Rules of Hospitality

by I-A-M

First published

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.

In the City of Canterlot there is a bar, a very singular bar, that is tended by a singular bartender. The Bar of the Last Note Lounge is a place where a person can order any drink and get exactly what they wanted and needed, in exactly the right way, and the ability to do so is something that Sonata Dusk prizes.

Twilight Sparkle is trying to mend a friendship broken by rash words and a terrible argument, and she has come to the Last Note on more than one occasion hoping to find the courage to do so.

Predictably, that hasn't really worked out.

Maybe she just needs a good drink.


Cover Art by Rhealm.
Narcotics tag for alcohol consumption.

1. A Kind Roost

View Online

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.

Usually.

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.

Happy.

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.

“Wait.”

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-

-HAPPY-

-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.

“I’m-”

“-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.”

“Wait!”

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-

-Welcome-

-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.

2. A Heavy Door

View Online

“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.

Urk.”

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.

It wasn’t.

“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.

Anything.

“H-hey, Suns-”

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.

Hard.

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.”

Oh, right.

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.

3. An Open Chair

View Online

I left the Last Note in a daze with my jaw throbbing and my head pounding. I think I remember walking past some of the employees and I think some of them even said something to me. I ignored them, clutching my glasses in my shaking hands, every so often fumbling and fidgeting with them as I stared at the cracked left lens.

I think a couple people asked me if I was alright, but I wasn’t really paying attention.

If I thought my odds at reconciling with Sunset were poor before, then they were practically nonexistent now. Before she had taken a swing at me because we’d been in an argument, tensions had been high, and things had gotten out of hand.

This time though…

I had only rarely seen Sunset truly angry.

She was passionate, sure, and she had a temper, but she also had control of it nine times out of ten. The time she’d slapped me was the one time out of ten she’d been pushed too far.

This had not been an example of Sunset losing her temper.

This had been Sunset, in no uncertain terms, threatening me for trying to hurt Aria, because the one thing Sunset had in spades was a fierce protective streak.

One that, once upon a time, extended to me.

I was at least passingly certain that was no longer the case.

The winter night felt especially cold as I stepped outside, and my jaw hurt like the dickens. I moved my tongue around inside my mouth, carefully feeling for anything loose, and was a little relieved to find nothing out of sorts.

“You okay, ma’am?”

I looked up and the bouncer, Backstage I think was his name, was giving me a concerned look.

“Uhm… no, not really,” I answered, too emotionally worn out to pretend. “I’m just gonna go home, I think.”

My parents home.

I can’t exactly go back to the dorm.

Even if Sunset does spend most of her time with Aria, I have no idea when she’ll be back there and I can’t… I can’t face her. Not anymore, not after what just happened.

With a pang of gut-wrenching anxiety, I realise I’m not just upset or angry.

I’m scared.

I was scared of Sunset.

“Hey.”

I let out a sharp, strangled squeak of alarm and staggered back from my little Civic that I’d been absentmindedly pulling out the keys for which dropped from my fear-numbed fingers down into the slush beneath me.

Pinkie Pie was standing just across from me wearing a fluffy blue and pink striped parka, thick blue winter pants, and heavy-treaded boots. Her hands were shoved in the front pockets to keep them warm, and her eyes were… sad.

“P-Pinkie?” I stared at her for a moment in shock, then looked down in a panic for my keys.

Without even looking, Pinkie knelted, pulled one hand from her pocket, made a quick twirling motion with her index finger, then darted her hand down into the slush and pulled out my keys.

“Here ya go, silly,” she said brightly as she stood up and held them out. “Gotta keep your keys on a chain or something.”

“Yeah, I… I guess I do,” I stared down at the keys, then looked back up at Pinkie who was still giving me that sad smile. “Why are you here, Pinkie?”

“Because I need to be,” Pinkie replied in a manner that reminded me strangely of Sonata. “Because you need me to be.”

“How do you know what I need?” I asked a more bitterly than she deserved.

She didn’t rise to my admittedly childish bait, though, and shuffled a little closer as she opened her arms. “C’mere.”

I sniffled, lifted a hand to my stinging jaw, then nodded and stepped forward into Pinkie’s arms. Say what you will about her slightly tenuous grip on reality, but Pinkamena Diane Pie gives the best hugs. Every second that it lasts, you can feel the warmth coming from her, and not just the physical warmth, but the emotional warmth.

The spiritual warmth.

It’s that feeling of nearness to another human being turned up to eleven, and Pinkie just exudes it like an aura.

“S-She hit me, Pinkie,” I sobbed, burying my face in her chest, and Pinkie just hugged me harder. “She r-really hit me!”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Pinkie said quietly, making gentle cooing sounds that, although patronizing, did actually make me feel a little better. “She shouldn’t have done that.”

“Shouldn’t she have?” I moaned, gripping Pinkie’s parka harder. “I lost my temper and tried to hurt Aria! If I wasn’t so inept I actually might have!”

“Friends shouldn’t fight,” Pinkie said firmly. “Friends talk, even if that talk… even if it ends with them not being friends anymore, they owe each other a talk, even if it’s a last talk.”

It felt like my heart was casing over in granite, thick and heavy and painful in my chest.

I didn’t want to have a ‘last talk’ with Sunset, that was part of why I had avoided talking to her even though I’d gone to the Last Note multiple times and had every opportunity to. I could have just asked any of the employees to page her, I could have taken Sonata up on her offer to call Sunset up directly.

Hell, even Aria had offered to help me talk to her in her own stiff, awkward way, I realised.

But I was too stinking scared.

“Come on, let’s go get some cocoa,” Pinkie said with a warm smile, linking her arm with mine and dragging me towards her still idling car.

Pinkie’s car was a beat-up little Volkswagon Bug from the eighties that was painted garishly bright pink, and whenever Pinkie turned it on it always sounded like it trying to decide if this was going to be the day it died for good but, for one reason or another, the old engine always turned over.

I thought about resisting as Pinkie tugged me over to the passenger side door, but I decided I’d alienated quite enough of my friends today, and honestly hot chocolate sounded kind of good. Call me stereotypical, but some primal part of my brain was demanding that I drown my sorrows in chocolate.

Kicking the clutch open and shifting gears, Pinkie pulled out of the Last Note parking lot and got on the freeway heading south, out of the ritzy end of Canterlot and into the Commons.

The drive was silent, with me leaning against the door, the sore spot on my face pressed to the icy chill of the window as I stared at the lines upon lines of christmas lights festooning all the various places of business in expectation of the holidays.

Once we were out of the North End and into the Ponyville Commons the decorations became a lot less extravagant, but no less enthusiastic. Strings of cheap christmas lights lined apartment windows and little decals of Santa and his Reindeer could be seen on the glass. Here and there was a small lawn decoration set to the side of a porch or awning, and it occurred to me that everyone else in the world seemed to be getting along just fine.

I found myself mildly offended by that.

A few minutes later Pinkie pulled us into the parking lot of her workplace, a friendly little cafe called Sugarcube Corner, and a place that had a lot of happy memories for all of us as friends even after high school.

I couldn’t move for several moments, my guilt and anxiety hitting me hard as I remembered all the times I’d spent there with Sunset. All the times that were gone now and might never happen again because I’d done something stupid.

The car door creaked open sullenly, and I started in surprise before realizing it was just Pinkie opening it up.

“C’mon, lets get warm,” Pinkie helped me out of the car, which was always just a little too low to comfortably move out of without Pinkie’s natural hopping gait.

The door to the Corner jingled merrily as we entered, and my nose was suddenly filled with the smell of various chocolates, pastries, and other sugary confections.

“Two emergency hot chocolates! Stat!” Pinkie demanded in mock severity as she tromped up to the cash register.

Missus Cake smiled good-naturedly and started working on the drinks.

One of the things I loved most about Sugarcube Corner was how genuine their food and drink was. I watched the matronly proprietor break up several thick bars of dark chocolate while the milk was steaming. The chunks went into large mugs, followed by the milk, a thick dollop of homemade whipped cream each.

Pinkie dropped several bills on the counter to pay and scooped up the mugs. As she turned, Missus Cake shot me a wink, swept up the bills, and dropped them in the tip jar.

Most of those tips went to Pinkie, I knew. She was their main employee and half the reason that the Corner was so popular. Pinkie Pie was probably more of a fixture at the little cafe than any of the actual fixtures.

I smiled back at her as I turned to follow Pinkie to our table. There was a large booth near the back that the lot of us had been using as our regular hangout spot for near on a decade now, and we still showed up here now and again.

Less often than we used to, maybe, we all had work and lives after all, but… we never lost touch.

Until now.

I took a seat across from Pinkie and rested my hands on the warm ceramic mug. The smell of chocolate and rich cream rolled up from the beverage and, as miserable as the night had been going, it still made me feel a little better.

“I guess you know what happened?” I asked although it was mostly a statement.

For one reason or other that none of us have ever been able to parse, Pinkie always seemed to have an uncommonly firm grasp of events that happened despite being nowhere near them at the time. The Princess, my Equestrian doppelgänger, theorized that Pinkie might be one of the rare humans who are naturally able to channel magic, even if only in minute amounts, but it was never proven.

“I dunno,” Pinkie said quietly, “what did happen?”

I scowled, then raised the mug to my lips and took a slow sip of the piping hot drink. It was delicious, just like it always was, and the thick, creamy chocolate warmed me up from the inside out.

“I don’t know,” the words came out after a long pause, and I stared at my drink in dismay as I realised it was true. “I just… I’m so angry, Pinkie… I thought I was angry at Aria, but I know that’s irrational, so… I guess I’m just angry for no reason.”

“Nah,” Pinkie shook her head, then took a large bite out of the whipped cream that was topping her drink before washing it down with some chocolate. “You’re our friend, Twi’! You don’t do stuff for no reason, heck… no one does stuff for no reason, sometimes the reason is just silly or weird, but there’s always a reason.”

“Except I didn’t have a reason!” I snapped, gripping my mug tighter. “There was nothing rational behind my actions. I just lost my temper and attacked Aria!”

“See, you do have a reason!” Pinkie said brightly, ignoring my irritation. “You lost your temper! That’s the reason.”

“That’s not a reason, Pinkie, that’s just a loss of control,” I grumbled as I took another drink. “And it never should have happened… and then Sunset slugged me for attacking her girlfriend, which I guess I don’t blame her for.”

“Hmm…” Pinkie mumbled thoughtfully into her hot chocolate, blowing little bubbles into it as she did, before looking back up at me with those startlingly blue eyes of hers. “You remember when we all went and saw the new Halloween movie together? At the old Multiplex?”

“Uh, y~eah?” I raised an eyebrow, trying to figure out where this non sequitur came from. “Still not a big horror movie fan…”

“Yeah, neither was Sunnybuns, even though she tried to hide it,” Pinkie giggled and I couldn’t help but smile at the memory.

Sunset had tried to put on a brave face, but the movie had clearly freaked her out. A part of that, I had always theorized, was because her culture just didn’t have any kind of equivalent to horror movies. Movies themselves were a nascent production in Equestria, according to the Princess, and back when Sunset had crossed over they hadn’t even been in circulation, and violence of the kind shown in classic slashers was grotesquely visceral even by human standards.

Equestrians probably would have balked at even the tamer movies, to say nothing of one of the brutal classics like the Shape.

“She tried really hard to act cool, but she was jumping at shadows,” I agreed, laughing a little. “Even I hadn’t gotten that scared by the movie, I mean, it was gory, but it wasn’t that bad.”

“Right? But Sunnybuns was just wired!” Pinkie giggled and leaned back in the booth. “And she was still dating Rainbow at the time, remember? And Rainbow thought it would be funny to-”

“-prank her girlfriend,” I finished, nodding as I recalled the little misadventure that followed. “I’m pretty sure we all remember how that went, I’m still surprised Sunset didn’t break Rainbow’s nose when she popped out of the bush wearing that mask.”

“Mhm,” Pinkie chuckled again, taking another sip. “Yeah… that’s why I never pulled any scary pranks on her, Sunset never did react very well to getting scared.”

“Right? No kidd-,” I stopped, my mind suddenly catching up with the weird side-route that Pinkie had just taken. “Wait, Pinkie, are you saying…”

Pinkie lifted her mug and took another drink, her sharp blue eyes staring at me over the rim.

“You should get that,” Pinkie said, suddenly perking up from her chocolate.

“Get what?”

As if on cue, my phone began ringing.

“That,” Pinkie nodded to my hip pocket where I kept my phone. “You should get it.”

I pulled out my phone at looked at it. The number was local but I didn’t recognise it, and that usually meant it was a scam.

“Pinkie, I don’t like answering calls if I don’t know who’s calling me,” I replied, lowering the phone a little to look at her.

“Don’t let her go to voicemail, Twi’,” Pinkie said in a much quieter voice.

Something in Pinkie’s tone pushed me past my mild neurosis over answering the phone. Moreover, something about the way she said ‘her’ gave me the fleeting premonition of a certain bartender, and I instantly hit the ‘accept call’ button and lifted the phone to my ear.

“H-hello?” I answered shakily, and the voice on the line took a sharp breath.

//Twilight?!// Sonata’s voice was shrill and panicky as it came out. //Twilight are you okay?!//

A stone of guilt settled into my stomach.

I’d told her I would come back to the bar, that I would stay until the end of her shift, but after my encounter with Sunset I hadn’t been able to bear being in the same building and I’d just… left her.

“I… I’m fine, ‘Nata,” I replied quickly, standing up and scooting out from the booth to move to the back of the cafe. “I’m really sorry I left, I…”

//What happened?!//

Sonata sounded terrified, and the pain in my chest redoubled.

“I… kinda ran into Sunset and…” the pain of Sunset’s blow to my jaw came back like a harsh memory and I grimaced, “it didn’t go very well and I kinda lost it and so I… I ran… I’m sorry.”

//I-its okay, Twi’,// Sonata said shakily.// I was just… kind of freaking out when you never came back, and I was asking around, and some people thought they’d seen you running out of the VIP area, and…// her voice cracked badly, and the rest of the words came out wet and shaky, //and I asked B-Backstage, and he said he saw you leave and that you said you weren’t okay and I just… I got really scared, okay?//

I could hear the tears on the other end of the line and the sound made me tear up along with her.

“O-oh, Sonata, please don’t cry!” my voice came out in a slightly cracked sob. “I’ll… I’ll come back right now, okay?! I ran into a friend and we talked and I’m okay, alright? I promise! I’ll be right back, alright?”

Sonata’s voice was a blubbering mess but I got a vague affirmative from her, so I said my goodbyes, which were about as graceful as hers, and came running back out to the main area of the cafe.

Pinkie was gone.

Total panic started to well up in my chest, but before it could build up a real head of steam I heard a shrill honk from outside the cafe. Sitting at the curb right near the entrance to the Corner was Pinkie’s faithful little Bug with Pinkie in the driver's seat gesturing for me to come out.

Letting out a breath of relief, I thanked Missus Cake for the hot chocolate, which Pinkie had already cleaned up I noted, and went running out to get into the passenger seat.

“Thanks, Pinkie,” my voice was a little raw, but Pinkie didn’t comment on it. Instead, she just smiled, nodded, and opened up the throttle.

Or at least, whatever throttle the old vehicle still had.


Pinkie pulled into the parking lot of the Lounge, which was significantly more packed than when we had left. The night was in full swing and, although it was definitely less rowdy than last night, I was starting to suspect that the Last Note didn’t really have slow nights.

“Thanks for the ride, Pinkie,” I said as I leaned over and hugged her, and she gave way better than she got. “And for the chocolate, and the advice.”

“I just left a seat open for ya,” Pinkie said happily as I got out of the car. “Talk to ya later!”

“Drive safe,” I waved as she pulled out of the packed lot with significantly more speed and confidence than I would have dared.

I turned and made my way towards the brightly lit doors of the Lounge, and I barely got within eyeshot of the bouncer before he flagged me down.

“Miss Twilight?” Backstage gestured for me to approach, and he had an odd look on his face. “Miss Dusk is waiting near the bar for ya, she was in a pretty bad state.”

“I know, I’m so sorry,” I said sheepishly. “I ran into… well, I guess it doesn’t matter… is Sonata okay?”

“Better after she called ya,” Backstage confirmed with a nod. “Still pretty rough, though.”

“How did she even get my number?” I asked, furrowing my brow, and Backstage raised an eyebrow.

“Ya didn’t give it to her?”

I shook my head. “We only just met last night, and I hadn’t thought about it until now.”

“Last night?” Backstage looked surprised. “From the way she was acting, I thought you two’d been together for a while.”

“T-TOGETHER?!” I managed to choke the word out before devolving into a coughing fit. “I… we just met! And I… I mean sure she’s really pretty, and she’s kind and sweet, and she’s really nice to kiss, b-but…”

Backstage was giving me a carefully neutral, level look as my babbling tapered off and I fell silent while my face slowly heated to supernova temperatures.

“I’m… I’m just gonna go inside now,” I said after a few moments of silence.

Backstage gave a nod and a smile, then gestured for me to pass him.

I slipped into the Lounge, wincing at the wall of noise that struck me as I opened the double-doors and began moving through the crowds. They were noticeably thinner than last night, but that wasn’t a difficult bar to reach, and all it really meant was that I could move without being stepped on more than three times on my way to the bar.

The two junior bartenders, Mixer and Highball I remembered Sonata calling them, were moving with the practiced professionalism of people who knew their craft, but even I could see the slight strain on them as they tried to keep up with the flow of orders without making any mistakes.

That was odd, the few other times I’d been here they’d been doing fine and, with fewer customers, I would think they’d be doing even better.

Then I realised who was missing.

“Miss Twilight Sparkle,” an imperious voice called my name, and I froze.

I’ve never had the opportunity to have any kind of conversation with the eldest sister of the Siren trio, but Adagio had always scared the hell out of me conceptually. The way Sunset spoke of her before our falling out painted her as some kind of master manipulator, a sort of high femme queen with the mein of an empress.

As I turned around to face her, I had this vain hope that maybe, just maybe, Sunset had been exaggerating.

She hadn’t been.

Adagio stood a full head taller than me with striking eyes the color of garnets backlit by an odd sort of light. She was clad, ankle-to-neck, in a dark, seastorm green dress accented with shades of gold that matched both her hair and complexion, and her hair was a wild, waterfall-tangle of vibrant curls that fell over her surprisingly broad shoulders.

“Y-yes?” I shrank back from her as I answered.

I couldn’t help it, Adagio Dazzle was like the living embodiment of the sun-in-glory. She was so bright and imposing that it was almost painful to be looked at by her, especially since it was clear that I wasn’t her favorite person at the moment.

“We’ve never had the opportunity to be properly introduced,” Adagio said primly, extending a hand as she did. “My name is Adagio, as I’m sure you’re aware, and you have had my baby sister in quite a state these past few hours.”

“Where is she?!” I surged forward with enough speed that even Adagio backed up a step, blinking in surprise. “P-Please, I just-”

She set her hand against my shoulder, stopping my momentum cold. I felt a slight chill as I realized quite suddenly how strong she was, strong enough that I couldn’t even budge against her.

“Before you do anything, I need to know that you’ll be gentle with her,” Adagio said stiffly. “Nodens knows she could use a few more friends, but Sonata is… special, she’s sensitive, she cries easily, and I won’t have someone spending time around her who’s careless with her feelings.”

“I’m really sorry,” I said quietly, “I don’t have an excuse.”

I really didn’t have an excuse.

Seriously, what was I supposed to say?

‘Sorry, I ran out in a panicked depression after my ex-best friend slugged me because I attacked her girlfriend in a fit of rage who, by the way, is also your other sister, SORRY ABOUT THAT.’

I had a strong feeling that wouldn’t fly, and since Adagio hadn’t brought up my little indiscretion against Aria I could only assume neither she nor Sonata had mentioned it.

Well, that was fine by me.

Although that meant I probably owed Aria an apology.

“I’m not asking for an excuse,” Adagio said in a tone of voice that grew grave as she stepped forward to tower over me. “I’m asking for your care with Sonata, because if you harm my baby sister I will not hesitate to break you in half, are we clear?”

I swallowed hard and nodded. For reasons I couldn’t quite place, I felt like I was being talked to by a mob boss or someone else equally terrifying. Maybe I was, actually… the Sirens were millennia old and who knew how many hats they’d worn over the years. I could definitely picture Adagio acting as some cold-as-ice Mafia don.

“W-We’re clear,” I agreed and, like magic, the deathly stillness of her features schooled out to a cordial friendliness.

“Excellent,” Adagio said happily, reaching up with one hand to brush some hair from my face. “As I said, Sonata could use a few more friends… your glasses are cracked, by the way.”

“I… I’m aware,” I replied a little sullenly.

“I see,” Adagio raised an eyebrow but didn’t pursue the topic any further, for which I was grateful. “Well, wait here while I’ll call Sonata over, she was making a bit of a mess of things in her panic so I benched her, which I’ve never had to do before.”

“Y-Yeah, sorry,” I repeated, grimacing.

“Nodens Oath, girl, have a spine,” Adagio’s lips curled into a smirk, “I’m not blaming you, Sonata’s a big girl, she ought to have a little more self-control.”

From a pocket I couldn’t identify the location of on her dress, Adagio drew out a slim device that looked like a small black recorder and spoke quietly into it. After a few moments I saw the crowd shifting and parting a little ways away coming towards us and, a moment later, Sonata Dusk stepped out of the crowds looking around sharply with a worried expression.

The moment her eyes landed on me her face blossomed into the most radiant smile I’d ever seen, and I’d been on the receiving end of Pinkie’s full beam before, and she all but tackled me in a hug. I bit back an oath as she pressed against the nascent bruise on my jaw, choosing to hug her back instead.

“Twi’!” Sonata hugged me tight, burying her face against my shoulder, and I watched Adagio’s eyebrow raise another quarter-inch from over Sonata’s shoulder at the display of affection. “I was so worried! Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m sure, ‘Nata,” I said quietly as her hug became a little softer but no less insistent.

When she pulled away, I felt my heart lurch as I realised she had tears in her eyes, and it… it actually hurt. Seeing her hurting over me actually hurt me and completely by reflex I reached out brushed the tears from her eyes.

Sonata sniffled a little, then leaned into my touch, and I stood there for a moment just holding on to her. Her cheek was warm against the palm of my hand, and it was soft like nearly everything else about her.

“Ahem.”

Sonata and I both blushed brilliantly at the noise before to face Adagio who had moved alongside us and was looking between back and forth between us.

“Well, I left Octavia in the back, so I’ll be moving along,” Adagio said, giving both us a pointed glance, but saying nothing about our behaviour. “I trust there won’t be any more mishaps behind the bar?”

“Uhm, nope, I’m fine now,” Sonata answered with a bright smile.

“Good,” then Adagio turned to me, gave me one last hard look, then sashayed away towards the VIP area.

“S-So, you’re sure you’re okay?” Sonata asked again, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Yes, ‘Nata, I promise, I’m fine,” I reply, shaking my head a little as we started walking back towards the bar. “You worry too much.”

“I can’t help it!” Sonata whined quietly. “I really like you, okay?!”

“That’s…” I blushed again and tightened my grip, only then noticing that Sonata and I had managed to hold hands all the way back to the bar without either of us realising it. “I mean… I really like you too, ‘Nata.”

She giggled and my heart danced, even knowing Pinkie I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who was just so unabashedly pure. Maybe I’m just not being objective about it, though. Maybe I just like Sonata Dusk that much.

“So uhm… what nights are you free?” I asked as Sonata into her usual place behind the bar, much to the relief of Mixer and Highball. “Like, what days do you have off?”

“Off?” Sonata asked with a quirked smile. “I have every day off, I only work at night!”

I sighed and chuckled. “N-no I mean-”

“I know what you meant silly,” she waved a hand playfully at me. “I… I don’t really have days or nights off, actually. I don’t really know what I would do with myself if I did, but… I can ask ‘Dagi for a night off some time, why?”

“W-Well, I uh…” the sudden flop sweat and panic response were not helping my anxiety, but I forced myself to remember that Sonata ‘really liked me’. “So… I’ve never done this before, but I was w-wondering if maybe you want to go out on a date sometime?”

Sonata stared for several moments, her eyes widening slowly. I braced myself for a Pinkie-like outburst of glee, but it never came, instead, Sonata’s hands just flew to her mouth and she started giggling and blushing like a schoolgirl.

Oh, my heart.

Apparently unable to speak, Sonata nodded rapidly as she giggled and wiggled in place. She looked like she was about to pop, actually, and on instinct I reached out and took one of her hands, and suddenly Sonata was gripping my hand incredibly tight.

“You okay?” I asked softly, leaning in a little.

She just nodded several times, her mouth seemingly glued shut.

“Still want me to stay?” I continued, sliding onto a barstool.

Sonata nodded vigorously again.

“Okay,” I gave her hand another squeeze, then pulled back. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Sonata pulled out a piece of paper from behind the bar and scribbled down a note before passing it to me. She still looked like she was fit to vibrate right out of existence, and it made me feel like I’d done something wrong.

I picked up the note and scanned it.

Sorry, I promise I’m fine, I’m just really excited and I can’t ‘words’ right now.’

Adjusting my broken glasses, I nodded and sat the note down. “Alright well… h-how about you make me a drink?”

If anything that made Sonata light up more, but where before it was like she had ten thousand volts of pent up energy and nothing to do with it, now a peculiar focus ignited behind her eyes, and her smile turned practically thermonuclear.

She really just had such a pretty smile. It was the kind of expression where Sonata’s whole face was involved in the production, her cheeks dimpled adorably and her eyes crinkled just a little when they lit up. Every time she smiled strongly she did a little shoulder-wiggle that was just precious, and…

Ooh, wow, I… might have it kinda bad.

Sonata’s hands moved with her usual calm surety, with none of her prior wild energy evident in her actions.

There were three small burners on the back, and Sonata had a pan on one of them, the heat cranked high to get it warmed quickly. She swept her hand back and forth over it as the minutes passed and, once it reached a temperature she was satisfied with, she poured in a few spoonfuls of sugar into it along with what looked like about a cup of water.

With one hand, Sonata stirred the sugar and water mixture as it hissed and bubbled, and with the other, she reached beneath the bar and pulled out a wooden box with a sliding panel on the top. She set the box down, hooked a finger on the depression in the panel, and pulled it free, then snatched out a small bundle of what looked like loose-leaf tea.

From the fragrant aroma, I suspected it was some kind of rose tea.

Still stirring, Sonata scattered the loose tea leaves into the mixture, then turned the heat down significantly to let the tea infuse slowly into the syrup she was making.

Another minute or so passed, and the scent of rosehip tea was filling the bar, and once more a small crowd was gathering around to watch the master at work.

A champagne flute glass pulled out from amongst the dishes as Sonata continued to stir the infusion, and a moment later she pulled it off and held the pan aloft, slowly circling her wrist to keep the mixture moving while letting it cool off naturally. With one hand keeping the pan up, the other set up a jar and pulled out a small metal hoop with a fine wire mesh inside it, and she strained the rosy mixture of the leaves.

Clearing away all the tools and bits she had used during the preparation, Sonata lifted a bottle of champagne that read Dom Perignon across the label. Slowly, she poured a measure of the now cooled syrup into the flute, and followed it quickly with a slow pour of champagne, letting the syrup mix naturally with the bubbly, sparkling wine.

The result was a lovely, wild-rose colored drink that sparkled in the light, and after setting down her tools, Sonata lifted the glass to her lips and gave it a small, warm kiss. Just like before, I saw a faint luminance flow into the drink, then she passed to me with a radiant smile.

“Please drink it,” Sonata said, her voice finally returned, although it was small and hesitant.

“Uhm, well, I did ask for one,” I said with a nervous laugh before raising the glass in a mimic of a toast I’d seen my father do a few times at parties. “Bottoms up!”

Before I even started to drink I could smell it. The cocktail was lovely and smelled like a rose garden as I brought it to my lips. I tipped it back, took a single drink and-

-HEARTS-

-it was the flavor of the first time I blushed, the soft, gentle warmth in my heart that rose up through my throat, tightening it with apprehension and delight only to sink into my cheeks and turn them rosy red. It tasted like meeting eyes with someone you wished you could never stop looking at from the moment you saw them.

I kept drinking, I couldn’t stop, and far too soon the drink was gone and I was still smiling.

“Whatever happens,” Sonata said softly, turning the little jar of syrup around and around in her hands as she spoke, “I’ll only ever make that drink for you, Twi’, I promise.”

“Why?” I asked, my heart was still racing and my cheeks were still warm.

“Because it’s how you make me feel,” Sonata said shyly, wrapping her arms around herself and smiling, her shoulders wiggled a little. “And because of its name.”

Sonata really was impossibly adorable.

I leaned in, reached out, and she took the offering gladly, giving my hand a little squeeze as she did.

“What’s it called?”

Sonata blushed vibrantly, giving a nervous little giggle as she did.

“I don’t… I don’t wanna say,” Sonata said with a laugh. “It’s kind of embarrassing and makes me look sort of… lame.”

I squeezed her hand again. “Okay, now you have to tell me!”

Her blush deepened, but after a moment she nodded.

“O-Okay,” Sonata took a breath. “It’s called: Twilight Rose Romance.”

Oh… oh yeah, I definitely had it bad, but on the upside, apparently so did she, so maybe... maybe for now I'd keep what happened between Sunset and I to myself. The last thing I wanted was to force Sonata to choose between me and her sister... I wasn't worth that.

Yeah. Everything would be fine.

4. A Willing Ear

View Online

The Canterlot boardwalk was beautiful at Christmas time, with its gently falling snow and the dazzling decorations that lined every storefront, railing, and streetlamp. It was one of my favorite places in the whole city, a place where I could be alone without feeling alone, and a place that was always bright.

I shivered as the cold winter wind blew across the bay, and watched the dozens of ships, from zippy little runabouts, cabin cruisers, and cuddies, to large yachts belonging to the residents of the Gold Coast bob in the icy water.

Every one of them was decorated for the holidays too, and they cheered me up a little to see them all done up so brightly.

My winter coat was new, a present from my mom to celebrate my first date. It was long, trailing to just above my ankles, and a deep, lovely shade of violet. I had my hair tucked into a black beanie with the Sparkle family crest on it, a six-pointed star that apparently dated back to some old noble family, but I never looked into it.

I’d gotten my glasses fixed two days ago, but occasionally I imagined I could still see the crack.

It had only been four days since the debacle with Sunset at the Note and, if I’m being honest, it still haunted me.

I keep seeing her face, twisted like it was, furious and vengeful. I’ve never had anyone look at me with that kind of naked anger before, and it terrified me.

And when she hit me-

“Hey Twi’!”

I snapped out of my darker wanderings and looked up. Sonata was practically skipping towards me, beaming that bright, beautiful smile of hers.

I’d come to the conclusion that while Sonata might be just ‘pretty’, her smile was definitely beautiful.

For the first time since I’d met her, Sonata was dressed in something other than her sharp, cleanly pressed bartender uniform. She was wearing a jacket of arctic blue that matched the overall tone of her hair, and was tailored to fit her modest curves in the most flattering way. The same could be said of her jeans that were padded against the cold and stitched with patches of various insignias, a few I recognized from TV shows and others from video games.

Most notably was her belt that had a heavy metal buckle forming the face of a snarling wolf.

She was also wearing her hair down, with her bangs kept neatly clipped to the side and the rest of her hair falling down her back like an icy cascade.

“Hey ‘Nata,” I closed the distance between us and embraced her, and as we pulled away I felt my cheeks warming. “How was your day?”

“Dunno, I woke up, like, an hour ago,” Sonata said with a guileless grin. “How was yours?”

I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “It was fine… my mom hasn’t left me alone since I told her we were going out, but I know it’s just because she cares.”

“So uhm…” Sonata looked down and I realized we hadn’t moved apart, I was pressed up against her still, and the blush on my cheeks deepened. “W-would you mind if I kissed you again?”

I don’t think I could have kept the smile off of my face if I tried.

With Sonata being a bit taller than me, I had to go up on my toes, but I managed to put a small kiss on her lips. I felt her smile against me and, feeling daring, I kissed her again.

This time I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, holding myself up and letting the kiss linger a little longer. I let myself feel the warmth and softness of Sonata’s mouth and felt my heart do backflips as she gently held me, seemingly content to return the affection.

“I really like doing that,” I giggled and I held myself close to her. “Uhm, if it’s okay with you, I mean.”

“Twi’, look at me,” Sonata said seriously, her face becoming a mask of intensity. “You are totally welcome to kiss me, any time, forever.”

The mask cracked an instant later and Sonata started giggling, and I started laughing right along with her. There was something infectious about her laugh, it wasn’t like Pinkie’s boisterous chortling that, I’ll be honest, sometimes got to be a bit much for me, it was a lighter and fluffier sound that tickled me and got me smiling immediately.

Sonata stepped away shyly as her mirth died down, and then gingerly offered me her arm.

“So… wanna walk?” Sonata asked with a smile.

I linked my arm with hers and snuggled in close by way of response. If I’m being honest, I was starting to see why everyone was always so excited about going on dates.

“Can I be honest, ‘Nata?” I started, feeling my mood sinking and compensated by drawing closer to her.

“Always,” Sonata replied in a softer, more serious tone.

I-feel-like-a-fraud!” I said the words in a burst of noise that actually seemed to startle Sonata a little bit.

“W-Why?” Sonata looked down at me with blank surprise on her face.

“Because all this time I’ve been avoiding relationships and romance and stuff,” I grumbled, gripping Sonata’s arm a little tighter as I did, “and making my friends tiptoe around me when it comes to topics like sex, and then out of nowhere I go and get a girlfriend!”

“Ooh! We’re girlfriends now?!” Sonata chirped happily. “I’da been happy with just the date!”

“‘Nata, focus, please,” I said sullenly, and she ducked her head, looking chastised. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap, it’s just… it’s kind of been eating at me, like, was I wrong about myself?”

“Just because you don’t wanna have sex doesn’t mean you don’t want to be with someone who makes you happy,” Sonata said quietly, turning slightly to put a kiss on my forehead. “And… I want to make you happy, I like it when you’re happy.”

“Where’s the line, though?” I shifted uncomfortably before moving my hand around to link with hers, twining our fingers together.

I’d never really realized how comforting it would be just to hold hands with someone.

To be able to lean against them, feel their warmth, and not feel like I was about to be propositioned or something. The total lack of expectation with Sonata was more comfortable than I had expected it to be, but maybe that should’ve been more obvious after years of people constantly asking after when I was going to get a date.

They didn’t phrase it like that, and I know most of the people in my life meant well when they asked stuff like that, but it always made me feel self-conscious. Questions like that just made me feel like I was doing something wrong, but Sonata… not only have I never felt that way talking to her, I don’t think she’d ever make me feel like that.

Cliche as it was: Sonata made me feel safe.

“I don’t like figuring out who I am and then figuring out I was wrong, y'know?” I said the words a little bitterly, and Sonata gave my hand a squeeze.

“You weren’t wrong, Twi’,” Sonata said as we came to a stop by a pier that had dozens of people walking along it, admiring the decorations. “There’s a difference between wanting sex, and just wanting to be squishy and cute with someone.”

Sonata gestured out to all the people.

“See?” She continued. “Most of these folks are just being romantic and adorable, right? They're not screwing on the pier, they wanted something other than sex.”

“That assumes they’re not just gonna go home and go at it,” I replied dryly.

“Nuh-uh,” Sonata shook her head. “Doesn’t matter what they do after, because it’s two different things, y’know? I mean yeah, maybe they want the romantic stuff and the sexy stuff,” then she turned to me, smiling down at me as she did, “but maybe they don’t, there’s no reason you can’t just want the cute walk on the pier and not the bedroom stuff.”

“Romance versus sex, huh?” I rolled the thought around in my head a little before nodding. “I guess that makes sense, I’d always conflated the two in my head, but I suppose there’s no real reason for them to be considered the same thing.”

“Because they’re not,” Sonata said, and this time it was her turn to sound sullen.

“Hey,” I moved around to face Sonata and reached up to lay my hands on her cheeks and pull her down into a soft kiss. “I’m sorry I’m being such a downer,” I said as we parted, “I’m just…”

“A really loud thinker?” Sonata ventured playfully.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I agreed with a small laugh. “Every time I get stuck on something it fills my head up like an echo chamber.”

“Then talk to me about it,” Sonata said brightly. “I could listen to you talk forever!”

I felt my heart swell in my chest and my cheeks start to warm.

“I… I’m really happy, ‘Nata,” I said with a laugh, “it sounds so corny and dumb but you have no idea how happy I am right now!”

“You say that like you’ve never been happy before,” Sonata said it like a joke, but I could hear the undercurrent of concern in her voice. “You okay, Twi’?”

I nudged my glasses up and wiped my eyes with my sleeves, I could feel the gentle burn of tears trying to make their way to my cheeks.

“I feel like I’m having an allergic reaction,” I said with a dry laugh. “Like I’m allergic to being this stupidly happy.” I stepped in closer and wrapped my arms around Sonata completely, hugging her hard and burying my head against her chest. “I’m kind of a miserable person by nature, honestly, so uh, sorry about that in advance.”

“Wanna talk about it?” Sonata asked after a few minutes of me hugging the stuffing out of her. “I’ll listen.”

“I know you will,” I said softly, then I took a few deep breaths, stepped back, and said: “I was… bullied really badly growing up, like, constantly bullied, and I’m pretty sure it gave me a complex.”

Sonata took my hand and guided me over to a bench that lay under an awning near a street lamp, and we sat down.

“What happened?”

I swallowed hard and shrugged, trying and failing to look nonchalant.

“Kid stuff, I guess,” I replied after a moment. “They’d push me around, make fun of me, I’d get picked on because I was smaller and kind of a know-it-all as a kid.” I scooted closer to her as I spoke, and felt that old pain rearing up in my chest. “As I got older, it got worse, though.”

I shuddered, remembering my hellish middle school experience.

“I’d get picked on and made fun of by, like, a lot of kids,” I couldn’t stop talking, as soon as I started the words just fell out of me. “Some of them would hit me or steal my books, or worse… I’d get bullied out of the cafeteria and wouldn’t be able to eat lunch, and even hallways weren’t safe, eventually the only place I felt comfortable was the library.”

Sonata just hugged me harder and I let out a frustrated sob.

“Ugh, I’m sorry I’m so bad at this,” I pulled my glasses off and wiped at eyes again. “It’s our first date and I’m just… ruining it.”

“No, you’re not,” Sonata said firmly, turning to face me on the bench. “Why the heck would learning more about the girl I’m dumb for be ‘ruining’ our date?”

“Because I’m blotchy and snotty when I cry?” I replied, sniffling as I pulled a tissue from my pocket and started to wipe at my face.

“Here, let me.”

Sonata took the tissue and started carefully cleaning me up, and for a moment I was mortified. The moment lasted right up until I saw the look on her face; the calm smile and her gentle eyes as she wiped the tears from my cheeks and even under my nose.

Balling up the tissue, she underhanded it into the bin nearby before turning back to me and pulling me into her arms.

“See? Nothing’s ruined,” Sonata said as she snuggled against me.

“I… I guess anyone who can wipe up my nasty ‘crying face’ and still want to cuddle me afterward gets the benefit of the doubt,” I admitted with a small laugh. “God I’m a mess.”

“Everyone’s a mess,” Sonata said quietly. “Some people are just better at hiding it.”

I nodded and, for what felt like an hour, we just sat together and watched the world drift by. Couples moved to and fro on the boardwalk, and the snow fell lightly over everything, dusting their footprints in faded white.

For a while, it felt like the world had stopped moving. I rested my head against Sonata’s shoulder and she rested against me, and I found her hand with mine. I loved the feeling of her fingers linking up with mine. They felt like puzzle pieces that had slid together in just the right way. I especially loved the way she would occasionally turn and nuzzle against my hair, reminding me she was still awake.

Once, as she turned her head again, I turned mine too to stare up into those bright berry eyes of hers, and just… bathed in her smile.

“What’s up?” Sonata asked quietly.

“Kiss me,” was all I said, then leaned up towards her.

Sonata met me with her lips. I wasn’t sure how good of a kisser I was, and I certainly wasn’t in a position to judge if anyone else was any kind of expert, but I at least feel confident in saying that, whether or not she was very good, Sonata definitely had lips that were made for a good kiss.

Sonata’s mouth was wonderfully soft, and her lips matched up nicely against mine, and her nose tickled against mine playfully as she moved with me.

I let my hand find a place to rest on her waist, and felt her slim fingers trail along my neck and cheek. I liked that Sonata thought I was pretty… I don’t know if I agree with it, but I liked it.

As we pulled back, Sonata giggled and nuzzled the tip of her nose against mine, drawing a laugh from me.

“Yup, I still like kissing you,” Sonata said pointedly. “You’re a lot of fun to kiss.”

“That’s good because I’m pretty boring otherwise,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“No, you’re not,” Sonata replies, her voice firm. “You’re filled with light, Twi’! You shine so much!”

“What does that even mean?” I asked with a wry smile. “I’m pretty sure I’m not radioactive.”

“Technically, we’re all radioactive,” Sonata pointed out, to which I conceded the point, “but that’s not what I meant.”

Sonata shifted backwards a bit and took my hands, playfully running her thumbs over my palms.

“Even without our magic, my sisters and I can sense things about people,” Sonata leaned back on the bench and took my hand. “Aria is good at sensing emotional intensity,” I cocked my head questioningly at that. “More intense emotions are more filling,” she explained. “And Adagio is good at grasping the subtle overall mood of an area or crowd, which kept us out of a lot of trouble.”

“What are you good at?” I asked, feeling drawn in. It’s not every day you get to learn about the perceptive abilities of an alien species.

“Depth, I think,” Sonata replied uncertainly. “I don’t really know though, I just see people and some of them just shine… I don’t really know what it means other than that they’re incredible people, or they will be.”

“Will be?” I thought of Pinkie’s odd knack for ‘knowing’ things. “Are… are Sirens precognitive?”

Sonata shook her head. “No, at least I’m not, it’s more like I have a sense of where they’re going…”

“Like potential?” I wanted to be writing all of this down, but I hadn’t brought my notepad. “You can see what they’re capable of?”

“Maybe,” Sonata allowed, “or maybe it’s just that people with deeper emotions have the drive to be… more.” She turned to me again and smiled. “Like you, you shine so bright that I can’t look away.”

“I also may or may not have tried to destroy the world by tearing open unstable portals to other dimensions,” I grumbled.

“Sounds to me like you were just trying to escape,” Sonata replied quietly.

Her comment stopped me cold.

For years I’d lived with the guilt of what I’d almost done. The fabric of the space-time continuum had almost unraveled because of me, and I’d done it the moment I’d gotten my hands on power.

I barely remembered any of it, honestly, it was just a blur of manic activity and poor impulse control. I wanted to leave this world behind, desperately, it disgusted me in a way I can’t really describe anymore.

Vaguely, I remember looking at the world around me in contempt. I remember feeling how fragile everything was, and how all it would take was a snap of my finger and I could unravel whole portions of space. I remember…

I remember wanting to leave.

“I never thought about it like that,” I admitted in a small voice. “I only ever really thought about all the destruction I had caused,” I stared down at my hands and for a brief moment I could see the deep, dark violet skin of Midnight, “and how all it took was me getting my hands on power.”

“Power doesn’t make scared people less scared,” Sonata said in a voice that sounded much closer to her true age. “It just makes them more dangerous.”

“I… I made a mistake,” I sobbed, feeling my gut clench in shame. “And the only one who understood me was Sunset because… because she did the same thing, and I felt so relieved to be her friend!” I leaned against Sonata and let her wrap her arms around me as I cried. “She never blamed me, and she saved me! She was proof that, even though I messed up, I could be forgiven!”

I was such a mess. I hated how miserable I was being but somehow it didn’t seem to matter to Sonata. She just stayed with me, lending me her shoulder and her arms as my panic rolled through me.

“What if I’ve lost her forever, ‘Nata?!” My voice cracked as I rubbed at my face under my glasses. “What if I screwed this up forever?”

“I dunno, Twi’, I’m a Siren…” she pulled me close and sighed, “friendship isn’t really our thing, y’know? But I think she’s as messed up as you over this thi-”

Sonata froze, her eyes widening slightly as she went rigid and I watched a shiver go up her spine. Achingly slowly, she turned her head this way and that as if she were feeling for something more than looking. Sonata’s eyes were half-glazed and distant, and I felt an odd sense of worry well up inside me.

“Hey, ‘Nata?” I took her hand again and squeezed it. “You okay?”

“Why is she here?” Sonata whispered, and I saw a faint tightness around her eyes appear, the only hint of strain on her face.

“Who?” I asked quietly, scanning around us, “who’s he-”

“Seriously, Ari’, what’s your deal tonight?”

Now it was my turn to freeze.

Sunset Shimmer’s voice broke through the crowds as I turned my attention to the people around us, and she was clearly coming towards us. A quick glance in the direction of that familiar voice was all I needed to confirm the orange beanie and red-and-gold hair mixed into the crowd.

There didn’t appear to be anyone with her, but the crowds were tight enough that her shorter girlfriend was probably just obscured. Most likely the two were walking side-by-side, and I knew without a doubt that they’d be all but in front of us in less than a minute.

“C’mon,” Sonata tightened her grip on my hand and tugged me along with her, ducking low as she did and gesturing for me to follow suit.

We stayed below the line of the crowd as Sonata sidled around with eerie accuracy, as if she knew precisely where her sister and Sunset were at any given moment. Moreover, as we moved I realised she wasn’t just moving us about randomly, she was keeping us clear and putting us behind the two of them.

I turned to Sonata I followed her lead, intent on asking what was going on, when I realised something else.

Sonata was humming.

It was faint, almost impossibly quiet, but she was humming softly and as she did her eyes remained glazed over, as if she weren’t using them at all.

“Ari’, c’mon,” Sunset’s voice grumbled over the general murmur of the crowd. “Stop… Stop! What is your problem?!”

“My problem, Red, is that I fucked up!” Aria finally spoke up, her voice tense and angry. “Seriously, seriously, fucked up!”

Sonata pulled us into the lee of a street lamp where a small crowd was oohing and ahhing at the boats just as Sunset pulled Aria out of the crowd to the edge of the boardwalk where they leaned against the railing.

Aria looked as tense and pissed off as she had sounded.

She was wearing a long coal winter jacket similar to mine in style, and her hair was pulled back in a low tail and kept in check by her seemingly omnipresent green ballcap. Her eyes and mouth betrayed her mood, though, with the tense lines showing up as she stared out over the icy bay of Canterlot.

Sunset, on the other hand, just looked confused and concerned as she pulled her black leather jacket around her and moved closer to Aria.

“C’mon, babe, talk to me… what’s going on?” Sunset asked in a more gentle voice.

“We should go,” Sonata said softly, tugging at my hand. “Twi’?”

I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay and listen, to hear what Sunset and Aria had to say when they weren’t actively getting ready to beat my face in. I also wanted to know why Aria seemed so rattled… I’d never seen her like that.

Well, not counting the time Sonata had wiped the floor with her, I guess.

“Twi’, please,” Sonata pleaded, tugging a little more urgently.

“We’re fine, ‘Nata, they can’t see us, and the wind is wrong for them to hear us,” I assured her, patting her hand but not looking back at her.

“What did you fuck up?” Sunset asked.

“I picked that stupid fight with Twilight, Red,” Aria snarled. “She got huffy and took a jab at you, I took it personally and treated her like crap, and she snapped at me, and Sonata had to pull us apart! It was my fault.”

“She attacked you,” Sunset said in a deadly voice. “She tried to hurt you… I don’t care who provoked who, okay? Nobody but nobody hurts you! EVER!”

Aria groaned and kicked at the snow at her feet. “Yeah, fuck, I get it, okay? I’d probably be doing the same thing if it'd been you, but you’re not hearing me, here!”

“What am I not hearing?” Sunset’s voice was growing tired as she gestured.

Sonata pulled us apart!” Aria hissed, and Sonata’s tugging became more insistent.

“Please!” Sonata begged, “please can we just go?”

“What’s the big deal?” Sunset asked with a shrug. “The last time we went to a bar you flipped a dude twice your size into a dumpster for getting handsy on me, and Adagio is jacked to next week… I figure Sonata can take care of herself too, right?”

“That’s not my point,” Aria hissed, grabbing Sunset by her lapels and catching her girlfriend off guard. “I crossed a line, okay? Y’know how I know?” Sunset just shook her head. “I know because I made Sonata mad, got it? Sonata doesn’t get mad unless you really fuck up.”

“This is Sonata, though,” Sunset said with a small laugh.

Aria’s expression didn’t get any less severe.

“Sunset,” Aria said darkly, “I need you to know something, alright? I love my little sister, I would kill for her, die for her, hell… I’d even apologise to her.”

“Twilight, please,” now Sonata was basically pulling on me, trying to drag me away from them, but I pulled back.

“Stop it, ‘Nata!" I snapped, finally looking back at her. I want to hear the-!”

Tears were streaming down Sonata’s face as she gripped my hand tightly, her chest was heaving with the effort of keeping her sobs in, and I felt my ire drain out of me in an instant.

“But when Sonata gets serious,” Aria's voice continued, “she gets crazy dangerous.”

What?

I looked back, certain I’d heard that wrong. Aria was dangerous, that was obvious, and Adagio had basically threatened to disembowel me in the middle of the Lounge if I wronged her sister, but I had sort of expected that from the ‘protective elder sibling’ point of view.

But Sonata? Dangerous?

“What?” Sunset said with a small laugh, unknowingly agreeing with me. “You’re joking, right?” she looked around as if expecting a camera to come out of the crowd and announce that she was being pranked. “Sonata? Your baby sister Sonata? The one gentle Siren?”

Aria scowled. “My ‘baby sister’ might be the nicest, brightest, most gentle soul in the world, but she still has a bigger body count behind her than my sister and I combined.”

I turned slowly to look back at Sonata who was staring at me with stark terror writ across her face.

“Sonata?” I said quietly. “W-... what’s she talking about?”

“Please don't hate me!” Sonata sobbed almost incoherently, “I’m sorry!”

Then she was gone, turning on her heel and bolting through the crowd and out into the city.

Panic surged through my chest as I lost sight of Sonata, and I made my decision in that instant. I didn’t care what else Sunset had to say, or Aria, or anyone else for that matter. I cared about Sonata, and Sonata was sprinting in the opposite direction looking more scared than I think I’ve ever seen any single person in the world look.

Running on adrenaline, I pushed and elbowed my way through the crowds, keep my head low and muttering apologies as I did.

I managed to pull free of the crowds a few moments later and scanned frantically for the familiar wavering tail of arctic blue hair. I could myself panicking, my breath coming in heaves, and my heart pounding as I desperately tried to catch sight of her.

“Calm down,” I muttered to myself, “calm down… you’ve gotta calm down.”

Sonata might have had a point about relying entirely on logic, but keeping a cool head had a variety of benefits in a crisis. I was an old hand at repressing my panicked emotions, and that came in handy as I took several deep, calm, and controlled breaths, and focused.

What do I know about Sonata? Not much, but I have more data than I probably need. What does she like, what does she hate? What brings her comfort?

Extrapolate.

I scanned the area as I walked, keeping my eyes low for signs near or below ground level. Since I’d exchanged numbers with Sonata officially, I’d learned a lot of things about her profession.

Namely: the best bars are underground.

A sign caught my eye, black-bordered with a stylised red rose in the grasp of a black raven, both on a field of white with a set of stairs going down into a basement level entrance. Stairs that had a single set of footprints still fresh on the fallen snow that were smudged and unsteady as if their owner had been running and trying to keep their footing on the icy ground.

“Eat that, Sherlock,” I muttered with a smirk as I made my way across the mostly-empty street.

The sidewalk adjoining the stairwell led down to a small landing and a heavy-looking metal door. Raven & Rose was written in small script across it and nothing else, but had no other markers signifying it as a drinking establishment; just a details-spare sign and a few words.

I walked up to the door and pushed, and I had to brace my shoulder against the weight of the door to lever it open. It cracked and I slipped inside, and the temperature went from freezing to warm, dry, and comfortable. Everything in the bar was done up in shades of dark woods, from the long bar to the barstools, to the narrow booths and cushioned chairs.

Everything in the small bar radiated comfort.

And in one of the booths at the far end I saw a mop of arctic blue hair, still damp with snowmelt, huddled over and leaning on the table.

The bartender eyed me for a few moments, then looked over at Sonata, then back at me, shrugged, and went back to polishing the bartop. I took that as a sign that I was allowed to come in and made my way quietly over to Sonata who still looked insensate.

I stopped a good foot or two behind her, waffling on how to approach her. Or rather, on how to address what Aria had said. I didn’t have the right to hear that, not like that, not from someone else’s lips rather than Sonata’s. She had confided a few of the things that she and her sisters had been up to over the centuries, and it was a little mind-boggling to comprehend.

Nothing that suggested any truth to what Aria had claimed, though.

Of course, if it was true than I probably wouldn’t be super thrilled to discuss it with my potential significant other either.

After another moment of dilly-dallying, I decided that maybe this time discretion was not the better part of valor, and just reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey ‘Nata,” I said softly, and she stiffened. “I’ll… I’ll leave if you want me to but… I had to make sure you were okay.”

“Why?” Sonata asked in a small voice.

“Because… well, why wouldn’t I?” I said after a moment of thinking the matter over. “Seriously, why wouldn’t I?”

“You heard what my sister said,” Sonata replied, still not looking back at me.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask this question, but I knew it needed to be asked regardless, so I just bit the bullet.

“Is it true?”

Sonata nodded sullenly in response.

I wasn’t sure how to take that. On the one hand it meant she trusted me enough to admit the truth, on the other hand, it was kind of existentially terrifying to consider the implications of what Sonata may or may not have been involved in during her life.

“Do you want me to tell you about it?” Sonata asked, her voice gray and hollow.

I moved around to her side and knelt beside her, reaching out to take her hand and grip it. Her fingers were freezing, and her hands were shaking badly, and I pulled them up to my lips and kissed them softly.

“Yes… and no,” I replied. “I mean, what kind of scholar would I be if I didn’t want to know, right?” I felt her tense again, but before she could pull away I continued. “But I don’t care about that right now, alright?”

Sonata turned to look at me, her eyes red and puffy with tears.

“I… I did a bad thing, Twi’,” she said in a voice so small I barely heard it. “I did a really bad thing.”

“So did I,” I replied quietly. “But you still like me, right?”

Sniffling, Sonata wiped at her messy face with one sleeve, then nodded with a weak smile. “I… I sure do.”

“I would ather never know what happened,” I said, feeling my voice quake and crackle with emotion, “than know that I hurt you, ‘Nata, o-okay?”

For several moments, Sonata just stared at me with her eyes red and her nose runny. A few times she swallowed audibly, opened her mouth like she was going to say something, then shut it as whatever she was thinking vanished between her mind and her mouth.

Through it all, I never let go of her hand, and she never pulled away. And eventually she scooted back in the booth and pulled me onto the seat next to her.

“You really don’t care?” Sonata finally broke her silence, and I responded with a smile.

“I guess I don’t,” I said shakily, adjusting my glasses a little. “I mean, I’m definitely curious, but I wouldn’t want people to judge me for coming within licking distance of the apocalypse so… I’m willing to call it a blank slate if you are.”

Sonata inched closer to me, wrapping her arms around me and burying her face against the crook of my neck, and I felt her shudder for several moments as I returned the hug by patting her back awkwardly. She took several deep breaths before regaining her composure and pulling back from me, wiping at her eyes a few more times as she did.

“So… a-are we still girlfriends?” Sonata asked.

I smiled and blushed.

“Yeah… yeah, I think we’re still girlfriends,” I replied, then laughed a little nervously. “A~nd speaking of which, my mom and dad might have wanted to, uh, maybe invite you over to spend Christmas Eve with us, if you aren’t busy with your sisters.”

Sonata took both of my hands in hers and smiled that cute, radiant little smile of hers before tugging me closer and meeting my lips with a soft, chaste kiss.

“I’d love to,” Sonata murmured as she held me tightly. “And I’ll tell you, eventually, okay? I just… I need to get it straight in my head first.”

“I’ll wait,” I said quietly. “I trust you.”

“Thank you,” Sonata hugged me a little tighter.

“So… can I ask a different question?” I said after a moment, and Sonata pulled back to look at me with a faint look of worry.

“Uhm, sure, I guess,” she replied after a moment of consideration.

“How did you know that they were there?” I asked, shifting in my seat to get more comfortable. “Aria and Sunset, I mean, and how did you keep track of them?”

Sonata brightened considerably at the question, and her smile returned in force.

“Oh that’s easy,” she said with a laugh as she signaled for the bartender. “Remember how I said the three of us are kinda good at different things, and that I can see emotions as a sort of… shine?”

“Yeah,” I replied cautiously. “So you tracked them by their shine?”

“Well, yeah, kind of,” Sonata made a little circular waving motion with her hand. “Sunset shines a lot, like, she’s stupid-easy to see, but my sisters are even easier.”

“You guys shine, too?” I asked, feeling excited again as she explained.

“Nope! We’re the opposite!” Sonata replied with a laugh as the bartender approached. “Two gin and tonics,” Sonata said, breaking for off for a moment before turning back to me, “Siren’s absorb ambient emotions, taking in the energy people give off, right? So we’re more like black holes, or cold spots… and Aria is kind of a glutton, so whenever she’s nearby I can feel all the emotional energy in the area start getting yoinked towards her.”

“I’m almost certain that when humanity imagined having alien senses explained to them,” I said dryly, “they probably never thought it would involve the word ‘yoinked’.”

“Sounds like a you problem,” Sonata quipped with a smile, as our drinks were set in front of us.

Sonata took the glass up in her hand and held it up, and I rolled my eyes but mirrored her gesture, taking up my own glass and clinking it against hers.

“To Twilight,” Sonata said brightly, and I blushed, “the cutest nerd in the world.”

“You’re awful,” I mumbled, my cheeks reddening as I took a sip of my drink.

It was… okay.

I lowered the drink, a little disappointed as I stared down into the sparkling liquid. It certainly looked nice but there was something… missing from it. Something about it wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

“He shook it,” Sonata said, her lip curling with disdain. “Blech… I can’t believe he shook it.”

“What?”

“Gin,” Sonata said, holding up the glass. “You never shake gin, it’s delicate, and shaking it shreds the flavor!” she looked back down at the glass sadly before taking another drink. “It’s good gin too… what a waste, why would you even shake anything for a gin and tonic?”

I sat across from her, silently listening to her rant as I sipped at the drink. It wasn’t all that bad, but I suppose I probably didn’t have the same palate that Sonata had. It tasted a little off but it wasn’t the end of the world, and I was perfectly happy just listening to her talk with her usual animation.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” Sonata had been on a real roll with her rant when she suddenly clammed up and sagged back a little. “I get really worked up about cocktails and stuff, it’s stupid.”

“No it’s not!” I said with a degree of intensity that even caught me off guard. “I like listening to you talk! I like it when you’re excited about stuff! It’s… it’s cute.”

I tugged on Sonata’s hand, draping her arm over my shoulder and sidled closer to her as I did until I was I nestled warmly against her, stilling holding her hand as I took a deep breath and relaxed.

“Keep talking?” I asked quietly.

I swear I saw tears in Sonata’s eyes, but they were gone a moment later as she nodded excitedly.

“Yeah,” Sonata replied, smiling. “Okay, so… gin is really delicate because its flavor comes from juniper berries, right? And it gets sweeter as it gets colder but if you shake gin then…”

I nodded, closing my eyes as I listened to her explain the ins and outs of proper management of alcohol. Sonata had such a nice voice, especially when she was excited about something. I remember not long ago she told me she loved listening to me talk, and at the time it seemed kind of silly. But if her listening to me talk felt anything like I did now then… well, maybe she had a point.

5. A Warm Hearth

View Online

The car engine rumbled pleasantly in my driveway as I stared at my family home with a sense of trepidation.

This was something I’d never really mentally prepared for, mostly because it wasn’t something I’d ever thought I would have to prepare for. My entire life had been about pursuing my academic career until I met my friends, and even by then I’d pretty much come to terms with the fact that I had no real interest in romantic involvement.

So the idea of introducing my parents to my girlfriend had come as a shock to my system that I had only just begun to realise was something I had to process as we were pulling into the drive.

“You okay?” Sonata asked with a small, nervous smile as she reached out to take my hand.

I squeezed it and felt a touch of reassurance penetrate through the thick malaise of nervous energy that had settled over me.

“Is it weird that I’m not really sure?” I replied uneasily. “Because I’m not… sure, that is… at all.”

“Nervous?” Sonata asked.

“Insanely nervous,” I said, a small quaver in my voice. “Which is absurd since there’s absolutely no logical reason for me to be this nervous! My parents love me! They’ll adore you, especially since my mother had pretty much resigned herself to the fact that I’d be a spinster for my entire life.” I gave an oddly high pitched laugh. “She used to ask me if I was planning for kids! Then she was asking when I’d get a boyfriend, then a girlfriend, and I felt like she was just constantly lowering her standards hoping I’d eventually meet them!”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Sonata said quietly, sidling over in the passenger seat until she was right next to me. “I’ll bet she was just trying to understand you.”

“It didn’t feel like it,” I muttered sullenly. “My brother got married right out of graduation to his high school sweetheart, and they already have a daughter…” I curled up in the driver’s seat, hugging my legs to my chest. “I always felt like the second-best child, because no matter how well I did in school I’d never be what my parents wanted.”

“I don’t think I can help you there,” Sonata replied in quiet tone. “I’m the baby of the family, so I never really had the chance to meet my moms before they died.”

“Moms?” I asked with a raised eyebrow, and Sonata nodded.

“All Sirens are biologically female,” Sonata said with a vague nod, “they reproduce by melding their magical essences and triggering conception.”

“That sounds very… clean,” I said with a small laugh. “No swapping bodily fluids needed.”

“No, but… growing up a Siren you probably would’ve understood why logic isn’t always the best policy,” Sonata’s voice was distant, and there was a strain around her eyes. “A-anyways, let’s go in!” her voice brightened considerably. “I wanna meet your parents!”

“I… okay,” I started to try and interrupt her, but even I could tell whatever topic had been broached was a painful one. “Just, uh… be warned, my dad is kind of weird and gets really into Christmas.”

“That’s okay, my sisters barely even understand the concept,” Sonata laughed as she got out of the car. “Seriously, Aria still doesn’t get how the holiday works.”

“Technically our version of Christmas is a weird mish-mash of like, four different pagan holidays with some old Roaman court customs thrown in,” I replied with a smirk. “So I’m not really surprised… it makes only slightly more sense than Easter.”

“Easter creeps me out,” Sonata shivered as she stepped up beside me and looped her arm around mine. “All those weird bunny mascots give me the heebs.”

“Not a fan of mascot suits?” I asked with a small laugh.

“They so creepy!” she whined as she hugged close to me.

“They’re not that bad,” I nudged her a little as I leaned against her.

As we went up the steps onto the stone landing of the porch, I found myself hoping against hope that nothing would go wrong. I’d told Sonata that my parents would adore her and… they probably would.

But try and tell my anxiety that and see how far you get.

My parents are amazing people and I loved them dearly, but they are also very… normal, as such things went, especially my mom, and I was always very ‘not normal’. One of the reasons I feel so comfortable with Sonata is that I know she’s kind of not-normal in the same ways that I am, and that feeling of being understood is like an emotional analgesic.

I’m not really afraid Sonata will embarrass me, I mean honestly I can do that just fine on my own, even with my family. I’m more afraid that this will just be one more thing my mom wishes I’d done better.

I glanced over at Sonata, trying to reassure myself. There was no way my mom wouldn’t love her, she was one of the nicest people I’d ever met. Plus, her sense of style was significantly better than mine too, which I’m sure mom will appreciate, although I'll be the first to admit that’s a subterranean bar.

“I hope I didn’t overdress,” Sonata said shyly as we stopped at the door. “I’ve never done this before.”

“Me neither,” I laughed, “but I think… I think you look really good.”

Pretty? I mean, of course, but tonight Sonata didn’t just look pretty.

She looked… handsome.

Her dark, bespoke dress shoes were polished to a shine and her black dress slacks were starched and pressed. She wore a dress coat that had a thin mantle of soft pale-white fur, while the coat itself was a dark forest-green so deep it was almost black, with black accents, complementing her shirt which was fine black silk.

I narrowed my eyes at the shirt for a moment and then bent to examine the buttons.

“Hey, ‘Nata?” I asked, nodding towards the buttons and she glanced down. “Are those buttons real gold?”

“Uhm, yeah?” Sonata replied nervously. “It was a present… is that… bad?”

“Oh, n-no,” I answered quickly, straightening out as I did. “Just… you don’t see solid gold buttons very often, that’s all.”

“Really?” Sonata looked genuinely surprised. “It used to be pretty common.”

“Y~eah… that might’ve been a while ago, ‘Nata,” I said sheepishly, leaning in to kiss her cheek.

That was when the door swung open and Sonata froze like a cornered mouse as a full-blown Santa was revealed, complete with what even I was willing to admit was a creepily realistic mask of a smiling Santa face with rosy dimpled cheeks and expressive eyes that were on the unfortunate side of the uncanny valley and were less endearing and more ‘soul-searing’. I have no phobias whatsoever of mascots, but I’ll be the first to admit the the ghoulish rendition of the holiday spirit in front of me was probably the embodiment of that fear.

Oh dear.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” the Santa-ghoul bellowed in a voice that was unfortunately heavy with my father’s Germane accent.

My father is absolutely one of the gentlest, kindest men in the world with a heart as big as the sky and a brilliant mind. With that being said, hearing anyone bellow anything in a thick Germane accent automatically makes whatever you’re saying at least ten times more terrifying.

Sonata crumpled like a paper doll as her eyes rolled back into her head.

I staggered under Sonata’s dead weight as she’d managed to employ a deathgrip on my arm just before passing out. Unfortunately I have the arm muscles of a programming major, that is to say: none, and as dashing as it may have been to save my swooning girlfriend, what actually happened was that I squawked in alarm and fell over with her on top of me.

“Oh dear,” my father’s muffled voice emerged from the mask, neatly mirroring my thought from earlier.

Mittened hands reached up and pulled the mask off and my father was staring down at me in surprise with a guilty look on his face. He had an azure complexion with dark, midnight blue hair, and warm, amber eyes, and I thought I saw a hint of one of his awful holiday sweaters under the layers of Santa he was clad in.

“Uhm, is she alright?” He asked worriedly.

“NIGHT LIGHT WHAT DID YOU DO?!”

My father winced as my mother came storming out of the house like an oncoming thunderhead.

“Dad killed my girlfriend,” I grunted as I tried to shift out from under her.

Sonata was a lot heavier than I expected her to be, but I suppose she had a little more muscle on her than I did.

Yet another subterranean bar.

“Night Light…”

My mother’s name is Twilight Velvet, and if one were to look at my parents standing together they would assume that the small, matronly, kind-faced woman, with her short, tumbling fall of purple of cloudy gray hair, had a soft heart and a kind word for all, while her stern-seeming Germane husband would possess both the emotional range and conversational skills of a particularly obdurate slab of granite.

That impression would last all of a moment before interacting with them.

The glare my mother was leveling on my father was legendary in scale, and if looks could kill my mother would be both a widow and an arsonist.

“Y-Yes, meine Engel?” My dad said in a slightly nervous voice.

“That looks suspiciously like the existentially terrifying Santa costume I told you to throw away last year,” my mother said tersely as she eyed her husband up and down. “Which I seem to recall having been checked off of the honey-do list I left you…”

“Well, t-technically you only told me to ‘dispose of it’ and so I put it into storage,” Night Light replied with a shaky laugh.

My mother reached out, calmly put her hand on my father’s lapels that were sticking out of the neck of the decapitated Santa costume, and then jerked him forward until they were brow-to-brow.

“We will talk about this later,” she hissed, before turning back to me and smiling beatifically. “Welcome home, sweetie, I’m so sorry.”

“Please just lever my girlfriend off of me,” I rasped. “She’s headbutting my diaphragm.”

My mom took a few dainty steps forward then leaned down and got an arm around Sonata’s middle while draping the unconscious ex-Siren’s arm over her shoulder and heaved her off of me with impressive ease. Although I suppose after years of toting around my brother, who was notoriously rambunctious, that’s not terribly surprising.

I got up and brushed myself off as mom slipped inside with Sonata in tow who was slowly coming to from the sounds of it, and I shot a glare at my dad.

“Get. Out. Of. That.”

“Y-yes, dear,” my father looked suitably chastised as he trundled back into the house and up to their room.

I rubbed at my face with both hands as I tried not to scream in frustration while I walked into the living room where my mother was setting Sonata down on the couch.

“She’s beautiful,” Mom said with a smile, “and quite a snappy dresser at that… how’d you nab this one? I love you, sweetie, but you’re not exactly Casanova.”

“Yeah, Mom, I know,” I grunted, before muttering under breath, “after all, you remind me of that pretty much every day.”

Either she didn’t hear me or was pretending not to, either was possible with her, so I slipped by her and sat down next to Sonata as she slowly blinked herself back to consciousness.

“Hey babe,” I said quietly, “you okay?”

“U~h… yup,” Sonata nodded in a slightly drunken manner before looking around nervously. “Just… w-was there… a huge nightmare Santa Claus here a minute ago?”

“I’m afraid that was just my husband’s idea of holiday cheer,” Mom said with an apologetic smile. “My name is Twilight-”

“-Velvet, personal editor for A.K. Yearling, you’ve worked on her entire Daring Do series,” Sonata finished brightly, suddenly sitting up straight and looking perfectly alert with her hands folded neatly in her lap. “You also sit on the Whitewood Committee as a judge for the Whitewood Award for Literary Excellence, one of the highest literary honors in the nation.”

“I… y-yes, I am,” my mother looked lost for words which, if you knew her, you would understand was a rarity. “How did you know?”

“Well, I’ve read all the books, for one,” Sonata said with a small laugh, rubbing the back her head with a slight blush as she did. “And your name is right there on the inside cover of all of them, y’know? That and… when I got together with Twilight I was curious if you two were related so I looked it up…”

“You could’ve just asked,” I gave her a friendly nudge, and Sonata laughed weakly.

“I know,” she grumbled, “but it was kind of a weird question and I figured if I was wrong then no harm, right?”

“Twilight, I love her, we’re keeping her,” Mom said firmly, and I hung my head.

“Do I get a say in this?” I asked sullenly.

“Please,” my mother waved her hand dismissively, “you lucked out with this one, look at her! She’s smart, witty, pretty, and has a sense of fashion, so she’s clearly out of your strike zone-”

“-thank’s mom, love you too,” I muttered under my breath.

Sonata was shifting uncomfortably as my mom sang her praises and she reached out to take my hand, giving it an encouraging little squeeze.

“-but that’s the family habit, I think,” mother continued thoughtfully. “I mean, look at your brother, I love my son dearly, but Cadence is obviously out of his league.”

“Shiny is one of the youngest officers of the CPD to ever make detective, Mom,” I said a little defensively. “He had some of the highest scores in the academy and already has four commendations under his belt!”

“He also still plays that silly game of his with his friends every week,” she replied sternly, “and you’re speaking to the woman who once saw him try to chug two two-liters of cola back to back on a dare.”

“I… a-alright, that wasn’t his finest moment,” I allowed, and Sonata giggled as she scooted closer and leaned her head on mine.

As she did, I saw my mother’s face soften and her shoulders relax.

“I’m sorry dear, I’ve gotten so caught up in this, you’ll have to forgive me,” she said to Sonata, before holding out a hand. “My name is Twilight Velvet, and I’m so pleased to meet you officially.”

Sonata stood, straightened her slacks, and reached out to take my mother’s hand and give it a firm shake.

“Sonata Leviathus Dusk,” Sonata said formally, her smile calm and even. “Thank you so much for having me.”

I let out a slow breath as some of the tension left the room. So far so good, my father’s incredibly poor sense of greetings and holiday stylings notwithstanding.

“Very polite,” Mom said approvingly before shooting me a glance, “I’m liking her more and more.”

“She certainly sounds pleasant,” my father said brightly as he stepped into the room, now dressed like a normal human being instead of the ghastly Santa-creature he’d been moments prior. “My deepest apologies for earlier…” he said sheepishly he held a hand out to Sonata. “I get a bit overenthusiastic about Christmas, my name is Night Light, Twilight’s father, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“And a tenured Professor of Astrophysics at Canterlot University,” Sonata added, taking his hand. “You also were awarded the Heinespferd Prize last year, too, congratulations.”

“I was, and thank you!” His smile became more excited. “I wasn’t aware you followed astrophysics news!”

“I studied astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics for a long time, actually,” Sonata replied with a grin.

“You did?” My father said with even more enthusiasm, at the same time that I said the exact same thing in a tone of disbelief, drawing an odd look from both my mother and father.

“I… I didn’t know that,” I said quietly, feeling a little wrong-footed. “You never said anything about that.”

“I’m sorry,” Sonata’s voice became small and apologetic. “I… it’s been a while, I didn’t really think about it until now.”

“Where did you graduate from?” Mom asked, trying to diffuse the tension, “or are you still taking classes?”

Sonata froze like a rabbit and I watched her gaze turn slightly glassy. I was about to ask her what was wrong when she jerked back to life and staggered to her feet.

“Bathroom!” She said nervously. “M-May I use your bathroom?”

“Sure, it’s-” Mom started but Sonata grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet before she got any further.

“Twilight can just show me,” Sonata said with a weak laugh. “I get lost easy, it’s okay!”

I nodded carefully, playing along as I guided her out of the living room and up the stairs to the further bathroom so we could have a chance to talk.

“Uhm, ‘Nata?” I began slowly. “A-are you okay?”

“I have seven Masters degrees and four doctorates, Twi’.” Sonata’s reply didn’t answer my question but it did knock the wind out of out of me, metaphorically speaking, and I stared at her in disbelief.

“W-w… huh?” My jaw was hanging open as we stood at the top of the stairs landing. “H-How?”

“I was around when Cambridge was founded, Twi’,” Sonata said, lowering her gaze and shifting nervously from foot to foot. “I’m old, remember? And… and I love learning! I love learning so much, so… every so often I’d take a year or two off and go back to school! It was usually a good way to feed, too… there’s always lots of stress and high emotions in a university.”

“Right… I… I don’t know why I keep forgetting that,” I replied in a small voice.

“But I haven’t gotten a degree in a few decades, Twi’!” Sonata moaned. “I… I can’t just tell your dad I got my Dual Principle in Chymic Alchemy and Astrophysics from Vienna! That was five hundred years ago!” She clapped her hands over her face. “I’m a dropout! I haven’t even finished a high school degree in the past couple of decades!”

“It’s okay,” I said calmly, probably a lot more so than I was feeling, “we can figure this out, alright? Here’s what we’ll do…”

After a little conversing, I went back down to rejoin my family, while Sonata waiting a few minutes longer before coming down herself. I had gone back to the couch to wait for her while my father had taken a seat in his customary recliner. My mom has vanished into the kitchen at some point to retrieve snacks and cane back right about as Sonata slipped sheepishly back into the living room.

“I’m sorry about that,” Sonata said with a small laugh as she sat back down beside me. “So, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that… I’m kind of homeschooled.”

“Really?” My father looked intrigued as he leaned forward. “Your parents taught you?”

“N-Not exactly,” Sonata replied. “My sisters hired a lot of tutors… I wasn’t really a good fit in most regular schools.”

“We happen to know something about that, actually,” my mom said with a knowing smile as she glanced at me. I happened to have been in the same situation growing up. “But your sisters? What about your mother and father, dear?”

“Mothers,” Sonata quietly clarified to the tune of a pair of raised eyebrows, before adding, “and they both died.” I saw my mom and dad grow tense. “It was a long time ago… I never knew them. My oldest sister is probably the only one of us who has any really clear memories of them.”

“I’m so sorry,” Mom said quietly, stepping close to set a cup of tea in front of Sonata before kneeling next to her. “That was thoughtless of me.”

“It’s okay,” Sonata replied with a wan smile. “Like I said, I never knew them… I wish I had but you can’t really miss someone you never met, y’know?”

“I suppose that’s true,” my father said softly, “still, you’re remarkably well-informed for someone who never attended school.”

“She probably loves learning more than I do,” I put in, sidling closer and wrapping an arm around Sonata’s waist. “And she learns crazy-fast.”

“Ah! An auto-didactic learner, then,” my father grinned, as my mom returned to his side. “My grandfather was very much the same.”

“I always learned best on my own,” Sonata agreed. “Classrooms and stuff… they’re so stodgy and slow, I can’t pay attention.”

“Twilight was precisely the same way,” Mom said with a small laugh. “It’s why she mostly did self-directed study.”

“Ah! But enough chit-chat,” my father proclaimed, waving his hands dramatically. “There is food to be had, yes? Food and drink and good company! The finest pleasures in the world, in my opinion!”

I rolled my eyes as my father stood and stretched before making his way out of the living room with my mother in tow. Sonata doffed her coat and pulled me up with her as she stood up. I barely got to my feet before Sonata gave me a small tug and I stumbled into her arms.

“Hey-!” I barely got the word out before her lips pressed softly against mine.

Whatever protest I had died quietly as I pressed myself against Sonata, my hands coming to rest gently on her shoulders as her hands settled onto my hips.

“You’re so smart,” Sonata said shyly. “You were right, that worked perfectly.”

“Mmm…” Usually I was all for hearing about how I was smart, but now… “Shush, just kiss me.”

Sonata obliged, and I shivered a little as her hand traced across my cheek and down my neck. She was so gentle and although I’ve never been particularly touchy-feely, I was getting more and more addicted to Sonata’s touches. I’ve never felt so safe around anyone else, it always felt like if I was around someone else like this there would be some unspoken expectation that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill, but with Sonata… I knew that all she wanted was this.

Was me.

A small squee broke the silence behind me, and pulled back from my girlfriend to look over my shoulder and felt my cheeks color in embarrassment.

My sister-in-law, Cadence, was trying her absolute best to keep all of the noise in her to herself as she stood in the archway to the living room, eyes wide and face painted with glee. Behind her was her husband, and my brother, Shining Armor.

If there was such a thing as a paragon of beauty, that would be Cadence. Or more properly: Mi Amore Cadenza, last of the line of Cadenza, an ancient noble line from old Roam apparently. She was tall, with model proportions, perfect posture, and fine patrician features. Her skin was flawless, and her almost-gem tone hair had a natural bounce and curl to it that was enviable even for me. My brother cut a similar figure on the masculine spectrum; with broad shoulders, a square-cut jaw, an easy smile, and guileless eyes, he was charming in that boyish, endearing kind of way.

“Sorry!” Cadence kept her voice to a stage whisper. “I was trying not to interrupt!”

“Cady…” Shining’s tone was long-suffering as he set a hand on her shoulder. “Sorry, Twily, we should’ve said something when we got in.”

“It’s okay,” Sonata replied, covering my sudden non-verbal spell by stepping forward and extending her hand. “My name is Sonata Dusk, pleased to meet you.”

“Cadence Amore-Armor,” Cadence said genially, taking her hand and I saw my former baby-sitters eyes widen at the strength in Sonata’s grip. “You have no idea how happy I am to meet you, seriously. I was starting to think I’d never get to see Twilight kiss anyone like that!”

“CADY!” I cried out in annoyance from behind Sonata. “Really!?”

“Sorry!” Cadence said with a small laugh.

“My wife’s been pretty much over the moon since we heard the plan for tonight,” Shining said with a calmer smile, stepping forward to share a handshake with Sonata. “Please to meet you Miss Dusk.”

“You too, Officer Armor,” Sonata replied formally.

“Please, just Shining,” he said with a laugh. “And so long as you make my sister happy, I’m happy.”

“I hope I do,” Sonata said shyly.

I moved up to her side before she could say any more and slipped a hand around her cheek to pull her down into a soft kiss.

“You do,” I said, pointedly looking her in the eyes. “You make me very happy.”

“I. Am. Vibrating.” Cadence hissed under her breath to her husband, and I sighed, but I smiled a little as I did.

“The food is getting cold!” My father called from the kitchen, and Shining rolled his eyes.

“We’d better go, or dad’ll have a conniption,” he said with a laugh.

We walked into the kitchen, Cadence arm-in-arm with Shining, and me doing the same with Sonata. Charmingly, Sonata pulled a chair out for me before seating herself, and I could see a small nod of approval from my brother who had always had an old-fashioned sense of chivalry. Sonata hung her coat from the back of her chair before taking her own seat, just as mom served out the casserole she’d been working on.

Dinner was nice, and at least it was far more tolerable than most of my family dinners are since they always inevitably stray onto the topic of when I would get into a relationship. Hilariously, my Mom was a lot less talkative than normal, to the point that part way through I started to suspect she didn’t have a lot of things to ask other than when I was going to start dating which felt a little shallow.

“So I don’t think I heard, by the way,” Shining began as the plates were cleared. “What do you do for a living, Miss Dusk?”

“You can call me, Sonata, or ‘Nata,” she said shyly. “And I’m a bartender, actually.”

“Really?” My father leaned in with a look of surprise on his face. “Why? You seem exceptionally well-educated, after all, so I’m curious why you would settle on a job like that.”

Sonata frowned. “Because I love bartending,” she said a little tersely, and I remembered how defensive she got over my remarks about her bar the night we met, “I learn because I love to learn, and I bartend because I love to bartend.”

“S-She and her sisters own their own business, actually,” I joined in, trying to leap her defense with what I hoped was a good angle. “They hold equal shares in it, right?”

“We wouldn’t be able to keep ourselves stocked at all if they didn’t have my shares,” Sonata said proudly.

“That’s quite an achievement for being so young,” My mother put in as she sat down beside my father. “What business is it?”

Oh… crap.

“The Last Note Lounge,” Sonata said with a smile, and I saw my mother and father look thoughtful, clearly not recognizing the name.

Cadence and Shining Armor, on the other, stared agog at my girlfriend.

They obviously did.

Which meant I knew exactly the question that was about to come out of my brother’s mouth. He’s a wonderful guy, really, but he’s both predictable and a little tactless.

He is also, unfortunately, unobservant at times, as he didn’t see me making ‘shut up’ gestures at him from out of Sonata’s periphery.

“Uhm, n-not to be crude but… isn’t that a strip club?” Shining said uneasily, and I saw my parents suddenly looking concerned.

Sonata’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

“It’s a Lounge,” she replied tonelessly. “And I’m a bartender.”

“Oh my god, Twilight, did you meet your girlfriend at a strip club?” Cadence asked with wide eyes, and I felt my heart plummet. “That’s… I mean, I’m not judging-”

Liar, I thought bitterly.

“-but that… just seems really out of character for you,” she finished.

“Surely you’re exaggerating,” My mother said with a slightly forced laugh, “I’m sure it’s not-”

“No, they’re right,” Sonata broke in, her voice still cold and toneless, and I could hear that odd granite timbre to it like when she’d been threatening Aria. “We employ exactly one hundred and twenty-nine different exotic dancers of all genders, and before you ask, no, I’m not one of them.” She surveyed the table with a look I’d almost call imperious. “I’m just a bartender.”

With that said, Sonata stood up, gathered up her coat, gave a small nod of thanks to her hosts, and left the room with the heels of her dress shoes clicking loudly in the silence against the tiled floor.

Tension and silence was thick in the air for several seconds before I glanced up and leveled a furious glare at my family.

“Thanks for dinner,” I said in a heated tone before standing up and storming out of the dining room.

“Wait!”

“NO!” I shouted, whirling on my mom with so much fury that she stopped in her tracks and stumbled backwards. “No! I’m not waiting! I’m not going to listen to you judge my girlfriend or tell me anything anymore! I’m DONE!”

“Twily that’s-!” Shining started, but he clammed up as I spun on him too.

“You just couldn’t keep your mouth shut, huh?” I snapped. “Who cares if Sonata is a bartender?! Who cares if she works in a place with strippers!? I don’t give a sh-shit!” I swore, and I saw four pairs of eyebrows go up. I never swore around my family. “Sonata is one of the smartest, most beautiful, most incredible people I’ve ever met and you all made her feel like trash because she’s working a job that she loves with her family, that she loves, who are also doing what they love?!”

“L-Ladybug, I didn’t mean to-” Cadence reached a hand out, but before it got to me a slapped it away, putting a stricken look on her face.

“Go to Hell, Cadence,” I hissed, before turning on my heel and storming out of the house.

I barreled out of the front door and down to my car where I saw Sonata sitting in the passenger side of the seat with her face in her hands. I pulled the door open and I felt my heart crack as I heard quiet, muffled sobs coming from inside, and I immediately dove in and wrapped my arms around her, pulling her close and kissing the top of her head, her forehead, and anywhere else I could reach as she slipped her own arms around me and hugged onto me tightly.

“I-I’m s-s-sorry!” Sonata sobbed. “I m-messed up everything!”

“You didn’t mess up anything,” I said in a choked voice. “They’re idiots who can’t look past a job and see an amazing person, okay? I’ll take you over them any day, alright?”

“B-but they’re you’re family!” Sonata cried.

“Family understands you and supports you,” I said quietly. “My friends are my family… you’re my family… and them? I… I’m just related to them.”

Sonata stared at me in shock, sniffling as she did.

“O-On a related note…” I started sheepishly as I slammed the door shut to my car. “I might need a place to stay for a while… I think I’m technically homeless now.”

“No.”

I blinked in shock. “W-what?”

“Not… not the place-to-stay thing,” Sonata said quietly, taking my hands she did. “You can always stay with me, Twi’, b-but, no… your family… they care about you, I can tell they love you, and I won’t let you throw that away.” She lifted my hands to her lips and kissed them gently. “I know not all families are good, but yours… they’re alright… they’re good people… and they’re trying.”

“Sonata they hurt you!” I all but shouted.

“People hurt people when they get close,” Sonata said in a soft voice. “But it’s just because they don’t understand each other… they just have to understand each other, okay?”

With that, Sonata got out of the car and started walking back up towards the house as she wiped at her cheeks. I saw my Mom and Dad come out a moment later with Cadence and Shining on their heels, and I scrambled out of the car, desperate to stop another argument. I just wanted to go… to leave and get out of this situation.

I didn’t want to argue with my parents. I didn’t want to fight with my brother and my babysitter who was like my sister. I didn’t want to hear them fight with my girlfriend who I was finding myself more and more frighteningly emotionally attached to.

I just wanted it all to stop.

“It’s okay, Twi’,” Sonata said with a sad smile as she turned to face me. “They just need to understand you.”

Then she took my hand, pulled me close, slipped a hand around the small of my back, and held me against her as she kissed me long and soft. In that moment I felt as if she was inhaling… like a deep breath was being taken by the world around me and suddenly I had the strangest sensation of floating in a vast ocean that was filled with life. All around me there were voices, thoughts, and tremors of emotion that rippled through everything, and I think, in that moment, I understood very briefly what life was like for Sonata.

Then we parted, Sonata turned, opened her mouth, and she sang.

It… wasn’t a tune exactly. It was nothing like what my friends had described the Battle of the Bands as, with its flashing, brilliant displays of light and magic. This was far more subtle, and it was all carried on a single, clear, clarion note that bled into the air around all of us.

And suddenly I could feel everything.

I could feel my mom’s pain and fear, not for herself but for me. She was terrified for me, that I might not be taken care of after she was gone, and that I might never know what it was like to be in love. She was terrified that I would never have someone who would love me the way she thought, no, the way she knew that I deserved to be loved. She was so scared for me, and so ashamed that she could never keep up with me or understand me the right way. She loved me so, so much… and all she wanted was for me to be happy.

It was all she had ever wanted.

And Cadence. I could feel the bubbling black tar of shame that was filling her throat at how she had treated Sonata out of surprise and pure reaction. I could feel the stark, suffocating terror that she had done something unforgivable, that she had lost me forever, and it was like a shard of frosted steel lodged in her heart. Beneath that I could also feel the absolute joy and love she had for me, and how ecstatic she was that I had found someone who cared so deeply for me.

God, she cared about me so much, and I’d hit her!

Slowly, I turned to Sonata, and for a moment I thought I couldn’t feel her. Only for a moment, though, because as she met my eyes I realised I could feel her, in the same way you can feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. She was warmth in my heart and the soft touch of fingers wiping tears from my eyes, and the sound of laughter in my chest.

Sonata was everywhere. She surrounded me, and all around me I could feel one thing.

Oh god… she loved me. It was a small, newborn, fledgling thing, but she loved me.

Tears fell hard down my cheeks as the sensation faded, and I saw my mom and Cadence all but collapse backwards into their husbands. Somehow, Sonata had taken what the three of us were feeling into herself in one great breath and then sang it back out as a single, complete note of emotion.

“I… I think I love you, too,” I said unprompted, and Sonata’s face split into a bright smile.

“I’m so glad,” Sonata said weakly. “I just… I couldn’t let you lose your family, Twi’... not with how much they love you… I just couldn’t.”

“What did you do?” I asked in disbelief.

“Something stupid,” she replied with a small laugh.

That was when I saw the faint hint of scarlet leak out from the corner of her mouth. A moment later another trickle came from her nose, and she coughed, splattering a small glob of thick, nearly black blood onto the ground in front of her.

“O-oops,” Sonata chuckled weakly as I stared in horror. “That’s… probably b-bad…” she looked up at me plaintively.

“S-Sonata?” I said in a weak, hollow voice as I took a step closer.

“Don’t tell ‘Dagi,” she said in a tiny, plaintive voice.

It was the last thing she said before her face went blank and she crumpled to the ground for the second time that day.

6. A Table For Two

View Online

I was numb for the entire ambulance ride to Canterlot General. They let me ride along with Sonata, and the whole time I was gripping her hand and praying she would squeeze my hand back the way she always did.

My mother and Cadence were both in a state of shock. As far as I could tell Sonata had only extended whatever it was she’d done to the three of us, and not to my brother or my dad, but neither of my mom nor Cadence had been able to stop crying long enough to articulate what they’d felt.

In a way, I was lucky: I’d been subjected to powerful magic before, so I knew what it was like, and how intense it could be. My family, on the other hand, were very normal people and hadn’t ever experienced anything like what Sonata had done.

I just wish I knew what it was she had actually done.

I’d called emergency services in a panic, not sure what to do about Sonata who was suddenly unresponsive. She’d coughed up blood and was still suffering from a pretty bad nosebleed, and I was almost as terrified now as I had been when I’d been in the throes of Midnight’s tumultuous control. I couldn’t lose Sonata, not now, not right after I got the full emotional feedback of how she felt about me.

God, I could still feel it, like an echo of a memory. I knew it wasn’t my emotion but it was still so strong. I had no idea that Love was such a powerful emotion, I mean… yeah, I get it, there are all those Saturday morning cartoons talking about love and courage winning the day but this wasn’t the same.

It was literally powerful.

The ambulance rolled to a stop and I jerked out of my trance, looking around to see the EMT’s prepping to move Sonata to the emergency room.

“Excuse me, Miss?” One of them put a hand on my shoulder and I glanced over, he had a kind face, and he was looking at me with concern. “I need you to move so we can get the patient into the hospital.”

“O-Oh, uhm, yeah,” I nodded and scrambled out of their way. “I-is there anything I can do?”

“Well,” he looked pensive for a moment then looked back at me, “do you know if she has any family you could contact? Medical history? Anything the doctors might need to know?”

I did know that she had family, but she had begged me not to tell Adagio what she’d done before she’d passed out. I knew I should probably ignore that and call the Last Note anyway because I didn’t know any of the other things that the EMT had asked, but…

“Y-yeah, I’ll make a phone call,” I said quietly, backing up as they got Sonata out of the ambulance and the legs of the gurney lowered and locked with an audible snap.

The EMT gave me an encouraging nod before turning and helping his fellow wheel my girlfriend into the ER. I was terrified, my heart was hammering in my chest, and I wanted to just curl up and cry.

More than anything I wanted Sonata to be safe, though.

I stared down at my phone contacts and felt my breathing start to become a rapid staccato.

No matter what my personal feelings on the matter, I needed to make this call. I couldn’t call Adagio, or rather I wouldn’t unless I had no other choice, but there was one other sister I could contact.

The problem was two-fold: I couldn’t just call the Note or I’d run the risk of alerting Adagio, and I didn’t have Aria’s personal number.

But I knew someone who did and who had decent odds of being with her at that very moment.

Gritting my teeth, I tapped Sunset Shimmer’s contact number and lifted the phone to my ear, praying she hadn’t blocked me and that she wouldn’t just reject the call outright.

It rang four times, four agonisingly long rings before the call connected, and for a moment there was just dead air on the other side.

“H-Hello?”

//What do you want?// Sunset’s voice came through harsh and cold, and I felt my chest clench at the tight anger in her voice. //Talk, or I hang up.//

“I need to talk to Aria, Sunset,” I said quickly, my voice still raw with tears. “Please, I… I know you hate me, I know I don’t have any right to ask you for a favor, but I’m begging you, please let me talk to Aria!”

More silence, until-

//Twilight… what happened?// Sunset’s voice was suddenly worried, the anger in it was gone. Well, maybe not gone, but it had been submerged under real, genuine concern.

“It’s Sonata,” I sobbed, feeling the tears hit me hard again. “She’s in the hospital.”

I heard a sharp intake of breath, then the sound of pounding footsteps that I recognised as Sunset running, and the clatter of doors being swung open. I heard a few voices of alarm that faded into the distance, and then another door being slammed open.

//Babe! Phone Call! Catch!// Sunset snapped, but her voice was distant as if she were far from the mic of the cell phone.

I heard a muffled oath and curse followed by a sudden thump of soft impact, and a scrabbling sound as someone lifted the phone to their ear.

//What the fuck is going on?// Aria’s angry voice came through, and I sagged in relief.

“Aria, it’s Twilight, and I know you don’t have any reason to like me,” I started, trying to keep a hold on my panic as I spoke, “but I need you to get down to the ER at Canterlot General now! Sonata is in the hospital and I don’t know what’s wrong with her!”

//FUCK!// Aria snarled and I heard multiple crashes from the other line as she apparently started getting ready to go. //Don’t you dare leave her side, Sparkle, and I swear to the deeps if anything happens to my baby sister and I find out you had anything to do with it I will end you!//

“If it was really my fault,” I said quietly, “I’d let you.”

//Tch, damn it Sparkle, just… stick by her okay?// Aria said angrily. //I’ll be there in fifteen.//

“Thank you,” I sobbed, and then the line went dead.

I walked into the ER in a daze, glancing around looking for any sign of what I should be doing. I didn’t like feeling lost and directionless, I wanted to know that I was contributing, that was accomplishing something or that I was helping.

But there wasn’t anything I could do, not yet.

I walked up to the nurses station and cleared my throat softly to get their attention. A young woman, maybe a few years older than me with tired eyes looked up to meet my gaze.

“Yes?”

“U-uhm, I rode here with the ambulance carrying my girlfriend, Sonata Dusk,” I said quietly. “I just wanted to know what room she was in, and if I could see her soon?”

“Dusk… Dusk…” the nurse muttered as she looked down at her computer. “Ah, she was just admitted a few minutes ago… the doctor is probably getting to her now or will be in a few minutes, it’s not too busy at the moment.”

“So… w-when can I-?” I trailed off, still feeling a little numb.

“Ten minutes maybe,” the nurse said with a shrug. “Unless she needs emergency treatment or surgery, but the EMT notes say she was just unresponsive.”

“I’m scared,” I sobbed, “she just… collapsed, and I… I don’t know what I’ll do if…”

I saw a flicker of pain cross the nurse’s face, and after a moment she got up and moved around the desk to put her arms around me. She was a tall, spare woman with the look of someone who spent a lot of time on her feet. She lacked much in the way of soft lines, but I could feel the care she had for me and for the patients she dealt with.

“I’m sure everything will be fine, hon,” she said quietly. “Take a seat, okay? Maybe I can get you some coffee?”

“S-Sure,” I nodded, “coffee sounds good.”

“Well, wait til you taste it,” she said with a wan smile. “Our break room isn’t exactly a Neightalian cafe.”

I let out a weak laugh and nodded, thanking her as she helped me over to one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs in the lobby before bustling off. I was waiting maybe another six or seven minutes before she came back with a paper cup full of dark, steaming coffee and handed it off to me with a faint smile.

It tasted awful, but I drank it down anyway. It was freezing outside, and I was feeling worn thin. The coffee was about halfway gone when the doors to the ER slid open again with that faintly pneumatic hiss and I saw Aria enter looking frazzled and panicked. Sunset was on her heels with a look of worry on her face, and they both spotted me about the same time.

“You!” Aria snapped, crossing the distance with a scowl on her face. “What did you do to my baby sister?”

“Nothing!” I sobbed, “I swear I didn’t… I don’t even know what she did!”

“Tell me what happened,” Aria hissed, her beautiful face twisted into that strangely alluring glower of hers. “Don’t leave anything out, I need to know!”

So I told her.

I told Aria everything that had happened from when we’d shown up to my parents’ house to the fight in the dining room, up to whatever it was that Sonata had done in front of the house just before she’d collapsed. The whole time Sunset just watched me, listening to my story with a carefully schooled look of impassivity on her face.

“Horseshit,” Aria said after a moment of silence once I’d finished my explanation.

“Babe,” Sunset said gruffly.

“S-sorry, bullshit,” Aria corrected herself.

“Still kinda racist to minotaurs, but whatever,” Sunset shook her head and sighed.

“It’s the truth!” I said stiffly, feeling a small surge of anger. “I swear that’s everything that happened!”

“Your stupid pastel friends took our magic away years ago,” Aria said grimly. “And I’ve mostly gotten past that, okay? But you just described my baby sister using magic! Which we don’t have anymore, so it’s bullshit.”

“Your sister said what she did wasn’t magic, though,” I insisted. “She always said it was just because she understood what Sirens were better than you and Adagio!”

“Wait, wait,” Sunset stepped between us and looked pointedly at me. “You said she fell unconscious right after she did her thing, right?” I nodded at that. “So when did she explain that?”


I bit my lip and between the two of them for a few seconds before sighing, and nodding.

“Sonata can… do something to her drinks she makes,” I said quietly. “She kisses them and they glow a little, and then when I drink them I can… I can feel something.” I shivered a little at the memory of the Twilight Rose, it had been so intense I could still feel a touch of the giddiness it inspired. “It’s like, she puts a tiny touch of whatever she is into the drink.”

Aria’s eyes widened for a moment, then she scowled again and cursed witheringly. “Sonata you empty-headed idiot!”

“What?! What is it?!” I felt panic surge in my chest as Aria’s face paled.

Even Sunset looked alarmed at the expression she was wearing.

“It’s… ugh, I don’t know, I’ve only ever seen something like that happen once,” Aria spoke in a low voice and I felt my skin crawl at the haunted look on her face. “It was back in the seventeen hundreds… Adagio had lost her shit, and she was taking it out in every village in a ten-mile radius.”

Sunset reached out and laid a hand on Aria’s arm carefully. “What happened?”

“I’m not gonna go into it, okay?” Aria said quietly. “It’s not my story to tell, and Adagio wants to leave it buried, especially now that she’s with that posh cellist,” Aria sighed and shook her head, “but the gist of it is that a Siren can… throw back emotions they’ve taken in.”

“Hold up,” Sunset said worriedly. “Way back when we first got together you said you couldn’t eat anything but me’ and when you tried you almost threw up…”

“Yeah… sorta like that,” Aria confirmed with an uncomfortable look on her face. “It’s… not exactly the same, but it’s not healthy for anyone involved”

Sunset’s eyebrows shot up as she glanced over at me.

“Has… has Sonata been hurting Twilight?” she asked in a low voice.

“Why would you care?”

For a moment I couldn’t believe those words had actually come out of my mouth, but they were spoken before I could even think about it. I looked up at Sunset who was staring at me like I’d shanked her, and swallowed hard before fixing her with a hard look, then turning my gaze back to Aria.

“O~kay…” Aria said awkwardly. “So… that happened, and I’m pretty sure we’re gonna unpack whatever that was after my sister is out of the hospital?”

“Nothing to unpack,” I replied evenly. “And no, Sonata isn’t hurting me.”

“How would you know?” Sunset asked quietly, she still looked a little on edge from my verbal lash-out. “Seriously, how?”

“How did you know Aria wasn’t just taking you for a ride?” I asked bitterly, and Sunset flinched. “You don’t get to slap me over that and then try to call me out on the same thing, even if I did cross a line.”

Aria blew out a breath and stepped between Sunset and me.

“Alright ladies, cool the fuck off,” Aria said sternly. “Which is probably the only time I’ve ever said those words, but seriously, we’ve got more important things to deal with right now, namely: Sonata, agreed?”

“Agreed,” I answered before Sunset could pursue the topic any further.

I don’t know why I was feeling so defensive, but just seeing Sunset put my hackles up now. I couldn’t relax or concentrate, I couldn’t focus like I normally could, and it was leaving my temper frayed and unsettled.

“Miss?” I looked up to see one of the EMT’s approaching. “Did you manage to…?”

“Y-yeah, this is her sister, Aria,” I said, gesturing at the middle Siren.

“The nurse should be out in a moment to talk to you,” he said, turning to Aria. “Any medical history or allergies you can think of would be helpful, I’ve gotta go, though, so… I hope things work out.”

“Me too,” I replied quietly.

True to the EMT’s prediction, a nurse swung by moments later and Aria began speaking to her quietly off to the side while Sunset and I sat awkwardly across from one another on opposite aisles of the ER waiting room.

It was quiet, and I’d always hated how hospitals smelled; a strange combination of contaminated and antiseptic. It was as if there was just a little too much of the scent of industrial cleaner in the air for anyone to be confident that the place was actually sterile. Every so often a nurse would bustle past with the look of someone who was in the midst of doing far too many things at once to notice our existence, and the occasional patient, but overall… it was quiet.

“Are we going to talk?” Sunset asked after a long stretch.

“Should we?” I replied softly. “I feel like you said everything you needed to say back at the Last Note.”

Pain and guilt lanced across Sunset’s face at the mention of that night, and I saw tears spring up in her eyes. Her gaze was suddenly nailed to the ground like a weight had fallen over her.

“W-what you said over the phone,” Sunset began in a small voice. “That I hate you?”

“I understand,” I said, pointedly not looking at her.

“W-wait, I do-”

“Miss Sparkle?” A doctor had approached unbeknownst to either of us, and the pair of us almost jumped out of our seats in surprise.

He was a small, balding man with narrow features and soft, brown eyes, a dark-gray complexion, and a pair of half-moon spectacles perched on his nose. He wore a white coat with a doctor’s badge pinned to it, and he looked tired.

“Yes?” I stammered, standing up quickly and feeling my heart start to race.

“Miss Dusk woke up a moment ago,” he said, and I felt my heart leap to my throat as relief swelled inside me. “She asked for you almost as soon as she was coherent.”

“Twilight.”

I turned just in time to see Sunset reaching out towards me, and I know… I know intellectually that she was just reaching for me. I know she was just trying to extend her hand.

I still flinched back when I saw her advancing on me, and felt a twinge of guilt as I watched the color drain from Sunset’s face as she slowly pulled her hand back.

“Miss Sparkle?” The doctor repeated my name, and I tore my gaze away from the pained expression on Sunset’s face.

“Y-yeah, I’m coming,” I replied quickly, moving to follow him.

I didn’t look back.

Following the doctor, I kept my eyes down as we passed several rooms, a couple of nurses’ stations, and a few orderlies moving patients between the halls.

“Is she alright?” I asked after a moment of silent walking, and the doctor glanced over his shoulder at me.

“Yes, at least as far as I can tell,” he said with a look of puzzlement. “I honestly couldn’t say what happened… as near as I can see she’s simply suffering from a case of severe exhaustion and perhaps malnourishment, are you family?”

“I’m her girlfriend,” I replied.

“Ah… well, not to put too fine a point on it,” He started a little warily, “but do you know if Miss Dusk suffers from any kind of eating disorder?”

That’s one way to describe it, I thought with a touch of bitter amusement.

“She doesn’t have an eating disorder,” was what I actually said. “Actually I think it’s something that runs in her family, her sister is outside right now.”

“Genetic, then?” The doctor remarked with a look of curiosity. “Interesting, I’ll speak with the sister then, Miss Sparkle, this is Miss Dusk’s room, here.”

He gestured to a small room with a single bed and a beeping monitor, and I thanked him quietly before slipping inside. I saw Sonata’s coat hanging from a rack by the door, and her shoes were set to the side of the wall.

“Hey,” came a raspy voice from the bed, and I sighed softly in relief at the sound of Sonata’s voice as I made my way to the bedside.

“You look awful, ‘Nata,” I said gingerly as I pulled up a chair and sat down beside her, reaching out to take one hand that was resting on her blanket.

She did look awful.

Sonata’s face was sallow and sunken, and her eyes had a strange, dazed look to them that gave off the impression of a mental inpatient who wasn’t all there. Her hair hung lank and faded around her head in a halo of drab aquamarine, that fell around her face and her rumpled clothes, and I reached out instinctively to brush a few strands from her eyes.

“I know…” Sonata said with a small laugh. “But I’ll be fine.”

“What did you do?” I asked, feeling a hard edge of tears threaten my words. “You scared the daylights out of me!”

“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I needed you to understand each other though… I couldn’t just… just let you lose your family.”

“That doesn’t explain-”

“Before we were hit with the Elements,” Sonata cut me off, looking a little ashamed as she did, “we would take directly from the people we fed on, and it would hurt them… I never liked it… but now we just sort of soak up the ambient power.”

“How does that work?” I asked in a quiet voice.

“We create an empathic gateway,” Sonata replied with a shrug. “You’re a scientist, Twi’, so… think of it like a black hole but instead of capturing everything, it only captures specific wavelengths of energy, emotional energy,” she explained carefully. “It’s like a quantum vortex, a zero introduced into the emotional wave function of the world around us creating a kind of sinkhole… a one-way funnel that sieves power from the air and lets us feed on it.”

I… actually followed most of that. What really shocked me was that Sonata could speak in those terms. I’d known she was a lot smarter than she let on but it took the casual manner in which she referenced advanced quantum mechanics to really grasp that Sonata was probably as smart, or smarter, than I was.

Something about what she said stuck out in my mind, though.

“What you did wasn’t one way,” I replied, narrowing my eyes at her.

Sonata nodded guiltily.

“I’m the only one who can do it, I think,” she said in a small voice. “I’ve always been able to control my feeding a lot better than my sisters… I don’t even really need to feed from peoples auras like my sisters do, actually, I can eat normal food and draw out the residual emotions of the people who made it.” She fidgeted awkwardly as she explained. “W-Well, now I can, anyway… before when we had our heartstones we needed a lot more energy and… and… well, I don’t do that anymore.”

“How does that even work?” I asked in disbelief.

“Do you know what psychometry is?” Sonata asked, and I had to stop and wrack my brain for a moment before I remembered.

“That’s like… reading the past of an object, right?” I asked, furrowing my brow. “That’s just a charlatan’s trick.”

“For humans, maybe,” Sonata agreed. “But people really do leave behind imprints of emotional energy all over the place, just ask my sisters.”

“And Sirens can sustain themselves on that?” I raised an eyebrow at that. “Wouldn’t that be like a person trying to get enough water by licking the ground where it rained?”

Sonata giggled, then broke into a coughing fit, and I immediately leaned in to hold her hand with both of mine, feeling panic well up again as she hacked and coughed. Eventually, though, the fit subsided, and she chuckled quietly.

“I guess,” Sonata replied. “I never liked hurting people, though… so I never took as much as Adagio or Aria… it’s why I was always weaker.”

“You still haven’t explained-”

“I linked your mom and Cadence to you, through me,” Sonata said finally, “by creating a two-way tunnel through my… uhm… Siren’s don’t really have a word for it but I guess you’d call it my soul?” She coughed quietly, then said a little nervously, “e-except I don’t have a heartstone to hold all my power anymore, so when I opened up the gate I sort of emptied myself out in the process, and since I wasn't feeding I kinda... stayed empty.”

For a few seconds I just stared as I tried to process her explanation, and Sonata grew slightly more sheepish-looking by the second.

“W-wait… is that why I felt you, too?” I asked slowly, my mind coming to grips with what she was talking about. “When… when you linked us, right at the end… I felt you.”

“Yeah,” Sonata nodded weakly.

“So… that thing I felt?” I pressed, finally gaining an understanding of exactly what Pinkie meant when she said ‘nervouscited’. “About how… how you felt about me?”

Sonata blushed adorably.

“Y-Yeah, that was real,” she admitted, squeezing my hand with hers weakly. “I really, really like you, Twi’, like… more than I’ve liked anyone, not counting my sisters but that’s different, y’know?”

A part of me started analysing and overanalysing like it always did, and there was a lot of ‘too fast’ and ‘too soon’ countered by ‘well she didn’t declare her love’ and ‘it was just a feeling of something starting’.

I quashed all of that, pushing it back as I remembered Applejack’s words.

You gotta make that decision, you gotta decide if you’re gonna trust her.

I made that decision when I’d asked Sonata to be my girlfriend, and I wasn’t going to let the fact that I’d felt the full weight of how much she cared about me scare me away.

Scooting my chair closer, I leaned in and wrapped my arms around Sonata, pulling her close.

“Take what you need, okay?” I said softly. “I trust you.”

Her eyes widened slightly as I pressed my lips to hers and we kissed, and I felt something move around me. It was like I was deep beneath the water surrounded by a gentle current, and something… immense. A living being orders of magnitude greater than me with a mind that spanned a stretch of time so vast I couldn’t even comprehend it.

“HEY!”

The connection faded slowly, not unlike waking up from a deep sleep.

“Get off her! You’re going to… kill… her?”

Aria’s voice went from outrage to confusion, to shock, and I opened my eyes to see Sonata leaning over me. At some point, I’d laid down on the bed beside her, and she was cradling me gently and she looked far better than she had a moment ago; the color had come back to her face, and there was a familiar vivacious glint in her eyes that hadn’t been there before.

“I’m okay,” I said quietly. “I’m… I’m just tired.”

And I was.

Whatever it was Sonata had done had taken something out of me, but it felt more like I’d just had an arduous day and needed to sleep than anything dangerous.

Aria and Sunset were both standing at the door looking tense and shocked as I turned my head to regard them.

“It’s alright,” I assured them with a faint smile. “She wouldn’t hurt me.”

Aria glanced between the two of us with a look of trepidation, her eyes wide and worried. It was a strange look for the more belligerent of the three Siren sisters, and it actually cheered me a little to see such a human expression on her face.

“How did you do that?” Aria asked, her eyes fixed hard on Sonata. “You were completely dry, I could feel it from all the way in the lobby, ‘Nata, you were like a hole in the air… you had nothing in your tank.”

Sonata moved gingerly until she was laying down beside me, and she curled around me protectively while still staring at her sister.

“I… I only took what I needed, okay?” Sonata answered quietly. “I didn’t hurt her.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it!” Aria snapped harshly. “You took from her the same way we used to! How?! How did you do that without a heartstone?”

For a moment Sonata look afraid, and out of instinct I reached out and took her hand, squeezing it tight, and I looked over at her.

“It’s okay,” I repeated, this time looking directly at Sonata. “Remember? I told you, I trust you.”

Sonata swallowed hard, then nodded.

“T-There’s something I never told you,” Sonata said quietly to Aria. “Adagio may have built the stones but I designed the thaumic matrices, so I’m the only one who knows how they actually worked and… I just designed them to let you two do what I could already do… feed by force.”

“W-Wait, that’s how all Sirens feed, though,” Sunset broke in, stepping past Aria. “There’ve been a few documented encounters… they sing and drain.”

“Right,” Sonata confirmed, nodding slowly. “Sirens sing and they drain, but that’s not what we did, remember? Remember the Cafeteria? Remember the Battle of the Band tryouts?”

Sunset’s eyes widened. “You didn’t drain them… you made them fight.”

“The stones let my sisters open a two-way empathic gate,” Sonata explained, her voice thick with guilt. “It let them pour their hate and anger into everyone else, stir it up, then drain it back… it made a feedback loop that let them take and take until their prey were just husks.“

“Feeding by force…” Sunset whispered, horrified. “Written’s Quill… you didn’t mean forcibly taking energy, you meant it let you force you prey to make food for you.”

“It let my sisters do it,” Sonata correctly gently. “I’ve always been able to.”

“Even now?” Aria asked in a neutral tone. “You… you can feed like we used to even now?”

Sonata nodded, shamefaced with tears in her eyes.

“You can control people like we used to?” Aria pressed.

I watched a small trickle of blood leak out from the corner of Sonata’s mouth and she bit into the side of her cheek as she nodded again.

“B-But I don’t want to!” Sonata sobbed. “I never wanted to! It hurts, Ari’! It hurts when I do it! It burns and I don’t like it!”

“Is that true?” Sunset asked in a dark tone of voice. “How do I know you aren’t controlling Twilight?”

“Stop!”

All three women jumped slightly as I forced myself to sit up and glare at Sunset. My head was swimming and I was exhausted, but I slung my legs over the side of the bed and stood up shakily as I stood up to her.

“She’s not controlling me!” I snapped. “She’s not hurting me! She’s not taking anything away from me that I’m not completely okay with giving her!”

“But-?”

“And you don’t even care!” I snarled, stepping forward as my temper reared its head. “You said it yourself, that you don’t care how good of friends we were! WERE! Past! Tense! Sunset! I’m not stupid, I know you said it like that on purpose! We’re…” I had to bite my lip to keep from sobbing as I spoke. “We’re not even friends anymore!”

“Twi’... I didn’t mean… I was angry…” Sunset stammered, her eyes wide and teary. “I swear I didn’t mean it.”

“Please stop fighting,” Sonata had clambered out of bed to stand between the two of us and across from her sister. “L-Look, I’ll do it again, okay?” Sonata smiled at me weakly and took my hand. “I’ll link the two of you so you can understand each other! You’ll be able to feel how each of you feels about one another and-”

“NO!” I hissed, staring at Sonata with terrified, furious eyes. “I… I don’t want to feel whatever Sunset feels for me.”

“W-why?” Sonata asked quietly. “Why don’t you want her to understand? Why don’t you want to-”

“Because I hit her…” Sunset said softly, and Sonata’s words died on her tongue, and even Aria looked shocked. “That night at the Lounge… when she got into a fight with Aria at the front door, I went into the back to wait for her and when she came out I hit her.”

“I… I called you and told you what happened so I could apologise for hurting your friend,” Aria said, looking a little betrayed. “I felt bad that I’d lost my fuckin’ temper, Red… I didn’t mean for you to go the fucking warpath.”

“Get out.”

The words were deep and furious. It was the sound of bedrock cracking beneath the weight of the ocean or the rumble of a distant thunderhead, and we all looked up to see Sonata staring with wide, expressionless eyes at Sunset.

“Get… out.”

“We should go, Shimmer,” Aria said quietly.

“But-”

“We’re Siren’s, Red, and you hit her mate,” Aria continued, “if we don’t leave then Sonata’s going to try and kill you.”

The absolutely matter-of-fact way that Aria said that made both Sunset and I shiver as Aria tugged Sunset’s jacket, pulling her out of the doorway and back into the hospital hall.

“I’ll talk to her, ‘Nata,” Aria said quietly as she met her sister's stony gaze before leaving. “Thanks for holding back.”

“It’s okay, ‘Nata,” I said after they’d cleared out, stepping between her and the doorway she was still staring at with those empty eyes. “I deserved what I got there… I-”

“Please don’t say that,” Sonata said stiffly before looking down at me. “No one deserves to have someone who loves them, someone that they love, hurt them… not ever.”

“Sunset loves Aria,” I replied in a tight voice, “she… she doesn’t-”

“She does,” Sonata said quietly. “You can’t lie to a Siren, at least not about how you feel… she does love you.”

There are times that I wished I could believe that Sonata would lie to me to try and make me feel better. If I ever thought she was the type of person to do that, then hearing that Sunset loved me probably wouldn’t have hurt so much. Tears fell slowly down my cheeks as I stared at Sonata who just returned my gaze sadly.

“But she hit me,” I whispered.

“Humans aren’t perfect,” Sonata replied, lowering her gaze. “But what she did was her fault, not yours.”

It felt like there was a cold vise gripping the inside of my ribcage. Everything in my chest felt tight and heavy, and suddenly my breathing started to falter. My vision tightened and narrowed, and everything had a strange, gray film over it.

“Twilight?” Sonata said my name and I thought I heard worry in her voice, but it was hard to tell because it sounded like it was far away. “T-Twilight? Are you okay?”

“It’s… It was m-my fault,” I stammered, trying to catch my breath as I did. I couldn’t though… and my chest felt so tight. “S-Sunset didn’t d-do anything wrong! I did! I… I d-”

The room suddenly seemed to spin on its axis as blackness closed in around me.


I came back to consciousness to the sound of song, and my whole body ached like I’d just run a mile without stretching. It took me a moment to realise I was back on the hospital bed, and Sonata was laying next to me, her head propped up on her arm as she sang in some strange, flowing language that reminded me of something vaguely Middle-Eastern, but with an odd, almost hissing quality to it.

“Feeling a little better?” Sonata asked softly as her song tapered off and she curled up a little closer to me. “I was really worried for a minute.”

I turned and rested my head against her chest silently, and she wrapped her arms around me.

“Twi’?”

“It has to be my fault,” I whispered in a small voice. “It has to be.”

“Why?” Sonata asked gently, not probing, just asking.

“Because Sunset is a better person than me,” I replied, shivering. “If she could lose control like that… then how could I possibly-” I choked up and swallowed thickly. “How can I have any hope at all?”

Sonata made a soft sound in the back of her throat, like a sob almost, and pulled me closer, and I felt her lips brush my forehead as she clung onto me and held me tight.

I leaned into it, and for a little while it felt like she was the only thing holding me together. For so long I had seen Sunset as something between a friend and an idol, someone I was always reaching towards… someone who had faced the same things I had and come out of it shining like a beacon, with all the verve and confidence I wished I’d had all my life.

And then she hit me.

Twice.

“You should talk to her,” Sonata said finally. “Even if it's scary… you should.”

“Why?”

“Do you want to lose her forever?” Sonata asked, she wasn’t pushing the issue but I felt the pressure nonetheless. It was a question I had steadfastly avoided asking myself anytime I thought about Sunset lately. “Do you want her back?”

The minutes stretched out until finally, I worked up the courage to admit what I already knew.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Does that make me horrible?”

“She hurt you,” Sonata replied softly. “You don’t have to forgive her.”

“But she forgave me for so much!” I said almost frantically. “She forgave everything I did during the Friendship Games! She’s stuck by me for everything!”

“Friendship isn’t a bar tab, Twi’,” Sonata said after a moment of thought. “It’s not something you have to extend credit to, and it’s not something you pay off… you have to decide if you want to let her back in.”

“I’m scared,” I confessed in a tiny voice.

Sonata hugged me a little tighter. “It’s okay, I’m scared a lot too.”

We laid there for another several minutes before I finally worked up the courage to wipe my eyes and look up at her. Sonata was just staring down at me with that smile, beatific smile of hers, and a little bit of her calm seeped into me as I leaned up to kiss her.

This time, I didn’t hold back.

All my life felt like it consisted of different flavors of holding back. I was always holding back how smart I was, so I wouldn’t chase away people who didn’t like that. I held back on things I wanted, so I wouldn’t seem needy. I held back on things that made me uncomfortable, so I wouldn’t alienate people who thought I was a prude or judgmental.

I didn’t want to hold back on how much I cared about Sonata anymore.

Gently, I parted my lips and Sonata responded in kind, tentatively deepening the kiss as I let my hands caress her cheek and neck, down to her shoulders, reveling in how soft she was.

She touched me too, gently… always gently. It was like she was afraid she would go too far and I would pull away. Maybe that was why I trusted her not to go too far, and for the first time in my life let myself relax under someone else's hands.

I trusted Sonata.

Several minutes later, we parted, and my breath was coming in slow, heavy gulps as I stared up into Sonata’s eyes. I didn’t need any quantum vortexes to tell me how she felt about me now, I could see it in the way she was looking at me.

She looked at me like she loved me.

I never knew what that could feel like until now.

“Hey, ‘Nata?” I began quietly and smiled as she nuzzled her nose against mine in reply.

“Yeah?”

“Uhm, I know it’s sort of early,” I started, “a-and maybe I’m just kind of fed up with doing things the slow way my whole life… but… c-can we start saying it?”

Sonata raised an eyebrow in question. Something I’d seen both of her sisters do, and I was starting to suspect it was a family habit.

“Y’know… saying… uhm…” I felt my chest tighten again, but this time it was in anticipation. I pushed myself past my nervousness, knowing Sonata would never judge me, and just took the dive. “I… I love you.”

Sonata’s face lit up.

I don’t know if I’ve said it before, but Sonata’s smile is literally my favorite thing in the world now. It’s so pure and guileless that I can’t help but feel proud and happy right along with her every time she smiles for real. There’s always that description of smiles that light up a room, but it’s more than that.

When Sonata’s smiles it lights up my heart. Everything just feels better when she’s smiling. Everything feels lighter and more fun and just…

Better.

“I love you, Twilight,” Sonata said in the shyest, smallest, happiest voice I’d ever heard from her.

I leaned in and kissed her, a gentle peck on the lips.

“I love you too, ‘Nata.”


Sonata was discharged from the hospital after a few more hours, a couple of check-ins, and some routine tests to make sure she was fit. The doctor had been shocked when he came back to the room to discover Sonata in almost perfect condition. I was still exhausted from giving a little of myself to Sonata, but not nearly as much as I had been afraid of.

I still didn’t have the strength to face my family after everything that had happened, no matter what Sonata said about them understanding me better now. There was a pain in that house that was still just a little too near for me to feel good going back.

Instead, I went home with Sonata and spent my very first night in someone else’s arms.

I still wasn’t comfortable sleeping naked, especially not with someone, so I’d borrowed one of Sonata’s nighties and crawled into bed with my girlfriend.

Now I’m here, and it’s the morning, and Sonata is still asleep. She’s angelic when she’s sleeping… as if she weren’t angelic all the time, actually, even if sometimes the definition occasionally changed to ‘angel of wrath’.

I reached out and brushed my hand along her cheek gently, and smiled as she wrinkled her nose cutely at the physical contact. Everything about Sonata was soft, from her skin to her personality to the way she held me in her arms. I think that’s one of the things that really kept me close to her… I never, ever felt like I was in danger with Sonata Dusk.

Her eyelids flickered, and she opened her eyes slowly, a small yawn squeaking its way out of her.

“Hey,” she said as she nestled closer to me. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, ‘Nata,” I said back, feeling a swell of happiness surge through my chest.

I’ve never had a significant other to say that to before, and I found I really liked the feeling of it.

“Any plans for today?” Sonata asked, leaning in to nuzzle her nose against mine, and a little upswell of warmth filled my chest.

“W-Well, I usually spend Christmas with my family…” I started, and I saw Sonata’s smile turn down slightly, and I forced out the words I wanted to say before she could really work up a frown. “I’ll… I’ll talk to them, okay? I promise, but… not yet, not today.”

“Why?” Sonata asked, relaxing a little. “I can’t force you to talk to them, I know, and I… I wouldn’t try, but… why?”

“Because it’s still too hard,” I replied with a quiet sigh. “It hurts too much, and because… that’s not how I want to spend Christmas. I’ll send them a text, I’ll let them know I’ll talk to them, but I want to spend Christmas with you.” I edged a little closer until I was comfortably molded against Sonata. “Y-Y’know, if that’s okay with you, I mean.”

“Totally okay,” Sonata said with a small laugh. “We give all our employees the day off, but my sisters and I don’t celebrate Christmas. Aria doesn’t get it and Adagio is kinda over the whole ‘human religion’ thing after the fourth time they tried to set her on fire, besides, her faith is a lot more private.”

“So… what do you want to do?” I asked, feeling happier than I had a long while as I rested against Sonata’s bare shoulder.

“I dunno!” she replied excitedly. “I’ve never celebrated Christmas before!”

“Never?” I asked in surprise.

“Well, I mean… hmm…” Sonata looked thoughtful for a moment. “I’ve done Saturnalia and Yule… and there were some weird traditions about making a random kid a Bishop up in the Braytish Isles that got pretty funny sometimes… but I don’t think we’ve ever celebrated anything like modern Christmas.”

“Then I know exactly what to do!” I replied, feeling a rare moment of certainty.

I got out of bed, delighting in the fact that the room wasn’t ice-cold despite the room being partially underground and it being the heart of winter. I went into the bathroom and started up the shower, waiting for it to get to the just-above-lukewarm temperature I liked.

“Uhm, Twi’?” Sonata’s voice came from outside the door, and I looked up.

“What’s up, ‘Nata?”

“Can uhm… c-can I join you?” she asked nervously, and I felt a small pang of panic.

Unreasonable panic, I know, but it was there. A faint, annoying discomfort that I disliked the feeling of more than I disliked the idea of Sonata joining me.

I took a moment, closed my eyes, and thought.

I trusted Sonata probably more than I trust a lot of people, which was weird for me. Even now, I realise how strange the depth of my trust in her was considering the fact that I hadn’t known her for very long. I really did trust her almost implicitly though… it was like she had just stepped right past every neurosis and mental wall I’d ever built up, right in my little mental ‘inner circle’ and then made herself at home.

A very small, almost romantic part of me wondered if this is what all those stories about soul-mates were talking about.

I wanted to say no. I wanted to say yes.

I didn’t want to put anything between Sonata and I… I didn’t want her to ever feel like I didn’t trust her, and the very last thing I wanted was to push her away. I had spent so much of my life keeping everything and everyone at arm's length and I was absolutely unwilling to have that be the case with Sonata.

“Y-yeah, sure,” I said quietly. “But. uhm… if I get the uh…”

“The heebs?” Sonata said with a small smile as she pushed open the door, and I nodded nervously. “I’ll step out, it’s okay… thanks for giving it a chance.”

Sonata was clearly comfortable with her body in a way that I wasn’t, just walking around naked like she did. I was a lot more comfortable with Sonata’s body than I was with my own, too, though… maybe because Sonata didn’t have any of that seductive vibe to her.

For the youngest Siren sister, being naked just meant she didn’t have clothes on and nothing more.

It also meant I could appreciate just how pretty she was.

Her smooth, flawless arctic-blue complexion making up soft and gentle curves; not the bombastic bombshell of Adagio or the svelte athletic lines of Aria, but every day, normal curves, with a little bit of muffin top that was actually kind of cute.

Taking a deep breath to steady my nerves, I slipped out of the comfortable nightie I’d slept in and let it fall to the bathroom floor, bringing my arms up reflexively to cover myself as I did.

“I… I wish I was as pretty as you,” I said with a small, apologetic smile. “You and your sisters are just so-”

“Twi’...” Sonata stepped a little closer and put a hand on my cheek, and I leaned into her warm palm. “I don’t care what my sisters look like… I think you’re the prettiest person like, ever… okay?”

I sniffled and pushed myself a few more inches past my comfort zone and stepped into Sonata’s arms, letting her wrap me up in her embrace.

“Is it weird that, if it were anyone else telling me that, I wouldn’t believe them?” I asked with a weak laugh.

“I dunno, is it?” Sonata asked shyly before leaning in to kiss me.

“Mmm… maybe?” I nuzzled against her for a moment before pulling away a little. “So uhm… why’d you want to join me? Just had to see me n-naked?”

“No, actually,” Sonata replied, looking a little sheepish as she did. “It’s a Siren thing, actually… I’m sure you uh… you heard what Aria called you back in the hospital?”

I blushed scarlet. I did remember, and I hadn’t brought it up because I wasn’t sure if it was actually true, or if it was just Aria projecting her and Sunset’s weirdly intense relationship onto her sister.

“She… she called me your mate,” I said quietly.

“Yeah, it’s… Siren’s have a weird courting thing, b-but we can do it the human way if you want instead, I just…” Sonata too a deep breath and fidgeted for a few moments before blowing out a breath. “Kissing means a lot to Sirens, sharing our air means a lot because we live underwater, y’know? It’s sharing what keeps us alive,” Sonata sighed, hung her head and said, “and I should’ve told you that before I kissed you, I’m sorry…”

I felt something I wasn’t expecting in that moment… in the split second between Sonata’s admission and my reaction I expected to feel something like betrayal, or at least uncertainty that I’d accidentally stumbled into something that meaningful to another culture without realising, and… and yeah, maybe Sonata should have told me but…

“I’m not,” I said with a small smile. “Sorry, I mean… I’m not sorry.”

“Really?” Sonata’s voice was tiny and unsure, and I smiled and nodded.

“Really,” I assured her.

“Okay, uhm, that’s good, because I… I kinda wanted to do another thing,” Sonata said, shifting foot to foot as she blushed. “I wanted to w-wash you…”

I blinked and cocked my head in surprise.

“Why?”

“It’s a Siren thing,” Sonata said with a shrug. “It’s okay if not, though.”

I glanced over at the shower, it had been at the right temperature for a little while now, and after a few seconds of thought, I nodded to myself and smiled at Sonata.

“Okay,” I said, a little shakily. “Let’s… let’s do it.”

Sonata’s eyes widened a little in surprise and before I could let myself give in to my anxiety and back out of it I pulled away from Sonata and stepped into the shower, humming in delight as the warm water slid across my body. I ran my fingers through my hair as the water splashed over me, and a moment later the shower curtain parted and I felt Sonata slide in behind me.

Her hands were warm and gentle as they crossed over my back and shoulders, and I sighed happily as Sonata traced her fingers along my sides, and I backed up a little until I could feel her pressed against me.

“I… I love you,” I said quietly as I leaned my head against her shoulder.

Sonata giggled happily. “I love you, too, Twi’.”

The warm water and pleasant touches lulled me into a half-sleep doze, and I watched as Sonata carefully picked up a body sponge along with a pale bar of soap and began working up a lather. The faint scent of honey filled the air and I gave a small hum of approval as I waited, and a moment later I felt the slow, insistent strokes of the sponge along my right arm, then up to my shoulders, down my sides, and my back, and my neck.

It wasn’t very often that I felt pretty, but in that moment, with Sonata devotedly washing me, her hands touching me with nothing but the chaste intention of making me clean, I really, really did.

For the first time in a very long time, I actually felt pretty.

I felt worthy.

Of what? I’m not sure… love maybe? Worthy of affection? Worthy of attention? Of approval?

At the very least, Sonata made me feel like I was enough.

Tears slid down my cheeks as Sonata finished, her hands cross over the parts of my skin where there were still stray suds, and the moment they were gone and she had stood up straight I turned on my heel, buried my face against her shoulder, and let out a wracking, pained sob.

I felt Sonata go tense, and I immediately began shaking my head, trying to communicate that she hadn’t done anything wrong.

“T-Twilight? D-did I go too-?”

“No!” I sobbed, finally working a word through my tears. “Y-you didn’t do anything wrong! I promise, I just… am I enough, ‘Nata? Am… am I enough?”

I heard her hiccup softly, and when she spoke again her words came out cracked and teary.

“Yes!” Sonata cried as she dropped the sponge to the bathtub floor and wrapped her arms fully around me. “You’re enough, Twi’... you’ll always be enough for me!”

“Thank you,” I sobbed quietly. “Thank you…”

I repeated the words over and over again as Sonata gently stroked my hair, and I felt my panic and fear subsiding to leave behind a sort of warm, satisfaction as Sonata worked up a lather of shampoo in my hair, her hands massaging my scalp with practiced fingers that made me question whether or not she really did know acupuncture, and then guided me out of the tub to dry me off.

There was something of a ritual to how she moved, and while I’d never had much time for anything religious, there was a kind of comfort to how she was acting.

I sighed again, warm and satisfied, as Sonata helped me into a bathrobe before putting one on herself.

“So… what’d you wanna do?” Sonata asked with a smile as we walked into her room.

I glanced around at the walls and spotted the large TV hung from one of them, and pointed at it.

“Sparkle family tradition,” I said with a hesitant smile. “I want you to watch a movie with me… my favorite Christmas movie.”

“Ooh! What’s it called?” Sonata asked cheerfully as she hopped into bed and started fishing around her end table for the TV remote before pulling it up and turning it on.

“Here,” I held out a hand for it and brought up the options and cycled through the streaming services, which she had all of, until I found one that had it. “There? Ever seen it?”

“The Island of Misfit Toys?” Sonata said, raising an eyebrow. “Mm… nope, never heard of it!”

Sonata curled up under the covers, and I joined her after setting the movie to play, doffing my bathrobe and curling up against Sonata halfway into hers. The pleasant warmth of another human being, and moreover one who loved me, pervaded my senses as I laid against her.

I always felt a kinship with them, with the toys of the island, and with the little elf who didn’t want to make toys, but wanted to be a dentist instead. When I was little, I felt like it might be where I belonged.

Twilight Sparkle, the misfit toy.

7. A Last Call

View Online

I knocked lightly on the door in front of me and nervously waited to be called in.

It wasn’t that I disliked Adagio at all.

The once-leader of the Dazzlings was always polite, refined, and really quite nice. That she could snap me in half by main force notwithstanding, I admired her. She was the textbook empowered woman, really; strong, confident, intelligent, and beautiful, and someone who had made her way in the world by a combination of business savvy and political acumen to rival the more dug in competitors in her business.

Honestly, it’s just that she intimidates the sprinkles out of me.

“Come in,” Adagio’s voice was as strong and mellifluous as ever, and I pushed the door labeled: General Manager, open.

The room was an orderly kind of chaos, with multiple suitcases gathered up here and there, and all manner of clothes and accessories strewn about.

Adagio was by the bed folding clothes into a neat pile and setting them into an open suitcase, one of several.

“Good morning, Miss Sparkle,” Adagio said without looking up.

“G-Good morning,” I replied, feeling a little out of place.

As ever, Adagio was a powerful presence. She was dressed in a simple gray business skirt, dark blouse, and a jacket and somehow managed to make the drab and ordinary outfit look menacing.

It didn’t help matters, also, that I had no idea why I was here. Sonata had just told me last night that her sister wanted to speak to me, and that it wasn’t a big deal but if I could come down soon she’d appreciate it.

Not a big deal… right.

“I don’t suppose my sister explained anything?” Adagio said, finally looking up as she folded the last article of clothing and set it aside.

“Does it have anything to do with all the refurbishing going on?” I ventured, figuring it was a good enough guess. “I saw a lot of rewiring and some construction crews doing measurements.”

“It does, in point of fact,” Adagio nodded as she fixed those intensely bright eyes on me. “Miss Sparkle, tell me, how experienced are you with circuitry and hardware?”

“Oh, uhm, pretty experienced, actually,” I said, feeling a little more comfortable on the topic of something I was interested in. “I’ve built all my own computers, and most of my more advanced equipment, myself… I’ve had to fine tune it all by hand, too, especially back when I was trying to track thaumic output signals.”

Not my finest moment, but whatever.

“Excellent, then with those credentials and your sterling reference, I’d like to offer you a job,” Adagio said as she came out from around her bed to tower over me, and I felt my voice catch in my throat for a moment.

“A… a job?” I squeaked. “B-but I’m still in college!”

“I’m not a fool, Miss Sparkle, I did my research on you,” Adagio replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. “We both know you could likely test out of better than half your classes if you wanted to, you’re already beyond most of your professors if I have any eye for talent… which I do.”

“Would you stop domineering the girl, my love,” a softer voice came from the bathroom, and a woman stepped out wearing a similar outfit who was every bit as regal as Adagio, but significantly less frightening. “You’ve terrified the poor thing.”

She wasn’t exactly tall, maybe Sonata’s height or a little more, and she had a soft gray complexion, hair like ink, and warm mulberry eyes. She was fit, but in a comfortable, human way that spoke more of someone who liked to stay healthy rather than someone who wanted to get ‘yoked’.

“My name is Octavia,” she said with a smile, holding out her hand to me, “Octavia Melody… I believe we’ve met before, haven't we?”

“Twilight Sparkle, and yeah… Canterlot High,” I said with a nod. “I transferred from Crystal Prep during senior year.”

“The Friendship Games, I thought so,” Octavia said, snapping her fingers, and I winced. She gave me a guilty smile. “Apologies, dear, I didn’t mean to bring up a bad memory.”

“Apology accepted, I guess,” I said sheepishly.

“And further apologies for my brute of a girlfriend,” Octavia gave Adagio a playful nudge. “She’s rather used to employing heavy-handed tactics and sometimes forgets to ask nicely.”

She said the last words as she cast a pointed look at Adagio, who flushed and rolled her eyes.

“Yes, of course,” Adagio replied blithely, “thank my love, my dearest, and light of my life, for dressing me down in front of my potential new employee.”

“Oh hush, I’ll really dress you down later,” Octavia prodded a blushing Adagio on the nose before leaning in to peck a kiss on her lips. “Besides, if she’s going to be working with us then you want her to like you, not fear you.”

“Fear is a perfectly adequate motivating factor, my Melody,” Adagio riposted, wrinkling her nose in a manner that oddly reminded me of Sonata. “I’ve made excellent use of it in my time.”

“Well, personally I’d rather you be loved, not feared. dear,” Octavia replied as she moved past Adagio to pack a few toiletries.

I watched in faint amusement, much of my earlier fear dissipated by the exchange between the two women. I’d never had the opportunity to really get to know Octavia but I found myself really looking forward to it, the way she handled Adagio like that gave me a newfound respect for the woman.

That and there was something charming about how much Adagio put up with from her. They obviously loved each other a great deal.

“So… what would you want me to do?” I said, finally breaking my silence, and Adagio turned to me with that familiarly raised eyebrow. “Working for you I mean… what would my job be?”

Octavia gave Adagio a victorious smirk, and Adagio rolled her eyes again.

“She’ll be intolerable after this, you know,” Adagio muttered, shooting me a glance, before rolling her shoulders and turning back to me fully. “Miss Sparkle, I’m aware of your abilities, so I’ll be frank: my Lounge has come into an extremely lucrative contract recently, and Octavia and I are going to be away for several months cementing the deal,” she gestured around to the many suitcases. “During that time, I’ve contracted the Last Note to be expanded a great deal, and as a part of this I’m upgrading our security system.”

“That’s a tall order for a place this big,” I said, glancing around. “It’s not as bad as it might be with older buildings, but if you’re expanding then that’s a pretty massive undertaking.”

“Precisely,” Adagio agreed, “and as you might have noticed when it comes to my business I prefer to keep the higher end of the employment amongst trusted associates and family-”

“I think that’s called nepotism, darling,” Octavia called out from beside the bed, and I watched as Adagio’s eye twitched just slightly.

“-and as such,” Adagio continued as if Octavia hadn’t spoken, “the project of ensuring the security of both my home and my livelihood is not something I trust to an outside contractor.”

“I… suppose I get that, yeah,” I nodded carefully. “So, uhm… why me?”

Adagio rolled her eyes. “Twilight, darling, your liaisons with my sister aren’t exactly subtle.”

I blushed heavily, but didn’t deny it.

“Sonata has never asked for a day off, and when I’ve offered them to her she’s always turned them down,” Adagio explained as she went about the room gathering more clothes to be folded and packed. “Now she asks for at least one day off a week, and don’t think I haven’t seen you sneaking in and out of her room, plus you’re here at the bar every other night at least.”

“That’s… fair,” I admitted quietly.

“Miss Sparkle,” Adagio said in a softer voice as she reached out and laid a hand gently on my shoulder, “understand that all I want for my sisters is their happiness, and you clearly make my baby sister very happy… enough so that she recommended you for this role, understand?”

By now my face was redder than I care to admit, but I nodded slowly as Adagio looked on in that strangely inhuman fashion. It was like being watched by a great, crocodilian predator that was at rest and basking in the sun.

“My sister trusts you implicitly,” Adagio continued. “That extends you a great deal of credit in my eyes, so I advise you not to waste it.” The look in her eyes softened a second later and she relaxed as Octavia came up behind her and put an arm around her waist. “And… I will be honest, a part of this is selfish,” Adagio said with a roll of her shoulders. “I mislike my sisters being unhappy, and this contract I’ve pulled us into will be very lucrative… and very time consuming.”

I felt a cold chill along my back.

“H-How time consuming?” I asked quietly.

“Whatever she likes to say, dear Sonata is not just a bartender,” Adagio replied with a smirk. “She keeps the books for the Lounge, making sure we stay solvent and above board, ensuring all of our payroll gets met, and everything else that has to do with the grit and numbers of the matter.”

“I see,” I swallowed hard as I nodded. “I guess, with this new contract, things are going to get pretty chaotic, financially speaking.”

“Things will be chaotic in a variety of regards,” Adagio agreed, “but yes, Sonata will be spending a great deal more time ensuring our money isn’t wasted and goes where it is needed, and that our employees are taken care of,” she sighed quietly as she put a hand over Octavia’s. “And I highly doubt she will have very many more days off in the coming several months to spend with you.”

“But if I’m working for you…” I returned to her original offer, and Adagio nodded.

“Sonata won’t abandon us, I know,” Adagio said, “but she will be miserable without you, and I would sooner head that off at the pass, as it were,” then she straightened and held out a hand to me. “So I would be very much obliged if you would accept my offer of employment, both for yours and Sonata’s sake, and because I truly do believe you’re the best person for the job.”

“If anything I might be overqualified,” I joked and, to my surprise, Adagio actually smiled.

“I’m glad you recognise a measure of your talent,” Adagio said with a smirk. “Now, I must be off in a few hours and there’s more packing yet to do… yes or no?”

“Uhm, before I agree, who will I be working with?” I asked with a touch of concern. “You said you had a programmer?”

Adagio gave a level look, then lowered her hand and sighed.

“I had hoped the rumors were untrue, but it seems I was wrong,” she said a touch bitterly. “Well, as they say, hope is the first step on the road to disappointment… I’ll be frank with you, Miss Sparkle, the programmer you’re working with is Sunset Shimmer.”

My heart plummeted.

“S-Sunset?” I felt that familiar sliver of ice in my chest. “She’s-”

“-Aria’s lover,” Adagio spoke over me. “I offered her the role both because I respect her personally and professionally, and because Aria would be even more of a disaster than usual without her.”

Sighing more heavily, Adagio closed her eyes, rubbed at her temples for a moment, then looked back up at me.

“I’ll be frank, I don’t know what has happened between the two of you, nor do I particularly care except where it impacts my life and the lives of my sisters,” her eyes narrowed dangerously at that before returning to schooled professionalism. “So I’m going to have the employment paperwork sent your way and I would very much appreciate your agreement to it. Tempest, my head of security, knows how to contact me however you decide, but if you can resolve whatever this matter is between Sunset and yourself, or can at least agree to work amicably, I would be… grateful.”

For several moments I stood frozen with indecision.

Sunset was the last person I wanted to talk to right now, and I certainly didn’t want to work with her. I still hadn’t spoken to my parents or Cadence in person since that disastrous dinner a couple of weeks ago.

We’d exchanged a few texts, they knew I was okay, but the conversations, if I could even call them that, were remarkably subdued.

The truth was that I wasn’t sure what to say to them.

‘I’m sorry’?

‘I forgive you’?

Sonata was right, I understood them now. My mother loved me and everything she did was in an attempt to be kind, she’d just been flailing. Maybe it was partially my fault for always seeing my mother as this perfectly put-together woman.

The idea that she’d been just as lost and confused as I was hadn’t ever really clicked.

Sunset was another beast entirely, though.

A phantom twinge crosses my face as I remembered the feeling of her knuckles cracking against my face.

“I’ll… I’ll try,” I said finally.

Adagio gave me an even look for a few moments before nodding.

“Alright,” she replied after a moment of consideration, “I suppose that’s all I can ask for.”

“Thank you for the opportunity, either way,” I said with a small bob of my head.

No sense in being impolite.

With that I turned and let myself out of Adagio’s room, and I made a few meters before a voice called out.

“Twilight.”

I turned to regard Octavia with a questioning look.

“Something awful happened, didn’t it?” She said quietly.

“I think so,” I replied, with a shrug. “I’m just… kind of lost right now, I guess.”

“I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say Sunset did something, yes?” The dark haired young woman said with a sad smile.

It was hard to remember that she and I were very nearly the same age. She seemed so much more mature than me.

“Why would you think that?” I ventured carefully.

“Because,” Octavia said, her smile fading slightly, “Sunset has many positive qualities, but she’s also vengeful, rash, and… a little petty. She always has been.”

“A month or two ago I would have gotten really mad at you calling Sunset petty,” I said, a hollow opening in my stomach as I made the admission. “Now… I’m not sure I want her back in my life.”

“That’s your call,” Octavia replied, stepping forward and taking my hand. “But think of Sonata too… you don’t have to take Sunset back to work with her professionally…” as she said that she looked away and scowled. “But perhaps that’s just me, I certainly put up with more than my share of poor working relationships.”

“Maybe,” I allowed. “I’ll think about it.”

“Thank you,” Octavia said quietly. “Adagio does want you here, by the way, I know her.”

I gave another short nod and turned to leave. I liked Octavia, and I wanted this job, not only because it was excellent work in a field that I enjoyed and would keep me close to Sonata, but because I genuinely liked most of the other employees I’d met.

Even Aria had her positives when she wasn’t being a complete bitch.

Sunset was the real wrench in the gears though.

I made my way further down the hall to Sonata’s room. It was early, at least by the standards of the Lounge, at just a little past ten in the morning, and Sonata had still be dead to the world when I’d gotten up and gotten dressed to speak to Adagio.

Slipping into our now shared room I walked over to the bed where, per usual, Sonata was cocooned up in a burrito of blankets and sheets snoozing lightly. There was nothing regal or graceful about how she slept, really, and if I’m being honest she was kind of a mess.

Her hair was a chaotic halo of blue-tone strands set askew by her constant small movements, I’d learned the hard way that Sonata was a restless sleeper when she’d twitched in bed and headbutted the both of us awake.

I reached out to wake her up, just a gentle nudge, but stopped a couple of inches away with my hand hovering over her. She looked so peaceful while she was sleeping, and I couldn’t bring myself to disturb her.

Not like that anyway.

Well, screw it, I was homeless and on vacation for the next few days, I might as well enjoy the time off. I wasn’t someone who idled well in normal circumstances, but spending time with Sonata was never something I begrudged, so with that in mind, I stood up, kicked off my shoes and socks, stripped down, and burrowed under the covers.

It took a minute or two to navigate the tangle of sheets and blankets that made up Sonata’s cozy little cocoon, but I eventually made it in and after another moment was happily ensconced in the warm bedding and pressed up against Sonata just as she began to stir from the disturbance.

“Mm?” Sonata’s voice was a small, sleepy mumble of inquiry, and I leaned in and pressed my lips to hers.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up,” I said quietly. “Just getting back into bed.”

“Mm… good,” Sonata grumbled quietly, making room for me and wrapped her arms around me as she did. “Missed you.”

“I was gone for like, less than two hours…” I chided playfully with a small laugh. “You were asleep the whole time, too.”

“Still don’t like it when you’re not close,” Sonata replied, her words were still thick with sleep as she nestled herself against my hair, petting me softly as she did. “I love you, Twi’...”

“I love you too, ‘Nata,” I said back, feeling a small bloom of warmth in my chest. “So, uhm… you knew what today was about, right?”

She sighed softly and was quiet for several minutes, and I started to think she’d gone back to sleep as her breathing came slow and quiet by my ears.

“Yeah,” Sonata replied in a small voice. “Are you mad?”

“No,” I told her, truthfully. “But… you knew about Sunset too, right?”

“I… y-yeah, I did,” Sonata admitted quietly.

“I’m kind of surprised you suggested I work here if you knew she was going to be here…” I began, curling up against Sonata as I did. “You were so mad at her at the hospital, it looked like you were really ready to hurt her.”

Sonata shivered, then hugged me tightly.

“I wanted to kill her, Twi’,” Sonata whispered gravely. “I wanted to… I really did… she hit you, Twi’... she hurt you, and I couldn’t…”

Sonata made a sound in the back of her throat like she was choking for a moment, then tensed and clung even more tightly to me, and I felt hot tears trickle against my bare skin.

“I hate it,” she continued in a cracked, raw voice. “Sirens are violent… especially when it comes to our… our mates, and that instinct is still there, in my heart… I wanted to kill her so bad, Twi’.”

“Then why do you want me to work with her?” I asked in disbelief. “If you want to-”

“I don’t want to, though!” Sonata cried. “I’m… I’m not my instincts, Twi’... I don’t don’t want to hurt Sunset, and… and I do… but I won’t, okay? I can’t, because if I did then Aria would have to-”

“-Aria would be in the same boat,” I filled in, feeling a hollow pit open in my stomach.

The thought of that was too tragic to bear. Sonata bringing any kind of harm to Sunset would mean that Aria would be forced to protect her. If Sonata really gave in and came at Sunset with the intent to kill her then Aria would have to deal with her little sister in the same way and…

“Or we could leave,” Sonata said in a voice so quiet I barely heard her, and my eyes widened as I registered her words.

“Leave?” I muttered. “Leave the Note?”

“If it means keeping you safe, and Aria safe, and Sunset safe… if that’s what I have to do,” Sonata let out a small sob before pulling away and stared down at me with tear-filled eyes and a weak, broken smile. “Would… you come with me? If I had to leave would you come with me?”

For a moment, I stared into her eyes and felt that same strange distance between her and I. Not emotionally but fundamentally… like I was looking into the eyes of something that was clearly inhuman. Her eyes were fever-bright and wide, and I think if it had been anyone else I might’ve been afraid.

Instead, I was just sad.

“I would,” I said finally, “I really don’t have much tying me here except my friends, and I can always keep in touch with them… and I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t think I’d live through losing you,” Sonata said softly as she started to relax her tensed body and curled back up against me.

“But you shouldn’t have to leave your sisters, ‘Nata,” I said firmly, pushing her away so I could look her eyes again. “This thing between Sunset and I needs to be put to rest for good… no matter the outcome.”

“If you and Sunset can’t be friends again, then what happens?” Sonata asked, resting her head against the mass of pillows and covers at our head and staring across them into my eyes. “What will you do?”

“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “Maybe… maybe we’ll be able to have a working relationship? But maybe not… I hope so, though.”

“I’ll talk to Aria,” Sonata said softly. “I’ll figure out when you two can sit down and talk. Everything is so busy now, and I don’t want to make things harder for ‘Dagi.”

“That’s fair,” I replied, reaching up to lay my hand on her cheek. “And… no matter what, you and I will always be together, okay?”

Sonata sniffled a little and laid her hand over mine, smiling as she did.

“Promise?”

“Mhm,” I nodded, turning my hand over to link our pinkies together. “Cross my heart and hope to fly.”

“What?” Sonata said with a small, surprised laugh.

“Sorry,” I laughed a little along with her. “It was something from high school.”

“Cross my heart and hope to fly…” Sonata repeated quietly, then smiled again. “I like it!”

“You and Pinkie Pie should hang out some time,” I said, although a part of me was terrified at the idea of it.

Another part of morbidly curious.

Sonata shifted and moved around under the covers for a few minutes before sitting up and stretching. Her joints popped as she turned this way and that, I felt a little voyeuristic as I watched her, thoroughly enjoying myself as I did, though.

I can’t say that I find Sonata sexually attractive, obviously, but I do find her very pleasant to look at.

There’s almost nothing truly remarkable about Sonata, at least not physically speaking. She’s not like her sisters who can walk into a room and immediately take the spotlight, but there is a certain aura to her when you get close.

She’s lithe and limber, but lacks the svelte, seductive confidence and composure of Aria. In addition, Sonata certainly has her curves, but they’re far more modest than her bombshell of an older sister.

And yet…

Sonata turned to look at me with that strange brightness in her eyes, and I smiled up at her as the dim lights of her room framed her wild waterfall of smooth, blue-on-blue hair.

If I were to call any of the sisters truly unearthly it would be Sonata.

“I’m ready to tell you now,” Sonata said quietly, without turning to look back at me. “If you want, I mean…”

“Tell me what?” I asked curiously as I propped myself up on an elbow and reached out to take her hand.

“Remember our first date?” Sonata said, glancing over her bare shoulder with a faintly sad look in her eyes. “What Aria said about me?”

“O-Oh… yeah,” I shifted the covers around me and sat up before sidling over and draping myself over Sonata’s back, letting my chin come to rest on her shoulder. “I told you I don’t care, though… I mean, if it’s something you can’t talk about I don’t want to make you… the last thing I want is to hurt you, ‘Nata.”

“I know,” Sonata replied, leaning her head a little so our cheeks were pressed against one another. “But… I promised I’d tell you eventually, and it’s kind of been eating at me, that you know a little of the story but not the whole thing.”

“I guess I can understand that,” I replied, wrapping my arms around her slim waist and sighing contentedly as I enjoyed her presence. “I love you, ‘Nata.”

“We just said that, silly,” she replied playfully, wriggling in a little in my grip.

“And I’ve never had anyone to say it to like this,” I countered. “So I’ve got to make up for it somehow.”

“I’m not sure that’s how it works,” Sonata said with a touch of sarcasm to her voice.

“I am one hundred per cent sure that’s how it works,” I replied with another laugh as I laid a gentle kiss on her shoulder.

Sonata leaned back a little, relaxing into me for several moments, then turned and pressed her lips to my cheek in a warm, lingering kiss before starting to speak.

“It was my fault, y’know,” Sonata began slowly. “What happened to the Sirens? What happened to us? Everything was my fault.”

“That’s…” I started to refute her but I realised that probably wasn’t reasonable. Sonata knew what she was talking about better than I did, so instead I just asked: “Why?”

“Adagio knows what I told her, but Aria knows the truth,” Sonata said, her voice quiet as she pulled the blankets around us. “The Siren Empress, Concerta, and her inner circle, wanted more power… they wanted more territory, they even wanted the dry land.” Sonata grimaced and shivered. “She was so cruel, Twi’... you have no idea how horrible the Empress was, and I’m glad she’s gone, but…”

“It’s okay,” I pulled Sonata down until we were laying side by side. “I’m here, so… tell me what happened?”

Sonata nodded.

“There’s… two kinds of Siren magic, see?” Sonata started uneasily. “Adagio was a Sorceress, I was a Geometer… Geometers are like scientists, I guess, and the Siren Sorceresses were basically a priesthood,” Sonata turned over so she was laying on her back, and I moved until I was resting on her shoulder, and she wrapped an arm around me. “The Empress came to the Hall of Symbols one day and asked for the impossible… a way to consume power from a distance, a way to spread her song across swathes of land… the masters said it was crazy but… but I was dumb and young, and I said… I said: ‘no its not’ and that’s where it all went wrong.”

Tears trickled out from the corners of Sonata’s eyes.

“She convinced me to make a new rubric, and to me it was just a fun new challenge,” Sonata turned and pressed her forehead to mine. “I didn’t realise what I was doing until I told Ari’ about it and… and Aria told me that she and all the other Myrmidons were making ready for war!”

“She was making a superweapon,” I said in a tone of awe. “She was making a magical nuke.”

I was making a magical nuke,” Sonata replied bitterly. “I’d treated it like a math problem or something, and I was just too silly and stupid to realise what it was for…” Sonata sniffled, and I suddenly had a small realisation as to our first fight over Emotion and Logic, and I realised where it had come from. “But it was too late, the other Geometers were already working on my plans, they knew how to finish it so it was only a matter of time!”

“What happened?” I pressed, and Sonata lowered her face.

“Aria told Adagio, she was the High Priestess of Nodens back then,” Sonata said softly. “Adagio’s priesthood were going to be involved in the big ritual to use the rubric I made to drain an entire coastal town as a test.” I blanched at that and Sonata looked ashamed for a moment, but continued. “So… so I lied to ‘Dagi and told her the spell wouldn’t work, that it couldn’t work… that there was too much power and it would explode and that the Empress wouldn’t listen to me!”

“What did Adagio do?” I felt consumed by the story and Sonata sighed quietly.

“She petitioned the Empress,” Sonata replied. “She tried to convince her the spell was too dangerous to use, but Concerta was insane… she was going to do it anyway,” Sonata chuckled bitterly. “They had a huge row over it, actually, ‘Dagi and the Empress, they used to be allies but after that, the Empress stripped ‘Dagi of her marks as high priestess and sent her back to the temples.”

“Adagio must have been furious,” I said with a wry chuckle, and Sonata nodded. “Why do you say what happened was your fault, though?”

“W-well, the High Priestess and Empress butting heads is a huge thing, see?” Sonata said, fidgeting nervously as she did. “It’s a spectacle, and everyone showed up to see the two of them have it out… even the Geometers.”

“Sonata… what did you…?”

“I snuck back into the Hall of Symbols and modified some of my equations that they hadn’t finished work on yet!” Sonata spoke quickly with the air of a confession, and my eyes widened. “It… it wasn’t that hard, y’know?” She gave a weak, cracked laugh and wiped at her eyes. “Transpose a variable here… alter the angle of a sigil there, and suddenly…”

“Suddenly the equations don’t math out,” I had a cold feeling in my chest as I imagined what would’ve happened if someone had done something like that in the middle of the Manehattan Project and shuddered. “Oh god… ‘Nata…”

“I couldn’t let them use it, Twi’,” Sonata sobbed, “I couldn’t let them hurt that many people! Ponies, Griffons, Minotaurs… everyone would’ve been hurt and it would’ve been my fault!”

I can’t even imagine having to make a choice like that.

“How did they not notice?” I asked quietly.

“Because they barely understood the equations in the first place,” Sonata replied bitterly. “They just plugged in numbers and, poof, instant energy coefficients!”

“They knew what the equations did but not how they worked,” I said and gave a hollow laugh. “I guess that’s the story of every tyrant who gets their hands on science.”

“I told Aria what I’d done,” Sonata continued wearily. “I told her what would happen when they used the ritual, and I told her to steal three of the heartstone rubies from the treasury she guarded,” Sonata was almost completely wrapped around me by now, and I could feel her shaking. “We brought them to ‘Dagi, and I told her that if she used the temple’s grand sigils there would be enough to empower the stones and we could survive and leave Coltlantis.”

“So she did it,” I put in, and Sonata nodded. “She jump-started the stones you three used to…”

“To hurt a lot of people,” Sonata cried. “I didn’t realise what they would do to us… how they would change us… how they would change my sisters!”

“And Coltlantis?”

Sonata sagged and rested her head against my shoulder.

“We fled in the night just as the Empress completed the ritual,” Sonata spoke in a small, dark voice. “The explosion wiped Coltatlantis and every other Siren in the city out in an instant… there might’ve been a few others outside the city who survived, but… I killed them all, Twi’,” Sonata pressed her forehead to mine. “Not even ‘Dagi knows what I did, but it’s my fault it happened. I made the spell, I made the stones, and I… I wiped out my own people, Twi’! We’re alone because of me.”

I suddenly understood why Sonata had been so terrified of me finding out what had happened, and why she had reacted so intensely back on the boardwalk to her sister referencing her ‘body count’. I had never really given it the kind of thought it probably warranted, but those three had likely been responsible for a lot of strife in their time, and that strife has probably led to a lot of pain and suffering.

A lot of death.

It also made more sense now why Sonata was so pacifistic for the most part. She played the part of the vacuous kid sister, never strove for anything beyond what contented her, and just… tried to live with herself.

I’m just a bartender,’ made a whole lot more sense now.

Adagio and Aria had caused pain and suffering on the scale of cities, they’d probably rocked the foundations of history a couple of times, too, given their age and their powers.

But… Sonata had committed genocide.

Literally.

And yet, it had been done to a race of legitimate monsters who had been on the cusp of ruining her entire world with their greed and power.

No… not just her world… Sunset’s world, too.

Sonata had sabotaged her own work, murdered her own race, and practically sacrificed her soul to save Sunset’s entire world and no one but Aria, and now I, knew about it.

God, no wonder Aria was wary of her baby sister. Not even Adagio knew the choices Sonata had made.

And she never would. No one would.

“Do you hate me?” Sonata asked in a tiny terrified voice. “I… did a bad thing, Twi’... I’m bad… but I didn’t have a choice! I… I couldn’t let-”

I silenced her with a kiss, and Sonata was suddenly pressed against me and clinging to me like I was the only thing solid in the world. I held on to her as best I could, as she cried and muttered soft ‘I love you’s’ to me, and I said them back to her.

Whatever she had done, whatever choices she had made, Sonata was mine, and no one was going to take her away from me. No one would ever hurt her again, I wouldn’t let them, and if anyone even tried to hurt a single hair on my beautiful Siren’s head they would-

I pulled back slowly from Sonata and stared into those gorgeous eyes of hers, realising I might, maybe, have something to talk to Sunset about.

“I love you so much, ‘Nata,” I said softly. “You’re so much better than me… than so many people…”

“But I-!” Sonata began, and I pressed a finger to her lips.

“You’re brave and smart,” I ran a finger over her lips and up along her cheek, brushing away a tear. “You’re incredible, you saved a whole world and it's killing you, but you keep trying… I can’t… I can’t even imagine.”

Sonata let out a tiny sob, one that turned into a rattling gasp, then a loud, drawn out cry of abject sorrow as she finally gave voice to the grief she’d been holding in for over a thousand years.

For hours she cried until her throat was raw and her eyes were red and dry of tears. For hours I held onto her as she grieved for her dead people and for her ruined city, stammering out words in a twisting, serpentine tongue, and somehow I knew she was begging their ghosts to forgive her.

For her whole life Sonata had only ever had her sisters, and she couldn’t let them see what she had done, and what her actions had done to her.

But here? With me?

She could finally, after millennia, give voice to her pain.

It certainly put my problems with Sunset into perspective.

Sonata had fallen asleep, exhausted after the emotionally harrowing rollercoaster we’d just ridden through. I didn’t blame her in the least, and laid there comfortably with her for another hour as she slept fitfully. Finally, she drifted into something more peaceful, though, and as soon as I was certain I could get up without waking her I did.

Sitting up in bed, I fetched my phone from the table, pulled on a bathrobe, and slipped into the bathroom. I stared down at the contact for several minutes, psyching myself up to do what I knew I had to do… what I ought to have done weeks ago, and finally just forced myself to hit the call button and lifted it to my ear.

It only rang once before the call connected.

//Twi’?// Sunset’s voice was smaller and more fragile than I was used to hearing. She always sounded so confident, but not today. //I’ll be honest, I… I wasn’t really expecting to hear from you for a while… or maybe ever.//

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, actually,” I replied, taking a seat on the toilet. “If it’s okay with you… can we maybe meet up and talk tomorrow?”

//Tomorrow?// I could hear the hope in Sunset’s voice and it gave me a little courage. //S-Sure, when and where?//

“The bar at the Lounge,” I replied, it was where I’d feel most comfortable. “I figure it’s easiest, no one will interrupt us, and ‘Nata will let us if it’s before the Last Note opens.”

//Okay… yeah,// Sunset sounded a little awkward, and even a little scared. //Twi’... I-//

“Don’t, Sunset,” I interrupted her, but gently. “Let’s… let’s save it for tomorrow, okay?”

//Oh, uhm, sure, yeah,// the disappointment was evident in her tone, but I couldn’t deal with everything right now. Not after the talk with Sonata, I just didn’t have the emotional energy to. //I’ll… I’ll talk to you tomorrow then?//

“Yeah, tomorrow,” I confirmed, “talk to you then.”

I lowered the phone and pressed the end call button.

My chest was getting tight, and I could feel my breath shortening. I really needed to see someone about these panic attacks of mine. I’d always had anxiety in one form or another and to a certain extent it had gotten worse after the Friendship Games, and I’d probably have ended up a horrifyingly neurotic mess if it weren’t for Sunset and the others being there for me.

I needed to end this.

I couldn’t live with this uncertainty hanging over my head between Sunset and I. I couldn’t keep running from it, either. Sonata hadn’t had a choice, she’d had no one to talk to, no one to confide in except for her eldest sister whom she couldn’t bear to tell, and Aria who knew and probably saw nothing wrong with it. I had the option of clearing the air, in one way or another, and not doing so just because I was afraid of something that would probably happen anyway if I let things fester was just…

Illogical.

I chuckled to myself a little as I tucked my phone away and sighed.

However it happened, I would clear the air between Sunset and I, whether we were still friends at the end of it all? Well, that would be up in the air until tomorrow, but at least I knew something would happen.

I would make sure of it.

“Cross my heart, hope to fly…” I muttered quietly.


Tomorrow came faster than I was comfortable with.

I relaxed through the prior evening at the bar with Sonata, not really drinking, just sitting at the bar and talking with Sonata when she had a moment free between bartending. She looked better than she had in awhile, moving with the fluid surety of her profession, and she was clearly far more comfortable behind the bar than anywhere else.

She would always take a few moments for me, though, and between customers she would come by and share a few words, or if it was really busy just reach out and give my hand a squeeze.

It was those small touches that helped keep her grounded, I think. A constant, physical reminder that I was still there, and that I would always be there for her.

God, I really fell into this love thing deep, didn’t I?

The next afternoon came quickly in part because I was starting to share Sonata’s sleep schedule. I couldn’t hardly sleep without having her nearby, so I’ve ended up staying up with her through her shift and going to bed when she did, which naturally led to us waking up around the noon or later mark.

Sitting up in bed, I slipped out from under the covers to the tune of a hum of discomfort from Sonata who was still snoozing a few inches away.

I pulled on some comfortable jeans, a loose shirt, then a sweater, got up… then thought better of it and turned back around to grab socks and shoes. I wasn’t really planning on going out but the floors out in the main hall were significantly colder.

“Come ba~ck,” a small whiny voice emitted from the bundle of covers that was Sonata. “It’s still early…”

“It’s almost one in the afternoon, ‘Nata,” I replied with a small laugh. “It’s no one’s definition of early.”

“It’s my definition of early,” Sonata said sullenly, poking her head out of the burrito of blankets she’d made for herself. “I’m still sleepy and I need you.”

I felt a blush color my cheeks.

“Any other day and that would work,” I said quietly. “But… I promised to talk to Sunset today, is it alright if we sit at the bar?”

In an instant Sonata was burrowing out of the covers with an excited look on her face, although her legs got tangled up near the end of her egress, sending her tumbling gracelessly to the floor in a naked tangle of sheets and muffled curses.

Popping up from the floor a moment later, Sonata dashed past me and into the bathroom, turned on the shower, then poked her head out of the door and nodded for me.

“C’mon! Your hair is a mess!”

I looked down at myself and sighed. “I just got dressed, ‘Nata, it’s fine!”

“It’s not!” She harrumphed back at me. “It’ll only take a minute.”

I sighed, well, it was her bar we were using so I couldn’t really act like a brat about this.

“Fine,” I grumbled, walking into the bathroom as I pulled my clothes off.

I’d gotten a great deal more comfortable with my body since I’d been with Sonata.

I slipped into the shower with her and turned to let her wash me, it was something we’d gotten into the habit of lately and I wasn’t complaining. There was something very… intimate about it. Something bonding that made me feel closer to Sonata afterward, and I had absolutely zero complaints about anything that made me feel close to Sonata.

“I’m really happy, Twi’,” Sonata said softly as she started washing my back. “I was really scared you weren’t gonna talk to her again.”

“Well, you were right about one thing,” I replied as I rolled my neck back and forth under the stream of warm water. “After everything we’ve been through together I owe her a conversation, at least.”

“I don’t know about owing her a conversation,” Sonata turned her hand to start washing my arm. “But… I think you owe yourself that, y’know?”

“What do you mean?” I glanced over my shoulder at her and she smiled at me, taking the opportunity to lean in, peck a kiss on my lips, and make me giggle as I elbowed her gently. “Seriously, though, ‘Nata.”

“You’ve been friends for years, Twi’,” Sonata’s voice was firm and concerned as she pulled back. “Like, literally almost a decade, right?”

“Almost, yeah,” I confirmed.

“If you just cut things off with Sunset? If you never talked to her again? I don’t think you’d be happy with that,” Sonata set the body sponge aside and stepped closer to wrap her arms around me and hug me from behind. “I don’t think you’d be able to really let it go like that, even if you thought you could at first, I think it would eat at you.”

I turned in place until we were facing each other and raised my arms to lay them across Sonata’s shoulders, wrapping myself around her and leaning up to kiss her softly.

“You’re probably right,” I admitted quietly, “as usual.”

I relaxed as Sonata ran her hands through my hair, slowly teasing out knots and tangles with her fingers before layering in some shampoo and working up a lather. I laid my head on her shoulder and held onto her as she carefully washed my hair, reveling in Sonata’s gentle touches, and sighing softly as she went through the lather-rinse-repeat cycle a few times before teasing the rest of the suds from my hair.

I had never been particularly comfortable with my body, and I’d certainly never pictured a time when I’d be comfortable being naked with someone else, but showering with Sonata was quickly becoming one of my favorite things. I’d rather shower with her than shower alone at this point, the closeness she had with me and the way she could make me relax even when I was nervous to the point of vibrating was sort of incredible to me.

“There… that’s better,” Sonata said cheerfully.

I stepped out of the shower and looked into the mirror, turning this way and that to admire the shiny locks of purple Sonata had left me with. My girlfriend followed a moment later, wrapping a towel around me first, then another around herself, before taking a third and laying it over my hair to start carefully drying it.

“What did I do to deserve you?” I asked, giving an appreciative hum as Sonata gently wrung the excess water from my hair.

“Probably way more than I did to deserve you,” Sonata said in a soft voice. “I…-”

I could feel her mood taking a turn for the maudlin, and I turned slightly to lean back and peck her on the cheek, interrupting her train of thought.

“Don’t be like that,” I said in quiet admonishment. “No one else has ever made me feel this wanted and… and this whole. I’m not 'settling' for you, ‘Nata, you’re everything I could have ever asked for in a partner, okay?”

Sonata let out a slow breath, nodded, and hugged me tight.

“Okay.”

I dried off and got dressed, this time paying a little bit more attention to my outfit which mostly meant letting Sonata dress me. I swear I’m not color-blind, I just have no real sense of color-coordination, if that makes any sense, which is a little annoying since I’m a polymath and I’ve studied the light spectrum extensively as it relates to physics!

Apparently that kind of thing doesn’t transfer over to fashion, though.

I held Sonata’s hand as we walked through the back halls and out into the VIP room, making our way through the empty areas where construction was already being started. The VIP room had been torn up a few days ago to install new wiring mounts and bases for the future expansion. The crew had been in earlier getting some more work done, and most likely they’d be coming back tomorrow.

The Lounge was still open but the VIP room was going to be closed until all the preparations were completed. Fortunately, Sonata had said it would likely not take more than a week, give or take a day or two.

In a month, though, once some of the finalizations on the contract had come through after Adagio’s meetings, the whole Lounge was set to shut down for a few weeks while it was renovated.

Sonata was thrilled that Adagio was finally adding in an extended bar. Apparently, Adagio had lost a bet of some kind.

We stepped out onto the main floor of the Lounge, and I leaned against Sonata as we made our way to the bar. She helped me move one table nearby, put in two chairs across from one another, then Sonata slipped quietly behind the bar itself, taking up her usual spot, and started prepping for the evening.

For my part, I just took a seat at the table and waited.

I wasn’t to wait long, as it turned out, because Sunset came out of the VIP room where we’d just emerged from less than ten minutes later. She rarely went back to the dorm room that we ostensibly shared anymore, preferring to share Aria’s bed.

Something about silk sheets.

“Morning,” Sunset said quietly, her voice strangely subdued as she sidled around the table and meekly pulled the lone remaining seat out to sit down.

Sunset wasn’t supposed to be quiet or meek, it wasn’t really in her nature, and I guess it spoke to how seriously she was taking what had happened between us that it was affecting her this severely. That being said, it was seriously unnerving how self-effacing she was acting.

We sat in awkward silence for several long seconds as Sunset looked up, down, around, and essentially everywhere but at me, until her gaze landed on Sonata and she furrowed her brow slightly.

“I, uhm, I thought it was just going to be us?” Sunset said after a moment. “Y’know… to talk about what happened?”

“It… it was, but…” now it was my turn to fidget nervously, “I just… feel better when Sonata’s around, y’know? Safer.”

I realised as the last word left my mouth that that was probably the wrong thing to say, because if she made me feel safe and I needed her here with me while I was talking to Sunset then, perforce, it would mean…

“I guess I deserve that,” Sunset said weakly, her attempt at a smile gone as she looked down at the table in dismay. “I… c-can I just start this off by saying how fucking sorry I am?”

The last few words cracked as tears spilled over onto her cheeks, and it was clear she’d been holding that in for a while. She wiped at her eyes several times before cursing under her breath and giving up on the effort.

“I don’t have any excuse, alright?” Sunset sobbed as she leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table and it looked for a moment like that was all that was holding her up. “Quill, I don’t blame you for not feeling safe with me anymore after what I did…”

“I never really thought you’d ever hurt me, Sunset,” I said softly, and she let out another tiny, wracked sob, and I felt my throat close up with emotion. I choked the words out anyway, I needed to say them. “You’ve always been my best friend, even if I wasn’t yours… you were the one who understood me best, and I know I crossed a line, a big one, back in the dorm room-”

“No, I had no right to slap you like that,” Sunset spat. “Even if you did cross a line, even if I was in a really bad place, emotionally, I had no right!”

Sunset met my gaze and I saw nothing of the confident young woman I had always, maybe mistakenly, idolized. In its place I saw the woman I know now… no, that even back before all of this, that I knew was there. I saw a hot mess that was just as riddled with neuroses and anxieties as I was, even if they were slightly better hidden.

Okay… a lot better hidden.

“No, you didn’t,” I said finally, forcing the words out. “You… you didn’t have any right to hurt me.”

There was no forthcoming answer, Sunset was just nodding silently as she stared at her hands where they were folded on the tabletop.

“But,” I continued, “I… I didn’t have any right to say the things I said either, especially since they were wrong.”

I bit my lip as the words came out and violently shook my head.

“No, no, no, no.” I pounded my fist angrily on the table, making Sunset jump in surprise as I looked back up at her. “No, that’s not right, it doesn’t matter if I was right or wrong! I was angry and mean and cruel and it wasn’t just because I was afraid that Aria was hurting you!”

“It… wasn’t?” Sunset looked confused. “Why else would you have-”

“BECAUSE I LOVED YOU!” I had to shout to get the words out of my throat, and Sunset froze stock-still.

For years… literal years those words had been wrenched shut somewhere deep in my chest. For so long I had left those words unsaid, even when Sunset had asked me out I’d turned her down because I was terrified of destroying our friendship.

Because I was terrified she’d find out how broken I was inside.

“W-what?” Sunset stammered, looking bewildered.

“I’ve loved you for years, Sunset,” I bawled as I stared down at the table. I didn’t bother trying to keep the tears in, it would’ve been a wasted effort. “I’ve been in love with you for years, okay? And I knew it would never work because I’d never be what you needed and I hated myself for all those years because I was so… so…”

A drink clinked into place in front of me.

It was clear and fizzy in a thick, old-fashioned glass with three large cubes of ice resting against one another. I could smell lime and something sweet, like berries almost, and I reached out slowly to grasp the cool, chilled surface.

This was what I needed, because I knew Sonata and she knew me.

I lifted the drink to my lips and swallowed a gulp of the drink and felt-

-CALM-

-myself relax as the sweet, lime chill and fizzing liquid rolled down my throat in a soothing wave of quiet. It was like a cold, cold drink on a hot day. It was an evening breeze over my back and my face after a long, hard afternoon. It was cold and sweet and sour and the flavors danced on my tongue for a few moments before settling into a quiet whisper of calm in the back of my mind.

“Twi’?” Sunset said softly as I set the drink down.

I wiped at my eyes and smiled wanly at Sunset, sniffling a little as I did. My feelings for Sunset were no surprise to Sonata, I could tell as I glanced over at her. She was smiling that same small, enigmatic smile she was wearing the day I’d first sat at her bar.

You can’t hide those kinds of things from a Siren.

“It’s true,” I said finally, after taking a deep breath. “I really was in love with you, like… crazy, stupid in love with you.”

“B-But why?” Sunset asked, looking genuinely confused. “I… I asked you out and you told me-”

“-that I didn’t feel that way about you,” I finished. “Which was a lie… and a bad one, because I did… but I was ashamed.”

“We could’ve tried,” Sunset said softly.

“It would have been a disaster, Sunset, and we both know it,” I said with a slightly bitter laugh. “You’ve got a libido like a volcano and I’ve got… an iceberg.”

“A relationship is more than sex, Twi’,” Sunset said a little sullenly.

“I know,” I said and I honestly meant it for once. “I mean, I know now… to be honest I think I’d half convinced myself that wasn’t the case but… I do know.”

“Then why couldn’t we have tried?” Sunset pressed.

“Because a relationship is more than sex,” I repeated her words with a tired shrug, “but that doesn’t mean that for some people sex isn’t sort of a necessary part of it, y’know? I don’t want sex… but that doesn’t mean you wanting sex is wrong.” I sagged back in my chair and lifted the drink to my lips, taking another sip. “What you need out of a relationship includes sex, Sunset, and that’s just as important and valid as me not needing or wanting it.”

Sunset sat awkwardly across from me for several moments before holding up a finger to Sonata.

“Can I get an Old Hunter?” Sunset asked in a quiet voice.

Smiling, Sonata set out a rocks glass and dropped a single large cube of ice into it. As the cube clinked into place in the middle of the glass she raised a bottle of fine rye whisky and another that looked like a wine bottle and had the image of an old Roaman statue of a woman gripping the neck of a wild goat.

She tipped both, slow pouring them in a short measure over the ice cube before pulling back, stowing the bottles, and then pulling out a small container of honey, scooping out a portion with a thin spoon, and drizzling it over the ice cube and all along the bottom of the glass where it would dissolve into the alcohol before dipping the spoon quickly into the glass, giving it a few sharp turns that sent the cube spinning in place, before pulling it free and slipping the spoon into the sink.

“Order up,” Sonata said softly as she walked over to the table, lifted the glass to her lips, then lowered it to the table in front of Sunset.

I wondered briefly what it was that Sunset would feel. What was it that Sunset was lacking that Sonata knew she needed?

Sunset lifted the drink and took a slow sip, and her eyes closed slowly while she took a deep breath. There was a faint redness to her cheeks, and I watched as sweat broke out on her brow and she smiled.

“Good,” Sunset said in a slightly raw voice as a few tears trickled down and traced new lines down her cheeks. “It’s… it’s really good.”

“I was worried about you,” I said quietly as we both sipped at our drinks. “With Aria, I mean, but I think deep down I knew that wasn’t why I lost it on you that night.”

“So what was the real reason?” Sunset asked, glancing up at me over the rim over her glass. “Seriously, Aria isn’t exactly the first girl I’ve dated.”

“No, she isn’t,” I allowed, then grimaced as I came to the point of my real shame. “But she’s the one that I was afraid might actually be able to keep you for good.”

Sunset raised an eyebrow, a habit I realised she was probably picking up from Aria, and I laughed dryly.

“When you were with Rainbow we all pretty much knew it was going to blow up,” I said with a small shrug, and for a moment Sunset looked a little put out before frowning, then nodding. “And we also knew neither of you would take it from us that that’s what would happen, we just tried to keep you two from killing each other.”

“So far so good,” Sunset said with an acerbic chuckle. “And you’re right… we wouldn’t have listened.”

“I know,” I replied. “Just like I knew you two wouldn’t last, and the same went with your other girlfriends… I knew that… that none of them could take you away from me.”

“Twi’…” Sunset said in a plaintive voice. “No one could-”

“I know!” I snapped, backing Sunset up a few inches, and I blew out a breath and took another drink. “I… I know… but I was jealous, and angry, and I hated myself for feeling like I wouldn’t ever be able to be with you because I was broken.”

“You’re not broken,” Sunset said quietly, and I nodded.

“You say that,” I shook my head and sighed, “but hearing it and believing it are two different things… and Sonata? Sonata made me believe it.”

“I’m glad,” Sunset said, with what might’ve been the first real smile of our conversation. “Does she make you happy?”

“More than I think I’ve ever been in my life,” I replied with a smile of my own.

“That’s all I ever wanted, Twi’,” Sunset said with a small sigh. “And… I fucked it up pretty bad, huh?”

“I wasn’t much better,” I said a touch angrily.

“But you never hit me,” Sunset said, her voice tight with anger. “I… I lost it, Twi’… the moment Aria told me you’d laid a hand on her I just saw red… and all I could think about was making sure no one ever touched Aria like that ever again…” She shuddered, and I saw her knuckles go white as she gripped the old glass. “I wasn’t even thinking about hurting you or… or anything like that! I just… when I saw you there I just felt this horrible, awful, twisting rage bubble up and the next thing I knew you were on the ground and I was yelling at you!”

“Y-You weren’t really yelling per se,” I correct weakly. “More like… threatening me with defenestration sans the window.”

“I spent days in a fuming rage at you,” Sunset said grimly as she raised her drink and finished it off. “Because… because I was so fucking ashamed of myself that if I didn’t stay mad I thought I might die of it, Twi’.”

Several moments more of silence passed, and I finished my drink trying to find a way to reach out to her. To reach the Sunset I knew was in there. I still wasn’t sure where we were going to end up, whether as friends or just… just as people who used to be close.

“Y’know what I always felt the worst about?” I said, realising something both important and unpleasant.

“What?” Sunset asked sullenly as she stared down at her empty glass.

I could see her contemplating asking for another.

“Every time you broke up with one of your girlfriends,” I began, feeling my stomach twist at the admission I was about to make, “or had a one night stand that I knew you were hoping would end up as more and didn’t… every time that stuff happened… I was happy.”

Sunset blinked in surprise and stared at me.

“Disgusting, right?” I asked with a small, bitter laugh. “I cheered you up and hugged you, and we watched old movies, and we’d talk, and all the while I was doing a dance in my head because… because you were still mine.”

“That’s kinda fucked up, Twi’,” Sunset said with a wry, quirked smile.

“Tell me about it,” I laughed, more easily this time. “God, between that and taking out my frustration on Aria? I’m… I’m so sorry… even if she did kick my ass, I was still such a bitch…” Sunset and I both shared a bitter chuckle at that one, but there wasn’t much real humor in it.

I sighed quietly and leaned back in my chair as I stared down at the table.

“Even if you never knew it,” I continued in a subdued voice, “I was still a bitch.”

“I guess… but you always tried to do right by me, and you never… never did what I did, so I guess all I can ask is ‘now what?’,” Sunset looked up at me without raising her head. “Are we…? I mean… what are we now?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “You… scared me really badly, Sunset… I’ve never been hit like that before… not by someone I-”

“I know,” Sunset said softly. “I know.”

“I w-want to be friends with you again, Sunset,” I shook, feeling my throat closing up again. “I still love you… not like I love Sonata, but… but I still…”

“I love you too, Twi’,” Sunset said with a small sob.

“But I don’t know if I trust you,” I said finally.

Sunset curled in on herself at those words, and for a moment it was like she was wilting as she wrapped her arms around herself and quietly began to cry. I felt like I had just run her through with a blade, she was even clutching at her chest like I’d stuck her in the heart.

I guess in a way I had.

I think maybe twenty minutes passed as we sat there; me with my head hanging in remorse, and Sunset quietly shaking and crying as I listened to her heart breaking. Once I glanced over at Sonata, and she was just standing at the bar, completely still, staring down at a glass in her hands that she had paused mid-polish.

There were tears falling from her eyes in a constant stream, and every so often a small tremor worked its way through her body.

You can’t hide those things from a Siren, and whatever Sunset was feeling… God, Sonata must have been feeling it, too.

Maybe it was that… maybe it was seeing the same pain on another face that did it. Seeing the pain that Sunset was in painted clear as day on the face of the woman I’d fallen weirdly in love with put it in perspective for me. I wasn’t sure I trusted Sunset but… Sunset hadn’t had any reason to trust me either, the day she’d offered me her hand.

All she’d seen was a girl in incredible pain who had made a host of poor choices and she’d taken a step forward, given me her hand, wrapped her arms around me…

And I fell in love.

Maybe now it was my turn.

“Hey, Sunset?” I said quietly, and she glanced up at me, sniffling and red-eyed, and she swallowed thickly before answering.

“Y-yeah?”

“We’ve been two different people than we thought we were for a long time now, I think,” I said carefully, feeling out the words as they came to me. “A-and I also think that maybe we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way,” that pretty much went without saying, really, but I pushed onward. “So, with that in mind do you think that, I don’t know, we could just… just be who we really are and… try to start over from there?”

Sunset stared at me cautiously, as if she didn’t quite buy what she was hearing. Then she swallowed again, wiped at her face with a napkin at the table, and took a deep breath.

“Do you mean it?” Sunset asked with a touch of quiet hope.

I hesitated for a moment, and I her expression fell a little as I did. Steeling myself as much as I could, I met that burning, sapphire gaze of hers with as much strength as I could.

“I… I want to mean it, and maybe that’s enough,” I replied, shifting nervously as I fidgeted with my now-empty glass. “I’m kinda winging it here, to be honest.”

“It’s more than I deserve,” Sunset’s voice was so small, and could almost feel the pain in it.

“Maybe it is,” I said back, taking a breath and standing up from my seat. “But I’m willing to give a try if you are.”

I held out my hand to her, I wasn’t really sure what it was going to take to rebuild the bridges we’d both jointly burnt between our actions but I knew I didn’t want to lose Sunset as a friend. I wanted her to be in my life and if that meant stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying to forge a path to wherever it was that had both her and I being friends again then I was willing to work for it.

And so was she.

Sunset Shimmer was many things, but she had never shied away from hard work.

Standing up from her own chair, Sunset reached out and took my hand in a firm grasp, let out a deep breath, and nodded before shaking my hand.

“So… starting new?” Sunset said hopefully.

“Yeah,” I agreed with a nod. “Starting new.”

I turned to Sonata who was beaming at the both of us from behind the bar, and before I could say a word she just nodded and pulled out two glasses before quickly cobbling together another pair of drinks identical to ones we’d had before.

A moment later the glasses clinked into place in front of us and Sonata took a few steps back, still beaming.

I lifted my drink just as Sunset lifted hers and we raised them, clacking the rims together lightly.

“Starting new,” we said in unison before taking a deep drink from each of our glasses.

8. And Maybe Just One For The Road

View Online

Ice rattled against glass as lively music played in the background of the Last Note Lounge. For the first time in a very long time, the Note was closed for the evening, much to the chagrin of its regular clientele in favor of a small, special event that had been on the books for some time.

For well over a decade, actually.

There was chatter and cheerful conversation throughout the space that made up the bar of the Lounge. Most of the rest of the Lounge was roped off but it left enough space for the little party that had been going since the early afternoon, and in the middle of the cleared space near the bar were the ladies of the hour.

I was off near one of the edges of the bar, although it looked a little different since the extension had been added some decade and a half ago, I still preferred to sit in that spot. That was the place where I’d met her, so I couldn't bring myself to sit anywhere else if I had my choice in the matter.

The four girls were dancing raucously in the middle to a song that had a quick, upbeat swing to it that reminded me a little of the Strokes.

Glancing to the side, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as I watched Sonata swing her hips and wiggle her shoulders to the tune as she mixed drinks.

She was keeping the alcohol content low for the night, but it was their special night after all. All six of us sisters had agreed on it with a little insistence from our daughters.

Sisters.

My smile grew a little wider as I looked around over my ‘family’.

Sonata was behind the bar dancing to the tune as she slid drink after drink along the bar where they were swept up by their owners. Adagio was reclining against the far end of the bar, her generous figure still full and stunning despite being better than forty while her wife, Octavia, had settled herself comfortably in the crook of Adagio’s arm, and whose hair had taken on mature streaks of lovely silver that she never bothered to dye.

Aria, meanwhile, was in the middle of the girls showing them that, youth or not, nobody but nobody out-danced the middle sister of the Sirens, and Sunset danced alongside her with the pair occasionally venturing into risqué territory which got a chorus of ‘eww’s and ‘mo~m!’s from Serenata and Cantata.

The other two girls were giving a round of raucously encouraging hoots and hollers.

“Dulcetta, Allegretta, don’t encourage those two,” I shouted over the music with a wry smirk, drawing a unified pair of rolled eyes from the two girls.

My daughters.

“Aw, let’em have their fun,” Sonata chided with a nudge of her elbow against my shoulder as she leaned in next to me and passed me a gin and tonic. “Sunny and Ari’ can’t be stopped anyway, babe.”

“Ugh, I know,” I rolled my eyes and leaned back towards my wife to kiss her softly. “Almost twenty years and those two have barely slowed down.”

And in twenty years, Sonata had grown no less lovely. She was still slender with a gentle curve to her that gave her an attractive lilt to her body. Her eyes were still sharp and almost free of crows-feet, but despite being physically the same age as her sister, regardless of who was ‘younger’, thanks to the portal, Sonata wore her years with more grace than anyone else in the room.

There were signs, though.

Her hands were still as sure and swift as ever, but there were lines to them that showed the wear and tear of constant work that hadn’t been there ten years ago. Her hair wasn’t grey but it was growing lighter with every few years.

I also happened to know that her eyesight was going. She wore glasses in bed when she was reading now, which was a relatively recent development, even if she stuck with contacts when she was working.

“They set less stuff on fire now,” Sonata said cheerfully.

“They caught the stove on fire last week,” I countered bluntly.

“Psshhaw,” Sonata waved off my point. “That’s only because they were making stew and then got distracted-”

“-by having sex on the floor, yes, I remember,” I chuckled as I rubbed at my face.

That was an image I could have seriously lived without having burned into my retina. As I pushed the thought away, I looked down at my reflection in the polished and frowned.

My eyes had never been good, and my prescription for my glasses had only gotten stronger over the years. I had obvious lines around my eyes from squinting too hard at computer screens all day, and although I’d kept myself in better shape over the years than I’d ever put effort into in my teenage years, the effort was having diminishing returns.

Sunset and Aria were both as athletic, energetic, and svelte as ever, although how they kept that energy after raising a hellion like Cantata I would never understand. I loved my niece to pieces but she was the most adorable package of trouble I’d ever met… well, aside from…

I had barely glanced over at the twins when Sonata swatted me lightly on the ear.

“What?!” I grumbled, rubbing at my ear with one hand while taking a drink with the other. “I’m just worried about our girls taking after the wrong Siren.”

“Sunset is loads worse than Aria and you know it,” Sonata said with a wry lift of her eyebrow. “And our girls don’t need a role model for that stuff.”

I sighed and laughed a little. “I know… I keep wondering if we did something wrong.”

“Nope,” Sonata said simply as she picked up a glass and started polishing it.

“Nope?” I echoed with a raised eyebrow. “How do you figure?”

“Look at them,” Sonata gestured out, and I turned to look at the girls that had become my world.

Dulcetta and Allegretta, twin girls that we’d adopted a year after we’d gotten married. They’d been babies at the time, and their story was… a little tragic.

Their mother had been one of the dancers at the Lounge, Foxtrot, a wonderful young woman, and when she’d gotten pregnant she’d been thrilled.

But…

There had been complications during the delivery and she hadn’t made it through the birth. It was a dark day for the whole family that made up the Lounge, for employees and owners alike.

In an industry like this, I learned, it was hard not to form close ties with one another because the people of the world looked down on us and anyone associated with us. Nevermind that plenty of those same people happily paid for what the Lounge provided, that little touch of hypocrisy never seemed to bother them, though.

Even my family still had their small prejudices, despite all the years I'd been working here.

In the end, it had been a difficult choice: either we let the twin girls be given up for adoption since the father wasn’t in the picture, or… or we adopted them ourselves.

Sunset and Aria had only had Cantata a month and a half past and couldn’t spare the kind of energy for two more children, and Adagio and Octavia were in a similar boat with Serenata, especially since they handled the lion’s share of the Lounge’s management, and we all agreed no child ought to be raised by a nanny.

So, in an act that shocked even me, I was the one who had put my foot down and said that I wanted to take them in. Sonata had been paralysed by anxiety and fear… the fear that she would inflict some part of her Siren parentage on them through osmosis, even though it was irrational, so I had made the decision.

The best decision of my life.

Despite not being biologically ours, you wouldn’t be able to tell by watching how they acted. Their demeanor, and the fact that their mother had been one of the star dancers in the lounge, made the girls into the Last Note's unofficial mascots.

It had to be both of them too since Dulcetta and Allegretta were identical twins.

And I loved them with all my heart.

My beautiful, binary stars.

Their hair was a fair shade of gleaming blue that faded to pink near the tips, and their complexion favored their mother’s; a kind of soft turquoise that actually led people to believe that they were our blood daughters because of how similar they looked to Sonata.

The eyes were the most telling though.

Two pairs of razor sharp emeralds that were never without a glint of mischief.

Of the pair, Dulcetta was the calm one, at least as far as those two went, and was the most like me. She was learning to program almost as fast as I had and had a serious knack for lateral computing that left me suspicious as to what she actually did with that skill.

Allegretta, on the other hand? She was the wild child.

She’d been in trouble more than I cared to recall, gotten more detentions than her sister, Cantata, and Serenata combined, and even been caught shoplifting once which had me wondering how often she hadn’t been caught. Far too often I had no idea how to talk to her, even after sixteen years she was still an enigma.

And I loved her so much.

God, I really should talk to my mom more. I have a few choice apologies to make.

“What am I supposed to be seeing?” I asked finally as I watched the four girls dance along with their more active aunts-stroke-moms.

Sonata sighed, and silently gestured with the polished glass again.

“They’re dancing?” I ventured, and Sonata shook her head. “They’re laughing?” She gave a small nod, I was getting warmer. “They’re… happy?”

“Yahtzee,” Sonata said with a smile.

“And?” I turned to face her and took another drink.

“Twi’... I… I don’t think there’s such a thing as a perfect parent,” Sonata said quietly, setting the glass down as she did and setting the cloth she’d been using off to the side. “Even my moms weren’t perfect, and they died for us…”

“But-!”

“We can’t do everything for them,” Sonata said softly, reaching out and taking my hand. “But we can make sure they’re happy, Twi’... maybe that’s all a good parent can ever really do.”

“But I want to do better,” I said quietly, leaning my head against Sonata’s shoulder as I glanced back at the four cousins and sighed. “I’m sorry… it’s their Sweet Sixteen, I can’t be getting all maudlin like this.”

Technically, it had been their sixteenth birthday several weeks ago, but it was something of a tradition to have one big birthday bash for all four of the girls, rather than a random scattering of chaotic parties throughout the year. All of the girls were within a year of one another anyway, and thanks to that they had grown up together more like sisters than cousins.

“I don’t think they’re going to get mad over their mom getting all weepy about loving them too much,” Sonata said, running her hand over my cheek.

I leaned into her touch. It still brought me peace and calm after all these years, and a part of me was absurdly thankful for that. One of my greatest, and admittedly most irrational, fears was that one day I would fall out of love with Sonata. I was afraid one day I’d wake up, look at her, and not feel that little bubble of love swell up in my heart.

That fear has faded over the years and, after nineteen years of being together, I feel relatively certain that we’ll be together to the end.

“Woo!” Sunset swung in beside the two us and slumped over onto the bar and thrust her fist into the air above her. “I… am exhausted!”

“Not as young as you used to be, huh?” I said a little smugly as I took up my gin and tonic and took another sip. “Wanna grab her some water, ‘Nata?”

“Order up,” Sonata said cheekily, sliding a tall glass of ice-water to Sunset who swept it up and downed it as she stood, turned, and took a seat at the bar.

Aria was still dancing with the girls.

“Friggin’ Sirens,” Sunset said with a touch of playful annoyance. “It’s not fair that she’s able to recharge in a feedback loop like that.”

“Perks of being a pathovore, I guess,” I shot back, clinking my glass against hers.

“Yeah…” Sunset looked a little uneasy for a moment before taking another, smaller sip of her now half-empty glass.

“You okay, Sunny?” Sonata asked, turning, leaning her back against the bar and giving Sunset a concerned look.

“”It’s Cantata, isn’t it?” I said quietly, and Sunset froze.

Sonata raised an eyebrow and I glanced over at her in surprise.

“You haven’t noticed?” I said in surprise, and Sonata frowned.

“You know I don’t…” Sonata replied quietly.

I reached out and took her hand, gripping it tightly as Sunset gave us a look. I just shook my head at her. It wasn’t something Sonata wanted to bring up, not with Sunset or any of her other sisters. I was the only who knew that Sonata could, if she wanted to, still preserve herself.

Eternally.

Sonata rarely ever used her inborn powers anymore, even though it left her a little frail and a bit hungry all the time, and she’d once likened it to walking around all the time with one eye closed and your nose pinched shut. All she had to do was feed like she used to in order to get it back, though. A little extra energy here and there would be enough to counteract the effects of aging and natural atrophy, even just balancing the scales would mean she would live forever.

And outlive everyone she loved.

So she never would.

“S-So, what’s going on with Canta?” Sonata asked, glancing back at Sunset and me. “Is she okay?”

“She’s… yeah, I guess,” Sunset said carefully, but I rolled my eyes and gave Sunset a light shove. “Ugh… okay, so… she’s started to feed.”

Sonata’s eyes widened. “You… you mean like-?”

“Yeah,” Sunset nodded and turned to lean heavily against the countertop. “Aria has been trying to teach her how to rein it in but… Written’s Quill, Twi’, according to Aria the feeding process is like a narcotic.”

“It is,” Sonata confirmed in a low voice. “It’s part of our biology, we have to feed to survive, and… and so it’s addictive, maybe in the same way eating is addictive to humans, I guess.” Sonata shuffled a little uncomfortably. “It’s about the right time… human puberty is in full roll…”

“And she could really hurt someone,” Sunset said in a brittle voice. “She… she could hurt one of her sisters!”

“Not Serenata,” I replied, and that got a look from both Sunset and Sonata, and I bit my lip for a moment before making my decision. “Sera’s been feeding for better than a year now… Octavia told me.”

Her sister-in-law would have to forgive her that indiscretion.

“What?!” Sonata looked shocked, Sunset too for that matter, and I grimaced.

“I’m sorry… I should’ve told you, but it wasn't my place,” I glanced over at Adagio and Octavia who were now distracting each other with small kisses. “Tavi didn’t want me to talk about it… but Sera’s been keeping Canta in check somehow.”

“It’s because she’s stronger,” Sonata interjected. “Stronger Sirens can suppress the feeding instinct in weaker ones, it’s… it’s like a show of dominance.”

Sunset’s eyes widened at that.

“Is… is Sera-”

“She’s not hurting Canta,” I said firmly, reaching out and putting a hand on Sunset’s arm. “You know that, Sunny… Sera adores Cantata, she’s always been there for her.”

“I know,” Sunset replied in a small voice. “But I have no idea what to do… she’s my baby girl, Twi’!” Sunset wiped at her eyes as she spoke and leaned against my shoulder. “I feel like I’m losing her… like I’m losing touch.”

“I know what you mean,” I said a little weakly. “I think that might just be a parent thing… they’re growing up, Sunset, and we can’t stop that.”

“They won’t need us forever,” Sonata said with a small smile, drawing a look from the both of us. “It’s true… they won’t, because they have each other, see?”

Sonata gestured to the circle of dancing girls.

Cantata was the gorgeous, svelte, and impish beauty who was growing into every inch of her Siren mother’s beauty, with a tumbling evening-horizon of hair framing her perfect face. She was still wearing her jacket, the one she wore every day, actually, and I recognised it easily.

It was her mom’s. Sunset’s old leather jacket that Rarity had given her as a graduation gift, and one that the fashionista always made time to keep in good repair no matter how famous she got.

Canta's arm was linked with Adagio and Octavia’s daughter. Serenata was built like her Siren mother as well, and it made me wonder if Siren genes were just naturally more dominant. It might explain how they’d managed to inherit their mother’s pathovoric nature despite being ostensibly human.

But God, Serenata was going to be imposing when she got older; tall and standing nearly six feet already, and she probably a few more inches left in her before she stopped, with a waterfall of ink much like Octavia’s, although as she’d gotten older a few streaks of gold appeared. She was as belligerent and headstrong as ever, but always for the good of her ‘sisters’. She was both the bulldozer and the stubborn wall that stood between Cantata, Dulcetta, Allegretta, and whatever the world tried to throw at them.

Octavia would never admit it out loud, but Serenata had definitely inherited both temper and sense of responsibility from her.

Dulcetta and Allegretta were a matched pair, but they always were, and they moved like one too. I’d once seen them perform a dance routine together and I was left a little in awe at their synchronicity. Between the ‘twin thing’ as they always called it, and being effectively jointly raised by three Sirens and their wives, they all had some musical talent and a good sense of rhythm.

Sonata was right: they had each other. I wanted so badly to keep them safe, but I knew there was only so much I could do and, in the end, all I could really do was trust that they would be able to look after and take care of each other.

The way they had for years.

I smirked at the same time Sunset did as Aria tapped out and moved out from between the seemingly boundlessly energetic square of girls.

“Whew… okay, not as young as I used t’be,” Aria groaned as she slid up next to Sunset and wrapped an arm around her. “Damn… never thought I’d say that.”

“The plight of the ex-immortal,” I noted with a salute of my glass.

“Is this a private party or can anyone join?” Adagio moved up beside us with Octavia on her arm. “It seems like you could use a little class around here.”

“Sure could, if you see any let me know,” Sunset remarked, and Adagio raised an eyebrow as Octavia crowed with laughter.

“My bar is always classy, thank you,” Sonata said with mock offense. “So, what’ll it be, ladies?”

We glanced around one another, silence filling the moment before their my family’s eyes landed on me, and I sighed.

“Might as well put that expensive gin bar to use,” I said with a smirk. “Gin and tonics, all around.”

“At least ‘Nata’s don’t taste like Pine Sol,” Aria quipped as she leaned in and kissed her wife.

“Hey, mom!” I turned at the sound of my daughter’s voice to find Dulcetta stepping out of the circle of girls with Allegretta right on her heels, per usual.

I slipped out from the confines of my sisters to scoop both of my girls up in a hug.

“Happy birthday, my stars,” I said happily, and that got a pair of dramatic groans. I laughed softly, though, and hugged them all the tighter. “No grumbling, I’m your mom, and you’re both growing up too fast, I’m allowed to call you that forever.”

“C’mon, ma,” Allegretta said quietly, and to my surprise she hugged me tighter. “We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”

“But you will one day,” I said gently as I pulled back, still holding them close. “It’s just how life goes.”

“But we’ll always be here for you two,” Sonata said lovingly as she came up behind us and put her arms around me and the girls. “No matter what, no matter where you go, no matter how far away, your mommas will always be here for their stars.”

Dulcetta sniffled slightly as she wiped at her bright green eyes, and hugged Sonata. “Aw… m-mom, c’mon!”

I looked up just in time to see Adagio and Octavia joining us with Serenata in tow, and a moment later Aria and Sunset were beside us as well with their arms over Cantata, and I felt my heart clench hard in my chest as the full weight of how much I loved everyone in this room struck me like a hammer to the side of a temple bell.

Serenata was tall and strong, like a tree planted in good, dark earth that was growing fast and healthy. She was the core of the group, the steady hand, even if she was temperamental at times. Cantata was playful, smiling, and fey; if Serenata was a tree, then Cantata was the sun that fed her, disarming her temper and keeping her in good humor. The twins were stars in the sky, the light in the dark for all of them, always quick of wit and smart-mouthed, and getting the little group out of trouble as often as they got them into it.

“You’re all so beautiful,” I said with a broad smile. “You’re getting older and you’re growing up, but… never forget that we’re here for you, okay? Always. No matter how many birthdays pass.” I leaned against Sonata, my chest feeling fit to burst as tears trickled slowly down my cheeks. “Right, babe?”

“Always,” Sonata said softly as she passed out drinks to everyone present, even pressing two glasses into the hands of our daughters.

“By blood or bond, true family can never truly be apart,” Adagio said in an uncharacteristically somber tone, holding her glass high. “And we will always be family.”

“Now and forever,” Octavia agreed as she raised her glass as well.

Sunset and Aria glanced at one another and nodded, linking hands and grasping tight as they held onto their daughter who looked up at them and nodded, then all three lifted their glasses.

“Til the tides fall silent,” the three said in unison.

“Happy birthday, to each of you,” I said with a smile, raising my glass alongside my wife and daughters’.

“And many happy returns,” Sonata added.

The bright sound of glass clinking merrily against glass rattled lightly throughout the Last Note.

It’s funny, in a way. I’d always been terrified that I would never find anyone, that I would always be the one left alone… that I would always be the one left behind. Now here I am with a new fear… that I won’t be left alone, but that I’ll be leaving my daughters alone when they need me the most.

Maybe that’s just what it means to be a parent, though. Maybe there isn’t a good way to do this thing… I think Sonata was right. The best we can do is just make sure they’re happy. If our daughters are happy then we must be doing something right and, sometimes, that’s all you can really do.

I took a drink and smiled as I looked down at my two wonderful daughters. Blood or no, they were our children, mine and Sonata’s.

“Happy birthday, girls,” I said happily.

Our beautiful binary stars.