• Published 7th Aug 2019
  • 1,166 Views, 134 Comments

Rules of Hospitality - I-A-M

While trying, and failing, to mend a friendship broken by harsh words, Twilight Sparkle finds herself at the bar of the Last Note Lounge sharing the company of a singularly strange bartender.

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1. A Kind Roost

I don’t belong here.

I don’t need to be a genius or a savant to be able to tell that I don’t belong here, and even I’m not socially oblivious enough not to notice the looks I’m getting.

“Can I get you a drink?”

My mood must have shown on my face because the moment I looked up at the man who asked me that question he held up his hands defensively and took a quick step back.

“Uh, n-nevermind,” he backpedaled away and retreated, vanishing into the crowd, and I sighed.

“Are you alright, Twilight?” Fluttershy leaned on the table across me with that look of pure concern on her face as she reached out and laid a hand over mine. “U-uhm, you don’t have to tell me why you wanted to come with me, but… but I’m here if you want to talk.”

“I don’t think a strip club is a great place for a heart to heart, Fluttershy,” I replied quietly. “Also I… I don’t think I’d be able to take an in-depth discussion of my issues seriously with you dressed like that.”

“What do you mean?” Fluttershy cocked her head curiously before glancing down at herself.

Fluttershy was not what you’d call outgoing in most senses of the word, at least not normally, and her wardrobe tended to reflect that. We usually shared a lot of tastes in that regard when it came to warm, fluffy sweaters, baggy and comfortable pants, thick jackets, and so on.


The second Tuesday of every month was the day that Fluttershy’s other wardrobe made its appearance.

Tonight she was in leather, like pretty much everyone else in the Last Note, and it was incredibly distracting.

Her very generous curves were on display for anyone to see with her skin-tight, belt-buckled, leather corset and pants, variety of spike-studded bracelets secured to both arms, and three-inch stiletto-heel boots that were matte black and could not possibly be comfortable to move in.

What’s more, Fluttershy’s long, luxurious pink hair was tied back in what I could only describe as a historical warrior braid and woven with what I thought might be actual barbed wire.

I never checked and didn’t quite have the chutzpah to ask.

“Well, uhm… I know this kind of thing isn’t really your cup of tea,” Fluttershy said with a soft, genial smile, “but would you like to join us? We’re going to be spanking the subs in a few minutes, it's very liberating… on both ends.”

“Uhm, no, I’m… I’m good,” I replied with as much tact and grace as I could muster. “You uh… go on and have fun, okay?”

“Okay Twi, if you’re sure,” Fluttershy gave my hand a squeeze as she got up and trotted off, loosening the straps that secured her riding crop to her hips as she did.

“Su~per sure,” I mumbled as I turned away and stared sullenly at the table.

The Last Note Lounge was done up in a riotous cascade of blacks and reds for the evening, and I sighed as I looked around, watching the dancers gyrate and the waiters bob and weave around the packed tables. There was a low, sensual beat in the background that I couldn’t quite identify, but all of it felt very distant, and it all seemed to be telling me the same thing.

I don’t belong here.

Sighing, I stood up and started to wander idly. I hated how much I stood out here, but then again I guess I hate standing out in general. You would think that someone wearing a sex-dungeon’s worth of leather would be the one who wouldn’t fit in but when absolutely everyone is dressed in some flavor of that or other, then that becomes the norm.

And me, with my gray cardigan and periodic-table t-shirt, casual jeans, and hair tied up in a functional ponytail, stuck out like a nun in a brothel which I might as well have been.

The more I moved the more uncomfortable I got, so I gravitated away from the masses until I reached a line of empty stools and slid up onto one.

I don’t belong here.

‘Get the hell away from me.’

A shudder ran through me as I clenched my eyes shut and wrapped my arms around myself, my gut twisting in on itself as I tried to keep the tears in.

‘I… I’m sorry.’

It didn’t help, and the tears trickled onto the clean, smooth wood finish of the bartop, I could keep in a quiet, wracking sob that sent a tremor through my body. I took several deep breaths trying to calm down but it wasn’t helping. It felt like there was a red-hot steel spike jammed into my heart and someone was twisting it over and over again.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled the words as I pulled my glasses off and set them shakily onto the bar. “I didn’t mean to…” it didn’t matter how many times I repeated the words, they never came soon enough, and I buried my face in my arms as I cried into my sweater. “I didn’t mean to…”

There was a clink of glass by my head and I ignored it, someone had probably ordered a drink, and I didn’t want them to have to see my red-eyed, tear-stained face, so I waited, trying to hold in my sobs until I could feel reasonably certain they were gone.

A few seconds passed, and then there was a small nudge at my shoulder.

“I don’t want anyone to buy me a drink,” I said in a tight, angry voice.

“Well, that's okay, since it’s on the house,” came the gentle, completely non-plussed reply from behind the bar, “you don’t have to drink it if you don’t want to, but it'll make you feel better.”

I took a few uneasy breaths before glancing up.

Sonata Dusk somehow managed to remind me of both Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. There was something in the softness of her eyes and the way she tilted her head that gave me the same sense of ease that Fluttershy could inspire, but she had the energy and, for lack of a better descriptor, flounce of Pinkie.

I glanced down at the glass in front of me that was gently fizzing away. It looked like someone had distilled rubies into a liquid and pour it over ice.

“I… I don’t really drink alcohol,” I said quietly, not wanting to offend her. The drink did actually look really good.

“It’s a Shirley Temple,” Sonata replied as she leaned back, picked out a dirty glass from a tray, and started rinsing and polishing it. “It’s virgin.”

“Oh… uhm,” I continued to stare down at the drink for another moment before sighing and deciding I’d jumped to a few too many conclusions about people’s negative qualities lately. “I… I guess I can try it.”

I picked it up, relishing the chill of the glass, put it to my lips, tipped it back, and swallowed.


That was how the drink tasted.

I’m not… not really sure how else to describe it.

The drink tasted happy in the same way you can feel nostalgia when you’re drinking or eating something you used to eat or drink when you were a kid. I took a long drink, and the flavor of cherries riding the fizz and pop of the soda water danced across my tongue and down my throat.

I went for another drink almost immediately, savoring the smooth taste of the beverage as I did before setting it down, completely emptied.

And I was smiling.

“See?” Sonata said brightly, “sometimes you just gotta have something sweet!”

“That sounds like advice my friend Pinkie would give me,” I replied with a small laugh as I stared down at the glass. “Uhm… m-may I… uhm…”

Sonata smiled again, and felt a small smidgen of comfort edge its way past my melancholia.

She was so pretty.

Not… not beautiful, like Aria, who I always saw as having that kind of dangerous appeal you get when your staring at something you know you shouldn’t touch but really want to. Nor was she stunning like Adagio, who could walk into a room and give everyone whiplash from the speed of their own heads turning.

Sonata Dusk was phenomenally pretty, sure. But just… just pretty.

Unlike all of the other employees of the Note who were dolled up for Leather Night, Sonata was still wearing her immaculately starched white blouse, her black vest, red tie, and black slacks. Like me, her two-tone hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail, and despite her more than impressive curves, she didn’t give off any of the ‘seductress’ vibe that her sisters wore like a voluminous cloak.

“Another?” Sonata asked, still smiling, and I nodded.

I watched Sonata pluck the glass from the table with practiced grace and slip it away somewhere where, I assume, the dirtied dishes went, and replace it with the one she’d been polishing. Three thick, heavy cubes of ice went next, falling together in the glass with a muted clatter, followed by a drizzle of some sweet, saccharine scarlet syrup. A nozzle with a length of tubing was pulled up a moment later as the syrup bottle vanished and the refreshing scent of soda water filled the air as she filled the glass two-thirds of the way up.

Finally, she drew out a long, thin bar of metal that was curling along the top third of its length, and down the other end tapered to a weighted ball of metal. Sonata dipped it into the glass and caught all three cubes of ice with a single flick of her wrist as she gave the drink three quick stirs counter-clockwise, and one stir clockwise.

Tap-tap-tap went the metal bar on the rim of the glass, then the finished drink was pushed to me, fizzing and popping just like the one before.

And all in what felt like less than ten seconds.

I picked it up, smiling as I did, and took a sip.

“It’s good,” I said after a moment, my smile refusing to go away as the playful flavors filled my senses. “I never knew…”

“It’s just chemistry,” Sonata said with a giggle, “ratios, temperatures, measurements, and timing… all coming together to make something new.”

I blinked a few times as I processed what Sonata had just said.

“Just chemistry…” I repeated quietly, staring down at the half-filled glass of ruby glee. “I guess I’d never thought of it like that.”

“Thought of what?” Sonata asked honestly, her heading cocking to the side in an inquisitive fashion as she met my eyes.

“Alcohol,” I clarified, holding up the Shirley Temple before blushing and lowering it, pushing back a few errant strands of purple hair from my face as I remembered it wasn’t alcoholic. “Alcohol is a base, it’s been used to suspend all kinds of different remedies since ancient times… but for some reason whenever I think of alcohol I just think of people going to parties to get drunk and… yeah.”

Sonata giggled lightly and nodded. “I guess that’s fair, but it wasn’t always like that. I spent a year and a half learning brewing and distilling from some monks in the Alps, and to them it was sacred.”

I stared for several moments before it registered in my brain that I was talking to a woman who, despite all appearances, was well over a thousand years old.

“How did you end up in the Alps?” I asked after I found my voice again.

“Good question!” Sonata replied brightly before going back to cleaning.

I waited for her to answer my question but after a minute passed, then another, I realised I wasn’t going to get one. I wasn’t sure if that was because she didn’t want to answer my question or because she genuinely hadn't realised that I wanted to know. I’d only been talking to Sonata for a little while but I already got the impression that she was a bit of a, as my dad would put it, space cadet.

Slowly, I polished off the last of the drink, savoring the tingling sensations of happiness it left behind in me.

“So uhm…” I mentally fished around for a topic, I wanted to keep talking but what social skills I possessed had more to do with anthropological observation than it did interacting with other people. “Why… why aren’t you dressed up? Like everyone else I mean?”

I gestured around, even the waiters and waitresses had thematic leather-clad outfits, and the dancers (the ones who still had any clothes on anyway) had gone full-bore when it came to the dom-sub theme.

“Because I’m a bartender,” Sonata answered with a wry little smile. “Why would I dress up?”

“You’re a bartender at a strip club,” I said with a chuckle as I gestured around again, but froze at the flat, neutral expression that passed over her face all of a sudden.

“I’m a bartender,” Sonata said tersely, “at a bar.”

Sonata made a gesture of her own, passing a hand over the immaculately cared-for wooden bartop, the perfectly organised racks of glasses, and the immensely solid shelf behind her that held dozens upon dozens of polished bottles.

At that point I realised something: there wasn’t a single speck of dust on anything in the- no, in her bar. Every inch of it was kept spotless and clean, gleaming and ready to serve its purpose. I’d been to more than a few bars, you can’t be friends with Rainbow Dash, Applejack, or... or Sunset, and not go barhopping every couple of weekends, and I don’t think I’d ever seen a bar that was this tidy, well kept, or… well loved.

“This is my world,” Sonata said in a small voice, nodding to the bar around her, and I saw her hands tighten around one of the glasses as she did, “and that, out there, is my sisters’ world, okay? It’s different.”

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

I’d done it again.

Open mouth, insert foot.

Why did it always take getting the problem metaphorically smacked across my face before I realised what I was doing? If I’d been paying attention it would have been obvious how much Sonata cared about her bar, and I’d called it ‘a bar in a strip club’. Maybe if I’d been really paying attention to what was going on I might have made a new friend instead of an enemy.

Maybe if I’d been paying attention I wouldn’t have pushed away Sunset.

I sniffled, got to my feet, and made a small bow as I retrieved my glasses.

“I’m sorry,” I repeated, trying to keep the tears out of my voice.

I don’t belong here.


I felt her hand come to rest on my shoulder from across the bar, and I looked back.

To my surprise, Sonata actually looked apologetic, and I felt a pang of guilt in my chest as I saw her nod back towards my vacated seat.

“Why?” I asked quietly.

I didn’t return to my seat, but I didn’t pull away either. I’m not quite sure why, to be honest, since every inch of my instincts told me to leave before I made things worse yet again.

“Because a bar is a place to rest,” Sonata replied gently. “When you’re weary and everything hurts, and the world outside the heavy doors,” she gestured to the broad, weighty crystal-glass doors of the Note, “is getting too dark… a bartender is someone who’s supposed to be kind, it’s even in the name.”

I blinked for a moment, not following, and it must have showed on my face because she smiled, a small, charming quirk of her lips that managed to tug a small smile from me in response.

“Bartender,” Sonata said, “One who tends to the place of rest, without the bartender, a bar is just a cold length of wood filled with bottles of poison,” she nodded up to the shelves of alcohol, “but… with me here, it’s different, and the last thing I want to do is chase away someone who needs me.”

“But… I was so rude,” I said after several seconds of hesitation.

“Did you mean it?” Sonata asked, and I could hear the genuine question on her lips as she cocked her head slightly.

“NO!” I all but shouted the word. “I… I mean… no, I didn’t, I just… say prodigiously stupid things sometimes because, despite having a two hundred and fourteen I.Q., I’m kind of an idiot.”

“And then you said you’re sorry,” Sonata affirmed as she finally let go of my arm and leaned back behind the bar, “right?”

“Y-yeah,” I nodded, and she mirrored the nod, angling it back towards the seat.

“Well, then I forgive you,” Sonata said finally.

Have you ever watched a dam breaking? I mean, really breaking. Like in disaster movies, when the floodwaters become too intense, or the villain’s bomb goes off because the protagonist couldn’t disarm it in time? How the cracks spiderweb out like a living thing, taking a solid, indestructible-looking structure and rendering it down to component parts in the span of seconds as every tick of the clock puts more and more pressure on the shattering bulwark?

That was me the moment Sonata said ‘I forgive you’.

I know that what I’d done to Sonata, that is: being rude and thoughtless, wasn’t even comparable to how badly I’d messed up with Sunset. I know that sticking your foot in your mouth with someone new isn’t even all that uncommon, even for people who aren’t socially kneecapped.

But I barely managed to stumble into the seat at the bar before the tears started coming, hot and fast, down my face, and no matter how much I wiped at my cheeks and eyes they wouldn’t stop.

“Ugh, I’m sorry,” I sobbed, trying to mop up my mess of a face, “I’m just… I’m sorry…”

Sonata smiled again, that small, warm, welcoming smile, and reach out to take my hand. She gave it a strong squeeze before pulling away and cobbling together another Shirley Temple.

Rather than pass it to me, she lifted the glass to her own lips, but she didn't drink. Instead, Sonata pressed a kiss to the rim of the glass, and I watched in confusion as she closed her eyes and for a moment I thought I was hallucinating.

The beverage began to glow.

Just slightly, faintly enough that anyone else would confuse it for the lights reflecting off the glass and ice.

Not me though, I watched it shine with a warm, crimson radiance for a brief second, then it faded.

Sonata set the glass on the bar and slid it across to me. I stared down at the liquid like it was a serpent. I knew what she’d done, I wasn’t an idiot, I knew magic when I saw it.

“Do you trust me?”

I snapped my gaze up to Sonata who was staring guilelessly back at me. Her eyes were a soft, gentle color of fresh pink berries, and for a moment I felt frozen.

She squeezed my hand again and I realized we were still touching, and I felt a small blush grow on my cheeks.

Come on, Sparkle,’ I chided myself, ‘grow a spine and just answer her!

Taking a slow, shaky breath, I nodded.

I took the glass in hand, picking it up, and put it to my lips.

Realistically, I knew that what I was doing was unwise, if only because I’d learned a long time ago to be wary of any kind of magic. With that being said, I had a really hard time not trusting Sonata, which made me feel like the worlds biggest hypocrite for the things I’d said to Sunset.

I drank down a swallow of the Shirley Temple and-


-my eyes flew wide as the first splash of flavor struck my tongue. Emotions rolled through me along with the taste of cherry and soda, and the soothing chill of the ice.

I lowered the drink, still crying but this time it was because I felt happy. It was the kind of light-headed, delirious happiness that comes along with the best sorts of experiences.

The kind of happy I hadn’t felt since I was a child.

Fear surged in its wake as I felt the sensation fading, a part of me terrified that it would leave a gaping hole where it had been, but instead of leaving a vacancy in my heart there was a lingering warmth.

It was like high tide at the beach had flowed in and was filling up all the little tide pools.

“What was that?” I whispered the words as I stared down at the drink, and then up at Sonata. “What did you do to me?”

Sonata shook her head.

“I didn’t really do anything,” she said with a small smile, “I just reminded you of what you’ve already felt, that’s all.”

“I thought… didn’t you lose your magic?”

I met her eyes and Sonata looked away with a faintly guilty expression. “Yeah… and no… they lost everything, my sisters I mean, but… I’ve always been different.”

“So you still-?”

Sonata shook her head. “Not exactly, and yes at the same time… it’s more like I just understand our nature a little better than Ari’ and ‘Dagi, that’s all.”

“Do they know?” I asked, keeping my voice low as I leaned in.

“No,” Sonata replied, looking a little guilty. “It’s not like I could even really teach them either, they’ve never had the knack.”

“Knack for what?”

Sonata just shrugged again, smiling that odd little enigmatic smile of hers.

“You’re not very helpful you know,” I said jokingly as I took another sip, noting that the intensity of the emotion had faded to a pleasant hum of background radiation.

“I get that a lot,” Sonata replied, still smiling as she answered a few orders from the bar, her skilled hands sliding drink after drink, each one unique and beautiful, across the bar to their owners. “But I try not to interfere, y’know? Other people’s business is their business, I just make the drinks and lend an ear sometimes.”

I fidgeted for a few moments with my drink, staring down at the slowly melting ice cubes, the rivulets of chilled water slowly diluting the perfect flavors of the cocktail.

“I messed up,” I said after a moment.

Sonata just nodded, her faint smile never fading or changing as she flicked her eyes over to regard me for a few seconds before turning back to her glass.

“I… jumped to conclusions about something, and I really messed up,” I couldn’t stop myself, the moment I started taking the story began falling from my lips without end. “Sunset… she’s my best friend,” I sniffled, “was my best friend, until I tried to get between her and… and Aria, and I really thought I was doing the right thing but I was wrong and… and now she hates me!”

“Hate is a strong word,” Sonata said in a gentle tone of voice.

There was no judgment in it, she wasn’t telling me I was wrong, she was just… commenting on my verbage.

“Alright, maybe… ugh, I don’t know if she hates me,” I muttered, polishing off my drink. “I just… keep hoping I’ll be able to fix what I broke but I have no idea how.”

“She’s in the back, you know,” Sonata said after a moment, looking up to meet my eyes, and I felt ice sluice down my spine as she reached for a small intercom on the bar. “Want me to ring back to Aria’s room? I’m sure she’ll-”

“NO!” I almost bit my tongue as I barked out the word, and a few of the patrons started around me, but Sonata didn’t even shift other than to nod and pull away from the button. “I… I mean, no, I just… I don’t…”

I sagged in my seat and thumped my head to the sturdy wooden counter of the bar.

“Why am I such a loser?” I groaned.

“Don’t ask me,” Sonata joked back, “I’m just the bartender.”

I let out a frustrated grumble, blowing out a breath that caught my bedraggled tangle of hair in a gust of irritation.

“I don’t belong here,” I grunted as I pushed back from the bar.

“Are you sure?” Sonata asked, raising an eyebrow.

I gestured out towards the myriad of stages, the poles, and all of the leather-clad beauties, studs, and sundry and gesticulated.

“Look, I get it,” I said angrily, “you’re a Siren, so… you wouldn’t understand, but this stuff? It’s… it’s not my thing, okay?” I grimaced and lowered my arm, realising I was making a spectacle of myself. “This kind of stuff… it’s Sunset’s thing, and Fluttershy’s thing, and… and basically everyone’s thing but mine, okay?”

Even though Sonata’s smile never changed its shape, not even the faintest twitch of her lips, for some reason, I got the feeling that it had suddenly become… sad. Maybe it was something in her eyes, something that I didn’t really have a word for.

I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered.

“Maybe if it was my thing, I wouldn’t have screwed up so bad,” I said bitterly, trying to push back my tears. “Maybe… maybe if I wasn’t broken I wouldn’t have lost my best friend.”

Finally, Sonata’s expression changed. The faintest narrowing of her eyes created an expression almost like anger that looked oddly alien on her gentle features.

Then it was gone.

“Come back tomorrow night,” Sonata said briskly as she turned and began the process of making several more drinks. “It’s slower on Wednesdays.”

“I just told you don’t belong here,” I replied coolly.

“Yeah, but you also said you’re broken,” Sonata replied without looking back at me, “which means you’re probably all kinds of wrong about a lot of other stuff.”

Despite the clamour of the Lounge, it felt like there was a sudden dampening of noise around me, and the click and clatter of Sonata’s drinks felt deafening. I had the distinct impression I’d trodden too close to something, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

“I’m not-”

“You’re wrong,” Sonata cut me off as she set the last drink she was making down in front of her and sent it sliding to its owner with just slightly more force than necessary.


“-Wrong,” Sonata cut me off again, and this time she looked up at me and I felt pinned in place, her mild eyes now almost burning. “You’re. Wrong.”

I worked my jaw a few times as I took a step back, and then it was gone. The expression on her face vanished like it had never been there, and she was suddenly as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as she had been when I’d first spoken to her.

“So come back tomorrow night, okay?”

I swallowed, nodded as I got up, then said: “O-okay.”


Before I could move away there was a loud clatter, and I looked up to see Sonata fixing me with the most unsettling look, her eyes were wide, and they gleamed with something I couldn’t readily identify.

In front of her was a simple, six ounce cocktail glass, it’s flared rim gleaming in the gentle lights of the bar.

“Before you go,” she said, that look on her face unchanging as she met my eyes, sending an odd shiver down my spine, “how about one for the road?”

“I don’t-” I started, then stopped as I glanced down at the glass, then up at her, then sighed. “Okay… just one.”

The look on her face softened as she relaxed, and slowly drew out three bottles, and I grimaced at the sight of whiskey being the first on the table, followed by vermouth, and then something that started with a large, stylised ‘C’.

A mixing glass joined the motley assortment, and suddenly Sonata was moving. Her hands gripped a pair of tongs that sent several thick cubes of ice tumbling into the mixing glass.

Then she gripped all three bottles by their necks, the rye and vermouth between the fingers of her right hand, and the final bottle in her left, and tipped them each at the same time. Sharp, rich colored liquor spilled from the spouts fixed to them, and they each filled the mixing glass in perfectly even quantities before being withdrawn, tiny gem-like droplets flourishing from their spouts as Sonata pulled them away and tucked them back under the counter.

That thin metal bar was suddenly out and woven between Sonata's fingers as she spun the mixture with deft, gentle flicks of her wrist. As she did that, an orange seemingly appeared in her other hand. She gave it a firm, sudden squeeze, then brought it down to a blade fixed onto the inner side of the bar and twisted, cutting a thin spiral of peel from it that she snatched as she tossed the orange onto a small tray beside her.

The metal bar vanished as she gripped the spiraling strand of orange-peel, and she lifted the mixing glass, turning it slightly and tipping it so a thin, graceful stream of gold-and-amber liquid poured out and into the cocktail glass.

The mixing glass went away, presumably to where the bar had gone, and held out the twisted peel, gripping one end between the finger and thumb of her right hand, while the left brought up a match, and old-looking match at that, that she struck on a piece of metal beneath the bar before raising the flame and pass it three times across the peel, just barely letting the flames touch it.

With a flourish, Sonata flicked the match out, and dropped the peel into the glass before pushing it towards me.

Applause broke out around us, and I looked up to realise that somewhere between her setting down the glass and beginning the process, and now, a small crowd had gathered.

Well, I hated whiskey, but I couldn’t exactly not try it after all that.

I took the glass delicately by the stem and lifted it, and as it neared my lips I realised I could smell the faintest aroma of oranges.

That gave me pause, and for a moment I just inhaled, letting the faintly refreshing, citrus scent fill my nostrils, backed by something more… robust. I saw Sonata smile as I did, and I knew that was what she had wanted, at least I could do something right, I guess.

“Here we go,” I muttered as I pressed the rim of the glass to my lips and took a tentative sip.

Crisp, powerful flavor like exotic spices rolled over my tongue. It wasn’t sweet, not exactly, although I could taste the gentlest expression of orange underpinning everything and, yes, somewhere in there was whiskey, but really what it tasted like was… waking up.

My eyes widened as everything seemed to color and saturate, lights were brighter and smells were more intense, and suddenly my appetite, which had been sullen and unresponsive prior to this, was starting to make itself known.

I lowered the glass and stared down at it, realising I had drank better than half of it, with the spiraled peel of orange resting a third deep in the remaining liquor.

Licking my lips, I drank the rest, closed my eyes, and smiled.

There was warmth in my chest, and an odd, crisp, heat on my tongue, and for a moment I felt-


-like I belonged.

“What was that?” I asked, and I swear I could taste the flavors of the air itself as I said it.

Sonata just smiled, enigmatic and appealing as it was, and shrugged.

“A drink for an old friend,” she replied.

“But we’ve only just met,” I said, raising an eyebrow as I did.

“Maybe,” Sonata allowed as she took back the glass, “but when you’re a bartender, everyone at the bar is an old friend.”

I met her eyes then, and for a moment I felt alone. No… not alone, I was alone with Sonata, like it was just her and I and the bar between us in all the world, and the lights were low, and the Lounge was empty.

Just her and I, two old friends.

“Who are you?” I mumbled the words to myself, but Sonata just shrugged again and went back to cleaning.

“Come back tomorrow night,” she repeated.

With an effort, I let out a breath, nodded, and broke eye contact, and suddenly the sounds of the Lounge seemed to come back like an aural wall, and I shivered. Without looking back, I turned away and made my way out of the Lounge, past the security guard, and into the cold December night.

For some reason, I still felt warm.