
I couldn’t help but smile a little as I knocked back the shot.
It was strange, I’d always avoided alcohol for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of the culture surrounding drinking in this county, but with Sonata it was… fun.
“So… why’d you pick a fight with my sister?” Sonata said after a moment, staring down at her own refilled glass, and I stiffened in alarm. “I’m guessing she provoked you?”
“Y-Yeah,” I replied uneasily after a moment, then shook my head angrily, “but I shouldn’t have reacted like that, she just… hit a sore spot for me.”
“What happened?” Sonata killed her drink and met my eyes evenly, “talk to me.”
“We… got into it over Sunset,” I replied, ducking my face in shame. “I said something I didn’t mean, and she shoulder-checked me and called me a bitch.”
“You said something about Sunset, huh?” Sonata said quietly, and I flinched but nodded. “Yeah, that’s pretty much the only thing that really riles up Ari’ lately.”
“I really screwed up with her,” I hung my head and stared down into my empty shot glass. “Sunset I mean… and Aria too I guess… Applejack was right, she never actually did anything to me.”
“Well, until she clobbered you into the floor,” Sonata pointed out with a laugh as she swept my empty glass from my hand and tucked both hers and mine into the dirty dishes. “Here, have some water.”
“Thanks,” I took the taller glass she offered and sipped at it. “I hate that I reacted like that… that I’m so sensitive about crap like that.”
“About what?” Sonata began mixing a drink someone ordered without looking away.
“Being shoved around… it reminds me of when I was bullied,” I said quietly. “I basically had no friends growing up, and I was bullied for being smaller and smarter than most of the other kids since, ugh, kindergarten, I guess.”
“Wow, that sucks,” Sonata said with a wan chuckle. “And Aria is kind of a bully, I won’t lie…”
“But when she shouldered me I just lost it,” I said angrily, gripping my water glass hard. “I saw red and I just lost it.”
“So you’ve got a temper problem, it’s not the end of the-”
“I don’t have a temper problem!” I snapped viciously, slamming my glass into the countertop.
There was a loud cracking sound and my hand was suddenly wet. Sonata looked down sadly and I followed her gaze to find that the water glass was cracked up the middle where it struck the hard bartop, and leaking water everywhere. I blinked in confusion, staring at the growing mess on the table, and I realised with a sort of distant shock that there was a faint tinge of pink mixing with the water.
Pulling my hand away, I stared at the sharp cut on my palm, and all of the sudden the pain from it hit me like a baseball bat.
I swore under my breath, covering my hand clutching it to my chest. Sonata had already swept away the broken glass, and a towel had been thrown over the spilled water.
“Hey, Mixer,” Sonata said calmly, calling out to one of the other bartenders. “Hold down the fort, one of the customers cut herself on accident, I’m taking her around back.”
Mixer was a tall, wiry young man with a fashionably windblown mop of azure-blue hair, a long, pleasant face, and a languid smile. He was wearing an identical outfit to Sonata, and I had an instant of premonition that said he endured a lot of flirting from both sides of the street in his job.
“I can take her back,” Mixer said, his brow furrowing in concern. “I’m just a junior-”
“I’m taking her,” Sonata repeated, and that stony weight was back in her voice.
Mixer froze for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, sure thing boss.”
Sonata came around from the bar and put a hand on my shoulder, gently guiding me back towards the VIP section.
We passed the rope partition and moved around a raised stage with a gleaming silver pole in the center, then headed back towards a door on the right. Sonata pulled out a long, old-fashioned key and fitted it to the lock, turned it, and pulled the door open before ushering me through.
“We have first aid kits all over the place, but the best stocked ones are in our rooms,” Sonata explained as she closed the door behind her. “I need to make sure that cut isn’t too deep, if it needs stitches that’ll get dicey.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, finally finding my voice. “I… might… maybe have a little bit of a temper problem.”
I half-expected Sonata to say something snarky back to me like: ‘duh’ or ‘y’think?’ but she didn’t. She just guided me gently through a dark hallway, around to the right, and past a few doors, one of which had Adagio’s name on it under the title: General Manager.
The door to Sonata’s room was simple and unadorned, and it looked almost identical to each of the other doors lining the hallway. The constant throb of my hand made the short walk seem many times longer than it probably was, but within moments I was being ushered into a dimly lit room, then immediately to the write to a bathroom.
Sonata helped me sit down on the corner of the bathtub before she turned and pulled a first aid kid from a white metal case bolted to the wall. It was large and surprisingly extensive, and when she cracked it open I had the faint notion that she was about to perform surgery on me.
Instead, she just pulled out some disinfectant alcohol, a few swabs, and a roll of bandages, then took my hand.
“How do you feel?” Sonata asked quietly as she knelt and began cleaning the cut.
I hissed as the alcohol burned on the open wound, clenching my eyes shut as tears sprung up reflexively against the pain.
“P-pretty bad,” I hissed, then grit my teeth and scowled, staring at the corner of the room. “Pretty stupid, actually.”
“There’s nothing wrong with having a temper, you know,” Sonata continued cleaning, not looking up as she spoke, and I bit back the instinctive, acidic reply.
“Yes, there is,” I said instead, and I tried to keep my voice calm but the words still came out sounding strained and tight. “Temper forgoes logic, it spoils calm calculation with crude emotion, and it leads to mistakes.”
Sonata didn’t reply right away, instead just taking my hand gingerly and turning it this way and that to get a good look at it in the light, then nodded, seemingly pleased with whatever it was she saw, and sprayed a little antibiotic gel onto it before placing a soft pad of cloth over the cut and then starting the slow process of wrapping the bandage.
“That’s diminishing something pretty complex, there, Twi’,” Sonata replied as she wrapped my hand. “You talk like emotion and logic are opposites, and that logic is the better one out of the two.”
“It is,” I said bluntly, narrowing my eyes at her.
“Typical,” Sonata said quietly.
“What?” I snapped, pulling my hand away angrily before she could finish. “You have a better idea? Go on then, tell me! What’s your argument about emotion being better than logic?”
Sonata stared up at me with wide, distant eyes, and I got the strangest and most sudden impression of something entirely… not human drifting behind them.
“If I rule a nation,” Sonata started quietly, reaching out to take back my hand to finish her medical ministrations, “and I know that taking a portion of land to my south will prevent my citizens from starving through the winter, should I?”
“Of course!” I replied with a dry laugh. “I assume you’d have to conquer it, though?”
“Mhm,” Sonata nodded. “And it’s jealously guarded, like any agricultural treasure, right? So If I want it then I’ll have to spend the blood of my soldiers.” Sonata closed her eyes as she finished wrapping my hand, and her expression became strained. “I have two thousand good soldiers in the area, another three hundred mercenaries, and in the best case scenario, fifty-six per cent of them die in order to successfully take the land, realistically I calculate the number closer to seventy-nine per cent.”
I started to feel an odd chill go up my spine as she spoke, and I didn’t like how… grim her voice had become. I’d never heard Sonata talk like this before, not that I’d spoken to her very much but this kind of tone seemed… at odds with her personality.
“That comes to an approximate death toll of one thousand, eight hundred, and seventeen,” Sonata continued in a voice that was approaching monotone, her eyes were terribly cold and distant now. “That’s not counting the enemy forces who are worse trained and more poorly equipped, but far more numerous, nor the citizens who have no combat training, but will resist to protect their homes.” She looks up at me and breath catches in my throat at the dark, icy depths of her normally vibrantly berry-colored eyes. “The death toll now calculates closer to seven thousand, by approximation… seven thousand dead, can you imagine that, Twi’? Can you really imagine what that would look like? That many bodies? What that would smell like? The wet heat in the air from the blood and sweat? Can you imagine it?”
“This… this isn’t hypothetical is it?” I asked in a quiet, pained voice.
“No, it isn’t,” Sonata replied, still kneeling and staring at some distant point somewhere I couldn’t see. “Me and my sisters, we were traveling north, through some Russian principalities in the… uhm, early thirteenth century, I think, and ended up the Khagan’s court, Aria danced for the Khagan and he liked her, Adagio wormed her way into becoming something like his spymaster, and I was his advisor for the logistics of his army.” Sonata closed her eyes and shuddered. “I told him how many of his men would die, and how many of the other side would die, and he wouldn’t listen.”
“Why didn’t he just try to trade with the south?” I asked, horrified.
“Because of logic, Twi’,” Sonata said wanly. “He said to me: ‘Why should I blather for a full season over trade concessions and risk my people starving? My soldiers exist to fight and die, they are coin of another sort, and one I’d pay for certainty of victory.’ and the thing is, he was right in a way.”
I swallowed hard as Sonata stood up and smiled that strange, distant, smile of hers at me.
“He got the land, his people didn’t starve, and only sixteen hundred and twenty-two of his soldiers died,” Sonata recited the figures and I had another grim premonition as she continued to speak. “More than… than ten thousand of the other side died too, though… and-”
“Sonata?” I broke in and she seemed the start, as if she’d forgotten I was there for a moment.
“H-huh?” Sonata looked around herself, an air of confusion about her for a moment, then she turned back to me and smiled vacantly.
“Do you… do you remember all those figures exactly?” I asked warily, and she blinked owlishly at me for a moment. “The… the death toll, and the logistical numbers and… all of that? You remember all of that?”
“Sure,” she replied easily. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because… Sonata, all of that happened over seven hundred years ago,” I said, feeling a cold horror well up in my gut. “How,” I swallowed back a knot of bile in my throat, “how much do you remember?”
Sonata blinked at me a few more times, her eyes taking on a glassy sheen for a moment before her gaze sharpened, she shook her head, and shrugged.
“Everything,” Sonata replied. “I remember everything, but not all the time.”
I leaned back from her, brushing away a few stray locks of purple from my eyes as I stared up at Sonata Dusk, the ditzy, air-headed youngest sister among the Siren sisters, and felt… grief.
“So yeah,” Sonata continued, her carefree smile coming back to her face with its usual soft strength. “Logic isn’t all that great all the time if you think about it, and sometimes you gotta let your heart tell you when something is right or wrong, y’know?”
I nodded, standing up and staring down at my bandaged hand.
“If I don’t have logic, though,” I said quietly, my voice reedy and weak, as I stared the cleaned and cared-for injury, “then what do I do? I… I can’t just flail through life… I can’t.”
A warm palm came to rest on my cheek and lifted my head to stare into eyes that were terribly, terribly old for someone who looked so young.
“You’ve gotta find a balance, Twi’,” Sonata said gently, “logic, emotion… that stuff only fights each other if you make it fight, because they’re supposed to work together.”
I sighed and moved past her, still cradling my hand that throbbed painfully, but significantly less so now that it was cared for.
“I wish I could just be like other people,” I said angrily, feeling the sting of tears build under my shut eyelids. “I wish I wasn’t so… so fucking broken.”
A pair of hands came to rest on my shoulders and, with surprising strength, turned me around. I glared up at Sonata through red, watery eyes, shaking as I tried not to just start crying.
“You’re not broken,” Sonata said, smiling gently. “I promise.”
“All I can manage is logic!” I snapped furiously, pulling away from her. “And apparently that makes me a fucking monster! I can’t do emotion right because people make no sense! I can’t even feel-”
I clammed my mouth shut before I damned myself further and turned my back on Sonata, stomping away towards the door like a five-year-old.
“Neither do I.”
I came to a hard stop at those words, then turned and looked over my shoulders. Sonata was still standing there, her hands folded in front of her, her eyes sad and fixed on me.
“So what, though?” Sonata continued. “My sisters still love me, right? Just because all the sexy-stuff my sisters get so into gives me the heebs doesn’t mean I’m broken.”
She held out her hand to me and waited, and I felt tremors roll through my body as I stared at the proffered limb like it was a serpent. A moment passed, then another, and I realised she was going to keep waiting until I reacted, either to take her hand or… or not.
Slowly, I reached out the hand that Sonata had bandaged for me, and laid it in hers.
Her fingers and her palm were warm and soft, and she tugged me a little closer, and I let her.
“And neither are you, Twi’,” Sonata said quietly, reaching out and wrapping her arms around me and pulling me into a delicate hug. “You’re not broken.”
I buried my face against Sonata’s shoulder and cried, hard and ugly, against her blouse.
“Then why do I feel broken?” I sobbed, “why do I feel like I’m missing something! Every time I’m asked when I’m gonna have a kid, or get into a relationship, or…” I let out another sob and clung to Sonata. “it just reminds me that I’m… I’m wrong!”
“You’re not wrong,” Sonata said quietly.
My life is… odd.
That’s an understatement, actually, considering how I met my current and so far only crop of friends: that is, I met them while trying to destroy the world. So maybe it’s not so out of character for me to having a huge, emotional moment with my bartender in the backroom of a strip club.
And I’m not too proud to admit that, of all the people I expected to have a sudden and emotional breakdown in front of, Sonata Dusk wasn’t even in the same zip code of people on the list. I always kind of thought it be Sunset, she'd always been supportive, and I loved her for it, but I know that she’d never really understood that side of me, and I never admitted that part of the reason I didn’t sleep in our dorm room was because, with the best will in the world, Sunset gets kind of loud.
Even when she’s alone.
Everyone else had been mostly polite enough to try to be sensitive about bringing up certain subjects around me, which really just made me feel worse because I hate feeling like I'm putting people out, and having my friends walk on eggshells around me wasn’t a great feeling.
“Why are you here?” I asked after a moment, still resting against Sonata’s shoulder as she hummed some tuneless melody. “I mean, like this, with me… aren’t you supposed to be working? And… and you don’t even know me that well.”
“I dunno, I think we get along okay,” Sonata said brightly, still holding onto me. “And besides, I’d do this for a complete stranger… everyone deserves to feel like someone understands them, y’know?”
“Thank you,” I squeaked, burying my face in her shoulder again.
“You’re welcome,” Sonata replied, and I could hear the smile in her voice. “Also, sorry if being this close to someone else heebs you out or anything, you just looked like you needed a hug.”
“No, it’s good… I like hugs, actually,” I replied, and I wasn’t lying.
Actually I kind of hoped she wasn’t leading up to the subject that hugs made her feel uncomfortable, because this hug was really nice and I wasn’t quite ready for it to be over yet. Something about Sonata just made everything feel a little softer, a little easier, and… I don’t know… a little better.
“Me too,” Sonata said cheerfully.
I think if it were anyone else, the length of time that hug went on would have gotten incredibly awkward, but between how comfortable I was, and how apparently oblivious Sonata was to any kind of social awkwardness, we ended up standing there for a good ten minutes.
Which, it turns out, is just long enough for my leg to start cramping up.
“Ow-ow-ow,” I grumbled, hitching up my leg as it started to twinge, and Sonata laughed a little as she lent me an arm and walked me over to her bed.
It was large, poofy, and covered in stuffed animals. It had five enormous pillows, and the whole bed, from comforter to sheets, was varying shades of teal and bright pink, and as I sat down I just… sank into it.
“Wow,” I groaned as I laid back and sank into the bed. “This bed is way too soft.”
“I like it!” Sonata cheered as she sat next to me and sank into beside me. “It just sorta… swallows you up, and then you can make a cover-cocoon.”
“I do that too,” I admitted, blushing a little as I did. “I always feel childish when I do, though.”
“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up,” Sonata said with the air of recitation. “I always liked that… what’s the point in being all serious,” she screwed her face into a cartoonish scowl, “if you can’t just have fun and enjoy silly stuff now and again?!”
“I guess so,” I replied, turning on my side and looking over at her. “Everyone always says to act your age, though.”
“What’s that even mean?” Sonata threw up her hands in mock distress. “If I acted my age I’d just be playing dead all the time!”
“PFFHAAHA!” I busted up laughing, wrapping my arms around my ribs as they twinged from my early scuffle.
But still, I laughed.
I laughed long and hard and loud, like I don’t think I’ve laughed in a long, long time. Maybe… maybe I haven’t ever laughed like that.
Everyone always said I was an uncommonly serious child.
“You’ve got a pretty laugh,” Sonata said cheerfully as she turned on her side and stared back at me, and my face flushed scarlet. “I like it… I wanna make you laugh more.”
“I… can’t really think of a reason to say no to that,” I replied, fiddling with my glasses as I did.
“Hey Twi’?” Sonata asked, reaching out to take my hand as she did.
“Uhm… y-yeah?” I felt a strange, unfamiliar sensation in my stomach as I stared at Sonata, losing myself a little in that bright, feverish light of her eyes.
Sonata scooted a few inches closer and squeezed my hand. “I… I wanna kiss you, would you mind?”
“I… S-Sonata, you know I d-don’t-” I began, but Sonata just shook her head.
“Just a kiss, that’s it,” she said quietly, “and it’s okay if not.”
I swallowed hard and stared at her for a few minutes, mulling it over, and thinking particularly hard about how good her hug felt. I didn’t want to have sex with Sonata, I knew that, but I… well, I wasn’t exactly opposed to kissing her. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to was the problem since I’d...
“Uhm, m-may I ask why you want to,” I chewed on the word for a few seconds before finishing a little weakly, “y-y’know, do that? With me?”
“Because you’re pretty, and you’ve got a pretty laugh,” Sonata answered, then brought her other hand up to brush a few strands of purple hair from my eyes. “And I like you.”
“O-Oh,” I curled up a little, but really couldn’t come up with a good reason to say no.
I did kinda want to know what kissing Sonata would feel like.
“Well, o-okay,” I said finally, scooting a little closer until our faces were barely an inch apart. “Just so you know… this is kinda my first kiss.”
Sonata smiled back at me as she reached out and gathered me up in her arms. I let her because honestly I was still kind of low-key missing our hug.
“Wanna know a secret?” Sonata said with a small giggle, and I nodded, a little baffled. “It’ll be mine, too.”
My eyes widened at that.
Then she kissed me.
Sonata’s lips were warm and so, so soft, and the way they pressed against mine made me want to lean into her all the more. It wasn’t some furious, passionate thing, like in the movies. It was slow and gentle, and by most standards of kisses it was probably only a step or two above a peck, just a tender, insistent meeting of the lips.
I… I really liked it.
When she pulled away, I was breathing a little hard, and I licked my lips as the sensation of her touch left them.
“So… whadya think?” Sonata asked shyly, and I melted a little.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep up any kind of emotional guardrails against that kind of, for lack of a better word, innocence? I know she’s seen things I can’t even imagine in my worst nightmares, okay? I get it. So maybe it’s a willful innocence, but to me that’s… kind of even more impressive.
“I think… I kinda wanna do that more,” I admitted, smiling back at her.
It was weirdly liberating; the idea of kissing someone without worrying that they were going to try and get into my pants. I think if it had been anyone but Sonata I might’ve been suspicious about it too, but…
“Are you sure?” Sonata asked with a quiet smile.
“Y-yeah,” I replied, “I, uh, I trust you.”
I don’t think I could have brightened up her day more. Her face split into a wide happy grin and she curled up closer to me until we were cuddled together. The sense of warmth and comfort was intoxicating all by itself, at least I was fairly certain it was just that and not the shots of schnaps I’d had earlier.
Well, maybe a little of both.
“I want to but I’ve gotta get back to work,” Sonata said a little dolefully. “The evening rush is gonna get into swing in like, half an hour, and I can’t really leave Mixer and Highball alone.”
“Can I stick around, then?” I asked hopefully, I was still holding her hands in mine and honestly I wasn’t quite ready to let go. “Until you’re done?”
“Sure thing, Twi’,” Sonata said happily, before bouncing up from the bed and stretching, then carefully flattening out all the little wrinkles on her outfit before extending a hand to me.
She pulled me up to my feet and made to leave.
“Mind if I wash up a little first?” I asked, nodding to the bathroom.”
“Go for it,” Sonata waved her hand dismissively. “When ya come out, take a left, then a right, then go straight and out the far door, that’ll put you in the VIP area.”
“I can find my way from there, thanks,” I said, smiling as I trotted off to the bathroom.
I heard Sonata leave as I turned on the faucet and splashed some cold water in my face. It was chilly but bracing, and woke me up a little from the pleasant doze I’d worked up laying on Sonata’s bed. That thing was deceptively comfortable, especially since I generally prefer my beds to be a little firmer.
Or maybe it was just the company.
“I wonder if this can work,” I mumbled as I dried my face, staring into the mirror as I did.
A tired young woman stared back at me, and I grimaced. There were bags under my eyes from where I’d lost sleep, and my complexion was suffering from the same problem. My hair looked good mostly thanks to Rarity’s expert hands, but normally it was a mess. All of that was ignoring the fact that, at least in my opinion, I was pretty plain.
All of my friends had something going for them in the looks department. Rarity was pretty much a fledgling fashion model, Rainbow was sporty and fit, Fluttershy was practically angelic, whatever her bedroom tastes happened to be, Pinkie was a bombshell, and Applejack had the country-girl charm down pat.
I, on the other hand, had thick glasses, dry hair, tired eyes, and I was starting to put on weight thanks to my metabolism finally slowing down.
With all that in mind, the idea that Sonata actually liked looking at me was a little odd, but she was so guileless that I couldn’t really call her a liar.
“Okay, well, let’s see where this goes, Twilight,” I tried to cheer myself on, and I think it half worked as I dried my face off, put my glasses back on, and left the bathroom.
I locked Sonata’s door behind me, reasoning that it seemed the polite thing to do, and followed her directions. The hallway was dim but not too dark, and I passed what I assumed was Adagio’s room quickly enough, then turned the corner and-
“Ow~” I staggered as I thumped into someone, and backpedaled as I corrected my skewed glasses and looked up.
Sunset Shimmer was standing in front of me, black leather jacket on over a tight-fitting scarlet top and black jeans, and she had the strangest look of cool neutrality on her face.
I felt my heart seize up for a moment as I worked my jaw, trying to get past my shock and surprise to say something.
Her right hook caught me just under the jaw and sent me spinning to the ground, and I heard my glasses clatter and crack as they bounced off the wall and hit the ground beside me. I tasted blood and realised I’d bit my cheek, and then it took me another half a second to realise that Sunset had just… hit me.
Like, really hit me.
This wasn’t like in our dorm room when she’d slapped me out of raw pain and anger, either, this was…
I looked up at her and saw an ice-cold furnace of fury burning behind Sunset’s eyes, her face twisted into a rictus of ire as she knelt down to a knee and glared at me.
“If you,” Sunset hissed, pointing a finger at me and jabbing it at my face, “ever lay a hand on my girlfriend ever again, then I don’t care how good of friends we were… I will put you through the fucking wall, Twilight.”
That… that had happened.
Sunset stood up, cracked her knuckles, turned on her heel, and stormed away, taking a right down a set of stairs. I heard a door slam further down the hall.
I probably should have just let Aria beat me to death.