• Published 7th Apr 2020
  • 1,318 Views, 34 Comments

Consonance and Dissonance - applezombi

After an unfortunate injury while hiking, Pinkie Pie accidentally sets into motion of a chain of events that leads to new friendships, romantic encounters, and even the salvation of an old enemy.

  • ...

Chapter 8

“You knew,” Sunset accused. Sunset and her princess girlfriend had continued their day long date, despite Sunset’s concerns. They were currently sitting for a late lunch at the mall food court. Maybe the mall was a cliché place for a teenage date, and maybe Sunset and Princess Twilight weren’t exactly your average teenagers, but Sunset enjoyed the no-stress easy pleasure of window shopping. Maybe Rarity was rubbing off on both of them, because Princess Twilight had also enjoyed trying on outfits at the trendy shops. After that, Sunset bought them lunch at the vegetarian wrap place at the mall she liked, and then her phone had blown up again. This time, with an update on the news about the Siren who was now attending their school.

“Um, maybe a little,” the Princess confessed, looking guilty.

You knew,” Sunset repeated. “And you didn’t tell me. Shame, Princess. Shame. You know I have to punish you now, right?”

“P-punish me?” Princess Twilight gulped. “Sunset, be serious. You can’t just…”

“Oh yes. The most vicious torture I can come up with. Because I know your secret. I had to interview one dragon, one draconequus, and two Pinkie Pies to figure it out, but now I know your weak spot.”

“S-S-Sunset?” Princess Twilight stammered. Sunset had stood, and was leaning way over looking down on Twilight, her face twisted in an evil grin. Her voice dripped with poisoned honey.

“I know exactly where your ticklish spots are.”

“Oh, that’s all? Sunset, you had me worried. R-really, I’m not ticklish,” Twilight said.

“Really? Then why do I see fear in your eyes?” Sunset cooed, reaching out with clawed hands.

“Sunset? Sunset no! Sunset, we’re in public, don’t you dare…”

Needless to say, they made quite the scene. One girl standing over another, ruthlessly attacking her ribs, the other cackling madly as she tried to fend the first off. Thought the mall wasn’t that busy on a school day, there was still enough traffic to thoroughly embarrass Princess Twilight.

“Now I’m all out of breath and sweaty,” Princess Twilight grumped when Sunset finally let up. Sunset waggled her eyebrows at the unintentional innuendo, and a light blush dusted Twilight’s cheeks. “You’re terrible.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who withheld the juiciest bit of gossip possible,” Sunset said. “You’re lucky Rarity isn’t here. She’d probably not speak to you for a month after that.” She laughed, then sighed happily. “I get it. Not your secret to share, right? Lemme guess, you heard it from Twilight.”

“Yeah,” Princess Twilight agreed.

“And you really think… everything’s gonna be okay?” Sunset asked carefully. Princess Twilight didn’t answer right away. Sunset knew this wasn’t because she was hesitating, but rather because she was truly giving the question some thought.

“I don’t have enough information to be sure,” Princess Twilight admitted. “But I’m inclined to say yes.” Sunset gestured for her to elaborate. “Do you trust Twilight, Sunset?”

“Of course,” Sunset said. “It’s not her I’m worried about. Twi can be trusting. Naïve. A little spacey, sometimes.” Her girlfriend was eyeing her skeptically. “None of those are bad things, but it does mean she can be taken advantage of sometimes. She always assumes the best in people. I want to think that everybody deserves a second chance, but the Sirens were born manipulators.”

“Hmm,” Princess Twilight said thoughtfully. “That was always more the leader’s thing though, wasn’t it? Adagio? The other two were more followers.” She cringed. “It sounds terrible to put it like that. Like they were only extensions of Adagio’s will.”

“I wonder if that’s what’s happening,” Sunset mused. “Free of Adagio’s will, Sonata is branching out and discovering who she really is.”

“Well, that’s just speculative,” Princess Twilight said. “But it does sound good, right? Maybe you should hold off until you actually head back to school before forming your opinion.”

“I think in this case, you’re right. I should trust Twilight’s judgement. It’s just weird.”

“You know,” Princess Twilight said slowly. “My friends were a little skeptical at first about me dating you.”

“Because I used to be a villain?” Sunset asked. Honestly, she was a little pricked that the Equestrian versions of her own friends would doubt her, but to be fair, they hadn’t really met her.

“That. Also the long-distance nature of our relationship. It was Starlight who calmed them down. She basically said the same thing. ‘Don’t you trust Twilight?’ That doesn’t mean they don’t check up on me constantly.”

“You’re exactly right. Jeez, I’m dating a total smarty pants. Don’t worry, I’ll be checking in on both of them. Honestly, of all the bad guys we’ve encountered, the Sirens are the only story that didn’t end in a new friendship of some sort. It’d be kinda nice to have another go at that.”

“That’s the spirit!” Princess Twilight cheered.

“Now I just have to think of the best way to tease them about this.”


* * * * *

“Mom, Dad, Spike, I’m home! Where are you at?” Twilight called out as she stepped inside the modest home the three of them lived in. Pausing by the door, she carefully took off her backpack, hung her coat up in the closet adjacent to the entrance, then picked up her backpack and moved further inside.

“I’m in the study, sweetie,” her mom’s voice came. Twilight tried to channel her inner Rainbow Dash as she moved through the family’s living room towards the small study that served as both a quiet reading room and a computer room, depending on who needed it. Her mother was sitting at the computer desk, with several textbooks and notes spread out as she was working on some assignment or another. Twilight summoned all the courage she had and took a deep breath. “Your father took Spike to the doggy spa, they should be back just before dinner.”

“Mom, I was wondering, do you mind if I have somebody over this afternoon? Before the concert?”

“Of course not, Twilight. Your friends are always welcome here.” Twilight Velvet barely looked up from her work to greet her daughter.

“What if it were more than a friend?” Twilight asked, unable to stop herself from wringing her hands in front of her.

“More than one friend is fine, dear. Though if they’re staying for dinner, I would have liked more warning.”

“No, not more than one friend. I meant, um…” Twilight trailed off, and her mother looked at her with a puzzled glance, before the light bulb went on, and a crazed grin slid over Twilight Velvet’s face. This is why her mother made her nervous; not that she wouldn’t approve of Twilight dating, but that she would approve too much. Maybe far too strongly.

“Oh! You mean boyfriend, don’t you?” her mother squealed gleefully. Twilight flinched.

“Um, girlfriend, actually, though we haven’t used that word quite yet. We’ve only been on one date, after all.”

“Huh. I had no idea you were bisexual,” her mother said casually. Twilight was momentarily grateful that her parents, for all their odd quirks and normal parent cringe worthy behavior, that they weren’t the type to throw a fuss about her sexuality. Twilight assumed that her mother was mostly just giddy that she was dating anybody at all. “What’s her name?”

“Sonata Dusk. I’m taking her to the concert tonight, and I kinda invited her over so I could start teaching her to play the piano.”

“Aw, that sounds like a cute second date,” Twilight Velvet cooed. “Is it a problem if your brother and Cadence are coming tonight? We already invited them over for dinner.” Twilight knew what she meant. In their family, it was her older brother Shining Armor who had displayed the ‘overprotective relative’ stereotype. He joked that only Cadence had stopped him from opening a full background investigation into Timber Spruce when Twilight had been dating him, and nobody who heard him tell the story thought he was really joking.

“Not really. Like I said, we’re going to the concert tonight, so we’ll be gone before dinner. I think Sonata said something about taking me out afterwards, so we’ll get something to eat then.”

“Okay. Tell me about this Sonata.”

“She’s a music lover. I’ve seen her at the symphony before, and last week was the first time I had enough courage to go talk to her. We bonded over our shared love of music,” Twilight said. It was probably safe enough; her mom didn’t need to know what else they shared, like the shared trauma of being a former villain, the shared experience of being blasted by rainbow friendship magic. Twilight had explained as much about the situation to her parents, but they seemed to want to know as little as possible, so she tried to go gently with her parents on any magical subjects. They were pretty calm about most magic stuff, such as their daughter’s fully conversant English speaking dog, but the less they knew, the more comfortable they were. “We went out to that new Indian place Pinkie recommended, and decided to try for a second date. She even started going to Canterlot High this week.”

“Oh? Where was she before?” Twilight Velvet asked innocently. Twilight froze. This was not a question she had a good answer for. To be honest, Twilight wasn’t completely sure, but she didn’t think Sonata had even been attending school. What did she say to her mother? She didn’t want her mom to get the idea that Sonata was some sort of delinquent. She felt her anxiety levels rising as her mother waited for an answer.

“Um,” she got out before Twilight Velvet intervened.

“Is something wrong, sweetie?” she asked, and Twilight blinked. What would Sunset do? Lie? Probably not. But she’d come up with some excuse. Pinkie would probably distract her mother by making something explode. Applejack? Applejack would…

“Um, she wasn’t going to school,” she blurted out, and her mother’s face became concerned. “I don’t know for sure just yet, but my impressions are that she’s just getting out of a bad situation.”

“Bad situation?” Twilight Velvet asked.

“Bad situation kinda like the Friendship Games,” Twilight finished. Her mother went pale. She’d wanted to avoid this, but her mother was smart, and always knew when Twilight was hiding something. Best to be completely honest up front, she supposed. “She’s been hurt before, by m-magic stuff. I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Everything’s okay now though, right?” Twilight Velvet asked carefully, and Twilight nodded.

“She’s as safe as me. Probably safer,” Twilight said, an image of black wings and a cruelly sharp horn flashing before her eyes.

“Well, of course,” Twilight Velvet said confidently. “She’s got you to look after her now, right?” Twilight blushed.

“Yeah. Thanks for that, Mom.”

“So when do I get to meet her?” her mother asked. Twilight looked at the clock. It was ten to four.

“Uh, forty minutes?” Twilight said. “Unless she gets lost.”

“Well, go get ready for your date, girl!” her mother cried out, clapping her hands. Twilight rolled her eyes.

“We’re just doing a piano lesson first,” Twilight said. “It’s not like there’s much to get ready for. I’ll get dressed for the concert later.”

“You sure?” Twilight Velvet asked. “Well, if you’re not busy, than could you proofread these pages for me? It’ll take your mind off of your pre-date anxiety.”

“I never said I had pre-date anxiety!” Twilight protested. Her mother smiled.

“I know you didn’t, dear. Can you take a look?”

Twilight rolled her eyes. Her mother was way too perceptive. Twilight Velvet slid out of the computer chair and made room for her daughter. Even though it was a doctorate level research paper, Twilight Velvet trusted her daughter’s keen mind and eye for detail enough to at least do some basic level proofreading. Twilight was a perfectionist, and she went through her mother’s writing like a sleuth, looking for the barest hint of grammatical error or stylistic misstep. Her mother had been right; Twilight was completely absorbed in her task when the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it!” Twilight Velvet sung out teasingly at her daughter. Suddenly Twilight remembered where she was and what she was waiting for, and stumbled out of her chair, spilling onto the floor with a clumsy yelp. Her mother giggled playfully and rushed to the door first while Twilight, tangled in the chair, did her best to chase after her mother before she could do something embarrassing. She was too late; she heard the door open while she was extracting her shoelace, which had become twisted in one of the chair’s wheels.

“Um, is this Twilight Sparkle’s house?” she heard Sonata’s melodic voice from the front door.

“Yes, it is. You must be Sonata Dusk. Twilight has told me all about you. I’m her mother, Twilight Velvet. Come on in. I’ll take your coat and scarf.”

“T-thanks,” Sonata stuttered, sounding very nervous. “Um, I’ll hang onto the scarf, I’m a little chilly. She came around the corner where she could see Twilight, sprawled out on the floor. Without any warning, Sonata suddenly burst into uncontrollable giggles, clutching her sides with the laughter. Twilight was torn. She wanted to be grumpy, she really did. But it really was a joy to hear her laugh. She finally decided her dignity was more important than her shoelace, and she slipped her feet out of her shoes so she could stand up and brush herself off.

“Yes, ha ha, very funny, I tripped,” Twilight grumped, though she was inwardly happy that Sonata appeared already at ease. As unintentional icebreakers went, this one had accidentally worked out quite well. “I’m glad you found the place okay.” She glanced nervously at her mother, a split-second flick of her eyes, before stepping forward and wrapping Sonata in a quick hug. Sonata squeezed her back, and Twilight could swear she heard her mother squee. “C’mon, I’ll show you to the piano. How was the rest of your school day?” She tried not to blush too hard when she took Sonata’s hand and guided her towards the living room, fully aware of her mother’s close and cheerful scrutiny.

“Honestly? Weird. Though all the staring stopped being nearly as hostile after everybody saw me sitting with you guys at lunch, so I guess it’s a good weird?” Sonata shrugged and followed Twilight into the living room. She was wearing the same clothing she wore to school, only this time, she also had wrapped a sea-green scarf loosely around her neck. She’d also taken the time to put on some makeup, mostly just a foundation and some eyeshadow, but Twilight quite liked the effect. She walked them over to the piano, an upright model that had been in the family since before Twilight had been born. It was beautiful and well kept, with polished honey-colored wood and faux-ivory keys. The bench was a matching wood, with a black velvet padded seat. Twilight pulled out the bench and motioned for Sonata to scoot it up to the piano.

“You girls want some snacks?” Twilight Velvet asked, passing through on her way to the kitchen. Twilight shot her a grateful look when it was clear that Twilight Velvet was not going to hover, though the expression on her mother’s face was a bit worried. Twilight wondered what the problem was.

“Sure, mom. Whatever is fine,” Twilight said, and her mother shot them both another concerned look before drifting out of the room. Sonata was staring at the piano, her fingers feathering over the keys too lightly to press any of them. “Are you okay?”

“What if I’m cursed?” Sonata whispered. “What if when your friends broke my voice, they broke my ability to make music all together? What if…”

“Shush,” Twilight ordered, placing her hand over Sonata’s mouth. She pointed at a book already sitting on the stand above the keys. It was one of the old books Twilight and Shining Armor had both used when taking piano lessons as small children. She opened it up to the first page, an explanation of musical notes and timing. When Twilight didn’t move her hand right away, Sonata kissed her fingers, and Twilight jerked away, blushing. Sonata smiled triumphantly. “Okay, we won’t get anywhere if we spend the whole time flirting.”

“Got it. We’ll only spend half the time flirting then,” Sonata declared, and the two girls shared a laugh.

“Now, I’ve never taught piano lessons before, but I’m going to do my best.” Twilight slid into the bench next to Sonata, close enough that their hips were touching. She tried not to think about that too hard. “This symbol here,” Twilight pointed to the page, “represents a single musical note. This is a quarter note, one of the most common notes in music. It represents a single beat in a measure.”

Sonata proved to be an apt musical pupil, her eagerness to learn to make music translating into an eagerness to learn. The first few pages of the book were dedicated to the most basic level of reading music, from defining the differences between basic types of notes, (whole, half, quarter; the book was kind enough to leave more complicated notes for future lessons) the basic arrangement of the musical staff, including time signature, clef, and what the lines and spaces on the staff meant. Twilight helped Sonata connect the notes written on the page with the keys on the piano. As the lesson progressed, Twilight discovered something profound about herself.

She loved to teach.

Admittedly, it took a great deal of patience. Sometimes it was frustrating to realize that concepts you found simple, concepts that just made sense to you, didn’t quite click just yet for your student. Twilight found herself explaining the most basic and simple of assumptions, and even though Sonata was quick to pick up on things, they still had to be explained in the first place. Both girls were so absorbed in the lesson that they didn’t even notice when Twilight Velvet snuck in, deposited a crudités plate with some blue cheese dip behind them.

“Do you have a piano you can practice on during the week?” Twilight asked, glancing at the clock. It was just about time to wrap up. “Learning to play piano is difficult, and requires a great deal of practice.” Sonata had just finished playing a near perfect interpretation of ‘Hot Cross Buns’.

“The youth center, where I meet my therapist. They’ve got a piano I can practice on. It’s broken, but I think I’ll be fine. I’d do anything to get music back,” she breathed, then glanced over at Twilight, her heart in her eyes. Sitting on the bench together put their eyes and noses mere inches apart.

“Okay, um,” Twilight stammered. “You’ll n-need to practice at least an h-half hour every day. M-maybe even more if you have time.” She could see every detail of Sonata’s face. This close, she could even smell the vanilla in whatever body wash or shampoo Sonata was using. She fought the urge to grab her, hold her close and bury her face in Sonata’s hair, to breathe her in, and to kiss her. Their lips inched closer together. It would be so easy...

“Twilight…” Sonata whispered, and the front door suddenly swung open.

“Twilight! Mom! Dad! We’re here!” her brother called from the entryway as the front door swung open. For the second time that day, Twilight found herself tumbling out of her seat as she lurched from the bench, trying to stand and accidentally banging her knees against the piano. She gave a scream of surprise and dismay, spilling out onto the floor in a tangle of limbs. Sonata, blushing furiously, couldn’t help as another wave of giggles took her. Twilight wanted to hide under something. Her brother and sister-in-law stepped into the living room, looking confused and amused. Sonata was covering her mouth, and Twilight buried her face in the carpet, trying to hide her own embarrassed blush.

“Oh, hello,” Cadence said, her musical voice filled with amusement.

“Hi, Cadence. Hey there, BBBFF,” Twilight mumbled into the floor without raising her head. “This is Sonata Dusk. Sonata, meet my brother Shining Armor and his wife, Cadence. I’m going to stay on the floor and die of embarrassment now, okay?”

“Oh, Twilight, get up. Sonata, it’s lovely to meet you. Is this…?” Cadence trailed off discretely, but Twilight knew what she’d been about to ask.

“Yes, Sonata is the girl I told you about. We’re dating now.”

“Twilight, get up,” Cadence said more seriously. Twilight heard the sound of motion as her family stepped into the room to shake Sonata’s hand. “It’s lovely to meet you, Sonata. Shiny, be nice. I think we might have interrupted something very interesting.” Twilight groaned into the floor. She saw the tips of Cadence’s shoes; she was standing right over Twilight. “You know, Sonata, I used to babysit Twilight when she was tiny. I have an entire folder on my phone full of pictures with…”

“I’m getting up!” Twilight yelped, jerking to her feet, much to the amusement of Sonata and her family. “You don’t need to do that!”

“If you give me your cell number, I’ll text you later,” Cadence teased. Sonata nodded, still trembling with laughter. “C’mon, let’s move to the couches and get to know each other. You two can take the love seat.” She delivered the last with a properly cheesy eyebrow waggle. She finally noticed the scarf Sonata was wearing. “Aren’t you hot, Sonata? You can take that off if you like.”

“I’m fine,” Sonata said, looking suddenly a bit nervous as her hand shot to her scarf. “It’s comfortable.”

“Okay,” Cadence said, sharing a glance with Shining. Twilight wondered what it meant. Cadence and Shining arranged themselves on the couch, and Twilight slid over the untouched crudités that her mother had prepared, placing it on the coffee table sitting between the couch and loveseat.

“We can’t stay for long,” Twilight said. “We have to get ready for the concert soon.” It was nice to have a built-in escape hatch when having an embarrassing conversation with Cadence. She was an absolute dear, but she could get a little intense when it came to the subject of love and romance. Cadence looked a bit annoyed.

“Well, okay then,” Cadence huffed. “Sonata, tell us about yourself.”

“There’s not much,” Sonata said simply. “I’m not actually all that interesting.”

“That is provably false!” Twilight interjected before she could help herself, well aware that she sounded a bit shrill. “You’re fun and funny, you love music, and you’re an incredibly hard worker and a passionate learner! You like tacos and Indian food, and you like to tease when you flirt.” She realized as soon as she said that last bit that she’d said way too much in front of her brother and Cadence. Oh well, too late to backtrack now. “I told you, Sonata, I don’t want to hear you talk down on yourself.” She subsided, glancing at the speculative looks on both Cadence and Shining Armor’s faces. Sonata grasped her hand, squeezing it tightly.

“Are you from Canterlot?” Cadence asked, a touch awkwardly, into the silence that followed Twilight’s outburst.

“Not really,” Sonata said. “I’ve been living here the last year or so, but my family traveled quite a bit while I was growing up.”

“Oh? What do your parents do?” Cadence asked. Sonata looked down.

“I’m kind of an orphan. I never really knew my parents. It’s always been me and my two sisters.” She was so matter of fact about it that Cadence was nonplussed.

“Oh! Uh, so you live with your sisters still?” Cadence asked. Sonata nodded.

“Yup. Just the three of us.” There was something in her tone, something cold and unhappy. Twilight almost sighed with relief when Cadence changed the subject.

“So where do you go to school?”

“I just started at Canterlot High,” Sonata said, sounding much more cheerful, though Twilight knew this conversation might be a bit fraught as well. “Twilight and her friends have just been amazing. I was kinda scared, first day in a new school and all, but they made it fun.” It was interesting, Twilight noted, how Sonata could speak the absolute truth but still leave out some of the more complicated details.

“That sounds lovely,” Cadence said. “I’m glad they’ve been so accepting. They were so kind to Twilight, too, when she transferred.” Cadence eyed Twilight. “I was sad to lose you, Twilight, but I’m ecstatic you’ve found a home at your new school.”

“You’re a teacher?” Sonata asked. Twilight could have hugged her in gratitude for changing the subject.

“Yes, I’m principal at Crystal Prep, the school Twilight used to attend.”

Twilight let Sonata and Cadence carry the small talk away. It was comfortable and nice to see them getting along in such a casual way. Shining Armor listened, mostly silent, though he did chime in every once and a while. She got the sense that Shining Armor was using his police academy skills to try and read between the lines of the conversation, and the idea made her nervous. She watched the clock until it was time to get ready for the concert. With a polite interruption, she was able to extract Sonata from the living room so the two of them could head to the concert.

“You’re not going to dress up?” Sonata asked as the two were about to step out the door. Twilight shrugged.

“I usually do, but I didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable,” Twilight said. Sonata pouted. “I’m sorry, did I do something wrong?”

“No. I just wanted to see you in another cute dress.”

“I see. Maybe next time we’ll have to talk to Rarity. That way we can both be in cute dresses,” Twilight replied.

“I’d like that,” Sonata said, licking her lips. Twilight led Sonata to her car, parked in the family driveway. She even opened the door for Sonata first. “Ooh, how chivalrous.”

Once they were in the car Twilight hesitated. She’d planned the next bit, but now she was having second thoughts. Hands shaking, she reached into her purse and pulled out her phone.

“Everything okay?” Sonata asked. Twilight nodded.

“Yes. One moment, please, I want to show you something,” she said. Twilight found the video she was looking for and passed the phone to Sonata. “Last time, you showed me one of your darkest moments. I thought it would only be fair if you saw mine.”

“Twilight, are you sure?” Sonata asked, her finger hovering over the play icon on the phone. Twilight nodded, starting the car and putting it into reverse. She backed out of the driveway into the street.

“It’s a pretty dark time for me. But I’m coming to terms with what I did, and what I became. Slowly. It was helpful to have Sunset nearby, because we’d experienced something similar. Now I have you too.” Sonata didn’t say anything to that, but her smile glowed with warmth. She tapped the button on the phone, and the sounds of Twilight Sparkle’s worst day ever filled the car. The worst part was is how much she empathized with her past self. She heard herself singing, longingly, about all the things she’d learn if she set the magic free. She hadn’t been wrong.

When she heard her own voice, desperate and pleading, begging Principal Cinch for help, Sonata tapped the screen, pausing the video.

“I don’t need to see it all,” Sonata whispered softly, reaching up to Twilight’s cheek to brush away a tear. Twilight shook her head.

“I want you to,” she said. “If that’s okay.” Sonata nodded, and restarted the video.

“It’s amazing that somebody recorded all of this,” Sonata muttered, as Twilight heard the sounds of magical blasts destroying the old statue in front of Canterlot High.

“We’re teenagers. We always have our phones out and take videos of everything,” Twilight replied. She turned onto the street in front of the concert hall.

“Is it weird if…” Sonata began, then trailed off.

“What?” Twilight asked.

“Um, it’s embarrassing,” Sonata replied. Sounds of Sunset Shimmer’s speech about friendship and Twilight’s perfect evil villain laugh sounded from the phone.

“You can tell me.”

“Is it weird that you’re kinda hot like that? Just a bit.” Sonata held up a hand in protest. “Not that I’d want to see it in person. It’s just, even while evil you’re pretty badass.”

Twilight opened her mouth to respond, but realized she didn’t have anything to say. She looked askance at Sonata, before bursting into laughter.

“That is entirely the most inappropriate response to this whole situation,” Twilight laughed. Sonata giggled embarrassedly.

“Yeah, maybe I’ll always be a little bit of a bad girl at heart,” Sonata said. Twilight pulled into a parallel parking spot along the street, just in front of the concert hall.

“No, I don’t see it,” Twilight said. “You’re not a bad girl at all.” She reached out and brushed her fingers along the back of Sonata’s hand. Sonata grinned. “C’mon, let’s go in.”

The theme for the music this evening was war. Perhaps it wasn’t the most romantic of dates, but Twilight certainly appreciated the parade or military themed music that the concert’s curators had picked. What she enjoyed more, however, was the fact that the armrests between the seats were retractable, so Sonata could nestle into her while Twilight wrapped her arms around her. Sonata listened to the music with eyes closed, and she didn’t cry a single tear, though she shivered a few times, and Twilight squeezed her closer. There was a small smile on Sonata’s face for the entire concert. When the lights went up, they left the concert, hand in hand.

“You didn’t cry once,” Twilight commented as they walked back to her car. Sonata shook her head.

“I didn’t feel like it. Is that okay?” she asked, unsure. Twilight laughed and squeezed her hand.

“Of course it’s okay. I’m glad.”

“Oh. Good. I really enjoyed listening to the concert with you this time.”

“Maybe the absence of worry over getting caught for being trespassing made it more enjoyable?” Twilight asked, and Sonata giggled.

“Maybe. Or maybe I’ve just never listened to music while cuddling before,” Sonata shot back, her eyes lost in Twilight’s. They reached her car, and Twilight unlocked it and let them in. “So, tacos?”

“Just tell me where,” Twilight said, her stomach growling. She pulled out her phone and fed the location Sonata supplied into her phone’s navigation app. “That’s a parking lot,” she commented, when the app loaded the location.

“Yup. The best tacos in all Canterlot are sold out of Mango Salsa’s food truck. She’s a wizard with food. Like, there may even be magic involved.” Sonata said, her expression rapturous.

“Okay. I can’t wait to taste it.”

The parking lot wasn’t really paved, but hard packed dirt. The truck itself looked fairly new, colored brightly in orange, red, and green logos. Somebody had set up three large plastic folding tables and some chairs, and there was quite the gathering of taco fans milling about. A speaker on the side of the truck blasted salsa music into the parking lot. There were even some couples dancing.

“This looks… fun.” Twilight said. Frankly, she didn’t know what she’d been expecting, but it wasn’t an outdoor restaurant experience, complete with music and dancing.

“We can go somewhere else,” Sonata said nervously, but Twilight shook her head.

“No, this looks amazing. I’m excited. Let’s go.” They found a parking spot on the dirt and stepped out of the car. Twilight expected a long wait, but it seemed most of the crowd had already gotten their food and were mostly staying for the atmosphere. The two of them lined up at the truck’s window, and Twilight looked inside.

Mango salsa was a young woman with scarlet hair and tan skin. She was moving quickly and proficiently in the small kitchen inside her truck, and seemed to have a permanent smile on her face. There was a spark of true joy in her eyes; this woman was doing something she loved. Twilight glanced at the menu, a handwritten chalkboard sign with only three items on it: tacos, grilled chicken, and fajitas. All were served with Mexican street corn and seasonal vegetables.

“The menu changes every day based on what Mango can get a deal on, and what she feels like cooking,” Sonata explained. “But tacos are always on there. Sometimes they’re chicken tacos, sometimes fish or pork. It looks like fish today.” The customers in front of them received their food, and Twilight and Sonata stepped up.

“Sonata dear! I was worried when you didn’t show up on Monday!” Mango called out cheerfully. “I get nervous if my regulars don’t show up.”

“I had to skip taco day this week so I could afford to bring a date,” Sonata replied, wrapping an arm around Twilight and squeezing her shoulders.

“A date, eh? Well done, Sonata, she looks cute. And good thing, too. I have a special tonight for couples on dates. Buy one get one free,” Mango said. Her eyes were twinkling with mischief and amusement.

“You do not,” Sonata protested, but Mango waved a spatula at her.

“Nonsense. I get to decide when to offer specials and promotions. It’s my business, after all. Now, does your friend have the same cast-iron stomach that you do?”

“Uh… what?” Twilight asked, confused. Sonata laughed.

“She means, how spicy do you like your food?”

“Um, a little bit? Not too much,” Twilight said nervously. Sonata smiled.

“Well, in that case, don’t kiss your girlfriend until she’s had something to drink,” Mango Salsa warned. “The usual for you, Sonata? The cod is super tasty today, I got a great deal on a very fresh shipment.”

“You know me. Twilight?”

“Um, tacos are fine. I’ve never had fish tacos before,” Twilight admitted. Her mother was a great cook, but didn’t have a very wide ethnic range.

“Two taco orders, one spicy, one not so much,” Mango Salsa repeated, and Sonata dug into her pocket to pay the woman, retrieving a handful of change and crumpled bills. They stepped to the side to wait, but nobody was waiting in line behind them. It only took a few minutes before the chef passed two paper-lined cardboard trays out of the truck’s window. Each one held two tacos, covered in shredded cabbage, salsa, and a green creamy sauce. There was also a pair of short Styrofoam cups containing corn in one and grilled veggies in the other. Mango Salsa also handed them a pair of cups with straws poking out. “Enjoy, and have fun on your date!” she called out as the two girls carried their food to a table.

“What is…?” Twilight asked, holding up the drink cup.

“Oh sorry, I should have asked if you wanted water or soda or something. It’s horchata. Try it.”

Twilight put her lips on the straw and sipped. Her mouth was flooded with a sweet milky beverage, and she tasted cinnamon and sugar.

“It’s good!” she said out loud. “What is it?”

“I don’t know how it’s made, but it’s made of rice, not milk. I love the stuff; it goes well with spicy food,” Sonata replied, taking a large bite of one of her tacos. Twilight followed suit.

The fish was battered and fried, much like a fish and chips. It was mild and tasty, and made a perfect complement to the creamy avocado sauce and the slightly spicy salsa spread on top. It was quite possibly the best taco Twilight had ever eaten.

“Wow. I see why you like this place,” Twilight said after she had chewed and swallowed her first bite. Sonata, her cheeks puffed out full of food, merely nodded and grinned.

It didn’t take long to eat their food. Twilight loved every second of the meal. The open air, the music playing on the speakers, and even the other people dancing and enjoying themselves all around created an atmosphere that was both welcoming and exotic for her.

“You done?” Sonata asked, glancing at Twilight’s empty cardboard tray. Twilight nodded. “Okay. C’mon.” Sonata’s gaze darted to the open area where a few couples were dancing to the music playing from the truck’s speakers.

“Dancing?” Twilight gulped. “Um…”

“I’m not taking no for an answer,” Sonata said. “Here, I’ll get these.” She gathered up all of their trash in one hand, seizing Twilight’s in her other. She pulled twilight out of her seat and into an open area, tossing their garbage into a can on the way. The other couples dancing gave them some space.

“Sorry, I don’t know much about…” Twilight began. Sonata interrupted.

“Put your hand up here,” Sonata placed Twilight’s left hand on her shoulder. Her right hand rested on Twilight’s waist, and their other hands clasped. “Now, salsa dancing is fun. Basically, it works like this. We’re going to shift our weight by stepping, but leave our upper body as stationary as possible. This creates a swaying motion in our hips. Like so,” Sonata demonstrated, and Twilight’s eyes were locked on the hypnotic motion of Sonata’s hips. “Arm and shoulder movement is okay to, as long as it’s mostly the legs and the hips moving. The timing works like…”

Twilight found it nearly impossible to focus on the very physical demonstration. She wondered if Sonata had felt the same way while taking a piano lesson, then dismissed the idea. Piano lessons were rarely this sensuous. She was sure, throughout the lesson, that she was bungling up every movement and step that Sonata had her make, but every time she looked into Sonata’s eyes her worries washed away. Sonata’s eyes sparkled with pure, unfiltered joy. It didn’t matter how clumsy Twilight was, Sonata took the lead and helped them get lost in the pulsing, cheerful beat of the music.

Finally, it was time for Mango Salsa to clean up for the evening. Her announcement was met with groans of disappointment from the few dancers who’d stayed behind, including Twilight and Sonata. It was just as well, though. Twilight was flushed with a bit more than just exertion, and both of them were giddy with excitement. They held hands all the way back to Twilight’s car, and there was a musical bounce in their steps the whole way.

“Can I drop you off at home?” Twilight asked, and suddenly much of the joy leeched from Sonata’s face. “I mean, I’d love to give you a ride so you don’t have to walk. I guess I just don’t want the night to end just yet.” With that, Sonata nodded, a bit subdued. Twilight wondered mournfully what she’d done wrong.

“Um, please don’t think too poorly of me when you see where I live, okay?” she asked.

“Sonata, you’ve seen me at my worst. Of course I won’t judge you,” Twilight said. Sonata gulped, and gave Twilight the address.

“The neighborhood’s not exactly the safest part of town, so be careful when you’re driving away, okay?” Sonata whispered. Twilight noted how her voice had deflated. Silently she wondered how she could get the joy, the life, the dance back in Sonata’s tone. She wished she had Sunset’s power to read minds; something had shut Sonata down, and Twilight didn’t know how to open her up again.

The address turned out to be a trailer park, though not as run down as Twilight had expected. She pulled the car in front of the trailer Sonata indicated. There were lights on inside, but Twilight didn’t see any movement. The front yard was ragged and full of weeds.

“Here it is,” Sonata announced, her voice flat. Twilight looked at her with concern. “Um, sorry to be a downer. Thanks so much for taking me out tonight.”

“I had an amazing time,” Twilight said, completely honestly. “Every second was magical.” It was the truth, even if the drive home had a dark cloud hanging over it. Impulsively Twilight reached out, her hand resting on Sonata’s shoulder, curling just a bit behind her neck. Sonata willingly pulled into the embrace, and their lips met. Twilight reached up, tightening around Sonata as their lips and mouths pressed against each other. Sonata was warm and soft, and Twilight wanted it to last forever. When Sonata broke away, she couldn’t help but let out the barest whimper of disappointment, which brought a small smile to Sonata’s lips.

“Later,” Sonata promised, and stepped out of the car.

“Wait!” Twilight rolled down her window and called out. Sonata paused on her way to the door of the trailer. “Um, the food truck chef called me your girlfriend. Are we…?” Sonata’s gaze became husky, and she licked her lips slightly.

“What do you think?” Sonata asked. Twilight’s mouth went dry.

“I think y-yes.”

“Good. Me too,” Sonata finished with a wave, then walked the rest of the way into her house.

The entire drive home Twilight felt floaty. She had no idea how else to describe the feeling. Girlfriend. It felt nice. It felt right. She thought about the feeling of Sonata’s lips on hers. She wanted more. One kiss wouldn’t be enough. She wanted more dates, more dancing, more cuddling, more smoky looks and swaying hips, more laughter, more Sonata. She was practically dancing herself when she stepped into her house.

“Welcome home, Twilight. How was your date?” her mother called out from the living room. Twilight’s stomach bottomed out. She’d forgotten that now she’d have to go through the utterly humiliating trial of discussing her date with her mother, her father, maybe even Cadence and Shiny. To her horror, both her parents, her brother, and her sister in law were all sitting in the living room, waiting for her. Spike was nowhere to be seen.

“Spike?” she asked carefully as she stepped into the living room. She noticed that all of her family had their serious faces on.

“He’s in your room, playing video games,” her father, Night Light, replied.

“Oh. Well, my date was amazing, but I’m tired, so…”

“Twilight, could you sit down for a moment?” Shining Armor said. His voice was kind and calm. Twilight gulped. “We need to speak with you about something serious." He and his wife were sharing the love seat, and her parents were on both ends of the couch, leaving the only spot the space in between them. Nervously she sat down. “Twilight, what do you know about mandatory reporting laws?”

“Um,” Twilight said. This had not been the conversation she was expecting. She had no idea what Shiny was talking about. “Nothing, really. What are you talking about?”

“I’ll explain in a second. Twilight, I want you to know that both Cadence and I really like Sonata. We just met her, but she seems sweet and genuine. Whatever else happens tonight, we want you to know that we approve of the two of you together. Not that our approval or lack of approval would stop you if you really wanted to date somebody, but there it is.”

“What’s this about?” Twilight asked. The odd conversation was making her nervous.

“Twilight, as an educator, I’m bound by certain laws,” Cadence began carefully. “Shining Armor is in a similar position as a police officer. We are required, by state law, to report any suspicion of abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agency. It’s something I strongly agree with and try my best to follow to the letter.”

“Abuse?” Twilight asked.

“Twily,” Shiny sighed, looking uncomfortable. “Does Sonata usually wear makeup?”

“Not really. What are you saying?”

“I know you’re sometimes not the best at noticing these things, Twily. Did you notice the scarf, too? Sonata never took it off for your entire date, did she?” Shining asked. Twilight shook her head, feeling a growing sense of nameless horror. “Cadence caught a peek of something when they shook hands. Mom noticed it too.” Twilight looked at Twilight Velvet, who reached out and squeezed Twilight’s hand. Her mother’s eyes were full of sympathy. “She had bruises on her neck. She’d done her makeup to hide some more bruises. I’d be willing to bet there might be more on her arms as well; have you always seen her wearing long sleeves?”

“Yeah…” Twilight said. She felt nauseous. She felt furious.

“What do you know of Sonata’s home living situation, sweetie?” Cadence asked gently. The question jerked her out of her rising anger.

“Not much, really. She lives with her sisters. Aria and Adagio, I think. Aria’s unemployed, and Adagio drinks. You… you really think one of them is hurting her?”

“I believe so,” Shining Armor said. “Cadence does as well. Twilight, in the morning, Cadence and I are going to make a call to Child Protective Services. She needs to be safe. Tell me, Twilight. Does it sometimes seem like she’s going through mood swings? Like, she’s happy one second, then morose the next? Or maybe she behaves irrationally fearful or depressed, or shows signs of low self-esteem?”

“She talks down about herself. A lot. And she was afraid to let me see where she lived,” Twilight felt her anger rising like bile in her throat. “She rarely wants to talk about her sisters specifically. She cries when she listens to music. And one of her sisters is hurting her?”

She didn’t remember getting to her feet. Her parents were staring at her, concern and even a bit of fear evident on their faces. Shining gaped openly. There was a strange, flickering light in the room. Twilight’s palms hurt; she didn’t know why.

“Shining, go get Spike,” Cadence said slowly. Shining was about to argue, but she interrupted him. “Now.” Her brother stood and ran out of the room.

“Sweetie? Could you sit down, please?” Twilight’s mother said.

“They’re hurting her, Mom!” Twilight nearly shrieked, wondering why her parents looked so afraid. Night Light reached out and touched her clenched fist, jerking away as if burned. “I’ll… I’ll go there right now. I’ll get her out! I’ll fly if I have to!” She fluffed her wings out for emphasis, and a few black feathers floated down, dissolving into puffs of magic when they hit the floor.

“Twilight, I really think you shouldn’t act rashly tonight,” her mother pleaded. Cadence was shaking her head, mouthing something at Twilight Velvet.

“Why not?” Twilight demanded. She felt liquid in the palms of her hands. She realized her sharp, black fingernails were now digging deep enough to draw blood.

“Call Sunset,” Cadence said, glancing with terror at Twilight’s feet. Twilight didn’t understand. There was nothing wrong with her feet. They were where they were supposed to be, hovering about a foot off the ground.

“Yes, call Sunset. Her magical gifts might be quite useful when I smite those responsible for hurting…”

“Twilight! Woah, you’re all purple and demony again!” Spike shouted from the foot of the stairs. Shining was holding her dog tightly in his arms. She glanced at Spike, terror and worry evident in his eyes. She was floating. Floating. The entire room was bathed in the flickering, fiery light emitted by the phantom glasses floating by her eyes. She had wings. Her horn was glowing with a baleful blue light.

“Oh god. God no,” she whimpered, clutching her arms around her chest in terror. “Not again, please!”

“Twilight, fight it!” Spike called out, wriggling out of Shining’s arms to run to just under Twilight’s feet. “You’re in charge, remember? You are not Midnight Sparkle!”

“I don’t know if I can…” Twilight moaned. Something that didn’t feel like her reached out for her magic. She wanted to fly. She needed to fly. Somebody was hurting Sonata, and she needed to hurt it back. No, that wasn’t right. She needed to stay. She needed to…

“Twilight, honey. You’ve beaten this before,” her father said softly. “I believe in you.”

“Twily, if anybody’s stubborn enough to beat her own inner darkness, it’s you,” her BBBFF proclaimed.

“You’re the strongest, sweetest girl I know,” Cadence whispered. “You can do amazing things.”

Something inside her screamed to get out. Ruthlessly, she beat it down. She latched on to the voices of her family. Spike fearlessly stood at her floating feet, and she reached down to him. He was a small dog, and it took a lot of effort but he leapt up into her outstretched arms. Worry and concern filled his eyes, but he leaned up and licked at her face.

“You got this, Twi,” Spike said, his voice confident. She felt her feet touch the ground. The beast within her howled and gnashed for blood. She struggled, fought, and raged back.

I am part of you! Midnight Sparkle shrieked within her. I am every dark thought. I am your greed, your rage, your obsession, your fury! You can’t escape me! Let me loose, and we will scourge those who hurt her from the face of this planet!

“No,” Twilight said out loud. “No. I won’t let you loose. But I will protect her.” A new kind of fury filled her, a righteous sort of burning, and suddenly the voice of Midnight was quiet. No, not quiet. Waiting. “If we’re going to keep her safe, we have to do it right.” She realized she was having a conversation with her own inner demons, right in front of her parents. Oh well. She’d worry about it later. First things first, one crisis at a time.

Very well, Twilight. But when the time comes, you may call on me. I will come. Together we can keep her safe. Twilight marveled at the vehemence, the honest and pure and virtuous rage in Midnight Sparkle’s voice. Even more shocking was when Midnight Sparkle responded to her surprised. Dark emotions are not evil, Twilight. I’m not evil, I’m a part of you. Emotions and feelings aren’t evil or good, only actions are. I am you, Twilight. And you care for Sonata. And you will keep her safe. And if that means we hurt them, then we’ll burn them so deep they never hurt anyone ever again!

She was sitting on the couch. Her wings and horn and phantom glasses were gone. Somebody had wrapped a white cloth around her hands, and it was bloodstained. Everyone was staring at her, except Spike, who was curled up in her lap.

“Did somebody text Sunset?” she asked casually. “Because if so, you can probably call her back. I think I’m fine.” Her voice was trembling, betraying the sudden panic she felt. Her entire family had seen.

“Is that…” her father began, then cleared his throat. “Is that what it was like? Before?” He glanced at Cadence. She tilted her head to the side.

“No. This wasn’t nearly as bad. Quite a bit better, in fact,” Cadence said. Inwardly, Twilight disagreed. This was the first time Midnight Sparkle had fully manifested herself physically since the Friendship Games. She had been sure she’d had a better handle on this. Apparently not. She felt her phone buzzing in her pocket. She pulled it out. Sunset was calling.

“Just a moment. It’s Sunset. I don’t want her to worry,” she said, and pushed the green button on the screen that accepted the call.

“Twilight! I’m on my way. Your mom texted me, said you were having a magic incident?”

“Um, yeah, Sunset, I’m fine now. You can head home. Really. I can tell you about it in the morning.”

“Sorry, Twi. Not good enough. I need to know what happened,” Sunset said.

“Okay, if you insist. We’ll put some tea on for you or something. I had a full ‘Midnight Sparkle’ transformation in front of my parents. But it’s resolved now.”

“Oh sweet Celestia you WHAT?” Sunset shouted. “I’ll be there in three minutes. Don’t go anywhere. Do you think I should call the other girls?”

“No! Sunset, please. I’m fine. My family is fine. Spike, tell Sunset to head home because I’m fine,” she set the phone near Spike’s mouth.

“Hey, Sunset,” Spike said casually. “Yup, it was bad. But she’s okay now. Yeah, you should still probably come so you can mind read her and be sure.” Twilight glared at him for his betrayal, even though he was probably right.

“I agree with Spike, sweetie,” her mother said. Her voice was like an oil slick of false calm spread over a boiling ocean of worry. Twilight looked around the room. She hated the looks on their faces. Her father was worried, and her mother seemed downright frightened. Shining armor appeared calm, but he never let his gaze waver from his sister. Only Cadence seemed to be taking the whole incident truly calmly. “Maybe we all need a little outside perspective to help process all of this.” The guilt nearly crushed Twilight. She needed to think about her family first, and what they needed.

“Okay,” she said in a tiny voice, shrinking into the couch as if trying to shrink into herself. Everybody in the room immediately zeroed in on her reaction.

“Twilight, you did nothing wrong. Nobody here is angry or upset with you,” her father comforted her immediately, patting her shoulder. She remembered how he had touched her hand, and been burned.

“Sweetie, your reaction does you credit,” her mom agreed. “Sometimes I wish I had big bad magic inside me to go punish people who hurt others. It’s an understandable reaction.” Twilight remembered the blood soaked cloth in both hands. Her mother’s dishtowels, stained in her own blood.

“Honey,” her father said, addressing her mother. “I don’t think we can afford to stay even a little ignorant about what’s happening to our daughter. When Sunset arrives, I’d like the full story.” He pulled Twilight into a comforting embrace. “I know Cadence has been there for some of it, and most of it has been good for her, but I’d like to know all of it. I’m not going to suggest we throw that away just because of what happened tonight.”

Twilight sobbed, the tears suddenly spilling forth from her eyes. She felt nothing but love and sympathy from her family, affection she did not earn, but was given freely nonetheless.

“I’m so sorry,” she whimpered, and was simultaneously shushed by the four adults and one dog in the room. “I don’t deserve all of you.”

“You deserve all the love you have and more,” Cadence declared solemnly. There was a knock on the door. “That will be Sunset. I’ll let her in.”

Sunset burst into the room, her face awash with concern. Ever quick on her feet, she took in the situation in an instant. Her gaze found Spike.

“How are things?” she asked the dog. Twilight wanted to object, but her instinct was probably right. Spike would give her an honest assessment of the situation, even if he hadn’t been there for the whole thing.

“Good and bad,” he said. “But you know you can just whammy her and get the whole story, right?”

“’Whammy’ her?” Sunset asked, raising an eyebrow. Spike shrugged.

“I don’t know what to call your magic, Sunset,” Spike said. Sunset looked around the room, apparently a bit uncomfortable about the fact that they were speaking about magic openly in front of Twilight’s family.

“It’s okay, Sunset. They want to know everything,” Twilight said. Sunset nodded slowly, then looked at Cadence.

“Okay, um, Principal Cadence? Do you mind if I touch you?”

“Touch me?”

“Yeah, I can look into your mind and see what happened, if you let me. I like to ask, first.”

“That’s thoughtful of you,” Cadence said, her voice betraying her nervousness. Cautiously she reached out her hand, and Sunset touched it with her fingers. Sunset’s eyes went blank for a second, and the geode she wore as a necklace glowed with a crimson light. After a heartbeat Sunset blinked, looking around the room.

“Woah. They’re doing what to Sonata?” Sunset growled, her own voice quivering with anger. “I don’t blame you at all, Twi.”

“However justified her anger is, this isn’t the sort of thing that needs to be solved with magic,” Shining Armor interjected. “Not every problem can be solved with the same tools. Sonata and her sisters are just normal, everyday girls. This sort of thing should be resolved with the human justice system, not otherworldly magic. Cadence and I will contact CPS in the morning, and they will take control of the situation.”

“Yeah, about that,” Sunset said, rubbing the back of her head and looking sheepish. “There’s more to all this than you realize. Let me start from the beginning and fill you all in, if that’s okay.” Twilight’s parents graciously made room for Sunset on the couch, right between Twilight and her mother. “See, I’m not exactly from this world. I come from a magical land called Equestria…”