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Sucker for a Cute Face

by Eyeswirl the Weirded

First published

Adagio finds Fluttershy alone one morning, and many to follow.

Quiet mornings before school starts can be lonely, but peaceful. For some people, they're a good time to just breathe and prepare themselves for the day ahead. Fluttershy and Adagio Dazzle find themselves doing this in the same place at the same time, in their own ways.

Based on a picture that was a little too big to be the cover art, but cute enough to inspire some shipping anyway. :raritystarry:

Now comes with actual cover art courtesy of SkycatcherEquestria!

Comments may contain spoilers!

Now comes with Trope page!

Chapter 1: "Sweetie"

Some things were too easy.

As a magical being with the power to re-write people's wills with a song, Adagio Dazzle had experienced many small conflicts that she and her cohorts overcame with minimal difficulty. Ironically? Adapting from the loss of that very power was one of them, proving easier than the three would have ever dared dream. Not to say it was entirely a cake-walk, whatever that expression meant, but living without the ability to brain-wash people really wasn't so bad. They'd already adapted to being weakened when they came to this world, so having the last of their power snuffed out wasn't a big change.

Not that the three of them were bitter or anything.

At all.

Well, that was actually true for the most part, but they did miss their ability to sing.

But what can we do? If they beat us at our most powerful, the idea of revenge isn't even worth entertaining.

She was sure they'd only face further pain and humiliation if they tried anything, so the Dazzlings made no effort to get back at those that cost them their voices. Truth be told, she wasn't even sure the three of them could muster the energy. What would be the point? They'd lost everything.

Well, everything but the large piles of money they'd accumulated over the years in this world and the subsequent two-story house they now lived in. That certainly helped cushion the blow. They had enough to live comfortably for the foreseeable future, but Sonata had joked a few times that maybe they shouldn't have entranced all those people at that high-society party to 'donate to their cause.' If they hadn't, they might have had to get jobs. If they had jobs, they might have had something to divert the newest threat to their daily lives:

Boredom.

No magic, no revenge for having no magic, no idea what to do with themselves. Luckily, Sunset Shimmer had made something like a suggestion the last time they talked. She had wanted to make triple-sure that vengeance really wasn't in the Dazzlings' plans, becoming much less jittery when that was cleared up. Shimmer's proposal was that they, like her, attend the school they tried to enslave, go to classes, make friends, et cetera.

So, still attending school for lack of anything better to do, she, Aria Blaze, and Sonata Dusk hadn't really caused trouble since the Battle of the Bands. People still didn't trust them, due to the whole mind-control thing and some honest misunderstandings, but no one had been willing to openly antagonize them, either. Flash Sentry has been hard to place, greeting the three of us and making small-talk, but never going further than that.

This and more Adagio pondered as she wandered the school grounds one morning. It was early, well before classes were due to start and nobody else was even around yet. Sighing, she lamented her own inability to just flop down and sleep on command, a skill Sonata had evidently mastered. Along with snoring. Aria couldn't do that, but she had the blessing of sleeping like a rock.
Adagio had woken up around 5:00AM, rolled around on her bed for forty minutes trying to get comfortable again, groaned with irritation, and opted to start her day sooner than normal. She found herself at the school building a good forty-five minutes before the first classes began, and that was by walking in a leisurely stroll the whole way. Now here she was, aimlessly circling the building while waiting for someone to show up and unlock one of the doors.

Not that she couldn't get in if she wanted to, but Vice-Principal Luna had gotten on her case for 'breaking and entering' the first time she'd been caught in the school building half an hour before it was due to open. Apparently it had nothing to do with sitting in Celestia's office chair with her feet up. As she thought about the paradox of wanting to keep students out of school, she noticed a light-pink plume on a bench by the soccer field.

Had that person been sitting there before? Approaching from behind the bench, she opted to investigate...

---

Pinkie was right, you really do have to enjoy the little things in life. Sitting alone wasn't exactly Fluttershy's favorite activity, but in quiet, peaceful mornings (which was most of them, before anyone else showed up), it was nice to just enjoy the calm environment of the area around the building. Of course, she kind of had to be here at this time every week-day, her mom could only drop her off just before work about an hour before school started and the only other way she knew to get here on time was to take the bus.

Buses were scary. They were basically big, cramped metal rooms that roared down the street, full of people, people she didn't know, people who might talk to her, might look at her, might-

Fluttershy stopped herself, reaching into her backpack for the second part of her morning routine. Today it was a lollipop! Every morning, since maybe middle school, she brought something sweet to help start the day on a bright note, since her friends usually weren't there as early as she was.

That, and even on peaceful mornings, it's a little scary to be all alone.

So, she popped the sugary end of the stick into her mouth, savoring its... cherry! Today was a cherry-flavored lollipop.

I know it's childish, but it makes me feel a little better. Besides, who doesn't like a little candy?

She would feel bad for hiding it from Pinkie if she weren't sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that there were, at any given time, at least two handfuls of snacks in Pinkie's hair. Somehow. It was best not to think about the mechanics of the thing, that she knew.

"I didn't know you smoked."

Fluttershy nearly jumped out of her skin, emitting a high-pitched squeak. Not just for the sudden appearance of the voice, but for it being a voice she definitely recognized. Quickly turning to the source of the sound, she saw Adagio Dazzle, leading lady of the sirens, leaning over the back of the bench... with a surprisingly casual look on her face, give or take a raised eyebrow.

"I-I-I don't," Fluttershy muttered back, "w-why would you s-say that?"

She pointed a yellow finger at the paper stick hanging out of Fluttershy's mouth. "Does this mean you carry a lighter, too? Or do you leave that to your pink friend? Because if she's a pyromaniac, I'm honestly not surpri-"

"N-no!!" Popping the sucker out of her mouth, Fluttershy held it where Adagio could see. "It's just candy, see?"

"Oh!" Adagio facepalmed, laughing a little. The sunny shift in her mood drew a tiny smile from Fluttershy as she put the lollipop back in her mouth. "Well, suppose I should have seen that coming. You don't have that scent about you anyway."

Fluttershy blinked twice. "Scent?"

Still leaning over the back of the bench, Adagio nodded. "That smoker scent. Tried the stuff once, took a week to get the smell out of my hair." So much for stress relief.

"I-it's, um, bad for your throat, too."

"As bad as having my gem destroyed?"

Fluttershy winced, bracing herself for something painful.

Adagio rolled her eyes. "Please, I know better than to take it out on you or your band mates." Her tone was surprisingly calm, even dispassionate. "Besides, nothing I could do to any or all of you would ever fix them, so it's not really worth the effort."

"S-sorry."

She seemed to ignore Fluttershy's whispered sentiment, staring off into the empty soccer field. "You know, prior to the Battle of the Bands, I never settled for less than dark energy for sustenance, no matter my cohorts' insistence that some of what they called food in this world was alright." Aria's was more like begrudging praise, particularly for anything she could eat with hot-sauce, but Sonata could be downright obnoxious at times. "As such, I haven't tried much of what they have to offer here. How is it?"

"I-it's, uhm, s-sweet, I guess...?"

Adagio turned to look at her, making Fluttershy's heart-rate jump up again. "Sweet?"

Fluttershy ducked her head a little. "Maybe?"

"Hmm..." The two locked eyes for a long moment, Adagio keeping her bored, disinterested expression while Fluttershy's grew increasingly nervous. Quick as a whip, she snatched the candy out of Fluttershy's mouth and popped it into her own.

The first thing that registered in Fluttershy's awareness (The second was that somewhere, Rarity was probably making a disapproving face and talking about hygiene, but that wasn't important right now) was shock, her mouth hanging open as Adagio adapted a contemplative look.

"Hm. Yes, I suppose it is sweet. Tastes a little like a kind of fruit, as well. Familiar. I can't quite place the exact-"

She knew it was rude not to listen to people when they were talking, she really did, but in addition to the awareness that her treat had just been snatched right out of her mouth, Fluttershy's mind wrapped around a particular thought. It was in much the same way Adagio's tongue wrapped around the sugary substance at the end of the stick.

Saliva. Mine is on that, and now hers is, my saliva is in her mouth, that's, that's like, like a-

Finishing her analysis of the thing called 'lollipop', Adagio noticed the weakest Rainboom still gawking at her, mouth ajar, and cheeks tinting red. She smirked. "Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot it's not polite to take things that aren't yours." Taking hold of the stick between her thumb and forefinger, she took the lollipop out of her mouth, "You can have it back." and pressed the candy-coated end on Fluttershy's tongue, to an immediate and enjoyable effect.

Fluttershy squeaked, her eyes went wide, her mouth shut tight, her face burst into brighter red than the cherry-flavored sucker itself, and she collapsed, falling sideways on the bench while maintaining her normal sitting pose.

Chuckling at the sight, Adagio's evil grin grew a little wider. "Well, I should be going, the building should be open soon and I'd hate to have Luna annoyed with me for 'skipping' again. Be seeing you, Sweetie."

"S-sweet, s-s-sa-saliva, m-mouth, m-my-"

Walking away from the blushing wreck of a person, Adagio cackled to herself.

That one made some cute expressions. I'll have to do that again some time!

Fluttershy eventually managed to form coherent thoughts again, though her heart hadn't stopped racing. Considering the slowly-melting candy on her tongue right then, her mind returned to an earlier thought.

Saliva. Again. This time it's hers in my mouth. Almost like... like...

A kiss!

...And with a very pretty girl, at that. Savoring the lollipop, Fluttershy was certain of one thing; she'd definitely start today with a smile.

Author's Notes:

"Show, don't tell." I would, but writing another story has taught me that when I try to include all the details with as little "this is how things are" as possible, things drag on about 20k+ words longer than I meant them to. And that's not even all of what I'm now calling Act 1 of that story! Granted, that one was intended to be long anyway, but still.

I'm less than great at weaving in exposition. As such, I opted to just tell this time, and then get on with the story. :derpytongue2:

Also, I've been told that the first few chapters of this story are a little creepy if the saliva business is focused on, so I'd like to note that this is not a fetish story. The intent is not to disturb or to arouse, but to entertain, so I hope you enjoy. Rated Teen for Adagio Dazzle.

Chapter 2: Cold Sauce Hook-Thing

Later that day, Fluttershy couldn't help imagining Rarity saying something about her earlier exchange with Adagio being unsanitary.

Also? Eep!

She could never tell anyone about that, and pray that Adagio didn't either.

It's no big deal to her, is it? She did... that... without any hesitation at all! I bet she does that kind of thing with random people all the time!

Something about the thought saddened her.

Yes. All the time.

Pinkie Pie's voice snapped her out of it. "You keep waffles in your hair all the time?"

"W-what?!" Looking around her group's usual table at the cafeteria, she saw the others staring at her, perplexed. She gulped. "D-did I say that out loud?"

"Well, y'know," continued Pinkie, "for you it was like a soft mumble, but I heard it, and said it again, so it's like we all heard anyway!" There was a pause. "You keep waffles in your hair all the time?"

Fluttershy lowered her head a little as the others awaited clarification on the waffles-in-hair matter. "I, uh, no, it, um, Iwasjust, uh-"

Applejack snickered. "How 'bout that, Rarity? It ain't just ArrDee that spaces out."

Rainbow Dash grinned triumphantly, pumping a fist in the air. "Yyyyes, pay up!"

Rarity looked flabbergasted. "We never made any kind of wager!"

Rainbow snapped her fingers. "Dang." Now it was her the others were looking to for clarification. She smiled. "If I'm not the only one that zones out, I figure I can capitalize on it and act like I made a bet with people that weren't paying attention."

Sunset Shimmer raised an eyebrow. "Wouldn't they need to know an amount before they could pay you anything?"

Rainbow shrugged. "I figure if they're really out of it, they'll just hand over five bucks."

Sunset bit back a comment about taking advantage of people, even for not paying attention, and the conversation carried on until the end of lunch, Fluttershy grateful her own part in it was forgotten this time.

I wonder if Adagio keeps things in her hair...

---

The next morning, Fluttershy chose to wait somewhere different before school. Today she sat by the statue out front while enjoying a jawbreaker, as it was something that could dissolve in her mouth while she thought about other things. Primarily? Keeping an eye out for any sign of orange fluff. If Adagio had found her at the soccer field once, there wasn't much reason she couldn't find her in front of the school. She sat in silence (as she usually did) the entire time, a whirling mixture of odd feelings churning in her stomach at the thought of meeting Adagio in private again. Remembering their exchange made her lips tingle and her face burn, but the wait for school to start seemed to go a little quicker than normal.

---

To what was mostly her relief, Fluttershy didn't see any sign of the Dazzlings until much later in the day. The three of them were standing in the hall, idly talking amongst themselves. This would have been perfectly fine, but they were standing close to the door of her next class, which was due to begin in two minutes.

I could take the long way around, take a detour that leads to the same hall, but I might be late for class, or, run into someone else in the hallway!

Trixie looked a little annoyed when they bumped into each other about a year and a half ago, but Fluttershy couldn't tell if the irritable "Watch where you're going!" she'd been given back then meant Trixie might still be mad at her. And then there was the chance she'd see Photo Finish, who might take her picture again! Thoughts of whether or not she'd been making a weird pose or had her eyes closed haunted her for weeks afterward. One minute, thirty seconds remaining to class time, Fluttershy made her choice, moving quickly in the hope of slipping by the trio unnoticed.

She didn't dare look at any of them, knowing the feels-like-I'm-being-watched effect could get her spotted, but walking by, she overheard Aria Blaze.

"-appened again, huh?"

As she walked into the classroom, Fluttershy heard Sonata Dusk.

"That's like the fourth time, Dagi!"

---

Fluttershy didn't see Adagio again the rest of that day or the entirety of the next one, so she felt secure in her usual place by the soccer field as she enjoyed a candy cane the following morning. Of course, that was when she unconsciously turned her head, finding Adagio's wickedly-grinning face inches from her own. Emitting a startled squeak, Fluttershy fell backward on the bench.

Leaning over the back of the bench as she had before, Adagio cackled triumphantly until her target was sitting up straight again. "I didn't think I'd see you out here twice, Sweetie, do you make a habit of waiting around by yourself?"

"N-no, w-well, k-k-kind of, uh..." She gulped. "Was there s-something you wanted?"

Keeping her relaxed smirk, Adagio rolled her eyes. "I'm still not going to hurt you, if that's what you mean." She was partly surprised that this actually seemed to calm Fluttershy down a little. She raised an eyebrow, pointing at the striped hook Fluttershy was holding. "What's that?"

Fluttershy fiddled with the day's treat, the name for it briefly slipping her mind. "I-it's a c-candy cane." She quickly looked back and forth between it and Adagio several times. "Uhm-"

Adagio held up a hand, her simultaneously laid-back and malevolent smile unchanged. "Don't worry, I remember our last meeting. Right now, I'm just here to kill time." She could do that by replicating their first encounter, but it lost something if they knew exactly what she was up to.

"A-actually," Fluttershy tried not to blush, with poor results, as she held out the candy cane, offering the straight end, which she hadn't licked yet, "would you l-like to, uh, t-try this, too?"

Adagio blinked twice, her surprised expression making Fluttershy feel like she'd done something right before it returned to the passive little grin of superiority the other girl normally wore. "Well, since you're formally offering..." She lightly gripped the cane between two fingers, spent about ten seconds examining the shiny, red and white surface, flipped it around, and slid her tongue along the end Fluttershy had already been licking.

Fluttershy stiffened, watching wide-eyed and red-faced as Adagio slowly tasted the curved stick of peppermint, her tongue caressing and wrapping around it not unlike the stripes themselves.

The delighted smirk derived from Fluttershy's expression again became an analytical look as she started to actually taste the thing. "It's... odd. It's like it's cold, but the weather is warm... But it is, as with the previous form of sugar on a stick, sweet." She tongued the cane's curves a few more times. "Cold-sweet. The opposite of hot sauce, which is more hot-tangy. Do they make cold sauce, too?"

Faced with questions she could actually answer as Adagio's predatory look faded, Fluttershy's brain started working again. "I-I think it's more like, uh... W-well, have you ever had a mint before?"

Adagio's head tilted inquisitively. "Is cold sauce called 'mint'?"

Not sure how to place the feeling Adagio's curious face gave her, Fluttershy smiled a little. "Kind of. It's made from a type of plant that tricks your brain with a chemical reaction and makes it feel 'cold', sort of like the acids in spicy things making them feel 'hot' no matter their temperature."

Looking at the cane again, Adagio nodded a little. "I see." Then the mischievous grin returned as she looked back at Fluttershy and offered the cane. "Thank you for sharing this with me, Sweetie."

Hesitantly taking it, Fluttershy couldn't help turning red again as she eyed the saliva-moistened curve of the cane. She could see streaks in the red where it had melted and smeared, Adagio watching and waiting for her to either turn it around and lick the as-of-yet untouched end, or make those streaks worse. Her heart rate was going up by the second.

Do I lick it where she did? Where I already did? That, that would be like, and, just like last time, but now it's, but, if I don't, isn't that like rejecting her? Would she get mad? Would she get worse? I don't know what to do!!

Before she could decide, Adagio chuckled, pushing off the bench. "Well, I'll be going now. See you again soon, Sweetie."

She sat holding the candy cane for a good minute after Adagio was completely out of sight, still not sure what to do. Rarity would surely tell her to throw it away now, but, if she wasn't being watched anymore...? Taking one last look around, she popped the curved part into her mouth, the sensations of cooled saliva and peppermint exploding through her tongue, extending to warmth in her face and a rhythm in her chest.

Fluttershy was sure Rarity would understand. She of all people knew the value of sharing things.

Author's Notes:

Rainbow is usually portrayed as the biggest jerk in the Mane 6. This might be because in the show/movies, she kind of is. While that might have been more fitting for Sunset Shimmer if she'd had a slower redemption arc, having her be the snarkiest member of the group now would feel a little weird with how she acted in RR. As such, Rainbow tends to find her way to the underside of a bus. I thought I'd try for a more lovable goofball portrayal here. :rainbowwild:

Also? Even normal kissing is a little gross when you think about it. :applejackconfused:

Chapter 3: Tiny Traffic Cones

Fluttershy again sat on the bench by the soccer field, wondering if doing so was a good idea. Still, she'd stick to her routine for today, and that started with the day's feel-a-little-better treat; candy corn! Some people hated it, she knew, the taste, the texture, maybe even the color just not sitting right with them, but to her, they were always a little part of what made Halloween special. Not that it was anywhere close to Halloween, but she'd gotten a little bag of candy corn just the same.

It was just as she'd placed the first little triangular treat on her tongue that Fluttershy nearly choked on it out of fright.

"Morning, Sweetie." Adagio was leaning over the back of the bench again. Seeing the bag of tri-colored triangles, Adagio raised an eyebrow. "I find you eating the strangest things... Do you go for the mystery meals in the cafeteria?"

"Uhm, n-no," she mumbled, composing herself as best she could, "the salad bar is usually enough for me." She smiled a little, holding the bag where Adagio could see. "W-would you, um, i-if you'd like to-"

Adagio held up a hand, eyeing the little orange things with distrust. "That's alright, I, uh... had a... big breakfast?"

Fluttershy just smiled, tilting her head a little and staring at Adagio with those soft, blue eyes. "Are you sure? They're not very filling, candy usually isn't, and, it's, um..." In the face of Adagio's doubting stare, her resolve wavered, the smile fading, her shoulders starting to fall, and her head unconsciously retreating behind her hair. "I-I mean, unless you really don't want to, that's okay too."

Adagio felt something tingling in the back of her head. This was perhaps her least favorite reaction out of Fluttershy thus-far, but she (fondly) remembered the difference taking her offer last time made and opted to try for a similar outcome.

Those things look weird, but...

She cleared her throat, her expression neutral. "Wellll, I've been trying new things more and more lately... How are they?"

A few couldn't hurt, right?

Looking up, the smile made a hesitant comeback. "They're sweet and sugary, with a unique sort of flavor." She looked away for a split second. "B-but, I should probably warn you, some people think it tastes really... strange."

Taking a few pieces of candy corn out of the bag, she eyed them curiously. "They look almost like tiny traffic cones..." She popped them into her mouth, chewing slowly. "Hm... It is a little strange." Once more, she had that analytical look Fluttershy was growing to like. "Waxy, almost syrupy as it melts... I can't quite place the flavor... It's almost tangy, like an orange. Citrus? Hard to tell, but it is, as you said, sweet." She grinned. "I think I like it."

Fluttershy smiled a little. "You're one of very few there, I think."

"Hah, more for me, then!" She leaned in close, her mouth lightly opened. "Unless you'd like to...?"

"Eep!"

Just as Adagio had hoped, Fluttershy flushed brightly at the suggestion coupled with their facial proximity. This definitely beat that other reaction, but it looked like she was having trouble maintaining eye-contact.

"Y-you should, uhm, b-be careful, doing... th-that... You might get sick!"

Smirking, Adagio raised an eyebrow. "You're worried about infections? I've had all my shots, Sweetie, and I'm sure you have too. If not, I'd be happy to administer them to you." Her voice dropped to a husky whisper. "If you like, I'll even wear a nurse outfit..."

"Eep!!" She blushed even brighter, fidgeting where she sat and looking down. "Th-that, really n-n-nec-not necessary, I-I, uhm-"

"Are you sure? If you're good," she leaned in very close, grinning deviously, "you might even get a lollipop."

Fluttershy was nearly glowing as she visibly started to sweat.

"Besides," she continued with a relaxed grin, "the three of us, Aria, Sonata, and I, would directly share negative energy all the time, back when we still could. Why is a faux pas with any other kind of food?"

Fluttershy dared look up just a little. "D-did negative energy have bacteria in it?"

Adagio blinked once, her eyes widening in realization. "Oh." It was faint, but Fluttershy could have sworn her cheeks colored just a little. "Ohhh. Yes, I think I see the problem..." She shrugged a little. "Still, I stand by what I said earlier, provided neither of us are currently carrying anything worse than a cold, I don't think there's much to worry about."

Fluttershy nodded a little. It wasn't that she wasn't at least a little worried about either of them getting sick if they... kept... doing that... But, she wasn't too worried. For medical reasons.

"Anyway," Adagio said with her usual mischievous grin, "thanks for the sugar triangles,"

"Candy corn."

"Right. If you ever feel like sharing again, I'll be around..." She pushed off the bench and turned to walk away in the direction she came, behind Fluttershy.

Slowly turning to watch her go, she saw that Adagio was already gone.

That's odd. Where could she have-

"When you least expect it!"

The statement loud-whispered directly into her ear from the opposite side of the bench Adagio had been standing on, Fluttershy nearly jumped out of her skin, followed by the sound of familiar, maniacal laughter. Albeit not directly into her ear.

---

Having had the weekend to consider her plan of action in regard to the newest complication to her life, Fluttershy opted for staying out of sight. She carefully crept around the school building. It was still early enough in the morning that there were shadows, but she'd be kidding herself if she thought she'd stay hidden for long with her usual white shirt and pink hair. That was fine, though, she just needed to find a spot where Adagio anyone couldn't easily sneak up on her.

Slowly pacing along the wall by the parking lot, she decided against that area. There were plenty of spaces to hide between, or even under, cars, but no matter what, she'd be on very uncomfortable pavement. Moving on to the alcoves of the building that led into the gym, she determined that while the area was well-shaded and didn't have a lot of entry points, she ran the risk of one of the athletes going in for an early-morning warm-up, or coming out after, all big, and sweaty, and-

She quickly jogged around the corner, bumping into someone that barely budged with the impact as Fluttershy fell backward. "Ow." Gingerly rubbing her rear, she looked up at the person she collided with. "S-sorry, I was ju-EEP!!"

Adagio regarded her curiously before donning her usual smirk. "What's wrong, Sweetie? You look like you're afraid something will get you."

Still sitting on the ground, she lowered her head. "W-what are you doing here?"

Resting a hand on one hip, she tilted her head a little. "I, a student, walking around a school shortly before school is due to begin? Yes, whatever could I have in mind?"

"Y-you don't really pay attention in class, though..."

Adagio didn't respond to that comment. "So why are you on a different side of the school than usual?" Her voice filled with mock-hurt. "You weren't trying to avoid me or anything, were you?"

Fluttershy nearly curled into a ball. "N-no! I-I, th-that wasn't-"

All but looming over her, Adagio leered at Fluttershy. "Oh, I see. Well, I wouldn't want you make you uncomfortable, so I'll just be on my way." She took two steps forward, leaning down to whisper into Fluttershy's ear. "See you again soon, Sweetie."

As the Dazzling leader walked away cackling, Fluttershy wasn't sure if it was the laugh, the fact that Adagio definitely didn't mind making her uncomfortable, or the implication that she intended to do it again in the very near-future that sent shivers up her spine.

---

Having spent the entire rest of the previous day anticipating Adagio suddenly surprising her, Fluttershy all but kicked herself for not realizing until she got home that that was exactly what Adagio was probably hoping she'd do. Adagio hadn't come near her again the whole day. This morning, she'd find somewhere quiet and secluded and hopefully be able to go there from now on without incident.

She really wasn't trying to avoid Adagio, or anyone else, it was just the possibility of someone sneaking up on her that made her nervous. More-so than usual. Resting on her legs at the base of the statue in front of the building, where the stone was much smoother than the parking lot's blacktop, Fluttershy kept an eye out for any hint of orange, rapidly looking back and forth, scanning the area from every angle so as to minimize the chance that-

"Boo."

"EEEK!!" Holding a hand to her chest in the vain effort of trying to slow her thumping heart, Fluttershy looked up to see Adagio lying on her stomach atop the pedestal of the statue behind her, staring down at her, that evil grin of delight pointed her way.

"Comfortable, Sweetie?"

Fluttershy hid behind her hair as best she could. "Uhm, n-not exactly..."

"Well, then you probably shouldn't sit on hard pavement. Unless you just like it hard?"

Her face caught fire and her throat had locked shut. She couldn't even squeak.

Adagio chuckled with sadistic glee. "Well, I'll just leave you to your... preferences. Don't hurt yourself, Sweetie." She slowly sank back on the pedestal until she entirely faded from sight.

Still blushing furiously, Fluttershy crawled on her hands and knees around the edge of the statue.

Adagio must have climbed up there from the other side, which means she'll have to-

Getting to the opposite side of the one she'd been on, there was no sign of Adagio anywhere.

Huh? Where did she go? Could she have run off already? I didn't hear-

"My, my."

Fluttershy jumped, whirling around to see Adagio looking down at her with a mildly bemused grin.

"Going for a walk now, are you? You're getting more interesting by the day, Sweetie..."

Suddenly feeling very self-conscious, it occurred to Fluttershy just how crawling around like this, bare hands and knees on the hard concrete, might look from the right mindset. She hopped up, brushing off the dust as best she could. "I-I wasn't, th-this isn't-"

Adagio held up a hand, only smirking a little. "I'm not judging, really, but doing that kind of thing in public, knowing more people will be here soon? I never would have guessed you of all people were a masochistic exhibiti-"

"I-I'M NOT!!"

"Alright, alright," Adagio said as placatingly as one could while giggling, "I believe you. Just wanted to make sure this wasn't a side-effect of my company." She held her fingertips to her chest in melodramatic fashion, which Fluttershy had to remind herself to look at for only two seconds. "I'd hate to be expelled for being a bad influence on the students, you know?" She closed her eyes and struck a much more provocative pose, one leg out to the side, hips cocked, arms up over her head, fingers folded and palms outward as she stretched, exhaling in a gentle groan. "I can't help being too much for some people, it's just-"

Fluttershy had already turned on a heel and sprinted away. It was a good thing she didn't wear glasses, because she'd definitely trip over something if they got all fogged up.

Author's Notes:

If you're wondering, Flutters is still having a morning treat every school day, it's just not being depicted every time.

Also, I'm going to try consistently short (less than 3000 words or so) chapters on for size. Whether or not this just leaves a lot of cliffhangers, time will tell.

Chapter 4: Musical Chairs

Fluttershy was still badly flustered even through first period, the chocolate bar she'd brought doing little to alleviate the heat in her face or the rapid beating in her chest. Luckily, having established to Ms. Inkwell that she wasn't just hiding a comic book or something early in the year, she wasn't disturbed for hiding behind her textbook the whole time. The rest of the day up to lunch went similarly. She continued to not forget what she saw up close that morning, the details of Adagio's leg muscles showing through her tights, the way she arched her back, the exposed skin on her neck and-

She smacked her head on the lunch table, hoping it would clear away the wayward thoughts lingering in her brain.

"You okay, Fluttershy?" Rainbow lightly poked her shoulder a few times.

Unfortunately, such an action has a way of drawing attention, but it was always nice to be reminded how much her friends cared about her. She looked up to see five concerned faces, giving them the best smile she could despite a light red mark on her forehead. "I-I'm okay, j-just, um, sleepy?"

Sunset gave her a dubious look. "You sure? You've been kinda jittery for the past week."

Applejack nodded in assent. "Been shakin' like a leaf today. You sure ain't nothin' buggin' ya?"

She lowered her head a little. "Uhm, n-no, I'm fine, thank you."

Pinkie gave her a worried look. "Is that like fine fine, fine-China fine, pointy-fine, or not-fine-at-all-but-I-don't-want-you-to-worry-about-me fine?"

Applejack frowned with concern too. "Ya gave us that last one a couple'a times before, sugarcube. You sure ain't nobody givin' ya a hard time?"

Rarity spared a sideways glance to the table three particular girls (and just those three) were known to sit around lunch time. "I can think of a few possible suspects off the top of my head..."

Fluttershy's world slowed down. She could see the next ten minutes play out in the blink of an eye, starting with her friends collectively getting the idea that the Dazzlings had been picking on her, (it was only one, kind of) deciding to go over and confront them about it, Aria and Sonata having no idea what's going on and getting angry about the disturbance, them and her friends starting to fight, then Adagio laughing that scary laugh that made Fluttershy's heart beat irregularly. Her friends would assume it meant Adagio had done something to her, she'd stand up, look Fluttershy in the eye, and say "Oh, Sweetie, did you tell on me? Well, I suppose I'll just have to be honest with them..."

"No!" Fluttershy jumped up, slapping both hands on the table a little harder than she'd meant to. "No one is bothering me, especially not those three! It's just normal old scaredy-cat Fluttershy, really! I know they gave us trouble a while back, but they've all been really well-behaved since-" she shrunk back a little, "w-well, mostly- since the concert! I know they haven't been perfect, but they'll never get any better if we never give them a chance!"

The group, combined with the four or five other people in the cafeteria that could actually hear Fluttershy talking, blinked in surprise.

Sunset scratched the back of her head. "She's probably right. I talked to them a while back and I'm almost sure that they don't want to hurt anyone." She blinked once. "Well, that is to say, any harm they do cause probably isn't on purpose."

Rarity propped her head up with an arm on the table, her expression only a little skeptical. "Not that I mean to doubt you, darling, but how do you know?" She glanced at Fluttershy with a look that said she was just worried. "Just for our peace of mind."

Looking over at the Dazzlings, just the three of them at that table again, Sunset shrugged. "Well, remember why they're sitting alone in the first place?"

---

In the first week the Dazzlings decided to attend school again, they'd collectively walk into the cafeteria at lunch time, pick a random table, and sit down. Every time, anyone else at the table they'd chosen would immediately clear out the moment one of them spoke. Then they would try again the next day. There were only two tables exempt from this little process; those seating Flash Sentry due to having no available room, (Flash was still a pretty popular guy) and the one seating the Rainbooms, for some other reasons none wanted to ask to the trio's faces.

Within the first week, they got the idea to have one of them approach first to soften up those already seated. Unfortunately for the Dazzlings, people may have clued in that that was exactly what they were doing the first time Aria walked up to the athletes' table.

"Room for a few more here?"

That they got right up and relocated to a different table summarily answered the question.

---

"Hey, you guys mind if we sit here?"

Six seconds passed before the table was clear.

Aria called after them. "So, you don't mind and it's fine if we get the whole table, or you do mind and you're going somewhere else...?"

---

"Hey, we're just gon-"

---

Slapping her hands flat on the table, Aria scowled at those seated. "Don't run!"

Once the usual thing had happened, a little faster than normal, Adagio crossed her arms. "Hmph. Clearly, you're just too intimidating for them, let me do the talking next time."

---

"I'm Adagio Dazzle."

Those at the table shared a quick look. "Nnnope!" And then they fled.

---

"Hel-lo there, would you girls mind if-"

---

"Hello, boys."

Aria rolled her eyes as the trio again sat at a recently-emptied table. "Not bad, Adagio, that group lasted maybe four seconds longer than the rest."

She sighed. "Thanks."

---

The next day, Sonata gave it a try. "Hi! Okay if we sit here?"

Sonata managed to sit with them a whole five seconds before the table residents shakily agreed that yes, it was okay, and got up to leave.

Adagio smiled a little. "I think I smell progress."

"Eh," Aria said with a shrug, "might just be the coleslaw."

"No, really," Adagio went on with an increasingly diabolic grin, looking at Sonata, "you might have the friendliest face of the three of us. If we send you in first to soften them up, we'll be making friends all over the place in no time!"

Sonata had a bad feeling, but had to agree; she wasn't sure Adagio's spooky smile would be good for friend-making. Nor that she had just broadcasted her thoughts for the entire cafeteria to hear. Laughing maniacally wasn't making it better...

---

They had Sonata try again the next day. "Weather's great today!"

"Yes," the table's residents agreed, "the weather is nice today! We'll go have a closer look. Right now!"

---

"Nice day, huh?"

This group hung around looking jittery for a full minute after all three Dazzlings were seated before scrambling to get away.

---

Sonata had a big smile on her face. "It's so great when people don't run away! Don't you guys think so?"

That table cleared out in record speeds.

The three sitting with just each other (not that they were complaining, exactly) again, they shared a group sigh. Adagio rested her head in her hands. "Sorry, girls."

Sonata gently rubbed her shoulder. "It's not your fault, Dagi, apart from the crazy laughing thing."

Adagio's head sunk lower.

Aria had a better idea of how to cheer her up. "Don't feel bad, they were running from us even before that. I don't think it matters how we come at them, they all still think we're up to something."

Sonata indignantly crossed her arms. "Which we're totally not!" But just to double-check... "Right?"

Adagio looked up, shaking her head. "No point, remember?"

"And I'm happy to hear that!" The Dazzlings looked up to see Sunset Shimmer giving them a sheepish little 'hello!' wave. "I just wanna talk for a minute." As the trio shrugged, she took that as acceptance. "I've been watching you guys the past couple weeks here, why don't you come sit with-"

Adagio held up a hand, not making eye-contact. "Look, it's not that we don't appreciate being given a chance, but we'll form social links on our own."

Not sure how to change their minds and not wanting to risk making them resentful, Sunset opted to heed their wish, turning to walk away. As she did, she heard a whisper that made her smile a little.

"Thanks anyway."

They didn't want to join her friends for lunch and Sunset didn't push them. She had a feeling she knew what the biggest problem would be, and it was something the Dazzlings would have to tackle for themselves.

---

"So," Sunset summarized, "I think, at the very least, they're trying."

Rarity nodded, smiling. "Well, suppose we'll just have to give them the benefit of the doubt."

Conversation moved on from there, the group accepting Fluttershy-is-Fluttershy for the reason she seemed so... Fluttershy, lately. Having calmed down enough to stop shaking, she'd wondered what those girls were up to the days she'd seen people up and leave their usual tables, and now she knew. Was Adagio's daily teasing just her way of trying to make friends? Or had she already given up on the chance, content to torment people just for kicks?

Author's Notes:

Applejack: Ya or You? I think it depends on the feel of the sentence, say it out loud and see if it feels right.

Chapter 5: Inarticulation Cubes

Waving goodbye to her mother as she drove away after dropping her off at school, Fluttershy smiled peacefully. Then she turned around, took two steps, and froze. Adagio was standing in the shadows cast over the front entrance, the sun not yet high enough to fully illuminate that side of the building. Even from the school's driveway, Fluttershy could see her smiling mischievously.

Oh no, she thought, now she knows the time and place I get here!

She could always ask her mother to drop her off somewhere else, but then she'd have to explain why, which left her back at a slightly older problem. An older problem with orange, fluffy hair, looking right at her. Strangely, she didn't approach, didn't call out, didn't so much as wave at her, just turned and walked out of sight. If Fluttershy was any good at pattern recognition, that meant she had maybe a minute before her morning predator pounced at her from out of nowhere.

Thinking it was the last thing the older girl (she looked and acted a little older, but it was hard to tell) would expect her to do, she ran at full speed in exactly the direction Adagio had gone, which happened to take her to the doors to the gym. That gave her an idea. Double-checking that no one was around, she slipped in to the third door from the right, the one that was never locked for some reason. Broken lock, maybe? She tip-toed through the only-a-little-spooky, unlit halls, pretty sure Adagio wouldn't think to look for her inside right away, which should give her enough time to hide.

Sneaking into the school early was bad, but she was getting desperate. If yesterday's embarrassing incident by the statue taught her anything, it was that Adagio was incredibly sneaky.

How does she move so quietly in those boots?

Well, right now she had to be sneaky herself! Quietly making her way through the mostly-dark hallways of CHS, she made it to the library without so much as hearing a familiar, fiendish chuckle signaling her doom as it echoed eerily off the walls.

That she imagined such a thing at all probably wasn't a good sign.

Setting foot on the green-marble floor of the library, she saw that the glass dome on the ceiling made sure it was the best-lit room in the building until it formally opened, just as she'd hoped. Tip-toeing up the stairs to the second floor, she crept behind the front rows of shelves. She spent a minute to find a spot where she'd be hidden from anyone in the center of the room and very hard to see even from the skylights, (Adagio had surprised her from above before) and took a seat in a corner where a bookshelf met the wall. This gave her some time to think.

Part of her felt guilty. She knew the Dazzlings were having trouble fitting in, and running away from them like the kids at lunch probably wasn't helping. Maybe her private humiliation was just Adagio's way of reaching out to her, and somewhere in the back of her head was a voice that said if she just stuck it out, maybe the teasing would ease up and they could just be normal friends.

Or something like that. Who knew?

However, the reality was that Adagio had only been getting more vicious, pushing her a little harder every day, and Fluttershy was already near the end of her rope! So here she was, hiding, which felt kind of ridiculous.

I never went this far to stay out of Sunset's sight even on her worst days, before the Fall Formal, but here I am, waiting in the least-dark room of the school to hide from someone I actually kind of like.

She didn't exactly not want to see Adagio, she just didn't want to be startled every time. Or to have thick, muscular legs stretching in front of her face, curvy hips swaying just within reach, body language that said 'go on, just try it,' eyes that said 'I dare you,' her bulging-

Feeling as though the temperature of the library had increased by about two hundred degrees, Fluttershy slapped both hands to her face.

How is she doing this without even being in the room?!

As if on cue, Fluttershy heard a door open on the lower level, followed by the clack of heels on the polished floor. Maybe it was due to the near-silence of the library, but it almost sounded like she was stomping with every step, Fluttershy not daring to peer around a bookshelf to catch sight of Adagio. It had to be her, and from the sound of things, she might have been angry.

Did she follow me in here? Or does she come in here normally? Is she mad I wasn't outside?! WhatdoIdowhatdoIdo?!

The sound of spiky heels coming down hard rung across the library a few more times as Fluttershy looked around for a better place to hide, but she had already chosen the most secluded spot she could find, which was still out in the open if someone walked by! To Fluttershy's horror, the loud footsteps took on the rhythm of someone ascending a staircase. Silently berating herself for not thinking to hide somewhere darker, like an office or a closet, she closed her eyes and covered them with her hands, hoping Adagio just wouldn't see her.

The stomping continued for a few seconds, then stopped altogether. Trembling, Fluttershy heard footsteps at an ordinary volume that slowly got louder, the vibrations she could feel through the floor and the feeling that someone was looking at her suggesting that they were getting closer and closer at a relaxed pace. The sounds stopped directly in front of her, drawing a quiet whimper.

She felt something poke her nose, eliciting a fearful yelp as she opened her eyes to peer through her fingers.

Adagio was kneeling in front of her, no sign of anger or irritation on her face, just a mildly perplexed look. "Try to keep it down," she said quietly, "you're in a library."

"S-sorry, I, um..." She blinked several times, a little part of her brain loudly objecting to letting her next thought pass her lips. "I thought you'd be madder."

The wary, suspicious expression she got for that only looked more menacing in the dim lighting. "Madder about what, Sweetie?"

She shrunk back, trying to merge with the wall behind her. "N-nothing!"

"Ohh, no you don't," Adagio said with narrowed eyes, poking a finger just under Fluttershy's neck, "why am I expected to be angry? Out with it."

Whimpering, Fluttershy shook. "B-because I was hiding...?"

Staring at her for another few seconds, Adagio started to smile. The smile became a low chuckle, the chuckle became a laugh, the laugh became holding a hand to her face as she seemed to forget her own library advice, laughing like she'd lost her mind.

Fluttershy, for her part, was at least less afraid now, which felt odd. Being laughed at was never her idea of a good time, but Adagio had a very nice laugh.

After a minute or two, Adagio gave her what might have been an apologetic smile. "I'm not angry, I was stomping specifically so that I wouldn't catch you off-guard."

"...W..." She couldn't believe she was asking, but every part of her brain was dying to know. "W-why not?"

Eyes half-lidded, Adagio reverted to her usual relaxed grin. "So I could ask you this; how was the rest of the mint hook?"

Fluttershy blinked once. "Mint hook? Oh, the candy cane? It was good, I-EEP!" Realizing that she had just admitted to finishing the not-her-own-saliva-covered treat after all, Fluttershy clasped her hands over her mouth and turned red.

Adagio smiled a little wider. "So it was fine? No worse than before I sampled it?"

Fluttershy nodded hesitantly. "I-it's okay, I think. Um, why, uh..." Her tongue locked up, but the patient, faintly curious look on Adagio's face urged her to keep going. "W-why do you ask?"

Still smiling, Adagio shrugged. "Good to know I'm not dampening the experience, is all." Staring silently back at her, it seemed Fluttershy couldn't think of anything to say. Adagio had that effect on people. "Well," she said as she stood up, reaching out to ruffle Fluttershy's hair and drawing a quiet squeak, "that's all I wanted to know. See you around, Sweetie." And then she turned and walked away, not another move made on Fluttershy's fragile pride.

Watching her go, intently, Fluttershy wanted to ask why Adagio didn't approach her when her mom dropped her off, but couldn't find her voice. It would only have made sense if she didn't intend to sneak up on her, right?

Maybe she was going to and changed her mind? I don't understand her at all...

---

A little part of Fluttershy half-expected a surprise ambush at some point in the day, but most of her knew by now that, for whatever reason, Adagio only came to tease her in the mornings.

Probably because during the day, there are more students around and she has other options...

Or because Aria and Sonata were there too. Well, she guessed that was fair, and, really for the best, as she wasn't sure she could cope with witnesses to what had happened some mornings.

And that made this morning odd. There was no doubt about it, apart from the moment she thought Fluttershy had wronged her somehow, Adagio was clearly holding back, only flustering her a little bit before backing off.

Maybe she really meant what she said about being too much?

Thinking about the encounter in the library through most of the day, she reflected on lunchtime yesterday. No, she wasn't being bullied or picked on, or her 'tormentor' wouldn't have relented like that.

Maybe she's just lonely in the mornings? I've been coming alone for so long, I guess I just got used to it... Maybe, she's looking for a friend?

She had an idea.

---

All things considered, Fluttershy felt brave. She was sitting with the most natural posture she could manage, blinking rapidly, and shaking like a leaf, but doing so out in the open on the usual bench by the soccer field was the exact opposite of running away. Adagio was going to sneak up on her again, but if she just kept her cool, she might be able to-

She looked around very quickly to find she was completely alone. Huh. I had the strangest feeling that she'd spring on me right then. Am I getting too-

A finger brushing bare skin on the back of her leg made her jump half a meter in the air, shrieking like a little girl. She quickly looked down, face already flushed, to see Adagio lying under the bench by her feet, head propped up on one arm, and cheekily grinning at her.

"Morning, Sweetie."

Willing her heart to beat normally, Fluttershy was lost for breath, some part of her mind dreading the apocalyptic possibilities if Adagio and Pinkie Pie ever joined forces.

Adagio slid out from under the bench behind her, once more leaning over the back of it as she looked sideways at her morning prey. "Apart from the sheer, ecstatic joy that comes with my company, what's got you so rattled today? You were shaking before I even got close."

"I-I, w-well, uhm..." Talking was still hard, but Adagio just waited patiently, something about her relaxed little grin actually making Fluttershy feel a little at ease. "I've, um, I-I've been thinking, you remember the first few times we talked in the morning?"

Adagio nodded once. "Fondly."

Trying to ignore her own blush or the chuckle it drew from Adagio, Fluttershy gulped. "W-well, I was thinking that, i-if it's okay with you, maybe we could go back to that?" Now the Dazzling leader looked confused, raising one eyebrow. Fluttershy reached into her bag, pulling out two little brown cubes wrapped in clear plastic and showing them to Adagio. "I mean, I-I liked sharing with you, and, maybe, w-we could, just, do that? Without you sneaking up on me?"

There was a long, long couple of seconds in which Adagio just stared back at her, her expression neutral before curving into a confident smile as she shrugged. "Sure, why not?" She waited just long enough for Fluttershy's hopeful smile to reach its apex, and smirked. "I'm sure there are other ways I can get your heart racing."

"Eek!" The smile vanished, Fluttershy nervously glancing around as Adagio cackled with delight at the color in her face. "I, uh, I-I..." Steeling herself, she looked Adagio in the eye, grabbed one of her wrists, and placed one of the plastic-covered cubes in that hand. "D-deal!"

Adagio blinked twice, her triumphant expression utterly erased by a look of surprise for all of five seconds before she giggled a little. "'Deal'? Do I need to sign anything?"

Feeling just a little silly, Fluttershy smiled sheepishly. "Um, n-no, not really." She unwrapped the other cube in her hand. "These are caramel cubes, I think you'll like them."

Adagio looked at the little, brown, shiny square from multiple angles before raising it to her mouth...

Starting to turn red again over the next several seconds, Fluttershy gulped. "Uhm... wh-what are you doing?"

Adagio was holding her cube between two fingers, undoing the wrapper with her tongue. Fluttershy could only watch helplessly as she slowly savored peeling it away, that surprisingly long, moist tongue working carefully to liberate the piece of candy before quickly darting out to ensnare and spirit it away, trapping and gnashing it between perfect, pearly teeth. She grinned with satisfaction at Fluttershy's mortified, open-mouthed stare. "Shomet'ing wrawng, Shweetie?" Then she blinked twice, just gaining awareness of the thick, buttery substance in her mouth. "Ooh, dish ish odd..."

Feeling some measure of relief in the return of Adagio's analytical face, Fluttershy regained some degree of psychological footing, popping her own caramel cube into her mouth.

"Ish... tick! Verruh tick. An' shweet! Auh'm naw shure whah elsh ta shay abouw ih'." She chuckled a little, her cheeks tinting red. "Makesh maw voish shound shilluh!"

Fluttershy giggled too, the effect proving mutually contagious until they were both laughing like they'd gone bonkers. By the time they stopped, the caramel had mostly dissolved, leaving them able to speak normally again.

Adagio turned to look at Fluttershy with a kind of smile she couldn't remember seeing out of the fluffy girl. It wasn't a smirk, wasn't malicious, wasn't even her relaxed I-own-you-and-you-know-it grin, just a happy little smile. It only lasted a few seconds before the usual grin took its place, but the effect stole her breath. Adagio didn't seem to notice. "So, you bring something to snack on every morning?"

Mentally shaking herself awake, Fluttershy nodded. "Y-yes. Actually, um," she averted her eyes, not quite brave enough to share something personal while maintaining eye-contact. "th-the reason I bring something every morning is t-to help calm down a little, to, uh-"

"Start the day on a positive note?" She glanced up in surprise, Adagio just shrugging at her. "Sonata does something similar with sticky-notes on the refrigerator. Every morning she adds a new doodle of something that makes her smile." She giggled. "Does all of us a little good, I think." Then her face grew serious, scrutinizing the other girl closely. "Why do you need calming down? I was under the impression anything that opposed chaos magic would already be at peace."

Fidgeting where she sat, Fluttershy just focused on getting the words out. "B-because, um... W-well, you might have noticed, but, I'm, kind of, a little, uh..." She gulped. "There are a lot of p-people in school, so..."

Adagio poked an index finger through the top of her pink hair, as though pressing on 'Stop' button on a cassette player, Fluttershy going silent when she did. Her tone was unamused. "Are you telling me that someone who stood against magical beings far more powerful than herself twice and won both times is afraid of the average person? The average person is afraid of me, whom you face daily."

"B-but, it's st-still really-"

"Sweetie, I've been dropping by on and off to toy with you-" she lightly ruffled Fluttershy's hair for emphasis, "-for the better part of two weeks now, and you still show up every morning. Are you really telling me that your mother dropping you off before the doors are even open is strictly necessary?"

"W-well, um," she focused on shyly fiddling with her fingertips, "maybe not, but it's either that, bothering one of my friends to get up a little earlier every morning, or riding the b-bus."

Adagio nodded a little, looking as though she was piecing something together. "And you, mousy little thing that you are, don't want to bum a ride from someone other than your mother-"

Fluttershy smiled a little. "It's one of the ways we spend time together."

"-and are too intimidated by the thought that someone on the bus might harass you, correct?"

Fluttershy nodded, Adagio lightly flicking her forehead. "Ow!"

"You're more afraid of taking a chance of someone bothering you versus confronting someone who definitely will? Not buying it, Sweetie. You're either braver than you give yourself credit for, or an idiot, and I've seen your grades."

Her heart leapt, slowly fluttering down again like a leaf kicked up by a gust. This manifested in the form of a little smile as Fluttershy studied the grass. "Y-you're not that bad." Adagio didn't respond to this, looking out over the soccer field. Then something sunk in, Fluttershy looking at her with a hint of confusion. "Wait, when did you see my grades?"

Adagio smirked, turning to look at her with that old predatory gleam in her eyes. "Ohh, don't you worry about that, worry about whether or not it means that I know where you live, too."

Fluttershy squeaked. "D-does it?!"

Naturally, she smiled wider, averted her eyes, and gave the worst possible answer. "Who knows?" She made a watch-checking motion, not even pretending to lift her armband to look at an imaginary watch. "Well, look at the time, I should be going. I expect I'll see you here again, same time tomorrow?" Not waiting for an answer, she turned to walk away. "Good. Take care, Sweetie."

Fluttershy gulped.

Oh, dear. Now I'll be thinking about it until the day she shows up at my door!

Would she knock first? Would she even use the door at all?! Would she just climb in through a window in the middle of the night?! And, what would she do when she got there?! Once again, all Fluttershy could do was wait.

Author's Notes:

Over the desired word limit, but important stuff happened this chapter.

I've thought about one of the Dazzlings vs. Team Jumpscare before, but this interpretation of Adagio might have done a much better job there than the first one did. Her own fondness for startling people might even help her make friends! :pinkiecrazy:

Is the library supposed to be carpeted, or is that green with weird swirly lines like some kind of marble? I couldn't tell, so I picked the one with a possibility of dramatic sound effects. :eeyup:

Chapter 6: Congealed Misnomer Lumps

School was interesting that day.

Not because of anything in the lessons, but because Fluttershy really didn't feel all that tense about what Adagio had said to her. Part of that may have had something to do with the other thing Adagio had said to her, one statement counteracting the other. The two thoughts swirled around in her head like the anxiety and pride that accompanied each swirling in her heart! Specifically, the notion that it was possible she knew where Fluttershy lived and could drop by at any time, unannounced, with no possible explanation to give her mother if she was home at the time... and that she thought Fluttershy was brave.

And, thinking about it, she kind of was! That was what she had felt just before Adagio scared the daylights out of her, after all. But still, she knew Adagio, scary, suggestive, personal-space-violating Adagio, was coming for her and sat out in the open anyway, just waiting to get pounced on startled. She could hardly conceive of doing something like that less than a year ago, but there she had been! Of course, her soaring confidence was brought down to normal levels when she remembered that she had still been shaking with fright, screamed when Adagio touched her leg, and spent most of the encounter stumbling over her words.

That in mind, she still felt alright through the rest of the day.

"You're either braver than you give yourself credit for, or an idiot, and I've seen your grades."

"You're either braver than you give yourself credit for"

"You're brave"

She wore the memory of those words like a shroud, a thick blanket to take refuge in.

The scariest girl in school said I was brave! There's nothing you can do to me!

Thinking such things at some of the people she'd ordinarily have turned and quickly walked away from in the hallways was exhilarating! At least, it was when they didn't look directly at her, leading her to instead think-say a rapid stream of apologies if her thoughts were bothering them and that she'd just go away now.

Before going to bed that night, Fluttershy looked in the mirror, stood up straight, and whispered to herself: "I can be brave. I can be brave. I can be brave."

That, a glass of warm milk, Angel Bunny sleeping protectively on her stomach, and the knowledge that Adagio was not in the room at that very moment were all she needed to get to sleep that night. Along with a quiet prayer that it would remain that way. At least until she was ready for it. Not that she ever would be, of course! But, just, in the unlikely event of that happenstance, she would want to be-no, it was like-

She lost another hour of what could have been sleep herding the bunnies in her brain until they settled on just not wanting Adagio in the room right now.

---

The next morning, Fluttershy again waited at the bench, trying not to think about the chances that Adagio forgot their 'deal' yesterday, or decided she just didn't care. Either way, thinking about someone sneaking up on her was a heavy load on her nerves, so she instead focused on the little bag she had waiting on her lap, wondering how Adagio would respond to jelly beans.

She had specifically started looking for candy types that would be harder to do anything like... well, like what Adagio had been doing with them up to now. She would try to avoid anything with wrappers in the future. Lollipops were out, for obvious reasons, along with anything that Adagio might take out of Fluttershy's mouth, put it in her own again, and-

Something touched her shoulder, earning yet another startled yelp. Whipping her head in the direction of the tap, she was met with a slightly bewildered Adagio leaning over the back of the bench.

An orange eyebrow was raised. "Can't pin this one on me, Sweetie, I called out to you twice."

Her whole face feeling warm, Fluttershy wasn't sure if it was because she'd been caught zoning out, or because Adagio remembered after all. And cared! "Haha, s-sorry about that," she held up the bag where Adagio could see, "would you like some jelly beans?"

Examining the bag, Adagio tilted her head a little. "Well... " As with the candy corn, she seemed almost suspicious of them. Did she just not like bagged food? Whether that was the case or not, she reached in to grab a few, lightly bouncing the sugary seeds in her hand. "I thought jelly was a lot softer than this."

Fluttershy nodded a little. "These might have been once, but I've always kind of figured they congeal and harden a little while after they're made." She looked at the bag curiously. "However that's done."

Shrugging, Adagio raised the oddly-shaped candy pellets to her mouth, making note of Fluttershy suddenly turning away. She grinned. "Something wrong, Sweetie?"

She didn't dare look back at Adagio for whatever she was about to do. "N-no ma'am, please don't mind me, just, w-watching some birds."

"Mm-hmm. Well, that's good, I was afraid you might have been thinking something dirty."

She squeaked. "I wasn't-!"

"Oh, I know," came a reply that sounded like 'I know you're lying,' "a good girl like you wouldn't spend a second of her day thinking about a bad girl like me. About the things I might do." Her voice was getting a little closer with each breathy syllable. "Things a bad girl like me might do." The mischievous grin was painfully audible, making Fluttershy shake. "You wouldn't think about things like that, would you?"

Lowering her head to hide in her hair even while facing away, Fluttershy was having trouble concentrating. "N-n-n-no, I-I'd-" She could feel warm breath on her ear, sending a wave of shivers up her spine.

"Because if you are thinking impure thoughts, you can tell me everything..."

By the way Adagio giggled to herself, Fluttershy guessed she didn't need to be able to see her face to know it was red enough that circulation was becoming a concern, however distant. Quietly babbling to herself, she felt like this one was her own fault somehow.

Leaving her target to think (and think hard) about whatever may have been on her mind at that moment, Adagio backed off a little, resuming her usual position and popping the jelly beans into her mouth. Finding them to be smooth and relatively hard, she tentatively bit down, finding them to be much more flavorful as she chewed them apart.

Not hearing anything out of the ordinary, Fluttershy risked catching sight of whatever Adagio might have been doing for a chance to see the analytical face, and there it was!

Tracing over the inside of the beans with her tongue, Adagio didn't notice the tiny smile directed her way. "Hm... They're kind of, strange in texture, on the inside. Flavorful, but rough, almost grainy. Nothing like jelly..." Chuckling, she smiled a little, Fluttershy's own growing ten-fold. "They're pretty good, I suppose, misnomer or not."

Still beaming happily, Fluttershy held up the bag again. "There are plenty more, if you'd like!"

Staring back at her for a moment, those big, bright, blue eyes seemed to pull Adagio in for just a fraction of a second. She wasn't sure what to make of this expression, but nodded a little and took another handful of internally grainy fruit-lumps as Fluttershy did the same, the two of them eating in silence for a few minutes.

"So," Fluttershy inquired when her mouth wasn't full, "how have things been, since you started coming to school?"

Adagio shrugged. "We do alright, the three of us. At least, most of the time." Fluttershy's curious little head-tilt suggested she wanted to hear more. "Do you remember the pep rally a few weeks ago?"

---

The sirens had been together for quite a while, and in that time, Sonata proved herself as the most willing to follow orders. Not always the most able, but generally more cooperative than Aria. This extended beyond Adagio's evil plans when they dried up, so when Principal Celestia asked everyone to show their support for the Wondercolts, Sonata was the first to grab two pom-poms and go ballistic.

She jumped up and down, flailing her arms and running all around the gym, her high-pitched shouts doing more to instill amusement than school pride in the student body. She cheered and screamed and danced as though she were possessed by a myriad of pop icons at once and all of them had taken near-lethal amounts of caffeine. Then came fear as she got her hands on the megaphone and turned the volume to maximum.

"WOOOOOOO-EE!! C'MON EVERYBODY, GET UP AND STOMP! STOMP HOLES IN THE FLOOR!! STOMP UNTIL YOUR ANKLES ARE BROKEN!! AND WITH THAT PAIN, SCREAM!! SCREAM FOR YOUR TEAM!! WE'LL MAKE IT EXPLODE UP IN THIS BITCH!! E! X! P! L! O-oh, hi Vice Principal Luna! You don't look very peppy..."

---

Fluttershy did remember, she'd spent the whole time hiding in the library, like she always did when the whole school got together to be loud and scary. This time, though, there was an extra little... disturbance, a feeling of foreboding that made her especially glad she hadn't gone.

"It's a shame," continued Adagio, "I really thought Sonata would open the door for us by befriending the cheer-leading squad after that, but since her little stunt at the last big game...?"

She had heard about that. Sonata had apparently coated the Wondercolts' mascot outfit in certain chemicals to slow any actual burning before putting it on and setting it on fire to dance around while screaming at the top of her lungs. To support the team, of course. It made some kind of sense in theory, but to everyone that saw her, (which is to say, everyone) it just looked like she was so full of school spirit that she set herself on fire. As the suit was only a little singed in a few places by the time they put her out, Fluttershy wondered if she at least got extra credit in Mr. Doodle's class. "They, uh... probably kicked her out after that?"

"To put it lightly." Adagio held a hand to her chin in contemplation. "Actually, that's not the only, err, misunderstanding to have taken place since the three of us started attending classes." She gave Fluttershy an earnestly unsure look. "I'm not complaining, but why do they keep letting us come here? Even if none of us are trying to cause trouble between Aria's occasional outbursts, Sonata's rare antics, and me being-" she haughtily brushed her hair aside, smiling confidently as she did, "-too much, I know we're breaking rules sometimes." Adagio herself wound up in the vice principal's office fairly often, but that wasn't the same as being expelled.

This one was actually kind of easy. "Well, I think Principle Celestia really believes in forgiveness and second chances, even for bad kids." Her eyes shot open and her heart-rate spiked as she realized what she just said. "I-I MEAN, not that you guys are bad, I-I'm sure you, it's, you just do bad things beca-no wait, you aren't, y-you even said-"

Adagio reached out and gently poked the top of her head again. "Stop. Breathe. Listen."

She did.

"We might only be here to kill time, but I'd like to think that we make an effort to play by your rules counts for something."

"I-it does! And we're all very glad you're-"

"Yes, I know," Adagio said with a chuckle, "I wasn't taking offense. I get that what we pulled before wasn't very nice, and have absolutely no plan, or means, to do it again. Alright?"

Nodding a little, Fluttershy was glad to have that settled so soon.

"Come to think of it," Adagio went on with a hint of a smile, "we still haven't even blown anything up yet, and if Sunset Shimmer earned everyone's trust after that, there must be hope for us too!"

"...'Yet'?"

Adagio crossed her arms, nodding. "Yet. If Sonata decides to show school spirit by rigging something to explode, Aria and I will try to stop her, but no promises."

There was a long pause before Fluttershy opted to try a different topic. "What is it Aria does that gets her in trouble? She's pretty well behaved in my English class."

Adagio chuckled, pushing off the bench. "Long story short? Language barriers. See you around, Sweetie."

This time, Fluttershy waited a whole ten seconds before rapidly looking around, and to her surprise, spotted Adagio actually walking away. She wasn't exactly happy that Adagio was leaving her for the day, but contented herself with doing a little analysis of her own. Even from the back, she could see that Adagio moved with confidence, back straight, head held high... hips swinging...

A part of her dared dream that someday, she might walk the same way.

Author's Notes:

I'm going to try to publish each chapter within a period of two weeks, amid everything else I'm working on. That they're supposed to be short and sweet makes that a little easier.

Chapter 7: Inside-Out Jelly Chunks

She wanted to walk with as much confidence as Adagio some day, but who was to say she couldn't at least give it a try?

Every day, Fluttershy took a route from her History to English classes with little to no people, cutting through the gym, which was always empty at that time. Even though the path she chose was longer, moving through less-crowded hallways granted her more time to get to classes than walking near so many other students did, or even brushing past them when things got desperate. Keeping a brisk pace just the same, Fluttershy had time to think, debating with herself whether or not to do what she was thinking, fear that she would get caught weighed against the specifications of the large, empty, windowless room she'd be walking through in roughly thirty seconds.

Two years and three months she'd been using the gym as a shortcut to get around the bulk of the student body, and in all that time there were maybe two instances of anyone else being in there when she walked through. That meant she was still taking a chance, if just a little, teeny, pygmy-marmoset-sized one.

Ooh, pygmy marmosets are so cute! The way they cling to things with their little-

Focus, Fluttershy!

She was in the doorway of the gym. No one was around, but she timidly glanced around to make sure, slowly started making her way to the opposite door. She was alone, she could be doing anything at all and nobody would be the wiser. Heart pounding, she dared recall every detail of the way she'd seen Adagio moving. Head high, back straight, hips swinging, every step as much a declaration that she was free to do whatever she wanted as it was a challenge for anyone to stop her, to even try to get in her way.

Shakily, Fluttershy transitioned her gait to be as much like that as she could manage, her footsteps feeling unnaturally loud against the hard, wooden floor as she tried to keep her head up like Adagio would. She couldn't completely avoid hunching over as bigger and bigger waves of self-consciousness spilled over her, but for the last fifteen steps, she even swayed her hips!

That the hallway beyond the gym was generally near-vacant as well at this time could only be a blessing, she was sure someone would have noticed how hard she was blushing.

---

Even sitting in class, hiding behind her book again, the heat in her face hadn't faded. By now it was less because of what she'd done, more for what Adagio would say if she ever learned about it. She'd shaken her rear while walking. In public!! Empty, nobody-around-to-see-right-now public, but still! Memory of her voice sounded in Fluttershy's head.

"I never would have guessed you of all people were a masochistic exhibiti-"

"I-I'M NOT!!"

And yet, here she was, practically shaking in her seat, head down and completely obscured from everyone by her book at the thought of being seen doing what she did, a blur of heated feelings whirling around in her head at the very idea of the consequences! That sounded a lot like-...

Why was the classroom quiet now?

Slooowly lifting her head to peer over her book, most of her eyes and forehead still hidden by her hair, Fluttershy saw exactly what she'd most feared; the entire class staring at her. Squeaking with fright, she nearly slammed her head on the desk to escape their gazes.

"You see?" asked Ms. Harshwhinny from the front of the class, "That is how I know your poem was not appropriate for school, Miss Rarity."

Fluttershy didn't even realize Rarity had been reading aloud. She cast a cursory glance to her fashion-forward friend to see that she was just a little distraught.

"I'm sure it was fine! The description of one embracing a lover, in a hug, after a long parting may sound lascivious, but I assure you my writing is completely chaste!"

Ms. Harshwhinny gave her a deadpan stare. "Look at Fluttershy-" she ignored the shy girl's second terrified squeak that class as some turned to look at her, still flushed, "-and tell me it was G-rated." Some of the class snickered.

Glancing at her, Rarity was less sure. "W-well... I suppose it might have been-"

"Oh, this is a load!" The voice of Aria Blaze was accompanied by the sound of her slapping both hands on her desk and standing up. This particularly drew attention because she was normally very quiet in class.

"Miss Blaze," responded Harshwhinny, "please take your seat."

"No," she retorted sharply, "listen up, I dunno what Squeaky's problem is, but I heard the whole poem, analyzed the implications of every stanza, considered possible meanings and contexts for every word, and I'm telling you, it was clean." The grumpiest siren looked less angry, more exasperated as she started making emphatic gestures and arm motions. "What is it with you people anyway? Why do you hate your own language so much that you bar pieces of it off? Where I come from, every syllable is as precious as any other, regardless of use or context, because each and every one is a tool through which to express our thoughts and feelings. We don't even have a concept of swearing! You can't take a word and label it unconditionally bad, you shouldn't be calling words bad to begin with, they're not!"

She snapped her fingers. "If I said I wanted to rip the eyes out of a whole class of freshmen and show a picture of it to their grandparents before throwing them, and the grandparents, through a wood-chipper, that'd be bad, but I'd be allowed to say it, to anyone. If I use the first word that comes to mind for what wasn't happening in Charity's poem-"

"It's Rarity."

"-Shuddup, if I said that one word, no matter how or in what light, it's bad, always is and always will be. Does that make any sense to you? If I wrote a poem, a song, anything that really was dirty, something detailing the raw, unbridled feeling between two, or more, mature adults as they tore into each other like the world was ending, nothing but primal passion at work, the most appropriate possible use for that word, would it still be inappropriate?"

Silence. Fluttershy was sure that if Rarity dropped one of her sewing needles, everyone would have heard perfectly.

Ms. Harshwhinny just stared at Aria, wide-eyed, not immediately sure how to counter her question. She looked around at the class, nobody having a word to offer as Aria stared back at her, face annoyed, but expectant. "W-well," the instructor quietly managed, "all of that may be true, but I'm afraid school rules forbid literature of that nature, at least in the classroom."

Aria slumped back into her seat, arms folded. "Tch, whatever."

Class went on, but the matter of whether or not Rarity's poem had been too lewd was dropped.

---

"So," Rainbow started with a hint of a smirk when everyone was seated at lunch, "what's this we're all hearing about you being a living smut-detector, Fluttershy?"

"W-WHAT?!"

Predictably, Rainbow was immediately whapped over the back of the head by Applejack, though that didn't stop her from laughing herself silly. Nor Pinkie, who had the fortitude to meet Rarity's very disapproving glare and explain the situation. "We heard about one of the Dazzlings ranting in you guys' English class, and that Ms. Harshwhinny pointed to Fluttershy right after your poem and-"

"-and Aria defended it," continued Sunset with a smile, "something one of us did. Do you guys know what that means?"

Rarity smiled a little too. "That she has an appreciation for romantic literature?"

"Not impossible, but what else?"

Rainbow raised her hand, which she almost never remembered to do in class. "That she wants to be able to curse people out without getting an earful from Luna?"

"Maybe a little more likely, but beside the point." Sunset went on the moment Pinkie opened her mouth. "It means that they can't all hate us so much that it gets in their way! If she was really still mad at us, or at least Rarity, she'd have probably tried to make her situation worse out of spite."

"And not that I'm ungrateful," said Rarity with a skeptical eyebrow, "but why couldn't she remember my name, even right after hearing it?"

"Huh? Oh, uh..." Lowering her head a little, Sunset blushed, hesitantly meeting the group's collective, curious stare. "That, um, that might be, I guess, maybe, s-spite?"

There was a pause.

"So," Applejack asked with a tilt of her head and an amused smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, "iffin' somebody happened to keep gettin' a few peoples' names wrong even after a week of knownin' 'em...?"

Sunset offered her most sheepish, most apologetic grin. "Haha, m-maybe. And, if someone were to fail to let go of their resentment before then, maybe they would later say 'sorry'?"

Having quite meant it when they said they'd forgiven a certain formerly-spiteful person for everything she'd ever done to them, the rest of the table just giggled, moving on to jokes about Rarity's racy poems.

---

Over that weekend, Fluttershy pondered the implications of Friday's English class. Aria was, as far as anyone could tell, the surliest member of her group. If she could put aside her hard feelings for the right reason, was there something Adagio would protect over the chance to make someone squirm? It was a thin hope, but she remembered that Adagio had backed off that morning in the library, even if she wasn't sure why. It could have been in the hope of getting a taste of each morning's treat, but she could have easily taken it if she wanted, and if they weren't offered, she never stuck around for them anyway.

She couldn't come up with any concrete answers, but at least it gave her something to think about when trying to get to sleep. Something other than the possibility that Adagio knew where she lived.

Why, oh why did I have to remember that the moment the lights went out?

---

Monday morning, Fluttershy finally wasn't startled by Adagio, who offered a little wave before stopping to lean on the bench.

"Morning, Sweetie."

"Good morning!" Thinking she had just about worked out a system, Fluttershy held up the bag, carefully watching Adagio's expression. "Would you like some orange slices?"

She didn't look suspicious of these, but picking one of the orange, curled, slightly bulbous candies up between two fingers, she smirked a little. "If this is a dig at my hair, Sweetie..."

Fluttershy's smile vanished. "I-I swear it's not!!"

Luckily, Adagio didn't look mad. "Mmhm..." Taking a bite, her eyes widened. "Oh! These are actually like jelly inside! Not quite liquid, but more..."

The smile returned, both because she wasn't in trouble and because she got to see one of her favorite expressions again. "Jellyish?"

"Yes! They're almost the opposite of jelly beans, or the same thing, turned inside out. Not hard anywhere, grainy and sweet on the outside, still sweet on the inside! They should have called these jelly, uh... wedge, things."

Giggling, Fluttershy ate one herself. While she delighted in the pleased face Adagio made while eating orange slices, (Maybe she really likes soft and sweet things?) her attention was drawn to dark rings around Adagio's eyes, which was quickly noticed.

Smirking again, Adagio haughtily brushed her hair aside. "Eyeliner. Like it? I was thinking of going for a-" shadowed eyes went half-lidded as she leaned in closer, "-darker, more lady-like look. What do you think," she asked with a little pout, "does it work for me?" She concluded by batting her eyelashes, to an almost mesmerizing effect.

Feeling a tingle run up her spine, Fluttershy lowered her eyes to Adagio's mouth, willing them to stop there. Adagio was breathing softly, yellow lips just slightly parted... waiting... Wait, yellow lips!

A cluster of thoughts made her pull back, though not in time to avoid turning roughly the color of her own hair again. "Y-you're not wearing lipstick?"

Knowing where Fluttershy's eyes were, yellow lips formed a teasing half-grin, her tongue poking out just long enough to moisten them. "You'd rather I did? I can if you like, but-"

Shrinking back in her seat, Fluttershy turned pinker. Also without help from make-up. "N-no, that's, I-I didn't," she raised both hands defensively, "I-I'm not thinking about, I mean, your lips are fine!"

She smiled a little more like a jungle cat with a trapped rodent, raising an eyebrow.

Heart hammering in her chest, very little of the blood in Fluttershy's head was being used to power her brain. "F-fine as they are! Your lips are f-no, I meant, all of you is fine-wait, I, I-I just-"

Licking her lips a little more pointedly, Adagio leaned in closer, her voice low. "You're right, actually, lipstick isn't the only way for me to leave marks..."

They locked eyes, Adagio's gaze all but holding her. The effect of her deep, red-violet eyes encircled with dark rings looked like a pair of lights at the end of a tunnel, slowly drawing her in with promises of things she knew she'd never be able to ask for, things she'd remember for the rest of her life, and maybe even longer!

That didn't really make sense, but a pygmy-marmoset-sized part of her wondered if Rarity ever wrote a poem about something like that.

She was shaken out of her daze by Adagio quickly darting her head forward and snapping her teeth just in front of Fluttershy's face, causing her to emit a silent shriek of terror and fall backward off the bench, landing with her feet sticking straight up in the air. Her head was still spinning by the time Adagio stopped cackling madly, stepping over to look down at her with an almost apologetic expression.

"You alright, Sweetie?"

Still trying to steady her breathing, Fluttershy nodded as best she could at that angle. "I'm... f-fine."

Playfully-raised eyebrow. "Fine?"

"I-I mean good!"

Adagio chuckled. "Good." Amusing as this was, Adagio didn't quite have it in her to inform her victim that her current pose presented a memorable eyeful, but settled for storing that ammo for later use.

Getting to her feet, brushing herself off, and sitting on the bench again, Fluttershy quietly sighed.

One of these days, I'll talk to her without making a fool of myself.

Following Adagio with her eyes as she returned to her usual, leaning-over-the-back-of-the-bench position, Fluttershy tilted her head a little. "Uhm... Y-you can sit on the bench if you want. There's more than enough room for two people."

Adagio made no greater movement than a shrug. "I'm fine here." That Fluttershy looked away from her for a second before quietly muttering 'okay then' told her she just made some kind of mistake. "So," she started conversationally, "I heard you got an idea of Aria's biggest problem here, late last week?"

Blinking twice, Fluttershy turned to face her, not sure where she was going with that. "Uh, y-yes...?" Fluttershy's eyes widened, realization hitting her like a cheetah pouncing a hapless gazelle. I'm thinking about jungle cats a lot lately... "Y-you were talking to Aria about me?!"

Oddly, Adagio looked just as surprised. "What? No, she just told me you were there when she went off on the teacher, something about you being an indicator for whether or not a poem was too saucy or something." She frowned, reaching out to gently place a hand on Fluttershy's trembling shoulder. "We don't keep a lot of secrets from each other, but I haven't even mentioned our meetings to Aria and Sonata. Okay?"

Eyes moistening and a steady rhythm building in her chest, Fluttershy hesitantly began to smile. "You keep a secret from your two closest friends for my sake?"

For just a second, Adagio looked completely lost. "Huh? Eh, well, it-" she turned away and crossed her arms, but now Fluttershy was sure of it, Adagio Dazzle was blushing, "-don't think I, I mean, you, it's not like it costs me anything to just not mention it. Besides, you'd explode if I did, right?"

Giggling, Fluttershy gave her a bright, earnest grin. "Right! Thank you, Adagio."

"Right, well..." The happy little face Fluttershy was making was by no means a bad one, but it was making Adagio start to struggle to fight off the building warmth in her cheeks. "You asked about Aria's difficulties around here, so, thought I'd mention it." The bad feeling was gone, so she was probably in the clear now, turning to leave. "See you around, Sweetie."

Still feeling weirdly happy, Fluttershy waved goodbye and called after her. Out loud. "See you again soon!"

Even when Adagio was gone, the internal fuzzies didn't disappear, making her just feel good all over! So much so that she reached into the bag, pulled out an orange slice, and giggled to herself as she put it in her mouth in just such a way that it looked like a sugary little orange smile.

Author's Notes:

Yes, Adagio bringing up Aria's 'language barrier' issue and having it almost immediately spelled out in the next chapter isn't great pacing, but it's not exactly a major plot-point, so I'm not too worried.

While I'm more or less with Aria on this one, I do think it's handy having swears if you use them sparingly, like to signify considerable anger, pain, or distress. Otherwise, they utterly lose whatever purpose they had as swears, right?

Again, sincerely sorry for that Publish button slip-up earlier. Adagio might be a tease, but I try not to be.

Chapter 8: Multi-Hued Fruit Ellipsoids

That happened kind of fast.

Fluttershy wasn't complaining by any means, but reminiscing looking back on that morning's encounter as she walked to her next class, it really felt like things went very quickly. Still, she hadn't stopped smiling since!

It's true, isn't it? 'An hour sitting with a pretty girl on a park bench passes like a minute'?

That wasn't the whole quote, but right now she didn't care. Mental images of Adagio's blushing face kept Fluttershy feeling warm through the day, remembering the kind of beauty it brought out in her. It was like seeing a flower blossom, a tenderness uncovered for all the world (well, just her at the time) to see, a moment of delicate vulnerability that exposed a soft, sweet center.

Stopping in another near-empty hall, Fluttershy's whole face felt hot, and she had no idea why. She shook her head and kept walking.

She still wished they could have had more time together, even if it wasn't spent with her getting to watch Adagio be the one to look bashful for once. They might have, actually, but Adagio left of her own free will, even though the school wasn't due to open for a little while longer. Realizing that was what finally brought Fluttershy back down to Earth.

Did she just not want to be around me anymore? Did I make her uncomfortable? All I said was 'thank you,' was that weird for her?

There had to be something she could do to hold Adagio's attention longer. She already knew her favorite subject, but there was no way Fluttershy could talk about that stuff and keep her head on straight. Maybe there was something else, her only other two friends? Unless the 'other' part was assuming too much, in that case, her only two friends? Adagio brought up Aria's rant on her own, would she be happy to talk about her and Sonata? She made a mental note to try it tomorrow, realizing on the way home that she'd forgotten to try the try the sexy confident walk today.

---

The next day, Fluttershy was startled less out of malice or playfulness, more because she hadn't been paying attention when the sneakiest siren leaned over the bench and said hello. The dark eyeliner probably wasn't helping.

Adagio chuckled. "Sorry, should I be calling out to you first, or...?"

That it sounded like she earnestly cared was worth any amount of jump-scares to Fluttershy, drawing a smile. "I-it's okay, I'm just really, um, w-well-" Adagio just kept grinning at her in a believe me, I've noticed, kind of way. She refrained from even mentioning the empty seat on the bench, not wanting to risk Adagio feeling even the tiniest bit like she was being pressured into anything she didn't want to do. Clearing her throat, Fluttershy offered the bag containing today's choice of candy. "A-anyway, have you ever seen these before?"

Leaning over to get a better look, Adagio could see a variety of little, elliptical pellets of many colors, each one bearing a tiny, white letter 's'. "Are these a different type of jelly bean?"

Giggling, Fluttershy shook her head. "Not exactly, but they do come in about as many flavors. Try some!" To her slight surprise, Adagio didn't hesitate at all, making two out of four cases of bagged candy she had no visible problem with. Had the candy corn and jelly beans in particular just looked strange to her, or was she just growing to trust Fluttershy enough to eat whatever she offered? Her heart palpitating at the very thought, she almost missed something else she'd grown to cherish as the treat analysis began.

"These are... interesting." She chewed for at least twenty seconds, her face thoughtful. "A lot like the jelly beans, yes, but perhaps more flavorful, I can taste the different juices blending together into an unplaceable uniform... stuff." Reaching into the bag for another handful, she eyed them curiously. "They even feel grainy on the inside, too, but denser, maybe even weirdly metallic, if that makes sense, like compacted versions of the jelly beans. She popped them into her mouth and smiled, the way it felt like only she could now. "Very good, though."

Chewing on a few herself, Fluttershy hoped it just looked like Adagio's own beautiful smile was contagious. "S-so, what do you guys usually do for fun? Outside of school, I mean?"

Pondering the question for a few seconds, Adagio swallowed her current mouthful. "Well, there isn't a whole lot that really grabbed us, hence coming here at all, but we did experiment with a few hobbies. We still have quite a lot of money at our disposal, so buying whatever caught our eye was a cinch." She glanced at Fluttershy, only a bright, welcoming grin where she thought a judging stare would be. Odd. Perhaps it didn't occur to her that their wealth was ill-gotten. "So, when we learned of video games, buying the necessary machines and a number of data disks to go with them led to a good few days' worth of digital exploration..."

---

Following a talk with Sunset Shimmer, the Dazzlings found themselves in search of purpose. Or failing that, something fun to do. A few different consoles and a small collection of games in their anti-boredom arsenal, (once they figured out where all the wires go) the three were seated on their living room sofa and dove in.

"So how does this one work?"

"The box said it's a shooter. So you, uh, shoot. A lot."

"Alright, then! Which one is the 'shoot' button?"

"I dunno, but I think I found how to throw-"

There was an explosion onscreen, followed by a prompt to retry the level.

---

Aria had opted to start reading game manuals following their many deaths in the first-person shooter.

"Quick, throw a shell!"

"I'm not holding a shell, Dagi!"

"Use a mushroom!"

"I'm not holding a mushroom, Nata, you have to-ooh, picked up a banana!"

"What do those do?"

"Maybe they attract monkeys."

"What good is that in a race?"

"This is a race?"

"I knew we were driving in circles!"

---

Eventually, they tried the shooter again.

"Alright, I'm starting to see where this game stands; you shoot the guys who shoot at you first, and no one else."

"So that's what friendly fire means!"

"Didn't we shoot these guys in the last level?"

---

Then a strategy game.

"Now this is how it always should have been, the three of us in command of our own army!"

"Once we get enough supplies, yea."

"Well, yes, that. How do we do that again, Ria?"

"Manual says we tell the miner units go whack those glowing rock-looking things over there."

"Can't we just steal the enemy's rock-things?"

"Yea, once we've got enough rock-things to build an army to go steal more rock-things with."

"War stinks."

---

And a dungeon-crawler RPG.

"Picked up a new sword from that ugly, green midget cheiftan."

"Is it better than the other sword? I still can't tell the difference between 'Red Steel' and 'Silverite' or whatever."

"Uhh... It's got a dexerity plus on it, so I'm gonna say yes."

"Ha-ha! I shot that guy with lightning!"

"I think that was a merchant we could have sold the extra sword to, Dagi."

"But now we can take his swords and sell them to someone else, right?"

---

And a platformer.

"So we just have to keep running to the right, Ria?"

"And not fall down any pits, that's important."

"What do we spend these coins on? Does this game let you build armies too?"

"INCOMING MEAN-FACE ROCKET!!"

"Ooh, I'll buy one of those!"

---

Then another shooter.

"I'm sure we've shot all these guys before, Dagi."

"Couldn't be, it's a different game."

"Then why do they look just like the other guys?"

"Maybe they're all clones!"

"Too many clones."

"Maybe we're putting them down before the surplus population eats everything in the ecosystem? I think this makes us veterinarians."

"Veterinarians with assault rifles, I guess."

"Kickass!"

---

And then something to do with survival horror.

"I found a rusty key!"

"Does that go to the rusty door?"

"A lot of the doors are rusty. I think you opened one with the bloody key a little bit ago."

"Was that the 'bloody' key or the 'blood' key? Or the red key?"

"This place must be a nightmare for janitors."

"Judging by the mangled dead guys walking around, it's probably a nightmare for everybody else, too."

"But mostly janitors! Why else would the doors get so rusty? They haven't been cleaned in forever!"

---

The less said of their efforts in the stealth game, the better.

"How did that guy see me? I was in the box!"

"You were moving in the box, Nata."

"So? What do they have against moving boxes?"

"The same thing they have against intruders, maybe?"

"Racists! Well now I'm glad we're snapping their necks!"

Admittedly, things went better when Adagio stopped using various action buttons to pose in front of cameras.

---

They were on a roll with the shooters. As it happened, most of the main campaigns were over by the time they started to grow tired of them.

"So, I had a thought about these games."

"Shoot."

"Not at us, you dunderhead!"

"Oh, relax, friendly fire is off. What is it, Nata?"

"Well, if we keep shooting the same guys over and over again because they're pretty much clones, how do we know we aren't clones just like them? In the game, I mean."

"Are you basing this on what happened in the stealth game?"

"Kinda?"

"I, I think... I think she might be onto something."

"Oh?"

"Yaaay! Onto what?"

"I mean, if they've got some big cloning thing goin' on, maybe we're just the renegades trying to stop them, but first we've gotta take down all the other clones and-"

"-and the random buildings we keep blowing up are cloning facilities, or part of the clone soldier infrastructure, which means-"

"-which means if we don't shoot all these guys and blow up all this stuff, the war will just keep going forever!"

They all spoke in unison. "And that's why these games are so alike!"

The cutscenes told a very different story, but such skippable lessons were lost on the Dazzlings, who still felt like geniuses for solving the imaginary riddle.

---

"So," Adagio concluded, "while we had some fun, it wasn't all we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. Aria still spends some time after school scouring the virtual world for something more interesting, but for now, here I am."

"And then you tried the cheer-leading squad?"

"Well, Sonata did. We looked at a few different student organizations, actually, but none of them worked out." Maybe it was the slight tilt of her head, maybe it was the big, doe-eyed look Fluttershy was giving her, but something in her expression said she wanted to know more. Well, why not? Adagio smirked a little. "The drama club looked promising, but my worries that we'd all upstage everyone else were put aside, because we didn't get to join in a single production before being blacklisted." She chuckled, a hint of nostalgia to her just-slightly-evil grin. "Not every play they were putting together was a centuries-old classic, you see. We caught them in the middle of an original work, and Aria, being Aria, had some... constructive criticism to offer."

Fluttershy looked just a little skeptical. "Constructive?"

"Well, at first, yes. She pointed out some technical issues, some grammatical mistakes in the scripts, a few anachronisms for the setting of the piece, all valid points." She smiled wider, suggesting that any grief she felt over their expulsion from the club was long replaced by amusement. "However, the manner in which she did so was perhaps less than what such gentle souls might have preferred. The playwright remained adamant that no changes needed to be made, Aria wasn't quite as patient back then and may have called someone a 'talentless hack with no understanding of narrative flow.' Admittedly, it might not have gotten so ugly if Sonata and I hadn't been laughing so hard."

To Adagio's immediately-masked surprise, Fluttershy didn't offer a single scolding word for this, not even telling her they were wrong to have done what they did, or anything else. Instead, she giggled, like it was a harmless joke. Was it? People's reactions were so hard to gauge now...

"After Friday's English class, I can kind of see that. What did you try next?"

Something bubbled up in the back of Adagio's head, telling her that something was wrong here. It asked whether or not she could remember a time Fluttershy, Sunset Shimmer, any of the Rainbooms had reprimanded her group in any way since the battle. Teachers did, Luna and Celestia did, other students did, mostly behind their backs or when they assumed they were out of earshot, but never the six (or Vinyl Scratch, but she wasn't talkative to begin with) that had actually stopped them. Why?

She didn't have time to ponder it now, Fluttershy was waiting for an answer. "Well, the first time we attended gym class, we learned a little about the sports they play here. Unfortunately, when all the running in circles and stretching was done-" Adagio chose to leave out that Coach Iron Will had almost thrown her out of class after her custom stretches may have made two students faint, but she'd definitely succeeded in demonstrating her flexibility, "the first game they had us play was football. Sonata told us as they were assigning teams that she had seen that game on television and gave us a brief rundown of what to do take the lead. As we demonstrated a good understanding of the rules as we thought they were set and I convinced those in charge that physically fit students wouldn't be any worse for wear after being tackled a few times, there weren't any repercussions for this, either."

Fluttershy tilted her head. "Either?"

"Ohh, nothing. We did eventually get in some trouble the next day when it was discovered that football was the only sport we understood, but I maintain that making everything-" the smirk leaned a little toward lewd, "-full-contact would have only benefited the student body in the long run. Probably all the kids who go to CHS, too."

"Isn't that the same thi-" As realization struck, Fluttershy turned red, bringing both hands to her mouth. "Oh my!!"

Snickering with satisfaction, Adagio went on. "It was a shame, Sonata was rather adept at Tackle-Baseball. Made more sense than running in circles like a dolt, at any rate." She frowned a little, shrugging. "They don't let me play dodge-ball anymore, though. The balls rolling harmlessly off my hair apparently doesn't count as a hit, there was an accident with someone trying to bind it for me, -Aria did warn them- and even when it was as tied up as it could get, an honest mistake of my aim followed by an equally unlucky ricochet was the last nail in the coffin." She was a little insulted Iron Will was so quick to believe that she of all people would try to hit such a place. Then again, maybe her banter to the opposing team put certain thoughts in his head? "Now they just let me go early on dodge-ball day."

Fluttershy frowned too, but she saw opportunity for something she'd been wondering about for weeks. "Is that why I see you standing alone outside the locker room sometimes?"

Blinking twice, Adagio's cheeks tinted the faintest shade of red. "Oh, that? W-well, actually..." She looked away, whatever blush had been building going right back where it came from as she looked out over the soccer field. "I'm, due to some misunderstandings, not allowed in the locker rooms-" either one, Luna had made it clear, "-when the other students are changing."

There was just a little doubt in the raising of a pink eyebrow. "Misunderstandings?"

Standing up straight, Adagio looked back at Fluttershy as though she'd been accused of murder, fingertips drawn to her chest (Two seconds!) in melodramatic fashion. "You don't think I would go and do something to make anyone uncomfortable, do you? My intentions were nothing but pure!" She clasped her hands together, making what could only be called puppy-dog eyes. "You believe me, don't you?"

This was almost definitely a trap, a lie, or both, but if she wanted to really earn Adagio's trust, Fluttershy knew she had to give her the benefit of the doubt. She smiled warmly. "If you say you're innocent, then of course I believe you."

Adagio blinked twice, laughing as she returned to her usual leaning pose. "No," she said with a smirk, "that they don't let me in when others are changing is entirely my fault. But really, you'd think those girls could take a compliment."

There was a distant sense of shock not that Adagio had been lying through her teeth, but that she had just delivered a response that didn't surprise Fluttershy at all. Whether or not that was some kind of paradox, she'd work out later.

"So," the siren leader went on, "with none of the clubs we had even the foggiest interest in willing to give any of us a sideways glance, we opted to forsake groups altogether and just try befriending random people at lunch." She shrugged. "Didn't work."

Giggling, Fluttershy spoke without thinking. "I'm a little surprised you would try to make friends at all." Adagio gave her a worrying look, as if to say 'No please, elaborate.' She gulped. "W-wait, I didn't mean it l-like, I-I don't think you're, I-I mean-"

Adagio sighed a little, as though she'd anticipated this. "Relax, Sweetie." She gave Fluttershy a minute to calm down before explaining. "If you were hoping to give me The Talk about the joys of friendship and all that, Sunset Shimmer beat you to it." To Fluttershy's unnoticed delight, Adagio started to get that rosy look as she crossed her arms, looking out at the soccer field again. "The first time we talked, she happened across us in town one day. We had a little chat about why the three of us were still together, what we must have meant to each other to have not gone our separate ways, blah, blah, you can probably guess the rest."

Fluttershy frowned. "You're really not going to tell the whole story?"

With a roll of her eyes, Adagio blushed a little brighter. "I assure you that it was all very huggy and tearful and embarrassing. Sunset Shimmer supervised. Anyway, after that, we just tried to kill time together, find something to do with our lives. Hence? School."

Fluttershy nodded a little. "I guess that makes sense." She smiled genuinely. "Thank you for telling me this, Adagio."

Adagio stared back at her, still flushed. "Yes, well..." She stood up straight, quickly ruffling Fluttershy's hair. "I think that's enough sentimentality for today. See you around, Sweetie."

Straightening her hair as best she could, Fluttershy waited, very patiently, until Adagio was out of sight before checking the time on her phone. She smiled. That might be the longest she's ever talked to me! Maybe all she had to do was bring up things Adagio wanted to talk about? Sadly, it looked like anything she thought was too 'sentimental', anything that made her blush, was off the list.

---

Then again, she thought through the day's first class, her heartbeat picking up again, Adagio getting all rosy-cheeked is so...

---

Still, she didn't want to risk Adagio getting uncomfortable around her, and deciding they were done talking for the day seemed like just that. What drew that reaction? Yesterday it was saying out loud that she had done something nice for Fluttershy, today it was, what? Sharing that she and the others had talked to Sunset?

Oh, that's it!

Adagio was a lot like Sunset, or like she had been a little after the Fall Formal; proud, guarded, hesitant to show even a flicker of tender feelings. Well, not those kinds of tender feelings, anyway. Opening the door to the empty gym, Fluttershy decided she'd just have to be patient, to let Adagio share as much as she wanted at her own pace.

Speaking of paces, it was time to practice the shaky confident walk again...

Author's Notes:

The image of those three playing video games together just tickles me. :rainbowwild:

I'm over the desired word limit again. Is under 4000 words still short and sweet enough? I think just heavily implying that stuff happened can convey just as much hijinks as writing out every word. :pinkiesmile:

In case it's ambiguous, Sunset talked to the Dazzlings multiple times before the events of the story, checking in on them every so often to make sure they weren't as lost and miserable as she would have been without the other five. She may not be the protagonist of this story, but she still cares. :twilightsmile:

I put Teen ratings on almost all of my stories for creative freedom. Has this one earned it yet?

Chapter 9: Shareable Anti-Mint Spheres

The door to the gym was shut behind her, nobody was around, and she had the whole walk to the other side of the gym. There were no excuses. Head high, back straight, Fluttershy took two swingy steps before she started to hunch over with the fear of what anyone that saw her would say. Still, she kept her hips moving, back and forth, back and forth, certain it would be noticeable from clear across the room.

It's not exhibitionism, it's not exhibitionism, it's not exhibitionism.

It wasn't, she knew it wasn't, but the heat in her cheeks persisted. It wasn't like she was doing anything dirty, Rarity was known to strut a little and nobody ever batted an eye. Heck, Adagio herself didn't seem to get any extra attention for the way she walked, and she had the widest, swingiest hips of anyone in-

She'll tease you about voyeurism next, you know.

The thought didn't help with the burning sensation in her face as she reached the other end of the gym, not even able to recall if she'd done the walk or not. Touching the handle, she looked over her shoulder at the empty gym, feeling something flicker in her chest. She still had a few minutes until her next class, there was still nobody around to see her, and if she built a good foundation now, she might even be able to think about doing the walk in public by the time she was in college!

Not actually doing the walk, just thinking about it. But, in public! With other people around!

Planning like that worked for her transition to wearing skirts that ended above the knee from fourth grade to the start of high school, after all, and here she was! Then again, she knew Adagio wouldn't spend a minute thinking about whether or not something she wanted was too high to aim for, she'd just go for it until it was hers or she knew it was absolutely impossible to reach. And even then, she'd just find the next best thing and tackle it twice as hard! That was the only thing she had ever admired about the old Sunset, and one of the few things she and Adagio still had in common; to be so self-assured and assertive as to know what they wanted and go straight for it, gosh darn the consequences!

She squeezed the door's handle before releasing it and turning away. Marching right back the way she came, the blush persisted as she forced her hips to sway with every step. Stopping, she had an idea. Walking with any real confidence would look weird on her, but maybe if she just did it without the hip-shaking part, she could adapt it in later? Head high, back straight, she walked with no regard to the noise her shoes were making against the hard-wood floor, like someone who didn't give a twitch of a tail who heard her walking places! When she got to the door she came in through, she turned right around and marched the same way straight to the other side. Her heart beating fast, she decided that was probably enough for today and proceeded to class normally.

---

Wednesday morning got off to a flying start, because for once, Adagio's arrival went perfectly! Looking around as she waited for her favorite Dazzling, Fluttershy caught sight of her, smiled and waved at her normally, and got a normal smile and wave back as she approached! Not that she disliked Aria or Sonata, she was sure they were nice enough girls too. And, Adagio's smile was more like a half-smirk, but for her it was pretty much the same thing. But still!

Taking her usual place over the back of the bench, Adagio seemed a little extra relaxed today. "Morning, Sweetie."

She smiled brightly. "Good morning!" Feeling a strange sense of something she couldn't put her finger on just then, she opted to test the waters of small-talk with a former evil enchantress. "How are you today?"

Adagio's relaxed smirk grew a little wider. "How am I, you ask? Well," she stood up straight to stretch her arms up over her head, "I suppose I'm as lithe, limber, and-" closing one eye in a coy wink, she took up a pose not unlike the one she'd used on Fluttershy before, arms still raised, fingers interlocked as the palms faced outward, back arched, hips cocked, and one leg out to the side, the eye not winking kept on Fluttershy, "-flexible as ever." She bent over to position her face very close to that of her prey, her question coming with a slow, warm exhale. "Whyever do you ask?"

Wide-eyed and bright red, Fluttershy remembered that Adagio was still a little evil. But this time, she wouldn't run away! "I-I was just, y-you know, asking."

"I see. And how are you?"

From a variety of tingly feelings, she deduced that sometimes a completely honest answer wasn't best. Even so, she steeled herself, not wanting to shrink back any further than she already had. "I'm... okay?"

Adagio leaned in closer, their noses almost touching, eyes half-lidded. Her voice came in a husky whisper. "And now?" The only verbal reply was a series of high-pitched squeaks, but the sight of sweat running down Fluttershy's crimson face hinted that maybe she was going too far again. Chuckling, she backed away and resumed her usual pose. The way Fluttershy was glowing, a tiny part of her was worried about getting sunburned at that distance, anyway.

For the next two minutes, Fluttershy focused on breathing, the bag she'd brought today's treat in, and a niggling sense that she was going to regret her choice very soon. Glancing at Adagio, she was a little surprised to see her still waiting, not a single sign of impatience in that laid-back little smirk of hers. Something about the expression tickled the edges of her heart, making her smile. "T-today I brought something a little different." Fishing one of the candies whose wrapper she greatly loosened in advance, Fluttershy quickly revealed a little, red ball and offered it to Adagio. "They're usually called fireballs, very flavorful, but very spicy."

Taking it between two fingers, Adagio skipped any jokes about Fluttershy trying to get her 'hot' (too obvious) and popped it into her mouth. To no immediate effect. "Spicy, huh?"

Eyeing a second fireball in her own hand, Fluttershy was visibly steeling herself for the coming trial. "G-give it a minute..." Taking a deep breath, she put it in her mouth. Ordinarily, she gave this kind of thing to Pinkie, Rainbow, or maybe even Applejack, but she did not want to risk Adagio thinking she was playing a prank on her when the acidic properties of the ball kicked in. Sucking on one herself seemed like the best way to show that wasn't the case, though while they were sweet and sugary, she'd probably have to run to the nearest water fountain soon. Trying to take her mind off the rapidly-intensifying heat, she looked at Adagio, her analytical face reinforced with a sincere little smile.

"These are... interesting. Candied hot sauce? It's not so different from mint, but in reverse, somehow." Fluttershy winced a little as she caressed the tiny ball with her tongue. On purpose. "Yes, this is different, candy with a kick!" She chuckled. "Not bad at all, Sweetie! How's yours?"

Fluttershy internally screamed. Why did she have to ask that?! Visibly sweating, she tried to push the ball around in her mouth to areas that weren't burning as badly without letting it touch her tongue, with little success. Tears gathering in her eyes, she all but whimpered. "H-ho-ho-hot!!"

Adagio gave her a strange smile of amusement and sympathy. "Aww, you poor thing. Well, maybe I can help you."

Her mouth was barely opened to ask how when Adagio quickly darted forward, her long, slippery tongue extended like a hummingbird about to feed from a flower, sliding straight past Fluttershy's lips!

From there, her world exploded into heat. Heat from the fireball, heat from Adagio's fireball-coated tongue, and the regular kind of heat in her face, much hotter than usual, in response to awareness that she was possibly in the middle of her first french kiss. It was a wonder she didn't pass out! There was a haze of thoughts about whether or not it counted, of not being sure there was any kind of lip contact and not knowing if french kissing was just one tongue in another mouth, but the next thing she knew, Adagio was giggling almost maniacally and her mouth didn't feel so hot anymore.

Now enjoying the fiery intensity of two spicy candies as well as her usual morning entertainment, Adagio couldn't help smiling. "So, just asking, how are you?" As anticipated, the only reply was incoherent, red-faced babble. The display was tastier than the fireballs, but she was likely pushing her luck now. "Sorry," she offered with a chuckle, placing a hand on Fluttershy's shoulder, "in all seriousness, are you alright?"

The combination of Adagio's gentle tone, the sincerity in her voice, and what she was sure was a caring look in her eyes made Fluttershy's heart melt. Unless that was an after-effect of the fireballs, but she'd never heard of such a thing from Pinkie. She smiled warmly. "I think I'm okay." There was only a tiny jab in Fluttershy's chest when Adagio nodded and pulled away, but she hadn't really expected the moment to last.

"Good. As I said before, I tend to be a little too much for some people, so..." She shrugged, losing her smirk. "If you need me to back off a little, I-"

"No!" Quickly reaching out to grab one of the siren's hands in her own, Fluttershy was a little surprised to see Adagio startled for just an instant. "Please, don't worry about me, I might freeze up and shy away sometimes, but I'm fine! You, you personally, haven't hurt me since we met, and I like you just the way you are!" She frowned a little. "Please, don't let me keep you from being yourself, or nobody will be happy in the end."

Staring back at her in silence, it wasn't clear if the redness in Adagio's cheeks came from what Fluttershy just said, or the fireballs. She cleared her throat, glancing at the hand still being held. "Right, well..."

Realizing how the situation might look to an observer, Fluttershy squeaked and drew back, her face burning all over again. "S-sorry!"

Turning her gaze out toward the soccer field, Adagio shrugged again. "So, anyway, thank you for the fireballs."

Smiling through her lingering embarrassment, Fluttershy offered the bag. "Here! I-I don't really like these all that much myself, so, if you'd like the rest, um...?" Remembering her recent confidence, she tried to keep her shoulders and face up, but couldn't help a light tremble.

Adagio was a fraction of a second from asking what she wanted in exchange, but the answer was clear in her bright, blue eyes.

'Nothing. Take them, please?'

Letting out a short giggle, Adagio accepted the bag of spicy treats, narrowing down the best time in the day to tell Aria about them. "Quite the altruistic type, aren't you? Very well, thank you." She set the bag on the seat she was leaning over, smiling in what wasn't quite a smirk at Fluttershy. "So, if you don't actually like these, why would you bring them along? Spicy things don't sound conductive to steadying one's nerves to begin with."

This time, Fluttershy blushed for reasons that had nothing to do with being teased, being looked at, or wayward thoughts breaking free of their pen in her mind. "Do you like them?"

Adagio looked back at her in quiet surprise. The four, simple words said much more than the question they formed, returning greater warmth to Adagio's insides, independent of the fireballs. It was with just a tiny smirk that she reached out to ruffle Fluttershy's hair again. "You're too kind."

Giggling, she straightened her hair as much as she could manage. "Thank you."

"No, really," added the former mastermind, though her expression hadn't changed, "you waited out here almost exclusively to share these with me? It's a lovely gesture, but don't you think you're forgetting something?"

Fluttershy was lost, and it showed on her face. "N-no, not really. Waiting was easy, I do it all the time."

"That's not what I-" She blinked once, drawing a hand to her chin as she turned her analytical gaze on Fluttershy herself this time. "Why is that, anyway? I've been here long enough to hear 'good things come to those who wait,' but I can personally attest that they come much faster for those who get up and take what they're after. I know people are encouraged to wait their turns and all that, but all being willing to wait gets you is the chance to wait longer."

"W-well, I know that, but-"

"Then why do you do it?" Adagio hoped interrupting her to ask would demonstrate the point.

There was a pause, resolve clear in Fluttershy's face when she answered. "Because someone has to." Adagio's adorably inquisitive stare remained. "I mean, if nobody's ever patient, if everyone jumps in to take what they want all the time, then things only get cluttered and hectic, right? But, if they see others waiting patiently, nobody feels like they're the only ones, and it's easier to tolerate waiting their turn. I guess, I want to encourage the system of getting what you want in due time by being that example." She shrugged a little, looking down. "It, doesn't really seem to work all that often, but, that's my reason."

Then she waited. There were sentiments she'd heard many a time about standing up for herself, about being every bit as assertive as everyone else, but she'd thought about assertiveness vs. patience more than once. The conclusion she'd come to was that while being the kind of person that got what they wanted right away might have been nice, it wasn't fair and realistic for everyone. So, she would be one who could wait, as long as it took. Yet, to her surprise, there wasn't a word out of Adagio about her being weak or telling her to stand up for herself like her friends had in the past.

Looking at her, Adagio just kind of nodded. "I see. Well, just the same, it would be best if you brought something you enjoyed, Sweetie." Chuckling, she winked again, drawing an immediate, rosy-cheeked smile out of Fluttershy. "While we're trading philosophy, here's another tid-bit worth remembering; if you're not at least a little selfish, you'll never be happy."

Blue eyes blinked once. "Huh...?"

Smiling wider at her expression, Adagio giggled. "Just, something to think about, I suppose." She picked up the bag and pushed off the bench. "I'll see you around, Sweetie."

Watching her go (and noticing that she didn't shake her hips that hard), Fluttershy had a lot of thoughts to sort through. There were the specifications of hip-movement she'd try to remember for later, Adagio's philosophy on selfishness, and most tantalizing of all, the french kiss.

Am... Am I going to get pregnant now...?

No, don't be ridiculous! You know that's not how it works, it goes like-

Still partly recovering from the fireball, it was best that she not think about what she'd learned in health class right now. Still, she'd have the rest of today to work out everything that happened this morning... Just as soon as it stopped feeling like the butterflies in her belly were on fire.

Fireflies. Fireflies are so pretty.

Author's Notes:

Yes, Adagio does pretty good in geometry class.

Chapter 10: Chocolate-Covered Treachery

It was

It wasn't.

It was.

I don't even remember feeling her lips!

Do you need to?

Yes!!

Would it feel any different?

It would feel like a kiss!

And how would you know what that felt like?

I... I'd...

...

Fluttersigh.

The worst part of arguing with yourself had to be when you lost. It was a sad and very surreal sort of feeling. Still, that voice in her head was right, she'd never gotten further in that kind of thing than her mornings with Adagio, so if this morning could be called her first kiss based on the technicality that a tongue in a mouth usually meant that sort of thing, did the lollipop count? Did the candy cane? How many pseudo-kisses was she up to in that case?

But, still, it felt like... Well, it felt like something! Something she wanted a little more of. And, since Adagio kept showing up every morning, it must have meant something to her too!

Maybe it means she just likes toying with you?

OH, COME ON!!

It went back and forth in that fashion, part of her brain thinking romantically and part of it very much refusing to, not reaching any satisfactory answers. She tried to forget about the maybe-kiss when the time came to practice the walk. Moving with the hip-shake was actually a lot easier when she was doing it more for purposes of memorization than emulation, even if the latter was the ultimate goal. She mimicked Adagio's stride as best she could, going back and forth across the gym twice just to be extra sure she had it down right.

Once lunch time came, she tried to focus on her friends talking about a picture hanging outside the art room.

"You've gotta admit," urged Pinkie, "they sure made good use of color!"

"Yes," agreed Rarity half-heartedly, "the detail in the wings really brings out her eyes."

"I think the magic-y blue fire kinda does that too." Rainbow didn't know much about art, but she knew what she liked.

Applejack just frowned a little, looking at the subject of the painting that hung for all to see the past few months. Granted, she didn't really look like an infernal bat-woman anymore.

Sunset looked tired, her head propped up by one arm on the table, her face somewhere between browbeaten and exhausted. At least until she noticed the rest of the table staring at her and forced a smile. "I keep telling you guys, I know it's just a painting. There's no sense worrying about it, no sense being mad at whoever drew it, and no reason to ask Mr. Magnet to take it down. Okay?" She got five concerned stares. Again.

Rainbow was the first to articulate the question. "Somebody gets nightmares about what happened at the Fall Formal, paints a picture of you all fire and brimstone, which gets posted in the hallway a few days later, and you seriously don't have a problem with it? At all?"

Sighing, Sunset shook her head. "It's not that I don't have a 'problem,' but if I so much as suggested that maybe I didn't want that picture there, wouldn't it look like I was just trying to cover it up? Even now?" She shrugged. "I try not to think about it, but if you asked me how I'd envision something hanging over my head for the rest of my life, this is in the top three methods." She was almost startled by Applejack's hand on her shoulder.

"Ahh, don't you worry none 'bout that old thing. They're bound to replace it with somethin' else sooner or later, right?" She chuckled. "Maybe it'll be one'a mah drawin's. Or heck, maybe even Fluttershy's! We got the same art class an' she sketches like nobody's biz'ness."

The group's attention collectively turning her way in an instant did little for her ability to think on the spot. "I could draw hair!" Being stared at in confusion didn't help as she lowered her head, trying not to turn as pink as her hair. Which she could allegedly draw. "I-I mean, I could, draw, um... here...?"

One thing to love about Pinkie Pie was that she could act like anything made perfect sense. And as she smiled, maybe, to her, it did. "Neat!"

Sunset did her best to save her mousiest friend. "Anyway, I really appreciate the sentiment, but they probably aren't going to take it down any time soon." Rolling her eyes, she crossed her arms. "And, as much as I hate to admit it, whoever made that painting did a really good job. Just wish I wasn't the subject matter."

Rarity would have offered sentiments about being an inspirational muse to at least one person, but Sunset very clearly was not flattered by the work.

Conversation drifted to how it could have been worse, how someone could have sculpted a statue of Sunset as a raging she-demon, to composing a song about how scary she was and singing it during the Battle of the Bands, to writing a scary poem about her, to Rarity's racy poems again.

Fluttershy, however, kept her thoughts on art bound to paper. Specifically, how Adagio would look as the central figure in The Birth of Venus.

She definitely has the hair for it. And, the sirens were sea creatures, right? Someone should paint that, it'd make perfect sense!

---

Art class that day would remind Fluttershy that while reasonably skilled in the field of drawing with a pencil, she was a terrible painter.

---

Walking down one of the less-traveled halls to her next class, Fluttershy heard voices around a nearby corner.

"Alright, what'd you wanna show me?"

Aria Blaze?

"Just this."

Adagio!!

Aria sounded a little alarmed. "Wha-h-hey, what are you-MMPH?!"

There were sounds of a small struggle, but by the time Fluttershy dared peek around the corner, she only saw Aria sputtering and wiping her mouth. "Dammit, Adagio! We keep telling you humans don't eat that way!"

Adagio snickered at her. "I don't remember you complaining all the times befo-"

Aria's pupils shrunk to pinpricks as she glanced around, slapping a hand over Adagio's mouth. "Shut! Up!!"

Stepping back, Adagio chuckled. "They're called fireballs, I think. How is it?"

Aria's mouth hung open for a moment as she gained awareness of the spicy ball in her jaw. "Tch," she shrugged, "it's alright, I guess."

Still grinning, Adagio offered Aria the bag she'd gotten from Fluttershy earlier. "There are more, if you'd like."

Eyeing the bag suspiciously, Aria raised an eyebrow. "Where'd you get 'em?"

Averting her eyes, Adagio grinned mischievously. "Ohh, I have this good friend that-"

With just an inkling as to where this was going, Aria held up a hand. "Stop, stop, forget I asked!"

Fluttershy's heart leapt. She called me a good friend! Maybe only as a cover-up lie, but still!

Aria took the bag without making eye-contact, certain she was already blushing. "Thanks for the cavities, anyway."

Adagio chuckled, extending one arm to lean on a nearby locker. "You're welcome. Have you made any progress in that Empire Cardiac-Muscle game?"

Purple palm met purple forehead as she groaned. "Two and a half hours in and I'm still in the freakin' tutorial!"

"I keep telling you it all goes faster if you skip the cutscenes."

"Yea, but eastern games are usually a lot more about the story, and I'd actually kinda like to know what the hell's going on in this one. Haven't skipped a thing and I'm still lost."

Adagio nodded, giggling. "Stay strong, Aria, we're still pretty much counting on you after school."

Aria smirked a little, though her expression wasn't the least bit unfriendly. "Yea, yea, don't I know it." The two briefly bumped fists. "Seeya at home."

Fluttershy ducked back around the corner the instant the two sirens turned away from each other, closing her eyes and willing herself invisible as a set of footsteps drew closer. They stopped at the same time as her heart, making her very hesitantly open one eye to see a wide-eyed, blushing Aria Blaze. Probably not just due to the fireball. "Oh, h-hi there, M-Miss Aria, I-I was, j-just, not standing here, the last... few... minutes...?" She didn't need a mirror to know her sheepish smile wasn't going to be selling bridges any time soon.

Wasting no time, Aria stepped closer, poking a forceful finger into Fluttershy's chest. "Listen up Squeaky, you didn't see anything, didn't hear anything, and won't say anything about the things you didn't see and didn't hear, capiche?!" To her relief, the Rainbooms' biggest wimp nodded vigorously in agreement. "Smart girl."

A few steadying breaths later, Fluttershy stood alone in the hallway, reflecting on what she had just partially witnessed.

"The three of us, Aria, Sonata, and I, would directly share negative energy all the time, back when we still could."

...Maybe it really hadn't been a kiss, then? If she could do the same thing with Aria, it almost certainly didn't mean as much to Adagio as it had to her. The thought was as comforting as it was frustrating. Did that not count as a kiss, or did kissing not hold the same weight to their people?

Wait, are they a 'people'? Is there a whole country of sirens over in Equestria, or are these three the only ones of their kind? Aria said they didn't have a concept of swearing where they came from, but does that just mean that she, Adagio, and Sonata just never thought of words as bad? Who raised them? What was growing up like for-

Before she could think more on it, the warning bell for the next class sent her hurrying through the halls.

---

What life was like growing up was something she could ask Adagio later. So, Fluttershy instead dedicated most of her remaining thinking time that day to what she'd said about selfishness, and couldn't find fault in the reasoning. The kindest, most benevolent, most philanthropic people in the world did good, caring things because they wanted others to be happy, right? But, why? She knew. Pinkie Pie openly went around making as many people smile as possible (Sunset had asked her to make an exception for the Dazzlings, instead just giving them space,) because seeing people happy made her happy. Was that a little selfish? Yes. Was it bad? Not at all.

Adagio was right. That was the whole point of assertiveness, wasn't it? To make yourself happy by behaving selfishly enough to get what you wanted? Was it possible to enjoy life without ever being selfish? Even a little? The only way she could think of was if, while doing nothing to push it along, everything around you just happened to fall into place in just such a way that you would have wanted it to anyway. The odds were abysmally low that way, so, yes, you had to be a little selfish.

It's not like I share with her just because she's never tasted these things before, right?

Then came a thought she pushed out of her head immediately. She couldn't let herself even think it. Not yet. Luckily, she had a distraction handy.

So, about that maybe-maybe-not kiss...?

---

Sleep hadn't come easily, but Thursday was a new day. And with it, another accidental case of Adagio startling her.

Sighing with stage exasperation, she wore her usual smirk. "What did I do this time, Sweetie?"

"N-nothing," she answered with a sheepish smile, "I'm just a little, y-y'know, jumpy." Truth be told, it was the eyeliner, which looked a little darker this morning. The effect worked to make Adagio a little scary all over again. She's wearing her dance outfit again today, too. I wonder if there's a pattern, hoodie and jeans some days, purple jumpsuit, pink vest, and tights the others? It gets a little chilly some mornings, is she warm enough? Regardless, Fluttershy smiled. "So, um, g-good morning! This might sound a little strange, but do you have a peanut allergy?"

Orange curls shook gently with the her head. "I don't think so. Near as I can tell, none of us have any sort of allergies." Adagio had a particular kind of smile when she talked about her friends, like the happy little grin she'd shown a few times before, painted with reminiscence. If you were looking for it, her fondness for them was clear in her face, just making Fluttershy feel all fuzzy inside. "Well, Sonata doesn't like fish and Aria claims to be allergic to hugs, but I don't think she'll ever have a severe reaction."

"...Haven't you been hugging her in school, sometimes?" Rumor had it that Sonata was the only one that didn't complain when Adagio got publicly affectionate toward her two closest friends.

Adagio regained a familiar little smirk of amusement. "I'm just trying to show everyone how friendly we are, is all." That Aria got all adorably huffy about it when there were a few witnesses was just a happy coincidence.

There was a thought that had been buzzing around in Fluttershy's head like a bee that got lost in a house for a while now, but the time had never felt right. This looked like a good opportunity. "Um, i-if it's okay to ask, why don't Aria and Sonata ever join you in the mornings?"

For a worrying few seconds, Adagio stared back at her, expressionless. Then she shrugged a little, her relaxed smirk as strong as it had ever been. "I'm just more of a morning person than they are, and it gets boring waiting for them to wake up."

Not sure how to follow that statement, Fluttershy nodded. "Okay then. Anyway, I have to ask, because," she drew the day's treats from her bag; a pair of peanut-based wafer bars covered entirely in a layer of chocolate. "these have nuts in them, and they crumble to pieces very easily." She offered one to Adagio, confident she wouldn't be able to open the glued-shut, tear-only kind of wrapper with her tongue. Not that she didn't try! Adagio eyeing the treat in confusion before hesitantly tonguing the edge of the wrapper was just the kind of thing she'd seen kittens do when presented wrinkly plastic, and proved to be equally adorable. "Uhm," Fluttershy managed with a giggle, "y-you're supposed to, well, like this." She tore the wrapper to her own candy bar normally, pulling two sides of the flat part in opposite directions.

Adagio blinked twice, looking at the wrapper with a small, lopsided pout of mild frustration, her face all but saying 'Oh, NOW you tell me!' Fluttershy's continued giggles at this new, childlike expression didn't go unnoticed, Adagio adding a little blush to it against her will. "Something funny, Sweetie?"

"N-no," Fluttershy said while smiling wider and laughing harder, "nothing at all!"

"Mmhm..." Well it's not my fault I've never seen this kind of wrapper before! Stupid, flappy-ended, shiny-paper thing. Part of her wanted to complain about how most of the candies she'd been offered up to this point had been edible right away, so licking this one as it was offered made sense at the time, but it still made her feel like an idiot. Regardless, when she got the defiant thing off, she glanced back and forth between Fluttershy, quietly chewing on her own chocolate-covered bar with a big smile, and the one in her hand. Getting an idea, she smirked. Phallic-shaped food items? For me? Sweetie, you really shouldn't have.

She raised the bar to her mouth...

---

What followed is best not described on school grounds, but Fluttershy quickly remembered why she hadn't tried bringing candy bars before now.

---

When she was finished, a thin layer of chocolate was smeared on Adagio's lips, along with bits of peanut on her chin and some that landed on her chest. Adagio spent a minute pondering whether it would be going too far to suggest that Fluttershy help her clean up, given that the other girl hadn't stopped hiding her face, beet-red, no doubt, in both hands with her legs tightly crossed, her whole body shaking like a leaf. It was such a good look for her, but saying that out loud may have pushed this round into overkill. Wiping away the crumbs, at least the score was even now.

It was just as she was trying to think of how to get Fluttershy's attention back to Earth without making her run away again that one of those bushy-tailed tree-rodents appeared, nibbling the crumbs by the foot of the bench. Adagio had heard a little about her favorite playmate being some kind of animal lover and gently reached over to tap her shoulder, keeping her voice quiet so as not to scare the little forager away. "Look. Friend of yours?"

"W-what?" Hesitantly peeking between her fingers, Fluttershy immediately lowered her hands and lit up with glee, as though the past few minutes hadn't happened at all. "A squirrel!! Ohhhmygosh, he's here for the peanut crumbs! Can you see the way he's storing them in his cheeks, not actually eating them right away? It's a little more dangerous to enjoy a meal out in the open with a chance of predators around, so they usually-"

Fluttershy gushed like that for a solid minute as the squirrel went about its harvest, to Adagio's quiet amusement. Better still was the face she made when the squirrel hopped into her lap to collect the fragments from her own candy bar. Her grin was almost face-splitting when the squirrel just kind of looked at her as she brushed its fluffy tail with a finger, but then it looked at Adagio.

"No," she said with hint of smirk, "I am not your mother."

As she'd hoped, this drew a laugh from Fluttershy. "B-because of the fuzz?"

Grinning wryly, she nodded. "Sonata once called me queen of the-"

The squirrel jumped down the front of Adagio's jumpsuit, to her immediate, wide-eyed shock.

"AH!" She stood up straight, patting along her chest and stomach to catch the thing as fast as she could. "W-what is it-eek!" She quickly lost what little composure she had, feeling the tiny paws and tickley tail running very quickly around her midsection. "I-it's, aha! N-no, pleaheeheeheehee! S-stop, that's gaaahahahaha!!"

Fluttershy could only watch in silence as Adagio did a more chaotic variation of the ice-cube-down-the-back-of-my-shirt dance, uncontrollably letting out high-pitched giggles with her face turning increasingly red.

"H-H-HE-HELP M-ME-HEE-HEE!!"

The very sound of it was so cute, the mischievous part of Fluttershy's brain said she should be recording this on her phone. Compassion easily won out, however, and she stood up, trying to get the squirrel out just as much for his sake as for Adagio's. The poor thing must have been terrified! She saw a little lump under the jumpsuit near Adagio's hip and made a grab for it, only getting a startled yelp from Adagio as the lump slipped away. She tried again as it moved toward her stomach, earning another involuntary laugh as the squirrel kept moving.

"P-please, hold still, Adagio!"

"I-I'm t-try-ee-hee-heeing!!" Despite a big, wavering smile, the fact that Adagio was blushing furiously said she probably wasn't having much fun with this, stamping around and shaking her arms uselessly as she struggled not to respond to the constant, unyielding tickles under her clothes.

Fluttershy made a grab for the lump as it appeared at the small of her back, but only got another high-pitched yelp.

"S-stop fee-heeling me up!!" Feeling another assault of fuzz on her belly, she immediately reconsidered. "Okay, okay, feel-EEK! Ahahaagh!! Do whatever y-ooh-hoo-hahaha! Do whatever y-you have to, ju-ahahahaahahha!! JUST GET IT OU-HOU-HOUT!!"

Flushing brightly, Fluttershy tried to ignore how what she was doing might look out of context. Knowing she had to get Adagio to hold still, she tackled her to the ground.

---

Several minutes later, Fluttershy managed to free the squirrel, by which point Adagio was lying in the grass, disheveled, sweating, her make-up running, (to even more frightening effect!) gasping for air. Her gold-colored belt was off, her jumpsuit lightly pulled down, and her lacy bra, and consequently most of her chest, exposed.

As the peanut crumb bandit scampered off, Fluttershy couldn't help her eyes. Wow. A teeny bit smaller than average, maybe, but the vest really does make a difference... The second Adagio started to sit up after catching her breath, Fluttershy whipped her head away, hoping her blush wasn't completely bleeding into her voice. "H-he probably wanted the your-I mean, I-I think little bits of peanut might have fallen down your shirt, so, uh-"

"Yes," Adagio managed, fatigue clear in her voice, "I guessed as much." Groaning a little as she got to her feet, she forced an unconvincing smile to hide her embarrassment, gesturing to her still-showing black bra. "Well, now we've both seen a little of each other's underwear!" Fluttershy's red-faced shock was as good a state as any to make an escape in. "Think that's enough fun for today," she uttered as she bent over to pick up her belt and began a tired stumble away, "see you around, Sweetie."

When Fluttershy snapped out of it, Adagio was long gone. She didn't even have time to ponder what had happened before she actually heard the warning bell ring! Scrambling to put her book-bag on, she scurried toward the day's first class.

Author's Notes:

Fellate candy bar to torment Fluttershy, get viciously tickled by a squirrel. Karma? Maybe so.

If you're wondering, I figure the painting of Sunset looks something like this.

Chapter 11: Chalky, Hygienic Neck-Sugar

New day, new thoughts to sort through. She tried not to add the possibility that this would be a regular thing to the list, but it was a good thing first period didn't really demand that much attention. Today: Bringing candy bars was not a good idea, Adagio was apparently the cutest kind of ticklish, and, Fluttershy had to seek refuge behind her book before thinking about the last one...

She's seen my underwear!!

When did that happen?! She couldn't think of an instance in which she'd undressed in front of Adagio, she even made sure to stand around the corner in an area with no windows where nobody would see her when changing in the locker room, when could she have been seen that way?! Did it mean Adagio really did know where she lived and had peeked through her window one night? She wouldn't put it past her, but...

No. I don't know if she'd never act like a peeping tom, but, wouldn't she at least tap on the windows or something to let me know she saw me?

That was how Adagio operated, right? Find weak spot, poke it mercilessly? Well, maybe she wasn't that either, she'd backed off once or twice before. Still, she couldn't believe Adagio would peek at her and only offhandedly mention it when her own underwear was exposed in a way she didn't plan. So when was-

Monday. She fell off the bench, her feet comically in the air and her legs apart. Adagio had been standing over her... And didn't say anything? Fluttershy was lost, underwear showing was the definitive reason to mock someone in school, and with Adagio's sense of humor, ignoring... that thing that happened... was like a starving wolf turning up its nose at a bacon sandwich. (That poor piggy.) Was she holding back again? She'd already teased Fluttershy viciously by that point, so it wasn't unthinkable, buy why did she keep stopping herself?

No.

I have to.

No, you don't!

I have to know why.

NO, YOU DON'T!!

Yes, I do!

Please, think about what you're doing, you have friends and family that love you!

You're being ridiculous.

She won't hold back if you ask why, she'll take it as a challenge!

Or maybe she'll just answer the question?

You don't know that!

I don't know that she'll tease me for it, either.

Even if she did, Fluttershy wasn't sure she could just forget about this one. Was Adagio showing mercy sometimes because she cared? Could there even be another reason? She couldn't wait much longer. Friday morning, she wanted some kind of answer, no matter how humiliating Adagio made it for her.

...

Well, that was settled. By comparison, the rest felt pretty easy. Adagio was ticklish. Cute, but not a lot to do with that information right now. Bringing anything vaguely shaped... like... one of those... was just asking for trouble, she'd have to remember not to do it again. The faces Adagio made when she was being tickled, and even that pouty expression before that, were adorable! She wanted to see more. That high-pitched giggling was unexpected, but she smiled just thinking about it.

And... That was all! With her stray thoughts all returned to their kennels before first period had even ended, Fluttershy swelled with confidence and triumph! Then her brain spoke up.

So, about that kiss yesterday?

Her head smacked on the desk, startling half the room. For once, she didn't even notice the stares.

---

Walking through the gym in an absent-minded daze, Fluttershy caught herself doing the swingy walk without even thinking about it! She couldn't decide right away whether that was really good or really bad, whether it meant she was at risk of unconsciously doing it any time she walked through the gym now, but couldn't help being a little proud of herself just the same.

---

The next day, Fluttershy waited alone for a little longer than usual. It brought her back to all the mornings she used to spend that way before Adagio came along, just her and the quiet almost every weekday. It was so much slower than she remembered, so much lonelier. Maybe because now she was actively waiting on something, instead of just waiting? That was the better part of impatience, she thought, the frustration of being stuck waiting until something else made it's way to you, be it a bus, (not that Fluttershy would know) or an inconsiderate friend who said they'd be here twenty minutes ago, or even for a class to end. Waiting was fine, expecting could be a little trickier. Maybe that was what Adagio was getting at the other day, how other people typically-

"-said GOOD MORNING, SWEETIE!"

"EEEEK!!" Fluttershy seized up like a fainting goat, falling over on the bench before realizing what had happened. Again. She sat up quickly, straightening her hair as best she could as she met Adagio's equally annoyed and inquisitive gaze.

"What is it like, getting so lost in thought that you can actually check out of reality, up to a point?"

Lowering her head a little, Fluttershy twiddled her fingers and blushed. "A little embarrassing, when someone catches you doing it?"

Adagio blinked once in surprise and laughed, bringing a smile to Fluttershy's face. "Alright, then. You know, I don't think I'd be startling you as often if I wore a bell around my neck." And then came the smirk and the suggestive eyebrow waggle. "With a collar, I mean..."

Taking a few seconds to piece together what she meant, Fluttershy squeaked and turned much redder.

"No? Very well, you can wear the collar."

"W-what?!"

"For keeping you on a leash, of course." Casually inspecting her nails, Adagio grinned wider. "Don't worry, I'd keep you fed, cleaned, take you on walks, you still do that sometimes, right?"

Fluttershy's jaw dropped as she recalled that morning by the statue a few weeks ago, the one Adagio had very deliberately taken out of context after sneaking up on her again. "I-I-I wasn't, I don't-!"

Coyly averting her eyes, Adagio chuckled fiendishly. "Whatever you say, Sweetie."

She might be a little mad about what happened yesterday, thought Fluttershy, most of her face still giving the science lab's hot plates a run for their money, or, even about the Battle. Or anything else she might feel like taking out on me. The old Sunset Shimmer hadn't always needed a reason to torment anyone in particular (though in her defense, she usually did), maybe Adagio was just feeling a little vindictive this morning? Then again, she and her friends had lost something precious to them partly because of Fluttershy, maybe more-so than even Twilight, depending on how you looked at it. That in mind, she couldn't even stay frustrated with Adagio, who had at least stopped laughing at her.

"Really though, I'm not sure how to approach you when you get like that, and I've tried all the polite avenues. I think." She counted off on her fingers. "Gently call your name, do it again a little louder, tap you on the shoulder, scream in your ear. Are there more?"

"W-well," muttered Fluttershy, using the change of topic to speed her recovery, "the last one isn't exactly polite, but please, don't worry about it." She managed an earnest smile. "It's my own fault for not paying attention, so doing what you've been doing is fine."

"Your funeral," replied Adagio with a noncommittal shrug.

Worrying a little about the chances she would seriously get an Adagio-induced heart attack, Fluttershy tried to set those thoughts aside in favor of the usual routine. "S-so, anyway," she said while retrieving today's little bag from her backpack, "have you ever seen a candy necklace?"

Blink. "A what now?"

The confused face swiftly becoming one of her favorites, Fluttershy giggled, holding the sugary tablets on a ring of string where Adagio could see. "It's just ordinary candy, but you can wear it around your neck, if you like."

Adagio tilted her head. "That sounds a little unsanitary."

"Y-you've eaten something straight out of my mouth..."

"Yes, but that wasn't resting against your skin for a while. Food as clothing is an interesting kink and all, but unless you've showered very recently, I think things like edible underwear -fascinating what you people do with your global information network, by the way- would probably-"

Again, Fluttershy turned scarlet. "I-it's not a k-k-kink!!"

There was a short pause, the two looking at one another in silence before Adagio shrugged. "So, do you floss with the string afterwards?"

A little blindsided by the question, Fluttershy took a second to think about it. "Um... sometimes. They make the string out of actual dental floss in some brands, but since the candy mostly melts and doesn't get stuck in your teeth, it never really caught on."

"Huh." She gently prodded the necklace with a finger. "How exactly does one eat from these without chewing on the thread, as well?"

"Uh, well," holding the necklace out in front of her, Fluttershy lifted it in front of her mouth, "you basically just hold two ends by the string and-" she bit down in the middle, crushing the pieces beneath her teeth to a sweet-tasting powder that dissolved on her tongue. Though she was now technically being rude by talking with her mouth full. "lahk tis."

Leaning forward, Adagio gripped two ends of the necklace and mimicked Fluttershy's action. "Just, hold in two places and bite down?"

There was another flush of warmth to her cheeks as she nodded, trying not to think too much about how close their faces were now. That became impossible when Adagio bit into the other side of the necklace, meaning they were now both chewing on the same object! Separated by several inches, but still! Then, to her horror, Adagio reached out with one hand to hold it under Fluttershy's chin, keeping her from opening her mouth to break away.

It probably took practice to form a devious smirk while chewing on something, but that was what Adagio did as she slowly worked her way around to Fluttershy's end of the necklace, locking eyes as she cleaned the string piece by piece.

Effectively motionless, Fluttershy's heart beat faster and faster. She isn't.

Crunch, crunch...

She wouldn't.

Crunch, crunch...

She can't!

Crunch, crunch...

Their faces were almost touching now, Fluttershy fidgeting in Adagio's grip as she drew closer and closer, their lips barely an inch apart...














And then Adagio let go and pulled back, snickering as Fluttershy fell over again. "There, I left half the necklace for you. It isn't sharing if I take everything myself, right?" A coy wink was completely unnecessary to fluster her any further, but she did it anyway, looking at Fluttershy's shocked, wide-eyed expression with evil delight. "Oh? Did you want me to go further? You only have to ask..."

Still lying on the bench, but at least fairly certain Adagio couldn't see up her skirt from that angle, Fluttershy whimpered. "Y-you're mean."

The vicious vixen only smiled wider. "Aren't I, though?" Her grin and tone were prideful as she again rested the fingertips of one hand on her chest. "I just cause all kinds of trouble around here, you know? Would it be such a shock if someone got irritated with me now and then? They might even try to take revenge, if they were really pressed." She held a finger to her chin while making a contemplative face. "I wonder what they'd do? Throwing rocks or burning alive are a little extreme, I couldn't care less if they tried to strip me naked and force me to run through town that way, if they shaved my head, it would grow back to this-" she gave her whole head a quick shake to bob her massive, bouncy hair for emphasis, "within a week or two, -don't ask, I have no idea- and nobody in town can outdo me in verbal jousting." She blinked. "Well, not that a lot have actually tried."

The few that had, though... Good times! The one that dared mention her group's crippled singing ability, in front of Aria and Sonata, no less, received no mercy, but she was sure moving to a different state afterward was just their way of saying 'I fully understand my mistake.'

"Come to think of it, my understanding is that most of the people around here are cowards, doing nothing to combat threats themselves without a lot of back-up or a sufficient proxy." Looking out over the soccer field again, Adagio shrugged, but her tone carried a note of bitterness. "The students of CHS did nothing during the reign of Sunset Shimmer until someone else did it for them, and she was just one human girl. I wouldn't be surprised if such people were to get creative in venting their frustrations against me. Maybe by, say, training an animal to do it for them or-"

"I WOULD NEVER DO THAT!!"

Not for the first time, Adagio was the one startled as she took a step back from Fluttershy, who had sat up very quickly, standing on the bench on her knees to face Adagio. Her face wasn't angry, but her eyes seemed to glow with a kind of energy the siren couldn't place, hurt and sadness the most prominent feelings she could discern.

"I know it happens all the time, but that doesn't make it right! Dogs have big claws and sharp teeth, but that doesn't mean they're just attack drones to throw into danger! I hate seeing them used that way, no matter the cause! Maybe it's easier or less expensive than some other security measures, but those poor creatures deserve better! The same goes for any other animal! If you can't get human beings to volunteer for the benefit of science, maybe doing that research on lab rats is too cruel to be doing at all! Killer whales are NOT happy in those tanks, that's why their dorsal fins flop over and sometimes they kill trainers! It's bad enough people kill so many animals every day for food, and don't get me wrong, I won't pretend it's only okay when non-sapient life ends other lives to save its own, but all of these things are just-"

Mercifully, she stopped, her eyes slowly widening as she made a heartbreaking realization. "You think... The squirrel yesterday. Y-you think it was me, don't you?"

Adagio frowned. "S-Sweetie, I-"

"Animals like me, it's t-true, but, to sic them on anyone, for any reason, I-I could never-"

"Wait, I just-"

"-but, to you, it must have looked exactly like-"

"I didn't say-"

Tears started to gather in her eyes. "I just wasn't thinking, it never even occurred to me that a squirrel might come along and-"

The two were almost talking over each other.

"Please, listen to-"
"I knew squirrels foraged for food on school grounds sometimes-"
"Sweetie-"
"-never even thought about something like that happening and-"
"Sweetie!"
"-so sorry, I never meant to-"

Adagio stepped closer and bent over the bench to wrap Fluttershy in a hug, silencing her immediately. "I'm sorry." She didn't wait for a reply or an insistence that it shouldn't be her apologizing, even if it was what she'd initially hoped to drag out of her usual victim for yesterday's humiliation. "I believe you when you say you'd never tell an animal to do something like that, and I'm sorry I ever even suspected otherwise. The squirrel situation was a complete accident, I see that now. Part of me knew it was preposterous to even think you were capable of such a thing, but, I, I-I don't even have an excuse!" Her tone was very gentle as she hugged Fluttershy a little tighter. "I'm sorry, I won't do it again."

Fluttershy, for her part, melted. The tenderness of the embrace and the sentiment, the sincerity in Adagio's voice, the smell of her hair- Stay focused! -and that, even with Fluttershy not being the one that permanently lost something near and dear to her because of the other, Adagio still felt like she had something to apologize for!

She chose to ignore the little Rainbow Dash in the back of her head that said she was being a total doormat again.

Her heart thudded in a pleasant rhythm as her whole body started to feel warm. And fuzzy! "It's okay."

"It really isn't."

"It is if I forgive you." She tried to hug Adagio back, but her arms were trapped at her sides.

"But-"

"Will you let me?"

Adagio's mouth hung open for several seconds. "...Do you?"

The reply came without hesitation. "Yes."

There was a faint shaking in Adagio's arms, but she quickly steadied herself. "I... Alright. I'll respect your decision."

Fluttershy giggled, enjoying the warmth between them for as long as it lasted.

Then Adagio spoke. "By the way, am I doing this right? Hugging is actually a little new for us and the others don't give me a lot of helpful feedback."

"Uhm... W-well... You don't really have to hold me in a way that I can't move."

Pulling back a little, adorable confusion was again clear in Adagio's face. "I thought that was the point of these things, for people to show they trust one another enough to practice light bondage?"

Fluttershy lit up like a neon sign, her jaw dropping. Once more, she couldn't tell if Adagio was messing with her head or not, but going by the sound of her voice and an inquisitively-raised eyebrow, this time really hadn't been intentional.

"So... that's a 'no,' or...?"

"That... th-that's a 'no,' Adagio." Maybe that's why Aria doesn't like her hugs?

"Oh. Well." Adagio sheepishly pulled away, the clearly-abashed grin on her face making Fluttershy forgive her all over again. "I'll, just... go, figure out how all that works, then? See you around, Sweetie." And then she sauntered off, possibly toward the library to research proper hugging technique.

Letting out a blissful sigh, Fluttershy could hardly wait to see how that turned out. Maybe she could even help her practice? That was something you might do, when you had a crush on someone.

Oh, by the way, brain? I have a crush on Adagio Dazzle, I don't mind thinking it now. Please remember that for the diary later today.

Sure, I'll hang it next to You-Were-Supposed-To-Ask-Her-About-Seeing-Your-Underwear-You-Dummy on the wall.

Remembering that unspoken detail, Fluttershy facepalmed. Chances were good she wouldn't be able to talk to Adagio again until Monday, so this promised to be a long, dreadful weekend of... Or, maybe it didn't matter? They'd both seen a little of each other, after all. It felt like she'd gotten something like an answer for why Adagio held back, too; she cared. She wouldn't have hugged her and earnestly apologized if she didn't. Things were fine. Reinforced by the thought, Fluttershy smiled, taking in a deep breath through her nose.

Mango. Who'd have thought?

Author's Notes:

The Dazzlings have been to the internet.

I was so, so tempted to have one scene go differently:

---

Please, think about what you're doing, you have friends and family that love you!

You're being ridiculous.

You're right, no one loves you.

Yes, I-wha-HEY!!

Look on the bright side, at least the animals at the shelter don't all hate you, right?

Oh, shut up, brain!

---

But Flutters isn't nearly crazy enough for it to fit. Darnit.

No candy analysis two chapters in a row. My apologies to anyone who really likes those bits. :pinkiesad2: Not to worry, though, I've got a plan for the final chapter! :rainbowdetermined2:

Chapter 12: Flavor Crystals on a Stick

Clarity was nice.

It was an increasingly rare thing in Fluttershy's world ever since the leader of the Dazzlings approached her on the bench almost three weeks ago, but it never completely left her. Friday evening, during that transitory period when the sun was still going down, she sat in a rocking chair in the sunroom of her house, enjoying the cool air through a cracked window and the quiet tranquility of the hour. The presence of Angel Bunny, laying peacefully on her lap, only made it better as she gently pet him and rested a hand on his fuzzy little belly, fingers nestled in his fur, just feeling all safe and cozy. This made it easier to process thoughts that generally made her feel the opposite. Most of Adagio's behavior was hard to interpret, more possible explanations buzzing around Fluttershy's mind the more she dwelt on her actions, word choices, facial expressions, body language, that gleam in her eyes that just dared her to-

Eaaasy, girl. Think. Breathe. Focus on the cute bunny.

Belly rubs were administered as much for Angel's sake as her own. Calm, she remembered how just that morning, she got responses that signaled a few things beyond the shadow of a doubt: Adagio cared about her, and had hugged her with the intention of making her feel better. Granted, she did so with some slightly funny ideas in her head, but her heart was in the right place. Something else that had become almost painfully clear to her was that she did want Adagio to go further with the necklace. Or heck, skip the necklace entirely and just-

Pet the bunny, pet the bunny...

She did, scratching the space behind one of Angel's ears with a fingertip, which drew a little leg kick that made her smile and filled her insides with warm fuzzies. She had feelings for Adagio, that was another little tid-bit of clarity to cling to, the ambiguous part was how to respond to them. Telling her friends would eventually be necessary, but they didn't even know she was meeting Adagio in private yet! Would they tease her too? Adagio already pushed her to her limit on a regular basis, even if she was merciful enough to back down when she saw Fluttershy's blood vessels reaching critical mass, so she wasn't sure she could handle more on top of that. How would Adagio respond by the time it would probably take Fluttershy to work up the courage (a few months, being optimistic) to tell her?

Angel Bunny's soft fur and pleased little reactions to her attention helped chase away increasingly scary thoughts as her heart settled down again. So, telling anyone at all was out for now, but she'd get there, she just didn't know how. That was fine, wasn't it? You didn't always know just what you'd do in life, which path you'd take around an obstacle. Sometimes it was as simple as walking around, sometimes you could hide in a hole until the obstacle went away on its own, and sometimes you'd charge head-first into the obstacle out of desperation and panic. No matter what she ended up doing, she knew she couldn't worry about it. That came up in their song at the Battle, after all, not being afraid of the dark.

Fluttershy smiled, looking forward to Monday morning, and whatever came with it.

---

Both to prevent being startled again and to minimize the chance that she was making Adagio feel guilty by getting startled so often, Fluttershy kept her focus on the world around her as she waited on the bench. This time, she was alert, this time she was aware! Of course, Adagio probably still could have snuck up on her if she really wanted to, but it felt like they were finally past that stage. Or, of doing it on purpose, anyway. She was just about to slip into reminiscence of wickedly gleeful, but strangely beautiful expressions following successful jump-scares when she barely heard footsteps in the grass nearby, snapping her back to attention as she turned to see Adagio walking toward her.

Today, she wore normal shoes, jeans, and a dark-violet hoodie. And the dark eyeliner. She waved a little as she approached. "Morning, Sweetie."

"Good morning!" She retrieved two long, thin sticks wrapped halfway in thin plastic, offering one to Adagio. "Have you ever tried rock candy?"

She took it between two fingers. "Can't say I have. I'm going to guess they aren't actually made of stone?"

Fluttershy couldn't help giggling as she unwrapped hers, as much to demonstrate how to do so as to actually taste it. "No, but they're very... crunchy!"

"I should hope so," she said while tearing open the wrapper to reveal the shiny, craggy, purple substance on a stick beneath it.

"You really don't like misnomers, huh?"

Adagio raised an eyebrow, her tone bordering on defensive. "What's wrong with that? They're confusing."

Smiling a little wider, Fluttershy nodded in agreement before nibbling on the treat in her hand, leaving Adagio to do the same.

She eyed the thing from a few different angles, appreciating the way light of the early morning sun glinted off the crystalline material before hesitantly tonguing the tip. As suspected, Fluttershy hadn't asked her to stick something sharp enough to cut herself with into her mouth. She bit down on the edge, biting a little harder until she felt it crack, then bit down again to crush the not-stone in the same manner as Friday's sugary ringlet. "It's a little tougher than the necklace, which at least lends some amount of credence to the name. Brittle, but not-oh!" She smiled as she tasted grape at greater intensity, realizing that the fragments were slowly melting in her mouth and chewing a little to speed it along. "I get it now, it's a congealed liquid of some sort, condensed around the stick like dried blood!"

Fluttershy nearly choked, tiny pieces of rock candy spraying from her mouth as she coughed and sputtered.

Adagio seemed to realize her mistake, lowering her head a little and whispering. "Sorry."

When she could breathe again, Fluttershy gave her an equally worried and inquisitive look. "Is that really the first thing that came to mind?"

With a little shrug, Adagio looked away. "I blame Aria, she was showing us a game that looked interesting last night and it had really detailed gore physics."

Fluttershy shivered, hugging her arms to her stomach. "Oh, I can't even watch things like that."

"Sorry."

"Huh?"

Adagio shrugged a little, frowning. "I'm not sure what else to say, so, sorry."

Looking at her, Fluttershy was sure that if Adagio had pony ears like she and the others did when they performed together, they would have been down.

And then she had the mental image of Adagio with pony ears.

Ear-to-ear smiles weren't supposed to be sheepish or accompanied by a blush, Fluttershy was pretty sure, so her face probably looked a little funny now. "I-it's fine, I, you, uh, d-don't worry about it!"

Still looking a little contrite, Adagio looked out over the soccer field and returned to biting off chunks of rock candy, leaving Fluttershy to do the same. She didn't look back even when they were both finished.

Curious about this, Fluttershy tilted her head a little. "Uhm-"

"I'm guessing you've heard?"

"About what?"

Glancing at her, Adagio smiled a little. "Oh, good, I at least get to tell my side of it first! You recall I wasn't sure exactly how to go about showing affection physically in a way that doesn't land me in the Vice Principal's office again?"

Turning only a little red, she nodded. "Uh-huh?"

"I got thrown out of the library on Friday while trying to look it up."

---

CHS's library wasn't the most popular hang-out spot in the school, but there were almost always enough people there to make any sentiments that it was a good place for privacy fall flat.

Dammit.

Shrugging, Adagio moved toward the front desk with her usual, confident stride, making an effort at a friendly smile. If she had made as much effort to research the difference between 'friendly' and 'amorous' before today, this might have been more effective. "Hello there," she said in equally friendly tone, "where might I find literature on physical intimacy?"

Cheerilee only stared back at her in shocked silence.

"For purely educational purposes, of course!"

---

Adagio sighed, resting one elbow on the back of the bench and propping her head up with that arm. "In hindsight, I can see how my choice of words may have been misconstrued. Didn't help that I'd dealt with that teacher before." I have no idea what that class was supposed to be about, but damned if it wasn't fun! "So, yes, no matter what anyone says, I wasn't looking for pornography in the school library."

Fluttershy choked on air for a minute.

"Sorry."

"I-it's okay..."

"Anyway, I know better than that; if I wanted to find that kind of thing, I'd use the computers. Just typing in the word 'tentacle' can-" It was while waiting through another round of shock-induced coughing fits that Adagio wondered if maybe filtering her thoughts a little more would prolong Fluttershy's life expectancy. "Sorry."

"It's n-not," she made the effort to clear her throat, "It's not your fault." She really went to the library for that... Hasn't anyone ever hugged these girls? She said her talk with Sunset had been 'huggy,' but it looked not a lot was retained. And Sunset had gotten pretty good at hugging! Was that on the same list as swearing for things siren society just didn't know? Maybe that made a certain amount of sense for aquatic creatures.

Adagio opened her mouth, but slowly closed it again, looking out at the soccer field.

"What?"

"Hm?"

Fluttershy leaned to get a better look at Adagio's face. "What were you going to say?"

"Nothing." It might have been that she had to glance at Fluttershy to see if she bought it that gave Adagio away. "Well, I mean, I was going to suggest that I just watch my language much more carefully, but you said the other day that you didn't want me not being myself, and I'm not sure if self-editing like that counts, so...?" She shrugged. "What do you think?"

Touched that Adagio would remember what she'd said and take it to heart, Fluttershy smiled. "You aren't doing anything wrong. If anything, I'm just too sensitive, I hear about, uhm... th-those kind of things all the time, and, so it's like-"

Adagio raised an eyebrow. "Hold on, it's fine for me to make you uncomfortable because, given my demeanor, such is effectively my lot in life, but not fine for you to get uncomfortable for essentially the same reason? It has to work both ways to work at all, Sweetie."

Fluttershy blinked twice. "W-what?"

Nodding sagely, Adagio's tone was almost authoritative. "Being considerate isn't too hard, but if I'm not to truly change myself to suit the tastes of those around me, then neither should you. I feel no shame for my body, you apparently do, and neither way of thinking is inherently wrong. Right?"

It had been a long, long time since someone had suggested that Fluttershy's timid nature wasn't just a problem that needed fixing, even her friends regularly urged her to stand up for herself more often. However, in the defense of everyone who had ever said it was a problem, she at least understood what they meant, how it limited her, and the benefits of being just a little more assertive that she strove for even now. Even so, she could never explain the perspective that could come from standing back and observing in silence. Literally, she always got self-conscious or started babbling when she tried to clarify the points of view staying quiet sometimes offered, but maybe, with her own slightly unusual mannerisms, Adagio understood this kind of thing too? Just the thought of it warmed Fluttershy's chest, that feeling spreading to the rest of her body, particularly in the facial region as a smile formed on her face and tears gathered in her eyes.

Oh, sea spray, thought Adagio, you're making her cry! Quick, elaborate! "I mean, let's say everyone just dropped any and all faults with their character right now, the entire population offering only the 'best,' most desirable traits, the exact same traits everyone else would have. Sound like fun?"

Smiling a little wider, Fluttershy shook her head.

Okay, still smiling, but why are there tears?! You're not supposed to get those with smiles! Playing through, she didn't let her worry show on her face, instead maintaining a confident grin. "So we have that being different, even in readily undesirable ways, is not wrong so much as inconvenient. Provided your kind of difference doesn't actively hurt anyone, I wouldn't say it's really a problem, would you?"

The statement made Fluttershy feel lighter, like a daisy under a pile of dirt that had been mercifully brushed away, letting it feel the sun's rays. Not wanting to ruin the moment by crying tears of joy, she quickly wiped her eyes, shaking her head once. Looking at Adagio, her heart beat a little faster as she watched the way the morning light almost formed a frame around her, projecting the image of a fluffy, smirking angel. Simultaneously terrified and touched deeply that such a figure would take notice of someone like her at all, she kept her mouth shut, offering only a tender smile in place of the chance that she'd babble like an idiot if her tongue weren't pinned down.

Crisis averted! Smiling genuinely herself, Adagio gave an affirmative nod and returned her gaze to the soccer field. "Good. I was actually talking to the others about this last week, how there's no sense in any of us making even a single friend if we have to do so through a mask of 'ideal' behavior." She chuckled. "Aria said it was mostly just Sonata and I that caused problems, but I know she really meant to say-"

Not for the first time, Fluttershy accidentally tuned out, staring at Adagio's face (well, the side of it she could see) in silent fascination. She watched her lips move, the glimmer of gentle grace in her eyes, the little hint of warmth in her cheeks as she spoke of her friends, and her perfectly smooth skin overall. This was the girl that teased her at every opportunity, but always let up when she thought she was going too far, the girl that took great delight in seeing her tremble in fear and shake with embarrassment, but still apologized for it, and even agreed not to startle her on purpose!

I'm sure that if someone to talk to was really all Adagio was after, she could have gone to some coffee shop or something this time every morning, could have talked to random people on the street on the way to school, or even skipped it entirely to spend as much time as she wanted with whoever she wanted, but day after day, she chooses to come see me!

That thought alone was like a tree growing straight out of her heart, the roots sinking deep, the branches stretching out every which way, every individual leaf eager to catch all of the light her dazzling, fluffy sun would rain down on them! The sun was Adagio's face. Or something. She wasn't sure that made any kind of sense right now, but she wanted to kiss that face! And, feeling a rare burst of courage/assertiveness/confidence/mango-scented madness, she sat up straight, leaned closer, and pecked her on the cheek!

It was as Adagio flinched and sharply drew in a breath that Fluttershy remembered that striving for what you want is all well and good, but there are different rules when that something is another person. Another person with thoughts and feelings. Another person now staring back at Fluttershy in wide-eyed, red-faced shock, holding a hand to her cheek.

"Whuh... wh-what was-"

Feeling at least four different kinds of contrition, Fluttershy made the effort to pull as much of her own hair in front of her face as possible. This proved difficult with her hands shaking, fingertips tingling, and her whole head so hot she couldn't tell how much of it was actually concealed. "S-s-sorry, I-I was j-just, I th-thought I-"

"No, no, it's fine," Adagio insisted, regaining her composure and retaking her relaxed pose of a moment ago with just a hint of rigidity, "just, you know, wasn't expecting it."

Unable to wrangle her tongue again for the next minute (No, not like with the fireball!!), Fluttershy could only loose a series of squeaky whimpers, but as usual, Adagio was apparently willing to wait. "I-is it," she eventually managed to whisper, "is it really okay...?"

Still a little alarmed, Adagio was grateful that Fluttershy hiding her whole face meant she couldn't see her own, letting out a chuckle. "Of course. With all I've been doing with you, a little kiss is nothing." Waitthatsounded- "N-nothing to worry about, I mean!"

A single, cyan eye appeared through the soft pink. "You're... not angry?"

Opening detected, Adagio smirked. "Sweetie, with just half of the things I've said to you up to now, I'm surprised it took you this long to give in to my splendor." Unable to gauge Fluttershy's entire reaction through just her eye and a light tremble, she brushed her own hair to the side as much for an excuse to look away as for emphasis and returned her gaze to the soccer field. "Do whatever you like, I'm not about to call the cops."

Now both eyes bulged through the pink shroud. "Y-YOU CAN GET ARRESTED FOR KISSING PEOPLE?!" Somewhere in the back of her head, a tiny Pinkie Pie said something about jail time for serial kissers being rough, but she was kind of busy right now.

Snickering a little at her surprise, Adagio shook her head. "No, just... I'm not angry, not bothered, not anythi-" there was a split-second pause in which she drew a blank for what to say, quickly shrugging, "-do it again if you don't believe me."

The same side of Adagio's face was essentially presented, the older girl exactly where she was a moment ago. Fluttershy was still reeling with shame, but...

Well, she did just offer...

Leaning in slowly, Fluttershy let most of her hair fall from her face, heart hammering in her chest as she heard voices that simultaneously demanded that she halt her own movement entirely, and screamed for full speed ahead. Slowly, carefully, as though Adagio were made of glass (or rock candy!), the latter side more or less got its wish as she moved close enough that Adagio could feel her gentle breathing on her cheek, drawing another blush that only grew more vibrant the closer Fluttershy got.

Despite a mostly calm facial expression, Adagio erupted into luminous crimson when Fluttershy's lips made contact with the same spot as before, keeping that hue even as Fluttershy squeaked and pulled away like she'd been touching her face to a hot stove. "Y-you see?" she asked with her casual, confident grin-smirk, "Nothing to worry about." All things considered, she must have done a better job of sounding cool and collected than even she'd have guessed, because even though she was burning up herself, Fluttershy smiled back at her.

"R-right!"

Nodding affirmatively, Adagio managed to reign in the lightning ripping through her innards by renewing the earlier topic. "So, yes, there's a bit of a balance to be drawn between all that 'being true to who you are' talk and bettering oneself, I think." With the redness in her face starting to die down, she held a hand to her chin ponderously. "Those must be two difficult philosophies to mash together, maintaining personal integrity and accepting it in others while simultaneously encouraging a golden ideal to live up to. Seems a little contradictory, in fact."

Thinking about it for a moment, Fluttershy frowned. "That's... not quite the idea." Adagio's curious face was focused on her again, tickling her heart and drawing a little smile. "Well, I've thought about it a little myself, and, I think, being a smarter, stronger, prettier person overall might be nice, but no one is supposed to be pushing anyone else to be perfect. Everyone is different, they always will be, but people aspire to being those things anyway, to having more of good qualit-"

"Conditionally good qualities." Even with Fluttershy looking back at her in confusion, Adagio didn't get the impression it was out of surprise for the interruption. She shrugged. "Brains aren't so desirable for doing menial labor, physical strength is useless when making life choices, and beauty is perhaps the last thing one wants in a prison yard."

It took Fluttershy a minute to connect the dots on that last one, but when she did, "Oh!!" she lit up again. Finger twiddling did less to chase away those thoughts than she'd have hoped, but focusing on Adagio helped to tip the balance. "Y-yes, I, uh, think I s-see what you mean... So, whether they're always good to have or not, people praise and admire those qualities in others regardless."

"And as people generally jump at the chance to be adored by those around them, striving to be the best themselves isn't uncommon?" A stare of dawning shock and horror wasn't quite what Adagio was going for, so she gently pat Fluttershy on the shoulder, speaking in the most soothing tone she could muster. "Not accusing, not damning your society, just making note of it. If you wondered at all why converting almost everyone was so easy for us, now you know."

Fluttershy nodded slowly, letting all of the implications sink in. "R...Right. But, we're not supposed to act that way, I think, it's like-"

"People know the words, but don't sing along?"

She blinked twice at the weirdly fitting metaphor. "Y-yes, that, um... I think that might be it. It's not that you and your friends aren't okay the way you are, it's just, after what happened, people might be slow to give you a chance."

Adagio hadn't forgotten those weeks in the cafeteria, nor that Fluttershy herself had been visibly frightened the first time she approached. And yet, here she was. What was the difference? Even if she was too spineless to tell me to leave, she could have just run away, which she only did after I pushed her hard enough. Where is the line? Pushing off the bench, she wanted to think about this alone for a while. Along with how one little kiss (well, two now) could leave her so frazzled. "Suppose there's nothing to be done for it. See you around, Sweetie."

Focusing on that lovely puff of orange fluff, Fluttershy felt as warm as if she were wrapped in it from head to toe. Just be patient, Adagio, I'm sure everyone will welcome you, Aria, and Sonata eventually. Until then, she had a bit of reminiscing to do, silently weighing the pros and cons of trying to run all the way home that very instant to write about this morning's encounter in her diary. Repeatedly.

I kissed Adagio Dazzle!

I kissed Adagio Dazzle!

I kissed Adagio Dazzle!

TWICE!!

Every single part of the statement had her burying her face in her hands and shriek-giggling like she'd lost her mind, managing to stop her legs kicking with the knowledge that it had only been on the cheek. Her mad, tornado-of-fireflies-in-her-belly gigglefits were cut short by the warning bell, but she'd be hiding behind her book again today, for sure.

Author's Notes:

Alternate title: Dazzle-Frazzle!

Adagio rolled a critical failure for diplomacy, at a -15 reputation penalty to start! Luckily, Fluttershy leveled up today. :twistnerd:

Also; rolling touchy-feely-spontaneous-kissy bits in with more philosophy was maybe not the best idea, but it was the best way I could manage to string this chapter together. Let me know if it feels as rambly and ham-handed to you as it does to me after around five considerable edits. :pinkiesick:

Chapter 13: The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Following another well-executed confident walk, Fluttershy stopped at the other end of the gym, smiling. Just moving this way made her feel taller! That probably had something to do with keeping her back and legs mostly straight, but the (cheek-only) kisses with Adagio earlier, the ones Fluttershy initiated herself, had her feeling invi-... Well, okay, no, not invincible, but definitely bigger and stronger than she'd ever felt without Twilight's magic in her body! There was enough time for an encore, so she turned around and sashayed all the way back to the first door, keeping her eyes focused on her target! In this case, that was just the other side of the gym, but it was the principle of the thing.

Reaching the door, she stopped, posed like Adagio might have with a hand on a hip, turned around, and saw Adagio standing right there, not three feet behind her, making a similar pose and leering at Fluttershy with her evilest grin.

"My, my, Sweetie, didn't know you practiced this kind of thing!"

Any confidence Fluttershy had held just seconds before abandoned her as she shrunk back, knees shaking, holding her arms to her chest and doing her best to hide behind her hair, emitting only mortified squeaks.

Adagio let out a fiendish chuckle. "You know, I don't think I've ever seen you move that way before." There was a certain twinkle in her eye, and what might have been a strange sort of friendliness in her smirk. "It suits you. Where did you learn to swing your selling points in such a sultry, salacious manner?"

At the time, Fluttershy's brain was far too rattled to decipher whether or not 'selling points' was Adagio's idea of a compliment toward her body, but she definitely heard it.

As she leaned in a little, Adagio's tongue darted out to quickly polish her own lips, which formed a malevolent smirk. "While I very much enjoyed the show, I'd be more than happy to offer pointers, if you-"

Fluttershy shook her head fast enough to get dizzy.

Adagio was making what were unmistakably bedroom eyes. "Really?"

Staring back at her, Fluttershy felt an answer she didn't want to give dancing on the tip of her tongue, those red-violet orbs beckoning to something in her, something concerned parents and health classes might have warned good little boys and girls about!

Hmm, Adagio thought to herself as she enjoyed the familiar spectacle, maybe I was just imagining things... Taking a step back, she shrugged. "Well, suit yourself, but I'll be around if you change your mind." She closed the statement with a wink, demonstrating the walk in slow, extra analyzable manner as she brushed past her trembling imitator, despite there being plenty of space with which she could have walked around. Doing so earned a delightful little squeak, but this didn't settle the question of why she still felt a little warmer than usual.

Fluttershy had to close her eyes to keep from turning to watch her go, though it was hard to tell if Adagio noticed. Unfortunately, standing still in a big, empty room with your eyes closed leaves one open to being-

"Fluttershy!!"

Startled. However, the familiarity of the voice sped her recovery this time as she glanced about to see a friend sprinting toward her. "R-Rainbow?"

She skidded to a stop, her face worried as she put her hands on Fluttershy's shoulders and inspected her for injuries, tears in clothing, make-up stains, anything. "Are you okay?! What happened?! What did she do?!" As Fluttershy just looked confused, Rainbow summarized, talking as quickly as she'd run. "I saw Cleat-Heels come in here, I don't think she's wearing them today, but still, she walked by the doors, stopped and looked through one of the little windows on 'em, made that I'm-about-to-eat-a-baby smile, and went in, so at first I was like, 'She's up to something, but I'd really rather not get mixed up with those three again, and Sunset's been saying they're really trying to be good, so she can't be up to anything that bad,' and walked away, but then I remembered that you use the the gym as a shortcut and almost knocked over a freshman runnin' back! So, you okay?"

Quickly looking herself over, Fluttershy nodded. "Um... Y-yes, I think I'm alright."

Rainbow scanned her again, as though waiting for some sign of abuse to jump out at her. "You sure? You were still shaking when I ran over here."

"Oh, w-well, um..." Trying to find the least compromising way to explain what had just happened, she tinted red again. "She might have said some things, but I'm okay now."

"Just talking? She didn't threaten you, didn't push you at all or give you a wed-"

Blushing intensified. "N-no one's done that since middle school!!"

Rainbow breathed a sigh of relief. "Okay, cool, matches up with what I've heard so far."

The heat in Fluttershy's face withered away in the face of her veins filling with ice-water. "What?"

"I asked gossip-queen Rarity about what those three have been up to." Rainbow smiled a little. "Heh, she gave me that 'oh, very funny' look when I called her that. Anyway, she told me about-" The warning bell sounded, which reminded Rainbow that they were still in school at the moment. "Shoot, we'll talk about this at lunch, okay?" Running for the door, Rainbow didn't seem to notice how much Fluttershy had paled.

They know. Rarity knows, and she told everyone, and now they know!! That terrifying possibility wrestled with the near-certainty that her friends would never talk about her behind her back like that, occupying her thoughts to the point that she didn't even remember jogging to her next class.

---

Fluttershy sat trembling at the end of Rainbow's story of what happened in the gym earlier, dearly hoping the others would assume it was just because the focus was on her again.

"So," summarized Sunset Shimmer, "you had a little run-in with Adagio Dazzle, she teased you for a minute or two, and walked away?" Fluttershy managed a nod, Sunset sighing. "Yea, sounds like her usual M.O."

Pinkie tilted her head. "M.O.? Magic Orangutan? Movie Order? Messy Or-"

Applejack slapped a hand over Pinkie's mouth. "PINKIE!!"

Pinkie leaned back to free her mouth. "What? I was just gonna say 'Messy Orange Hair,' which I know is one more letter than M.O., but it kinda works if you think of it like Emm, Oh, y'know? Besides, brushing that stuff has gotta be a nightmare!"

Gigglefits from Rainbow drowned out the sound of Applejack's embarrassment.

Smiling a little, Rarity rolled her eyes. "Modus Operandi, Darling, the method in which she does things." The table's focus on her, she cleared her throat. "Rumor has it, she goes around engaging in flirtatious behavior, and according to reliable sources? No bites so far." She touched a finger to her chin ponderously. "Actually, I don't think any of the Dazzlings have gotten a date since they-"

Sunset tapped her on the shoulder. "Focus, please? We're not really worried about their love lives right now."

"Right, sorry. Anyway, there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to her choice of victims, no pattern to whom she riles up from one day to the next." She looked over the group with a hint of contrition. "So, despite what you may have been hoping, I have no idea why she'd go after Fluttershy."

Oh, thought one of apparently many victims with relief, they don't actually know anything's been going on between us...?

Yes!!

Before Sunset could muster the will to offer her own experience-based theory, Rainbow spoke up. "Maybe you don't, but I think we know someone who does." She glanced to the Dazzlings' table across the room, seeing only Aria and Sonata for some reason.

No!!

Fluttershy tried to stop what was coming. "Uh, m-maybe we shouldn't, I-I mean, we'd probably just bother them, so-"

"Prolly couldn't hurt to ask," offered Applejack, "this is the first Ah've heard'a any of 'em startin' anything with one of us in the last few months."

Sunset gave the two sirens another look. From what she could tell, neither were saying a word, both occasionally glancing toward the cafeteria's double doors. She stood up. "I'm gonna go see if they'd be okay with talking to us for a minute."

Fluttershy watched in cold horror as Sunset strode over to their table, waved a little and said something to get their attention, Aria and Sonata turning to her with passive faces. A moment later, Sonata looked inquisitively at Aria, who shrugged, said two words, and looked over at the Rainbooms' table. Cold, purple eyes locking onto her own made Fluttershy flinch and turn her head.

"C'mon," whispered Rainbow, "looks like they said yes, Sunset's waving us over."

The cafeteria didn't go silent as more and more eyes noticed the rest of the Rainbooms collectively moving to the Dazzlings' table, but it was noticeably quieter as the five of them joined Sunset, Aria, and Sonata.

"So," said Aria while propping up her head on an arm, looking bored, "Adagio's been being Adagio and you guys wanna know why? I'll give ya three guesses." These weren't her favorite people to talk to, to be sure, but Adagio was supposed to have brought today's lunchroom topic.

Beaming, Pinkie raised her hand. "Because there's a colony of tiny people living in her hair and they give her commands by-"

"Nope," interrupted Sonata, "we checked." There was a group stare. Sonata shrugged. "It was a super slow day."

Applejack glanced around. "Where is she, anyway? Thought you three were always together 'round this time, she sick?"

"Hmm," hmm'd Sonata, eyebrows knit in concern, "she was looking a little red earlier, maybe she's coming down with something?"

"Pfft," Aria looked less worried. "doubt it, she never gets sick. If anything, she was probably just thinking dirty thoughts again."

Sonata shrugged. "Anyway, right now we're waiting for Dagi to be freed from the VeePee's office again."

Sunset didn't look surprised. "What'd she do this time?"

Smiling, began to orate as though retelling a classic fable, eyes sparkling and one hand drawn to her chest, the other extended for no readily apparent reason. "I remember it like it was yesterday..."

---

Adagio stood once again before a very irritated Vice Principal Luna. "What? Photo Finish claims to know a thing or two about fashion. I wasn't trying to seduce anyone, I just wanted to know if she thought my underclothes complimented my-"

"Office. Now."

"Ooh, so forcefu-"

"MOVE."

---

Aria gave Sonata a deadpan stare. "That wasn't yesterday. That was fifteen minutes ago."

"But I remember it like it was yesterday!"

Eyes were rolled.

Sunset looked inquisitive. "Alright, then, she wasn't specifically going after Fluttershy, it was just a matter of wrong place, wrong time?"

Aria casually inspected her nails, her face passive. "Most likely." Nothing followed her statement as she looked around the table, so she shrugged. "Don't really have much to say about it, this is kind of a regular thing."

Sonata grinned. "Like you arguing with teachers?"

She got an annoyed eyebrow raise. "Or you almost blowing up the kitchen in Home-Ec?"

Groaning, Sonata threw her hands up in exasperation. "It was one time and I said I was sorry!!" That they stuck her in a different class for that period said she probably wasn't forgiven yet. Or allowed to go back in there. "The Age of Brownies is still coming, y'know! I'll figure something out, and when I do-" her face grew increasingly manic, "oh-ho, yes, when I do, the revolution will be glorious! THE CHOCO-DOUBTERS WILL BE-"

Clearing her throat, Sunset wasn't quite done investigating. That, and it was probably best to stop that line of thought here and now. "Is there anything in particular Adagio looks for in those she messes with?" She had a few guesses, but it was better to hear it straight from the source. Or, the source's two closest (only?) friends.

Aria and Sonata exchanged a long, uncertain look. "Well," offered Sonata, "basically, I think it goes like-" she whipped her head toward Fluttershy, arms up, wide-eyed and snarling, "-BOO!!"

"EEEEP!!"

"Hey!" said Rainbow with more than a hint of aggression as she put a steadying hand on Fluttershy's back, the others mainly offering disapproving glares, "Whaddya think you're doing?!"

Sonata giggled. "Sorry, but that was the fastest way to answer your question. That reaction, that I-would-look-great-gnashed-between-your-teeth vibe? Dagi's catnip."

The image of Adagio mewing and rolling happily in a Nepeta bush aided Fluttershy's nerves immeasurably, though Applejack looked less affected. "So, basically, she's a bully?"

"Kinda," Aria answered carefully, "but I don't think it's out of bad blood or hard feelings, this is just how she gets her kicks; bug random people until Luna shows up." Purple cheeks tinted red as Aria crossed her arms. "Hell, she even does it to us sometimes."

Sonata smiled smugly. "Mostly you."

This earned an emphatic scowl. "Because you cheat somehow!"

"I just accept her love, that's all you have to do."

"Yea, right." Arms remained crossed as Aria angrily pouted and turned away.

Giggling, Sonata stage-whispered to the others. "That there? Blood in the water."

"If that's what's up," asked Rainbow, "won't she just keep coming after Fluttershy?"

If only you knew, Rainbow. Actually, please continue not knowing, just forget I thought anything! Please?

Cleaning one ear with a pinky finger, Aria snorted. "That what this is really about, huh? Figured." Purple eyes scanned the ceiling as she pondered an answer. "She's gotta have known Squeaky over there was your biggest chicken for a while now, that this didn't happen sooner probably means she just couldn't find anyone else at the time." There were a variety of stares and glares following the chicken comment. She shrugged. "I call 'em as I see 'em."

Rarity opted to change the subject before things grew uncivil. "Witness testimonies to her little games suggest that she simply delights in making others squirm and blush... Is that all there is to it? No goal beyond flustering her current target before moving to the next person? She seems rather practiced in the art."

Applejack was incredulous. "Practiced? Way Ah hear it, Adagio's gotta be more embarrassing than Granny Smith!" She tugged her hat downward to cover her eyes as a half-dozen painful, dignity-destroying memories flashed before them, "An' she's got a photo album!"

Sonata snickered. "I can totally see her keeping a scrapbook of embarrassing pictures of random people!"

Aria smirked a little. "Probably just be a bunch of snapshots of people naked." The smile vanished. "Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if she really had one of those."

Neither would Fluttershy, arguing with herself about whether or not she should be making sure nothing could see through her windows before going to sleep every night. Or during the day. Or maybe she could just board them up. That wouldn't be an odd thing to do, right?

"Indeed," nodded Rarity, "especially after that indecency with the, em... b-bathrobe incident."

Sonata beamed. "Ooh, yea! I remember it like it was yesterday..."

Aria rolled her eyes.

---

The very first day the Dazzlings decided to attend school, they showed up in what were essentially their bedclothes. Nobody was really bothered by Aria's tank top and ratty jeans. Sonata's pink, ankle-length nightgown was pushing it, but passed for a dress. Adagio's white, fluffy bathrobe and bunny slippers were too far outside the dress code to ignore. Principal Celestia, who had caught her in a hallway after second period, did not know that this was all she was wearing. "Take that off right this instant!"

Turning to her, Adagio shrugged. "If you insist..." With a tug on the soft, felt belt and a quick motion of her shoulders, she let the loose-fitting robe fall to the floor.

Some students nearby fainted, many more simply turned red and stared until Celestia shouted, "Everyone that doesn't turn away RIGHT NOW gets a week's detention!!"

A few people got a week's detention. Not all of them were boys.

Adagio just looked around, relaxed, but uncertain. "What is the problem? I don't see any kind of uniform standards in place."

"CLOTHES," answered Celestia in exasperation, "clothes are the standard!!"

Adagio raised an earnestly confused eyebrow. "Then why did you want me to take mine off?"

"A bathrobe does not qualify for-urgh!" She facepalmed. "Just, put it back on, we'll discuss this in my office."

"Hmph." Gathering up her robe as asked, Adagio eyed Celestia from head to toe, a hint of a smirk on her face. "Maybe you'd be more comfortable with this if you took your clothes o-"

Celestia was red as a tomato. "MARCH!!"

Due to her being more resistant to that sort of shameless behavior, dealing with Adagio was delegated to Luna soon afterward.

---

The end of the tale is when it struck Fluttershy that while Adagio seemed to irregularly alternate between her dance outfit and what she guessed were street clothes, as she was wearing today, she could only recall Aria and Sonata wearing their dance outfits to school. She would have thought a little more about asking them why that was, but Sunset spoke first.

"Why didn't you two say anything to her? Did you guys all not know there were decency laws, or did she just not care?"

Looking down shamefully, Sonata twirled the tip of her ponytail around a finger. "I didn't really know much about the naked rules either, back then."

Aria shrugged. "The naughty bits were covered before your principal asked for a free show, so-"

Rarity couldn't help a scandalous giggle. "I-I don't think she intended to see as much as she did that day, really."

Skeptical, Aria raised an eyebrow. "Because people are just fully dressed under bathrobes all the time?"

Blink. "Eh, well, I, no, I suppose not, but... Hm..." Largely unseen, post-bathing fashion. Could there be a market for such a thing? A seamstress dared wonder.

"Anyway, we were all decent when we left the house, so I figured it'd be fine." Aria turned a slightly suspicious look toward Sunset. "Actually, you must have known she's been getting in trouble for a while now, why haven't you done anything?"

"Er, actually, that's..." Sunset scratched the back of her head, "I kinda tried, but..."

"She's supposed to say 'like it was yesterday'!"
"Go back to sleep, Sonata."

---

About two weeks after the bathrobe incident, Sunset decided to try direct intervention. The Dazzlings didn't seem to hate her, so maybe it was worth a shot?

"Adagio? Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Adagio stood in front of a terrified Bulk Biceps, apparently pinning him against the lockers with just her index finger held to his chest. By the terrified look on his face, it probably had more to do with her sadistic expression than physical strength. Hearing Sunset and turning her head in that direction, her predatory smile slipped away. She looked at Bulk Biceps out of the corner of her eye. "Scram."

He did so the second she retracted her finger.

Facing Sunset, Adagio crossed her arms, her tone and expression passive. "You need something?"

Sunset approached in as nonthreatening a manner as she could manage, no aggression in her face or body language. "I know you're just having a little fun here, but I think you're bothering people. A lot. Can you please tone it down a bit?"

Adagio rolled her eyes. "Ohh, spare me. I've been at this for a few weeks now, and do you know how many have actually asked me to stop? Two, and neither of them were students." Giving a quick toss of her hair, she paced closer, a hand on her hip and a smirk on her face. "I'm not 'bothering' anyone, because despite what they may say, the attention of a pretty girl is everything some of them have ever dreamed of in this stage of their lives. Trust me, if I really wanted to get to these people, they'd all know it." The smirk faded. "Oh, and if you're wondering about your turn, Sunset Shimmer?" She stepped close enough to whisper into Sunset's ear.

"Don't worry, I'm already done with you."

Adagio walked away without another word.

---

Aria and Sonata nodded in unison. "Yea," the former assented, "that makes some sense."

The other five girls at the table seemed to think otherwise, Applejack in particular. "Uh, mind fillin' the rest of us in?"

Sonata nodded. "The three of us picked on Sunset in a dark hallway this one time, and we weren't really pulling punches. I think past that, plus everything else she went through before we got here, not even Dagi wants to torture her any more than we already did."

Aria eyed the ceiling, her expression colored with what may have been heart-felt contrition. "We were kinda brutal when she talked to us for the first time a few weeks later, too." She shrugged, managing to look Sunset in the eye. "So, like, sorry about that."

This drew an appreciative little smile from Sunset.

"Yea," added Sonata, "and, the rest of you guys don't really seem like total jerkwads, either."

Aria went on before they could dwell on that last part. "ANYWAY, say what you like about Adagio, she at least knows where the limits are." There was a heavy silence as all present recalled the bathrobe incident. "Usually. Horror stories aside, she really isn't that bad most of the time." Sonata just smiled in agreement.

It touched something in Fluttershy's heart that the Dazzlings, once seen bickering almost all the time, would defend each other like this. If they could grow to cherish their own so much, there must have been room in their hearts for others, even her friends!

Rarity grinned. "I never did thank you for that English class the other week, Miss Blaze." Aria just looked back at her in confusion. "Remember? When you defended my completely chaste poem?"

Aria nodded once. "'Kay." She got a few confused stares for that reaction. "What? You might not have to correct your 'teachers' that often, but for me? That was just Friday."

The lunch bell sounded, Aria and Sonata taking off without much more than a 'Bye,' but Fluttershy could hear them talking as they left.

"I thought she was supposed to come if we spoke of her, Ria!"

"I dunno, that's what I heard. They get their magic all messed up here."

Or, then again, thought Fluttershy, maybe not... Well, nobody said anything particularly unkind through the entire conversation, so there was still hope, wasn't there? She made the mental note to worry about befriending the Dazzlings as a whole after she'd gotten closer to Adagio.

Author's Notes:

Another candy-free lunchroom chapter!

Due to length, I should be publishing the next chapter as two next week, with the one from Adagio's perspective coming the week after that. Stay tuned!

Chapter 14: Worry and Visitors

In her time spent helping out at the animal shelter, Fluttershy never neglected her work, knowing everything she did was for the benefit of the many critters within. That in mind, she did go about today's tasks a little bit on auto-pilot, her thoughts drifting to another source of fluff in her life.

Adagio teases other people. I mean, of course she does, I knew that since before she started doing it to me, but I didn't think, it wasn't really...

But, it was a good thing, wasn't it? If Adagio was using up her daily allotment of sadistic energy just as much on other people, she'd have less to torment Fluttershy with. That was good. She should be glad about that. It wasn't like teasing people meant anything by itself, right? That was just the kind of thing Adagio did with random people all the time!

Fluttershy was hit with the most unpleasant wave of deja vu of her life.

Yes. All the time.

Glancing around quickly, she didn't see any sign that she'd said that out loud. The parrot perched on a nearby birdhouse was quietly preening himself.

But, still, it was fine, Adagio was free to fluster whoever she wanted, to suggest otherwise wouldn't even make any kind of sense. And why should she want to, anyway? She didn't. That would be insane. And stupid. And irrational. And controlling. Complete control probably wasn't right for Adagio anyway, the Dazzlings were chaos in the shape of three girls! It looked like they liked (or at least respected) Sunset, and she couldn't completely tame them either! Not that Fluttershy thought anyone needed taming, just maybe that they could stand to be- but, then, would they still be themselves anymore? Were all three of them just like great white sharks kept in swimming pools at aquariums, denied their nature by being forced to comply with the limitations imposed on them by their new environment? The one they had no say in entering? Maybe it was because of something they did in over in Twilight's world, but still...

The whole line of thought was crazy, so she just tried to focus on refilling the food bowls. This led to thoughts of hunger, to feeding, to what Adagio might like to eat ordinarily, to feeding Adagio from the palm of her hand, to Fluttershy repeatedly slapping herself in the face. When she stopped, she noticed the entire hamster cage staring at her, fuzzy little heads curiously tilted. She gave them a sheepish smile and got back to work.

---

She was late again. Waiting on the bench, alone, just like she used to every morning, Fluttershy took yet another long, careful look at her surroundings, not a hint of orange fluff in sight. Was it because of the kisses? The last time Adagio showed up later than expected had been right after the squirrel incident, was there a connection? Did being embarrassed the day before make Adagio think twice about showing up?

I knew it, she didn't like the kiss, I saw how she lit up and did it again anyway, I-

No, she said it didn't bother her, she even told you to do it again to prove it!

But that doesn't change the way she turned red, she was uncomfortable, she-

Really? The girl that makes suggestive comments toward you on a daily basis, the girl with the very racy sense of humor, would be bothered by kisses on the cheek?

Then why did she blush?

Fluttershy didn't have an answer for herself, which felt really weird. And worrying. She looked around again, still very much alone.

It can't be as bad as you're making it out to be, she still came to you in the gym, right? If she really wanted to avoid you, she'd have-

Wait! Maybe it was just because she saw me doing the shaky walk and wanted to comment on it?

If she's looking for a chance to tease you, what better time of day than now?

Maybe Adagio was just doing something else this morning? Maybe she was sleeping in, or walking here with Aria and Sonata for once, or... It couldn't be that one of Fluttershy's friends went to talk to Adagio after lunch and told her not to come around anymore, right? Because, even if they did, and she doubted any of them really would just because of what happened yesterday, wouldn't Adagio just take that as a challenge, coming to poke Fluttershy even more often just to see what whoever threatened her would do about it? Fluttershy would have taken that with a smile right now.

Maybe she was teasing someone else, another girl, or even a boy, someone that caught her eye, that never ran away from her, that never made her feel uncomfortable or unwanted! Someone prettier than Fluttershy, someone that was always happy to share food with her mouth-to-mouth, that wouldn't just accept her double entendres, but shoot back with their own! Someone that would compliment Adagio's beauty every time they saw her, someone that-

Wait.

Fluttershy remembered something Sonata said the day before, something that sent a chill down her spine.

"...she was looking a little red earlier, maybe she's coming down with something?"

Sick. Adagio was probably sick today, and Fluttershy knew why. Still, just in case she was wrong, she waited on the bench to see if Adagio was just running really, really late, to see if she'd pop up and surprise her just like she did before, to show herself and let Fluttershy know that she was being really silly and worrying over nothing at all!

She didn't.

---

The first time she realized it, Fluttershy thought that she had no classes with Adagio was a great blessing. Now it was a source of worry and dread, because she knew that, barring a very, very rare event like yesterday, the only ways she was likely to see her favorite siren during the day were in the cafeteria, or by sheer chance. That in mind, she took a quick look around the gym, saw no one, and did the walk as accurately to what she remembered of the up-close demonstration yesterday, really emphasizing the hip movement despite the renewal of a blush she thought she'd nearly conquered.

Other door.

Turn around.

First door.

Turn around.

She managed to do the walk a total of five times, nobody coming in to tease her for it.

---

It was possible that she was just in trouble with Vice Principal Luna again, but there was no sign of Adagio at lunch that day. Aria and Sonata looked like they were talking normally in the seconds Fluttershy could steal a glance at their table, which made her wonder if they were used to their leader (was she still 'in charge' of their group?) not being around already. Her thoughts were just drifting to the likelihood that her own friends wouldn't notice if she up and disappeared (medium to low, she hoped) when Pinkie Pie roped her into a spontaneous, table-wide game of Who Can Name The Strangest Creature On This Side Of The Portal To Make Sunset Feel More At Home. In the context that there are all sorts of odd things in Equestria, of course.

Fluttershy got thirty-eight points by naming and describing the barreleye fish, but the game had to stop because nobody else felt like eating afterward. She probably should have known better than to bring up abyssal sea creatures during lunch, but darned if she didn't feel appreciated in some weird way.

---

At the very end of the school day, Fluttershy made her move. It was a bit of a gamble, calling her mother to say she would be staying at a friend's place for a while after school today, but even if what she was about to try didn't work, she could probably just walk to Sunset's place not too far from here and keep her company for a while. Of course, Sunset being out or busy was another gamble, but there was no time to worry about that now. She stood out in front of the school by the statue, wondering if she should have waited around the back instead.

However, her hopes were validated when Aria and Sonata came through the front door together, chatting about something she couldn't hear as they started down the road. Looking around and seeing the students at large disperse, Fluttershy followed a ways behind the two sirens after they passed her. She tried not to stare at them as she followed, all too aware of how creepy she must have looked right then to anyone that noticed what she was doing, but a few blocks down the street, Sonata glanced over her shoulder and turned around, quickly tugging on Aria's vest, which made her turn around too.

The two stood still, Sonata looking worried, Aria looking confrontational, complete with crossed arms. Even at that distance, Fluttershy could practically read their faces.

'One of them is following us! Like in those movies!'

'I see her, let me handle this.'

Steeling herself, Fluttershy forced each footstep, looking primarily at the ground, but not letting the sirens out of her sight for more than a few seconds at a time. They waited for her, not saying a word until she was just a meter away.

"Well?" demanded Aria, her tone level, "What do you want, Squeaky?"

Gulping, she managed to look Aria straight in the eye. "It was my fault."

She got a skeptical look. "What was your fault?"

"Ad-dagio wasn't here today. She has a cold, doesn't she?"

The sirens shared a quick look of surprise, Sonata the first to speak. "How did you know that? Have you been following us around all day?"

"N-no," Fluttershy answered with a shake of her head, "I just-"

Aria was somewhere between terrified and enraged. "What, you can just wave a wand and make people sick? People that don't ever even get sick?! I guess you're just some kind of Plague Doctor Seuss aren't you?!" She stepped close enough to grab Fluttershy by the shirt, drawing a frightened shriek. "What did you do?" she asked in a threatening growl, "How did you do it? What kind of sparkly-rainbow-unicorn-barf magic do you have that can just-"

Sonata grabbed one of her wrists. "She can't fess up if ya shake her like she owes ya money, Ria!"

Taking a deep breath through her nose, Aria let Fluttershy go. "Talk. Now."

Steadying herself as best she could, Fluttershy nodded. "Y-you remember that she came near me yesterday? I just got over a cold on Sunday, I think some of it must have still been on me when she got close to me."

Aria slooowly turned to look at Sonata, her face all but saying 'can you believe this crap?' before she turned back, looking much less angry. "That's not really the same as just making someone lay in bed coughing all day."

"But it is how an infection might spread. I took care of myself this weekend, I've taken care of others in the past, and I know I can help Adagio get better too." Fluttershy clasped her hands together. "I just know she's sick now because of me, and I have to make it right. Let me treat her, please?"

Sonata smiled. "Okay!"

Aria sputtered. "D-don't just accept it right away!"

"Why not? She's like their group's Doctor Seuss or something, you said it yourself!"

Shoulders slumping for the usual reason, Aria deadpanned. "I was being facetious."

Sonata crossed her arms and raised her chin haughtily. "I don't know what that means, but I know fancy words won't help Dagi get better, people with 'Doctor' in their title will!" A blue hand wrapped around Fluttershy's wrist like a vice, pulling her along. "C'mon, Dr. Seuss, time's a-wastin'!"

And just like that, Fluttershy was spirited away to the Dazzlings' house by a very lively Sonata, Aria jogging along beside them with partly worried, partly hopeful sort of expression.

---

There wasn't really time to take in the details of the dark-blue, two-story house before she was dragged into it, but just looking at the exterior filled Fluttershy with an eerie sense of foreboding, like the black, wooden front door was the threshold to another world entirely. She may have read a few too many fantasy novels in middle school, but going in, her suspicions were only heightened as she looked around.

There were rugs strewn about in apparently random places, sometimes leaving them flopped partly up against a wall or doorway, erratic furniture arrangements in almost every room they went through, such as only three out of six chairs set around what she guessed was the dining room table, the other three stacked in some kind of chair pyramid in the corner. That was when she noticed hammocks hung in apparently random corners of the ceiling even when there were no clear means of reaching them. A few rooms were amateurishly painted, with uneven coats and bizarre color choices that would probably make Rarity dry-heave. The strangest thing had to be the random objects in nets, from silverware, to electronics, to cleaning supplies, all hanging from hooks haphazardly nailed on the walls of almost every room, though they looked to be in arms' reach, at least.

...What kind of place is Equestria, anyway?

She couldn't remember Sunset having random hooks in her home, but maybe this was another siren thing.

When they reached the stairs, Sonata stopped. "Oh, wait, gotta get the suit! Ria, can you let Dagi know we're home and that we nabbed a doctor?" Not batting an eye at any of that, Aria nodded, proceeding upstairs without a word of elaboration as Fluttershy was hastily brought to another room of the house, full of costumes of many kinds. Once more, it made her think of Rarity.

Letting go of her captive, Sonata started tapping along a row of hangers laden with Hollywood-worthy outfits, lightly muttering to herself. "Da-da-da-da-da-I-think-it's-o-ver-aha!" Smiling, she picked out a short, white dress with short sleeves and a little, white hat. It was only when Sonata turned the hat to reveal a red cross that Fluttershy understood the thing to be a nurse outfit, the kind hospitals didn't really use anymore.

"You're going to wear that to help Adagio get better?"

Giggling, Sonata shook her head. "No, ya big goof, that wouldn't make any sense at all." She stepped closer, clutched Fluttershy's wrist just as tightly as before, "You're going to wear it to help Dagi get better!" and pulled her toward what looked like a little changing room in the corner of the wardrobe. "I asked the voodoo counselor lady about her Jedi-master-lookin' get-up once and she said 'to suit a certain state of mind, it may help to dress in kind,' and something about fixing your brain just as much as your body, so every bit helps!"

Eyes widening in horror, Fluttershy tried to pull away. "N-no, wait, I wouldn't, I can't, i-it won't even, th-there's no way I can-!"

Within seconds, she was dragged into the changing room, stripped to her underwear, and left with nothing but the nurse outfit as the door closed behind her. She stood shaking with embarrassment for the better part of a minute.

Wow, she thought while trying not to look at the full-length mirror in the little room, I thought Rarity was the only one who could do that.

Every second she stayed undressed was another that Adagio might find her that way, so, blushing furiously, she started putting on the ridiculous medical costume. She was startled by Sonata talking through the door.

"I'm a little surprised you came to talk to us, Doc! You know Sunset Shimmer was the only one to ask where Dagi was all day? Other than her, it was like nobody even noticed that she was missing. I get that, but, it's nice that at least one other person in the world cares, y'know?"

Fluttershy wasn't sure what to say to that. On one hand, it was nice that the Dazzlings acknowledged her, but on the other, sad that they still didn't have any friends outside each other and possibly Sunset. Still, she had to say something!

"I'm sure there are others who care too, they just, uh, might be afraid to talk to you girls?"

Sonata giggled. "Heh, I get that, too."

Finished dressing, she actually found the nurse costume to be a little more modest than she'd have guessed. The skirt was no shorter than her usual choice, the dress buttoned up all the way to her neck, it wasn't uncomfortably form-fitting, and she had to admit the little hat was kind of cute. The white heels she'd been left in place of her regular shoes might take a minute or two to get used to, but all things considered, she felt pretty good. It was as she examined herself from multiple angles in the mirror that she was startled by the door flying open and Sonata grabbing her wrist again.

"C'mooon, it's taking too long to get to the good part as it is!" Without waiting for a reply, she them sped out the door, through the hall, up the stairs, and through another hall to Adagio's room, Fluttershy nearly tripping in the heels a few times. She could hear the muffled voices of Aria and Adagio through the door, with the latter sounding a little offended.

"So nobody said they missed me? Not even a little?"

"'Fraid not."

"Not even Trixie?"

"She hates you, remember?"

"Loves to hate me, you mean!"

"She didn't say anything."

"Boo. I'll just have to make more of an impression when I get back..."

The two of them giggled. From the sound of things, Adagio was almost like a normal, somewhat playful person out of school.

"Anyway," Aria picked up, "Nata and I brought help, should be here soon."

"'Help'? What for?"

There was a pause. Aria's voice was even quieter, the earnest fear and worry in her tone leaving a little lump in Fluttershy's throat. "You never get sick, Adagio."

Adagio's reply was equally quiet, her tone gentle and reassuring. "It's just a little cold, Ria, I'll be fine."

And like that, Aria's typical, flippant demeanor was back. "Hah, you better be or I might take over."

"Yes, that truly would be a disaster!"

Aria giggled. "Ahh, shuddup."

It was here that Fluttershy noticed Sonata giving her a patient stare. "So, are we going in, or is listening at the door part of the prescription?"

Fluttershy turned red, not having meant to eavesdrop again, but Adagio apparently heard that.

"Nata? Is that you?"

Sonata beamed. "Yep!" She threw open the door before Fluttershy could mentally prepare herself, pushing her into the room. "We brought you a Dr. Seuss!"

Fluttershy mentally gave herself an order: Just don't think about it.

There were maybe three seconds to take in the scene of Adagio's bedroom. It was, to her surprise, actually pretty normal-looking, give or take several wall-hooks and a hammock in the corner by the window. There were clothes strewn about in places, but none of it looked unclean in any sense of the word, and there was a simple vanity by the closet. Then she noticed that Adagio's bed was heart-shaped. On that bed, Adagio herself sat wearing purple, silk pajamas with her with her lower body under the red, velvety covers, her back against a mound of pillows and possibly her own bedraggled hair. Her face was a little flushed, there were bags under bloodshot eyes, though she was still able to convey shock as she processed Fluttershy in a nurse outfit.

Surprise became a lewd, if weak smile. "Ohh, I feel better already..."

Author's Notes:

Aaaaand Nurse Outfit! There it is.

Alternate titles:
Worry and Cosplay
They Brought Me a Present!
High Heels and Cute Hats
House Call From Dr. Seuss
Sweetie Gets a New Pair of Shoes
Hellooooo Nurse!
My Favorite Kind of Medicine

Yes, I was thinking about this one for a while.

In other news: 8.5k-ish words worth of story due by Saturday morning, once I've had time to proofread and such. This was all supposed to be one chapter, some moons ago, but the usual thing happened and now I'm cutting it into three, hoping to write and publish Adagio's POV chapter next week.

Chapter 15: Sweetie Gets a New Pair of Shoes

Beaming, Sonata triumphantly rested her hands on her hips. "I knew the doctor get-up would help!"

Adagio chuckled. "Your consideration is most appreciated, Nata."

Knees shaking where she stood, Fluttershy maintained eye-contact with what was to be her patient, who looked pleased, but still a little puzzled.

Aria headed to the door, hooking Sonata by the arm. "We'll be downstairs, holler if ya need anything." They closed the door behind them, which left the room in silence.

"Uhm," Fluttershy began to her patient for the day, absent-mindedly smoothing out her skirt, "I-I'm here to take care of you, s-so, uh, t-to start, how are you feeling?"

"Hungry."

Her eyes were half-lidded, but Fluttershy couldn't tell if she was just tired or not, though what might have been a wolfish smile felt like a hint. Then again, maybe that was just her hungry face? Did she have one of those? "Uh, okay, I, um, I could probably prepare some soup, warm liquids might help with-"

Adagio started laughing, though it quickly became a coughing fit. Once she recovered, she managed a smirk. "Warm liquids? You're going to have to be more specific, Doctor."

Turning redder than the bedspread, Fluttershy rapidly waved her arms in an 'X' pattern. "N-nothing like that!! Soup, tea, something to help you-"

She was cut off by more coughing, Adagio holding both hands to her mouth as her convulsions wracked her whole torso.

Worried now, Fluttershy took a step toward the door. "J-just hold tight, I'll get you some-"

"Wait," her patient rasped, breathing a little heavily, "I... h-have to ask something..." She waited until Fluttershy turned back to her, though she couldn't really appreciate the sight in her condition anyway. "Listen..." Clearing her throat, she smiled and cupped her hands around her mouth while talking to the door. "If you two want to join us in the bedroom, you only have to ask!"

There came a resounding thud from the door, followed by loud whispers Fluttershy couldn't quite make out and rapid, retreating footsteps, Adagio just laughing.

Were the others listening at the door? They don't trust me? Well, it wasn't like she could blame them, but the thought still drew a quiet sigh.

"Something wrong, Sweetie?" Adagio was smiling a little at her, or giving a very weak smirk.

"Oh, n-no, I just... how did you know they were there?"

"Apart from the shadows under the door? They worry, this is kind of a rare thing for me." She examined one of her own hands, slowly waving it in front of her face. "I'm all for trying new things, but this is a total miss so far." Shrugging, she returned her slightly reddened eyes to Fluttershy, her expression a tired version of the curious face. "So, what's going on, Sweetie? What are you doing here? And, I'm not complaining about the outfit, but...?"

Trying to ignore the heat in her face and the waves of self-consciousness that came with it, Fluttershy lowered her eyes and focused on answering the questions in order. "W-well, I knew you were sick today, I'm here to help you get better, and, uh, S-Sonata kind of, your house has a costume room, I-I didn't really have a say in, uh-"

Adagio giggled. "Forced cosplay? You don't have to make excuses for me, Sweetie, you can dress in whatever tickles your-" Teasing was halted by another coughing fit, the smile gone when she caught her breath. "...What do you mean you 'knew' I was sick today?"

Taking a deep breath, Fluttershy explained the situation, but her unintentional victim's face didn't change until the end, when she started to giggle. Giggling became laughing, laughing became mad cackling, mad cackling became another coughing fit, however interladen with mad cackling.

"Y-you even warned me," Adagio managed while wiping away a tear, "you said in the first few days that I'd get sick, and here we are!"

Fluttershy shook her head a little. "We didn't share anything yesterday, other th-than, the, uhm..."

A little more color returned to Adagio's cheeks as she scratched her head and glanced away. "Oh, right..." Then she half-smirked. "Looks like you're a, I mean, your kiss of death is-no, wait, uhm..." She visibly puzzled for the better part of a minute, Fluttershy standing in perplexed silence. "I, I know there's a gag in there somewhere about certain diseases passed through physical means, but..." Looking at her nurse, it was clear she wasn't impressed by this bout of wordplay, which made Adagio pout. "Oh, give me a break, this is a lot harder when you're sick."

Smiling a little wider than she'd meant to, Fluttershy nodded. "I-I'm sure it is." Then the situation caught up with her and she frowned, her face contrite. "So, uh, s-sorry I gave you my cold, I never thought-"

"Wait." Adagio was holding up a hand, her face simultaneously weary and solemn. "If you're about to go off on a tangent about how my getting sick was all your fault, you should know that in a building with that many people, I could have picked up the bug from anyone at any time, transmission of diseases is an involuntary thing, and-" she was cut off by another coughing fit, one that left her hunched over and breathing heavily.

Fluttershy didn't even remember moving to sit by her on the bed or put a steadying hand on her back, but the once-proud siren leader just looked so pitiful. "You've been coughing a lot, does your throat hurt at all?"

There was a tired eye-roll, though Adagio visibly bit back a sarcastic retort. "Yes, you could say that."

"Gargling saltwater might help a bit, can you wait here a minute?"

Leaning back on the pillow mound, Adagio nodded.

Getting up, Fluttershy stopped at the door, looking over her shoulder. "And, Adagio?" She smiled a little. "Thank you."

Managing a tiny grin of her own, Adagio dismissively waved for her to get going.

---

After a quick trip to the kitchen to prepare a little mug of saltwater (Fluttershy learned that they stored even more odd things in their cupboards here, but she did manage to find the salt) and Adagio taking a minute to gargle it, she spat the contents back into the mug and cleared her throat. "Well," she managed, "can't say how well it worked, but time will tell."

Setting the mug on the bedside table (which, for some reason, was a small, personal refrigerator with the door ripped off its hinges), Fluttershy smiled. "How about the blankets? Can I help you get warmer?" She flushed crimson the second she realized her word choice. "N-no, I mean, if you're, uh, c-cold, then-"

"Help me get warmer?" Making another weary smirk, Adagio tugged the sheets just a little higher around herself in an almost defensive manner. "Just what did you have in mind while I'm so weak and helpless?"

Remembering that Adagio was ill and needed help, perhaps in more than one sense of the word, Fluttershy did her best to keep her cool. "More blankets, for k-keeping you warm, and nothing else."

"Really?" Peeking beneath her covers, Adagio's grin widened to almost-normal proportions. "You know, that might actually be a good idea, I'm a little lacking in warm fabric under this, if you catch my meaning."

"Uhm-"

"Wanna see?"

"N-NO I DON-"

Adagio quickly threw off her blanket, Fluttershy immediately shrieking and covering her face with both hands, then dropping them again when Adagio let out a sound of discomfort. Adagio was, in fact, wearing the pants portion of her pajamas, shivering lightly and hugging herself.

Dammit, forgot I really was trying to stay warm!!

Adagio immediately wrapped herself in the blanket again, feeling foolish for having removed it at all.

Her doctor moved for the door again. "I'll t-try to find you some more blankets, just wait-"

"Don't," Adagio said a little more pleadingly than she meant to, "what I have here is fine, provided I don't do that again." Simple plan; heavily imply nudity, then reveal it to be false and follow up with poking about specific expectations, but the room felt deceptively warmer under the covers. The focus now on her moment of stupidity, she opted to change the subject with a little smile. "You wear that look well, by the way!"

Despite the less-than-fluid transition, Fluttershy tinted pink and fidgeted in place, eyeing the floor with one hand unnecessarily smoothing out her skirt, the other adjusting her little hat. "I, uhm, th-thank you."

The smile came a little more naturally as she took a few seconds to admire Sonata's selection, making the mental note to get her a snow-cone or something later. Speaking of... "You know, Sonata is probably, for lack of better words, holding your clothes hostage until she's convinced I'm getting better." Her eyes lit up with wicked glee. "So take good care of me, or you might have to go home naked."

Fluttershy stepped forward and grabbed her by the hand, her face equally full of resolve and compassion as they locked eyes. "Of course I will." Adagio was only staring at her wide-eyed as the words sunk in, turning Fluttershy bright red again. "I-I mean, health, help, of c-course I'll-"

To Fluttershy's surprise, Adagio gave her that earnest, ray-of-sunshine grin, her own face coloring a little more. "I get it, Sweetie, thank you." Eyeing the thin, white heels however, she managed a normal smirk. "So, not having any trouble with those? I know that kind of shoe gives a lot of girls trouble, but you look like you're not even a little uncomfortable."

Glancing down at her feet, Fluttershy managed a smile despite a little blush. Heels may not have been for her, but this was a subject she had some experience with. "Actually, I've worn shoes like this a few times before. There are some harmful, long-term effects, but they can be minimized by finding shoes that fit right, not having the heel be too high, internal cushioning, and thicker heels for more stability, like what you usually wear," she couldn't help a giggle, "give or take the spikes."

For just a second, Adagio's jaw dropped, the look on her face making Fluttershy think of Applejack saying something like 'Well, shut mah mouth!' That expression quickly became what Fluttershy interpreted to be a sickly, tired, but no less emphatic grin of pride. "You're just full of fun surprises, aren't you? Where did you get to be an expert in high heels, Sweetie?"

Her cheeks growing a little rosier, Fluttershy quickly looked down at the floor, though not enough to hide a wavering, self-conscious smile. "I-I wouldn't say 'expert,' but, uh... y-you know my friend Rarity? I was her guinea pig when she first started working with clothes. She may not need me as much for that these days, but we learned a lot working together."

Something about the display, about the way Fluttershy spoke of her friend, the way she smiled in recounting their time together, was giving Adagio another dose of that odd little tingle she'd been getting more and more lately. It was, but the surge was cut off by another painful, convulsion-inducing coughing fit. When she looked up again, Fluttershy was looking back at her with concern.

"Do you have any aspirin here? Reducing pain should help to ease recovery."

Not about to argue, Adagio cleared her throat as best she could. "Try the mirror-compartment in the bathroom, third door from the left just outside this hall." She waited in silence as Fluttershy jogged out of the room, gently closing the door behind her. About two minutes later, there came sounds of things bumping against the wall outside her door, the things in the nets clattering together as Fluttershy searched through them. Apparently, there hadn't been any aspirin in the bathroom after all, but Adagio could have sworn that was where she'd been leaving everything she identified as medicine. Regardless, her faithful nurse must have found her prize, because she came back with the headache cancellation pills and a glass of water a few minutes later.

Setting the glass on the bedside broken mini-fridge, she smiled. "I found it! The bottle was next to your fire extinguisher and a bag of saw dust." Sitting on the bed and twisting the cap off the aspirin bottle, she gave Adagio a perplexed little head tilt. "Um, speaking of, why do you have those things hanging in the hallway?"

Adagio took one of the offered tablets and picked up the glass, which she noticed was just a bit heavier than the mug had been. "In case of fire."

"How does the saw dust help?"

"It helps make more fire."

"M-more fire?!"

Tilting her head a little, Adagio looked as though she didn't feel this called for explaining. "Saw dust for making the fire bigger, fire extinguisher for putting it out. Simple. We haven't had to use the dust yet, but I won't make the same mistake twice."

...Okay, thought the bewildered caretaker, it's Pinkie Pie logic. Process. You can do this. Thinking about it, she conceded that if nothing else, sawdust would probably make a fire a little bigger, even if not for very long. "I... guess that makes sense?"

Adagio nodded. "I thought so." Placing the pill on her tongue, she gingerly raised the glass to her lips with tremulous hands, spilling more than a little of its contents as she did.

Fluttershy frowned in concern. "Uh, d-do you need help with-"

The sickly siren wasn't quite scowling, but she was definitely annoyed as she spoke without disturbing the tablet on her tongue. "I can drink from a glass by myselv, tank you." She glared down at her still-shaking hands and the heavy glass they held. Was it really necessary to bring her a full glass? Or for that matter, a glass-glass? With a heavy, thick base? The plastic cups hanging in one of the living room nets would have made this much easier, but she supposed she couldn't ask Fluttershy to know where those were. Taking a quick breath, she tried again, focusing on the glass. The heavy, unnecessarily water-filled glass that continued to shake, Adagio feeling like she was being judged for every drop that fell, only getting worse as a badly-timed coughing fit sprung up. Fluttershy used that chance to take the glass from her. Now she scowled. "I thed I can-"

"No, you can't." Fluttershy's eyes were compassionate, but firm. "You're a little weaker than I thought right now, please lean back a bit and I'll f-feed you."

Taking the pill out of her mouth, Adagio raised an eyebrow. "It's drinking from a cup. I can handle it."

Holding the glass out of her reach, Fluttershy indicated the little wet spots on the velvety, red blankets. "I don't think you can. If you spill it on yourself, the water will make it much harder to stay warm, you'll lose energy, your immune system will get weaker, and-"

Sickly or not, Adagio could still cast a mean, and more importantly, commanding glare. "Sweetie? Give me the glass."

Despite a tingle shooting up her spine, the doctor for a day held strong. "No."

The glare intensified, then dropped entirely as Adagio started to smirk, sitting up a little straighter and letting out a low, sultry chuckle. "Ohh, I'm sorry, you really want to play doctor?" If Fluttershy didn't catch the double entendre, unbuttoning the shirt of her pajamas seemed to send a much clearer message as her nurse turned bright red and looked away. Gritting her teeth at the sudden flow of cold air to her exposed skin, she worked it into a smile, her eyes half-lidded. "Come on," she said with a breathy whisper, "I'm ready for my check-up..."

With just the faintest turn of her head, Fluttershy's eyes betrayed her, increasing the temperature in her face for every second they ate up the sight of Adagio's uncovered, faintly muscular stomach and midsection. Efforts to keep her gaze even that low were thwarted as she glanced up to see that the shirt was still being held just closed enough to cover most of the breasts, but still showed a little more skin than her purple jumpsuit normally did. Flashing back to the squirrel incident, Fluttershy realized that Adagio wasn't wearing a bra today.

Wait, the squirrel incident, that's it!

Slowly, looking exactly where she figured Adagio wanted her to, Fluttershy set the glass on the bedside fridge-table and tried to will her heart not to explode as she leaned in a little closer.

Grinning wickedly, Adagio slowly turned her upper body back and forth, lightly flicking the edges of her shirt outward in an almost matador-esque fashion. "Well? I'm sure that if nothing else, this'll take my mind off the pai-" Fluttershy's hand darted out toward her stomach, the fingertips quickly gliding over her exposed belly. "Hihihihii!!" Immediately jerking backward, Adagio drew her shirt shut as much as possible, her face flushed. "W-what the Hell are you doing?!"

Fluttershy was still blushing furiously as she tried not to think about her fingers on Adagio's bare flesh, but her smile was normal as she continued to hold out her hand in Adagio's direction. "If you're not worried about losing energy, you must have plenty to spare, right?" She playfully traced the air with her fingertips. "If so, you wouldn't need to worry about getting a little exercise."

"Y-you can't possibly be serio-" The hand again shot for her stomach and got to work, drawing another short, humiliating series of high-pitched giggles. "S-st-to-hop!!"

"Why," her tormentor asked with a completely innocent grin, "you're not really sick or tired or anything, are you?"

Adagio leaned back, arms protectively covering as much of her torso as possible, fear clear in her crimson face as she started to sweat. "I-I'm, this isn't, you can't just-..." Every defense she could think of just proved Fluttershy's point. Pathetic as it made her feel, she really was too weak to defend herself right now and just didn't have the stamina for this. She'd been lying in bed for hours, but once again, lamented her inability to flop down and sleep on command. Fluttershy seemed to sense that she'd already given up, because she picked up the glass again, but to her surprise, she didn't look even remotely smug or victorious, not a hair of fiendish delight or even ordinary amusement in the face of what could have been her long, uninterrupted revenge, if she'd so wished.

"I'm sorry if that hurt you at all," her caretaker said with an earnest, hopeful smile, "but if it did even a little bit, maybe I can help?"

There came another unidentified feeling, not quite guilt, not quite shame, but something Adagio couldn't place as she found herself wishing she hadn't resisted. She glanced around for the aspirin she'd been holding a minute ago. "I, can't find the..."

Fluttershy was already holding out another one, her friendly smile no weaker. "Can you lean back on the cushions, please?"

Taking a second to button up her shirt again (it was getting damn chilly!), Adagio took the pill, rested it on her tongue, and gingerly leaned back, part of her still wary of another tickle assault as she lightly sunk into the pillow pile.

Scooting a little closer, Fluttershy slowly, steadily raised the glass to her patient's mouth, noting just how delicate she looked in this situation. Fluttershy hadn't forgotten how fearsome this girl had been at the Battle, how she alone had shouted down Twilight's magic before Sunset stepped in, but now? She looked so frail, so fragile as she lightly sipped the offered water, Fluttershy was worried she'd shatter if she was so much as tapped the wrong way.

But, not in that way! She wasn't thinking about 'tapping' Adagio! Or anybody! Or anybody else tapping-! At least, not like-! No, not in any sense of the-

Something tapped her shoulder, eliciting a jump and a terrified squeak. When she came to her senses, the entire world was burning hot, though Adagio was just quietly staring at her in confusion, the empty glass in her hands (Did she manage the rest on her own with me holding it?) as she tilted her head.

"Sweetie? What's wrong?"

"I, ehm, uh, s-sawdust!"

Adagio blinked slowly. That's an incredibly strange way to say 'You're welcome.' Did she not hear me thank her for the drink? Well, she wasn't going to thank her again for something so degrading, she had to hold onto what little pride she still had in this post-magic stage of her life!

Unless, maybe, if Fluttershy asked nicely... Which, if she asked at all, she would ask nicely. It was Fluttershy.

But, it looked like she was too flustered for such a thing right now. Delicious as the display was, she wasn't sure the origin this time.

Wait, is feeding someone else without lip contact another one of those touchy-feely actions here? ...Is that why she wanted to do it?

She didn't have time to think about it right now, because donning her usual smirk, she had another kind of meal in front of her.

"Sawdust, Sweetie? Are you trying to say I'm lighting your fire?"

Having taken the time of Adagio's confused silence to try to corral her thoughts a little, Fluttershy at least got most of the blood in her toes back, but still looked at the world through a haze of warm air. "I-I, n-no, I, j-just, uh..." She glanced around the room, remembering that they were on the second floor and a window escape wasn't a good idea. Plus, Sonata still had her normal clothes. Most importantly, she still had a patient to take care of, that thought being the one that calmed her down the most as she took a deep breath. "...Do you guys really start fires in the house?"

Chuckling, Adagio shrugged. "Well, just that one time so far, it was kind of an emergency situation, but never hurts to be prepared. Sonata kept saying we should spring for a napalm launcher or something, but it was her promises to be careful that led to that particular storage hook."

"Storage h-Oh!" As the information clicked in her head, Fluttershy smiled. "I see, those are for storage, not decoration?"

Adagio looked earnestly confused. "Who uses things on hooks just for decoration?"

The completely rational part of her brain was nearly pulling its hair out with questions about the rugs and the hammocks -were those for storage too?- and how some of those rooms she saw were painted, along with the fact that people hung paintings and such on hooks all the time, but Fluttershy told it to hush. She saw an opportunity to learn a little more about the sirens, and darned if she wasn't going to take it! "Why do you store things on hooks? Is the closet full? Does this place not have an attic?" She glanced around somewhat nervously. "I-is the basement just really scary?"

Starting to smile, Adagio shook her head. "No to all. Have I ever told you that we used to live undersea?"

Fluttershy smiled too. "No, but I did get that impression from your ethereal aspects when they appeared."

"Yes, we-" Blink. "...You're knowledgeable in women's footwear and otherwordly entities now?"

Smiling shyly, Fluttershy rubbed one arm, a kind of blush Adagio didn't quite recognize coloring her cheeks. "No, but I used to read a lot of fantasy books and I still remember some of the terminology."

Adagio giggled quietly. "I see," she said as her smile seamlessly shifted to a smirk, absent-mindedly tracing a fingertip along her own neck, "couldn't get enough of those magical creatures, could you?"

And then Fluttershy was trapped. While she knew what Adagio was implying, she had been interested in some of the fictional (or so she thought, if demons and sirens turned out to be real) animals and sapients alike in those stories, from the massive Roc, to the powerful minotaurs, to the cursed wolf-people, to the mysterious sphinx. Legends of woodland nymphs particularly caught her eye, but she wasn't sure how to explain that to Adagio without a risk of it sounding dirty.

"Um, w-well, I mean, I, it was just a, they were-" A very emphatic hobby? A guilty pleasure? A borderline obsession for a little while? One more reason she was teased mercilessly in middle school? Something she had to stop enjoying publicly just to get a little peace, and had more or less outgrown since? She knew how to answer, her embarrassment fading entirely. "...Just a phase, I guess?" Adagio didn't quite look satisfied with that response, making an adorably inquisitive little face, complete with head-tilt.

Adagio was halfway through finding the exact words she wanted to use for the question when she really got to reading Fluttershy's expression, the little hint of loss mostly buried in one form of acceptance or another. This was at least a partly sensitive subject, and Adagio could appreciate just wanting some things left alone.

She shrugged. "Very well. To answer your earlier question, the nets on hooks were how we stored things in the sea, given that some things were obnoxiously buoyant and that we lacked abundant supplies of malleable material like wood with which to shape boxes and the like. Seaweed, however? Well-named, I assure you, most, uh," What word translates best? "neighborhoods couldn't weave the stuff into nets fast enough." She chuckled, nodding to some of the net-hooks hanging around her own room. "About three quarters of the netting you see around here, the three of us wove out of accumulated rope over the years."

Smiling again, Fluttershy tried not to let the way Adagio's nostalgic tone touched the edges of her heart show on her face, remembering how Sunset used to clam up when she got that kind of reaction to sharing happier memories. "I see. Thank you for telling me."

What might have been a giggle came out as a short, quiet series of coughs, but Adagio was grinning anyway. "The way you say that sometimes, you'd think I was a stingy information broker throwing you a rare bone, so to speak. What about you, Sweetie? Wha-" She coughed a little more, but it at least didn't hurt as much as some of the earlier fits.

Just the same, Fluttershy looked worried. "Are you feeling alright? Would you like another glass of saltwater?" She'd washed out the first one before bringing her water to take the aspirin with.

"N-*koffkoff*-no, I... Actually, what might my doctor recommend eating in my condition? I know what I said earlier, but I've spent most of today more tired than hungry, and the scales are tipping."

Smiling warmly, Fluttershy stood up. "I'll see if Aria or Sonata can help me find you something to eat, wait right here."

---

Closing Adagio's bedroom door behind her, Fluttershy contemplated searching for food in the nets hanging there in the hall, but thought better of it. Even the sirens had to know that food would go bad if just left somewhere long enough, and it was hard to tell what was in the nets at a glance, so by the time they meant to eat anything stored this way, they might forget which wall-hook-net they put it in. She headed downstairs, hearing Sonata's voice from a room nearby. Not for the first time, Fluttershy found herself unconsciously flattened against a wall.

"-ouldn't just pop in all 'heya, how ya doin', guys?' after Dagi caught us at the door like that. That would have been really awkward!"

Aria sounded amused. "But...?"

Sonata sounded confused. "What butt? Why are you thinking about butts at a time like this?"

There was a sound of a palm meeting the back of a head.

"Ow! Okay, okay, deets! I couldn't just drop in to see what they were up to, but I could listen outside the door!"

Fluttershy held both hands to her own mouth to muffle a squeak. They listened in on us again?!

...You hypocrite!

Ouch...

Fluttershy accepted this, more-so as she hadn't moved from her current spot. Which she should probably do now. Right n-

"Seriously? That's how we got fingered the first time."

"Yea, but this time I listened from further away! I must have been out of Dagi's Jehovah's Witness Detection range, because she didn't invite me in for a threesome or anything!"

Fluttershy paled, unseen.

"Uh-huh. So what'd you actually hear?"

"Something about something being harder when she was sick."

It sounded like Aria did a spit-take.

"Haha, maybe I should'a been standing closer to the door, huh?"

"N-Nata, they were doing that and you didn't even-?! ...Oh." Aria chuckled. "Got me. Very funny."

Fluttershy dared peek around the corner to see three long ponytails (or was it one ponytail and two pigtails? Rarity would have known.) hanging over the back of the couch, their owners facing away from her.

Sonata tilted her head, confused. "Got what? Doing what?"

Giggling, Aria lightly shoved her. "You're the worst, ya know that?"

Sonata retaliated with giggles and a light shove of her own. "You are!"

The two laughed together for a moment, the act warming Fluttershy's heart.

"Anyway, there's no way they were up to anything... strenuous."

Thank you, Aria!

"'Cuz, there's no way Squeaky has the guts to try something like that on a sick person."

Oh, I, uh... Well, I guess that's true too...

"Besides, if they were getting it on, we'd have heard it, Squeaky looks like a total screamer."

Fluttershy's jaw dropped. She had to duck around the corner again in case they noticed a sudden rise in the room's temperature.

"A squeaker, you mean?"

"I guess. So you didn't hear anything substantial?"

"Nah, I scurried away when I heard something about going to get saltwater."

"Smart move. For you, anyway."

"Thanks!"

There was a silence, but Aria shrugged and went on. "I heard Squeaky rooting through nets in the hallway, popped out to see what she was up to, but she was already going back into Dagi's room."

"So?"

"So I got closer to the door. Had to make sure she was actually helping Dagi get better, y'know?" Aria audibly smirked. "She was. Apparently, Squeaky thought to give her some'a that headache-fix candy, the kind that comes in the little bottle." She chuckled. "Squeaky wanted to help her take the pill or something and the way I heard it? Dagi totally got spanked. Wish I could'a gotten it on camera or something."

"Dr. Seuss gave her a spanking? I don't know if Dagi likes that kind of thing, but how would it help her get better?"

"Wha-? No, I mean, Squeaky forced her to-"

"Wait, was this one of those secret butt fun things? Because I know those are supposed to feel really-"

"Ugh, no, it, just, n-nevermind, Nata."

"Hey, you're the one that brought up butts in the first place!"

Aria was just about to dope slap her when the two were startled by a loud thud from behind them, whipping around in unison to see Fluttershy lying prone, a little cloud of steam rising up from her head. Sonata made a very obvious poker face, but Aria was sweating bullets. "Haha, Squeaky, h-hi, uh, h-how long were you standing there?

Guilt for her eavesdropping and the fact that her patient was still waiting on her, however patiently, had spurred Fluttershy to get up, shaking off the scathing embarrassment as best she could. "N-not very long..." She managed to make eye-contact, but it looked like she hadn't set either of them at ease. "Please, I-I need to find some food for Adagio, s-so, um..."

Sonata hopped up with a nervous, ear-to-ear grin. "And we'd just be super glad to help with that! And not stand outside the door! Which we totally didn't do! Right Aria?"

Her face was buried in a double facepalm. "Why...?"

---

Brushing newly messy hair out of her face, Fluttershy looked at the plate. "Is... I-is this really all?"

Aria shrugged. "Kinda looks like it. She'll be okay with that, though, right? She'll still live? 'Cuz, I can run to the store or something if-"

"No, no, there's no time, this'll have to do for now." Adagio had told her the day they met (for certain values of the word) that she never ate anything but dark energy before losing her gem, and what Fluttershy saw in the kitchen backed up her story. Sighing, she accepted what little they'd found and took the plate in both hands. "I'll bring this up to her, thank you for your hel-"

Sonata came sluggishly trudging around the corner, wearing a grocery bag where her skirt used to be. "Okay, I'm sure there's nothing tasty in the nets!"

Aria facepalmed. "Nata? Why are you wearing a bag?"

Placing her hands on her hips, Sonata held her head high. "I have misplaced my pants."

Aria chose to ignore the difference between skirts and pants in this exercise. "How'd ya do it this time?"

"Y'know that leaf-blower we found in a living room net about ten minutes ago? I found the off-switch, it's not blowing anymore!"

"Is it sucking things in now?"

"Maybe?"

"Ugh." She turned back to Fluttershy. "You need anything else?"

"Uhm, n-no, but..." Before going back to face Adagio, she wanted to clear her conscience. "I-I might have lied earlier, I was listening for a while." Both sirens paled, but she pressed on. "I shouldn't have eavesdropped on you like that, and I'm sorry. And, i-if you don't mind my saying so, um..." She took a deep breath, less sure how this would sound. "It's not nice to eavesdrop on anyone. I can tell I've made the two of you uncomfortable with my own wandering ears and I'm very sorry for that, but how do you think your friend would feel if she knew you had been doing the same thing to her?"

Now it was Aria and Sonata she pictured with lowered pony ears, given their expressions, though the image wasn't quite as endearing this time. Maybe she was finally building up a resistance to non-critter cuteness? She'd have to test with Wondercolt ears on someone to make sure. Would Adagio agree to wear them for her? Just for a minute?

Aria shamefully rubbed an arm. "I, yea, we'll... We talked to Sunset Shimmer about this once, Dagi apologized for secretly keeping those baby-monitor radio things in our rooms to keep tabs on us. That was just the sort of thing we said we wouldn't do to each other anymore, and here we are." She shook her head. "Anyway, yea, sorry, we'll do that, er, we'll quit doing that, I mean." Not willing to look Fluttershy in the eye, she nudged Sonata. "C'mon, let's go get some more grub in case she's hungry again later."

Feeling just as dirty, Sonata managed a tiny smile, gesturing to her waist. "Sure, I've already got the bag."

Aria slowly shook her head. "...No. Just, no." She grabbed Sonata by an arm and gently led her to what Fluttershy deeply hoped was the costume room to find something more appropriate for a supermarket.

Pleased though she was about the tiny change she'd apparently helped to cause (hopefully in herself, as well), Fluttershy took the plate up to Adagio's room, not looking forward to reporting that her nurse had failed her.

---

About twenty minutes after she'd gone, Fluttershy stepped through the door with a tan, grainy chunk and a glass of goldish liquid balanced on a plate in her hands. Her eyes were hidden behind messy hair, which would have drawn a smart remark from Adagio if not for the downcast expression on what she could see of her medic/caretaker/whatever job she was technically doing right now's face. "Sweetie? Everything alright?"

It sounded like she was about to cry. "I-I'm sorry..." Fluttershy managed to make eye-contact, her face shameful and contrite. "I, we looked, the three of us, but there was hardly anything in the kitchen." Setting the plate on what she was just going to think of as an ordinary bedside table now, she indicated what little could be scrounged up from the Dazzlings' nihilistic pantry and barren (though full-sized) refrigerator. Things didn't get much better when Sonata started looking through random nets for snacks to bring up, found a leaf blower, and couldn't find the off switch. "In terms of things that looked safe for you to eat, there was about half a loaf of what I'm pretty sure is garlic bread and most of a carton of orange juice." She managed a tiny, hopeful smile. "B-but, the second one might help a bit! I hear that experts say vitamin C doesn't really make much difference, but I know it makes me feel a little better."

Looking over the meager selection, Adagio chuckled. "Suppose this is an inevitable consequence of primarily going out to eat or ordering deliveries almost every day and night. Sorry if finding even that much was stressful for you, I'll try to keep the kitchen a little more stocked after today, alright?" She closed the statement with a little wink, which at least pulled Fluttershy the rest of the way out of her mini-depression.

Her heart-rate spiking, Fluttershy felt her face going as red as the little cross on her hat. "I-I, y-you don't have to- I mean, it's n-not like I'll be here again any time soon, s-so-"

Mischievousness was roused like a sleeping kraken, Adagio smiling with a wicked gleam in her eyes. "Are you sure? I could see you spending a lot of time here..." The only immediate reply was a squeak and a hundred-degree increase in the temperature of Fluttershy's face. The fluidity of her psychological pawing took a hit when she started coughing again, so she opted to bring this round to an early end. "If n-*koff!*-nothing else, this at least means you now know where I live. H-how do-" This coughing fit lasted a few seconds longer, but she still managed a decent smile. "...How do you like that? We're even."

Considering that Fluttershy got that cute, wide-eyed terror look, Adagio still counted this one as a win as she took a bite of the (thankfully very light) garlic bread. Crunchy! She couldn't remember if that was good or bad for bread, but ceased to care when she looked at the glass of orange juice. Sheepishly, her head lowered by about an inch as she glanced at Fluttershy. "Ehm, uh, f-for the sake of, I mean, just in case I start coughing again, um-"

Pushing old fears into the dark woods at the back of her mind, Fluttershy smiled. "Of course." She picked up the glass as Adagio hesitantly leaned back like before, gently raising it to waiting, yellow lips.

Taking a sip of orange juice for the first time within memory, Adagio immediately smiled. "Oooh, it's sweet! Tangy, too, or tingly, I don't remember the difference right now." She took another sip, smiling a little wider. "It's... it's like drinking sunlight, if that makes sense." She turned to Fluttershy, unaware that it was the bright, warm sincerity of her smile that earned her one in kind. "Thank you for this."

All but beaming, Fluttershy gave a quick nod. "I'm glad you like it!"

She didn't quite get her wish daydream random thought scenario of Adagio eating out of the palm of her hand, but holding the glass for her while she happily drank filled Fluttershy with a tingly little sense of delight. Kind of like drinking orange juice!

---

A bit later, the little meal was finished and two had gotten to talking about Monday morning, specifically Fluttershy's walk in the gym. Oddly, Adagio wasn't really poking her with that information all that much, just asking questions with her normal little smirk. "So, in imitating me, you feel just a little less afraid of the rest of the world? A little more lady-like, perhaps?"

Of course, this did nothing to prevent Fluttershy turning fluorescent pink as she sat on the (heart-shaped) bed next to her. "Th-that's the gist of it, yes..."

Adagio giggled, but her face was still just a little smug. "Hope my interruption didn't rain on that at all? Trust me when I say that keeping you from... expressing yourself-" she winked, "-is the last thing I want to do."

Fluttershy had to turn her head away and take a deep breath before her tongue would cooperate. "I, uh..." She gulped. "I-I might keep practicing, just for good measure...?"

Adagio nodded softly, her tone equally gentle. "Good. You don't have to worry about me coming in again, by the way, I picked up from the others that dropping in on you even once made waves with those friends of yours." She shrugged. "Just goes to show my caution has been well-placed."

Turning to look at her again, Fluttershy tilted her head a little. "Caution?"

Chuckling, Adagio brushed the tip of a finger under Fluttershy's chin, eliciting a shiver. "I've turned down more than a few opportunities to play with you during the day, Sweetie, because there were always witnesses at the time and I still don't want you to explode." Smirking, she leaned forward to let out a breathy whisper in her ear. "Not yet, anyw-" The line was cut off by another abrupt coughing fit, the first two breaths of which were directed into the side of Fluttershy's face, along with projectile spittle, making both rapidly jerk away. When it was done, Adagio looked mortified, hiding her face in both hands and groaning for more than just feeling sick.

Wiping her face clean, Fluttershy couldn't help giggling a little at what had just happened, but her patient seemed less amused.

"Sea spray," muttered Adagio, her face still covered and her voice muffled through her hands, "it wasn't enough that our voices were mutilated, but when I get a cold? It's mostly in the throat!"

Smiling warmly, Fluttershy put a hand on her shoulder. "I think your voice is lovely, no matter how congested it might get."

That won Adagio's full attention, making her lift her head up and stare wide-eyed. Fluttershy seemed to realize what she'd said, but to Adagio's surprise, she didn't revise, didn't re-word, didn't take back the sentiment, though she did turn red while waiting for a response. Adagio's mouth twitched, her mind wrapping itself into pretzels trying to articulate a coherent reply, her heart not doing much better as it threatened to burst from her chest despite what felt like a soft, thorny, rubbery vice squeezing it from every angle. Words, the manipulation of which was arguably her greatest talent, the means by which she formed her songs, shared thoughts and ideas, got others to see things her way, and even just messed with some heads, were failing her.

She managed something. "Could I get some more orange juice?"

Fluttershy blinked twice. "Eh? Uh, I, y-yes, okay." She stood up with the empty glass, moving toward the door.

Adagio didn't need years of experience in reading hurt, dejected expressions to know that she'd made another mistake. "Wait!" Thankfully, Fluttershy stopped. "I, I haven't heard, s-since before that night, you know, s-so it's, I mean..." She took a deep breath, opting for the simplest expression for her torrent of thoughts. "Thank you. Really."

Looking over her shoulder, Fluttershy smiled brightly. "Any time."

And then she went to fetch more orange juice, which left Adagio and the intensified workings of the fuzzy heart-vice at least a minute and a half to understand how tears and smiles could go together, even as she tried to wipe her own away. She knew Fluttershy wasn't talking about her singing voice, but somehow, it didn't make a difference to her.

---

Meanwhile, in Aisle 17 of the local grocery store, Sonata abruptly stopped pushing the cart and scowled at Aria. "Heeey, what do you mean smart move 'for me'?"

Facepalm on Aisle 17.

Author's Notes:

Alternate title: Rhymeless, Tangy, Cheer-Fluid

I don't know if alternate titles are going to be a thing now. Along with long, rambly Author's Notes!

Nihilistic Pantry sounds like a good band name. New record for chapter length, doubly so as 14, 15, and 16 are all technically supposed to be one chapter, but this isn't Fallout: Equestria. Still, I feel like this big ol' chunk of text works better as its own singular chapter, even if it ends up being the longest in the story.

The more I think about it, the more this pairing reminds me of a more flirtatious, less outright insane version of FlutterCord. Is it just me? Because I've come up with a ridiculous number of ways to say someone was really, really embarrassed.

Also, I feel like most of the time, the sirens are written as actually being pretty normal in terms of home life. Maybe they are, but I delight in writing creatures of chaos at every opportunity, and they're supposed to (I think?) come from an undersea culture anyway, so having them be not just different, but alien feels right.

On an unrelated note, is now a good time to mention that back in season 1, the thing poison joke changed about Pony!Fluttershy was her voice?

Chapter 16: Ranting, Fool's Gold, and Gigglefits

Her composure regained and another glass of orange juice downed, Adagio smiled without a trace of malevolence or smug superiority. "I think I'd have written a song about this stuff if not for the name." The smile immediately died. "And, well, you know."

Fluttershy frowned too. "I'm sorry."

Adagio didn't look at her, moving her shoulders in a quick shrug, though she didn't need a mirror to know the look on her face wasn't a friendly one. "Did I ever tell you exactly where having our gems destroyed left the three of us?" She still wasn't looking at Fluttershy, but assumed she shook her head. "I'm not entirely clear how it works, but at the right volume, the right projection, something happens with our vocal cords. When we try to sing, it sounds like-" she couldn't bring herself to say it, "-well, you remember. That isn't the only oddity all three of us have been saddled with since your spell crippled us," there was no keeping the bitterness out of her voice, but if she didn't say this now, she probably never would, "just talking loudly enough does something to us, you remember what I said about Sonata at the pep rally? How she sounded shrill and high-pitched? That wasn't just raw enthusiasm, that happens every time we shout, or scream, or yell, hiccup, sneeze, or as you may recall? If we laugh hard enough."

Dead silence. It took Adagio longer than she'd have liked to admit to work up the courage to look Fluttershy in the eye, but when she did, she saw a look she had no words for. And Adagio knew a lot of words! It wasn't quite pity, wasn't quite sadness by itself, some kind of mixture of the two, or both of those and some other feeling, but it didn't feel like she was being looked down on.

Despite dozens of thoughts swarming in her head, Fluttershy couldn't enunciate a single one of them. She knew Sunset, at the very least, used to be good with magic, and that even if she had no idea what could be done to help, Twilight would probably be able to figure something out. But if she couldn't, or just wouldn't, the thought of getting the sirens' hopes up for nothing was too painful to bear.

Perhaps even worse would be if she could just ask Twilight, if it was as simple as waving a magic wand and giving them everything they had before, dark magic and all. Would the sirens behave now? Or would they go right back to the way they used to be with a vengeance, Adagio just dropping her and-

Or, what if, even in the ideal outcome of restoring their voices without the spell power, her friends and the sirens started fighting anyway? How would everyone react? What if Fluttershy came out and said she'd been talking to one of the sirens without telling anyone, was accused of 'taking their side,' and one little spark kicked off a powder keg of hurt feelings on both sides? No matter how Fluttershy looked at it, there was so much that could go wrong that the whole situation just made her want to cry.

"I, I suppose," Adagio eventually managed, "that we should count ourselves lucky we can still speak at all, but I can't help thinking of telling someone they should be glad only one of their arms was torn off. You don't have to say anything, but, I guess, I've just been wanting to tell one of you that for a while." Her piece said, she looked Fluttershy in the watery eye and waited.

Breathing softly, Fluttershy barely whispered around the lump in her throat. "I don't know if it means anything now, but I can't apologize enough for what happened to you. I can barely imagine what it must be like to have lost something so precious," she gently took hold of one of Adagio's hands in her own, continuing when she wasn't pushed away as she feared she might be, "but please, please believe me when I say we never meant to hurt you like this. I could try to pretend it was some kind of justice, but justice is supposed to be even, and nobody else has lost anything from the battle. It isn't right, it isn't fai-"

"It never is."

The reply had been so flippant that Fluttershy felt as though she'd been slapped across the face. "...What?"

Adagio rolled her eyes, her tone almost indifferent. "Life in general? It's never fair. It's not fair that we essentially robbed those rich stiffs a while back, it's not fair that few of those rich stiffs have done anything to earn what they had in the first place, it's not fair that millions don't get to enjoy the luxury they do. I could go on, but pertaining to you and I? It's not fair that my group was permanently maimed after our confrontation while Sunset Shimmer wasn't, it's not fair that you feel like you have to try to shoulder the blame for that alone, and don't tell me you're not."

Adagio started to raise her voice as she went, but it didn't quite reach what could be called yelling at her, "It's not fair that we were banished, from our home and then from our home dimension, for doing what we were good at, it's not fair that you were bullied for something you enjoyed when you were younger to the point you effectively gave it up, and it's not fair that no matter what the three of us do, not even our lovable dope Sonata can make a single friend with which to enjoy the supposed 'magic' that comes with it in that insipid little school of yours, because despite just that? People only focus on the negative!"

She stopped to take a few breaths, her rant having been said in one or two. When Fluttershy still didn't say anything, just held her gaze, Adagio sighed. "Aria and Sonata told me about yesterday, you know. Nobody really talks to us, but they do talk, and nothing, thankfully, is wrong with my hearing. I know there are rumors about all three of us, how I in particular never do more than pester random people until they reach their limit or run away." She shrugged. "I won't pretend I don't do that, but have you heard the ones about how I always tried normal conversation before screwing with them?"

Fluttershy shook her head, her face mostly passive.

"No? Of course not. I tried to behave when introducing myself to people, but it was never long before I proved to be too much for them, and after a while, almost everyone just assumed that even my attempts at casual small-talk must have been some kind of trick, a conversational trap to embarrass them. All anyone notices, all anyone remembers, is that which hurts and irritates them, and it's a wonder that was our power supply for so long? Do you think we never tried to be good before? I guarantee you that if Equestria remembers the three of us at all, the phase in which we sang simply to lure people away from our home doesn't come up." She shook her head, as if to dislodge the memories. "I got tired of it, people that recognize me assume I'm there to bother them right away, and if that's what they want, that's what they'll get."

At last, Fluttershy spoke. "They know the words, but don't sing along?"

Adagio blinked twice, the words tickling her memory and eliciting a tiny smirk, which got Fluttershy to smile a little too. "Right. Actually, I heard about Twilight Sparkle's little song in the cafeteria, before the Fall Formal, how everyone joined in and took up her two-faced mantra." Little twitches in Fluttershy's face said she took at least a modicum of offense, but she wasn't saying anything about it. "'Magic of friendship,' right? Then where was it for those that sought it out, those that practically begged for it? How many people actually took that message to heart? Sunset told us all about how she was treated, and you and I both know how easily the three of us tore your supposedly united school apart. No one outside your group learned anything from dealing with Sunset Shimmer, your so-called 'unity' amounts to a population that revels in victories won entirely by someone else, possibly barring Vinyl Scratch, but ask them to stand up and show the same spirit on their own?" She shook her head, teeth clenched. "It all dries up, no hint of anything that came up in your songs, that's all just someone else's mess to sort out, because they can't see past the negative that we pull kicking and screaming to the surface, that shows everyone just how ugly they can really be deep down. That's Twilight Sparkle's legacy; a sick joke played on an unwitting populace by a brain-washing musician." Adagio gestured to herself. "Sound familiar?"

Fluttershy held her gaze for a long minute, frowning. "Do you really believe all of that?"

Adagio crossed her arms, glaring. "Shouldn't I? Was anything I said less than the truth?"

"...I think so." To her slight surprise, Adagio's glare didn't magnify, but became a slightly irritable version of the curious face, which urged her to go on. "You said nobody ever sees past the negative, that no one you talk to remembers more than your teasing, right?" She took a deep breath, her heart beating faster as she forced the words. "If that's the case, what do we have?"

Staring back at her wide-eyed, Adagio slowly opened her mouth, then closed it again. She looked away, Fluttershy giving her a minute to think. Taking a long moment to reflect on all of her interactions with Fluttershy since they met (well, in person, one-on-one), she saw the hole in her reasoning, starting to smile. "You... You remember more than torment, don't you?"

Fluttershy smiled too. "I do, and you really aren't so bad. I remember that when you first approached me on the bench, you startled me, but only by accident, and that you didn't tease me at all right away." She giggled a little. "I thought it was strange, that I could be the only one you didn't play with to start, but that was never the whole story. All this time, you've tried to talk to people normally, but what people talk about is-"

"-is that which bothered them... myself included." Shrugging somewhat guiltily, Adagio made a sheepish little smile. "I've spent more than a few hours pondering our collective standing with the student body, and the way you respond to me didn't come up even once. Sorry about that, but I never said I was any better." Fluttershy just kept her cheerful expression, doing that wrong-response-she-was-weirdly-fine-with thing again. "Well, I haven't really bothered to play nice in the last week or two, everyone kind of knows me by now, but now that I think about it, you are an exception to the rule, and I've been more vicious with you than anyone."

The smile grew stronger. "And if at least one person can look past 'the negative'...?"

Adagio didn't answer the unfinished question, but she smiled too. "Friendship?"

Blink. "Huh?"

"You asked what we have," Adagio started to blush, twirling a lock of poofy hair around a finger, "and, I think, i-if you really don't mind everything I put you through, then-"

Reaching out to rest a hand on her shoulder, Fluttershy smiled warmly, turning rosy herself at the contact. "I don't mind at all."

Independent of the fever, the heat in Adagio's face intensified, bringing with it a nervous little smile. "Th-then, I, uh..." She managed a shrug, working some measure of cool aloofness back into her voice. "I don't mind a kiss."

And then Fluttershy went hot enough to roast marshmallows by dangling them in front of her nose. "W-WHAT?!" Then it hit her. "Oh, th-the, f-from when, I-I, and, uhm..."

Adagio nodded. "Maybe not right now, don't want you re-catching your own cold again if you haven't already, but..." She seemed to take interest in the ceiling for a moment. "It just, caught me off-guard the first time. But," hesitantly looking back at Fluttershy, her grin and her blush were renewed. "that I can do that at all, that I can relax around you, th-that alone is-" giggling, she shook her head, an awkward sort of smile plastered on her face, "is it bad?"

Fluttershy smiled too. "I d-don't think so."

Sitting close together, the two locked eyes, grinning warmly as Adagio reached out to hug her newest friend in such a way that allowed her to immediately return it. They stayed that way until Fluttershy felt a hand somewhere you're not supposed to touch during a hug, which made her squeak and quickly pull away, red in the face with her own hands protectively over her posterior. "ADAGIO!!"

Confused, Adagio gave her an innocent little head-tilt. "What? I thought you were about to do the same thing."

"W-why would I be t-t-t-touching your b-b-b...b..."

There was a relaxed smirk. "My what? Can't quite hear you, Sweetie."

"Y-your, b-b-b-" she gulped, worried she might soon need the fire extinguisher out in the hall, "b-back of your pants!"

Adagio chuckled, wiggling her hips. "I can give you a lot of good rea-" The mood was killed by another lasting, poorly-timed coughing fit. At least she knew it meant she wasn't into being choked. Clearing her throat, she could at least appreciate that Fluttershy was no less red than a minute ago. "But, really," she said with a straight face, "in the context of hugging, it occurred to me that the embrace is a thing done for warmth and softness, no?" Still looking a little like a stop light, Fluttershy nodded. "Right. So what part of the body is warmer and softer than the behind, for most people?"

Fluttershy's jaw dropped, both for the perverted reasoning... and because she couldn't immediately refute it. Luckily, Adagio apparently wasn't just looking for an excuse to feel her up, because she waited the two and a half minutes it took for Fluttershy to get her thoughts together. "Uhm, w-well, I-I guess that's n-not exactly untrue, b-but, it's, I-I mean, th-that place is considered, a-and, t-touching it is, uh-"

"Akin to touching these?" Adagio had, with a completely normal expression, undone the top few buttons of her shirt. When she started to pull the fabric apart to show more of her chest, Fluttershy turned away like one of the vampires she'd read about in the face of a sunlit window. Fitting, because she felt like she, too, was about to burst into flames.

"Y-YES, th-those parts of your body are, uh-" She felt a gentle, and hopefully chaste, hand on her shoulder, making her turn back to see Adagio frowning.

"Sorry. I'll keep working on it."

Staring at her for a long moment, Fluttershy managed a slightly exasperated smile. "Okay, then. You were coughing again, how are you feeling?"

Adagio shrugged. "I think I'll be alright, but I'm a little tired. I, uh," She looked away, unintentionally sealing a new expression in Fluttershy's memory as she lightly worried her lower lip while twirling a lock of orange around a finger. Fluttershy would think of this one as her bashful face. "I was thinking," she said in a whisper, "do you think you could, just for a minute or two, help me get to sleep?"

Fluttershy hadn't even recovered from the blush of a minute ago, but she was still supposed to be a nurse right now. "What, um... w-what do you need?"

"Well, I mean, if at least one of us can still sing..." She earnestly tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice, "it would be a shame never to use that gift, don't you think?"

Her heart swelled. That any of the Dazzlings could ask any of her group to sing for them, to sing to them, was by itself some kind of miracle. That it was Adagio asking her was almost more than Fluttershy could process, tears welling in her eyes as she smiled brighter than any time in recent memory. "I'd love to!"

---

A little later, Fluttershy sat on the edge of Adagio's bed, the room silent as she watched the sleeping siren. Her smiling face was so serene, so angelic and peaceful, that it made her want to take a picture, add a caption to it, and find a way to post a big, five-hundred-foot-tall version of the image to a skyscraper somewhere so that everyone could look up and see 'There IS good in the world!'

She may have been biased by fondness for this particular sleeping angel, but she could hardly even think of her as the same girl that had once tried to enslave the world with dark magic. Leaning closer, Fluttershy brushed her own hair back so as not to risk it getting in the way of what she was about to do.

"Good night," she whispered by Adagio's ear, "and sweet dreams!" Before she could have second thoughts, she leaned in a little closer and gave Adagio a quick peck on the cheek, pulling away before she could linger long enough to do more than that. Adagio didn't seem to respond to the instant of contact while Fluttershy was waiting for her own heartbeat to return to a steady rhythm, though watching her enjoy restful sleep certainly helped. It also made Fluttershy feel a little teeny bit like a total weirdo, since it looked like all Adagio needed right then was sleep, and that meant it was time to go. Silently getting up, she tip-toed to the door, gently cracked it open, gave Adagio's sleeping form one last, lingering smile, and went out, quietly closing the door behind her.

On her way down the stairs, Fluttershy got an eerie sense of foreboding, like something was enclosing on her posi-

Sonata, her skirt regained, appeared out of nowhere and grabbed her by the shoulders the instant her foot touched the bottom step, her face anxious as she rapidly shook her captive. "How is she, how is she, HOW IS SHE?!"

Eyes rolling around in their sockets, Fluttershy's world was a blur, though she did make out Aria chuckling from somewhere nearby.

"She can't talk if you shake her, remember?"

Sonata sighed, but didn't lose the note of desperation as she let Fluttershy go. "C'mon, Dr. Seuss, give us the news!"

Shaking off the vertigo, Fluttershy smiled. "She'll be okay, but she's resting now, so please try to be quie-SQUEAK!" She was immediately picked up by Sonata in a bear-hug, getting squeezed and shaken again.

"Ohh, thankyouthankyouthankyou!! We thought Dagi was gonna die or something, but now she's not! At least not from being sick!"

"You're, welcome," wheezed the human stress ball, who caught sight of Aria with her arms crossed and a little smirk on her face.

"Put her down, Nata, we'll need her alive if Dagi gets sick again."

"Oh, right!" Sonata quickly released her, smiling apologetically. "Sorry about that. And the leaf-blower thing!"

Aria nodded a little. "And really, thanks for looking after her. It's usually her that takes care of us around flu season, so we've never really had to worry about this kinda thing."

Touched, Fluttershy smiled. "I was happy to help."

They said their goodbyes and she headed out, but the clack of her white heels on the pavement woke her up to something that had slipped her mind, making her sprint back to the door and rapidly knock on it, but hopefully not loudly enough to wake Adagio upstairs. "Wait, please, open the door!!" By the time they did, Fluttershy was beet-red, holding the nurse hat in both hands. "C-could I have my normal clothes back, please?"

Aria gave Sonata a deadpan stare, getting a sheepish smile in return as Sonata closed one eye, rapped a fist against that side of her head, and stuck her tongue out one side of her mouth in a 'silly-me' gesture.

---

That night, Fluttershy lay sprawled out on her bed, her diary resting on her stomach and her hand stinging with writer's cramp. Today had been very, very eventful, but her thoughts returned for an eighth or ninth time to that which she'd denied herself the very realization of when going into Adagio's room:

I was in Adagio's bedroom. Just me. And her. And me. In a fetish outfit.

A very tame version of a fetish outfit, perhaps, but the thought was still like a thick layer of hot sauce on her face now. That was okay, though, because if she'd let it in while she was there, she was sure she'd have fallen apart. Not helping at all was the memory of a firm, wandering hand.

And, while she was still awake, if I had... kissed her... in her room... on her bed... just the two of us...

She thought about it so hard her vision was starting to go blurry. Well, she thought, giving her right hand an experimental flex and finding that moving her fingers still hurt, I guess I can try writing left-handed for a while...

---

Wednesday morning, Fluttershy sat on the bench feeling just a little groggy, but at least she managed to get all of her thoughts to paper the night before. Finishing a yawn, she opened her eyes to see Adagio, standing in front of the bench and smiling warmly at her, a tiny hint of color to her cheeks that almost completely offset the dark eyeliner.

She spoke gently, one hand on her hip. "Good morning, Sweetie."

Fluttershy smiled too. "Good morning. Are you feeling better?"

Adagio nodded, taking two steps to the side and facing away from her. "I am. Thank you."

And then she stood still, not saying another word, her back to Fluttershy. A sudden sense of tension was making her uneasy, like Adagio had some kind of bad news she needed to share, but couldn't find the words for. Before she could work up the courage to ask if something was wrong, Adagio's head flicked to the left and right, quickly scanning the area before she looked at the bench. Hesitantly, she sat down next to Fluttershy, her face bearing a look of caution as she continued to glance around.

Looking at her, Fluttershy frowned. She knew that look, she'd made it herself a thousand times. It was a look that said she was expecting someone to come and tell her that she shouldn't be there, that she was doing something wrong and should just save everyone the trouble and leave before she made things worse.

Fluttershy hated that feeling, and everything that came with it.

Some kind of defiance bubbling up in her head, she reached out to rest a hand on Adagio's wrist, thinking of every time the siren had ever genuinely smiled at her to make one of her own. She didn't speak, but hoped her expression would be enough to say 'I'm glad you're here.'

By the look on Adagio's face, surprise slowly shifting to what might have been warm gratitude, maybe it was. "You know," she started, "The first time I saw you was that day in the cafeteria, but I don't think we've ever been formally introduced." She held out a hand, something from the back of Fluttershy's brain telling her she was supposed to kiss it. "I'm Adagio Dazzle, pleased to make your acquaintance."

Tilting her head, Fluttershy couldn't help giggling a little. "Isn't this kind of silly after a few weeks of knowing each other?"

Adagio's smile didn't change in the slightest. "Yes. Now do it."

Fluttershy laughed a little harder. "Okay!" She took Adagio's hand. "I-I'm Fluttershy, and it's nice to meet you too."

Grinning a little wider, Adagio started to giggle as well. "Charmed!" As they shook hands, she smirked. "I'm still going to call you 'Sweetie,' you know."

'Sweetie's' smile had only gotten stronger. "That's okay with me."

They maintained eye-contact, Adagio starting to snicker, Fluttershy trying not to laugh, both getting steadily louder. A few seconds later, they were both laughing, faces tinting red at the senseless little exchange, but at least they could say they'd formally met now.

When the two had caught their breaths, Fluttershy was still smiling. "Have you ever had chocolate coins?"

Adagio blinked, completely lost. "Have I...? What?"

Giggling again, Fluttershy reached into her bag to retrieve the day's treat. "Ordinary chocolate encased in gold-colored foil, try one!"

Taking one of the offered doubloons, Adagio eyed the thing carefully with the assumption that the aforementioned foil was not to be ingested. She glanced at Fluttershy, who was unwrapping one herself starting with little folds on the sides, and mimicked her action. Unveiling enough of the substance to take a bite, she chuckled. "Chocolate money? Isn't that a little bizarre even for candy? I can even see the effort of carving them to look like real coins was employed."

Fluttershy nodded, her smile no weaker. "Yes, but I think that's part of the charm! They're silly, but fun, like edible pirate treasure!"

Lacking meaningful commentary on the constitution of chocolate, Adagio instead turned her attention to her new friend, smirking a little. "Did that come up in those stories you read? Digestible currency?"

"N-no," she answered with a giggle, "but it's fun to imagine."

The two of them downed another coin each before Adagio spoke up. "You can do more than imagine, you know." This got her a confused look. "I mean, I suppose back then, imagination was the most you could apply to those tales, but look at who you're talking to now. I, Aria, Sonata, and likely Sunset Shimmer all lived among lifeforms you probably won't find in this world, learned about some of them first-hand." She shrugged a little. "If you wanted to know more about any given species, I could at least take a stab at it."

Taking a moment to ponder the possibilities, Fluttershy hesitantly smiled. "Did... d-did you ever meet a huge, three-headed doggie?"

Adagio's sinister smirk returned, but there was a twinkle of amusement in her eyes that kept the look from being threatening. "Yes, actually. Funny story..."

Author's Notes:

The given lullaby isn't quite what Fluttershy sang for her, but I think it gets the idea across.

So that's the Sick Episode! 16,000+ words in total. I started on it some time last week. Now remember the days when I thought I'd be keeping all of these chapters under 3k words and join me in screaming at the sky. :derpytongue2::twilightangry2::flutterrage::rainbowwild::duck::pinkiecrazy::applejackconfused::eeyup:

The end here is a fade-out, not a cliff hanger, but this is the end of the sick chapters. Next time, a day through the eyes of our favorite walking cream-puff!

Chapter 17: Innuendo-Inducing Crunch Orbs

Thursday morning, Fluttershy sat in her usual spot without a hint of fear or anxiety, not even the normal kinds! Memories of chocolate coins and Adagio's account of the time her group met Cerberus, the massive, three-headed guard-puppy, had kept her smiling through most of yesterday, even after Adagio made a suggestive comment involving Fluttershy trying to use the chocolate coins to 'bribe' her way into her bedroom again! With the context that chocolate could be considered an aphrodisiac, of course. Anyway, she wasn't afraid, and even if her heart beat a little faster, she looked around with her head held high and a smile on her face for any sign of her favorite, fuzzy, huggable, fantasy-world girl!

Thinking about Adagio's efforts at hugging, however, brought a dampening realization; for all the time they'd spent together, Fluttershy still felt like she barely understood her. She was still puzzled as to how Adagio's mind worked, how she felt about things, what the world looked like through the eyes of a girl from a real fantasy-world. Well, Sunset Shimmer was technically a fantasy-world girl too, but she was pretty normal when you got to know her. Maybe the sirens were too?

The painted rooms.

Maybe it was just a one-time experiment in home decorating?

The nets on the walls.

They had a perfectly understandable reason for that!

The hammocks in the corners of the ceiling.

Well, okay, maybe I didn't actually get around to learning what those were for, but-

Sawdust.

...

Normal people did not want to make fires in their own homes bigger. So, no, maybe the sirens weren't normal, but Pinkie Pie was living proof that that was okay! Still, she'd have loved to get to know Adagio a little better. Realizing what those words meant in the context of her crush sent her head straight to the clouds like an overheated balloon. Then the bubble was burst by a heavenly voice.

"-tie? I didn't know you were the type to sit naked in public."

"W-W-WHAT?!" Fluttershy (already florescent pink at the time) immediately moved to cover herself with her arms, only to find that she was fully clothed. Blinking twice, she turned to see Adagio dressed in her dance outfit, sitting next to her with one hand over her mouth and snickering. Despite feeling like a dope for falling for that, she couldn't help joining in with giggles of her own. "You got me."

Reclining on the bench, Adagio grinned and gave her hair a haughty toss. "Don't I always? And, just in case you didn't hear it the third time, good morning, Sweetie."

'Third?' Fluttershy smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, again."

"It's fine," she said with a chuckle, "anything that gives me more opportunity to play with you is more than tolerable." Fluttershy had been blushing since Adagio arrived, but that didn't stop it from growing just a little brighter. Along with that happy, Magic of Friendship™ smile only her favorite chew toy newest friend seemed to have. She just kept staring like that, an unplaceable look in her eyes that sent electric eels through Adagio's stomach, drawing a more awkward grin than she'd intended to show. "So, uh-"

Fluttershy snapped awake, quickly reaching into her bag. "T-today I brought malt balls!"

She produced a little bag of what appeared to be chocolate orbs, presenting it to Adagio in that holding-it-up-in-both-hands way she did sometimes, as though offering tribute to some kind of deity. Appreciating such a sight directed exclusively at herself was almost a guilty pleasure for Adagio at this point, waiting until the last fraction of a second before silence became awkwardness or confusion to reply. She reached into the bag to seize one of the spheres between two fingers. "Is malt another word for chocolate?"

Giggling, Fluttershy shook her head. "No, it, well, see for yourself!" She popped a ball into her mouth, waiting in quiet anticipation as Adagio did the same. Oddly, she saw the bulge of the candy in Adagio's cheek, but she didn't seem to be chewing it at all.

Adagio looked back at her passively. "How long do these take to kick in? It definitely tastes like the coins, but nothing special so far." She would have made reference to yesterday's volley of comments, but that felt entirely too predictable.

"Uhm," the sweetest Rainboom offered with a little smile, "well, y-you're actually supposed to chew on these."

Raising an eyebrow, Adagio tested the malt ball with her tongue, finding it to be hard and dense. "It's a ball. Aren't you supposed to suck on balls?" She realized her word choice a second too late to prevent Fluttershy turning red, gasping, and immediately choking and coughing up bits of chocolate. She frowned, both because the choking reaction always looked painful (she could definitely sympathize), and because even if it had been deliberate, she hadn't worded the sentiment more elegantly than one of the freshmen boys she'd overheard a few times before. Adagio Dazzle was classier than that, dammit! "Sorry, Sweetie."

Clearing her windpipe, Fluttershy still managed to smile. "It's okay. If anything, I'm just too-" she stopped, Adagio was giving her a sad look that jogged her memory. "Oh! I mean..." She glanced away for a second, focusing her thoughts marginally easier when not looking someone in the eye. "I mean... That took me by surprise, but please don't worry about it."

Adagio grinned a little. Ordinarily, she might have commented on Fluttershy getting taken by surprise, but she felt like she was already pushing it this morning. Instead, she opted to bite down on the partly-melted chocolate ball in her mouth, immediately feeling a crunch and tasting a hint of a strange flavor. "They're... almost like cold sau-err, minty on the inside. It makes the chocolate seem maybe a few degrees cooler, which makes for an interesting little change of taste."

She stopped to look at Fluttershy, who was wearing that one particular grin she got whenever Adagio sampled food from her. Was it just the good, giving, chaos-killer spirit of generosity that made her happy to share things? Adagio wasn't sure, but it was a cute expression anyway, and one that meant Fluttershy wasn't annoyed with her at that moment. She reached into the bag, popped another into her mouth, bit down right away this time, and smiled. "They really make a satisfying crunch when broken, like someone's will breaking with the crack of a whip!"

Luckily, this one only made Fluttershy turn red and sputter for a few seconds. "W-whip?!"

Smirking a little, Adagio pantomimed swinging the tool in one hand. "For recreational purposes, of course. It is a little rough, though, not your cup of tea?" She just chuckled as Fluttershy rapidly shook her steaming little head. "Fine, fine, everyone has their own tastes..." The quick movement of her tongue to polish her lips may have helped send a subliminal message. "But if you ever change your mind, that door is always open."

Adagio could see that Fluttershy was beginning to perspire, but she still managed to look perfectly happy, even if she sounded a little nervous. "I-I see... Th-thank you for the invitation?"

As ever, Adagio just kept a relaxed smirk as she stood up from the bench. "Any time. See you arou-"

"Wait!"

She turned and was immediately startled by Fluttershy standing up with her, leaning in very, very close, and pecking her on the cheek.

Fluttershy could have sworn she heard the tiniest squeak, but couldn't be sure it didn't come from her own mouth. Now both of them were scarlet, Fluttershy starting to lose her nerve as Adagio stared back at her, wide-eyed.

"Y-you said," stuttered Fluttershy, fidgeting where she stood, "you said a k-k-kiss was okay, s-so-"

Adagio regained a confident stance and expression, though her face was still all aglow. "Right, it is!" Quickly, she grabbed Fluttershy's head pulled her in close to kiss her on the cheek, then immediately did it again on the other side. Her hands felt toasty until she let go. "See? No problem."

Fluttershy was a bright, blushing, babbling wreck, teetering back and forth on her feet like a dazed, smiling drunkard.

"Okay," Adagio muttered with a giggle even as her own cheeks continued to burn, "small problem. Why don't I just...?" Gently, she held Fluttershy by the shoulders and slooowly sat her back down on the bench, meeting no resistance. Leaving off with a kiss on the forehead felt like the obvious choice here, but she was definitely pushing her luck as it was. It looked like the girl was about to faint! Stepping back, she appreciated the sight just the same, unable to resist leaning forward a little to wink at her.

"See you around, Sweetie!"

She took it as a good sign that Fluttershy had already recovered enough to say something back, her big, silly grin unchanged. "S-see you soon..."

Chuckling, Adagio turned and walked away, keeping a leisurely pace until she was well out of Fluttershy's sight, then quickly and quietly (she had long ago mastered keeping her heels from clacking when she didn't want them to) moving the long way around the school to reach the gym door and slip into the building. Within a minute, she was on the upper floor of the library, the immediate area only dimly lit by thin streams of sunlight piercing the roof-window at this hour. She paced to the area right around where she first found Fluttershy cowering in fear, the day after she'd run away from her, after the admittedly vicious teasing by the statue in front of the school.

That was the only time, wasn't it? She sat on the floor by a bookshelf, obscured from the center of the room. She was likely trying to hide here, but I don't recall another instance in which she outright fled from me.

This morning felt kind of close, but she kept to Fluttershy's own rules. That seemed to work so far, at least better than pure trial and error to find out where the limits were. Speaking of limits, she touched a hand to the cheek Fluttershy had kissed. Again.

This is ridiculous, she thought while curling up where she sat and resting her forehead on her knees, I've proposed much more intimate actions to complete strangers, and just this has me all...

"Urgh!"

For a few seconds, her echoing exasperation was the only sound in the library, which swiftly returned to silence.

She'd had admirers before, and while the lover count was lower than some might have guessed, Adagio Dazzle had been kissed before. Most of all on her boots, by adoring fans, but she had known gestures of affection! That knowledge did nothing to dissuade the fuzzy heart-vice and all it's soft, horrific squeeziness, nestled smugly in her chest even now. Sitting where she was in the library, Adagio at least had plenty of time to calm down and get her head on straight before facing the day.

Maybe it's because Fluttershy isn't just another groupie? She'd be adorable jumping up and down squealing my name from the front rows, but she's adorable doing pretty much anything else, too.

Fluttershy was different, because without a doubt, she liked Adagio for more than her musical talents. Part of which she helped to destroy. The fact that it wasn't all her made it easy not to bear a personal grudge, along with that whole powerless-to-do-anything-about-it, no-point-even-if-they did bit. Something in all of that, she was sure, had to explain why her kisses got Adagio's heart pumping as though she were doing something much more involving, something Fluttershy hadn't yet signaled that she wasn't afraid to do. She surely wasn't afraid of kisses, at least not on the cheek, because she hadn't run away this time.

Which was good! She'd been tormenting the girl for weeks and she still kept showing up at the same spot, as though nothing in the world was wrong. Adagio herself could barely imagine willingly returning to be humiliated day after day, but she knew there was a little more to their situation than that. Maybe because she only (deliberately) flustered her in private, away from witnesses that would point and laugh at her?

How did it start? Adagio found the girl alone one morning, had a short, silly misunderstanding, didn't bother with introductions (poor manners in hindsight, but she'd since remedied this), had a little fun at her expense, and walked away. The next time they met, Fluttershy offered her the mint-hook on her own.

Perhaps theirs was a symbiotic relationship, Adagio getting a kick out of the expressions Fluttershy made when she was teased, Fluttershy getting whatever feeling came with that I-just-shared-something face she made whenever Adagio sampled her wares?

That doesn't quite cover it either...

She heard Fluttershy's voice in her head.

"If that's the case, what do we have?"

She answered with 'friendship,' but this wasn't like what she had with Aria and Sonata, nor, she was sure, what Fluttershy had with her own friends. Maybe because none of those relationships were secret? That surely had an effect. That in mind, this morning went well! Fluttershy made the shocked, choking reaction, but she didn't get angry about it, and more importantly, she didn't run away. She still wished she knew a way to tell if something she was about to say went too far or not, but not even the gems could have granted her that. Adagio sighed.

Guess there's nothing for it. Teachers should be coming into the building here soon, may as well start the game.

There was maybe a twenty minute period every weekday in which the school staff would be preparing themselves for the day before students flooded in and the entire building emitted that noise that-bell, it was called the 'bell'. If that obnoxious noise constituted a bell ringing, she liked to think she could still pass for an opera singer. Anyway, since the first time she'd decided to sneak around the school to privately spite Luna, Adagio developed a little game of slinking through the lesser-lit areas, around corners, on ceilings (why nobody ever thought to look up in this world, she'd never know), and right behind people until it was time to start classes. Knowing where all the cameras were had made things a little too easy, so she started to swipe random items unseen and replace them somewhere nearby. Score was determined by reactions of those she was toying with.

Scratching their head was worth one point.

Doing a double-take was worth two points.

Muttering in confusion was worth three points.

Looking around as though they thought the school was haunted was worth four points.

And of course, swearing incoherently was worth five points.

She got twenty-three points today! Coach Iron Will could really stand to control his temper.

---

The first class period of the day was never much fun. The material was dull and the only person that would even talk to Adagio was Flash Sentry, who, while a handsome fellow, was likely the dullest, driest, least entertaining person in this school. At least Mr. Doodle got annoyed when she called him by name or offered tips regarding his wig. That she was seated right next to Twilight Sparkle's boy-toy felt like an incredibly lucky break her first day here, but now she understood it to be some form of cosmic mockery. He hadn't even turned his head when she was in nothing but a bathrobe! Still, in the last ten minutes of class, when the teacher entirely stopped giving a damn and left everyone to do busywork until the bell rang, she had nothing better to do than try again, leaning over a little to whisper to him.

"Good morning, Flash."

As usual, he paused in his classwork and looked at her with an ordinary smile. "Good morning, Adagio."

"You know," she said with just a mildly suggestive tone, "it occurs to me, in the quiet part of class, hardly anyone is paying attention to anything but what they're doing."

"That they are, it's a good time to focus on getting work done."

It was true, nobody so much as turned their head for anything quieter than a book falling off a desk or something, all writing or reading or texting or holding their own quiet conversations. Adagio propped her head up on one arm, her eyes half-lidded. "That in mind, it seems to me that someone could do all kinds of things unnoticed if they were quiet, maybe even under a couple of desks?"

"I guess so," he said without a hint of comprehension.

Adagio just held her playful smirk, as though the boy weren't denser than a diamond mine. "If they were really careful, they might even be able to do something during lecture, don't you think?"

He glanced away as though seriously contemplating the validity of the idea. "Yea, I guess."

Her expression unchanged, she looked Flash dead in the eye, carefully scanning his face for the slightest twitch or muscle movement to indicate that he was getting the message. None. Same as ever. Letting out a silent sigh, she lightly shook her head. "That's all I wanted to say."

Flash nodded, getting right back to work. "Okay."

Adagio took solace in the fact that if Twilight Sparkle ever wanted to bed this boy, she'd likely have to either tie him to one and throw herself at him, or be very, very patient. Like Fluttershy! As much as Adagio liked to tease her for having stray thoughts, she was always a good girl, always kind and gentle with Adagio no matter what she'd done to her just minutes before, always at least trying to offer a peaceful smile, always a big, soft pillow to lean on without mocking those leaning on her for being weak, all without even charging for her time! She was very patient, which was something Adagio really needed to pay her back for.

Ooh, idea. Maybe I could...?

Well, they had talked about being patient before, right? How she -what was it?- acted that way because someone had to? Because she wanted to be an example? Adagio grinned in her usual fashion, unaware of the chills this sent through some of her classmates. If Fluttershy wanted to change the world by being a good example, maybe it was time that actually started working out for her...

---

Slowly pacing through the hallway, Adagio kept an eye out for chances to be patient, slowly scanning everything in front of her with a little smile playing on her features. Nothing was really jumping out at her, but that was fine. She would just have to be patient! It was possible her efforts were already being noticed, the way she was getting stared at more than usual. And not just from behind! She couldn't help chuckling at the thought, her grin only getting wider as some students rapidly turned their heads to focus on anything but her.

Go ahead and stare, kiddies, you'll only be left wanting more.

She never needed to turn around to know some people were happier than others to watch her go, even if her hair kept them from seeing much at that angle anyway. That she appeared in this world with a means of constant teasing attached to her head, while aggravating to deal with itself for the first week or three, had proven a fun blessing. Her hair had turned out to be like wearing a micro mini-skirt over her behind at all times, just barely concealing her enough that people might not have realized right away that the best they could hope for was to catch sight of her curves through her pants or jumpsuit anyway. It was a built-in teasing double-whammy, like Rainbow Dash wearing shorts under her skirt, thus denying the possibility of gratification for wandering eyes.

Unless those shorts are counted as underwear. In that case, is it modesty or exhibitionism? I feel like I should know this...

Maybe Fluttershy could tell her? Now there was a fun thought, the mental image of how she might react to the question drawing a low chuckle from Adagio as she prowled the hall on the way to her next class. That might have been an unusual action, judging by the people turning away, covering their ears, or whispering silent prayers as she passed them by.

---

With history class ended, Adagio had an idea. She was the first one to the door, so she grabbed the handle, pulled it open, and stepped aside, holding it so that everyone else could pass through. The other students, Trixie in particular, stopped and stared as though the doorway had suddenly become a sea serpent's mouth.

"Please," Adagio purred while gesturing to the door, a friendly smile on her face, "after you."

A few people looked like they were considering window escapes, but the room was on the second floor. Hesitantly, a few people inched toward the door, but most of them were held back by considerably more worried friends.

Adagio didn't let her annoyance show on her face.

Oh, for goodness sake, you'd think they couldn't trust me to hold a door open for them! It's not like I had time to rig a trap or something, and they'd have had to see me do it anyway.

She didn't say anything about it, though, just kept waiting. Patiently. It helped that she honestly didn't care if she was late to her next class, or that she might have even favored such a thing.

"Welp," announced crazy old Ms. Inkwell, putting on a football helmet, "what're we waitin' fer?" She drew a grappling hook from a drawer in her desk, spun it in the air a few times,

THUNK!

hooked it into a ceiling tile, "THE WAY IS OPEN!!" and swung through the doorway, gone for parts unknown.

Adagio, not blinking through any of that, maintained her After You pose, patiently waiting for everyone else to leave too. That almost everyone was still looking at her in surprise irritated her considerably, but her patience was rewarded (Yay!) when the braver among those present slowly followed Inkwell's example, albeit without aid from a grappling hook. She didn't say a word, didn't move a muscle as everyone filed out, though Trixie stopped at the doorway.

"You're not fooling anyone, you know," she said with a challenging smirk, "everyone knows what you're really like and no amount of open doors is gonna change that."

Adagio just smiled in her usual way. "Thank you so much for believing in me, Silver."

Trixie sputtered. "Wha-?! I-I just said-! Trixie does not believe in you at all, and she has told you before to address her as-" there came the usual drama club extended-arm gesture, "-the Great and Powerful Trrrrrixie!"

"I'm sorry, Silver," Adagio said while brushing her hair away from one ear, "I didn't quite catch that, could you run it by me again?"

The amateur magician scowled. "Trixie said-" she leaned in a little closer, Adagio startling her by quickly leaning closer at the same time, their noses barely an inch apart as Trixie tinted red. "Eh, uh, I, uh-"

Fixing her with a half-lidded stare, Adagio made sure every syllable dripped with passion. "What's the matter? Do I make you uncomfortable, dear?"

"N-n-no," she replied through chattering teeth, her eyes wide and not entirely fearful, "T-Trixie is not even the t-tiniest bit uncomfortable, no matter how c-close someone stands to her," her voice dropped to a whisper, "nearly breathing on her neck, t-temptingly soft hair so close she could-" She stopped, looking around to see students out in the hall waiting to get into the classroom she and Adagio were blocking entry to with their little episode. They were looking at Trixie and whispering to each other. Staring. Judging.

Trixie drew a smoke-bomb from her shirt and detonated it immediately. Adagio just walked out into the hall through the lilac-scented smoke, appreciating the ambient effect Trixie had given her before smirking, striking a sultry pose, and beginning the walk to her next class.

When the smoke cleared, Pinkie Pie gasped from the hallway. "She's gone!!" Then she peeked around a corner. "No, wait, there she is."

---

By the time she'd finished playing with Trixie (for now), the halls were nearly empty and class was due to start any minute. This did nothing to increase Adagio's pace, as it was a class she was even less enthusiastic about than most. The calculations were fine and all, but it was her classmates that bothered her. Specifically, one classmate, one of few students that made a point of greeting her at almost every opportunity, and a rarer one still in being perhaps the only one in the building she really didn't want to talk to:

Sunset Shimmer.

It wasn't that Sunset didn't continue to be nice girl when her friends weren't watching, but if anything, maybe that was the problem. She'd give Adagio a friendly smile, ask how she was doing that day, and Adagio would answer not unlike Flash Sentry did when she asked him similar questions. It wouldn't be surprising if Flash was just hoping she'd leave him alone, too.

Speaking of, I probably should have tried the door thing first period.

People in this realm, ordinary beings, were slow to accept change, it seemed. New and unusual were treated with fear and suspicion, no matter their intentions. Inkwell's oddities didn't seem to bother anyone, presumably because they were just used to her doing that kind of thing, but when someone else comes along and draws out the entire floor-plan of an undersea city on the chalk-board, it's 'strange' and 'freaky!'

"And together, we will never be afraid of the dark," eh, Twilight Sparkle? I wish you could see your false-faced followers now. Bet Flash would have gone through the door no problem, setting a precedent for the others right away instead of that long, awkward, suspicious waiting period.

It was while trying to remember if she had any other classes with Flash that day that Adagio saw something out of the corner of her eye. Something interesting. She stopped, turning to look into the doorway wide-eyed.

Is that a...? In a school? Oh, my...

She could see the instructor writing notes on the board, so this was almost certainly a formal class. Intrigued, she found herself grinning with delight, walking in to investigate...

---

Vice Principal Luna sat at the desk in her office, glaring at the trouble-maker sitting across from her. "Look," she said in a stern tone, "I have told you countless times, and I will tell you as many more as is necessary that-" Sighing, she started rubbing her temples. "Didn't we establish a rule? A very simple one? Unless it is a matter of life and death; the locker room, by which I mean the girls' locker room? Fine. The restroom? Acceptable. Anywhere else? No!"

Adagio raised an index finger to object. "But-"

"No, you cannot disrobe anywhere else!!"

Adagio threw her arms out in exasperated fashion. "It was a sex-ed class!"

"Yes," replied Luna in irritated tones, "one you were not scheduled to be in, Miss Dazzle."

The algebra skipper innocently touched a fingertip to her lower lip. "I wasn't? All these doors and halls look so much alike, I still get so hopelessly confused..." Luna's glare said she wasn't buying it. Plan B! "Anyway, I was just trying to help with the day's lesson. You can't tell me that enriching the education of my fellow students is-"

"The lessons are well-decided in advance, Miss Dazzle, and they do not need your-" she made sure to use mocking air-quotes, "-'expert opinion' on the matter." Truly, it was no mystery to Luna why her sister had, on her hands and knees, delegated dealing with Adagio to her.

Utterly ignoring the sarcasm, Adagio looked appalled. "You would deprive eager young minds of an expert's opinion?!"

"Wha-?! I just said-"

She folded her arms, turning away. "I quite frankly am shocked and disgusted, madame! Aren't you supposed to be an educator?"

"No," growled Luna, "I am the one who handles student discipline, which you are severely lacking." The worst part had to be that she couldn't even say the word 'detention' around this girl. There were legal reasons why they couldn't just lock her in a room by herself again and no one deserved to be trapped in detention with Adagio Dazzle. A few former delinquents may have since cleaned up their act, but poor Ms. Cheerilee nearly quit that day.

Still not looking at her, Adagio was silent for a moment. Then she slowly turned her head, a hint of a smirk on her features. "You're offering to discipline me?"

Luna hoped her scowl was more prominent than her blush. "We have also discussed this many times, and you know that that is not what I-"

Adagio's coquettish smile widened as she shifted in her seat, wiggling her hips. "Perhaps we could kill two birds with one stone here, the two of us could head back to the classroom and instruct on-"

"Corporal punishment is not employed in the modern school system!"

Her grin was nothing short of lewd now. "Is it still 'punishment' if I ask for more? You might even be able to make me beg if-"

Luna pulled at her own hair and screamed.

"...So it's a 'maybe,' then?"

---

Stepping out of Luna's office, Adagio looked down at the note she'd been given and sighed.

Dear Ms. Zecora,

The usual.

-Luna

Long story short, Adagio was off to see the counselor again, the one she'd have to give the note to so that Luna would know she got it when it was passed back to her later. Certainly, neither Adagio nor her companions were truly obligated to obey any orders they were given, but causing trouble without at least the justification that they didn't mean to wasn't going to win them any friends with which to find the so-called magic that came with it. Besides, if they got thrown out, they'd be back to the long, boring days of not feeling compelled to do anything. That would suck, quoth the Aria.

Giggling a little to herself as she headed to Zecora's office (though she preferred the term 'hut,' thinking it to sound friendlier), she took solace in the fact that at the very least, the woman wasn't unpleasant to talk to, having a contagious appreciation for spontaneous poetry. Their first meeting had certainly been entertaining, once Adagio was offered the chance to introduce herself to the woman that spoke in rhyme.

"Hello there, I'm Purple Orange!" She tugged at her own hair with one hand and a leg of her jumpsuit with the other. "As you can see, I'm named after my color scheme, but if you like, you can just call me Violet Tangerine!"

After a short silence, Zecora had laughed for a solid minute.

Knocking on the only door in the building with a dream-catcher hanging from it, Adagio heard Zecora's muffled voice.

"Greetings, friend, I've just made tea! Please come in and sit with me!"

With a little grin and a carefree shrug, Adagio stepped in, finding the circular room to be roughly what she remembered from last time. It wasn't too outrageous, all things considered, a few woven rugs here and there, some arrangements of beads hanging from things, tiki masks on some of the walls, but nothing terribly strange. Sitting in the center of the room by a little, wooden table with a steaming kettle and a few cups on a particularly soft, plush rug was the only person in the school Celestia apparently tolerated wearing robes. She was a grey woman with what Adagio interpreted to be darker grey, stripe-like tattoos over most of her body, though the majority of her skin was concealed by baggy, brown robes. It gave her a very relaxed kind of look, along with the long, white hair that hung from her head in wild, though not necessarily messy tendrils. She waved Adagio over to join her, accepting the offered note as Adagio was seated.

Zecora sighed through a knowing smile. "You'd not be here as often if Luna you did not offend. May I ask the case this time?"

Adagio smirked a little. "She didn't like a joke of mine."

"Did it cross a moral line?"

"I would say that it was fine."

"But Luna clearly disagreed?"

"Hence giving that note to me."

Not having lost her smile, Zecora chuckled. "Suppose we should get started, then. What trouble brings you to my den?"

Adagio formed her usual, laid-back little smirk. "No trouble at all, I'm perfectly fine, folks just don't like this humor of mine."

"There's not a thing you would discuss, here with just the two of us?"

Eyeing the kettle, Adagio grinned a little wider. "I wouldn't mind a spot of tea, making these brews still eludes me."

Zecora was happy to oblige, but she couldn't help the corners of her mouth dropping by just a millimeter. Still, maybe if the Dazzlings knew how to brew their own calming tea, they wouldn't be sent to her quite as often. "If the correct herbs you've got, you begin with a boiling pot..."

---

As it came time for Adagio to return to classes, Zecora waited until the door was fully shut to let her smile fall away. She didn't know if Luna expected more from her at this point, but she wished she could report with progress for once.

"I'm fine."

'I'm fine,' she'd said. How many times had Zecora heard those words from those who did not mean them? She had spoken to the individual Dazzlings many times, and of all of them, she was sure that the ringleader was the most troubled. Little Sonata would speak her mind, Aria had once come to cry, but Adagio was a book closed tight, her feelings never coming to light. Zecora had an idea, finding a pen with which to leave it on the note she'd return to Luna later.

"If she cannot bare her soul to me," she said under her breath, "perhaps with this, she may be free..."

---

Fourth period was uneventful, but Adagio tried the door thing again when it was over. Results were consistent with her first attempt, but without a Trixie to play with at the end of it. Then came time for lunch, which brought the realization that waiting in the line to pick something up would be a great way to demonstrate her patience! So while Octavia was taking her time deciding whether to go with mashed potatoes or celery, Adagio just quietly stood behind her, not saying a word. She didn't just reach past her to take something, didn't make a comment to speed things along, didn't try to convince her that one choice or the other would be better for her figure, didn't mention that she didn't particularly mind standing behind Octavia anyway and was sure that none of the boys in this school did either, just stood there with a smile.

After about a minute, Octavia seemed to sense that she was being watched, unconsciously turned her head, caught sight of Adagio, shrieked, and ran away, never having procured mashed potatoes or celery. Perhaps she was just on a diet?

Yes, tell yourself that. The look on your face had nothing to do with it.

Containing an irritated sigh, Adagio added a biscuit to her tray and headed to her usual table, reflecting on unfairness regarding reactions to her smiles as opposed to almost anyone else's. She had tested this in a mirror countless times, and came to the conclusion that her own grins were fine! She showed just enough of her teeth at the right times and even added an alluring, come-hither look with her eyes, not outright promising mind-blowing ecstasy for any who would dare come close enough to claim it, but certainly flirting with the idea. Sure, some people found that a little intimidating, but the point of smiling at people was to make them want to come to you, wasn't it? Something must have been wrong with these people that what she offered had the exact opposite effect.

Well, at least Octavia's scared face was cute.

Aria chuckled at her as she took her seat. "What took you, Adagio? Had to give someone a heart attack first?"

"Something like that. What's new with you two?"

Sonata shrugged. "Nothing much." Then she smiled. "Heard you got in trouble with the VeePee again, what'd ya do?"

Adagio smirked a little. "Just indulged a little scientific curiosity and tried to help some of my peers do the same. Honestly, you would think that kind of thing would be encouraged in a school." With her two oldest friends giggling, she smiled a little wider. "Speaking of, you two never did tell me how that little chat went, the one that happened when I wasn't around?"

Aria shrugged, folding her arms. "Not our fault you got busted again."

"True, but I'd still like to hear what you talked about."

"Well," Sonata offered, tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth as she searched her memory, "Sunset came asking about you poking Dr. Seuss and asked if it was okay that they all come over and talk to us for a bit. They wanted to know if it was just a one-time thing or not, I think."

"And we knew," added Aria with just a hint of apprehension, "that if we said 'no' that they'd get all 'ooh, what have you got to hide?' on us and do that self-righteous stalking thing until they knew what they wanted to know, that it'd all balloon into some big, irritating incident that left us worse off and them getting off scot-freakin'-free no matter what they did in the process."

It was possible Aria was still bitter about Trixie and the Illusions suffering no punishment whatsoever for their part in the Battle of the Bands. Nor Photo Finish and her group. Nor anyone else that broke rules. Presumably, they all pleaded direct mind-control to the only two actual victims of such magic; Luna and Celestia, who were no doubt inclined to believe it.

"So we covered for you," Aria said with a little smile, "and luckily, all we really had to say was the truth."

Adagio smiled at them earnestly. "Thank you both, and I'm sorry if that situation worried you."

Aria grinned cockily, but there was a tinge of red to her cheeks. "Ahh, no problem, we had it all under control."

"Yea," offered Sonata, "and it's about time we started paying you back for all the trouble we used to cause!"

"Haha, yea," added Aria, whose grin grew just a little rigid, "thanks, Sona-"

"I mean, I remember a few times you were actually pulling your hair out and-"

"Okay, she gets it, now-"

"Come to think of it, we kinda still cause you trouble sometimes-"

"Quiet time, please."

"-like when we went to the zoo and Aria fell into the-"

"Sonata!!"

Adagio just chuckled, long since having let go of the many, many, many times her then-minions had gotten on her nerves, as it was clear they'd forgiven everything she'd dragged them through as well. "Just the same, thank you for taking care of me." She and Aria sealed the notion with a fist-bump.

Sonata frowned a little. "Speaking of that, um..." She nudged Aria, who also stopped smiling.

"Eh, um... Tiny confession? We kinda listened in on you and Squeaky."

Adagio's good mood was crushed, smothered by a blanket of cold dread. "What?"

Sonata lowered her head in puppy-eyed contrition. "We're sorry, we were just worried that, y'know, she was one of them, how could we trust her to make sure you got better?"

"What did-" Adagio stopped herself, she had to pick the words a little differently if she didn't want to signal that she had something to hide. She took a deep breath that did nothing to sooth her friends. "Your caution is perfectly understandable. How long were you listening?"

"N-not long," Aria admitted with just a tinge of worry, "all I really heard was the part where she made you take your medicine."

Adagio tinted pink, annoyance equally vibrant. "Word from the wise? Never fight your nurse." She grinned a little as both of them let out tiny giggles. "Anything else?"

Sonata shook her head. "No, but we're still sorry for doing that. I know it would'a made Dr. Seuss nervous if we just stood there watching her, but we shouldn't have spied on you."

They don't know anything they shouldn't. Good. Adagio smiled normally. "It's alright." Her nosy, but fortunately ignorant caretakers smiled back. Now to change the subject. She winked at Sonata. "Good choice in her uniform, by the way, I don't know if she was working her legs on purpose, but the heels were a perfect fit."

It was always nice when Sonata could be proud of herself. "Haha, thanks!" She tugged at the collar of her shirt. "This clothing stuff confused the bejeezus outta me when we first got here, but I feel like I've figured it all out now! I even know what to do with that funky underwear with the long socks and lacy belts!"

Adagio lit up. "Do tell!"

Aria darkened with a blush. "Uh, h-hey, speakin' of weird crap, you got sent to the counselor's office again, right?"

Chuckling, Adagio nodded. "Yes, she showed me how to make tea. If we're lucky, I'll remember all of the instructions by the time we get home."

Sonata giggled. "Did she say how it was done in rhyme? With stirring and a twist of lime?"

"No limes here, I don't believe, just hot water and leaves."

Aria was infected too, smiling a little. "Did she say to use a certain pot, or are we good with what we've got?"

"If you need just the right pot for tea, she didn't say as much to me."

"Can it be brewed in just a bowl?"

"Or would you have to pour it down a hole?"

"I'm sure it can be brewed in bowls without pouring things down holes."

All three of them were grinning like dolts now.

"Can you brew it on a boat?"

"Can you brew it with a goat?"

"I'd not want to brew it on a boat, let alone when near a goat!"

"What about while on a train?"

"Maybe even on a plane!"

"On locomotives or on planes, I would just as soon abstain."

"Why is that? What do you fear?"

"Can you not brew it far or near?"

"Very simply put, my dears? I've never even brewed it here!"

There was a pause, then the three of them laughed, loud and long, to the fear and worry of most of the cafeteria. The Dazzlings didn't notice, but six girls at one table collectively smiled at them.

Author's Notes:

I picture Jedi Master Zecora as mostly looking like a humanized version of her Nightmare Night outfit, but with fewer spiders.

Two out of three Dazzlings are dangerously genre savvy. Three out of three Dazzlings can be very silly.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, it happened again, but I'm afraid I can't write 15k or so words worth of story per week, so the rest of Adagio's day will hopefully be done by next Saturday. Sorry if you were hoping for the whole thing at once. :fluttershysad:

Chapter 18: Liquid Dark Magic

Fifth period was, as ever, dull enough that Adagio had plenty of time to think. Today's mental showcase included the possibility that she was very right regarding what she'd said about patience that day, reaffirmation that she couldn't get away with so much as looking at Fluttershy during school, and in a roundabout way, the state of her own breasts.

She'd only been trying to be patient with people for about half a school day, so it was little wonder it didn't seem to be paying off yet.

Being caught with her favorite playmate wouldn't just leave Fluttershy embarrassed and possibly angry with her, it would hurt Aria and Sonata too when the whole thing inevitably spiraled into disaster and tears. She'd finally made a friend, with one of the Rainbooms, at that, and couldn't even tell anyone. Awareness of this fact did nothing to make her feel like being patient.

This led to formally crossing out thoughts and ideas of what she'd do if she dropped in on Fluttershy doing her walk again, to everything she wanted to say about her one-time nurse oscillating her cute little behind, to thoughts of Adagio's hair covering her own rump, to how hers was probably a little bigger than Fluttershy's, to how the ratio between the two of them was probably the exact opposite in terms of human chest meat. Glancing down at herself, Adagio couldn't decide whether to be frustrated or grateful that hers weren't particularly outstanding, even though she got the impression they were meant to be a woman's primary feature in this world, at least with the way the boys (mostly) acted.

On the other hand, she'd learned that these bizarre lumps could be very sensitive, and never wanted to test that again, so having them be barely noticeable under a vest most of the time felt like a point in her favor. At least she could still show off everything else without much fear of someone touching an overly vulnerable area. Sometimes, she still missed her gleaming scales, both for their beauty and for the protection they offered. Not that human bodies were a complete loss, but...

Class ended. Adagio's next class was just down the hall, so she opted to wander around at random for a bit, talk to people, make some friends, figure out free energy, achieve world peace, and maybe cure cancer while she was at it. Anything was possible, right? She saw Trixie facing away from her, doing a card trick or something for a little cloud of freshmen. Polite and patient person that Adagio was, she waited until the trick was finished before walking up behind Trixie. The kids caught sight of her and stared in horror like she was the Nuckelavee itself before the lot of them quickly dispersed.

Sure, go ahead, run, not like I have anything to talk about with kids anyway. Besides, she thought with a growing smirk, I have bigger fish to fry...

Trixie watched in bewilderment as her deserters fled before looking around for the reason. Adagio would have matched her movements to stay behind her, but there was only so much time for these hallway games, so she was spotted quickly, drawing a delightfully emphatic scowl from her target.

"What do you want, Adagio Dazzle?"

Oooh, she's blushing already! She had determined weeks ago that if she couldn't play with her favorite toy (friend now) in public, she could certainly amuse herself with the rest, worry-free. She sidled a little closer to Trixie, reaching out to rest four fingertips on her shoulder. "It's funny you should ask..."

Trixie stepped back, smacking the hand away. "W-whatever it is, you won't get it from Trixie!"

"Oh?" Keeping her fiendish smile, Adagio gave her a calculated look, 60% conviction, 40% arousal. "I think I might. Have you ever had the pleasure of a strong drink, Silver?"

Glancing around, Trixie decided there weren't near enough witnesses to let peer pressure override the fear of Luna overhearing her saying something compromising. And, y'know, being honest and all that crap. "No, of course not, Trixie is well under twenty-one! Unlike you, you moldy bag-lady!"

Adagio chuckled, her expression unchanged as she stepped closer. "I look mature to you, do I?"

"That's not what-"

"Then you believe me when I say I have some familiarity with liquor." Another step closer. "With what it does." And another, Trixie was backed against a locker and starting to sweat. "With what it can make you do. It reminds me of you, actually."

Just as she'd hoped, Adagio must have used just the right inflection for that to sound vaguely flattering as Trixie gave her a cautious look. "Really? How?"

The predatory smile faded to a happier one as Adagio leaned back, grinning as though Trixie were an old friend. "You both make things disappear, of course!" Then she leaned in, growling into Trixie's ear. "Fears, inhibitions, clothes... sound right?" The evil grin returned as Trixie shook like a red, sweating, stammering leaf before slipping away, detonating another smoke bomb, and presumably fleeing as Adagio cackled maniacally.

Life was still good sometimes.

---

Interesting fact about standing back and waiting? It gave you a chance to smell the roses, so to speak, like when watching a steady stream of people slowly flowing through one side of a double door instead of, you know, opening the other door and doubling the speed at which everyone could get through. It was something Adagio had never really noticed before, as she'd always been one to either gently push people aside when she needed to access a crowded area, or clear her throat and let her presence take care of the rest. That second method worked much better in recent weeks.

Anyway, there she stood, silently watching as a dozen or so students at a time huddled together to squeeze through the one door opened by the first person to reach the pair of doors right next to each other and not a single one of them thinking to take two seconds to remedy the situation by opening the other door. It was as fascinating as it was mind-boggling, doubly so because more than a few of those she observed looked annoyed about having to slowly shuffle through the doorway as they were.

Either they're putting on an utterly senseless act in pretending to be impatient, or they're genuinely irritated by how long this is taking and doing nothing about it. Maybe this is one of those cultural things I just don't get, but until I get a chance to ask Fluttershy, I'm going with 'people are stupid.'

Truly, the logic often proved unassailable, there was a reason she'd thought of this world as pathetic, not terribly long ago. Regardless, she grew tired of going all Fluttershy's method and opted for a compromise. Fluttershy was fond of those too, right? She approached the closed door from along the wall, where the student stream was thin to nonexistent, reached out, hooked a few fingers around the handle, slowly pulled it open, and stood back, waiting. She got more than a few odd looks, again, but people filed through the widened opening just the same.

Lovely progress!

As the horde of less intelligent beings thinned, Adagio felt a hand on her shoulder. She smirked, turning with intent to say something about appreciating directness until she saw Luna.

"Adagio Dazzle? Sister wishes to see you."

Adagio stared back in bewilderment. Was opening two double doors at once some kind of taboo here?! Had she actually violated a cultural norm of unbridled stupidity?!

However, Luna didn't look angry, or even the least bit annoyed. Noticing Adagio's consternation, her voice was very calm. "No, you are not in trouble." She grinned wryly. "This time."

Cautious, Adagio crossed her arms. "Then what's going on?"

"I'm afraid I cannot divulge that information here, but please stop by her office soon. Right now is good, actually." And then she walked away, leaving Adagio to realize she was holding a door nobody was going through. Shrugging, she made her way to the principal's office.

---

Principal Celestia sat her desk, arms folded over the organized chaos of papers that perpetually littered it. Across from her was Filthy Rich, something of a regular in her office on account of his daughter's behavior. This time, however, he expressed concern about what Diamond might do after witnessing some other students.

"You know what those three did, everyone knows! I can't believe you haven't expelled them already."

Celestia was fortunate in having years of experience in maintaining a perfectly serious expression no matter how hard she was laughing inside. "Yes, the incident in which the three of them influenced quite a few people with magical songs, which were evidently neutralized by a giant, crystal unicorn with wings. And rainbows." She tilted her head, the poker face undented. "How would you like me to explain that to the state board?"

Filthy facepalmed, sighing. "Just like with that Shimmer girl, then? But, there have been two of these incidents now, you must be able to do something!"

"Such as?"

He shook his head in exasperation. "Just, tell them to get out, maybe? Forbid them from attending? Whatever you have to do to ensure that my little girl stops coming home gushing about what those harpies did that day."

Celestia's expression was still very calm, but her tone took on the thinnest hint of a cold edge. "I see. You are asking me to bar them from my school, to tell them to be gone and let someone else sort them out. Is that correct?"

"Yes!"

"Hm. Then, you would have me simply push troubled students away, rather than trying to help them? To let my problems fall entirely to someone else? To let those girls, and any others that don't immediately fall in line, simply find their own way in our wayward little world? 'Look after the good ones and devil take the riff-raff'? Is that it?"

Filthy was visibly choosing words. "W-well... No, but-"

"Is that not what you've suggested? That anyone that cannot easily be made to cooperate simply be done away with? Is that the kind of world you want to live in, Mr. Rich?"

After a moment's contemplation on where his own daughter would stand in such an arrangement, he sighed. "...No."

Her point made, Celestia smiled warmly. "I know I have not shown great aptitude in dealing with the three of them myself, but rest assured that as long as they come through those doors, I will continue to try."

Filthy nodded a little. "I see. We'll just have to hope they straighten up, then?"

"It has worked before."

"I guess... Thank you for your time, Principal Celestia." He walked out into the reception area, immediately catching sight of the fluffy menace that he'd caught (well, heard about) Diamond trying to emulate a few times. That wayward mass of orange was bobbing with her head, the smiling girl attached to it holding one hand over an ear, eyes closed as she sat in one of the chairs by the door. "Hrm," he muttered on the way out, "toxic little..."

Adagio's head just kept bobbing until Filthy's footsteps were no longer audible, at which point she opened her eyes in a glare. She forced the expression to become her usual, relaxed smile when she heard Celestia clear her throat, which made her turn to see the principal leaning through the office door. "Oh, sorry, didn't notice you there, are you ready to see me now?" By the look of Celestia's frown, she wasn't fooled. Letting out a silent sigh, Adagio let her hand fall away from the non-existent headphone and stood up, the two of them sitting in the office a moment later. As Adagio didn't want to sound impatient, she let Celestia open discussion.

"I've gotten a few reports, from students and staff alike, of odd behavior from you today, Adagio."

Crossing her arms, Adagio raised an eyebrow. "You're going to have to be more specific."

Celestia smiled a little. "Specifically, two teachers and thirty-eight students have come by or left messages that you've been standing quietly behind people, holding open doors and waiting until everyone else had gone through first before using it yourself, and holding ninja throwing knives behind your back by concealing them in your hair." That Adagio started laughing at that last one said it probably wasn't true. She knew when Adagio was up to something by now, and her demeanor in those cases was usually a smug smile and a look that said 'Yes, I am up to no good. Now prove it.'

Violence hasn't really been her style, anyway.

"I'm going to guess the third issue was overactive imagination?"

Wiping away a tear as her giggles were reigned in, Adagio nodded. "Creative, I'll give them that."

"And the first two?"

Adagio's humor quickly faded. "Being patient draws complaints now?"

"Not complaints," she said with an affable smile, "worries. I don't see a problem yet, but it is a little unusual for you. Is there anything you'd like to tell me?"

"Yes, put a sign on every double door in this building with a message that goes thus: This is a door, doors can be opened." Celestia blinked slowly, which drew a shrug. "No, nothing."

"I... see." Double doors? Is that code for something? Is it better not to think about it? "That's not the only thing I wished to discuss with you today." It was with a tiny stab of guilt that she drew Zecora's note from her desk drawer, Adagio growing a little stiff and apprehensive when she saw it. "There have been some concerns about your behavior overall, particularly in Gym." The look on her face said Adagio had no questions about why. "As such, we would like to move you to Art class that period."

"What?!"

Celestia frowned, doubly so because she was aware that physical education was a popular class and one of few the Dazzlings seemed to enjoy. That it was the only one they all had together didn't make this any easier. "I, Vice Principal Luna, Zecora, and Coach Will all discussed it during the lunch period and we agreed that, cathartic as it may be, the aggressive, competitive nature of Gym wasn't helping you to fit in, not to mention your-" she made a valiant effort not to blush, "locker room hijinx. The hope is that in Art, a much calmer setting, you'll be free to express yourself through nonphysical means, but I wanted to consult with you on the matter first."

Adagio crossed her arms, trying not to scowl with contempt. They were giving her a choice, but only in the sense that she could go along with whatever was pushed on her or be openly defiant, thus making her, and likely the others as well, the undisputed 'bad guys' again. Ooh, wait! She raised an eyebrow. "What about the others? Are they being moved to a 'softer environment' too?"

Celestia shook her head. "I'm afraid you will be alone in this. I am aware they have not been perfectly behaved either, but pointing out rules that the coach forgot for the games and getting a little too enthusiastic about the day's activities aren't the same as, say, eyeing up nearby students during stretches-"

"Like they aren't doing the same to me?"

"-and loudly commenting on their findings?"

"...Touche."

Giggling quietly, Celestia kept her expression as serious as she could manage without coming across as unfriendly. "You make a lot of students uncomfortable, Adagio, and while I can appreciate that Gym clothes may make avoiding such instances troublesome for you, the hope is that Art will be a more relaxed place. You recall that Sonata was moved from Home-Ec?"

"Because of one little mistake, you mean?"

"And one massive mound of shifting, twitching, groaning brownie mix, yes."

Adagio snapped her fingers, as though making a declaration in a courtroom drama. "But the mistake itself was small!"

With a tiny smile, Celestia nodded. "And now she is in English that period, where there seems to be no incident. You already have English, so we decided on Art." Her face grew concerned, her tone gentle. "However, I want to make sure you are alright with this. What do you think? Would you like to stay with your friends in Gym seventh period, or take a chance at making new ones in Art? The choice is yours."

Oh, I'm so sure!

Adagio had gotten more than an inkling of where it would go if she refused, but thinking about it? She really did risk getting Aria and Sonata in trouble along with her too often, seeing as how they still defaulted to her lead even when she was just playing with people's heads for kicks. She sighed. "When do I start?"

Feeling like some measure of progress was made, Celestia smiled warmly. "The necessary papers should be sorted out over the weekend, so you're free to enjoy today and tomorrow."

Adagio nodded once, though she clearly wasn't happy with these developments. "Anything else?"

"Possibly." Losing her cheer, Celestia glanced to the doorway, where Filthy Rich had walked past Adagio not ten minutes ago. She'd heard what he said on the way out, and knew Adagio did too, likely along with everything that came in the minutes before. She looked at Adagio with a concerned frown.

She stared back, her face the picture of apathetic indifference. "What?

Celestia shook her head. If Zecora couldn't get anything out of this girl, she probably couldn't either. "Nothing, thank you for stopping by." It was as Adagio silently got up and walked out that she remembered something, quickly rising from her chair to call after her through the doorway. "Oh, and thank you for never pressing charges!"

Adagio turned on a heel, confused. "What?"

Nodding, Celestia offered an apologetic grin. "I never said anything, for that time you were-"

Tinting red as realization struck, Adagio hastily, dismissively waved a hand. "I told you, it's fine, that whole situation got blown completely out of proportion and I don't bear a grudge for what happened." So stop mentioning it already!!

Standing in the reception area, the two heard a quiet voice. "P-pressing charges?"

They turned to see Fluttershy standing in a corner, covered in pink frosting.

Adagio immediately slapped a hand over her own mouth, the first six things that sprang to mind not being acceptable in front of Celestia. Or any witness, really. Luckily, it may have just looked like ordinary surprise, because Celestia giggled a little.

"There was an accident in Home-Ec," she explained to Adagio, "her mother dropped off clean clothes just a short while ago." Then she turned to her icing-spattered student. "Nothing to worry about, Fluttershy. Have you been waiting long?"

Fluttershy shook her cute, delicious little head. "N-no, uhm... i-is there a changing room nearby, or...?"

Chuckling, Celestia moved to retrieve the bag of clothes waiting in her office closet. "I'll stand outside the nearest bathroom, if it makes you more comfortable. One moment."

This left a window of maybe ten seconds during which Adagio stood alone in a room with a frosting-covered Fluttershy. As the living cupcake had feared, Adagio grinned devilishly, eyeing her from head to toe while sloooowly licking her lips.

Just as Fluttershy was turning that perfect shade of red, her knees shaking, she opened her mouth. "Uhm-"

Adagio darted her head forward and snapped her teeth, just like she had the day Fluttershy brought orange slices, to roughly the same effect as her extra-tasty friend-target suppressed a gasp, quickly averting her eyes and taking up that adorable, knock-kneed stance with her arms held close to her chest. Satisfied (mostly), Adagio put the predatory look away, regaining her relaxed grin the second Celestia popped through the door with Fluttershy's change of clothes and a little note.

"Your mother also left a message. It says, 'Be sure to change into clean underwear too, okay? Love Mom.'" She looked up to see Fluttershy looking absolutely mortified, hiding her luminous face in both hands as Adagio, whom Celestia now remembered was still in the room, snickered behind her hand.

Oops! Sorry, Fluttershy...

---

Celestia and the most tempting way to spoil one's appetite left for the nearest restroom so the latter could get changed, leaving Adagio to head back to class. She'd have to ask what happened specifically that got Fluttershy covered in frosting, but hopefully it wouldn't be Sonata's fault this time. More-so as she wasn't even supposed to be in Home-Ec anymore. Regardless, the rest of sixth period passed without incident and, not particularly worried about getting called to the office again for this, Adagio held the door. She hadn't timed it, but everyone went ahead through maybe a few seconds faster this time, if only because most walked a little faster than normal to get out of the room. Everyone, Adagio noticed, except for Vinyl Scratch, who was still seated with her head propped up on one arm.

Taking a quick look around and finding the room to be empty apart from Vinyl and herself, Adagio smirked, pacing over to the girl that, while never having said two words to any of her group, was still directly involved with the destruction of their gems and the mutilation of their vocal cords. She leaned in front of Vinyl, pressing her hands flat on the desk and bending forward enough to leave her chest level with Vinyl's sunglasses. "Far be it that I should dictate this kind of thing, but shouldn't you be getting to your next class as well? Or," the predatory smile widened, Adagio's tone getting a little lower as she kept the space just under her neck directly in front of Vinyl's glasses, "has something caught your attention?"

She waited. No response. Vinyl didn't say anything, didn't look away, didn't turn red, didn't even move.

Adagio kept her smirk. "Shameless thing, aren't you? Well, you're more than welcome to stare, I'm-" She heard a little sound, like a very, very quiet gurgle coming from Vinyl. It sounded almost like a snore. Adagio snapped her fingers in front of the girl's face, getting no reaction. Swiping the glasses right off her quasi-enemy's face, she found that Vinyl's eyes were closed, fast asleep.

It would be another minute or two before students started filing into this room, or maybe much longer if there were no classes in here seventh period, but either way, there was more than enough time for a little mischief. It was as she pondered the fourth or fifth possibility that came to mind that Adagio found herself giving her dozy target another look. She was calm, quiet, a peaceful little smile on her face, just passing another boring day in school by getting a little rest. Adagio could sympathize, smiling a little herself. She gently replaced the sleeping girl's spectacles, the urge to wake her as abruptly and unpleasantly as possible gone as she silently moved away from the desk.

...On the other hand, there was no reason she couldn't do something nice for poor, sleepy Vinyl, was there?

She quickly tip-toed back, delicately lifted one of Vinyl's headphones, and released a warm, shuddering breath in her ear. Vinyl tensed just slightly, emitting a tiny sound as her cheeks flushed. Grinning wickedly, Adagio whispered, "Sweet dreams!" into her ear, gently replaced the headphone, and then quietly walked away, for real this time, heading out the door and to her next class. It wouldn't be her fault if Vinyl was late next period anyway, right?

---

Gym was a lot of fun today. As she knew she'd be essentially getting kicked out next week, Adagio held nothing back. She had let out borderline erotic groans during the warm-up stretches, winked at everyone that made eye-contact with her, issued sportsmanlike pats to the behinds of her (female) teammates in volleyball (the cutest reaction for that actually came from Sonata today), made it clear that they were more than welcome to do it back to her (one did!), extended the offer to the entire room (five did!), and of course made her usual running commentary on the physique of her peers. Only complimentary, of course! That Coach Iron Will just sat there ignoring her the whole time meant he probably knew what was going on and had opted to just wait out the last two days without a word to her. Spoilsport.

Still, she had a good time, so much so that she didn't even mind the usual wait outside the locker room in nothing but her tiny, purple Gym shorts, tight tank top, and dull, heelless shoes. It was actually something of a sad thought; that this was the least she seemed to be able to get away with wearing in school and that it would be the second to last time she wore it.

What is the deal, anyway? Hotpants and white shirts that essentially turn see-through once you've worked up a sweat are fine when half the room is dressed that way, but in a classroom it becomes indecent? It's just like the stupid swimsuit/underwear/nothing rules.

Not that it mattered. No pool in the world would ever match the breadth of the sea she used to know. Having found some surprisingly depressing thoughts to dwell on, Adagio was grateful to have her attention snatched by Aria poking her head through the door.

"Hey, everyone's done changing, you can come in now."

Walking in, Adagio immediately stripped her own top off, but the other girls just quickly filed past her and went straight out the door. She did get a few lingering glances, however, which always made her feel pleasantly warm inside!

Aria faced away from her as she changed. "So what's all this we're hearing about you holding doors and stuff? Just tryin' to get a look at people's asses when they go by?"

Having just taken her shorts off, Adagio glanced over her shoulder with a smirk. "No, if I wanted to do that, I'd, I don't know... just have them turn their backs to me?" She grinned wider as the side of Aria's face flushed crimson, her hands immediately tugging the back of her vest downward in a vain attempt at covering the curves plainly visible through her tight, tight pants.

She was saved by Sonata, calling from somewhere else in the locker room. "So what's up, Dagi?"

Pulling her tights up, Adagio shrugged, even while fully aware that neither of the girls she could openly be friends with were looking at her. "Just thought I'd give it a try, maybe show people the three of us can just be polite for its own sake if we feel like it."

Aria nodded a little. "Worth a shot. What about that little show in there?"

Adagio rolled her eyes. "That wasn't a 'show,' my shirt got stuck on the net. Besides, I looked it up and there's nothing obscene about the stomach."

"Not that, the way you were all..."

"Handsy!" called Sonata.

"Yea, that."

Sighing, Adagio finished dressing by pulling her vest on, brushing her hair outwards so that none of it remained caught in her clothes. "Suppose now's as good a time as any." That made Aria turn to face her, though Sonata was still out of sight. "Tomorrow is my last day in Gym, they're moving me to Art starting next week."

Sonata sounded like she just heard the cafeteria was out of pudding. "Aww, we can't play with balls together anymore?"

Aria firmly ignored that word choice, looking protectively irritable as she crossed her arms. It was a very Aria expression. "And what's that about? Why're they cutting us up even more?"

Frowning, Adagio wasn't sure what to tell them. Aria never liked that this was their only class together, but they guessed that those in charge figured it was the only one in which they wouldn't chat amongst themselves the whole period. As though the three of them utterly lacked the self-control not to. She shrugged. "Something about Art being 'better' for me, like how English was 'better' for Sonata."

"Age of Brownies. Just you wait, Canterlot... Just you wait..."

Adagio went on. "I'm not exactly thrilled, but I'll ask that neither of you raise a fuss about this. Going by my very recent experiences, we're still the bad guys here no matter what we do, so complaining about our treatment will only sound like we're planning to start trouble again, or an outright declaration of war." Granted, she couldn't blame people when they actually did act a little apathetic to the standards of this society, most of all herself, but the more scrutiny they got, the stronger the temptation to misbehave became. Vicious cycle.

"Tch," Aria all but spat, "Yea, don't worry, we all know the score by now." Glaring, but not wanting to glare at Adagio for this, she instead turned to Sonata's general direction. "Hey, what are you still doing over there anyway? Because if it's something that needs fuses, I'm gonna smack you!"

"It's noooot!" Sonata stepped around the corner with a slightly annoyed look on her face, but neither of her companions noticed that at the time so much as her attire. Aria's jaw dropped, Adagio's eyes widened, but neither said a word as they took in the sight of Sonata wearing a full set of matching, white, lacey bra, panties, stockings and a garter belt. Noticing that she and her fancy undies were noticed, Sonata beamed, posing with her hands on her hips. "I toldja I knew what to do with this funky crud!"

Adagio beamed with pride. "Good girl, Nata!!"

Turning red and looking away, Aria facepalmed. "You guys are so embarrassing."

---

The last class of the day passed without incident, so the Dazzlings met up in the foyer and headed home together, Adagio chuckling with delight every time someone turned their head to gaze at Sonata's sexy, stocking-clad thighs.

Aria shook her head. "Can't believe you wore that for the rest of the day."

Sonata pouted a little. "What?"

"Wearing that stringy, do-me-riffic stuff under your clothes? That's the kinda thing you'd do if you lost a bet."

Her eyes glinting with wicked glee, Sonata grinned impishly. "Really? You'd wear it if you lost a bet?"

Aria grew apprehensive, giving Sonata a cautious look. "N-ye-well, I mean..."

"Just under your clothes? It is underwear, y'know."

"It sounds like some kind of punishment, that's all I mean to say here."

Sonata was still grinning like she was about to spring a trap. "Then the next time we make a bet, I can set that as the condition if you lose?"

Aria looked like she was regretting this whole line of conversation as sweat trickled down her forehead. Amusing though it was, Adagio came to her rescue. "Leave her be, Nata, it'd be a waste of a bet anyway." She got two simultaneous 'huh's for this, which made her giggle. "Think it through. If Ria were to wear elegant undergarments with those pants, it wouldn't exactly be a... comfortable fit." She and Sonata took a few seconds to appreciate the look on Aria's face as she grew increasingly self-conscious. "So wearing them under her current attire is a no-go. She could conceal them entirely under our usual alternative, but then they'd be entirely concealed, which kind of nullifies the point."

"Sooo," Sonata offered, still grinning, "we'd need a second bet to get her to go somewhere in a miniskirt?"

Aria blanched.

"No, no, don't be ridiculous, we're talking about Ria here." Adagio waited until juuust the point where Aria's grateful smile reached its peak before giggling evilly. "We'd have to have her go out in nothing but the lingerie!"

The look of shock she got for that line was priceless. Aria then scowled and looked away. "Hate you both."

Adagio and Sonata both laughed, long enough that Aria hesitantly started giggling along with them. After about another minute of walking, Sonata was looking herself over. "We really could use a little changing up in the outfit department. I'd start wearing stuff from the costume closet to school, but we already got in trouble for that once."

Pouting a little at the memory, Adagio sighed. "I still don't see what the problem was, mine was specifically labeled 'Schoolgirl.'"

Neither Aria nor Sonata had the heart to say anything. But they did quietly giggle the rest of the way home.

---

A few hours of post-school kicking back and relaxing later, Adagio opted to try one of a few new things she'd been getting practice at since meeting Fluttershy; cooking! Specifically, she'd only been trying it for the last few days, the time in which their kitchen actually had a decent stock of food to cook with. Aria had proven fond of microwavable meals (as well as the microwave, but that was another story), Sonata generally liked anything she could just scarf right down, but Adagio wanted to try the more sophisticated route. Indeed, blending ingredients and heat with measurements and timing was almost like composing a song! A song she could stuff her face with after!

In theory, anyway.

Results were often mixed. As in, she might have been able to put what she cooked in a blender and it would make precisely as much difference, but she was getting better! Today's discolored bowl of steaming slop at least had distinctive flavors for the first few mouthfuls. Then she realized that those were just the things that floated to the top, possibly to escape that which sank to the depths. That was about all she could stomach before giving up for the day and eating a bowl of cereal followed by half a bag of grapes dropped leisurely into her own mouth while leaning back on a comfy chair, but there was always next time.

Walking out of the kitchen, she saw Sonata sitting at the bottom of the stairs and putting her shoes on. "Hey, Nata."

Sonata jumped, giving Adagio a wide-eyed, hand-in-the-cookie-barrel kind of look for just a split second before smiling. "Yea, hey, hi! What's up?"

Suppressing a reaction to that odd look, Adagio shrugged. "Nothing much. You done anything interesting recently?"

"Uh... Nah, not really."

"You haven't been playing with matches?"

Sonata rolled her eyes and groaned. "No, I haven't set anything on fire lately."

"And?"

"And I haven't put out fires that were supposed to be there." How the heck was she supposed to know what a Luau was, anyway?

"Good," Adagio chuckled, motioning to her most accident-prone friend's shoes, "going somewhere?"

Sonata briefly regained that flicker of panic. "Y-yea, to, a, place! And stuff."

Adagio glanced out the nearest window. "It's almost night time, where would you be going so late in the day?"

Sweating even a little bit wasn't making her look any less suspicious, nor the wide, nervous grin as she stood up. "Just, y'know... out?"

Raising one eyebrow, Adagio held her with an appraising look.

Going out in the evening, not saying where, that anxiety in her face? Ooh, la-la~!

Adagio showed only a friendly smile. "Well, have fun." She stepped forward to hug her, pausing for a fraction of a second to make sure she didn't do so in such a way that pinned Sonata's arms to her sides. "Be a good girl, stay out of trouble, and don't offer candy to strangers."

Hugging her back, Sonata giggled. "Gee, thanks, mom."

Smirking just a little, Adagio whispered into her ear. "I'll leave the door unlocked, alright?"

Sonata turned red. "Eh, r-right, thanks..."

Waiting until the front door was closed, Adagio waited four more seconds, drew her phone, and typed up a quick text message to Sonata.

[One last thing? Be sure to use protection! ;)]

Pressing SEND, Adagio pocketed her phone. "Three. Two. One." She heard Sonata's voice from outside.

"GYAH!!"

Adagio spent the next minute cackling triumphantly, only laughing harder when Sonata messaged her back with a series of angry, typo-ridden emoticons. Catching her breath, she found herself alone in the silence. She wasn't actually certain Sonata was going out to indulge in animalistic lust for a while, but even if she was, Sonata was a big girl and could take care of herself. At the very least, maybe she'd get up to something that would make for a funny story later?

Adagio shrugged. May as well see what Aria's up to. Pacing into the living room, she found Aria leaning back on the couch in front of the big-screen TV, a controller in her hands and a microphone-headphone combination gadget on her head. Those were useful for having a little extra fun with other players online, the Dazzlings had learned.

From the look of things, Aria was explaining something to a player named 'DoomPrism,' her usual co-op buddy when her fellow sirens weren't interested. "Oui," she said in a French accent, as was her preference for this sort of thing, "use TK on zat garbaj truck, hold eet in frahnt of you, zen hold ze sprint buttahn an' charge down ze street." The screen filled with calamity and explosions, Adagio hearing tinny, maniacal laughter from the other side of the connection as Aria smiled. "Oui, zat is quality chaos, well done, ami."

Leaning over the back of the couch, Adagio giggled, but kept her voice down. "Having fun?"

Aria nodded to her, not looking away from the screen. "Totally, you can really go nuts in this game. Wanna join in?"

Tinting pink, Adagio shook her head. "That's alright, I'll wait until you and Doom have worked out the highlights."

"Sure thing..." Aria waited until Adagio had pressed off the couch and turned to walk away before smirking. "Comrade Adagio." She didn't get to see their near-shameless leader blush, but hearing her tense up and freeze where she stood before continuing a little faster than before was every bit as satisfying.

Huffing silently as she turned a corner, Adagio shook her head.

I don't know how they ever talked me into joining that ridiculous little shtick.

Aria had worried about someone recognizing her voice and came up with Mademoiselle Aria to disguise it. Once Sonata got the idea of crudely imitating Photo Finish to hide her own, it wasn't long before both repeatedly urged Adagio to do something similar. It might have made her feel a little sexier, but there was really no sensible reason for her to spend all online interaction talking in a Russian accent.

Marching up the stairs, she'd shaken off the warmth in her face by the time she'd entered her room, flicking on the light and looking into a full-length mirror. She was briefly torn with indecision as to whether she wanted to stare into that one or the one on her vanity, but settled for the choice that came with a cushy stool to sit on. She only wanted to examine her face, anyway. Doing just that, she prioritized her eyes, particularly the eyeliner applied that morning.

Still there, just as it was!

She continued to stare at herself, slightly bothered by how her own eyes seemed to hold her, the dark rings she'd painted onto herself reminding her of some abyssal horror peering out from a deep trench.

You didn't wear make-up before.

Times change, I do a lot of things differently now.

But not for no reason.

Yes...

She sighed, tracing a finger very close to one eye, rubbing away a thin layer of the dark substance in a trail leading toward her temple. Then realization struck.

The eyeliner!! I'm an idiot! Of course everyone's more scared of me than ever, it's only in the last, what, week or two that I've been painting dark rings around my eyes?!

Slamming a fist against the vanity counter-top, she cursed herself for not realizing such a thing could even have an effect, for forgetting she'd even been wearing it through the day. Fluttershy didn't seem to mind, and if the squirmiest cutie she could find was alright with it, how could anyone else be afraid? It made more sense when she didn't think about it, at least not enough to remember that Fluttershy was no true coward, unlike Twilight's legion of stupid, spineless, self-righteous-

She wouldn't like you thinking that way. Not even because some of them are her friends, she'd just be worried about your mental health.

Sighing again, Adagio made the conscious effort to calm down. She wiped away another streak of eyeliner with a fingertip, this time in a line smearing down toward her cheek, and was reminded why she wore the stuff at all.

She wouldn't care, you know.

In the sense that it wouldn't bother her, but she'd still ask about it.

True. What are you going to do?

Nothing. I'll work something out, fix this myself, and it'll be like nothing was ever amiss.

Fine, maybe she never finds out and everything goes on as before. Then she can get sick of you for the regular reasons.

...

Well it wasn't like she could just not fluster Fluttershy, the girl was so bashful it barely took a wink to spike her heart-rate! It was all fun and games now, but sooner or later, be it weeks, months, or, if she was lucky, years from now, Fluttershy was sure to get sick of being someone's plaything, even to the merciful comparatively tame degree the game had reached. It wasn't even a matter of just watching words, and they'd specifically laid out rules that nobody should be acting as anything but themselves, that was the beauty of their friendship, that there was no need for a facade at all! Adagio loved talking to Fluttershy, loved playing with her, loved their small-talk, loved trading philosophy with her, loved making her squirm as much as making her smile, but she'd gone too far at least once and come close too many times more! Sooner later, it was going to be too much, Fluttershy would snap and shout at her, in that I-would-never-sic-a-squirrel-on-you way Adagio knew she could, she'd declare that she didn't deserve to be treated that way, and she'd be right!

No, wait...

She'd been following the rules as Fluttershy herself set them, hadn't she? Talking was fine, implication was fine, accusation was apparently not, kissing on the cheek was fine, hand-touching was fine, bottom-touching was not, etc. The only ways Adagio could find these limits was either to notice Fluttershy setting them by committing the specific actions, or by crossing them herself by accident, which brought the risk of upsetting Fluttershy. This returned her to the problem of a moment ago.

But, Fluttershy definitely likes me, she wouldn't have put up with me for so long otherwise, and she almost always looks happy to see me.

She turned to look at her heart-shaped bed, remembering when Fluttershy came in and sat with her. In a nurse outfit. And then nothing steamy happened. The fact that Fluttershy's interest was non-sexual just made it all the more frustrating and confusing.

MOSTLY non-sexual, I should say. I know she stares at my ass when I walk away. Everyone does, or at least tries to, that's kind of the idea.

Well, usually. It had been a little awkward the day she caught Sonata ogling her without a hint of denial, but at least it meant Sonata was honest with herself. And others. To an almost worrying degree. That in mind, Sonata probably really wasn't sneaking out to meet a lover tonight, or she'd have outright said so. Right?

Still, I know there's more to it with Fluttershy.

Why are you so worried about this anyway? Even if she pushes you away, you've still got people like Trixie to screw with to your heart's cont

No. I have other targets, I have other playmates, but apart from Aria and Sonata, I have no other friends.

...And how long before they get fed up with your salacious sense of humor too? What if Sonata really is out on a date tonight, an earnest attempt at a relationship, and you just made her nervous? What if that's what had her so evasive?

Adagio made the mental note to try to fluster her oldest companions a little less often.

Anyway, Fluttershy. She likes me, for more than my body, more than my voice, more than pure admiration, because cute little offering pose or not, she doesn't see me as an idol to be worshiped, which means she isn't just a thrall to be lavished by.

She hated this, having a fondness for someone, but total lack of control over them, making it a vulnerability. It was a weak spot, a tiny, soft, secret, precious, embarrassing, tender little weak spot that she didn't want to give up.

I'm sure there's a dirty joke in there somewhere, but she isn't around to hear it right now anyway.

Wiping off the rest of the eyeliner with an old shirt she'd never even worn, Adagio stood up, groggily paced the five steps to her bed, barely stopped herself from falling into it, and wavered indecisively for a minute before determining that undressing before sleep was probably a good idea. Stripped, she sprawled out on her bed, knowing that there was nothing more she could do about the Fluttershy situation than there was about their voices. The ones they lost under her command, no less. They'd all had a chance to cry that out during the time with Sunset Shimmer, but it didn't stop being true.

Shaking her head as the troublesome thoughts piled up, Adagio closed her eyes, waiting for the morning.

---

Eventually, she reached the point where she couldn't lie in bed any longer, certain even without turning to look at the un-set alarm clock on her bedside refrigerator that several hours had passed. She must have spent at least a few of them out cold, right? Dwelling on such troubling thoughts just before bed had not been a great idea. Feeling too stir-crazy to be still a second longer, she sat up, got dressed in another of her duplicate dance outfits (Sonata was right, we really could use new threads, if only to change it up a little more), moved over to her vanity, flicked on the lights surrounding the mirror, and sat down to apply today's layer of eyeliner. She'd considered adding lipstick many times, but she didn't like the way it could make anything she ate taste funny if she wasn't careful. Besides, Fluttershy would never live it down if she were caught with lipstick smeared on her face, neck, or clothing.

It's never exactly gone that far, but she's surprised me a few times now...

When it was done, she grinned a little, batting her eyes at herself and blowing a kiss. Standing up, she headed downstairs and got some coffee brewing. It was too early in the day to experiment with cooking, but cereal and milk were plentiful and tasty. And coffee.

To think, the residents of this world figured out a way to harness dark energy not in miniature incantation prisms, but in water!

It had almost made her take back what she'd said about their world being pathetic on the spot. By her third cup, she wondered if Aria and Sonata heated up and drank what she didn't when they eventually woke up, or if they just poured it on the curb in a weird, quasi-memorial service because she wasn't home at the time. She was pretty sure they both drank coffee, sometimes.

There was still an hour before Fluttershy was due to be at school, so Adagio headed to the living room, turned on the necessary machines, turned down the volume so as not to wake the girls upstairs, sat on the couch, picked up a controller, and tried to remember the instructions Aria had given DoomPrism. It took her about ten minutes of wandering around to find a large vehicle, but there was a kind of zen in just walking the virtual world, seeing the sights, appreciating them in all their digital splendor. It was nice when a game let her do that, just aimlessly tour the world map with nothing getting in the way or demanding she defend herself, just leaving her free to explore the nonexistent city at her own pace. Then she found a garbage truck.

"Telekinesis... hold it in front of you... get on the street... sprint."

She was rewarded with instant noise and explosions, fire and screams, rag-doll physics and death. She smiled. The only thing nicer than the peace of a big, open-world map was destroying that peace and making every living thing in her virtual playpen regret the day they were coded. Fluttershy wouldn't approve of how she chuckled darkly to herself as she pretended to wipe out scores of imaginary population, but what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Or stop Adagio from hurting hundreds of fake people.

KRAK-BOOOM!!

"Heeheeheeheeheeheeheehee..."

---

It was with more than a hint of hesitation that Adagio found herself walking down the street to CHS, but it would raise questions if she broke pattern again. Besides, it wasn't like she had anything better to do. Before she knew it, she was standing a considerable distance behind Fluttershy's bench, staring at the pink plume that first caught her eye, and before she could convince herself not to, she took a step forward. The sound of her spiked boots momentarily crushing the grass underfoot was louder to her than ever.

Will she be startled again today?

Crunch.

I try, I really do, but I can't help it when she zones out.

Crunch.

Does that make a difference to her?

Crunch.

If it keeps happening, it's just one more thing for her to get annoyed about.

Crunch.

I want to make her blush,

Crunch.

I want to make her squirm,

Crunch.

but I don't want her annoyed with me.

Crunch.

If she gets annoyed, she'll eventually push me away.

Crunch.

There'll be nothing I can do to get her back.

Crunch.

Her friends, my friends, would only encourage separation,

Crunch!

because I tease her,

Crunch!

because I torment her,

Crunch!

because even when I'm-

Crunch!

not trying to-

Crunch!

I always-

Crunchcrunch!

but, she never-

Crunchcrunch!

no matter what I-

Crunchcrunch!

because she-

Crunchcrunchcrunch!

but, I still-

Crunchcrunchcrunch!

Adagio slapped both hands on the back of the bench as she came to a stop, feeling oddly short of breath. "Fluttershy!!"

"EEP!"

I'm sorry! "I need to ask you something."

Her heart already beating much faster than normal, Fluttershy stared back at Adagio, the shock of the sudden appearance, the urgency in her face, and the sound of her own name from Adagio's lips spinning like an egg-beater in her head, denying more than a dumb nod in reply.

The siren's expression was firm, but her eyes were tinged with fear. "Do I bother you?"

"W...w-what?"

"Do I irritate you, am I an annoyance, do you ever wish I'd just leave you alone some mornings?" The corners of her mouth twitched as though she was trying to smile, "Because I can, I can go by whatever schedule you like, Hell, I could skip whole days if you'd be more comfor-"

Fluttershy held up a hand, her voice quiet, but eyes pleading. "Wait." Seeing Adagio's mouth close and some of the tension fall from her shoulders, she went on. "No, you aren't a bother. You definitely make me jump sometimes, and, I know you don't always mean to, but you do frighten me a little, and that's okay." Shock and confusion were never so prominent. Smiling a little, Fluttershy patted the seat on the bench next to her. "Sit with me, please?"

Gingerly, as though she'd momentarily forgotten how sitting was done, Adagio stepped around and took a seat, making a face like she'd done something wrong.

"At first, seeing you at all filled me with fear and worry, not knowing what you were thinking, not knowing what you going to do, but, when I understood that you meant no harm, I started to relax." Fluttershy smiled sheepishly. "I-I'll admit that I don't know if I ever completely relaxed, but before long, I actually, well... You remember that morning in the library?" Adagio nodded once. "I think that was when I was sure that you weren't just picking on me, because that was the first time you held back. Once I knew that, I knew we could be friends."

Holding a hand to her chin, Adagio tilted her head, making a variant of the analytical face. "The next day, that was when you proposed the deal, wasn't it? That we'd eat candy together if I didn't startle you? The one I've repeatedly broken by accident?"

Fluttershy frowned, but renewed her grin as an idea sprang to mind. "Then, maybe we could do something else? I like sharing with you, Adagio, and I know you can't help catching me off guard, so, why don't we just enjoy a treat together every morning? Or, if I bring something you don't like, we can just talk, talking is nice too!" She gently reached out to take Adagio's hand. "We can do that whether you startle me or not, just as long as you come by every morning! I won't say I'm never scared around you, but I'm not scared of you." Her smile turned warm and welcoming, hitting Adagio like a super-charged version of Celestia's best effort at the same expression. "I don't hate you, I never have. Please don't think otherwise. Okay?"

Adagio could feel tears welling in her eyes, but she mustered her will to keep an even voice and project only the utmost confidence as she closed her eyes, crossed her arms, and grinned haughtily. "R-right, well, that's exactly what I suspected. Mostly. Mostly what I expected."

Fluttershy didn't quite believe that, but hadn't stopped giving the benefit of the doubt. Besides, she kind of admired that prideful attitude, even if it made Adagio act a little silly sometimes. Even then, what was wrong with silly? Still, she felt like she needed to say something, leaning a little closer. "H-hey, Adagio?" Adagio turned back to face her, making that adorable little 'huh?' face. "I-I, uh, I was thinking, um, s-since you're here-"

Kiss me.

"I mean, when you're here,"

Kiss me.

She could feel herself heating up, Adagio looking back at her with a mildly perplexed, but patient expression. "k-kind of like right now, but-"

Kiss me!

"I-I mean, it d-doesn't necessarily have to be right now, but-"

Kiss me!

"well, now is fine too, so, um-"

Kiss me!

Her heart was hammering in her chest, Adagio just quietly staring back at her, not making a move. "I was j-just thinking, we, could-" Adagio's head tilted just barely enough to look like she was about to lean in for a lip-lock, triggering a short series of words and movements borne of panic. Fluttershy reached into her bag, grabbed the first thing her fingers touched, "wouldyoulikea-" and rapidly yanked it upwards, slapping Adagio in the face with a notebook.

Recoiling, Adagio held a hand to her cheek. "Ow!!"

Fluttershy internally screamed, needles of pure ice assailing her spine as she babbled incoherently. That ice extended to her heart when it looked like Adagio was glaring at her, thawing a little when it became a pained smirk.

"Very funny, Sweetie." The way Fluttershy quickly shook her head, getting that teary-eyed look when she stopped, only left Adagio confused.

"I, I didn't, it was an, I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

Piecing together the most likely explanation in her head, Adagio started to giggle, letting her hand fall away from her slightly sore cheek. "I get it, Sweetie, it's alright." She smirked. "I know how it is, and don't worry, you're far from the only one who loses control of their body around me." Fluttershy let out a satisfying little squeak as she tinted pink, Adagio's evil grin growing as she scooted closer. "I mean, just the thought of touching me sends some people into a dreamy little daze. Sound like anyone you know?" The answer was apparent, but Fluttershy was still very much conscious. That or her eyes were rapidly tracing over Adagio's body of their own accord. Win-win!

Her hand darted out to seize Fluttershy's wrist, moving it to rest her hand flat on Adagio's thigh. The low, long whimper this drew as Fluttershy burned hot enough to roast marshmallows over made Adagio chuckle fiendishly, letting go and reaching out to lightly touch the trembling girl's chin and turn her head to force eye-contact. However, Adagio dropped the sadistic look in favor of a sympathetic one, her voice warm and gentle. "You're sure I don't bother you, Sweetie?"

Fluttershy blinked twice, but even through the blush, her brain recovered faster than she'd have dared dream. "I..." She smiled, making no effort to move away from Adagio even by an inch. "Y-yes, I'm sure!"

Her smile growing wider, Adagio made less of an effort to hide the shine of tears in her eyes this time. "That's all I wanted to hear." The two of them locked eyes, their faces already close, both at least a little red in the face. "Sweetie?"

Breathing was getting difficult. "Yes?" Adagio pointed downward, where Fluttershy's hand was still on her thigh. This made her tense up, unintentionally contracting her fingers, which immediately drew a wide-eyed look and a deeper blush from Adagio, who sucked in a breath through her nose as Fluttershy jerked backward, her own face (and hand) feeling unbearably hot. "S-S-SORRY!!"

The groped siren, however, just giggled, laughing a little harder by the second even as her face grew redder. Holding a hand over her mouth, she managed to contain herself before the high-pitched giggling phase was reached, but she was definitely smiling by the end of it. "As I was saying, hm?"

Fluttershy let out a nervous giggle, still flushed herself. This time, she was much calmer when she reached into the backpack, making sure she had a grip on the little bag before gently lifting it where Adagio could see. "Would you like a peanut butter cup?" Sudden memory. "N-no actual chunks of peanut in this, I promise!"

Adagio smiled, leaned over, and kissed Fluttershy on the cheek.

Author's Notes:

...Not yet, reader. Not quite yet.

I finally finished this just before going to sleep last night. Next chapter will be shorter. Maybe. Hopefully. Such is the plan. See you next week.

Chapter 19: Melty Bedroom Passes

"Darnit!"

THUD!

"Darnit!"

THUD!

"Darnit!"

THUD!

"Darnit!"

THUD!

"Darnit!"

THUD!

"Darnit!"

THUD!!

Stumbling away from the very sturdy wall in her bedroom, Fluttershy dizzily found and flopped down onto her bed, massaging her forehead.

I wonder if Rarity ever gets hurt in her... moments.

Well, in her own case, a little headache felt entirely deserved. This morning, that was it, that was her chance, she should have...!

Fluttershy let out a low, pitiful groan.

It made her heart sing that Adagio cared enough about her to ask, to completely drop her facade and directly pose the question of whether or not her teasing was too much, and it felt like they were having an important moment there on the bench, but, then, Fluttershy chickened out!

As usual.

Not now, please.

If you hadn't panicked again, you could have been enacting the ending to any of your favorite fantasy stories by now!

Give or take sailing over the horizon on flying mounts, fulfilled prophecies, and ethereal swords?

Don't be a smart-mouth in your own head!

Sorry.

It's okay. Anyway, yes, you're a wimp! She cares about you, so much that she's even afraid of scaring you away! That means it's up to YOU to show her she doesn't have to worry!

But I worry! I'll never be as bold as she is, I can't just-

And she doesn't want you to.

Oh, right!

Yes, she likes you just the way you are, remember? But that doesn't change that if you're ever going to win your fairytale ending, if you're ever going to kiss your fantasy-world girl, then-

Still lying on her bed, she sighed. "I have to take the first step."

And she would! Somehow. Some day. She'd skipped practicing the confident walk since the day Rainbow caught her in the gym, post-teasing, but maybe that had been a mistake? She was terrified of the thought that Rainbow might check in on her without warning after that, but it hadn't happened these last few days. She needed to keep practicing, if only for the feelings of strength and fortitude the walk gave her. She'd need them if she was ever going to work up her courage... And today had been the last school day of the week.

Shoot!

Was there anywhere else she could practice? Just a long stretch of flat ground away from prying eyes? There had to be somewhere, somewhere she could go alone and walk with swinging hips as much as she wanted, and she'd find it this weekend!

...

Starting tomorrow morning, it was already getting dark out. Until then, she reflected on today's talk with Adagio. Nothing really interesting happened after the peanut butter cups were offered, but at least Adagio liked them! Smiling, Fluttershy remembered the way those pearly teeth had chewed slowly, commenting on how the chocolate and peanut butter blended together, how one gave bulk to the other, the puzzled little face she made as she tried to determine the dominant flavor, and the uncertain expressions she showed when making her guess, as though hoping Fluttershy could confirm it for her. When she couldn't, they giggled together through another cup each. They left off with a kiss on the cheek each, Adagio having shakily kissed her first, looking just a little anxious until Fluttershy slapped herself awake to kiss back.

Was she afraid of overstepping her bounds even then, or does kissing just make her really nervous? Speaking of bounds...

That 'pressing charges' thing had been bugging Fluttershy since hearing it in the principal's office, more-so because it was Adagio that would have been pressing charges against the school. Not that she wanted it in reverse, but it wouldn't have been as surprising. Still, whatever had happened, Adagio didn't want to talk about it, so Fluttershy didn't press her, even after sharing her own reason for being in the office that day. The two of them agreed that Pinkie Pie and Sonata might find some common ground, at least in terms of affinity for making a mess of Home-Ec.

Anyway, she had two goals this weekend; finding a place to practice the walk in total privacy and working up the courage to kiss Adagio full on the mouth! That her hands shook and her face burned just at the thought of it wasn't a good sign...

---

Coming home Saturday evening, Fluttershy felt pretty good about herself. She'd determined that the best place she could get some practice for the walk was the roof of the animal shelter, because as long as she stayed away from the edges, nobody was likely to see her from below and there was more than enough space to strut like a siren. On top of that, she had developed a plan to kiss Adagio! It hit her while she was being nuzzled by a kitten whose bowl she'd just filled that if Adagio were about as intimidating as a fuzzy critter, as opposed to the tall, proud, confident wall of dominance she usually was, working up the courage to kiss her would be that much easier!

In short, all she had to do was make Adagio look cuter, and she already had a plan! Kind of. She would still need to be brave enough to try it, but it would be easier than just leaning in and stealing her lips. As ever, it was a good thing Fluttershy waited until she was alone to entertain these kinds of thoughts...

---

Monday morning. It was time. With at least an hour's worth of practice on Sunday alone, Fluttershy found herself doing the walk more for the feeling it gave her than to actually memorize how to do it. She was sure she could walk that way any time she wanted now, provided nobody was around! That might have actually been a bad thing, if she started doing it unconsciously, but she couldn't think about that right now. When Adagio arrived in her usual dance outfit, Fluttershy smiled at her, patting the seat on the bench next to her.

"Morning, Sweetie." Adagio sat down, smiling a little herself.

That her happy little smile, not her relaxed smirk, was getting more common filled Fluttershy with warm tingles, but she had to stay focused! "Good morning! I have two things to share with you today, if you don't mind."

Raising an eyebrow, Adagio chuckled. "Oh? What's the occasion?"

Fluttershy responded with a shrug and a sheepish little smile. "N-none, really."

"Well, alright then. What's item one?" Drawing a small, rectangular cardboard box from her book-bag, Fluttershy presented it in that Sacred Offering sort of way, the one that made Adagio increasingly uncertain as to whether or not she really needed to say something about it. Cute, though! Lifting the lid, Adagio found little, brown cubes resting on tiny napkins within the box. She made a guess. "You seem to have a thing for chocolate lately."

Grinning, Fluttershy picked up one of the cubes. "These are fudge, they're like, well, it's a little bit different from what you've seen so far. Try them!" She demonstrated that these fudge cubes could be popped straight into one's mouth without having to pick anything out of one's teeth, so Adagio did the same, chewing slowly.

And then came the analytical face! "It's... Good."

Fluttershy beamed. "I knew you'd think so!"

"Very good. Sweet, rich."

"Uh-huh."

"Smooth," she continued breathily, "creamy..."

Fluttershy started to blush. "Y-yea..."

"It's so thick, melting in my mouth, dripping and-..." Adagio smirked. "Something wrong, Sweetie?"

Fluttershy was looking away, but there was no hiding the heat in her face. "N-nothing, just, uh-"

"Waiting for your plan to come to fruition?"

SHE KNOWS?!

She whipped her head back toward Adagio, eyes practically bulging out of their sockets. "W-WHAT?!"

Adagio giggled at her. "My, my, quite the reaction there. Does that mean you are trying to bed me with chocolate?"

And then Fluttershy's brain stopped working. She stared blankly back. "...What?"

The amusement in Adagio's eyes faded to a sort of subdued curiosity. "Chocolate. You've brought it three days in a row, I think? After my comments on its qualities as a love-aid? So I thought... No?" Adagio couldn't help noticing just how pretty Fluttershy's hair was any time she shook her cute little head. The smooth curvature made her look so... graceful! "Alright, what is your plan?" In her usual, timid fashion, Fluttershy folded her hands in her lap, fidgeting as she looked at the floor. Ooh, it must be something juicy!

"W-well, I, uh, I-I was th-thinking, uhm... Y-you don't have to if you don't want to, I just, uh..." she gulped, very, very hesitantly met Adagio's eyes, and let out a low series of squeaks.

Lost, Adagio tilted her head. "I didn't quite catch that," she said without a hint of her usual playful grin, her voice as gentle as possible, "once more, please?" It may not have been enough, because Fluttershy was actually starting to sweat.

"C-could you... t-try something on f-for me?"

Now Adagio was blushing too. "If... i-if it's something I need to take my pants off for-"

"WHAT?!"

"Because I'm not saying 'no,' but-"

"I-IT'S NOT!!"

"Oh. Had to make sure. What is it?" That poor Fluttershy needed the better part of a minute to calm down only made Adagio want to know more. Good thing she knew how to be patient!

Reaching into her bag, Fluttershy tried to picture doing the walk in her mind. This wasn't going quite how she hoped, but progress was progress. She pulled out a long, shiny, purple ribbon, and held it where Adagio could see. "I was thinking you could use it to tie your hair up, instead of," the smile wavered with her confidence, but she pushed through, "the, uh, s-spiky, um..."

Absentmindedly touching the points of her spiked hairband, Adagio scrutinized the ribbon. "Just... use that instead?"

There was the smallest hint of desperation in Fluttershy's eyes. "Only for a minute, just to see how it looks? I mean, if you don't mind?"

Aww, that face~!

Tempting as it might have been to see if she could get Fluttershy to formally beg, it looked like this might have actually been kind of important to her, for whatever reason. Smiling, Adagio nodded, reaching back to hold her hair where her spiked band did with one hand and remove the accessory with the other. "Would you like to do the honors?"

All but beaming, Fluttershy nodded. She stood on her knees to reach the back of Adagio's head.

Now's the time! I just have to tie it right and... Oh, my.

Fluttershy had spent a good few hours thinking about this hair, but she'd never gotten her hands on it like this. It was soft, light, fluffy and huggable! The scent of mangoes drifted up as she stretched the ribbon around the area Adagio was holding for her, giving her a clue as to the exact hairstyle her favorite Dazzling wore. It was a little hard to be sure just looking at her normally, but up close, it was clear that Adagio's hair was done up in a massive, mega-ponytail, kind of like Sonata's if it were thicker and fluffier.

"How's it coming along, Sweetie?"

"A-almost done!"

"No rush..." With Fluttershy getting so close to her, Adagio definitely wasn't complaining about the view. There was an arsenal of comments to be fired about the proximity of her chest to Adagio's face, but that Fluttershy wasn't shaking at all or making that oh-please-don't-look-at-me pose said she hadn't noticed. Tragic waste, but again, this was apparently important to her. At the very least, Adagio would make sure she found out why.

"It's done!" Leaning back to sit on her legs, Fluttershy smiled. The ribbon now sat nestled in orange fluff, tied in a bow at a forty-five degree angle on the side of Adagio's head. The effect was every bit as adorable as Fluttershy had hoped it would be, more-so as the wearer made that inquisitive little face while glancing upward, as though trying to see the changes on her own head.

Adagio fished through her vest pockets for a compact mirror, using it to see the pretty little ribbon tied in her hair as she set the spiked band on the bench. "A bow?"

"Uh-huh!"

"Why?"

Fluttershy blinked once, lowering her head and showing a sheepish little smile. "I, just, wanted to see how it would look on you, if that's okay."

"I see. And," smirking, Adagio batted her eyes, "what do you think?"

Warmth intensified. "It's, v-very..." Still grinning like a dope, Fluttershy gulped. "...cute?"

The word added pink to Adagio's face, but her expression didn't change. "Cute?" She chuckled. "Well, thank you. Not really my style, but good to know it isn't a bad look for me." She closed the statement by poking the tip of her tongue out of her mouth and winking.

Glowing, it was all Fluttershy could do to resist wrapping her arms around Adagio and squeezing her until not a shred of dignity remained in either of them! However, that would not be conductive to a kiss... Which, now that she was thinking about it, wouldn't that be a little weird to just do? An affectionate peck on the cheek was one thing, but a full lip-lock undeniably held romantic connotatio-well, unless you were a siren. But, if neither of them were eating anything at the time, would there be any doubt? How would Adagio respond to that? What if it felt weird to her? What if she didn't feel the same way? But, the kisses on the cheek, didn't that mean-?

"Sweetie?" Adagio was smiling at her patiently. "Everything alright?"

No, nonononono, it's not alright, I'm not ready!!

Forcing a smile, Fluttershy fumbled for a sentence, spitting it out a little faster than necessary. "So, how was your weekend?"

And then Adagio tensed. It was faint, but as Fluttershy was focused entirely on her, she was sure of it. "Fine," she answered tersely, "one week into the next."

Her own expression slowly shifting into one of concern, Fluttershy felt a little sense of dread where the butterflies usually danced. "Adagio?"

She shrugged a hair too quickly for it to be natural. "What about you? Go frolicking in the woods or something?"

Fluttershy frowned. "You don't have to tell me, but if something is wrong, please don't keep it all to yourse-"

Starting to sweat, Adagio raised her hands placatingly. "No, no, nothing is wrong, really, I was just, uh..." Tell her, or she's going to spend the next week worrying about you for no reason. She sighed, cheeks tinting red. "I'll say right now that I'm not proud of what happened, but nobody is hurt, nobody is dying, and you don't have to worry, okay?"

Managing a tiny smile, Fluttershy gave her the benefit of the doubt. "Okay. So what happened?"

"Well... The three of us, Aria, Sonata, and I, got the idea to try online chat rooms..."

---

The Dazzlings had spent more time on the global human network since their voices were lost, and in that time, they'd heard about chat rooms. Some were about particular topics, some were connected to video streaming sites, some made Aria start clearing their browser history for sheer Euugh factor. One brand of virtual communication box they learned about included video, which made the three of them nostalgic for the days of Contact Pearls back home. Procuring a webcam and hooking it up accordingly, they found a video chat site and began their foray into digital-real-person-friend-making.

"Testing, testing, one-two-three, is this thing on?"

"Ugh, you would start this with a cliche."

"Focus girls, I think our first vict-err, friend is-"

-User Disconnected-

"Shoot."

"Why did you say victim, dammit?! We don't even do that stuff anymore!"

"It slipped!"

"It says we're connecting again."

"New prey!"

"Shh!"
"Shh!"

"Heeheehee!"

"Uh, hey there!"

"Hi!"
"Hey."
"Good evening."

"What're you three doing tonight?"

"Talking to you!"

There was a silence.

"Okay. Uh. What's up?"

"In what sense of the word?"

"Huh?"

"Seriously? I know you know what that question means."

"Yes, but this makes for less insipid conversation."

"Conversation is up!"

"Haha...What?"

"Up!"

"I guess if you consider how often the word 'what' can come up in the average verbal exchange, then yea, 'what' is, itself, up."

"I'm so proud of you!!"

"GAH, stop hugging me!!"

"And that's what's up!"

---

The next person they were connected to was a small boy that smiled, yelled something into a microphone that wasn't hooked up, and motorboated the screen. Not sure what to do with that, the Dazzlings shrugged and skipped to the next person. They were met with a woman in heavy make-up that made her vaguely resemble a cat, along with the fuzzy, felt cat ears and paw-gloves she wore.

"Who dat? Who dat on da scween? Hewwo der! Hewwo der on da scween!"

"Hi!"

"I don't even."

"Nice make-up, but I think you'll have to go a bit further if you want to get on those websites."

"Which ones are you tal-"

"NATA, NO!!"

---

Next was a normal-looking person, apparently asleep at the keyboard.

"Hello there."

"Hey!"

"Zzzzz...zzz..."

"Wake up! You're on the internet, you jerk!"

"Ooh, I have an idea!"

"Make passionate noises to give him a wet dream?"

"What?!"

"I know how the three of us can make it convincing..."

"Hell no!"

"Heeheehee."

"Actually, I was just gonna-SKREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!"

Their chat partner immediately jumped up, spasming and flailing and knocking over the laptop.

"Hahaha, nice one!"

"Full points for projection, too!"

-User Disconnected-

"Aw, shoot."

"Nuts to that guy, that was funny."

"Yes, that'll teach him to try making friends in his sleep!"

"Yea, that arrogant jerk!"

"What?"

"I dunno. Next person!"

---

Another connection, another teenage boy with little restraint. "SHOW ME YOUR TITS!!"

"Okay."

Slowly, Adagio slipped her vest off, Sonata munching popcorn as she unzipped the back of her jumpsuit. She made sure she had the other user's full attention as she lightly tugged it downward, slower than she had with the vest, the thin layer of cloth just barely-

-You Have Disconnected-

"Oops. And he was juuust about to see them."

"Yes! Come to the Tease Side!"

"We have cookies!"

"Seriously?"

"Maybe, but you'll never actually get them!"

"Hahahahahahaha!"
"Heeheeheeheehee!"

---

The next user was dressed like a clown and waving a butcher knife in the air. Adagio stared at his thick make-up and puffy, blue hair for a long minute.

"Girls? I want to be a clown."

"OHGAWDNO!!"

-You Have Disconnected-

"I swear you've got a make-up fetish, Dagi."

---

The next user confused them, because there was nothing but a dark, silent screen before a hideous, shrieking demon face charged the camera.

"Woah, surprise buttface!"

"We can hear you, no need to scream."

"It's gone."

"It doesn't say it disconnected. You still there, freako?"

"Where'd ya go, Buttface?"

"That looked like a butt to you?"

"Kinda. Butt-ugly!"

"I don't like that you're implying that someone's butt can't be beautiful."

"Oh, geez, here we go."

"I immediately regret this decision."

"No, really, not only am I living proof of the contrary, but you two aren't poorly-built either~!"

-User Disconnected-

"I'll never get what it is with you and staring at asses."

"They're a big part of seduction!"

"Thank you, Nata!"

"Some bigger than others!"

"Yes, it's-... Thank you, Nata."

"Heeheehee!"

"She ain't wrong."

"Ah-ha!"

"Wai-no, I mean-"

So wrapped up were they in their discussion, the Dazzlings didn't notice when they were connected with an ordinary person.

"You've really never admired yourself in a mirror from every angle?"

"Stop."

"You must know what I'm talking about."

"No, as usual, I've got no idea what's wrong with your head."

"Other than dat fluff!"

"First of all, my fluff is something very right with my head. Second, I know you know what I mean, Ria. If you aren't showing off your finer points, why do you always wear such tight pants?"

"Guh, buh, I-I-"

"You're wearing them now."

"She's kinda got a point, Ria."

Aria clapped her hands over her ears and turned red. "I am not talking about this with you two again."

"Oh, c'mon, we were just kidding about the belt stuff."

"I wasn't~!"

"Yea, but I was hoping Ria didn't know that."

"'Belt stuff'?"

"Oh, hi there!"

"Good evening! How do you feel about skin-tight pants?"

-User Disconnected-

---

The next chat partner was a guy presenting his naked crotch to the camera. The Dazzlings tried to make conversation by offering observant commentary, but he quickly turned the camera away in shame, disconnecting a minute later.

---

It was something of a surprise when the trio connected with none other than Principal Celestia.

"Oh, hello there girls. How are you this evening?"

"Oh, we're just-Mmph?"

"FINE."

"...Why did you slap a hand over her mouth?"

"Hehe, she's probably worried Dagi'll say som-MMPH!"

"That one looked like it hurt."

"Just a little game we play, try it with your friends, gottagonowseeya!"

-You have Disconnected-

---

"...Sigh. Right. My friends."

---

Following a fat guy attempting to serenade them with a guitar and terrible audio quality on his microphone, the Dazzlings found themselves talking to that insane cat lady again.

"Ooh, you got fwuff! You got wuffly fwuff! You got wuffly fwuff on da hed! Who dat who got da fwuffy hed?"

"...I think it's talking to you, Dagi."

"I gathered. Ahem. Good evening once more, unconvincing anthromorph. My name is Adagio Dazzle, what is it you mean to ask of me?"

"Fwuffy-fwuffy-wuff-wuff! Pway wif kitty? Pway wif kitty fwuff?"

Adagio chuckled darkly. "I'm sorry, you want to play, kitty-cat?"

"Pway wif fwuffy!"

"Good. Turn around and lift your tail."

"..."

"I'm waiting."

-User Disconnected-

"Muahahahaha!"

"You're sick."

"Sick puppy puts down sick cat."

"...That was weirdly poetic, Nata."

"Thanks!"

---

Fluttershy was confused. "That doesn't sound so bad."

"It got worse when we took turns on our own. I'll skip to our most... memorable interactions..."

---

Aria volunteered to go first. Her most outstanding encounter was with a small band of young boys, none older than perhaps thirteen, that made a series of rude, vulgar gestures at the camera. Despite the general effect of what they were saying to her, it was clear within seconds that they did not earnestly intend to pick her up, because they were using entirely the wrong words and phrases. Smiling a little, Aria decided to enlighten them.

"Boys," she said gently, but with just enough volume to be heard over their juvenile come-ons, "I have something I'd like to tell you." To her slight surprise, they actually stopped to listen, though one had to be slapped upside the head before all were focused on Aria. She spoke with just a hint of a coo to her words, using the sort of inflection Adagio had taught her to employ when she wanted something, but lacked the force to immediately seize it. "I can see why looking at me would make you act that way, and I'm truly flattered. However, I don't think your feelings will come across to any girl this way. Do you know why?"

They shook their stupid, barely-pubescent heads.

Aria kept her tone and her face sweet. "Because the kind of people who like young men like yourselves hip-thrusting at the camera aren't pretty girls like me." She threw in a giggle. "Actually, I think most of them are older men. Older men with ugly coats that drive dirty vans. They'd love to have you! They'd take you places, in their vans. Like back home with them. To their shack. Or their basement. None of them will be fun places, y'know?" Keeping the warm smile was easy, because she relished every second of their mirth slipping away, shock and cold fear taking its place. "They'd do things to you, with chains, and hooks, and broken glass. If you're lucky they'll only put them in your mouths. That wouldn't be the real reason, though, because the thing they're really after, is what you were doing when you first saw me. Ohh, but they'd give you a reason to do those things, boys, just as sure as you gave a reason for them to do it. To you. On you. Through you."

Silence. Dead, beautiful silence.

Aria giggled again. "Now, if you want attention from a lady, you have to do something else; you have to show her respect. Treat people like people and they'll do the same for you. Treat people like pleasure toys and, well...?" She winked. "I hope you lock your doors. Got it?"

They nodded as one, the lesson learned. Or not. She couldn't have cared less as she moved to the next user.

---

"...Did you hug her after that, or...?"

"Without mercy."

---

Adagio ran into someone that reminded her of the 'Buttface' encounter, a man in a poorly-lit room apparently wearing something to the effect of a devil mask.

"I kNow WheRe yOu liVe," he bellowed in a distorted voice.

Smirking, Adagio took up a reclining pose. "Do you now?" In response to the name of the state she lived in appearing in the text chat, she let out a low chuckle. "That's still a lot of ground to cover to find little old me."

"CaaaaNteRlooooT."

She smiled a little wider. "Oooooh, done some homework, have we? Narrow it down a little more."

"CaN I coMe ovER?"

"Going to come looking for me?" She chuckled. "That's fine, I'm pretty recognizable."

"Can I ComE oVer?"

"That depends," she whispered while twirling a lock of hair around a finger, "are you bringing me a present?" There was no immediate reply, but Adagio kept her coquettish smile. "I'm not asking much, just something to make it worth the trip for you. You wouldn't want to come all the way to Canterlot just to feel like you've wasted your time, right?" She grinned wickedly. "Oh, and, keep the horned mask. I have plans. I'll be waiting in the park, bring a first-aid kit if you want to make it home in the mor-"

-User Disconnected-

Crossing her arms, Adagio huffed. "Damn tease."

Somewhere, a kettle stared indignantly at a pot.

---

"G-goodness! Were you really going to meet some complete stranger in the park to, t-to..."

"No, but are you seeing the pattern here?"

"Umm..."

"This next one should spell it out."

---

When it was Sonata's turn, she sat perfectly still when the other user connected. She stared at them, wide-eyed, unblinking, then giggled melodiously as they stared back her in perturbed silence. Sonata started laughing harder, then louder and crazier, twitching erratically as her voice got lower and lower, her entire body going into spasms as she gurgled, all but foaming at the mouth until she fell out of her chair.

After a long silence, her chat partner leaned in a little closer to the screen. "Uh... hello? You still ther-"

Sonata leapt up, quickly stuck her face in the camera to reveal her eyes were now pitch-black with tiny red circles for irises, and let out a blood-curdling shriek.

---

Sonata stood with her hands proudly on her hips as her fellow failures in online friend-making stared at her in perplexed, slightly judgmental silence. She beamed at them. "I'm not even sorry."

---

"From there," sighed Adagio, "it pretty much devolved into screwing with random people over the internet for all three of us. Only the next day did we remember that we were doing that at all because we were trying to make friends." She didn't dare look directly at Fluttershy for fear of the crushing, I'm-disappointed-in-you gaze she knew she'd get. Fluttershy was just that type. "A-at the time, I mean, it felt justified. If about a third of the people we met were just going to try to screw with us, or turn out to be complete lunatics, why shouldn't we have some fun too? So, the three of us spent the better part of the weekend just messing with some heads through a webcam." The trick where they made it look like Sonata's head had fallen off was a good example, but she wasn't about to say as much.

There was only silence. Once again, Adagio felt that little compulsion to turn and look Fluttershy in the eye, even knowing full well what would come with doing so. She tried to resist, tried to think of an excuse for her blatantly fiendish actions, but she knew those eyes would see right through her. With the suspicion that things would only be worse if she got up and left now, she gave in, bit her lower lip, and turned just enough to see Fluttershy giving her a kind of wry, but patient grin, like a parent looking at a toddler that just smeared their meal all over their own face.

"It's okay, Adagio."

"...Really?"

"Really."

Folding her arms, Adagio gave her a somewhat skeptical look. "It doesn't bother you at all that we spent the better part of that night having fun entirely at the expense of people who probably did nothing to deserve it? At least not to us, personally?"

Fluttershy smiled almost apologetically. "Well, I won't say I'm glad you scared or confused those people, but none of you meant any lasting harm, right?"

"Some of Sonata's methods made me wonder... But, well, no, not really."

"Would you say it was all in good fun?"

"Not for our victims." Fluttershy was giving her a weird smile. "What?"

She giggled. "Pinkie and Rainbow do things like that too, sometimes, play pranks on people? Most of the time, the recipients laugh too, even if not right away."

"...So painting regular eyes over our eyelids to make it look like we're not blinking, then opening them to reveal bright-red, monstrous contacts, all fun and games?"

"W-well, I'm sure there's a line somewhere, but..." Fluttershy shrugged. "As long as nobody is hurt, I think you don't have to worry." She frowned a little. "Though, it's still not very nice."

"Right, well..." Adagio stood up, stretching a little, her face and tone betraying more than a hint of what may have been regret. "I'll, try not to... do that, as often. At least not when people don't clearly deserve it. See you around, Sweetie." She turned and walked away.

Watching her go, Fluttershy wasn't sure what to make of her reaction to her own behavior. Was she ashamed to have scared people for her own amusement, or only because, in hindsight, those people hadn't shown that they were afraid of her first? Did that validate it in her mind? Was that why she teased people all along?

Rarity said there was no pattern to those she played with, but maybe it's not random after all. She didn't tease me when we first met until-

Her thoughts were halted when Adagio came charging back, her face crimson. She stopped just in front of the bench, quickly taking off the ribbon. "S-sorry, forgot, I didn't mean to walk off with it!"

Blinking twice, Fluttershy looked to her side to find the spiked hairband still on the bench, where Adagio had left it. "Oh, that's okay," she said while giving Adagio a little smile, "I was thinking you could keep it!"

Unfortunately, Adagio had already taken the bow out of her hair, allowing it to collectively hang down a few inches lower in long, curly tendrils. "Oh." She looked down at the ribbon in her hand, making an uncertain expression. "I, well... Thank you, Sweetie."

Handing Adagio her usual accessory, Fluttershy smiled warmly, a little tingle working its way through her heart. "You're welcome."

Still a little flushed, Adagio quickly pocketed the ribbon, re-set her hair in its usual style, and turned away. "Alright, see you, again, see you again, bye!"

Nearly stomping by the time she was out of sight, Adagio cursed herself.

Urrgh! Cute, she calls you cute ONCE and you start bumbling like that cross-eyed girl!

She took a quick breath.

You are Adagio Dazzle, leader of the sirens, lead singer of the Dazzli-... Ouch. Well, leader of the sirens! Cute is for smaller, weaker creatures than yourself, cute is not your style, and it never will be!

Smiling a little at her own reassurance, Adagio regained her normal, confident exterior... but it was unfortunate having a gift she'd never use. Still, it was the thought that counted, right?


Back on the bench, Fluttershy smiled a little, glad that Adagio liked the bow enough to not take it off right away.

Now, where was I? Thinking Adagio doesn't fluster people until they make themselves look like targets? She didn't tease me until seeing how I reacted to the lollipop, because I thought it was kind of like a ki-

Fluttershy slapped both hands to her head, pulling at her hair.

"DARNIT!!"

Author's Notes:

I get the feeling my 'teasing' is becoming a meme with this story. Trying not to encourage it.

Vague visual aid for Adagio wearing a bow and sticking her tongue out. (Warning: Cutest pony fan art I've ever seen. Not hyperbole.)

I think I've found Sonata's evil calling; Internet Troll! I don't know if it'll come up in the story, but she still does the webcam games on her own, if you're wondering.

Green text does not signify any particular character, I was using it because ordinary black text for speech alongside colored dialogue looks off.

Also, I apologize if anyone was genuinely frightened if they clicked the link, but what did you expect from a link labeled 'blood-curdling shriek'? :rainbowhuh:

Chapter 20: Eye Candy

It might have worked, it really might have worked.

There she had been, sitting close on a bench with the object of her affection and the reason her diary entries were all a few pages longer these days, Adagio looking cute as a sleeping puppy as she wore the bow in place of her usual spikes, and both of them had just had fudge!

Note to self: would she be even cuter with bows in place of the spikes on her heels, too? Wrapped tight around the underside of the arch, or just around the ankles?

There would be time for a thoughtful diary entry later. For now; according to the magazines she'd sometimes skimmed through during spa visits with Rarity, the standard convention was some kind of breath freshener, but there would be no mercy in the teasing if Adagio caught her doing that. Tasting like fudge was fine too, right? Well, it would have been, but...

Fluttersigh.

She rested her head on the lunch table, defeated by her own fear and hesitation yet again.

Noticing this, Applejack smiled a little and patted her on the shoulder. "Buck up, Sugarcube, Monday ain't that bad."

"Nah," dissented Rainbow, her head propped up by an arm on the table, "I'm with her, Monday bites."

Pinkie giggled. "That's because you were up late playing games again!"

Rainbow managed a smirk. "S'worth it. Eight hours. Capture the- no, blow up the, or, eliminate the..." She thudded her knuckles against her own head. "I'unno, but it was fun."

Shaking her head, Sunset managed a little smile. "Sleep is important, y'know, especially for your brain."

"You would know that, Brainiac!"

Even Fluttershy found herself joining in on the giggles, which made it all the stranger that Rarity wasn't. The group looked at her, a little concerned.

Applejack straightened her hat. "You okay, Rare?"

Rarity was leaning on the table not unlike Rainbow, massaging a temple with her middle and index fingers. "Oh, fine, yes, just... had a little trouble with the fireplace."

Rainbow snorted. "You still use a fireplace?"

"Oooh," Pinkie chimed in, grinning brighty, "were you roasting marshmallows?!"

There was a pause as Rarity gave both of them a wry grin. "Yes. Yes, I was roasting marshmallows." She made a point of tasting the fingertips of one hand one at a time, the table bursting into gigglefits when she was finished.

---

Mr. Magnet was as lively as ever today. He was a purple-skinned man with wild, orange hair, twirling in the center of the room, which made the colors of his long-sleeved, tie-dye shirt whirl into a blur of color. "Heeeeeel-lo, class!" He stopped and struck a pose that reminded Fluttershy of many a dashing, fairytale prince, if they'd been half as enthusiastic as Mr. Magnet. His black pants and pointed shoes vaguely helped the image, too. "How is everybody doing today?" He got the usual nods and murmurs, which momentarily drew a distressed pout. Perking up again, he gave one side of his long moustache a quick twirl. "Boys and girls, you've really got to liven up a little! This isn't Math or History, this is Art, where we're all free to express ourselves to the fullest extent paint and paper can grant us! Or in today's case, paper and graphite!"

Fluttershy liked sketching days. Her drawings never made her want to visit the graves of famous artists to formally apologize.

"Before we begin, though, I'd like to introduce you all to a new student!" He hollered to the door. "Come on in, Dearie!"

Opening the door, Adagio walked in, a hand on her hip and her usual laid-back smirk on her face. As she slowly scanned her future playmates, she only saw a few she recognized. There was Photo Finish, Lyra Heartstrings, Flash Sentry's band-mate Ringo... and two of the Rainbooms; Applejack and Fluttershy. She couldn't have prevented the wide, devilish smile if she wanted to, opening with a low chuckle that made half the room shudder, most of all her Sweetie. Looking them over, she made sure not to let her eyes settle on anyone in particular. "Good afternoon, everyone. No need for introductions, I'm sure all of you know me, and I'll get to know you very soon..."

Mr. Magnet clasped his hands together, smiling brightly. "That's the spirit!"

Applejack leaned over to whisper to Fluttershy, worry clear in her face. "This should be int'resting..."

Yes, thought Fluttershy, interesting is a very good word for your secret crush transferring into one of your classes. Your secret, flirty, near-shameless, still-kind-of-evil crush, that you haven't even told your closest friends about.

For once, the rational part of Fluttershy's brain made itself heard before panic set in. But, Adagio has been making the effort not to embarrass me in public, right? At least not around witnesses? She wouldn't tease me here then, right? I just have to stay calm... She must have zoned out for longer than she'd thought, because everyone started arranging their chairs and the drawing stands in a semicircle, which she quickly got up to join while Mr. Magnet pushed a long, asymmetrical sofa not unlike Rarity's fainting couch into the center of the room. He only did this when they were all going to sketch the same thing, but-

"Allllright, then!" Mr. Magnet kept his enthusiasm as he indicated Adagio. "As supplies for one more artiste aren't quite ready yet, Little Miss Dazzle has agreed to be our model for today!" Neither he nor anyone else in the room noticed the split second in which Fluttershy's jaw dropped. "Please, kick back, relax, and let the warm, peaceful energy of loving creativity flow into you like a spring breeze!"

Casually tossing her hair, Adagio smiled and approached the couch in the center of the room. "Certainly, thank you." When Magnet asked if she had a sketchbook (Different from a notebook somehow?) and a few different kinds of pencil ready, she'd been worried this would get embarrassing for her, but it looked like he had a back-up plan. That, or his stream of compliments a moment ago had been entirely genuine and he honestly thought of the right to draw her as a good opportunity for the class. Either way, she wasn't about to turn down a chance to be admired for a while.

Gingerly reclining length-wise on the couch, she rested her head atop her folded arms on the armrest (obviously) and let her boots just barely hang over the edge on the opposite side. She decided that having one leg slightly bent wouldn't look too much like she was going for a sensual pose. Settling into her chosen position, she smiled a little, this thing was actually pretty comfy!

Magnet spoke up again. "Now remember, those noisy bells won't disturb us in here, but I'll be keeping time and let you all know when to wrap up. Ready aaaaaand, start!"

Fluttershy, sitting effectively in the middle of the semicircle of desks, felt like she was right in front of Adagio, though she tried to position her stand so as to block eye-contact. That would make things difficult when it came time to draw Adagio's face, but if she got flustered in the middle of class, she was doomed.

But, still, she didn't want to risk Adagio thinking she was ignoring her, either. In a manner perfectly befitting someone that was still getting their bearings on the subject of a sketch, Fluttershy peeked around the stand holding the paper she'd be drawing on to see Adagio's face. She was looking straight at her with a devious little smirk, as if to say 'I knew you'd look. Couldn't keep your eyes off me, could you?' This, of course, made Fluttershy immediately duck behind her stand again, doing what she could to take refuge in her hair as well.

"Land sakes," whispered Applejack, sitting next to her, "just gettin' that wild mane'a hers down is gonna be a challenge."

Fluttershy didn't say anything in reply, but she did get to work, starting with what she could see of Adagio's boots and opting to work up from there, hoping to focus on the lower body until Adagio wasn't looking at her as much.

NOT that she meant to focus on Adagio's lower body because she wanted to or anything, just, in this situation, it was best that she, because, her face was-

Hesitantly allowing herself another peek, Fluttershy at least confirmed that she shouldn't have done that when Adagio made the faintest little motion with her lips, almost as if she were blowing a kiss. Feeling about a hundred degrees warmer, Fluttershy suppressed a squeak and earnestly tried to focus on the shapes of Adagio's boots.

The way she was lying down, the spiky parts weren't visible to Fluttershy, so she wouldn't have to worry about drawing those provided Adagio stayed still. Which, she was doing a good job so far! But, still, this whole situation was embarrassing! Mr. Magnet was quietly pacing around the room, so softly you wouldn't even know he was there as he observed individual sketches for a moment at a time, and, she knew, all of those sketches were of Adagio! It was a weird and irrational feeling, but somehow, it felt like everyone could see something secret, something she didn't want them to, as if Fluttershy were lifting her own skirt in a crowded area.

...That was kind of a weird comparison to make, you know.

Doing her best to dislodge the thought while redoubling the effort to hide in her own hair, she tried to focus on drawing. Before long, she found herself gently tracing the long, smooth curves of Adagio's muscular legs. A little while after that, she figured it might be okay to move on from the long, smooth curves of Adagio's muscular legs. It was while finishing up the little insignia on her thigh, the point where her tights were swallowed by the legs of her jumpsuit, that Fluttershy realized she was hardly looking at her model to do this. Glancing up to make sure she was drawing her right, Fluttershy found her sketch to be very, very close to the genuine article.

Have I spent so much time staring at Adagio that I already have a near-perfect image of her?

Moving slowly up her body as she drew, Fluttershy was soon faced with no way to draw the exact positions of her arms without being able to see her head, and consequently, her face. She peeked, Adagio's red-violet, half-lidded eyes on her a second later.

And now she's batting them at me!!

Her heart rate was picking up again, but it would stand out if Fluttershy only drew the lower two thirds of Adagio's body. It would stand out in a really, really bad way. So, she tried to focus, to quickly outline the hair and shade the enclosed area appropriately. She had to double-check a few times (septuple-check?) to make sure she was getting the highlights right, and the exact positions of the siren's visible fingers. It looked like Adagio hadn't moved a muscle since the sketching had started, which at least made things easier. It was just as Fluttershy was shading the poofy shoulders on Adagio's vest that she heard Lyra quietly speaking from a few seats over.

"Hey... Hey, guys? I think she's out cold."

Everyone stopped drawing to take a good look at their subject. Adagio was lying where she'd been the whole time, head on her folded arms, eyes closed, and a serene, happy little smile on her face, just like the one she made after falling asleep when she'd been sick. Fluttershy smiled too, tickled that Adagio could still be really cute even without a bow. Most of the class apparently agreed, judging by the quiet sentiment delivered in unison.

"Aww..."

Mr. Magnet wiped a tear from his eye. "Look at that, cherubs, someone that feels so safe and soothed by the arts that she can drift off to dream land! Please, let's all stay hush-hush and let the little angel rest while we finish up these sketches."

There were some quiet giggles at the notion of any of the Dazzlings being identified as an 'angel,' but everyone kept their voices down.

"Oh, wow..."
"She looks so... normal..."
"De magicks..."
"Like a big, fluffy baby..."
"A big, fluffy baby with donk!"
"Shh!"

Looking at Applejack, Fluttershy saw her shaking her head a little and smiling. "Never quits bein' a li'l weird, huh? Seein' someone go from magical mega-maniac to dozin' all peaceful like?"

It was, indeed, just a little weird the first time the group saw Sunset peacefully asleep at a slumber party, exactly like Adagio was now. There had been a group 'Aww' then, too, and it was Fluttershy's favorite kind of weird! Picking up where she left off without fear of public bedroom eyes, she drew the rest of the model in peace, giving special attention to the dreamy little expression that flirty, evil, seductive, adorable face now formed.

---

With class winding down, Mr. Magnet indicated that it was time to wrap up. Everyone kept mostly quiet as they put things away, but no one really looked certain what to do about the sleeping siren in the middle of the room. Fluttershy jumped when Mr. Magnet tapped her on the shoulder. "'Scuze me, Fluttershy, but I've gotta make a quick stop by Luna's office, do you think you could rouse our muse for her next class? I ask because you of all people are the least likely to give anybody a rude awakening, you know?"

Fluttershy nodded a little. She didn't want Adagio to get in trouble again, least of all for taking a nap. Waiting until Mr. Magnet and everyone else was out of the room, she approached the couch, very gently reached out to touch Adagio's shoulder, and gave her a little shake.

No response.

"Adagio?"

Still no response.

She shook her just the teeniest bit harder, leaning in closer to whisper into the hair by Adagio's ear. "Adagi-" Adagio stirred, making Fluttershy hop backward.

One red-violet eye opened and a tiny smirk formed. "Mmph. Sweetie? Was just thinking about you..."

As ever, Fluttershy flushed crimson. "Uh, th-that's n-nice, um, it's t-time for the next class, so-"

Adagio sat up, looking around somewhat blearily. Just Woke Up was another new expression to cherish. "...Class is over? Did art happen?"

"Yes, and, kind of?"

"Kind of?" She smirked. "Wait, you drew me while I was sleeping?"

Once again, Fluttershy lit up like a human stove, gesturing every which way in the hopes of somehow pointing to a perfectly reasonable explanation for having done that. "I, buh, it, we, I, the, w-well, w-we-"

Giggling, Adagio got to her feet and stretched a little. "Actually, we can probably talk about it later, catch you tomorrow?"

Despite her flustered state, Fluttershy didn't really want to be late either (if only for the whole class' worth of attention it draws). She smiled shakily. "Um... S-sure!" Turning to head out, she took two steps before being seized from behind, Adagio's arms gently wrapping around her. This drew a burning, luminous blush as she tried to turn her head. "Uh-huhm... Ad-dagio? W-why are you... h-hugging me l-like..." the last word was barely a squeak, "this?"

She felt warm breath on her ear, but strangely, Adagio's tone wasn't seductive so much as it was soft, tender, even affectionate. "Just felt like it. Do I need a reason?"

Fluttershy was shaking, both for the first reason, and for the implications of that sentiment. "W-w-well, n-no, but, uhm-"

Adagio audibly frowned. "You don't like this."

"It's, uh, n-not that I, I mean, it's just that, um..." She gulped. "You'retouchingmybreast!"

Paying close attention to where her hands were now, Adagio held very still. "Oh. Sorry."

Despite her racing heart as the stray hand fell away, Fluttershy managed a goofy grin. "Don't worry about it." Just before she was let go, she turned to kiss Adagio on the cheek, drawing a rosy blush and a shy little smile.

Stepping back, Adagio narrowly avoided eye-contact. "So, I'll, see you tomorrow, then. Twice." She looked directly at Fluttershy just long enough to wink, "Bye now!" and walked out, hips swinging a little faster than usual as she performed the confident walk at top speed.

If Fluttershy was lucky, it would look like her face was still red because she had just jogged to the next class.



A minute later, the Art room was entirely empty. Mr. Magnet popped his head in through the doorway. "Is she awa-... Oh. Guess that answers that." Walking in, he saw that one of the stands still had a picture on it. What he saw made him smile. It wasn't signed, wasn't labeled, but going by its position in the room, he was almost certain the sketch was Fluttershy's. He looked to the doorway. "Hm. Well, if she left it here, I suppose it couldn't have been dearly important to her. Still, it's a shame to just forget about such a nice picture..."

And then he had an idea.

---

That night, Fluttershy had a secret research mission. Well, technically it was just pouring over her little collection of fantasy novels, carefully examining the feel and context of the hero's first kiss with the love interest in every example, but it was still research conducted secretly! She paid particular attention to the one with the dark spirit that came around to see that there was more than pain in the world when she felt loved for the first time.

I know these aren't much of a substitute for actual romantic advice, but there's no one I can really talk to about it.

It wasn't for lack of trust, just that even vaguely implying she knew someone who might have wanted a little help working up the courage to initiate a kiss could snowball out of control and wind up the same as shouting 'I have a crush on Adagio Dazzle' in the streets. She glanced at her diary, lying on her bedside table. It didn't need to be open to remind her that there were at least two full pages worth of those words written over and over again, among other things. It was almost as if she was practicing writing that sentence as much as she was practicing the walk in the gym and on the roof of the animal shelter.

She returned to her studying, making notes for every romantic scene, most of all the kisses. From the look of things, the typical fantasy kiss just happened either after an action sequence in which the lovers survive by the skin of their teeth (not really a factor for her and Adagio, at least she dearly hoped not), or moments that just seem to feel right, like the kiss happens on its own. That was what she would have to do, she guessed, just relax calm down try to keep a level head around Adagio and wait for the moment. Part 2 of that plan was to not choke when the moment came around again. If the moment ca-

No, it WILL come, you can't keep letting fear win! There will be another moment like last Friday, you'll recognize and seize that moment, and then you'll kiss her on the lips for reasons that have nothing to do with sharing food of any kind!

"..."

For a minute, it felt like the world was dead silent. Shifting the pages of the nearest book helped to restore noise to things.

It will come. I didn't even think about kissing her on the cheek today, right? Like Adagio's accidentally-kinda-gropey hug, I just felt like it and it kind of happened. Is it supposed to be that easy? And, even if it is, what will she do?

Fluttershy might have been more confident now than through most of her life, but she was still terrified of what might come after the kiss, how Adagio might respond, whether or not she really felt the same, and something in her head saying that everything they had together could come to a screeching halt. That in mind? She didn't need her stories to know that if she didn't at least take the chance, she'd regret it forever. She would take that chance, there was no doubt in her mind that she wanted that kiss, and everything that came with it.

...Seriously, I don't know how much longer I can take this kind of tension!

Author's Notes:

The Fluttersigh! Is it as funny the second time? You tell me. Really. Talk or I will shine a lamp on you.

Alternate title: "I Know There Was This Movie About a Boat, But My Crew Had Nothing To Do With It!"

Chapter 21: Suckable, Tangy, Glass Slabs

The following morning, Fluttershy quickly reviewed her battle plan; just act natural and let the moment come on its own. She'd smile, share the day's treat, talk, and see where things went from there. Simple!

Before long, Adagio (wearing her jeans and hoodie today) arrived and sat beside her on the bench. "Morning, Sweetie."

"Good morning! Have you ever had Joyful Rangers before?"

Adagio blinked twice. "Have I...? Are you asking if I've made troopers very happy before?"

"W-what?!"

"Because I know that one's a bit of a stretch, but that's the only way I can think of that 'having a joyful ranger' makes any sen-"

Fluttershy was holding the treats where Adagio could see in the blink of an eye. "J-just this!!"

"Oh." She tilted her head to read the label on the long, thin, flat wrappers, under which was presumably the aforementioned candy. 'Joyful Rangers,' it indeed said. With a wacky, bulbous, slightly curved exclamation point. She hesitantly seized one for herself, trying to remember what she did to remove this kind of flappy-plastic-ended wrapper last time. Luckily, Fluttershy demonstrated.

"I should probably warn you, these are meant to melt slowly in your mouth. If you bite into them hard enough, they break like glass, and might even cut the inside of your mouth a little." That had never happened to her, but Pinkie was very clear in her warning.

Nodding a little, Adagio peeled the wrapper off, took one look at the big, red thing, and smirked viciously, even for her. "Sweetie?"

Ohh, no, what's wrong with these? "Y-yes?"

"You're just screwing with me now."

The accusation drew a wide-eyed look of alarm. "WHAT?!"

Adagio gestured to the Ranger, her evil grin no weaker. "A thin, shiny, flat piece of candy is nothing out of the ordinary as far as these things go. However, that it is also a long, hard, smooth thing-"

"EEK!!" Fluttershy quickly turned as red as the treat itself.

"-that you're specifically not supposed to chew on-"

"OkayIgetitpleasestop-"

"-you'd be eroding it away by stroking it with your tongue-"

"Ididn'tmeanto-Ijustpickedsomethingupand-"

"-which essentially means we'll be sucking on-"

There was only a long, strained scream-groan-squeak, all coming out as one tortured syllable as Fluttershy fell on her side.

Giggling evilly, Adagio thought about leaning over her and delivering a coup de grace, but the memory of this conversation would likely follow Fluttershy every time she raised a vaguely phallic object to her mouth for the rest of her life. And if it didn't, she wanted to be able to be there to reinforce those thoughts. For learning's sake! While waiting for her to recover, Adagio put the thing in her mouth, resisting temptation to make loud slurping noises.

"Ooh..."

The flavor of the thing was... intense! Not exactly forceful in its cherryness, but it just felt magnified compared to the lollipop from a few weeks ago. Perhaps there was a higher concentration of something in this shiny substance, or maybe Fluttershy had already drained the intensity out of the sucker that time, but this felt like she was tasting more at once. The thing seemed to melt slowly, much slower than chocolate, feeding her an acidic (citrus?) fluid throughout. Meaning to share these observations, she looked over at Fluttershy and was startled to see her sitting up, and a little closer, looking at her with a big, happy smile. "Eh... Hi. Welcome back."

She would never get tired of the analytical face! "Do you like it?"

Adagio nodded. "Quite different from what I've seen so far, but not bad at all. I wonder..." She bit down. Harder. And harder.

Fluttershy noticed, worry clear in her expression. "Oh, uh, p-please be careful, it could really-"

CRUNCH!

Her mouth full of pointy little fragments, Adagio didn't speak. She was able to feel the little jabs in her gums, but they were harmless as long as she didn't move her jaw or tongue. Sweetie's still giving me a really concerned look, but making it clear I'm not in any pain should help. Feeling the tiny pieces of shattered Freudian theory melting already, at a faster rate now that more surface area was exposed, she smiled amicably, not saying a word until everything in her mouth was liquid. "Ta-daaa!"

Breathing a sigh of relief, Fluttershy frowned a little. "Please don't scare me like that."

Adagio raised an eyebrow. "You were really worried I'd be hurt by candy?"

"It could happen, people choke on food all the time, and when that food is tiny, sharp-" Her hair was ruffled. Adagio was happy-smiling at her.

"I'll be careful. Promise." With Fluttershy smiling back at her, they enjoyed the Rangers in silence, and with only a minimum of suggestive facial expressions from Adagio.

---

A little after they were finished, the two got into discussing a recent deviation in Adagio's behavior. Specifically, that she was seen standing behind people, holding open doors, and letting people go ahead of her very often.

Adagio rolled her eyes, smirking a little. "Knew you would ask eventually. Yes, I'm giving this a go just for a change of pace, trying it on for size." It isn't a complete lie if you don't disclose the whole reason, right?

Fluttershy nodded, smiling that precious someone-is-being-nice-to-others-and-that-makes-me-happy smile. "And, how do you feel about it so far?"

There was a little shrug. "In it's own way, it's almost pleasant. Gives you a chance to stop and smell the roses a bit, get a good look at things." And then, just as the pride was swelling in Fluttershy's chest, Adagio smirked. "That, and it's fun to see the looks on people's faces when they see me of all people holding a door open for them!"

She finished with loud laughter, but to Fluttershy, it still felt like progress down a road she hadn't known she was travelling. "So, uh... w-we have Art class together."

"Yes, I'll happily pose nude for the class."

"EEP!!"

Fluttershy burned red, Adagio cackled maniacally, which eventually died down to quiet giggles as she wiped a tear from her eye without smearing her eyeliner. "You must have known that one was coming?"

Though she was having a hard time looking away from the ground, Fluttershy let out a nervous little giggle, which was the most she could do without making the situation more embarrassing.

Composed, Adagio looked out over the soccer field. "Anyway, I won't focus entirely on you, don't worry. If the incident with Rainbow Dash- that's her name, right?" Fluttershy nodded. "Okay, good. If the incident with Rainbow Dash taught me anything, it's that I'm not allowed to interact with you in public." She turned to Fluttershy with a wink. "Of course, we both know how I feel about things I'm 'not allowed' to do..."

That she playfully stuck out her tongue, still faintly red from the Ranger, made Fluttershy's heart skip a beat, drawing a warm, if nervous smile. "Th-then, from now on...?"

Chuckling, Adagio reached over to tickle the underside of Fluttershy's chin with a fingertip, which drew a little shiver. "I understand that you'd be eager for my attention, but I can't focus on just one person all the time without it coming across a little odd, especially knowing the fuss it would raise." As Fluttershy actually deflated a little, Adagio giggled. "Ohh, don't fret, Sweetie, it would be just as strange if I ignored you completely. If we play it right, it might just look like I'm capitalizing on someone I know is easy prey, and it won't look at all out of place if I pick on you more often. Granted that your farmer friend doesn't object to my bullying, of course."

Fluttershy felt cold, her eyes going wide. "B-bullying? You're not a-"

With a grin somewhere between wry and regretful, Adagio held a finger to Fluttershy's lips. "It's alright, I have no illusions about what I've been doing. I push people's buttons for my own amusement, I pester them without a thought spared for their feelings, I rile up the same few victims because I know they'll react to me. What else would you call someone like that?"

For a worrying moment, she didn't have an answer. However, where her brain failed, her heart spoke loud and clear. "I like it when you pick on me!" Clasping both hands over her mouth and turning hot pink as Adagio started at her wide-eyed, Fluttershy politely asked her brain to chip in a little here. "I-I mean, uh, th-that is to say-" Heart and Brain. Together. We can do this. "I-I actually have a lot of fun, because even though it wasn't that way at first, you almost never push me that hard, and the times you kinda do, you always apologize." Feeling a little warmer at the sight of Adagio's almost awe-struck expression, Fluttershy smiled. "You aren't a bully, Adagio, or at least, you're not just a bully. You even said that you teased people because they didn't specifically ask you to stop, right?"

Mentally reeling, Adagio's mouth twitched a few times before it made words again. "I... W-when did I say that?"

Remembering where she got that tid-bit, Fluttershy smiled sheepishly. "Well, you never told me, but Sunset said it in the lunch room the day Rainbow found us in the Gym, that when she asked you about poking people, you said-"

"Ah, yes, right..." Looking away, Adagio absent-mindedly scratched her chin, a rosy little blush on her cheeks. "I did say that, didn't I?" Giggling, she grinned. "Well, no problem if I do as I please, then." She winked again. "Look forward to Art."

To Adagio's slight shock, Fluttershy beamed. "I will!"

I am a baaaad influence, thought the siren. Still, she chuckled and stood up, not noticing Fluttershy's slightly panicked expression. "Well, alright then. I'll see you around, Swee-"

Seeing what felt like a good chance slipping away, Fluttershy's heart ached, spurring her into action. That action was meant to be standing with Adagio, tenderly embracing her, and planting a big, wet kiss on her lips. What actually happened was Fluttershy launching herself face-first like a kissy-faced, ballistic missile (kiss-le? ballisti-kiss-le?), missing her mark, slamming into Adagio hard enough to catch herself in the throat on Adagio's shoulder, and sending both of them to the ground. Fluttershy was lying on top of her like some kind of clumsy, gasping fish as she choked from the throat impact.

Adagio, lying very, very still, waited until her attacker caught her breath before asking the question, in a calm tone of voice. "Sweetie? Everything okay?"

"Um... I-I think so, yes."

"You're sure? I know I've said it before, but I really can be too much for some people, so it's okay if you're overcome with animalistic lust and can't wait to peel the clothes from my-"

Lifting herself up by straightening her arms as Adagio tensed under her, Fluttershy burned red. "Th-that's not it at all!!"

Still pinned to the floor, Adagio raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "Really?"

"R-really!"

"Mmhm. Explain your hand."

"Huh? What do you m-"

One hand was on Adagio's chest. Specifically, she had one hand atop a firm lump just under the soft, light fabric of Adagio's purple hoodie. All brain activity came to a screeching halt until her accidental-groping victim (the irony was distantly noted) spoke with a triumphant little smirk despite the flush of heat to her face.

"So, like I was saying, really looking forward to Art class, hm?" As Fluttershy emitted only mortified whimpers in response, there was really no choice here but to grin wickedly and say, "Did you want to do it here and now, or... wait until we have an audience? I'm sure someone will sketch all the details in perfe-"

Fluttershy pushed off of her as though she were on fire, Adagio remaining where she was and bursting into impish gigglefits. She was almost certain she had done it with the perfect timing to cover up a shudder at having such a sensitive spot handled that way. A minute later, she sat up, feeling a tiny pain in her chest when she didn't see Fluttershy right away. Her Sweetie was on her knees nearby, face buried in her hands, prompting Adagio to get up, stride over, kneel down, and wrap her in a calming Friendship Hug™ (she'd looked it up online, there were even diagrams) to make everything better. "Just in case you're thinking it," she whispered, "no, I'm not angry, not offended, not going to go cry to Zecora about being violated."

There was a tiny, two-syllable squeak.

"Yes, really. I did it just yesterday, right?" She giggled, tightening the hug. There was no audible complaint about it so far, so she guessed this was an acceptable method. "I like things to be even, so this works out." The call to add a little more to the sentiment was strong, but she held it in. Something told her she'd be lucky if Fluttershy didn't break off running the second she let her go.

Fluttershy, for her part, felt all kinds of relieved. At not having crossed a line, at the warm tenderness of the hug, at Adagio not thinking she was suddenly some crazy, grope-y pervert and that she couldn't let her guard down around her anymore. Not that she wanted Adagio to let her guard down, specifically, just that she felt it meant that Adagio trusted her and that was a really nice feeling to have. Managing a little smile, she gently hugged Adagio back. "I love you too."

"What was that?"

EEK! "I-I said, I trust you too!"

"Oh." Chuckling, Adagio worked just a hint of suggestion into her voice. "Are you sure about that? I could just be waiting for the right moment to-"

Fluttershy squeezed her a little harder, nuzzling her face against Adagio's shoulder and breathing in the sweet scent of mangoes. "I'm sure."

Though it was unseen on account of being just over Fluttershy's shoulder, Adagio's face flushed a bright, hot crimson. Gah... You win this round, Sweetie.

As the two knelt hugging in the grass, Fluttershy did have one tiny regret: This wasn't really a kissing atmosphere as much as it was a cuddly, hugging one. That wasn't a bad thing, but the situation didn't feel right for a kiss, and feeling right was all she had to go on at this point.

Touching her breast led to a hug. Maybe touching somewhere else would-NO, bad Fluttershy!!

She hopped up, smiling sheepishly as Adagio got to her feet too. "W-well, uherrm, th-thank you for, um, h-hugs."

Adagio blinked twice before giggling. "Yes, thank you for hugs. I'll catch you in Art, take care, Sweetie." And off she walked.

Fluttershy noticed a slight reduction in hip movement now that she wasn't wearing her usual spiked heels. Alone, she quietly examined her hand.

...Definitely a little bigger than they look.

---

Adagio had a very interesting morning, with today's first meeting with Fluttershy certainly starting things on a high note. The realization that there would now be two a day for the foreseeable future, even if not to the same length or one-on-one intensity, was the source of a single, tiny squee the night before. Anyway, she ignored Flash entirely first period to focus on the morning encounter, which presented new, partly troubling, but no-less-enticing information.

She likes it when I pick on her... Why, Sweetie? Why must you complicate things?

Now figuring out where the limits were would be EVEN HARDER!

...But still...

There was so much potential now that she knew that, so much she could do, so much she could make her Sweetie do!

So much that could go wrong, so much that could be going too far, so much that might make her never want to talk to you again.

Hey, she jumped me today! It didn't go very far, but she definitely wants a little something more.

Well, that or it was just another one of those clumsy-dope moments Fluttershy sometimes had, like that time with the notebook, and she'd be signing her own restraining order if she took it the wrong way. The way Fluttershy seemed to have a tiny breakdown after said that the... touching... probably wasn't deliberate. Just the same, it was an exciting thought, that she might be pounced on by Fluttershy of all people at any time, more-so if she continued to drop her guard when they were together. The squirrel incident had been embarrassing and there were a lot of little undignified moments in their time together, but she hadn't really gotten hurt so far, right?

Vulnerability worked two ways, after all. If someone got close enough to caress your most tender, most delicate aspects (Ooh, la la~!), then they would invariably be close enough to cause just as much harm to those weak spots. In a bad way. Fluttershy hadn't made her regret it yet, so the scary little possibility, however distant, was just something she opted to learn to live with in exchange for everything else they had together.

The other thing that caught her attention was how people were looking at her again, but in a different way than usual.

They were smiling.

She was getting strange looks in general, but some people looked at her, directly at her, she was sure, and smiled. It was only two or three in first period, and only through fleeting glimpses, but walking down the hall to second period had at least a dozen people giving her little grins, at least until she looked directly back at them. It was just as she was stepping out of third period that Adagio got a text from Aria.

[Hallway outside the Art room. Hurry.]

Author's Notes:

No, there will not be a continued theme of groping, by accident or otherwise, through the rest of the story. I think. Maybe it shows, but I pretty much make up the specific events of individual scenes as I go.

Chapter 22: Treats and a Spectacle

The Rainbooms gathered out in the hall that quite a few students were starting to congregate in, which made Fluttershy just a little nervous. Still, Sunset had sent everyone a text, the second part of which froze Fluttershy's blood.

[They finally took down that stupid picture of me! :D Oh, and there's this cute drawing of Adagio Dazzle there now.]

Nearing the Art room's display area, Fluttershy caught sight of the Dazzlings heading in the opposite direction. The angle of Adagio's hair (her long, bulky bangs, that is) hid her face entirely, but she could see Aria looking irritable.

Cold dread dripped through her heart as Fluttershy made her way to her friends, all looking at what was, as she feared, her sketch of Adagio sleeping. Weirdly, with the cute, serene expression on her face immortalized in graphite for all to see, some part of Fluttershy was happy.

The rest was terrified.

Pinkie shook her head ruefully. "Tsk, tsk, getting her picture taken with her eyes closed."

"It's a sketch, Pinkie Pie," said Rarity with a giggle, "though I can see why you might think otherwise."

Rainbow scratched her head. "Why would anyone draw this?"

Shrugging, Applejack answered while still appraising the paper herself. "She was our model in class yesterday, looked just like this when she dozed off."

"Is that even legal? Students posing as drawing material?"

"Mr. Magnet comes up with some funny stuff in the name'a art, Rainbow, but Ah don't think he's ever broken the law."

"That didn't necessarily answer the question..."

Sunset scrutinized the sketch as well. "Going by the detail on Adagio herself, her legs, her hair, even the exact placement of the little triangles on her tights, whoever drew this must have really been looking."

EEP!!

"I mean, the sheer level of almost photo-realistic shading on her legs and the, eh, g-general hip regions is..."

I-I was supposed to draw her ass-IMEAN as accurately as possible, wasn't I?!

Rainbow nodded. "I knew the sirens got this kind of attention all the time, but daaamn!"

PLEASE stop focusing on the-

Pinkie admired the drawing from multiple angles. "A sleepy-head face and curvy body. Who knew she of all people could pull off adora-sexy?"

What?!

Applejack glanced in the direction the sirens had gone. "Didja see her face a minute ago? Don't think Ah ever saw one'a them three blush like that."

And Adagio probably hates it too. Wonderful.

Feeling smaller by the second, Fluttershy tried to hide in her own hair and duck down out of sight, Rarity gently patting her on the back a second later.

"Perhaps we should move along," she urged her friends, "the next class will start soon." The others glanced in her direction and got the hint for the real reason, giving Fluttershy, surrounded by all these people while they all talked about body detail, sympathetic looks. People around her were whispering as the six departed.

"Man, Dazzle looked pissed."
"Somebody gonna get it."
"Nah, I think she was red out of embarrassment, not rage."
"Rumor is she volunteered to be drawn like that."
"I, for one, have a new-found appreciation for Art."
"Totally, and the face she made when she saw it, I just wanted to squeeze 'er!"
"The cute one, well, cuter one, I guess, was actually giggling."
"Either way, I'd hate to be whoever made that sketch."

---

Lunch opened on an awkward note, with Rainbow's help. "Sorry, Fluttershy," she said with a little frown as they were all seated, "didn't mean to make you uncomfortable back there."

The attention immediately on her, Fluttershy felt her face heating up. "Oh, th-that's, uhm, that's okay, I-I-"

"Yea," added Pinkie with a hint of shame, "we all know you don't like seeing or talking about that stuff." She couldn't help a tiny grin. "But seriously, dat shading!" Fluttershy's squeak and sudden hair-hideyness made her wince. "Sorry. Again." That settled it; she would be getting some apology cupcakes later.

Sunset dismissively waved a hand. "Body-focus aside, did you guys see the detail on her face? Along with not including the eyeliner she's been wearing lately, the way it was drawn was nothing like her usual expressions, and I don't think she's ever made a face like that in school before now." The best word for Sunset's own expression just then was 'concerned.' "I'm not about to complain about one of those three finally getting some good PR, but I'm wondering if someone drew her all peaceful on purpose for some reason."

Applejack shook her head. "Nah, that was the real deal, she looked exactly like that in class yesterday." Blink. "Well, 'cept with scary eye make-up."

The dark circles don't make her that scary, thought Fluttershy.

Rarity's attention was piqued. "Ooh, that's two times in the last week someone did something juicy in their sleep!" She got the usual not-on-the-up-and-up looks. "Vinyl Scratch got detention for falling asleep in a classroom last week, having shouted out, err..." Problem with juicy gossip, which Rarity remembered only as she turned scarlet? That which makes it juicy. "S-something a lady shouldn't repeat when she was woken up. From the sound of things, she was in the middle of a very interesting dream..." She was reminded why she typically didn't share this kind of thing with her friends when most of them turned red too. New subject. "So, Applejack, she shares a class with you and Fluttershy, seventh-period? Was that the interesting thing you alluded to this morning?"

Shaking off the Rarity moment, Applejack nodded. "Eyyup. She came in, stretched out on the schmancy couch," she raised her hands in a vaguely menacing fashion for emphasis, "and just kinda looked at people like she was tryin' to paralyze 'em in a snake stare 'till she fell asleep. Then she was all smiles an' sweet dreams, like y'all saw."

Oh, thought Fluttershy, she was giving everyone looks? Not just me? I, I guess that's normal for her...

Chuckling, Rainbow raised an eyebrow in mild disbelief. "Snake stare? Seriously? I-" She remembered they were talking about the queen of scary faces. "Ooh, actually, yea, I buy that. She get you too?"

Applejack crossed her arms and scoffed. "N-no, Ah was just tryin' to draw that crazy 'do of hers. Oh, speakin'a which..." Smiling a little, she reached into her bag, pulling out a long piece of paper, featuring nothing but the outline of Adagio's disembodied head attached to the entirety of her big, fluffy hairstyle in reasonably high detail. "How do ya like that? Ah can draw hair!"

Pausing as the memory of Fluttershy's unusual offer to replace the painting of Sunset resurfaced, all six of them broke into gigglefits.





Over at the Dazzlings' table, things were a little less jubilant.

"So," asked Aria with crossed arms and a raised eyebrow, "you got a creep-o stalker now, or...?"

Adagio shook her head even while propping it up on one arm on the table. "No, or at least, if I do, this has nothing to do with them." How does one answer whether or not they have a stalker? Isn't not knowing about them a key element of the thing? "I was asked to be the central figure in my new station seventh period, but no one said anything about results being hung up the next day." That Sonata started giggling made her hesitate to ask, but she felt it best to get it out of the way. "Something funny, Nata?"

"Pffftheeheeheeheeheehee!" They gave her a minute to gather her thoughts. "Snooze, ya lose, huh, Dagi?"

Aria and Adagio both groaned, the former shaking her head ruefully. "Too freakin' predictable, Nata."

Sonata rolled her eyes. "You are such a joke snob."

"Anyway," Aria gave the technically-willing muse an inquisitive look, "how're you feeling about this?"

There was a tiny smirk. "Oh? You're directly asking about feelings now? Should we be on guard for flying pigs next?" That her friends just held their stares said Adagio wasn't weaseling out of this one. She sighed. "A little embarrassed, alright?" The rest came through her teeth in a low grumble as her face grew warmer. "People are looking at me like I'm a kitten that just rolled over on its back."

Sonata clasped her hands together while making a dreamy little expression. "Awwwww!!" The death-glare from her fluffy-wuffy friend immediately replaced the look with one of shy contrition.

Aria shrugged. "Kinda brought this on yourself, Dagi. If you didn't go around putting yourself in a spotlight all the time, people probably wouldn't care as much, y'know?" She winced as Adagio rested her head on the table and Sonata gave her one of those 'now look what you did' frowns. "Err, I mean, like..." Now she was smiling sheepishly. "H-hey, at least they made you look good, right?"

Trying to help, Sonata chipped in. "Yea! Super high detail from the waist-down, somebody in that class definitely has their eye on you!" This got her two mildly perplexed looks, but at least Adagio wasn't doing that sad, slumpy thing now. "I mean, why else would they draw you all sexy? They even made your tits look a little perkier!" Aria and Adagio both flushed red, which was a rare accomplishment for Sonata.

Ordinarily, Adagio might have protested that if she hadn't been rendered to look gorgeous, the artist would have failed to draw her by default, but right now her mind went elsewhere. She hadn't needed to look at the picture for long to figure out the angle of the sketcher's point of view, which left a slim list of possibilities. If nothing else, this would make for interesting conversation come tomorrow morning.

Aria slowly turned to her with a mostly blank expression. "Eh, yea. Definitely made you look hot. That's a bright side, right?"

"I don't have a problem with the body," answered Adagio, "it's the face they drew me with that's getting all these stupid little grins. The worst part," she uttered with a hint of resignation, "is that this might actually be good for us." Now she was being stared at in surprise. A welcome return to form. "Think about it, the three of us are still feared and hated to some degree by most of the school, if not the population of Canterlot as a whole. Since this morning, people have been smiling at me. If they've got it in their heads that I'm not the threat I used to be-"

"The one none of us have really been since the big show," Aria noted bitterly.

"-right. I most likely have the worst reputation out of any of us outside the local cooking community-"

Sonata scoffed, crossing her arms and looking away indignantly. "One freakin' time."

"-so if they can look at that sketch and think I'm not so bad after all, you two can only look even better by comparison." For just a second, she felt like her old, megalomaniacal self, but tried to keep it in check as her face formed a malevolent smirk. "If we don't fight this at all, students and staff alike might be under a whole new spell, and with it," she felt a lot less villainous saying this next part, "they might finally give us a real chance at the coveted friendship this school is supposedly united by."

Aria shook her head. "Remind me again why we're even bothering with 'Princess' Twilight's fake little philosophy?"

One eyebrow was raised as Adagio gestured between the three of them.

Purple cheeks turned red. "Oh. Right." She shrugged. "Well, easy to miss that with these people, y'know? Sick of gettin' that deer-in-headlights look."

Sonata gave her a sympathetic smile. "You wouldn't get it as often if you didn't glare at people so much."

Unwittingly, Aria glared. "I glare because they give me that look!"

"And the looks they're giving me now," Adagio continued with only a hint of annoyance, "indicate that we have a chance here. If we play this right, don't touch the picture or say anything about it, we may finally find ourselves with more than one friend." The words clicked in her head the instant after she'd said them, but it was too late.

Aria and Sonata both traded confused, wide-eyed looks, going back and forth between herself and each other before settling on her. "Wait," Aria almost pleaded, "you have one friend besides us? Who? Since when?"

At the moment, Adagio's face was that of someone that just made a startling realization, but playing it off as confusion at the question was no challenge. "I... Sunset Shimmer, who else?"

Facepalming, Aria turned red and muttered to herself. "Oh, duh..."

Sonata scratched her head. "Why don't we ever hang out with her anyw-" Memory made her make a sour face. "wait, nevermind."

Adagio nodded once. "That aside; this isn't quite how I'd have orchestrated the situation, but that drawing may still work to our advantage. Give it time, I'll let you know if people are still giving me those looks a week from now and have a plan ready from there. Any questions?"

Chuckling, Aria crossed her arms and smirked. "Great to have you back, boss."

Sonata beamed. "For realzies!"

With a feminine, dismissive hand-wave of faux-modesty, Adagio chuckled. "You're too kind."

The three of them giggled together, but contained themselves before it could reach the loud, scary, mua-ha-ha levels that wouldn't do them any favors right about now.

---

Closing her bedroom door, Fluttershy gently set her book-bag by a shelf, paced over to her bedside table, picked up the diary and a pencil, and sat on the bed, not quite sure where to begin.

"Well... maybe with...?"

Dear Diary,

Today's Art class was all kinds of frightening. I may have made a little mistake yesterday when I forgot to bring my sketch of Adagio (yes, that one) home, but at the time, I thought, "if I have such a perfect image of her in my head already, I don't need the picture." It made sense, because I know Mr. Magnet likes keeping his students' art, both for what he calls the spirit of creativity and to remember them by. He's a very sweet man, I think. Then Mr. Magnet hung it in the hallway. For everyone to see. And they did. Even Adagio.

That feeling I wrote about yesterday, with everyone seeing something I wished they didn't? That again, but so much worse! So, when Art started today, I was expecting her to do something to humiliate me in front of everyone, but then I realized that I didn't tell her that the drawing was mine. Mr. Magnet, if he knows, was nice enough not to put my name on it, and none of my friends said a word relating it to me, so, if I'm lucky, nobody knows at all yet. I'll have to come clean to Adagio right away tomorrow, because trying to keep it a secret would only lead to her finding out anyway and feeling hurt that I tried to lie to her and not trusting me ever again.

Adagio is very sneaky, and will find things out whether I want her to or not, which is why it's best to be honest.

So, Art class. I went in thinking she was going to do something really embarrassing for me, but since she (probably) doesn't know the sketch is mine, it went about how you'd expect an Art class with Adagio to go. That is to say; I was still shaking and blushing and trying not to look directly at her (which is as difficult as it's ever been, see Wandering Eye poem on page #111) the whole time. She looked at me a few times while I was looking at her. I really hope no one noticed!

We were doing origami today, and at one point, she tapped me on the shoulder (I jumped, but I managed to keep from shrieking and making a scene) and asked me to hand her a pair of scissors in that low, sultry voice of hers. It only took me around ten seconds to fulfill her request, but she just stood there until I did, looking at me with that face she makes whenever I'm nervous, the one that makes me more nervous and she just keeps staring and I just keep fumbling like a fool and I think some other kids were looking when this happened and I was worried Applejack was going to say something and then there'd be this big thing about it, but then I handed her the scissors and she walked away and everything was fine.

I still spent most of Art expecting something mortifying, but just like the time she told me she'd "See you soon, Sweetie" and I spent the whole day panicking about it, nothing really bad happened. I don't think she's going to tell me how she plans to torture me in Art every day, she'll just do something and I'll... I'll let her! <3 That's Adagio, my sneaky, scary, curvy, compassionate, smiling, sensitive sweetheart siren.

Note: Valentine sweethearts are probably a bad idea, for now at least.

Anyway, there was one thing in Art class; a few minutes after I gave her the scissors, Adagio unfolded her paper, but to everyone's surprise, it wasn't anything obscene, just a butterfly, with thin slits cut to resemble a surreal wing pattern. I have a few guesses why she looked at me in particular when showing everyone. Maybe... maybe that was what she was planning to do? I'm still not sure how to interpret it, was she saying that she had me in her hands, that I was just thin paper for her to shred whenever she felt like it, or was it a soft, sweet gesture? Like she was saying she thinks about me sometimes? Am I just getting conceited? It's possible that she just felt like making a butterfly, because the long, crazy cuts in the wings to form the patterns didn't resemble any butterfly I've ever seen. Was it an Equestrian butterfly? Or some kind of message? I have no idea.

I wonder if the sirens, and maybe Sunset too, get homesick.

~~~

Now, about my sketch, Re: Adagio Everyone Seeing It. I was kind of... Well, I knew exactly what I wanted to what I had to draw I knew how to draw her because well, see the last entry. People noticed the level of detail, but I couldn't not draw her right! I don't know how long everyone will be talking about that sketch, but going by the reactions to that scary painting of Sunset? A few weeks, maybe. It wasn't an all-the-time thing then, just something people kinda thought about whenever they walked by the Art room. The scary thing is that I can't decide if I want Mr. Magnet to replace it soon or not. I can't ask him to, because then he would definitely know it was mine. What if he tells someone? If anyone figures out that I drew that sketch, I don't even want to think about it!

Everyone will know I have a crush on Adagio and they'll all point and laugh and draw little chibi versions of our heads together in a heart on chalkboards and I'll never live it down and I have no idea how Adagio would react to all that.


What do I do?

~~~

In more normal news; Mr. Strangle (the big boa at the animal shelter) seems to be getting along with Rainbow now, which is nice. Pinkie Pie surprised me with apology cupcakes a little bit ago, which I've learned it's better to just enjoy with her than to insist they aren't necessary. I think it hurts Pinkie's feelings when people don't accept her sweets. Applejack showed us her sketch from yesterday and it was just Adagio's hair. Everyone at the lunch table giggled! (Context: I Can Draw Hair entry)

---

There was a brief period in which Fluttershy lay awake that night, one particular sentiment echoing in her mind.

"Either way, I'd hate to be whoever made that sketch."

"Either way, I'd hate to be whoever made that sketch."

"I'd hate to be whoever made that sketch."

"hate to be whoever made that sketch."

"hate whoever made that sketch."

She tried not to think too hard about it. If she came clean to Adagio first (or second, depending how brave she was feeling at the time) thing tomorrow morning, she'd be forgiven for making her so angry/embarrassed with the sketch. She hoped.

---

Wednesday morning had arrived. In the hope that it might soften the blow a little, Fluttershy opted to bring orange slices again today, remembering how much Adagio seemed to like them. There were other soft and sweet things she could have gone with, but she (fondly) remembered the little look of delight on Adagio's face when chewing them. She wouldn't mind a repeat, right? Sooner or later, Fluttershy was going to run out of new candy anyway, there were only so many kinds in existence. No, Pinkie's occasional twisted experiments did not count in her mind. She could have gone with fireballs again, but Adagio had specifically asked her to bring something Fluttershy could enjoy too. She was such a sweetheart when you got to know her!

When Adagio showed up, it was hard keeping a perfectly normal smile. "Good morning."

Leisurely reclining on the bench, it seemed Adagio was over her initial reluctance to sit there as she nodded. "Morning, Sweetie."

Fluttershy already had the little bag on her lap, but couldn't decide whether to open with the slices or her apology first. Would one look out of place after the other? If so, which one? She was already getting nervous, would it just look like she was trying to butter her up if she said sorry while Adagio's mouth was full of sugar? Would she take them at all once she knew? The thought of screaming the apology at the top of her lungs while cramming orange slices down her throat wasn't really worth entert-

"It's alright, Sweetie, I know it was you."

"EEK!!"

As ever, Adagio patiently waited through the three-act play that was Fluttershy caught off-guard. Act 1 was already complete with the exclamation of shock, always a crowd-pleaser. She appeared to be going with a wide-eyed stare and incomprehensible stuttering for Act 2, then wrapped up with kicking on the red lights and rapid apologizing for Act 3, even ending in a little bow. It was a slightly unusual assembly this time, but with the delivery was perfect, as always! Adagio, connoisseur of the skittish arts that she was, looked forward to the next show.

"I repeat," she said with a little smile, "it's alright, calm down."

Fluttershy hesitantly met her eyes and started to open her mouth.

"Yes, really." As she'd hoped, this won her an adorably surprised face, which opened the door for her to clarify her thoughts. "I know it was you because by the angle I'm drawn at, there are only a few possible artists who could have done it. Also, the detail was very realistic and your grades in Art have always been nearly perfect." No time was given to dwell on that last part before she moved to the real point. "Seeing myself depicted with that..." she couldn't help turning pink at the memory, "that expression wasn't exactly a proud moment for me, but I'm not angry with you."

"Oh. Um..." Nervous finger-twiddling never seemed to make it into the Startled performances, which was a shame, but she'd take it wherever it guest-starred. "Wh-why not? Wasn't it really embarrassing having everyone t-talk about you like that?"

"Yes, but I'm not angry for three reasons. First, I'm guessing having the whole school see your work wasn't your idea."

Fluttershy shook her head. "Oh, g-goodness, no!"

"And that the idea of anyone learning you were the artist...?"

There wasn't a show this time so much as a singular, horrified squeak as Fluttershy went pale and gave her wide, worried eyes. "Y-you're... you're not g-going to...?"

Frowning, Adagio leaned over and hugged her, in a grope-free kind of way, until she stopped shaking. "I'm starting to get the feeling you don't trust me."

Aaaand shaking was back. "Th-that's not it at all, it's, just, I-I, since I, and, with the, you'd be-"

Well, thought Adagio, so much for a hug making everything better. Plan B. She let go and backed away a little, but not too far to rest a hand on Fluttershy's trembling shoulder. "Sweetie? Breathe. You bring candy to calm your nerves, right? Why don't we try that before picking this up?" That seemed to be working already, Fluttershy beamed!

"O-okay!" She opened the little bag in her lap, immediately offering Adagio an orange slice. "Here!"

Adagio smiled too. "Oh, I remember these." Taking the treat as offered, she wondered how much of Fluttershy's enjoyment came from ingesting sugar, and how much came from sharing it with others, resulting in the bright, happy grin she wore as Adagio chewed. Somehow it felt fitting that she couldn't help thinking she was being spoiled in their mornings together, not quite dinner and a show, but definitely an acceptable substitute.

A few minutes later, it looked like Fluttershy was breathing at a normal rate, so she went on. "So, we have that you most certainly didn't want anyone seeing that picture to begin with. The second reason is that despite this initial, awkward phase, I may be able to use this situation to my advantage." She looked out over the soccer field in the hope of suppressing a blush, as she'd done quite a few times before. "Getting that kind of attention wouldn't have been my first choice, but if it means people are more willing to overlook, well, me, then I'll take it. With any luck, some of the good will, for lack of better words, that this generates will rub off on Aria and Sonata as well."

Fluttershy nodded once, not sure she should say anything about the 'overlooking me' part. She knew Adagio was a nice girl when you got to know her, but that people might have trouble seeing that was perfectly understandable. "And, the third reason?" Now she wondered if her first idea was actually such a bad one, because Adagio gave her a truly vicious smirk.

Opening with a low, dark, breathy chuckle, Adagio leaned in close. "Like I said earlier, very realistic depiction, Sweetie." There was a squeak, but Fluttershy had definitely earned this. Briefly tasting her own lips, Adagio's eyes went half-lidded. "The way you drew me, my luscious hair, my slender waist, my not-so-slender hips... my legs? Really, I'm not sure which is my favorite part... or yours." By the sharp increase in the magnitude of Fluttershy's blushing based on timing, she actually had a pretty good guess.

She added a mock pout. "Aww, but I forgot, that's not the, whole picture, is it?" Grinning wickedly, she grabbed Fluttershy by the shoulders, eliciting a gasp that didn't sound entirely like fright, and leaned in even closer, her lips nearly touching Fluttershy's ear. "Maybe next time, you'd like to draw me from the back? I'd make sure nothing gets in the way, of course..." And then she let go, giggling with impish glee as her Sweetie fell backwards on the bench in perfectly rigid fashion, gibbering incoherently under the blistering heat of her own head.

Ohh, if not for the foul smell, I'd need a cigarette!

And then guilt started to set in, Fluttershy still lost in her no-doubt delightful little fever dream a full three minutes later. Leaning to fold her arms over the back of the bench and rest her head on them as she did on Monday, Adagio's tone was quiet and sympathetic. "Sweetie? Are you alright?"

The sound roused Fluttershy from her surprisingly long daydream, though she was still red in the face for having allowed her mind to go to such places at all. "Y-yes... I'm okay." She... she couldn't have meant it like...? Oh, no. I'm a pervert. She sat up, frowning. "I'm, s-sorry."

Sitting up straight herself, Adagio blinked once. "What?"

"F-for, uhm," admitting to this was maybe the worst possible time to maintain eye-contact, but she'd feel dishonest if she didn't. "d-drawing you like that, obsessing over your b-b-body, and-" She was silenced with a finger held to her lips, Adagio giving her a thoroughly unamused face.

"Sweetie," she said with a hint of annoyance, "if you're about to apologize for finding me attractive, I'm going to spank you." This won her a scarlet, wide-eyed Fluttershy, but more importantly, silence. She offered a relaxed smile. "The third reason I'm not angry? The drawing was really well-done, and I'm flattered that you could render me so neatly." This seemed to calm Fluttershy down a lot, getting her a warm, happy look. "Think about it: If I didn't like having your undivided attention, would I keep doing things-" quickly grabbing Fluttershy's head and pushing it down to her own lap confirmed that Adagio wasn't the only one that let her guard down in their meetings, "like this?"

Her cheek resting against Adagio's thigh, Fluttershy squeaked, whipping back to an upright position so fast her hair might have hurt someone standing behind her. "The-tha-I-ah-th-ffuablama-!"

Giggling with evil delight, Adagio leaned over to give her a quick peck on the cheek, ruffled her hair, and stood up. "Just some food for thought, Sweetie. See you again soon!" She closed the statement with a wink, her most adorable friend already having seized up again, and sashayed away, letting those pretty, cyan eyes fall wherever they would on her slowly-retreating figure.

Rooted to the bench, Fluttershy's mind was working a mile a minute, her vision starting to blur. For the sake of not running the risk of blurting out something indecent like she heard Vinyl Scratch had, she opted to do her best to compress this morning's warmer thoughts until she could get to her diary later this afternoon.

---

The rest of the day passed in a bit of a blur. Fluttershy was pretty sure all the normal things happened; classes, hallways, practicing the walk, lunch, more classes, then the animal shelter for a while, then home. Diary Time at least let her gather and write out her thoughts, but she was hesitant about actually putting them to paper.

It's not dirty, I'm not a freaky pervert, I'm just writing what happened and how I felt about it. That's what a diary is for, right?

Right. She picked up her pencil.

Dear Diary,

ItalkedtoAdagioaboutthesketchandshesaidshe'dbeokaywithmedrawingherfromthebackandIthinkshemeantnakedbutI'mnotsureandshealmostkissedmyearwhichmademewanttochewonhersuntilshemadeanoiseorsomethingbutanywayshesaidthatifIdidn'tsayIthoughtshewasprettythatshe'dspankmebutshedidn'treallysayitthatwaybutI'dgladlytellhershewasprettyeverydaywhethershespankedmeornot!

Stopping, Fluttershy looked down at her shaking hand and took a deep breath.

Dear Diary,

Sorry about that. So, I didn't kiss her yet. It's not that I'm not looking for the moment, but every time it gets close, I think, she does something that makes me lock up, babble like an idiot, or both! Anyway, her, uh... thing she said when I apologized for thinking about her like a piece of meat, gave me an idea.

Okay, two ideas, but I'm only going to talk about one right now.

Have I ever actually told her she was pretty? Out loud? I mean, I guess she'd just be like "Yea, I know," because, look at her! You can't, you're a diary. I should sketch her in you some time. She must hear that all the time and I don't want to bore her by saying boring things, but if the idea of me saying sorry for noticing her... everything... annoys her, then... Maybe just once? Just to see how she responds to it?

But, what would I do after that? How do I respond if she waves it off, or teases me for it, or wants more?! What if she's the kind of girl that can listen to people telling her how beautiful she is all day? I have plenty of material to work with there, but it would almost definitely end up relating to my drawing of her somehow, and then we'd be talking about her body, and then I'd lock up and babble like an idiot again!







She really is pretty, though! ~<3

That in mind, Fluttershy got up to retrieve some blank paper, wanting to get a little practice in before putting the real deal in her diary...

Author's Notes:

For those who have been hoping for something public between the two, I hope this at least addresses the itch a little. Also, I really hope I'm not ruining any kind of candy for anyone. At the same time, if any act of ingestation has become more appealing to you since reading this story, I'm not sure I want to know about it.

Rambly bit incoming!

Narrative tension is a funny thing. So funny in fact, that I'm not sure those are the right words to describe what I'm thinking of.

The Chase: I know that after enough chapters of build-up, things get too heavy and fall down, the wait can be too long for the payoff. I kinda feel like I've been going that way with this story for a while now, but there are things that need to happen before some other things happen, things I really don't think I can skip over. As such, the juicy part I know some of you are waiting for just keeps waving from the distant horizon, probably never feeling like it's getting any closer. Sorry about that, it's not on purpose.

Believe it or not, I don't particularly enjoy tormenting readers. It's for that reason that I'd rather not publish a single chapter of a more... for lack of better words, dramatic work until I've got the whole thing pretty much ready to go, or at least up to the point where what feels like a borderline sadistic secret is unveiled. Hooking people with dramatic tension and mystery and such is all well and good, but if it's all hook and no worm, then sooner or later you're just sitting there with a bunch of hook wounds. Ouch.

All of that said, click the next chapter for a new can of worms!

(...And I mean that in a good way. :raritywink: )

Chapter 23: Soft and Sweet

Thursday was odd for Fluttershy. Very odd. In its own way, it was actually a little infuriating. Around the usual time, she opened her diary, skipping her usual opening address as writing fervor overtook her.

I'm upset. Not because of someone picking on me or an argument with a friend or even animals being mistreated again (at least not that I heard about today), but something else that happened. I should start with the bench. Things were fine with me and Adagio this morning, she smiled that happy smile a few times while we enjoyed a little bag of cotton candy together.

Remembering the look of surprise on Adagio's face when the first bite melted in her mouth helped calm Fluttershy down.

I'm sorry, Diary, I don't mean to worry you, things are... well, I guess I'm a little stressed, but I'll get to why soon.

I think I was right about her liking soft, sweet things, because she really enjoyed the cotton candy! For the first minute or two after a particularly big mouthful, she couldn't stop giggling and got this cute little blush, saying this was the strangest thing we'd ever eaten together! Maybe it was, but I think she enjoyed it at least as much as the orange slices.

Huh. Both kinda vaguely remind me of her hair. Does she ever think about eating h

Fluttershy had to stop writing to repeatedly slap herself across the face, partly to stop where her mind was going, partly in a pat-out-the-fire kind of way.

So, yes, this morning with Adagio went fine, we even talked a little about what her life was like under the sea! That led to talking about the nets hanging around the sirens' house, which she sneakily turned into talking about me wearing fishnets somehow. She really has a way with words...

After that, the day was pretty normal. Classes, practiced the walk, classes, lunch, classes, then Art (Adagio bent over in front of me!! It was only for a second but ohmygoodness!!) and then the upsetting thing happened. I'll try to detail it as best I can...

---

Walking out of the Art room, Fluttershy felt a pang of worry when she saw Adagio, who had stepped out just before her, standing about ten feet in front of Trixie, who wore her starry hat and cape. Looking at Adagio with a vicious smirk, Trixie spoke loudly.

"Watch and be amazed, students of Canterlot High School, as the Great and Powerful Trrrrixie performs feats of awe and wonder!" She made a few needless gestures before getting on with her trick, the one she'd use to avenge every indignity the head siren had ever inflicted on her.

Tricking me in the Battle of the Bands, humiliating me in public time and time again, that week of detention that I DID NOT deserve because your stupid hair blocked everything from my angle anyway, and always calling me 'Silver'! If you thought that picture was embarrassing, you've got another thing coming, Adagio Dazzle...

Quite a few kids had gathered around in a vague circle surrounding her and her target, so it was time to get started. Lifting off her hat and twirling it by the rim on her fingertip, she chucked it straight up and caught it by the sides, reaching in to pull out a string of handkerchiefs that ended in a frilly, white-trimmed, soft-pink pair of underwear with a cartoon teddy bear on the seat of the pants. Some members of her audience immediately gasped while Adagio just raised an eyebrow.

"Look everyone," Trixie said before anyone could voice their own theories, "Trixie has magically removed the underpants of the leader of the Dazzlings!" She grinned cheekily, holding up the kiddie panties where everyone could see. "And what a childish style she wears..."

Fluttershy, her hands over her mouth as her face went warm, looked at Adagio to find her blushing a little herself, wide-eyed. It felt more likely to her that Trixie had no magic to speak of and had prepared the underwear as part of her trick beforehand. However, the only way for Adagio to prove that she was still wearing her underwear was to show everyone, which would be just as humiliating (in the sense that everyone would, in theory, point and laugh at her) as letting everyone think she wears cute teddy panties! Not wanting to see Adagio getting embarrassed in public again, Fluttershy tried to think of a way to distract the crowd, but the knowledge that they would all be focusing on her after froze her solid.

Little did Fluttershy know that Adagio was all but in her element. Hm. Said it myself, didn't I? "They might even try to take revenge, if they were really pressed..." Thinking about the situation, she smirked. Not bad, Silver, let's see how far you'll go.

Holding her hands to her cheeks, Adagio smiled dreamily, speaking loudly enough that she was sure almost everyone would hear. "Ohh, Silver, I'm glad we can agree what happened the other night was, magical..." She paused just long enough for the crowd to make the right (wrong) connections, "but I never thought it'd lead to you stealing my undergarments when we were done." She stared at Trixie with look of dawning shock, getting one right back. "W-what... What have you been doing with them, exactly..?"

As those gathered turned to Trixie, wide-eyed and whispering to each other, she immediately knew to abort the plan. "N-no, nothing! These aren't really her underwear, or mine, it was just a-"

Internally disappointed to have her fun cut short so soon, Adagio begrudgingly conceded that Trixie was at least smart enough know when to fold, as it were. However, that didn't stop her from putting on a hurt face or working a light tremor into her voice. "Oh, I-I see... You never loved me to begin with, it was just my underwear that drove you wild with lust!"

Trixie raised a hand in protest. "I-I don't-"

Adagio sniffled, turning away. "W-well, I guess if teddy bear panties are your only real love," sniff, "th-then I wish you two the best!" She managed to choke out a sob, covering her eyes with an arm. "Farewell!" And then she ran off making quiet sobbing noises, leaving Trixie alone with the crowd of judging, perplexed, and possibly aroused stares.

The young magician, her trick thoroughly thrown back in her face, could only stand there, mouth agape and her entire body burning with embarrassment before throwing a smoke-bomb and fleeing the area like her heels had caught fire. Which, she would reflect later, might have made for an interesting trick.

The crowd dispersed a minute later, but Fluttershy was now standing perfectly still for very different reasons.

---

Finishing up her account of Adagio claiming to have spent a night with another girl, Fluttershy was nearly scratching through the paper with the tip of her pencil.

Now half the school must be thinking about her! In her bear-free underwear! I'm so frustrated, I could just throw something through the window!!

Reaching for a random object on her bed, she threw an octopus plushie. It spun through the air like a ninja star before harmlessly thumping against the glass and landing on the floor. Feeling a tinge of guilt, she rushed over to it, picked it up, patted its big, soft head, and quietly apologized for using it as part of her tantrum. Hugging Mr. Cups helped her feel a little better, along with several deep breaths. Pacing back to her bed, she nuzzled the felt octopus once and gently set him down, returning to her diary.

I'm losing my mind, Diary. Everyone must think Trixie is something special to Adagio now, that they had something together, something big enough to make Adagio run away crying when it was broken off! Would she cry like that for me too if No, I know she was acting, that little smirk just before her hurt lover routine was like a billboard to me, but the way everyone was looking at Trixie, I think they really bought it!

Adagio is such a good actress ~<3

I can't believe she did that! Right in front of me! Did she even think about how I would-

...

Why would she? Why should she? I mean, technically, there's no reason she should, I guess, because we aren't... like what she pretended to be with Trixie. But, she has to know I- doesn't she? I've never said it out loud (but I did say it...), but... was she trying to make me jealous?

BECAUSE IT WORKED!!

Or am I just too full of myself? What if that was just another day to her? How many relationships has she pretended to have just to make someone uncomfortable? I can see her doing that kind of thing, I just wish she'd do it with me! I'm the one that's been talking to her every morning, I'm the one that kisses her (on the cheek) and hugs her (in a non-gropey way, most of the time) and comes to take care of her when she's sick! it should have been me that Adagio was focused on today, and it should have been me that got publicly humiliated!

She dropped her pencil in shock.

"...Oh, dear."

Fluttershy picked up Mr. Cups, hugging him to her chest while trying to think. She was jealous, that much was obvious to her, the idea that anyone but herself should be called Adagio's girlfriend, or anything similar, just didn't feel fair, but neither did getting all possessive and acting like Adagio belonged exclusively to her. In fact, thinking it made her feel a little sour inside, another thing she felt like she should apologize for the next time she saw her favorite siren.

What did I refer to her as some entries ago? 'My' fantasy-world girl?

Nobody had a claim to anybody, and no matter how much it had hurt, Fluttershy wouldn't let herself get hung up on what happened today. But, if she did have a claim to Adagio, if they were... closer... then...? She had always tried to follow Fluttershy's requests, from the original deal of sharing candy in exchange for not being startled, to being herself no matter what, to the new deal of just showing up to talk to her every morning, and she even gave patience a try of her own volition, just to see how it felt... Maybe there was something else Fluttershy could ask for? Because there was one thing she could think of that might make sure she never had to feel this way again, something that would make Adagio hers alone.

She squeezed the plushie extra close.

...Am I in love? Is it supposed to feel this... clingy? I don't think I like this, it hurts, and it scares me, and it might even push her away if I tell her... But I can't not tell her, can I?

Tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, no more waiting, no more games, she would sit down with Adagio and tell her everything. If Adagio pushed her away after that, well...

She'd cry. A lot. Probably for quite a while. Nobody would mind if a corner of the library emitted the sound of ominous weeping for a week or three, right? But still, even that would be better than this tension, this crushing feeling that came with keeping it all to herself. Wanting more and neither going after it nor giving up was unbearable, and after tomorrow, she'd have it or she wouldn't.



She looked down to see her hands shaking, even as they held the plush octopus to her chest. Just the same, she smiled. Wow. I'm so assertive!

---

Friday morning brought pressure. Fluttershy knew that if she choked today, she wouldn't get another chance until Monday. She also knew that she couldn't wait that long. Sleep hadn't come easily, for similar reasons, but she'd settle for taking a nap when she got home, if necessary. Glancing down at her bookbag, she wasn't confident about today's candy choice, but she needed to restock before next week if she wanted more to choose from.

Adagio likes soft and sweet things, and these are... Well, they're something, at least... Maybe they'll work out anyway?

After what felt like a longer wait than usual, "Trixie's ex-girlfriend" arrived, looking no worse for wear after her "break-up." She sat down, giving Fluttershy a little smile. "Morning, Sweetie."

That smile made it hard to stay jealous. Was that a good thing? "G-good morning... Uhm-" Come on, no more waiting, remember? Say it. "I, I-I, uh, about y-yesterday...?"

Adagio gave her a wry grin. "You're about to tell me that vanishing fluff was made from your pink friend's hair?"

Fluttershy sputtered, bursting into gigglefits. "N-no-ho!" The injection of levity did more for Fluttershy's nerves than she would have guessed.

"Not it? Hmm... Life's too short for twenty questions, so I'll just use one; what did you want to ask?"

"DidyoukissTrixie?!"

Blink. "What?"

And like that, Fluttershy was in full-on nervous babble mode. "Ijustwannaknowbecausethewayyouactedyesterday-"

"S-Sweetie, slow down-"

"-ImeannotthatIreallybelieveditbutitwasactuallykindofconvincing-"

Adagio's fuzzy heart-vice squeezed with a vengeance when she saw the tinge of hurt on Fluttershy's face. "Sweetie?"

"-likethe'maybeI'mjustimaginingthings'convincing,but-"

"Sweetie!"

"-andIknowIcan'ttellyouwhotoletstealyourunderwearorthatI'devenwanttobut-"

"Please, calm d-"

"-butthinkingaboutyoutwotogetherjustmakesmeso-"

With a hint of deja vu for the day after the squirrel incident, and a few times since, Adagio grabbed Fluttershy in a hug, which only reduced her high-speed meandering to a low, pitiful sobbing.

I must have done something really wrong to make her get like this... What was that about Trixie?

She didn't ask, just gently holding Fluttershy and patting her back. She couldn't remember if that was a feasible cure for the cries or the hiccups, but anything was worth trying.

Sniffling, Fluttershy eventually reigned in her feelings and steadied her breathing for the clearest enunciation she could manage. "I'm sorry."

Not having let go yet, Adagio sounded perplexed. "You're certain you're the one that needs to apologize for something? Because I remember something like this before."

Smiling just a little, Fluttershy nodded. "Well, I might be a little upset, but I don't think it's your fault."

There was an audible grin. "Then I'm going to assume the same of your alleged offense until shown otherwise."

Fluttershy giggled. She really has a thing for the Golden Rule, doesn't she? Or at least some version of it, in terms of her teasing victims. As much as she would have liked to stay where she was, in Adagio's arms and breathing the sweet scent of mangoes, the thought brought her back down. She gently pulled away, frowning. "I'm jealous."

Now was a bad time to adore Adagio's perplexed face. "Of what?" She seemed to remember something, working a bit of haughtiness into her tone. "I mean, I know there's a lot about me to admire, but what-"

"Trixie."

Once again, Fluttershy was giving her a hard-to-place look, somewhere between sad, faintly irritated, and worried.

Such expressive eyes...

Connecting the dots as best she could, Adagio made a guess while scratching her head. "Y-you, you want a pair of my underwear instead?"

And once again, Fluttershy lit up like molten iron. "WHAT?!"

"Because those weren't really mine, you know, teddies aren't my style." She glanced downward at herself. "But, I guess if you really-"

"No!" Fluttershy couldn't wave her arms in an 'X' pattern fast enough. "Nononononono, th-that's not even, I-I don't-" And then she was thinking it, which made her slap both hands over her face. "Oh my goodness...!"

Adagio had a feeling hugging her again wouldn't go over so well right now. Gentle Tone to the rescue! "Sorry, bad guess, as usual. Can you tell me what's the matter?" It was really for the best that she'd picked up this patience thing, because the old her might have snapped at Fluttershy for faster responses a dozen times by now.

About a minute and a half of borderline hyperventilation later, Fluttershy let her hands fall away from her face to look Adagio directly in the eye. "I'm... I'm j-jealous of Trixie, that she got your attention, that sh-she was, I mean, that everyone thinks she's your, a-and I'm just, no one even knows I-" Now was a really bad time for a lump in her throat, but she pressed on, tears welling in her eyes again. "I, I just, I can't..."

And here you are. Choking again. How has she even tolerated you this lo-

She was startled by Adagio putting a hand on her shoulder, her expression soft and worried. "Tell me what you want me to do, Sweetie. Say there's nothing between Trixie and me? There really isn't, beyond my usual antics. Does that bother you?"

Holding her arms close to her chest, Fluttershy sniffled as the guilt of her thoughts bled onto her tongue. "Yes!!"

Adagio glanced away thoughtfully. "Trixie is a friend of yours? I wouldn't have guessed."

"N-no, but, i-it's not a matter of who you tease, it's, m-more like..." She gulped, but Adagio just waited for her to voice her thoughts. The memories of all the little things Adagio had done since they met to show she cared spurred Fluttershy on. She took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and spoke. "I, I have a req-no, I should explain first, um... Y-you know how you, uh, go around and mess with people for fun?" There was a nod, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Well, I-I know you only do it to those you think have earned it, for one reason or another, but, a-and I know this is ridiculous to even ask, b-but, I want-I would like, if it's okay with you, um, t-to," her throat was locking up, her mouth getting painfully dry, and of course she was burning alive as she started having fifth thoughts about this request, but Adagio kept that tender you-can-tell-me-anything look, "c-c-could you, i-if it's not too much to ask," she gulped, "not tease anyone but me?"

Adagio, ever the predator, couldn't help herself as she formed just a little smirk and held a hand to her ear. "I'm sorry, what was that? It sounded like you said-"

"I did!"

Startled a little by the sudden reply, Adagio giggled in surprise. "Well, now! I have plenty of love to go around, Sweetie," part of her felt guilty for teasing Fluttershy at a time like this, but she didn't know how else to respond, her eyes half-lidded, "but if you want it all for yourse-"

"I do!"

She blinked twice. Fluttershy was looking at her with fear and apprehension clear in her face (along with excess blood), but beneath it, resolve. Adagio gave her an almost apologetic smile. "No, no, I'm saying I would agree to pestering you and you alone. Daily. All of my vicious energy-" she reached out to lightly tickle Fluttershy for emphasis, eliciting only a slight, twitchy-mouthed shiver, "-would be used on just you from now on. Are you sure you could take that, day-in, day-out?"

There was no hint of doubt in Fluttershy's face, which Adagio found a little unsettling. "Yes. Please let me be the only one you tease from now on."

Her mouth opening and closing once, Adagio really started to look worried. "Sweetie, do you remember what I did to Trixie? That wasn't premeditated, wasn't planned, and I have nothing against her, I did it because I could, just for kicks." Hamming up her broken-heart routine for the short remainder of the day had been pretty funny too. "Now, I'd try my best to keep things private, like we've been doing, but if you're my only target, I can't guarentee-"

Fluttershy grabbed both of Adagio's hands in her own, looking her straight in the eye. "Adagio, I don't care if you do tease me in public, I don't care if the whole school finds out and mocks me worse than you ever have, because if it means I can have you all to myself, you can do anything you want to me!"

Adagio's mouth hung open for a second. She stared at Fluttershy, still holding her hands, in wide-eyed disbelief. "A-anything?"

She got a nod. A nod, which usually meant, 'Yes, yes I agree to those terms and conditions.'

The siren's grin was as maniacal as it was nervous. "D-do you understand what you're asking? There'd be no mercy, you know, I'd take full advantage of your offer, it might even be more than you can endure. You of all people must know by now that I'm too much for some folks, do you really want that all directed at you?"

Despite a bright blush, Fluttershy smiled and gave her hands a little squeeze. "I do."

There must have been some kind of secret button Fluttershy just triggered, because Adagio's heart started pounding like it was about to burst from her chest. "I... I-I..." Is it hot out here? I can feel myself sweating... Fluttershy's gaze held her, begging for an answer. Well... If she's really sure about this... Hesitantly, Adagio smiled. "Alright. I'll do it."

Squealing with joy, Fluttershy pulled Adagio into a tight hug. "Thankyouthankyouthankyou!!"

As much as she wanted to say something sly in that moment, Adagio was giggling too hard for anything of the sort. Instead, she hugged back, quietly enjoying the fruits of her hugging mastery.

"I know it's selfish of me to ask," Fluttershy eventually whispered, "but, like you said, if you want to be happy, you have to be at least a little selfish, right?"

Pulling back enough to look her in the eye, Adagio beamed. "You were actually paying attention, weren't you?! That's so rare in people I share my philosophies with!" Such people were pretty rare to start. Regardless, the big, happy smile became a malevolent smirk. "I'll corrupt you yet, Sweetie!"

Fluttershy giggled at what she interpreted to be a villainous sense of humor. "It's true, though. And, you've always listened to me whenever I offered my own points of view, so it's only fair that I give you the sa-"

Adagio leaned in and kissed her on the lips.

For a split-second, Fluttershy's vision went white, the sensation of Adagio's yellow, make-up-free lips against hers twisting her brain into knots of joy and fireworks. That the contact was only for a few short, wonderful seconds meant she came down right after to find her face was on fire again. And so was Adagio's.

The suddenly-smoochy siren smiled somewhat sheepishly. "Well, you said I could do anything I wanted, and it feels like I've been wanting to do that for, months, at least! I hope it wasn't too much for y-"

Fluttershy launched herself forward, wrapping her arms around Adagio and eliciting a startled shriek as she pulled her into their second direct, unambiguous, no-candy kiss. Adagio didn't resist, closing her eyes and melting into the embrace just as much by gently brushing her hands across Fluttershy's back. Little did she know that this would only push Fluttershy further into her frenzy as long-repressed feelings boiled over and spilled out in the form an increasingly aggressive lip-lock. Her vision blurring badly, be it from tears of joy or some kind of animal instinct, Fluttershy closed her eyes too and pushed harder into the kiss, leaning into Adagio until she accidentally pushed her onto her back, practically lying on top of her as the two partly nestled in Adagio's poofy hair.

After about another minute of that, both were reminded by protesting lungs that they needed air to live and stopped for several, gasping breaths as Fluttershy held herself up as though doing a push-up on the bench with Adagio directly beneath her.

Adagio, face flushed and practically panting, managed a pleased smirk. "Like it... like it rough, hm? Y-you know... all you had... h-had to do was ask."

Fluttershy, glowing almost bright enough to shine a red light on the girl under her, couldn't do words right now. Instead, she offered a sheepish smile before lowering herself enough to steal her third kiss from a very happily-accepting pair of lips. Awareness that they were out in the open reluctantly creeping back in, Fluttershy returned to her sitting position, a sense of guilt and shame starting to kick in. "Uhm, s-sor-"

"Haha, Sweetie?" Adagio sat up with a predatory gleam in her eyes. "Remember what I said about apologizing for the wrong things?"

The mix of sudden, chilling terror with her burning euphoria just kind of brought Fluttershy back to normal temperature. "I, er, uh... I'm, not sorry? At all?" Adagio raised an eyebrow at her. "AndImightevendoitagain!!"

Chuckling, Adagio nodded approvingly. "Good girl." Then she stood up, not entirely sure she trusted herself with her new-found power. "I won't go exposing our time together right away," she said with a smirk that sent shivers up Fluttershy's spine, "but, well..." She winked, adding a light shake of her hips to punctuate the next statement. "Let's just say you'll be seeing a bit more of me during the day. Take care, Sweetie!"

Feeling her skin tingle as Adagio walked away, laughing evilly, Fluttershy tried not to think too hard about the possible interpretations of 'seeing more' of her. Part of it was fear that she'd be thinking bad thoughts when class started, part of it was that she was more concerned with something that was definitely going to distract her through today anyway;

We can kiss now... On the lips!!

It felt like some kind of great, golden treasure chest had been opened, or a seal had been broken, or a curse dispelled, or whatever the locking procedure for the floodgates of happiness was. Touching a hand to her mouth, she savored her recent memories and looked forward to making new ones. She stared in the direction Adagio had gone with a longing look and smiled almost regretfully.

I really must be selfish, because even though I just got everything I wanted, now I want even more...




















Sitting in the dimly-lit library, Adagio chuckled to herself.

I was right; being pounced on is exciting!

Author's Notes:

Alternate title; Pink, Fluffy, Houdini Clouds

Finally it happens! Hope it was worth the wait. Now for a few simpler, fluffier chapters, I think. :derpytongue2:

If this whole chapter feels rushed, it's because I didn't want to risk yet another 10,000 words or so before finally getting to that darn kiss! Enough is enough. Seriously, this was getting ridiculous. >.<

Also; Don't feel too bad for poor Trixie here, her part in the story isn't quite done. :raritywink:

Yes, I am thinking about having Adagio do a Mr. Snow-Miser parody at some point, but she'd be a little hard-pressed to do it any time soon.

Chapter 24: Colorful, Spinny, Whirly-Blur

"Ow!"

Rainbow winced. "Sorry!"

Fluttershy rubbed her forehead, looking down at the lunch table to see the still-frozen pea that had been used to get her attention from across the table, which clued her in that she'd missed something. "I-I'm sorry, what happened?"

"Ya done that zonin' out thing a little harder than usual," answered Applejack, looking worried, "you okay, Sugarcube?"

She smiled. "Um... Y-yes, I think so." Truth be told, her mind was a little blank and she didn't remember much of today past watching Adagio walk away. And what came before that. Three times. The first was-

This time she was just tapped on the shoulder. "AH, ubuh, wha?!" Everyone at the table was looking at her.

Applejack tipped her hat while raising an eyebrow. "Sooo, like Ah was sayin'...?"

Fluttershy quickly turned crimson, smiling sheepishly. "Err... Pass?"

Sunset sputtered. "P-pass?! You can't just 'pass' when we're worried about you!" She should have known, they hadn't let it slide when Sunset tried the exact same thing some months ago. In hindsight, she was grateful.

"You have been a little out of sorts lately," Rarity added with an inquisitive look, "you're sure there's nothing out of the ordinary?"

"W-well, umm..." Memory. She smiled. "We're due to get a baby Agouti at the animal shelter early next week! They're like guinea pigs, but with more fur, bigger ears, and-"

She was cut off by a small wave of chuckles and good-natured eye-rolls.

"Welp," surmised Applejack with a grin, "reckon that explains it."

Pinkie was giggling. "Instant Fluttershy distraction: Just add fluffiness!"

In a manner of speaking, that might have been true, but Fluttershy dared not even glance at the fluffiest person in the cafeteria.

"So," began Rarity, looking at Sunset, "back to your story about Flash Sentry?"

"Right, umm..." Sunset scratched her head while trying to remember where she'd left off. "Okay, so, I ran into him in town some time yesterday..."

---

It was a small world, Canterlot a small part of it, and Canterlot's mall was smaller still. As such, it wasn't entirely surprising when one could see the same faces in the same places from day to day, as occurred when Sunset saw Flash Sentry sitting on a bench in a little resting area in the middle of an intersection. The mall wasn't really busy that day, which was half the reason Sunset had chosen it to pick up a new outfit to replace the one that got ruined in Pinkie's exploding frosting fiasco. Even so, the apology cupcakes had been delicious!

Flash clearly saw her too, because he waved her over. "Hey, Sunset. Got a minute?"

The bag on her arm meant she had finished her task in the mall and thus had time to kill. "Sure." He motioned for her to sit with him, so she did.

His expression wasn't overly serious, but it wasn't the usual, smiling Flash, either. "I'd like to get straight to brass tacks, if that's okay."

Something was off. "What's on your mind?"

"I'm the one who made that painting, the one they hung outside the Art room these last few months."

Sunset stared at him, wide-eyed. "What?" He just stared back at her, his expression unchanged, as though he were waiting for more. "I... W-why?"

"Why did I paint it? To vent. The night of the Fall Formal, I saw everything I ever tried to stop you from becoming, everything I failed miserably to prevent. No matter how much damage control I ran on your rumors and blackmail schemes, I-"

"Wait, what?!"

He smiled sheepishly. "Well, I never told you because, y'know... I've been meaning to, but-"

She shook her head. "No, I mean, what are you talking about? 'Damage control'?"

Flash shrugged. "Positive rumors, for lack of better words, 'Bulk Biceps won a junior weight-lifting competition the other day!' 'Rarity's hair is looking shinier than ever!' to balance out your negative ones, getting friends to talk things out whenever you caused a fight. Didn't usually work all that well, but I like to think it made a little difference."

In hindsight, Sunset was a weird kind of grateful someone was technically trying to stop her even back then, but that wasn't what boggled her mind at the moment. "You were undermining me in secret? How? I mean, believe me, I'm okay with it now, but where did you learn to...?"

There was a cheeky little smile. "Well, part of being your boyfriend meant actually talking to you, listening to what you said, and since you mostly talked about your plans at the time...?"

Tinting pink as she recalled the many times she all but gloated to Flash about another destroyed relationship, how easy it was for her to make those people her pawns, Sunset shamefully rubbed one arm. "I, thought you were on my side at the time."

He sighed. "Yea. So did I. Anyway, listening to you, I learned a thing or two about dealing with people, just never used that info the same way. It blew my mind how far a simple sentiment or a distinct word choice could go, but I guess it helped that most people listened to me before we even met." He shook his head. "Detour. Anyway, Fall Formal, big, fiery reminder of how little I was able to stop you from doing what you did, rainbow beam out of nowhere comes and does it all for me somehow. That was nice and all, but it left me kinda..." He shrugged. "I don't know, like I was missing closure with 'the demon,' like I didn't really get to see it fade away from nice girl I knew you were at heart."

Sunset blushed, but tried to keep to the topic at hand. "What does that have to do with the painting?"

"I dunno, but Magnet had been going on about getting feelings out onto canvas at the time, so I just painted the first thing that came to mind. The demon was gone, but when the picture was done, I could look at it and say 'You don't exist anymore.' I did it a few times since they hung it up, too, -I didn't ask them to do that, by the way, but there it was- and every time, it felt a little more true, until I didn't even need to look twice at the thing. Still, I know that picture caused you some grief, so, sorry."

She smiled warmly. "It's okay." Truth be told, Sunset was touched to hear he thought the monster was gone for good that soon.

Flash, however, didn't quite look satisfied, raising an eyebrow. "Really? 'It's okay' that what might have been the darkest moment of your life and a reminder of the thing you were hoping everyone would forgive you for was hung in the hallway for all to see? 'It's okay' that I inadvertently made it harder for you to find acceptance among those who would remember everything you ever did to them whenever they saw that stupid painting? None of that bothered you at all?"

Sunset bit back her first thought, instead forcing a smile. "I, well, i-it's better to forgive and-"

Flash frowned. "Sunset, please. I'm already feeling better about having told you all this, so if you have anything you've been wanting to get out of your system, I can take it."

Again, Sunset restrained herself, feeling a little lump build in her throat. "I... really?"

He smiled at her. "Closure. Let 'er rip."

She did. Sunset stood up and nearly shouted (only nearly, they were still in a mall) at him about every painful feeling that painting gave her, about how she had to specifically ask her friends not to touch it or say anything countless times because she knew it would fall back on her, how she'd cried the night after the first time she saw it, how sometimes, she could almost hear that goddamn painting laughing at her, and that it brought her nothing but misery and grief until just this week; the day it was replaced, how seeing something else in its place was like an elephant off her back.

When she was done, Flash smiled again. "Better?"

Nearly out of breath, Sunset flopped back down on the bench. "I... yea." She giggled. "Feeling pretty good, actually."

Flash nodded. "Good, because I've been thinking about closure a lot lately. I actually came here to think of how I'd talk to you alone for a bit because with the painting finally down, I'd quit being reminded of it, which meant I might forget, which meant we'd probably never get-"

"Closure." Sunset finished with a smile. "I think I see what you mean. Did you draw that picture of Adagio too, or...?"

He snickered. "No, but it's a great replacement. Maybe I should have drawn you all sleepy and harmless?" Blink. "That sounded a lot less creepy in my head..."

Nearly crimson, Sunset gave a half-hearted smile. "Eh, w-well, doesn't matter now, right? I mean, if anybody needs a nicer light shone on them these days, it's those three." She scratched her head. "Actually, I'm a little surprised the Dazzlings, very pretty girls, don't all at least have boyfriends or something, let alone their own circle of friends. Their whole thing used to be making people like them, you know? But as far as I can tell, it's still just the three of them at lunch every day."

"A lot of people I know still talk about them pretty often, mostly because they keep doing crazy stuff. Less so with Aria, but not a lot of kids think to say the lessons are, in her words, "stupid," "ill-conceived," or "freakin' pointless."" He raised an eyebrow. "Actually, I'm kinda surprised your group hasn't-"

Sunset held up a hand, smiling wryly. "Believe me, I've tried to make that happen, but they made it pretty clear they want to figure it out themselves. That said," she winked, "I think they'll come around eventually."

"Let's hope. You know, there are at least a few guys that say they wanna be the first to ask one of them out, but the popular 'joke' is that friends don't let friends date Dazzlings."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously. Ask anyone if they think magic was the only reason they liked 'Under Our Spell.'" He scratched the back of his head. "They're good-looking girls, sure, but if everyone thinks it's just part of a trap? Heck, the theories I'm hearing about why Adagio is holding open doors now pretty much says it all."

Something clicked in Sunset's head. "Uh-huh... And, what kind of 'damage control' have you been running for them?"

Surprised, Flash gave her a guilty smile. "Got me. I've just been trying to keep anyone from doing anything stupid, -amazing what you can do with a well-timed 'not cool, man'- like harassing those three or deliberately making them feel unwelcome. Everyone should get a second chance, right?"

She beamed. "I like to think so!"

He chuckled, but the grin faded. "It's mostly because of Sonata and Adagio, but people are still reasonably scared of those three, and I think that's making things harder for them than the mind-control shtick. Everyone worries Sonata will snap and do something insane if she so much as misinterprets sarcasm again, Aria goes around looking like she can't wait to rearrange somebody's face, and Adagio manages to look scary just walking around." He shrugged. "It's kind of a bleak situation for the 'magic of friendship.'"

Sunset sighed. "Their behavior really makes a difference, huh? I asked Adagio to tone it down once, but-" Flash was giggling. "...What?"

"Terrifying smiles or not, Adagio might actually be the easiest one to deal with, just don't play her games." Sunset all but gaped at him, so he tried to elaborate. "You kinda taught me this one; don't give people what they're after and they'll turn to get it elsewhere? It didn't take long to see that she loved to mess with people, so I figured if all she really wants is a reaction, all you have to do is give her a 'boring' one. I mean, sure, not responding to some of the stuff she says might not be easy, but if you act like she's being totally normal, treat every innuendo and double-entendre like a friendly joke, she'll lose interest and go play with someone else." He gave a deadpan look. "Weirdly, nobody seems to catch on that she pretty much leaves me alone now because of this."

"...Huh."

"Yup."

"I, I kinda knew, just, I wanted to be friendlier with her, you know? And shutting someone out is a lousy way to make friends."

Flash nodded. "Maybe, but I've tried being nice with her -and don't get me wrong, I intend to keep trying- and she just loses interest in minutes. I've tried the same approach with Aria and never even managed small-talk, and she kinda gives the impression that she wants to be left alone anyway. Sonata is bright and approachable, but I've never been able to talk to her for longer than five minutes before either she gets distracted by something or I can't follow what she's saying anymore. Are you sure those three even want friends?"

Sunset's face was less than confident, but thinking back to that first big talk she had with the Dazzlings, she smiled. "Pretty sure, it's the whole reason they're at school at all now."

He shrugged. "If you say so."

---

"We talked a little bit longer," concluded Sunset, "but those were the important parts."

"So," surmised Applejack, "he toldja he was the one that made that scary painting, you guys made up lickety-split, then he toldja 'bout a trick fer dealin' with Adagio?"

"Pretty much."

Pinkie looked at Rainbow. "Speaking of tricks, I'm surprised you didn't try your 'Ha, five bucks!' trick while Fluttershy was-"

"Shh," shh'd Rainbow, whispering so only Pinkie could easily hear, "Fluttershy is the reason I came up with that stupid little trick. Don't ask, but I kinda owe her forty bucks." She dared glance at the person she'd borrowed money from a few too many times since they'd known each other, but it looked like she had drifted off again.

Wow, she thought, Flash has been trying to help the sirens in secret? I wonder if Adagio knows about that. Fluttershy would have to sleep on whether or not to tell her that he was deliberately deflecting her teasing, but maybe it didn't matter anymore?

"Hah," chuckled Applejack, "Ah bet Trixie wishes she'd known how to get ridd'a Adagio, come yesterday, but it was kinda too late by then."

"Oooh, I heard about that," Rarity said with a hint of sympathy, "how Trixie wanted to antagonize the sirens only for it to blow up in her face, so to speak?"

Rainbow rolled her eyes. "Kinda her own fault. If she didn't want Adagio to do that, she probably shouldn't have called her out in public after boinking her." There were a few spit-takes. "What?"

Shaking her head, Sunset smiled wryly. "I'd take whatever Adagio says with a pinch of salt, Rainbow, it's doubtful they really slept together. Still, you're probably right in that she brought it on herself by giving Adagio an opening, and a pretty big one at that."

"Speaking of," Rarity replied while thoughtfully drumming a finger on her chin, "didn't we do a little more than claim to remove her unmentionables and flaunt them around for all to see? I recall that they said they weren't here for revenge, but who's to say they don't simply change their minds some day, send Adagio to do the same thing to us?"

"Probably not an issue. I talked to her in third period today and nothing out of the ordinary happened."

Applejack raised an eyebrow. "She still givin' ya the cold shoulder?"

"...A little bit, yea." Sunset shrugged. "When dealing with most people, she's kinda like a bee, I guess; leave her alone and she'll leave you alone. Unless she smells nectar, so to speak." Scratching her head, Sunset tried to think of how to compare Adagio to a whole beehive if provoked without mentioning her outrageous hair. Not even her mind was up to such a task on such short notice.

---

That night, Fluttershy set her diary down with a contented sigh. The stressful, pent-up feelings from just this time yesterday were all but gone now, peaceful warmth in their place. That said, she'd had surprisingly little she wanted to write today, the details of the kisses being the main focus. She'd noted that the cute-new-animal-at-the-shelter excuse probably wasn't going to keep working, that there wasn't going to be an incredibly adorable animal she could pretend to be completely fascinated by every week and that she'd have to watch herself during the day, but her primary thought was that kissing Adagio was a thing now.

I should probably tell her what I learned about Flash trying to make things easier for her group, along with his evasion tactic.

It made her feel like a bit of a tattle-tale, but she couldn't bear the thought of hurting Adagio by keeping a secret from her. Because Adagio is very sneaky, and finds things out whether you want her to or not. That thought reminded Fluttershy that while she wanted to be open and honest, Adagio most likely had things she didn't want to share, like that 'pressing charges' thing Fluttershy heard Principal Celestia mention. She could understand wanting to keep some things private, a secret relationship, for instance, but Fluttershy herself had nothing to hide. From Adagio, anyway.

...At least I don't think so. Do I? By this point, I'm pretty sure I've told her everything. Well, maybe except for saying I love her out loud.

She'd kind of covered that one up impulsively, but the words had come almost on their own. Was it too soon to say 'I love you'? After just three kisses in a very short span of time? Part of her said it almost sounded like 'Let's get married!' if she wasn't careful. Fluttershy giggled to herself.

Another day, another milestone to strive for, huh? At least I know to let the moment come on its own.

The important thing, she was sure, was a simple question: Would Adagio say it back?

---

Meanwhile, in the Dazzlings' house, Adagio lay on her heart-shaped bed, gazing into the whirl of colors formed by the patterns she'd painted on her ceiling fan.

Spinny, spinny, spinny... All this motion, but you never go anywhere. Silly fan.

Distraction was going great!

Oh, sea spray.

Well, there was really no need to put the thought out of her head any longer; she was given free reign with Fluttershy. The idea was as exhilarating to her as it was terrifying. She was going to miss toying with random people, certainly, but a lot of them gave boring, mediocre reactions anyway, give or take people like Trixie.

Well, we did technically break up from an imaginary relationship and/or friends-with-benefits situation, so it's poetically fitting. I might need to clear up that that was a joke. More importantly; Fluttershy! So many options... Do I take it slow, build up gradually, or just do whatever I feel like, without thinking, every day? A build up has to lead to something and I don't really have anything in mi-... Rolling over on her stomach to bury her face in the covers, she blushed a deep scarlet. Well, maybe one or two things... But, she would never-! I couldn't just-! I know she said she-! Agh!!

She rolled back and forth from one side of the heart-mattress to the other for a few minutes, rapidly alternating between a slow approach with subtle little tastes and teases until Fluttershy was on the verge of madness and not even her friends had the foggiest clue why, or just throwing inhibition and restraint to the depths and acting on impulse, diving into the epitome of life that was the freedom to do whatever one wanted without hesitation or regret. The second option was clearly more dangerous, but how long did she have with-

The rolling stopped.

No, wait, she specifically asked you for this, remember? The risk of her getting tired of you might not even be a factor anymore.

But even if she doesn't mind anything I do, even if she likes it, what's going to stop her friends, or even mine, from shutting it down if I go too far?

Staring at the whirly-blur of color that was her ceiling fan again, Adagio loosed a long breath.

"Suppose I'll play it by ear, see what happens, and back off the second I'm asked to." She closed her eyes.

---

About an hour later, she opened them again. "I need to get her a safeword..."

Author's Notes:

Still not a clopfic, no matter what Adagio says/implies to the contrary!

Have I ever mentioned that I don't care for all the Flash hate that goes around? He seems like an okay guy to me.

However, while I'm normally all about dem ship teases, no, I don't really see those two together. Said the writer of a FluttershyxAdagio Dazzle crack pairing. Hurrheehurrheehurr.

Other than building some context, there wasn't much really going on this chapter, but I hope it wasn't too boring. If it was, tune in next time for another chapter primarily from Adagio's POV!

Chapter 25: Squeaky, Health-Conscious Pillow

Monday morning had felt weeks away, but the weekend eventually passed and Fluttershy again found herself on the bench, eagerly awaiting her favorite siren.

Chances were high that she was going to be startled again, badly, but she knew it would be out of love! Love of startling her, maybe, but as she had given Adagio permission to do whatever she wanted, it would have been very silly not to expect her to utilize it. The thought kept her heart beating a little faster since the moment her mother dropped her off, half-expecting Adagio, whom she knew knew where and when she got there, to spring on her before she'd even reached the bench, but as ever, she was kept guessing. Was the wait part of it? It didn't feel like a stretch to think so, she was as nervous now as she would be if Adagio were already giving her one of those stares.

Nothing had been sprung on her Friday, nor over the weekend. Was Adagio just letting her sweat it out for a while? Rainbow seemed to like doing that with someone she intended to play a prank on, but Fluttershy got the impression that Rainbow was just too lazy to think up a prank right away. The thought tickled her as she drew another tiny correlation between Adagio and one of her friends, wondering if that could be used to bri-

Her head was seized from behind, turned in quick, but gentle fashion, and locked in a passionate kiss. She melted almost instantly, the sudden embrace of smooth, full lips pressing against hers sweeping away all other thoughts. When it broke half a minute later, Fluttershy ragdolled over on the bench and landed on her back, leaving her red in the face and breathing heavily. Looking up, she could see Adagio leaning over the back of the bench just like she used to, grinning down at her with affectionate (if darkened with eyeliner) eyes and a little blush of her own.

"Morning, Sweetie."

Still catching her breath, Fluttershy managed a smile back. "M-morning." Hoodie and jeans today. She always looks so soft and huggable with those on, I wonder if- Her heart stopped for a split second as Adagio vaulted over the bench, coming to rest as her rear impacted Fluttershy's stomach. "Oof!!"

The girl using her as a cushion leaned back leisurely, one arm casually draped over the back of the bench as she turned her head and grinned cheekily. "Comfortable? I am."

"Uhm-" herbutt'stouchingme!! "I, uhh..." If nothing else, Fluttershy felt very, very warm. "You're, um, k-kind of-"

"Heavy," said Adagio with a mock-pout, draping an arm over her face in melodramatic fashion, "it's alright, I've heard it all around the school, you can tell me I'm too-"

"N-no, that's not it at all!" Fluttershy squirmed as she tried to sit up, only able to bend her spine enough to raise her head and the upper-most part of her torso a little. "You're not too heavy, it's, j-just, um..." Her current position made hiding in her own hair difficult. "i-it's just, y-your, b-bottom is, uh..."

Adagio smirked viciously, wiggling a little where she sat. "Yes? What about it, Sweetie?"

The sensation against her stomach sent shivers up her spine and straight into her brain, making it hard to tell if her vision beginning to blur was from dizziness, or the little cloud of warm air rising from her own face. "I-it's, uhm, j-j-just, k-kind of-"

"Fat?"

"No!"

The forcefulness of her delivery surprised the sitting siren a little. "Oh? How would you describe it, then?"

Fluttershy's reply was immediate and delivered without a single stutter. "Nicely-rounded, plump enough that it sticks out a little, especially when you bend forward a bit, it's wide, but proportionally still looks normal, and yes, big, but not in a way that just looks fat, more-so considering that even when pumping your hips, I've never seen you jiggle even a little bit, though it's crossed my mind that that might be because I've never seen you in tight enough pants to notice!"

In the ensuing quiet as Fluttershy tried to catch her breath, Adagio stared in wide-eyed shock. "You've really been looking, haven't you?" This goes a little beyond just appreciating my form... I've been admired before, but not to that level of detail! At least not that anyone had commented on aloud, as far as she knew.

Still glowing herself, Fluttershy smiled that endearing little 'caught me' smile, but it quickly became a concerned frown. "Are people really calling you fat?"

"Uh..." She might have preferred less crude descriptions of her hips than the ones she heard, but other than that, she shrugged. "Not in those words. Don't worry, most of them are only noticing what I wanted them to."

"But do you think you're too heavy?"

Adagio blinked once in surprise as something occurred to her. That description a second ago, was that the culmination of a lot of time spent ogling me, or an attempt to make me feel better about a perceived insecurity? It could have been a bit of both, she supposed, but regardless, she looked down at Fluttershy with what could only be called a loving smile and gently tussled her hair. "Definitely not. Trust me when I say I get my share of exercise and that my body is exactly the way I want it to be."

The girl-turned-cushion smiled too. "What do you do to stay in shape?"

Adagio giggled. "So inquisitive..." I should be asking questions too... She's known me long enough that it won't look like I'm plotting something heinous, right? "I don't know if you got to see it while I was sick, but we renovated one room back home into a gym of sorts. Weights, monkey bars, a few machines, a scale, you get the idea."

She kind of didn't. "Monkey bars?"

"I don't know what else to call them, a series of rods hanging from the ceiling." She couldn't remember why they wanted to have those installed, now that she thought about it, but she smiled regardless. "Sonata likes swinging around on them making animal noises, which annoys Aria while she's on the treadmill. Sometimes that leads to a longer work-out in the form of Aria getting mad and going up there after her, the two of them trying to grapple the other with their legs to fling them to the padded mats below." Adagio grinned almost devilishly, a hint of red warming her face. "Have I mentioned how glad I am that we agreed on keeping fit in our underwear? We don't always exercise together, but there are days that those two make quite the show..."

Predictably, Fluttershy squeaked, holding both hands over her mouth as she involuntarily pictured it. It must have been written all over what was visible of her face, because Adagio let out a triumphant cackle.

"And since I know you're wondering, yes, that includes me. Admittedly, I'm not as... lively a spectacle as the monkey twins, but I focus more on building muscle. You might recall?"

"Whuh... W-what do you mean?" The look of wicked glee on Adagio's face suggested she had been hoping Fluttershy would say that.

"Oh," she said while quickly seizing one of Fluttershy's hands, "need a reminder? Alright then, just-" she slapped the hand to her own thigh, mentally bracing herself for the possibility of another squeeze, "this."

Fluttershy's heart thumped almost audibly as the familiar feeling danced across her palm and fingers. That this was a familiar feeling sent her head spinning even faster. Yes, it did feel like muscle, but not to the point that she wasn't still fairly soft, not unlike the hindquarters still parked on her belly. "...eep."

The next move would have been to brush Fluttershy's hand across her own leg a few times while tracing a finger of her own hand along Fluttershy's thigh, but Adagio didn't want to break the girl's brain just yet. Giggling as she let go of Fluttershy's wrist, Adagio's smile turned a little more friendly than mischievous. "What about you, Sweetie?" She lightly tickled the stomach she sat on, drawing little shivers. "Any weight-watching secrets from an animal lover?"

"Oh, um..." Thinking about it for a minute as her pulse slowly returned to normal, Fluttershy smiled. "Walking the dogs at the animal shelter usually helps keep me pretty healthy, in addition to mainly eating fruit and vegetables." She decided not to mention the other kind of walking she'd integrated into her daily life, as that was technically more psychological exercise at this point.

Dreadful temptation arose, but Adagio resisted the urge to ask about what way Fluttershy went for walks. "All of the dogs at once, or do you have to take turns? Either way sounds strenuous."

With a smile that depicted fond recollection, Fluttershy shook her head. "Ohh, they're no trouble at all. I usually take everyone with me at once, and I don't even need leashes most days."

"No trouble?" Adagio absent-mindedly scratched her head with a fingertip. "Then, it's not much of a work-out, is it?"

Blink. "Um, w-well... Not, a big one, I guess."

"Hmm..." The evil smile was back. "In that case," Adagio leaned over Fluttershy's face, resting one hand dead-center on her chest to keep balance, which immediately drew a gasp as Fluttershy went scarlet, "why don't you come over to burn calories with us some time? It doesn't have to be an exhaustive work-out, but I'd happily oblige if you really wanted to get sweaty." She drank in Fluttershy's fidgety, flustered whimpers with fiendish delight, softly, slowly shifting her weight back and forth on the girl beneath her.

"I, I, I'd-" With a hand resting just barely above her breasts, the pressure and warmth of that big bottom gently brushing against her, and eyes that offered even more leering down into her own, the combination of sensations quickly proved maddening. "Haba, muh-"

"Remember," Adagio added huskily, "we'd all be in our underwear... Or, if you like, maybe even less?"

Brain was then out to lunch as Fluttershy went light-headed. She grabbed the arm on her chest and yanked it downward to pull Adagio in for a furious lip-lock! What happened instead was Adagio getting startled by the sudden shift in her weight-bearing arm, losing balance, making a frightened expression Fluttershy would probably remember forever, and falling in the direction she was pulled; straight into Fluttershy's face. They knocked heads with an audible BONK!

Dazed, Adagio rolled off and fell to the grass, not moving.

Fluttershy quickly sat up, worry clear in her face. "Are you alri-" Agh! Vertigo. Big time. Then the actual pain of the blow sunk in and Fluttershy drew a hand to her forehead, but she did her best to focus on her floored friend, who dozily sat up and rubbed the upper-left side of her own head.

"Ow..." She looked at Fluttershy with her eyebrows lightly furrowed, keeping the left eye shut. "Should I take that as a 'no'?"

She's hurt!! Fluttershy nearly leapt off the bench, kneeling beside Adagio with, once more, mildly startling speed, physically and verbally. "I'msosorry!! Areyouokay?! Areyoubleeding?! Letmesee!!"

Trying to shuffle away for some breathing room, Adagio didn't even have time to open her mouth before Fluttershy seized the hand covering the point of impact and gently but firmly moved it and a fluffy tuft of hair away to inspect for herself. The situation made her feel like she was back in bed with a cold; weak and defenseless before her cute, but aggressively helpful nurse. She knew she was neither of those things right now, but it was amazing just how quickly Fluttershy's tone and expression almost made her forget.

"Hmm," Fluttershy quietly hummed while examining the spot, "it doesn't look like you're bleeding, and, I don't think it'll even leave a bump. At least, not a big one, if at all." She stopped to look Adagio in the eye. "Just the same, would you like me to get you some ice? Or a compress? We should keep the area elevated, which should be easy, since it's on your-" The sound of girlish tittering made her trail off.

Adagio was giving her a rare kind of smile, almost regretful if it weren't so wide and happy. "Remind me never to get a real injury around you, Sweetie."

Fluttershy made a disapproving face. "Head injuries are no laughing matter, a concussion could have serious conseq-"

"Alright, alright," Adagio said with a more apologetic grin. She thought of pointing out that Fluttershy was apparently ignoring her own blow to the head, but she remembered that going against her nurse's wishes was a bad idea last time. Weirdly, that Fluttershy was getting so worked up over something so minor tickled Adagio in a less humiliating way than what might happen if she resisted, so she tilted her head forward. "Give it to me straight, Doctor," she said with a hint of amusement she couldn't entirely repress, "is it serious?"

Even if she sensed a little bit of sarcasm in there, Fluttershy took another look anyway. The little red mark on Adagio's head was already fading, so part of her felt silly for reacting so strongly. Still, this left her very close to Adagio's head, one hand on her scalp. She hadn't directly touched Adagio's hair since the time with the ribbon, but the scent of mango was every bit as rich. Up close, Adagio's skin was so smooth and flawless it was almost inhuman, like the nymphs she'd read abou-

"That silence is starting to worry me, Sweetie."

Her face warming up a little, Fluttershy giggled despite herself. "I think you'll make a full recovery." She sealed the notion with a little kiss to the point of impact, hearing a tiny, surprised gasp as all of the skin around it went fluorescent pink. Backing away a little, she felt a warm tingle of huggy delight as the flustered siren made a timid face.

"Th-thanks..."

Fluttershy couldn't help smiling a little wider at the expression, but she still had to ask. "Is something wrong?"

Looking at her, Adagio grumbled under her breath. "K-kissing it better... That's something you do with little kids, isn't it?"

The smile stayed. "I like to think it works for everyone."

Orange eyebrows furrowed slightly. Well, let's see how you like it! She quickly rose to her knees and leaned in to kiss the red mark on Fluttershy's forehead.

Rather than heating up like a stove, however, Fluttershy giggled, only turning a little rosy as she gave Adagio a sweet smile. "Thank you!"

Adagio blinked twice. Despite her continued embarrassment at their childish little exchange, she found herself wearing a tiny grin too. "Yes, well..." Am I overreacting? She's not mocking me even a little bit... Her smile twisting into a smirk, Adagio wanted to test something. "So, about that work-out idea..."

Now Fluttershy turned red, her eyes widened, and her breath came at an irregular rate as the mental images returned to her like a boomerang the size of a fridge. "Ah, uh, th-that, um, I-I-"

Standing up, Adagio brushed herself off and chuckled. "You don't have to answer any time soon, but the offer's open." She winked, "Think about it." then turned and walked away, her mature image evidently intact. Several paces from the bench, she smirked viciously, stopped, rested a hand on her cocked hips, and looked over her shoulder with a sultry gaze. "Really," she said while giving her 'nicely-rounded' behind a slow shake, "think about it."

As hoped, Fluttershy squeaked and shuddered in place at the idea, still sitting in the grass and glowing like a pink-haired stoplight. She quickly sought refuge in her own hair again, but didn't take her eyes off the cackling girl as she departed, hips swinging with a little more oomph than usual. It wasn't until Adagio was gone that Fluttershy regained control of her legs, sheepishly sitting on the bench as dread kicked in. Working out... Getting all sweaty... with the Dazzlings! All four of us! Underwear! Not thinking about this all day was going to be a challenge she was not looking forward to.

Glancing around for her book-bag, she saw it on the ground beside the bench, likely knocked there when Adagio sat on her. The variety of feelings that instance had given her was something else that would have to wait until she could get to her diary to get out. She thought about bringing it to school to write these things out whenever she had a moment alone, but she mentally blew that candle out immediately, and the risk of anyone, even her friends, seeing her diary was all the sand that ever needed to be poured on the wick. Picking up her book-bag, she remembered something.

Oh, shoot, I forgot to tell her about Flash!

And to offer candy again. She noted to try starting with that next time.

---

Slinking through the school in silence, Adagio remembered something too.

Oh, sea spray, I forgot to ask her about a safeword!

Shaking her head at her own scatter-brained moment, Adagio kept moving. If Fluttershy knew what a safeword was, anything that would get the message across would almost definitely lead to another three-act play on her face. If she didn't, Adagio looked forward to explaining it to her! Either would be nice, really, but not if it meant there would be witnesses, as she didn't want things public yet. It wasn't that being able to play Fluttershy like a squeaky violin (the simile struck a slightly bitter chord with her) out in the open didn't appeal to her, but she didn't want to subject the poor girl to any emotional pain at the hands of her peers.

It wouldn't even matter if I hadn't, as Aria put it, gotten a spotlight on myself. If people knew what we did together, they would talk, and Fluttershy doesn't need that.

That wasn't even accounting for the other primary possible complications, as Adagio had had time to compile in her head:

-Fluttershy's friends taking issue with their relationship.
-Adagio's friends taking issue with their relationship.
-The more extreme moments Adagio would subject her to (and there would be extreme moments) breaking school rules, likely landing Fluttershy in hot water with the staff and possibly her parents.
-Fluttershy's grades slipping (so far, so good) if she got too distracted on a daily basis.
-People thinking Adagio was just bullying her and rushing to her "aid."
-The chance that, no longer fettered by thoughts of keeping things private, Adagio would go completely overboard and wind up just bullying her.

It was that last one that worried her most right now, doubly so as Fluttershy had, just days ago, given her express permission to do whatever she wished to her. The temptation wasn't quite murder, but it was there. On that note, this morning went pretty well! Her brief ruse of insecurity regarding her body fat index made her feel a little underhanded, in a bad way somehow, but she'd confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt that Fluttershy found her physically attractive. She was sure now that even with how often she'd noticed Fluttershy practically chewing on her, it wasn't just the idea of getting intimate that flustered her.

...It's not insecure to wonder that, any normal person would have been all over me by now! In a variety of ways! She still didn't take advantage of the situation today, even when I was sitting on her... unless her idea of feeling someone up on purpose involves headbutting them?

It seemed more likely that Fluttershy just wanted another kiss and miscalculated, now that she thought about it. Regardless, Fluttershy's interest had to be at least partially sexual, so the idea she came up with late last night (or early that morning, give or take) was still on. Smirking, Adagio patted the photograph in her pocket, just wishing she could be there to see the look on Fluttershy's face when she found it in her locker later today. The smirk fell away when she happened across a very different image hanging just outside the Art room.

"And then there's this," she muttered to herself. It was still there, Fluttershy's sketch. She didn't even entertain the idea of removing the picture herself, both because she'd specifically told Aria and Sonata she didn't want anyone touching it and because it seemed like doing so would hurt the artist's feelings somehow, if only indirectly. Looking at the many delicately-traced marks that formed her own sleeping face, Adagio sighed. "I liked the demon painting." It really brought out Sunset's eyes! The real tragedy of that conflict was that the world never got to find out what Sunset could have done with those claws.

Thanks a lot, Sparkle.

Shrugging at senseless thoughts of what might have been, Adagio let them fade out, lamenting that her recent deal with Fluttershy meant she probably couldn't play her usual game in the mornings anymore. Just as well, perhaps, some teachers had taken to just quietly accepting that the school was haunted or something, which made for boring sport.

Author's Notes:

When I said this one would be mainly from Adagio's POV, as in, another chapter mainly following her through the day, I neglected to account for the possibility that their morning together would go longer than I intended. Same old, same old.

Until next time!

...

In other news:

You may have known that this story isn't a clopfic, that I specifically said there would never be clop of this many weeks ago. At the time, it had never occurred to me that someone would volunteer to do just that, and they did!
For those interested in our two heroines throwing caution to the wind and going at it like I'm never going to write them doing, there is now something to satisfy all your bench-coitus-related woes!

LINK!

I'd like to thank GenerousGypsy for writing a pretty faithful depiction of what the couple's first time might be like! And while we're at it; everyone that's showed their continued interest in this story! :pinkiehappy:

Chapter 26: Brain Food

Second period was a little tense, but not for the first reason that came to mind. A few people had still given Adagio those little smiles walking through the hall, those funny looks that almost said they wanted to pet her, even if they usually looked away when she met their eyes, but that wasn't the source of the strained atmosphere in the room now. It was like everyone but Inkwell was waiting for Adagio to do something. She had thought it would be good enough if she made a point of not even looking at Trixie, but things were more or less the same on Friday.

In the last few minutes of class, she figured the problem wasn't going to fix itself and came up with a little plan, enacting it when the bell rang. The suspicious waiting period had been cut down considerably since the first time Adagio held this very door, but ten seconds was more than she needed to calmly address the class, and most importantly, Trixie.

"In case anyone was wondering, I was just kidding about the underwear thing last week."

Everyone immediately turned to look at the supposed panty-thief, who flushed red and shrank down under their collective gaze.

Tempted as she was to play up a hurt lover routine to make the situation so much worse for poor Trixie, Adagio contained herself to her usual little smile. "There was never anything between us, it was just a joke, and I'm sorry for any confusion it may have caused." Several students looked back at her, some in surprise, some in suspicion. It was interesting to note that she got roughly the same expressions directed at her now as when she, Aria, and Sonata first returned to this school.

Trixie's knees were shaking a little, so it was possible she was too nervous to speak. Perhaps she, too, was waiting for a trap to close around her, but after another minute's awkward silence, the room began to clear. As had happened no shortage of times before, Trixie approached when everyone else had gone out, but for once, she didn't look annoyed, condescending, or otherwise antagonistic, just hopelessly confused.

"...Why?"

Adagio couldn't help a little giggle at the adorably lost expression. "I know we've been through a lot together, but you don't have to worry anymore. I've had my fun, and I'm done with you now. Take care, Trixie." As her former greatest (public) victim just stood there, dumbstruck, Adagio opted to close things herself by (begrudgingly) heading to her next class, leaving Trixie to do whatever baffled young magicians did in their spare time.

Trixie, for her part, had some time to think.

...It can't be. She can't really mean...? She'd never just leave me alone! There's no way!

She grit her teeth.

She's trying to trick me, this is all a set-up to do something even worse than last week! That evil, remorseless, manipulative bitch!

Trixie quickly considered her options.

Maybe I can buy her off, give her something to really make her leave me alone! What would she take? Money? A good word? ...Does she want my panties?

Her shoulders slumped.

Oh, what's the use? Nothing I can do will ever stop that monster, she's going to torment me until gradua-no, until the day I die! I'll be her pitiful little whipping girl forever, and there's nothing I can do about it!

And then Trixie felt something, like a little light in her chest. Hope, maybe.

No, maybe... maybe I'm being too pessimistic? What if she really meant it? She wasn't doing that spine-tingling smirk thing she does when she said it, so... maybe it's true? Maybe I'm free?

Thinking about it, Adagio probably could have royally humiliated Trixie just a minute ago (Trixie saw it in her eyes!) and didn't. If that was still her goal, she'd have done it then. And didn't. It actually kind of sounded like she was trying to take some of the heat off of Trixie, and while she was sure one short little speech wouldn't wipe away what happened the other week, Adagio formally saying it was all a joke had to count for something, which was about the best she could hope for.

If she wanted to keep toying with me, she could have... This is good, right? Yes, yes it is!

Trixie smiled. Maybe now, at last, she was free!

And blocking the door to the classroom, as the warning bell clued her in. Remembering that she was still in school, she squeaked and bolted to her next class.

---

Third period. Sunset Shimmer. The usual routine began.

"Good morning, Adagio!"

One, two...

She didn't even make an attempt at smiling. "Hello, Sunset Shimmer."

Two, three...

"How are you today?"

Three, four...

Adagio shrugged, not looking at Sunset as everyone took their seats. At least it was always short. Sunset would smile, make her attempt at friendliness, Adagio would perform a less emphatic imitation of Flash Sentry, class would begin, and if she was lucky, that would be the end of it. It seemed odd that Fluttershy never said anything about Sunset, never dispensed platitudes of any kind, never even gave her disapproving looks or tried to tell her what a great person Sunset had become. Nothing.

Perhaps Sunset was keeping quiet on the matter? Whether it was because she didn't want to risk friction or if it was to hide that Sunset wasn't an expert in friend-making herself, Adagio didn't care. She ignored Sunset to the best of her ability whenever they weren't assigned to do group work together. Unfortunately, for well-documented reasons, nobody else in the room ever wanted to work with Adagio on such days, which led to the slightly more varied song and dance that was Sunset trying to relate to her in between math problems. Oddly enough, there were never any attempts at a guilt-trip or disgusting little speeches about how former monsters like themselves had to stick together, just casual(ish) small-talk and periodic, awkward, verbal bumbling.

"Do you need any help on that problem? I mean, not that I'm saying you can't do it on your own, I'm sure you can, just, I ask because, y'know... group work?"

"So, do you have any hobbies? You used to? What was-... Oh. Right."

"How's Art class been? Drawing is fun, right...?"

The time Sunset asked if she wanted to join her and her friends at some new restaurant was particularly memorable, if only for how Sunset furiously back-pedaled after telling her that they served great sea-food. Not laughing or even smiling was a challenge when Sunset turned pink and stuttered that she would never try to get Adagio to do something that bordered on cannibalism, then that she didn't mean to equate the sirens to dumb fish, then that she was sure fish weren't dumb at all because fish was typically considered brain-food, though she knew that wasn't how it worked and that she'd just be quiet now. It was perhaps the most difficult time Adagio had ever had keeping a straight face, but she managed. Wouldn't want Sunset to think the tiniest grin meant she had accepted her or something.

Really, Sunset could be pretty adorable when she was trying to be friendly. It was a shame that Adagio hated her so much.

---

She got more of those little looks on the way to fourth period, and as was usually the case, Adagio spent most of that class zoned out. Her yawning never seemed to disturb class, but she had long given up on focusing on the dull, dull lessons. Instead, her mind wandered, starting with less-than-fond recollection of the two full days she spent without pestering playing with just talking to interacting with Fluttershy. It had, of course, occurred to her to simply visit Fluttershy at her home or invite her over to theirs, but they risked discovery either way if their respective families were there at the time.

Maybe I could get Ria and Nata out of the house for a few hours, but I'm almost sure I promised to stop tricking and manipulating them.

Exchanging phone numbers felt like an obvious choice, but she just knew that someone would get a hold of one of their phones and ask why they had the other's contact information.

Besides, even if we just memorized each other's numbers, someone might check the call history.

She wondered if cyber communication was an option. Did Fluttershy own a computer? A private one through which they wouldn't have to worry about anyone catching her talking to Adagio? The Dazzlings still had plenty of money to kick around, maybe she could-

But I'd need to be able to either hide the laptop entirely or be able to give a reason for getting it. I can think of a few that'll guarantee neither of my housemates will ever ask what I'm up to on the internet again, but that doesn't cover how Fluttershy would explain where she got a new laptop free of charge when someone inevitably sees it in her room.

Adagio suppressed a sigh.

All this sneaking around... Well, given the circumstances, it's not like we have a better option. Keeping quiet may mean less time together, but we've come too far to have to drop everything now. I at least want to enjoy this in peace for a while.

---

Lunch. Free, government-paid meals. Not always the highest-quality stuff, but- okay, no, it was never the highest-quality stuff, but that was hardly surprising. Food was food, that Adagio knew. Kind of. She was still iffy on some dishes she'd seen served supposedly to human beings, not some kind of weird, insectoid creatures in skin suits, horrific entities that could eat anything between two slices of bread. Trying new things didn't always pay off.

Anyway, Adagio sometimes wondered if, without this little nugget of time to talk and eat together, without school, without something to bring them outside on a regular basis, her group would have eventually devolved into staying home and having all their meals delivered. Maybe they'd have become complete shut-ins that hardly ever even visited each other in their own house all that much, eating alone when they were hungry and never so much as tasting anything that didn't have an option of being driven out to them. That sounded an eency bit creepy, like the three of them would develop sharp little claws and glowing eyes for reasons completely independent of magic if they lived that way long enough. She had little logical basis for these imaginings, but there were stories about kelpies that lived all alone in abyssal caves...

These were the kinds of things Adagio thought about while en route to the cafeteria and waiting in line. When she sat at the usual table, Sonata smiled at her.

"Heya, Dagi! Didja see the newest picture on the fridge?"

She did, a memory from earlier that morning drawing a faint blush. "I can't believe you hung that."

Sonata smiled guiltily. "Sorry. I know taking a picture of another picture is technically cheating, but darned if that sketch of you doesn't make me smile!"

Her embarrassment only deepened as Aria whispered, shooting her a slightly apologetic grin. "It is kinda cute, Dagi."

Ordinarily, this would have been the point when Adagio returned fire with something mortifying for each of them, but considering her promise to Fluttershy and how she really meant to cut back on how often she teased Aria and Sonata anyway, she just sighed in annoyance.

Apparently still at least partly sympathetic to her plight, Aria took up a much more business-like tone. "We have any idea who did it yet?"

Deploying cover-up. "Someone in my new seventh period class, obviously, but going on a witch hunt won't do us any favors. Even if we knew, nothing good can come of confronting the one responsible, and like I said before, this can work to our advantage."

Sonata nodded once as she swallowed a bite of carrot stick. "How's that been going? Anybody tried to give you one of those big, squeezy huggles yet?"

"No, but I suppose that would be a fair sign that we'd washed off the stigma. I'm still getting those stares, though not constantly or in great number, which tells me that the picture alone won't be pulling the three of us out of 'undesirable' status. I'll be making a move soon, so just stick to what you've been doing until then." She remembered something at the very last instant of the sentence. "Uh, please." That both of them saluted her at the end of that sentence made Adagio chuckle, drawing two smiles in kind.

---

Walking out of the lunchroom, Adagio made a beeline for Fluttershy's locker. With any luck, it wouldn't strike anyone as the least bit odd that she'd moved a little quicker than usual, but she had to get to that hallway first to ensure that no one saw what she was about to do. Grinning fiendishly, she glanced about the clean hall, not a single witness in sight, but she could hear voices just down the hall and steadily growing in volume. Quick as a whip, she drew the folded picture from her pocket and slipped it into Fluttershy's locker, moving out of that hallway as quickly as she'd come and going straight to her fifth period class.

It was difficult not to wear a smile that would erase all thoughts of the one Fluttershy drew her with from the minds of those who saw her (at least until the next time they looked at that sketch), but Adagio contained herself. She made the mental note to do that for the next hour or two, knowing that if she was seen making especially emphatic smiles in the same time-span as Fluttershy's reaction (and she was nearly certain it would draw attention), the connections would be drawn too easily. Of course, if Fluttershy let anyone see the picture, that might happen anyway, so part of the secret's safety depended on her.

I wonder if she'll appreciate that I waited until after the time of day when she'd have to be sitting by all her friends with that image on her mind?

The picture was nothing too damning to be caught with, really, and it had occurred to Adagio that given their similar skin tones, Fluttershy could pass it off as a photo of herself, which would still raise questions. Art class would surely give her a hint as to how it was received, but she could hardly wait until tomorrow morning!

And yet, I'm sure I'll have to anyway...

---

Walking down the hall to sixth period, she caught sight of Lyra and Bon-Bon, giggling like a pair of dolts as they sat side-by-side to text each other. Adagio had teased them many times about their burgeoning romance, whether it really existed or not, but today, she just kept walking. It was an odd feeling, not toying with people on a whim, like how she imagined a shark would feel if it suddenly decided it wanted to go vegetarian one day, but at the same time? She felt weirdly at ease. Sure, she'd had to bite her tongue a few times since Friday morning, especially when people carried conversations directly within her earshot, but other than those moments, it was a bit like...

She'd heard the phrase 'a walk in the park' before, and it was one she hadn't understood until now. The first thing that came to mind when she went walking in a park was that there were potential playthings all over the place, walking dogs, sitting on benches, playing games about throwing things and immediately running to catch them, or just lying in the grass. Now she felt like it made more sense, because she wasn't a hunter on the prowl and surrounded by prey. Today, she was just a passive observer, taking in the sights and sounds of the world around her without a thought (deliberately) spared for how she'd make Target X, Y, or Z squirm within the next minute or so.

It was peaceful.

---

And then came seventh period, where the new game was waiting for her! All the devious, prowl-y thoughts were on again, but remained bubbling under the surface of the peace Adagio had been part of in earnest up until then. Walking into the Art room, she kept any and all reaction off her face when she quickly scanned Fluttershy, who was looking squarely at Adagio's legs with the most delightful little blush!

She found the photo, then. She probably can't see all that much through my jeans, should I start wearing tighter pants? She commented on that, as I recall...

Working her legs and hips no more than usual (which was to say, a lot), Adagio strolled across the room to take her seat just as Magnet started his usual thing. Today they'd be sketching, which briefly struck the siren with apprehension and dread, but it looked like she would just be drawing this time. As she remembered, the chairs were arranged in a semicircle and a subject (a surreal sculpture from another class, possibly modeled after an octopus having an epileptic fit) was placed in the center of the room. In quick, but subtle fashion, Adagio glanced at Fluttershy, determined where she'd be sitting, and set her own chair not far in front of her. Not in a way that obscured the day's subject, just enough to be sure she was in Fluttershy's field of view at all times.

And the fun began!

---

Walking out of Art, Adagio had left her take on the octopus abomination in the room. Maybe that would replace the picture of her? It was worth hoping, but she'd quite enjoyed her time drawing today regardless. It was difficult to gauge whether or not the various shapes and angles she'd drawn the tentacles at had sent the right subliminal messages to the girl behind her, but she was sure the way she occasionally stretched, the delicate manner in which she gripped her pencil, and the light, smooth caresses of the paper with each stroke weren't missed. Crossing her legs every ten minutes or so to dangle one or the other where Fluttershy could see must have had an effect as well, given some of those soft little squeaks she'd heard from behind her. Truly, the only downside had been that she couldn't turn around to see that doubtlessly-crimson face, and left the room without so much as a sideways glance in her Sweetie's direction.

Couldn't go signaling that it had all been on purpose, not with that many witnesses.

Again, her thoughts drifted to clandestine communication, this time shooting down a secret code as a means of talking to one another in public. Maybe they could have worked out a whole alphabet of subtle motions and perhaps even held conversation, but what would it say to anyone who noticed the two of them unable to sit completely still for fifteen seconds? Even if they came up with something so subtle that there was virtually no chance of anyone else noticing, Fluttershy suddenly going cherry-red or squeaking and hiding in her hair for no apparent reason would effectively negate the point of the thing.

And, I suppose, every now and then, my own reactions might do the same...

Just this morning was a good example. At any rate, everything she could think of carried a risk, and she wasn't sure what level Fluttershy was comfortable with. As ever, there was nothing she could do, no way to really interact in public, not much chance that she wouldn't continue to fluster Fluttershy even if they could, thus giving them away. It was all very frustrating, but focusing on those thoughts helped the last period of the day pass a little quicker.

---

The sirens walked home together, as usual, but Aria went straight to her room when they got there, saying she had to catch up on homework. This left a rare occasion in which Sonata asked Adagio to play games with her, just the two of them. Things were always more hectic without Aria to explain or remind them of the rules and game mechanics, but Sonata and Adagio weren't really the types to let ink on paper tell them how to have a good time anyway. As was usually the case, they played a series of games set in that side-scrolling platformer's universe, consistent names and creatures put through a variety of wringers to create just as many absurd, but amusing scenarios. First up was the racing game.

"Do you think the bombs and stuff are alive? Do they feel it when they blow up?"

"Perhaps. Why?"

"They've got eyeballs! Not like creepy doll eyes that follow you around the room, but eyes! Lil' peepers! And I know sometimes, they walk around."

"You mean to tell me that you're starting to feel guilty for snuffing out their lives to get ahead in these races?"

"A little bit?"

"Because you just sacrificed three mushrooms with eyes (possible relation) to boost your speed and knock that other driver off the bridge."

"He cut me off!"

"Ha, that's my girl!"

---

Next up was an extraordinarily bizarre board-game-type-thing that revolved around... something. Neither of them quite understood what they were doing, but the minigames at the end of every turn gave them plenty of time to discuss it.

"I think, based on the behavior of the AI players, we're supposed to be going after those floating stars. With eyes."

"But you can't spend stars on anything!"

"Maybe the ultimate goal is to start a star-based slavery ring?"

"Nuts to that, coins are the real movers in this game!"

"Because coins can win us items, access to different areas of the map, chances to screw over the other players, and the stars themselves?"

"Yea! Coins can't buy me love, but stars can't buy me lunch!"

Sonata earned a hug, which was something else she couldn't get with stars.

---

Thoroughly deciding that they didn't give a flapping flipper what the game told them 'victory' status entailed, the two finished the game with a hefty sum of coins and paid no attention (or coins!) to what the final score screen had to say about it. Then they moved on to the platformer all of this was apparently bastardized from.

"Ahahahaha, I stomp you dead, jumpy-fish!!"

"You're still sore about that time one of them leapt from the water and killed you?"

"My vengeance knows no calendar! Besides, I was like two steps from the end of the level that time."

There was a question that could be raised regarding revenge not yet exacted, completely independent of the game, but as that discussion would only serve to kill the mood, Adagio just smiled. This was made easier when she picked up the immolation weed.

---

When the two of them found themselves wanting to take the violence a step further, they switched to a straight brawler game every bit as absurd as the board game had been. The levels were erratic and possibly alive, cartoonish weapons (with some delightfully unorthodox ideas for the word 'weapon') fell from the sky, and the only apparent goal was to brutalize the enemy until a voice from nowhere declared it was over. As usual, they'd tinkered with the settings to drop the most volatile items as often as possible.

"THE BOMB-GUYS ARE TAKING REVENGE!!"

"Hm, they do get up and walk around. Just back and forth, it seems. Do you think they're just lost, or do they have somewhere to be?"

"RUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUN!!"

"Nata, just jump somewhere out of their range."

"It's too late for me, Dagi, but I know how to take 'em all out at once!"

"Waiting for them to detonate on their own? If you wait about fifteen seconds, I think they'll-"

"KAMIKAZEEEEEEE!!"

The screen shook with explosions.

"Eh, I guess that's quicker. You were brave, Nata, I'll be sure to remember y-oh, there you are again."

"Oh, goodie, I had another life!"

---

When the bloodlust had died down a bit, they played a game about dealing with the already-departed in a haunted house. By sucking them up with vacuum cleaners. It made as much sense as anything else in this franchise.

"Coins, bills, gemstones, and gold bars. Amazing what people just leave lying around in kitchen cupboards."

"So, are we exorcists or looters?"

"Can't it be both?"

"Well, yea, but I'm wondering which one our guys came here for. They see an old, rickety-ass, rumple-fugly house on a hill and think either 'Hey, we should go in there and stuff dead guys into a jar!' or 'Hey, I bet nobody'll call the cops if we run in and ransack the joint!'"

"Once more, I feel our motives are flexible."

"But aren't the vacuum guys supposed to be the heroes in this story?"

"I never agreed to that! Besides, we both know that being the 'hero' means doing whatever you want without a thought spared for your adversaries. If the ghosts are lucky, maybe we'll sell them to a nicer slaver than whoever takes the stars."

The sentiment lightly agitated old wounds for both of them, but they focused on trapping more lost souls in the derelict mansion of the dead and damned before their thoughts could go somewhere depressing.

---

Game time eventually came to an end and Adagio got started on dinner. She'd made a lot of progress in her cooking since she began, but she wasn't quite ready to show Fluttershy. Someday, though...

Until then, the sirens sat at the dining room table to do that family meal thing they'd heard so much about. The only appreciable difference between that and eating at the cafeteria seemed to be a welcomed lack of prying eyes and ears, meaning they could say and do whatever they wished without a care. Well, that and higher-quality meals than anything the school offered, once Adagio had gotten into the groove. Speaking of which, she chose the moment they were all seated to enjoy the side-dish of a little teasing.

"Ria, dear," she said in a warm, motherly voice betrayed by her usual smirk, "did you get all of your homework done?"

Stabbing her fork into a chicken tender, Aria gave her a perturbed look. "The 'mom' thing hasn't gotten any less creepy since last time, y'know."

Sonata snickered, loud-whispering across the table. "She's just cranky because you didn't tuck her in last night."

Aria flushed crimson at the thought, scowling. "Shut your stupid face, Sonata!" The rebuttal came in the form of blowing raspberries, which drew a little laugh from Adagio.

"Alright, you two, simmer down or I'll spank you both." She'd said it with a smile, but it never ceased to amaze her just how quickly that threat seemed to end quarrels. More-so with the ones that were technically her fault. She picked up with a friendlier tone. "Really though, I trust neither of you need any help in the schoolwork?"

Snorting, Aria almost leaned back and rested her feet on the table before remembering there was food there. "Natch, they don't exactly have the highest standards in this world, y'know?"

"Yea," concurred Sonata as she bit into a slice of jellied toast, "schtuff's way eashier than whah we did back home!"

"Speakin' a which," noted Aria almost hesitantly, "you guys heard about Crystal Prep?"

"A bit," offered Adagio, "just that no one around here seems to think very highly of them."

Aria nodded. "Yea. It's this rich-kid school in the city, hear the whole place is swankier than CHS could ever hope to be. Harder classes and stuffier, well, everyone, but we probably wouldn't get as much grief over there if we transferred." She gave the two of them a serious look. "What do you guys think?"

For just an instant, Adagio felt a rush of cold through her body. Then her brain kicked on again and she looked at Sonata, whose horrified expression said she wasn't at all in favor of the idea. "Well, that depends," Adagio began, looking back to Aria, "how keen are you on having more classwork to do, a long, daily bus-ride to and from the city (unless you want to go through the trouble of moving?), and, whether they know of us or not, the chance that we'll be even less welcome there than we are here?"

Sonata helpfully raised an index finger, as if making a point with her statement. "And that's saying something!"

Raising an eyebrow, Aria looked back and forth between her fellow borderline outcasts. "So that's a 'no' for both of you?"

She wasn't about to voice her primary reason, but Adagio had other deflectors at the ready. "It seems unwise, in practical terms. We could move well across the country and start with a clean slate, but if even one person were to hear of our magical incident and spread it to the rest, it'd be the same as when we started over here. Those in charge of CHS have been very accommodating and, as you may recall, very forgiving of the three of us. Whether or not this is solely due to the meddling of a few particular girls, I can't say, but it's something we can't be sure we'd have in another school, be it Crystal Prep or anywhere else."

Aria and Adagio looked to Sonata for her two cents, getting a slightly worried frown. "I kinda like CHS. Nobody really likes us that much, but they aren't trying to drive us away, either. Can we stay? Please?"

Her two oldest friends looking to her now, Aria chuckled. "Sounds like two 'no's, then. Good, just wanted to get that outta the way. I don't care if we'd get a higher pedigree at some snazzier school or whatever, we're only going at all to make life suck less, right?"

Sonata beamed. "Right!"

"I don't really wanna go anywhere either, but it had to be asked. It's pretty cozy where we are now, and if I remember right," she smiled at Adagio, "I think you've got a plan in the works for this place?"

Grinning coyly as she raised a chicken tender to her lips, Adagio winked. "Sorry, no spoilers." She took a bite and chewed slowly, as if to emphasize that they'd get nothing further out of her on the matter.

"Tch," said Aria with an amused eye-roll as she bit into a mouthful of slightly over-seasoned meat, "fine, keep your secrets."

The three of them giggled and proceeded to enjoy most of the meal (Adagio had made some kind of miscalculation with the dipping sauce), but Adagio couldn't help thinking Aria's choice of words was a little too appropriate.

'Keep my secrets,' Ria? Yes, I'm afraid I must, and I dearly hope that the two of you can forgive me the day you learn the truth.

---

Later that night, Adagio sat at her vanity, staring into her own eyes. She pondered whether or not a single soul actually saw her as more 'mature and lady-like' as opposed to dark and monstrous with the make-up on before wiping it away with that increasingly-dirty shirt, and with a quick 'after' comparison, she sighed. Standing up, she stripped her clothes off and flopped over on her bed, kind of wishing she'd had the presence of mind to disrobe every night. It made sleep just a little easier.

Was that odd? She hardly even felt her clothes against her skin during the day, but when lying down, it was like she was more sensitive all over. (Ooh, la-la~!) Maybe it was just a matter of being too warm. Her hair certainly didn't help in that department, but during the winter, she was never not a snuggly ball of warm fluff. A secret she hoped to take to her grave, actually.

Will that work, if Fluttershy ever...? I mean, it's not like she just won't notice if we ever sleep in the same bed. She'd see my sleeping face again, and sooner or later, I'm sure I'd see hers. I bet it's cute. Almost all of her faces are.

These were Adagio's thoughts as she drifted off to sleep.

---

The next morning, Adagio hopped out of bed around the usual time, briefly enjoyed the feeling of morning air against her bare skin, and reluctantly reminded herself that no, she probably wouldn't be given a free pass on wearing clothes today, either.

Hah, I wonder if Fluttershy would even be able to get to sleep at all if I went au naturale. Maybe she does it too? A girl can dream...

Giggling at the thought, she headed to the shower, was dry about forty-five minutes later, got dressed in her dance outfit, and nearly walked out the door before remembering the plan. The one she'd all but promised to enact after a week of Fluttershy's sketch hanging where it was. Today marked a week. With an almost alien sense of trepidation, she paced over to her dresser to draw something from the back corner of her underwear drawer. Due to heavy implications to the others that something truly depraved and innocence-shattering dwelt in that drawer, it was perhaps Adagio's best hiding spot in the house. That was where she found the article she'd thought she'd never have use for.

It was still there, the shiny, purple ribbon Fluttershy had given her, every bit as silken and pretty as when it had first been tied in her hair. Warmth built in her cheeks as she stared at the thing, picturing exactly what her plan entailed.

Can't believe I'm doing this...

She removed her spiked hairband.

Author's Notes:

No, she is not cutting her hair, The Poof is here to stay. :pinkiesmile:

Chapter 27: Choke Dust and Word Play

Adagio stood with her hand on the doorknob. She remained that way for at least ten minutes, Fluttershy's ribbon tied in her hair like before, and, to her private annoyance, butterflies in her stomach.

Just go already, you big jellyfish!

Really having second thoughts here...

You have your usual hairband with you, so worst comes to worst, you can change at any time.

People will laugh at me for this!

It's just a little thing, maybe hardly anyone will even notice?

You know what else is a little thing? A 'cute' smile drawn on an otherwise striking full-body portrait.

But, the way they looked at me, that wasn't hatred or contempt, or even fear. Not quite mockery, either. It might be a little embarrassing, but, if it means at least a few people will be pleased to see me again, is it really so bad?

She did enjoy adoration, even the little taste of it she'd been getting in the form of those looks people were giving her. Opening the door, she stepped outside and quickly shut it behind her, immediately getting an idea of how Fluttershy must have felt in the nurse outfit. There was no one around at the moment, but she still felt almost naked.

Maybe this'll be easier if I think of it as streaking?

It made some kind of sense in her head, and if she were walking around naked, she knew there'd be no problem at all! Well, other than those pesky authorities and their decency laws, but for now, she'd just have to own this. Standing straight, she began to walk in her usual fashion, not letting herself forget that she was wearing a shiny, purple bow in her hair, lest she be surprised by it later, but not letting it get to her, either. She was Adagio Dazzle, and no accessory was going to get the better of her!

Unless it came with chains, maybe. Did Fluttershy feel the same? Food for thought.

---

Her thoughts having drifted to a few other things she was never going to be allowed to wear in school, Adagio found herself approaching Fluttershy on the bench before she knew it. She moved slowly, thinking that if she was going to experiment with cuteness today, it couldn't hurt to do something fun in the same spirit. Creeping up behind Fluttershy, she quickly reached around Fluttershy's head to cover her eyes with both hands.

"Guess who!"

There was a startled little squeak, but after a moment's silence, it sounded like Fluttershy was smiling. "Adagio?"

"Good guess!" Giggling, Adagio again vaulted over the bench rather than walking around to be seated, this time preferring to sit on the bench beside Fluttershy rather than on top of her. This time. "So, how are you?"

Fluttershy responded with a bright, happy grin. "I'm okay, thank you! Would you like a Fairy Flute?" To her immediate delight, Adagio responded with a puzzled expression.

"A... what?"

Quickly retrieving the long, thin, paper tubes from her backpack (finally), Fluttershy held them where Adagio could see. "They're basically just sugar, you tear off the top and pour it into your mouth." Her cheeks warmed. She was sure some part of that could have sounded dirty, but to her surprise, Adagio didn't comment on it, instead eyeing the stick she'd been handed.

"Just... tear off the top, drink the contents?"

"Uh-huh!" Fluttershy was having second thoughts about asking Pinkie Pie for samples of her experiments to share with Adagio, because the day she ran out of new, weird treats to show her was the day she might hardly ever get to see that wonderfully inquisitive expression of hers again. She watched in quiet anticipation as orange eyebrows lightly knitted, Adagio looking the stick over from a few different angles before lightly caressing the shaft with a fingertip, pinching the tip of the top (Oh, my...), and twisting it off. She made the most adorable little 'Hey, what's this?' face as she peeked into the hole to see the colorful grains inside! Shrugging, Adagio raised the tube to her lips, tilted her head back, and poured the contents into her mouth.

That's where things went wrong.

In an instant, Adagio's eyes widened as she dropped the sugar stick, clutching both hands to her throat and coughing up little clouds of the substance that now stuck in her windpipe. This, somehow, was worse than her cold, the painful convulsions bringing blinding tears to her eyes as she choked a few more breaths away. It seemed like it was just starting to clear up when she felt the sensation of being lifted into the air and hauled away, though she still couldn't see what was going on, or even feel much beyond her own continued coughing fits. Her ears, however, worked fine.

"Drink, quick!!"

With the sound of one of those little water fountains being triggered came from right in front of her face, Adagio managed to open one eye enough to see the stream. She leaned forward to wash out her mouth, the sugar mostly melting within seconds. Her throat was still a little sore, but she had at least regained herself enough to take stock of the situation. She was kneeling by a fountain up against a wall by the soccer field, only about twenty meters from the bench. To her left, Fluttershy lay panting in the grass, strands of pink hair plastered to her sweaty face.

Did she... carry me?

Ordinarily, there would have been a volley of comments to launch for this situation, but right now she wanted to say something else. "You alright, Sweetie?"

Still catching her breath, Fluttershy sat up. "I... should be asking... you that."

Smiling a little despite the situation, Adagio giggled. "I'm fine, thank you." Then, frowning, she drew a hand to her throat as tried to clear it, earning a few more coughs. "You know, other than how this keeps happening."

Feeling a little tug in her chest, Fluttershy frowned too. She remembered very clearly the look on Adagio's face when she said it.

"it wasn't enough that our voices were mutilated, but when I get a cold? It's mostly in the throat!"

With the sirens' vocal cords damaged, anything that affected the same area must have felt like insult to injury. Injury that would never heal, at that. She still didn't know how to even tip-toe in the direction of the subject to anyone that could help without the risk of hurt feelings and disaster. She could possibly have tried to get her hands on Sunset's journal without telling her, or even just going through the portal and searching high and low for Twilight, but both options made her feel like she'd be betraying the trust of her friends. A few ideas she could experiment with had occurred to her, but if they weren't guaranteed to work, the thought of getting the sirens' hopes up was still too painful to bear.

Adagio might tease me, sometimes viciously, but to dangle what she wants most in front of her only to snatch it away is something I'd never forgive myself for.

However, there was one thing she could think of that might at least make Adagio feel a little better right now. Before she could think twice about it, she brushed her hair back, leaned in, tilted her head a little, and kissed Adagio on the neck. This drew a tiny gasp and a bright blush, just like yesterday, but while Adagio looked embarrassed, she wore a very different expression from the last time Fluttershy tried to kiss it better; eyes wide and mouth drawn in a thin line.

"S-Sweetie...?"

The look made her a little uncomfortable, but she still smiled. "Uh... yes?"

"Tell me that was on purpose and you'll be going to class covered in grass stains."

Blink. "What?"

Raising an eyebrow, Adagio slowly rubbed the spot Fluttershy had kissed. "Is that a 'no'? There are certain connotations to kissing someone on th-"

Realization hit Fluttershy like a falling anvil, immediately setting her face on fire. "EEP!!"

Adagio chuckled, her usual smirk making its proud return. "Not on purpose, then. So I'm to understand that you're an accidental seductress?"

If she could control her legs, Fluttershy might have stuck her own face in front of the fountain just to cool off a little. "I-I-I, it, I d-didn't, I-I, that, k-k-ki, j-just-" Adagio's increasingly predatory look wasn't helping. "I-I'm, s-s-sorry, I only m-meant to-"

Letting out an airy little laugh, Adagio rested a hand on her shoulder. "Relax, Sweetie, I just wanted to make sure." As ever, her dear, sweet, gullible Fluttershy let the tension fall away from her shoulders, which was when Adagio moved in for the kill. She braced Fluttershy with both hands, which earned a startled squeak as Adagio leaned in close, her lips just barely touching Fluttereshy's neck. "Besides, this is how you do it!"

Hot breath on her bare skin was enough to make Fluttershy tremble by itself, but the sensation of that long, wet tongue sliding up and down her neck sent her brain spinning so fast it probably would have had its own pull. There were more little feelings as Adagio worked her lips, tongue, and teeth along Fluttershy's throat, but they all blended together into an incomprehensible blur, the skin on her neck becoming a pleasure center like she'd have never thought possible until her world melted into a lovely haze...




















"...-eetie?"

Fluttershy blinked, finding Adagio and herself sitting on the bench, just like they were a few minutes ago. "Eh, I... what?"

Adagio smiled at her. "I said, 'so, how are you?'"

"W-what?!"

The smile didn't fade even as Adagio raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "A little out of sorts, I take it. Something on your mind this morning, Sweetie?"

Her mind lurched. Had all of that been a fantasy? Dreamt up with as little provocation as saying 'hello'? "Uh, I, bluh, humabuh-" Adagio's smile rapidly widened, quickly making the transition to snickering that she poorly hid behind one hand. "...What just happened?"

Adagio threw her head back and laughed, savoring every second of Fluttershy's utterly baffled expression. When she could speak clearly again, she did so with a particularly delighted smirk. "Just repaying a favor, Sweetie. You carried me and kissed my neck, I kissed your neck and carried you. Now we're even."

Assured that that really did happen, Fluttershy felt little tingles in several places, most of all her face. "Oh. Then, why did you pretend like-"

The sneakiest siren beamed. "Juuust for fun!"

Fluttershy pouted. "You're mean." Adagio laughed again, which Fluttershy joined despite herself. A minute later, however she frowned, remembering that because of her, Adagio had been choking a few minutes ago. "I'm, um, sorry about the Fairy Flute." This won her a mildly perplexed look. "I said you were supposed to drink it, but I should have been clearer by saying that you're supposed to let it melt in your mouth. I'm sorry."

Blinking as she played back the event in her memory, Adagio smiled a little. "Ohh, don't worry about it, not like this is the first time I've mishandled something you shared with me."

The Rainbooms' unofficial nurse wasn't quite satisfied. "But, you were choking, and you could have really been-" She was stopped by a quick, gentle kiss.

Adagio took advantage of the brief stunning effect this had. "Sweetie, I assure you, if I had died from candy, I would have come right back to life so I could die of embarrassment." This didn't quite erase the worried look she was getting, so she opted to adjust her approach, half-lidding her eyes. "Besides, I can think of much better ways to enjoy something like that..." Fluttershy tensed again, but didn't move as Adagio again closed in on her, resting her hands on the other girl's shoulders and unveiling her ideas in a sultry whisper. "Incorporating what we've learned today, I think I'd lay you down," she gently pushed Fluttershy backward, though not enough to push her over, "pour it in a line," she leaned in closer, breathing on Fluttershy's neck again, "lick it all off, and then-"

She was stopped by a long, high-pitched squeak-scream, which made her pull back enough to get a good look at Fluttershy's face. She was a pleasant shade of red, but with an utterly frazzled expression and tears in the corners of her eyes.

"I-I'm s-sorry, j-just, I, I can't, I can't-" Adagio pulled her into a hug, gently patting her back until the sniffles stopped. "I'm sorry," she eventually whispered, "that, that one is just... too intense for me."

Adagio giggled, but her voice was soothing. "That's fine. What have I always said, after all?"

Fluttershy giggled a little herself. "Too much." Then she frowned. "But, I want to accept you, to take whatever you can give me, so you won't feel like you have to hold back, especially after-"

"Shhh..." They hugged in silence for a moment, and when it was broken, it sounded like Adagio was smiling. "Don't worry, I actually had something in mind for this to make everything okay."

"Huh?"

The two pulled away, Adagio giving her a big smile. "How do you feel about a safeword?"

Blink. "W-what?"

Her expression unchanged, Adagio nodded. "A safeword, maybe something like-" She mimed writhing in place while hugging herself, even working an ecstatic tone into her voice. "Oh, harder, please!!"

Fluttershy burned red. "I, uh, d-don't think that would be a very good idea." Adagio just kept smiling. "B-because, w-wouldn't that get really confusing?" The smile turned devilish. "You know, because s-saying that would mean to keep doing it at the same time, s-so-"

"You didn't ask what a safeword is."

"What...?" And then it hit her like a two anvils, her pupils shrinking to pinpricks. "Oh, no."

"That makes me think you already knew..."

"No!"

"And if you already knew, you must have some... prior knowledge?"

Adagio was getting warmer, though not nearly as much as Fluttershy's face, which she immediately covered with both hands. "No!"

"But where, oh where could you have learned such things? I don't think they covered BDSM in your school's (rather bare-bones, if you ask me) Sex-Ed class."

"Nononononononono!"

"Sweetie?"

She whimpered, but Adagio's voice came again with a slightly demanding edge.

"Sweetie?"

Slowly, fearfully, Fluttershy peeked through her fingers, but was surprised to see Adagio giving her a soft, understanding smile, her tone equally gentle.

"Been doing a little research, Sweetie?"

"...M-maybe?"

"Before or after you met me?"

She retreated a little further into her own hair. "B... Before."

Adagio beamed. "Ooh, la-la~!" Fluttershy squeaked and hid her eyes again, drawing an amused little laugh before Adagio gently raised the trembling girl's head up with a finger under her chin, quickly reestablishing eye-contact. "Sweetie, all joking aside, I need to know when I'm going too far. If you know what it is, then you know what it's for, and that I'll stop the second you use it."

The surprisingly kind, nurturing tone brought her from burning alive to just slightly too warm, which helped her to form a reply. "...Just... j-just for some breathing room, until I can cool off a little?" Adagio nodded. "And, y-you won't..." She felt a little lump in her throat as she forced the words. "You won't get bored with me if I really can't take it? You won't just leave me one day?"

Adagio gave her the hungriest smirk she'd delivered in a while. "Just try and keep me away, Sweetie."

Her heart leapt, along with a lot more blood going straight up into her head and a surprised, girlish giggle rising in her throat. The mouth saying it might have been a little scary, but the sentiment was kind of flattering! Adagio was smiling patiently at her, likely still waiting for an answer. Well, Fluttershy had one! Smiling sheepishly, it was only her cheeks she was trying to cover now. "I... Okay!"

Adagio nodded affirmatively. "Good. You know, it's amazing that we're not actually talking about sex here!" That, she immediately learned, was in 'Too Much' territory as Fluttershy went a bright, glowing red, let out a strangled squeak, and fell over on the bench in a perfectly stiff fashion. Adagio chuckled. "I should probably get to work on that safeword now. Let's see..."

---

Adagio had had plenty of time to consider which syllables would best suit their purposes, but hadn't quite decided on what she wanted to go with before Fluttershy recovered and told her about what she heard from Sunset Shimmer about Flash Sentry. As Adagio had always suspected that was the case, she wasn't particularly bothered, reaffirming that if that was his way of saying 'leave me alone,' then she'd honor that wish, having continued to tease people at all because most of them never asked her to stop. Plus, with their recent agreement, it was kind of a moot point anyway. On that note...

"So, what did you think of my present, Sweetie?"

"Eep!"

"That good, huh?"

Fluttershy would have retreated behind her hair even if she didn't just involuntarily remember that picture, and she remembered it vividly. It was a close-up of Adagio's thighs, not so much that it was difficult to tell, but enough that those two pillars of firm muscle resting on the red fabric Fluttershy recognized as that of the heart-shaped bed were the central focus. It was a top-down shot, the camera apparently having been pointed straight down on her lap, because Adagio's thighs, the bedspread, and the floor of her room were all that could really be seen, along with part of a lower leg and a few toes of one foot. On the back of the picture, in pink cursive next to a kiss-mark, was a message:

Remember when you had your head in my lap? I do...

That picture had since found a home taped into her diary for safe keeping. She peeked out from her hair at a very satisfied-looking Adagio. "Th-that, m-my locker, I, I almost screamed when I saw that!"

Eyebrows were waggled. "You really liked it, then."

Flushing almost painfully red, Fluttershy retreated into her own locks again. "Not like that!!"

"You're certain? Because you wouldn't be the first to think of me while-"

"EEP!!"

Adagio chuckled. "Either way, I did tell you you'd be seeing more of me during the day, but..." The smile slowly slipped away. "If you'd rather I never did that again, I'll-" She was interrupted by a squeak she couldn't quite interpret, so she just waited quietly for the next attempt as one of those soft beautiful eyes peeked out at her.

"I, um... I k-kind of..." Letting most of her hair fall away revealed a shy, but earnest little smile. "I did like it. It was a nice picture, thank you." She wouldn't have minded a less risky means of receiving such a thing, but smuggling it out of school in her bag had made her feel like a pirate secretly transporting stolen gold! That being sneaky could excite her so much was terrifying all on its own.

Smiling herself, Adagio nodded once, indicating the bow tied in her hair. "I thought it was time I repaid your gift from a while back." She had thought Fluttershy was just being considerate or something by not commenting, but her eyes widening along with a huge, happy smile said that she just hadn't noticed her ribbon up to this point. The next thing she heard could only be described as a 'squee' before Fluttershy exploded.

"Omigoshyou'rewearingitIthoughtyou'dneverputitonagainbecauseyousaiditwasn'tyourstylebutIrespectfullydisagreebecauseitlooksreallygoodonyou!!" Beaming with delight that drew appreciative giggles from Adagio as she took in the admiration, Fluttershy leaned forward for a better look, tilting her head to see the bow nestled in all that fluffy hair from a few different angles and nearly bouncing in place with glee. "It even compliments your jumpsuit! I know it's not easy to see from the back, but neither was the spiked headband, and this just makes you look sooo cute! You were already pretty huggable with so much soft, fluffy hair, but now it's almost like it's out in the open for everyone to see!"

Drinking in the attention, the fluffiest siren couldn't help herself, giving Fluttershy a little smirk. "I'll take that to mean I look good, then?"

The dreamy little smile was what sold it. "Always."

Blinking once, Adagio giggled, just a hint of pink to her cheeks. "Good answer!" She was sure of it now; even if nobody else was likely to gush over her like this (Ooh, la-la~!), she wanted to try wearing the bow for the whole day.

"I mean it," Fluttershy said with an adoring gaze in those big, soft eyes, "you really are very pretty!"

Gnawing at her lower lip, Adagio struggled not to let the words go straight to her head. "Mmph... You're spoiling me, Sweetie."

There was an apologetic grin, but she'd been meaning to say this for too long. "You've probably heard this a thousand times, but you're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen, talked to, or heard about. From your toned body to your gorgeous eyes, you're lovely in every way from head to toe, all of it framed by your amazing, mango-scented hair! I know the first time didn't turn out all that well, but I'd be happy to draw you again any-no, every day of the week!"

Gah...! Adagio shook, hands lightly caressing her own sides as she hugged herself with an ecstatic look on her face. "I..." Never knew sweet-talk could feel this good! "S-sorry, can I... get a minute? It's... b-been a while..."

Giggling, Fluttershy nodded. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she noted that there was a time that kind of analysis would have had to have been dragged out of her, usually by an insistent Rarity, but today it was nearly automatic! Come to think of it, describing her bottom almost came on its own, too. Before she could dwell on that thought, she voiced another one. "But, um, i-if you don't mind me asking, what brought this on?" She was graced with Adagio's already-cute 'Huh?' face, magnified by the ribbon, when the siren shook off the daze, but Fluttershy controlled herself this time. "I mean, did something happen to your usual hairband, or...?"

"No I still have it, but you recall that I said your sketch might work to my advantage? Forgive me for exploiting your... artistry," she paused just long enough to admire the lovely shade of crimson her favorite classmate had turned, "but I shared those thoughts with the others and I owe them some results. As such, I thought I'd wear this today and see where it takes me. I was worried because any girl with a reasonably pretty face can be 'cute,' but being sexy is an artform." She smirked deviously. "You should know, Sweetie, you've been practicing."

She got even redder. "I-it, I d-do it bec-cause-"

Adagio held up a hand, giggling. "I know, I know, just making note of it."

Still blushing, Fluttershy let out a breath and smiled again, looking at the bow. "I think everyone'll like it."

"That's the hope." She closed the statement with a little wink while poking the tip of her tongue out, a measured gesture of cuteness. This might have snapped something in Fluttershy's head, because she immediately went rigid, gave a wide-eyed stare that Adagio had to consciously resist shrinking back from, and an even wider grin that kind of-

In a flash, Adagio was pushed onto her back and nestled into her own hair, squeezed in a hug that pinned her arms, and rapidly nuzzled cheek-to-cheek by a very energetic Fluttershy, who let out a variety of happy, but incomprehensible squeaks as Adagio wriggled in her grip, giggling uncontrollably under the cuddly assault. There was a lot she could have said about this not being the first time she recalled having Fluttershy on top of her and how she'd been furiously pulling at her clothes last time, but laughing made it difficult to enunciate these thoughts. And that's when she knew what word she wanted to use.

Adagio lay in Fluttershy's embrace until the cuddle frenzy died down, adding this instance to the list of possibilities that came with being pounced on. She quietly enjoyed the warmth of the moment until Fluttershy regained control of herself, very sheepishly got off of her, and backed away, retaking her seat on the bench.

"Haha, s-sorry," she said through a sheepish smile on a flushed face, "I, um, d-don't know what came over m-EEP!"

She was cut off by a sudden lip-lock, which Adagio held long enough to be sure Fluttershy wouldn't forget that she wasn't the only one capable of surprise attacks. It was during the happy-embarrassed daze that followed (a welcomed addition to Fluttershy Theater) that Adagio smiled. "Squirrel."

Red curtains drew back to reveal an adorably baffled expression. "Squ-... What?"

Adagio nodded. "I was trying to think of the most appropriate word for 'please stop', and I think that one fits nicely. 'Squirrel.'"

Fluttershy stared back in silence as the gears in her cute little head visibly turned. Something must have clicked into place, because she snorted, quickly slapping a hand to her own mouth to stifle her giggles. This quickly became muffling herself with both hands as she shook, tears building in her eyes.

Adagio turned faintly pink at the memory, but she figured the tiny embarrassment that came with it would only help to apply the brakes when necessary. However, Fluttershy seemed to notice this by the time she reigned in her laughter.

"I-I'm really sorry, it's just... Are... are you sure? I mean, I don't want to use that one if it makes you uncomfortable, and, what if we actually see a squirrel at some point, or-"

"Firstly," she interrupted with a little smirk, "I'm surprised you're already so bold as to hope for something outdoors, but if you've changed your mind about exhibitionism, I'll see what I can come up with." Silence was a dish best served in fluorescent pink, Adagio decided. She chuckled, but her smile turned sympathetic as she went on. "Second, yes, I'm sure. That incident is one of few times that, if it were as simple as saying 'stop,' I definitely would have wanted to, but couldn't. The plan is that remembering that helpless feeling will be all the motivation I could ever need to stop immediately. And, if this one ends up not working out, I'll come up with another one. Deal?"

Fluttershy smiled warmly. "Deal."

"Good!" Adagio rose to her feet. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go see how this-" she gestured to the bow, "-plays out. Take care, Sweetie." She took two steps, stopped, and turned back to face her. "Oh, and-" She leaned down to grab hold of Fluttershy's head, pulling her in for another kiss that left the two of them feeling a little warmer. When they broke, she smiled sincerely. "You're beautiful too, you know. Don't forget it."

A variety of feelings whirling around in her heart as her breath hitched, Fluttershy could only manage a shaky smile and a nod before Adagio patted her head and walked away.

She said I was beautiful.

She said I was beautiful!

She said I was beautiful!

In an actually-pretty-enjoyable bout of deja vu, she buried her pleasantly warm face in both hands and let out high-pitched shriek-giggles like she'd lost her mind, legs kicking uncontrollably for several seconds as she savored the sentiment from the prettiest girl she'd ever known.

Wait, a little voice in her head piped up as her mirth died down, what was that she said? "One of few times"? When has she felt helpless before? Would she be comfortable talking about it?

She looked in the direction Adagio had walked off to find her long gone. It was with a pang of sadness that Fluttershy realized she'd have to wait until later to be able to ask, because even if she could catch up to Adagio (wherever she went these mornings), classes would be starting soon.

Author's Notes:

I initially wrote Fluttershy's name as 'Sunset' a few times here. Whether it's a symptom of my burnt-out brain or a kind of Freudian slip, I'm not sure. Nowhere near being ready to update any of my Sundagio works, either. Beetlejuice.

Anyway, for those of you who didn't catch the blog post, sorry this one is late, but I haven't had tons of time for writing in the last couple of weeks. Will hopefully be able to make up for it in December.

Chapter 28: Focus-Destroying Smorgasbord Shell

"Neat ribbon, Adagio."

That was all it took for her entire first-period class to stop what they were doing and turn their heads, even if most immediately turned away again. Once more, Adagio distantly sympathized with Fluttershy, but kept any reaction from her face as she replied. "Thank you, Flash."

The instructor started things up a minute later, but there was no doubt that the bow had been thoroughly noticed now. She got more than a few stray glances through the rest of class, but pretended not to notice. Walking down the hall yielded similar results to the day Fluttershy's sketch went up; some students would turn, look at her with a collective blend of disbelief, confusion, and those little smiles before turning to get the attention of nearby friends and whisper their immediate thoughts. The ones Adagio made out were mostly somewhere on the spectrum of "Oh, man, she's up to something!" and "Omigosh, she looks like a doll!"

Adagio surprised herself in finding that she hoped they meant the soft, non-threatening kind, as opposed to the ones whose eyes were rumored to follow people around the room. Her dark eyeliner probably wasn't doing her a lot of favors in that department.

---

A little later, Adagio again paced the halls while reflecting on the looks she'd been getting. It might have made her a little self-conscious, but the overall response so far seemed to be positive, though the face Trixie made had suggested utter bewilderment. Still, people were smiling at her a little more, and she didn't quite get the impression that all of them were giggling behind their hands at her. A few, she was sure, but not all. It was a little embarrassing, but she found herself not hating this kind of attention.

Huh. Does this make me an exhibitionist too...?

Speaking of which, she approached the gym doors. Peeking through the little door-window, she saw exactly what she'd hoped to; her Sweetie strutting her stuff, her back to the door Adagio stood behind. She was apparently doing a return trip at the moment, leaving several seconds in which to enjoy the show. Grinning deviously, Adagio glanced around to confirm that the hallway was otherwise empty, flattened up against the wall when Fluttershy turned around again, and waited until she stepped out, looking quite pleased with herself.

Adagio called out to her. "Excellent form today!" To her immediate delight, Fluttershy froze where she stood and slooowly turned her head to reveal that precious little face, flushed crimson as it formed a guilty little smile.

"Uhm... t-thank you, I-"

"Although," she said with a coy grin, "I don't think I've ever seen you do it in heels, which-" she took a few steps to the side, facing away from Fluttershy and lightly brushing her hair aside to demonstrate, "-add a little more sway to your swing, if you see what I mean."

By the look on her face, eyes downward, Fluttershy very much saw what she meant, leaving Adagio to appreciate her admiring expression for a few seconds. However, as she knew the spell wouldn't last long, she opted to bring it to an end herself, primarily by bringing a hand to her own end with a sharp, percussive smack. Fluttershy shuddered as though she'd been the one slapped.

Grinning with impish glee, Adagio chuckled. "Just a bit of advice. Don't hurt yourself, Sweetie!"

More and more, she wished she could see things directly behind her somehow as she walked away, continuing to demonstrate the effect high heels had on leg and hip movement and leaving Fluttershy to continue in her studies.

---

After nearly a full period spent with her face buried in her textbook, Fluttershy's heart began to beat normally again. She was thankful for this, because there wasn't much to hide behind at lunch. Adagio's demonstration had been... educational, but more prominent in her thoughts were the whispers she'd been hearing from other kids about the ribbon tied in her hair. "Gossip Queen" Rarity in particular had a lot to say about it.

"-offsets the light theme of spikes she had going with her boots, belt, and the other hairband, but definitely her color!"

Fluttershy was quietly proud to have chosen well.

Chuckling, Applejack shook her head. "This is gonna sound a mite strange, but she reminds me a little'a Applebloom this way."

Pinkie beamed. "Ooh, does that make the other two Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo?"

Rainbow snorted. "I can picture it; they'd be all-" She, Applejack, and even Rarity performed the revised shout (though not actually shouting) in unison. "'DAZZLING FRIENDSHIP-FINDERS, YAAAAY!!'"

The whole table giggled, and Sunset in particular was all smiles. "I saw it myself third period, it's not a bad look for her! Makes me wish I'd actually gone and changed my look, who knew a bow could make such a difference?"

"I knew," said Rarity with a meaningful bat of her eyelashes, "and it's still not to late for you, Darling. Stop by my workshop later today?"

Smiling somewhat hesitantly, Sunset nodded. "Uh, sure, okay. Just, nothing frilly, please."

Rarity scoffed good-naturedly. "Spoilsport."

There were more giggles, but Rainbow was the first to stop laughing. "Really though, is anyone else just a teeny bit worried about Queen Fluffylicious? She's been acting a little weirder every week lately."

Sunset frowned. "Oh, come on, who around here doesn't act weird now and then?"

"I mean like, weird even for one of those three, y'know? Scary-weird."

Applejack visibly chewed her thoughts. "Ah don' wanna go startin' nothin, but Ah reckon she's got a point. They're all actin' fine now, sure, but weren't that their whole song an' dance before? False sense'a security an' all that?"

"Huh," Pinkie thought aloud, "ya think they're doing the didn't-know-that-you-fell, oh-woah-oh thing with cute hair-wear instead of butt-shaking?"

Skeptical, Rarity crossed her arms. "You don't think Adagio might just be trying a new look?"

Rainbow shrugged. "I'm just trying to play it safe here, 'cuz no matter how I look at it, we got lucky last time. If they've got something else up their sleeve, who's to say we don't get Vinyl or somebody to help us out again?"

Frowning, Rarity nodded. "I suppose that's true..."

Scratching her head, Rainbow looked down at the table. "I mean, I really don't wanna go burning bridges or anything, but we know those three can be dangerous when they put their minds to it." Looking up again, she turned her head. "What do you think, Fluttershy?"

The table was silent as the group collectively took in her sad, almost pained expression. "Has anyone gotten hurt?" she asked quietly, "have they really been bothering anyone?"

"Not yet," answered Applejack, "but-"

"But what? 'But we should watch them like a hawk until something happens? Make them feel guilty even when they've been on their best behavior?' No one should be treated that way." Fluttershy wasn't sure if it was the statement or that she had interrupted someone that stunned the others, but she calmly kept going. "I won't say you should never be careful, and I haven't forgotten what they were like before, but if we never let go of what they used to be, how can they hope to?"

There was a short silence.

Sunset frowned too. "She's right. I mean, you guys gave me a chance when nobody else would, why are the sirens any different?"

Rainbow answered with a perfectly straight face, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "They never even said they were sorry."

For a moment the table was silent. Sunset glanced over her shoulder at the Dazzlings before looking back at her friends, raising a hand to her throat, and whispering. "You probably wouldn't either, y'know?"

By the way their eyes widened, the others very much understood, Rainbow in particular wincing. "Ooh, dang, yea... forgot about that." She glanced over at the Dazzlings' tuneless table. "No way to fix that, I guess?"

Fluttershy paid close attention to Sunset's answer.

"Twilight's been pretty busy with other stuff, but when I asked, she said even she has no idea how to bring back their voices without also bringing back their magic." And nothing more needed to be said.

Rainbow shook her head. "Oh, well." She managed to crack a little smile. "Maybe I'm just weirded out by her of all people wearing a pretty little bow in her hair. Reminds me of one of those creepy dolls in that one cabinet at Applejack's place."

The farmer scowled. "They're heirlooms."

Pinkie giggled. "Creepy heirlooms!"

Raising her nose in mock indignance, Applejack hmphed. (Rarity squee'd a little) "That's how ya know they're authentic."

The tension broken, the table giggled once more, Fluttershy glancing over at the Dazzlings table. What she saw made her jaw drop.

---

Adagio, well across the room, but still quite visible, was eating a taco. It was Taco Tuesday. The manner in which she was eating it, however, was what drew attention from more than just Fluttershy. She slowly, tenderly licked the edges of the shell to savor the flavor, delicately nibbled and gnawed pieces off, and gently pulled them in with her tongue before going in for more.

At last, she understood Sonata's fascination! Or so she'd thought, because looking up at her companions, she found Sonata blushing brighter than Fluttershy usually did and Aria looking at her wide-eyed.

"Uh... D-Dagi? What are you doing?"

She gave them a completely natural smile. "Just thought I'd try savoring it." Following a moment's silence and two bewildered stares, she shrugged. "No good? Very well." She then tore into the taco with reckless abandon, crunching and shredding it to pieces in her teeth. Doing so helped hide a wicked grin as she glanced at the Rainbooms' table to see five of them standing up and gathering around a fainted Fluttershy.

Not sure how to interrupt the freaky feeding frenzy, Aria looked at Sonata, whose nose had started bleeding while she stared at their shameless leader. "Nata? You okay there?"

Sonata wore a happy, dazed expression that could only be called 'love-struck schoolgirl' as she dumbly nodded. "Okay."

"No, no, I'm asking if you're-"

"Uh-huh."

Aria said nothing.

"Yup."

"..."

"Uh-huh."

Aria returned her blank stare to Adagio, who was tasting her yellow fingertips after having finished her war crimes on that taco.

Adagio looked back at the two of them, her expression cheerfully innocent. "Something wrong?"

Sonata finally snapped out of her stupor, blinking rapidly. "Eh, huh, wha? What year is it?"

Glancing back and forth at the two of them, Aria facepalmed. "You guys are so embarrassing."

Chuckling as she saw Fluttershy being carried off the nurses' office out of the corner of her eye, Adagio gestured to the bow on her head. "On that note, what do you think?"

Aria tilted her head a little. "A... bow? Is that what people have been yakkin' about all day?"

Sonata beamed. "It's shiny!"

"You would notice that, Nata."

"Bite me, Ria."

Giggling at antics that once only served to aggravate her, Adagio took a moment to appreciate just how much she'd come to enjoy her companions' occasional banter. When she was done, they were smiling at her too.

"So," Aria guessed, "this is that plan you were talking about? Play up the 'cutesy' thing for all it's worth?"

She nodded. "Something like that, but within certain constraints. For one, I maintain that putting on an act won't do us any favors in the long run, but an accessory or two won't hurt anything."

Aria disagreed. "Other than our dignity?"

"Not as much as you'd think, and it's a worthy sacrifice, I assure you." She grinned cheekily. "In fact, you might pull it off even better than I do. You've already got that hairstyle, that little vest, not to mention that pouty widdle face you make~!"

Tinting red, Aria crossed her arms and grit her teeth, grumbling in her usual, pouty-faced fashion.

Sonata, ever the team-player, beamed. "Agitated growling, not bad either!"

Aria turned away. "You both suck!"

Despite her blush as the others giggled at her expense, Aria felt a little lucky, a tiny smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She knew how most of the school reacted to her 'grumpiness,' but the way Sonata and Adagio could see a little more than that always meant something to her.

...I'm not wearing any damn ribbons, though!

Author's Notes:

I know Rainbow gets cast as The Jerkface entirely too often, but I know that's only because she fits the role so well, at least more-so than any of the others. Even if Sunset's reformation had been slower and let her stay kind of a snarky jerk, I don't think I could have had her objecting here anyway, given the context. That said, I hope she didn't come off as a bitch here so much as exercising healthy caution.

Speaking of healthy caution, there are times I earnestly wonder if I'm stretching the 'Teen' tag a little too far...

Would have liked that little sentiment with Aria to be a little less ham-handed, but flat-out stating it was the best way I could think of to show that she kind of appreciated the 'teasing' she gets from the others without risk of it just being drawn out into something too subtle to not be confusing. Maybe I could have built a whole scene around Aria for that purpose, but that would have been a bit of a long detour for a minor detail.

28 chapters later and I'm still not great with weaving exposition into the narrative all the time.

Chapter 29: Simple Questions and Tiny Pants

Dear Diary,

Adagio is definitely still evil, but not in the way my friends are afraid she is. Sorry, I mean, the others were worried today because she showed up wearing the ribbon I gave her (which she wore to school of her own free will!!), so they got to talking about how the sirens might have been up to something. I don't think anyone hates them, they just don't want to take any chances, but that means they can't give them a chance, either. Sunset was the first to defend them out loud, and Rarity sounded like she wanted to trust the sirens too (though, yes, that might have partly been because fashion was involved. Re: Adagio wearing the ribbon to school), and even if I didn't say so, I appreciated that from both of them. Rainbow was the one that brought it up this time, but she wasn't adamant in thinking we had to be careful or anything, I think she really was just worried.

She cares, and that's always a good thing!

Then I saw Adagio... doing things... with her lunch. I fainted. In the lunchroom. My friends brought me to the nurse's office and I had to pretend I had no idea why I fainted like that, so Pinkie thought I might have overexerted myself in talking too much when I said it was wrong to keep an eye on the sirens all the time because they'd always feel unwanted that way, which Pinkie noted really wasn't a whole lot of talking, but that it was a lot at once for me and she worried that if I didn't build up my mouth muscles, I would faint like that more often. She started moving my jaw around with her hands while doing her ventriloquy to make it look like I was talking, which made it hard to politely ask her to stop and the others giggled and it was a little embarrassing, but Pinkie was just showing that she cared too.

Unfortunately, fainting in the middle of lunch meant I was getting looks from people for the rest of the day, which was a little scary, but there weren't that many. I guess no one was really all that surprised that I of all people fainted for no apparent reason? Maybe there's a bright side to being... how did Aria say it that one time? 'My group's biggest chicken'? I wonder if she still calls me 'Squeaky'. Ha, it almost sounds like an affectionate nickname, now that I think about it! Maybe the same is true of 'Dr. Seuss'? I kind of want to ask Adagio what her friends think of me, maybe we could exchange respective friend-thought situations?

Speaking of Adagio; Art class. Applejack approached her while she was molding some kind of disc-covered aberration out of modeling clay.

Note: Adagio's artwork has almost always been surreal and unusual. The last time we worked with clay, Mr. Magnet asked us to make some kind of hand, anything that could feasibly be used to hold something, so Adagio made some kind of knuckle-squid. It looked like it was made of the bones of a human hand, right down to the anatomically-correct joints, but with multiple twisted fingers in random places. I've been too scared to ask why she smirked at me when it was done.

Note Post-Script: She can draw, mold, fold, even paint! Where did she learn to do all of these things so well?

Anyway, Adagio and Applejack talked for a little bit. I was scared things were going to get confrontational, but Applejack only asked her a few questions about the bow, like why she was wearing it instead of her spiked band and whether or not it was a hassle tying it on. Luckily, she didn't ask where Adagio got it.

Adagio responded that she'd been trying new things a lot lately (I was facing away, so I couldn't tell if she was looking in my direction when she said it) and that the bow was no trouble. Then she asked about Applejack's hat, calmly raising the question of whether or not it was still considered rude to wear hats indoors. Applejack quickly said that she'd just let Adagio get back to molding now without answering, but Adagio didn't seem to mind.

Miss Zecora goes everywhere in robes (she reminds me of a wise sage!), so I don't think Applejack's stetson is too much of a violation of the dress code or anything, but she still looked a little sheepish for the rest of the day. She cheered up again at one of our usual get-togethers at Sugarcube Corner later in the day when Rarity said there was nothing rude about having a personal style and that nobody had complained so far, right?

Rarity cares too. They all do!


...On that note; this morning, Adagio said she 'owed Aria and Sonata results' when talking about wearing the bow today. Does she feel compelled to do things for them, like she has to make up for their current situation? Does she feel like it's all her fault? It reminds me of when she said I shouldn't try to take full responsibility for them losing their voices, even though I'm the one that wrote the song (I don't know if she knows that already), and if Adagio feels like she's to blame for what happened, well, maybe it's something we have in common?

I don't know where I'm going with this, but the thought makes me weirdly happy. It probably shouldn't, because she told me I shouldn't feel like anything is all my fault. If it ever comes up in conversation, I have to tell her that it's not all her fault either. It might have been her plan, as much as it was my song, but neither of us knew things would happen like they did, and I think both of us wish it could have been different.

I shouldn't dwell like this.

...

I wonder what she meant by 'one of few times'? I'm a little surprised someone as strong and confident as Adagio could ever feel helpless, but I guess everyone gets that way sometimes. What makes her feel vulnerable? Just squirrels in her clothes? Being tickled? Was the time she was sick another one?

...Weren't all of those because of me? Am I the main cause? Because that's not okay with me! I want her to feel safe and comfortable around me, the last thing she or any of the Dazzlings need right now is to feel threatened by anybody! I should do something nice for her, or at least stop doing things that wind up hurting her. I'll be more careful with the morning treats from now on, I think, and I'll bring something I know she likes tomorrow. Maybe caramel cubes? Kissing might be a little more interes

---

The next morning, a piercing cacophony made Fluttershy sit up in bed with a start, sweat dripping from her face and her hair plastered to her head. When she'd gotten her bearings, she realized the sudden noise was just her panda bear alarm clock. Equally distressed and relieved to have been awoken, she gingerly tapped its plastic head to turn it off. Waking up like this, her heart pounding and spine tingling, wasn't a familiar experience for Fluttershy, who sat on her bed and trembled until she could steady her nerves enough to breathe normally again. When she could make words, she knew just the ones to test her tongue with.

"Oh... My..."

Most mornings before school were spent double-checking homework or playing with Angel (if he felt like it) or maybe even logging into MyStable for a bit if she was feeling especially bold, but this morning, she needed a long shower to wash off the sweat. With any luck, freezing water would help with her steaming face, too.

---

Wednesday was not shaping up to be a high point in the week for Fluttershy. Nothing terrible happened, but she had, as feared, gotten so flustered just looking at Adagio (who wasn't wearing the bow that morning, sadly) that she could barely speak intelligibly, less-so following a sudden, suggestive mention of tacos. Luckily, Adagio had demonstrated her usual patience, which gave Fluttershy time to take multiple deep breaths, offer caramel cubes, and clarify that no, it wasn't anything that Adagio had done, specifically.

A playful expression featuring a raised eyebrow and a few teasing questions followed, but even if she didn't hear a peep of 'squirrel', Adagio stopped of her own accord and administered especially cuddly hugs and a little kiss on the cheek when Fluttershy's face started overheating again. For once, she found herself somewhat relieved not to have gotten a full lip-contact kiss from Adagio, because she couldn't say what she'd have done had it happened.

They talked about Equestria for a little while and Adagio left off by gently brushing her fingertips along Fluttershy's spine during a hug. Fluttershy appreciated her restraint, but the look in those red-violet eyes said there was a lot more where that came from when Fluttershy was ready for it. She had managed to stop worrying about whether that referred to the hugging or the teasing, and the implications either way, right around lunch time, if only because her attention was seized by a friend's frazzled expression.

"Rainbow," Fluttershy was the first to quietly ask, "is everything okay?"

The young athlete in question sat shaking in her seat, eyes nervously darting about, hands in her lap, and beads of sweat forming on her increasingly flushed face. "Uh," she managed while shrinking down in a near-perfect role reversal, "I, I-I'm-"

Sitting next to her, Applejack leaned over with an eyebrow raised. "Why're ya holdin' down yer skirt like tha-"

"MY EYES ARE UP HERE!!"

Quite a few people then turned to look at Rainbow, making her yelp and dive under the table. The others shared a look and went after her, ducking by their seats to see what was the matter.

Pinkie beamed, but kept her voice to a whisper. "Secret hidey party! Be careful not to get gum in your hair from the underside of the table!"

Rarity in particular was aghast, ducking her head lower and holding an arm protectively over her purple curls.

Frowning in concern, Sunset put a hand on Rainbow's shoulder. "I second Fluttershy's question; is everything okay?" She could tell very plainly that it wasn't, of course, but she'd learned asking anyway was usually appreciated.

Rainbow gave her reply while hugging her knees to her chest. "I-I dunno, it, it's like..." She quickly gave each of them a quick glance. "Do... do you guys think I'm a p-pervert?"

Jaws were dropped. Not a single one of them wore a look other than utter bafflement, but Applejack managed to voice the question. "What in tarnation gave ya that idea, Sugarcube?"

Her eyes going squarely to the floor, Rainbow gulped. "Well, I, kinda talked to one of the sirens a little bit ago."

To her private relief, Fluttershy wasn't the only one who went wide-eyed with worry, even if it probably wasn't for the same reasons.

Sunset was the first to ask. "What. Happened."

Still not looking up, Rainbow shrugged a little. "You guys heard about Sonata comin' to school in high heels today, right? How she's been tripping and falling and stuff pretty much all day?"

Fluttershy had not heard about that, but couldn't see the Dazzlings at all from under the table, not even their feet.

Rainbow went on. "Well, we know their boss has been acting even weirder for a while now, so I just thought I'd talk to her to see what was up..."

---

Contrary to popular belief, Rainbow Danger Dash wasn't an idiot. She knew things were delicate with the Dazzlings right now and she wasn't going to do anything to make it worse. In fact, she was going to help make it better! But first, she needed to know what the heck was going on with those three, and the best way to do that was to ask.

Lessee, she thought to herself while wandering a nearly-vacant hallway, that time she messed with Fluttershy, she was right around the gym at about this time of day. Oh, crud! Is she already there now, doing it again?! I should-

She spotted orange fluffiness, done up in a familiar spiked headband again. Adagio was casually strolling down the hall, proudly wearing that Just Try And Stop Me kinda smile she always had, but no sign of the other two. Rainbow grinned, though not nearly as evilly. Now was her chance!

"Hey," she said in as calm and dip, dippy, dipla-

"Diplomatic, Rainbow?"

"Yea, thanks. Heh, I toldja you were our brainiac, Sunset!"

"Hey," she said in as calm and diplomatic a fashion as she knew how, "can I talk to you for a sec?"

Adagio's smile slipped away, but she didn't look angry. Instead, she wore a completely blank, neutral look, right about on par with Maud Pie's perma-poker-face. Maybe that was just her diplomatic mode. "Yes... Rainbow Dash, isn't it? What do you need?"

"Please don't take this the wrong way," Rainbow Diplomacy Dash began with a friendly smile in her opening play of getting-along-ness, "but you guys have been acting a little funny lately, AND THAT'S FINE," the slightly annoyed look Adagio was giving her left as soon as it came, which felt like a save, "I don't wanna tell you what to do, but I've gotta ask; is something goin' on?"

Tilting her head a little as she thought about it, the siren hmm'd meaningfully before replying. "Not that I know of, no. Just coming here to pass the time, as we've been doing." Adagio shrugged, offering an apologetic little smile. "I am sorry, but I don't know what to tell you."

Rainbow kept disbelief off her face, knowing it would get her a penalty. At the same time, Adagio wasn't really open for asking what that bow had been about, at least not yet. "Then, like, Sonata just felt like comin' to school in high heels? That she keeps tripping in?"

Chuckling, Adagio raised an eyebrow. "Does it really strike you as any stranger than the time she self-immolated?"

Shoot! Verbal curve-ball! Straight out of the left field! Not knowing what a word meant was fine, because the diplomatic fallback when you didn't know was to just agree with whatever they said! "Uh, no, I, kinda guess not." That Adagio just nodded once felt like a few points were scored somewhere, but then came the game-breaker.

"Since I answered one of yours, might you afford me a question as well?"

She kinda talks like Rarity, doesn't she...? "Sure, go for it."

Adagio smiled. "Thank you." Then her face went back to Maud Mode; totally blank. "There's something I've been wondering for a while now; are you an exhibitionist?"

Rainbow's jaw hung open. "Uh... Whuh...?"

Adagio's passive expression remained. "Do you take ecstatic joy in being seen in a state of undress, are you aroused when exposed to strangers, do you get off on flashing people? I ask because of those shorts you wear."

"W-WHAT?!"

"Your shorts," she repeated while taking up a thoughtful, one-hand-on-chin, the-other-on-the-elbow-of-that-arm pose, "a very tight little garment worn under a slightly shorter skirt. I'm reminded of underwear, you see, and as I now know that there are taboos about exposing such articles, the fact that your under-pants are plainly visible makes me wonder; is it for an illicit thrill? I ask for purely educational purposes, of course."

Rainbow quickly tried to cover the legs of her shorts with both hands. Never having thought about her outfit like that before, the idea that she was technically flashing everyone that saw her lower body was a startling revelation, to say the least. She couldn't speak, eyes nervously darting about, legs shaking, and her face redder than the most vibrant hues of her hair.

Adagio's face hadn't changed in the slightest as she did that curious little head-tilt thing again. "...Keeping your answer to yourself, then? Hm... Well, I suppose that tells me all I need to know. Take care, Rainbow Dash."

And then she walked away, leaving Rainbow to sheepishly shuffle to her next class with both hands tightly holding her skirt down as the warning bell rang.

---

Still under the table, everyone gave Rainbow sympathetic looks, Applejack again being the first to ask. "So that's what this is about? Somethin' she said to ya?"

Fluttershy hoped that tone only meant 'she' as in 'the girl already known to embarrass the heck out of people,' though she wasn't sure if that was what Adagio meant to do this time.

"Yea," answered Rainbow, face still buried in her knees, "pretty much. I can't decide if taking the shorts off would be better or worse, or like, if I should take off the skirt instead, but that I'm thinking about taking my clothes off in school at all, doesn't that make me a total freak?!"

Pinkie to the rescue! "Nah," she said with a giggle, "I think about taking my clothes off all the time! I keep most of my stuff in my hair anyway," she pulled out a waffle to make the point, "so I wouldn't even need pockets!"

Sunset raised an eyebrow. "You keep waffles in your hair?"

"Not all the time."

Rarity shook off the weird sense of deja vu, instead patting Rainbow on the shoulder. "Darling, there's nothing wrong with having a personal style, remember?" She smiled at Applejack, who returned it before the two (gently) fist-bumped. "Just because you're wearing those shorts under another garment, it does not make them 'underwear.' Even if it did, no one has ever expressed the slightest discomfort around you for it, have they?"

Rainbow raised her head a little. "I... I guess not? But, maybe, um..." She gave Rarity a sheepish look. "Well, I mean, clothes are your thing, so-"

The young fashionista beamed. "Say no more, Rainbow, I'd be happy to help you find a look you're more comfortable with! How does right after your usual practice ends sound?"

Managing a smile, Rainbow nodded. "Yea, sounds like a plan."

Rarity contained herself to a friendly grin. Sunset Shimmer yesterday, and now Rainbow! Mama's on a roll!

Author's Notes:

Hope you enjoyed Rainbow and Adagio's little talk, I've been waiting to complete that particular brick joke for months! :pinkiehappy:

Speaking of waiting to include things in the story, who wants to play Spot the Reference? :trollestia:

Chapter 30: Touchable Ears and Insidious Mind-Fuzzies

Thursday morning didn't get off to a flying start either. It wasn't due to Adagio this time, or even Fluttershy reacting to her, because the low point came before Fluttershy had even gotten to the bench! She'd needed to go to the bathroom during the drive to school, but absolutely did not dare to ask for a rest stop. The last time she had done that, her mother called out while she was walking back to the car.

"DID YOU GET DONE TINKLING, FLUTTERSHY? I KNOW YOU HAVE TROUBLE IN PUBLIC SOMETIMES!"

Mortifying.

Her mother was a very nice woman, really, she just had some... short-sighted ideas on how to offer help sometimes. That horrible incident in mind, she'd opted to just hold it in until she got to school this time. Running to the bench by the soccer field, she left her backpack so Adagio would know she was here today in case she showed up before Fluttershy returned, then sprinted off to the nearest bathroom accessible through the gym door. Which itself was on the other side of the school. Why the soccer field was on the opposite end from the gym, she would never know.

---

Turning the corner on her way back from the restroom, Fluttershy saw the mass of mango-scented fluff hanging over the back of the bench.

She waited on me!

...

Is it weird that that makes me so happy?

Well, she didn't want to keep Adagio waiting any longer, so she jogged over to take her seat. The second she got close enough that she was confident she'd be heard, however, she caught sight of none other than Angel Bunny, sitting on the bench by Adagio! Fluttershy's eyes widened. "Angel? Did you tag along in my bookbag again?"

Chuckling, Adagio turned her head in Fluttershy's direction as the latter sat down. "So it is yours. Was worried you'd picked up a stray."

Fluttershy smiled. "Well, I do pick up strays sometimes, they usually..." She trailed off as she examined her stowaway pet. Angel was staring fixedly at Adagio (who was wearing her hoodie and jeans again today, as she'd been doing slightly more often of late), but not like the squirrel had that day. By the way he was tilting his little head and twitching his whiskers, she could have sworn he was confused about something.

"Usually what, Sweetie?"

Blink. "Huh? Oh! Um, sorry, I... they usually stay with me for a few days, at least, or however long it takes until they're ready for a place in the animal shelter. Or better yet, a good home!" Despite being presented with perhaps her first opportunity to inquire about whether or not the Dazzlings had any interest in a fuzzy pet (or maybe a goldfish?), Fluttershy again couldn't help but notice Angel Bunny's movements. He was lightly tugging a little paw on the leg of Adagio's pants for attention, which Adagio didn't seem to notice at all. He hopped up onto her thigh, chittered and squeaked while looking directly at her, but it was like he wasn't even there as the siren looked solely at Fluttershy.

"And how exactly do you maintain so many creatures, day to day? Government funding? Anonymous donations? ...Piracy?"

The last one was said with a hint of smile, gaining one in kind. They'd talked about the likelihood of meeting actual pirates in Equestria before, with jokes made about Fluttershy's prospects as a swashbuckler. Angel was still tugging in vain on Adagio's jeans, which prompted Fluttershy to ask. "Angel? What's wrong?"

He turned to her, his little nose twitching.

"Something about Adagio? What did she...? Oh! Really?

What had been perplexed silence quickly became cold fear as Adagio's eyes widened in horror. "W-wait, that rabbit can talk?!"

Fluttershy smiled. "Oh, I wouldn't say that, it's more like-..." Looking up, Adagio's expression made her trail off again. "Um... Is everything oka-" Angel squeaked once to regain her attention. "Huh? I'm sorry, what did she do?"

Glancing back and forth between Fluttershy and the rabbit that was about to rat her out, Adagio couldn't think of any way to stop what was about to happen without virtually guaranteeing that Fluttershy would be very upset with her. Burying her face in both hands, she slumped over on the bench and waited for the inevitable.

---

It was a knight's duty to protect. To protect their home, to protect their queen, to protect their food bowl! The stalwart defender, Angelius McMillan Bunniceus, known to the rest of the kingdom as Angel Bunny, was one such protector! He had done well in his duties up to this point, but a curious qualm had gripped his tiny, but valiant heart of late: The Queen had not taken him along to defend her in many a day, many a week! This worried him, and so he elected to join The Queen in her daily departure to fend off brigands should the need arise!

And perhaps sample scraps from the Great Feast known to take place in the institution when the sun was high in the sky.

Thus did Angelius make his descent into the dark, but warm depths of His Lady's Sack of Transportation whilst she proved preoccupied with her morning tasks. Not terribly long after it began, motion came to a halt, indicating that the destination had been reached. It was while awaiting His Lady's delicate hands to draw the Sack of Transportation open that he heard an unfamiliar, but heavenly voice.

"Hmm... Looks like her bag, but where's...?"

There came a pause before the latch slid open, whereupon Angel deftly dove behind the Baggie of Delicacies! Sometimes The Queen would bestow upon him tiny nibbles from her Royal Stash of Tasty Things. Looking at the baggie, it appeared that today's choice was the accursed orange, white-tipped triangles. Blech.

He had long ago been informed that his presence in this place was considered an act of rebellion, and a knight did not bring war upon His Lady's doorstep, so he elected to hide until the voice of The Queen beckoned him. No such luck, for there was only more silence following a brief rustling of things in the Sack of Transportation. After a time, Angelius determined that the danger had passed and boldly hopped out, finding himself upon familiar ground where The Queen was known to recline in anticipation of the day ahead.

Upon this morn, however, he could see that circumstances were very different, for instead of The Queen, he saw only...

Her!

For but a moment, there were no words, only quiet reverence as he, Angelius McMillan Bunniceus, beheld the sight of The Great Fluff, surely the most powerful hopper to ever frolic in a meadow! Or in this case, sit upon a bench! She was reclining in leisurely manner upon the bench as though well aware that all who beheld her were in great fortune to do so, the sheer mass, the sheer enormity of her tail, undoubtedly a thing of legend!

She was really quite fluffy, too.

Transfixed in her presence though he was, he froze entirely when she turned her gaze upon him! An orange eyebrow rose in amusement.

"Oh, hello," came her holy voice, "might you be a friend of Fluttershy's? Or are you just looking for crumbs?"

She knew of The Queen! Heart gripped with awe, his response was a shameful stutter, ear-flicks and nose-twitches coming in erratic fashion. Strangely, The Great Fluff seemed to take no notice as she loosed a stream of graceful giggles and smiled down upon him.

"Cute, as far as rodents go, not like one of those bushy-tailed rats. I wonder..."

She reached out a heavenly hand, Angelius standing still as stone as her fingertip softly caressed the edge of one ear, as gently as the hand of The Queen herself! Her touch was pleasing, only more-so as The Great Fluff then scratched behind that ear! Angelius surrendered immediately, leaning into her scratchy embrace with almost greedy fervor, which drew yet more giggles from The Great Fluff as she took to addressing her fingertips to his chin! This escalated to The Great Fluff lifting Angelius into the air and nuzzling his fuzzy body with her face while her laughter grew in intensity!

Another blissful moment passed as she alternated between attending to his chin and belly with those golden fingertips, but after, the haze began to fade, Angelius finding that he'd been set back upon the bench without ceremony. There'd not been time to discern whether he'd offended his cuddly goddess somehow before The Queen arrived. Disgraceful behavior though it was for a knight, he could not focus upon His Lady, instead exploring the mystery of The Great Fluff that now refrained from even resting her sight upon him. This was most befuddling, but try as he may, he could not regain her attention, nor her divine favor.

---

The tale concluded, Fluttershy looked at Adagio with quiet curiosity, but she was still burying her face in both hands, what little Fluttershy could see a bright shade of red.

Smiling, Fluttershy leaned over a little, trying to angle her head to get a better look at Adagio's face. "You were playing with Angel Bunny?"

The response came in the form of low muttering. "I, it wasn't, I just, he was-..." She trailed off, loosing a quiet groan as her head sunk lower.

"What? What's wrong?" Maybe this was another cultural thing. Did aquatic civilizations have some kind of taboo about nuzzling bunnies? It felt unlikely, but so did the sawdust.

There was a little sigh. "You're going to make me say it? Thought I was the sadist here."

Thinking back to the week before, Fluttershy made a guess based on the last time Adagio got this sheepish. "You're... worried that cuddling Angel was too childish? Too girly?"

"Partly," Adagio answered without looking up, "part of it is the complete lack of self-control required to give in to such an urge."

"A lady always maintains her composure," said the Rarity in Fluttershy's head. Maybe that elegant sense of dignity was something her stylish friend and Adagio had in common? It was food for thought that Fluttershy would digest later, instead offering her secret girlfriend (squee!) a smile. "It's not so bad, I mean," she flushed pink, but didn't let herself stop, "You used to go around encouraging people to give in to urges, right?"

Adagio let out a surprised little laugh as she sat up a little straighter and let her hands fall away from her face. She was still flushed, but at least she was smiling a little now. "You're right, Sweetie; I'd rather have been caught pleasuring myself." To her slight regret, Fluttershy choked on air again as she went a bright, burning crimson (Angel administered fuzzy little pats to her neck), but at least the playing field was level now. She used the time Fluttershy spent recuperating from the shock to get her own thoughts together, managing to at least banish most of her own blush. "I figured I could do... w-what I did, before you got back with no one being the wiser, that my hair would shield me from behind until I heard you coming, but it hadn't occurred to me that you could actually speak to these creatures."

Her breath steadied again, Fluttershy regained her smile. "Well, I understand Angel, but I've known him for a while now. Did you want to do that with the squirrel, too?"

Adagio shook her head. "Not particularly," she said with a little smile while reaching out to tickle Angel's chin, to his delight, "this one is just a lot more... touchable, I suppose, like I-" Her eyes went wide as she realized what she was doing, immediately drawing her hand back, to Angel's slight disappointment. She was blushing again. "I-it's the ears, dammit!"

Giggling once more, Fluttershy kept a warm expression. "I guess you know how the other kids felt now?" Adagio's blank expression said she was lost. "Y-you know," Fluttershy offered with a slightly sheepish grin, "right after they saw my sketch?"

And then Adagio's mouth slowly fell open, her eyes going wide. "Just... like...? Of... Of course." She stood up, raising both fists as her eyes seemed to gaze in no particular direction. "Of course!!" For reasons relating to old habits, she began to pace back and forth in front of the bench as she spoke. "I see it! I see it now! Those looks they were giving me, that wasn't condescension, they weren't looking down on me for being weak or vulnerable, it was instinct! That's what makes sapient lifeforms express benevolence toward younglings of entirely different species; the reason infants are 'cute' to begin with, it's a defense mechanism!"

Fluttershy wasn't entirely sure she followed Adagio's increasingly manic rambling, but she tried to focus on the words, not the siren showing multiple angles of herself as she walked in front of the bench.

"The other students weren't laughing at me, not most of them, at any rate. The bow, your drawing, they sent signals straight into the brain that made the recipients think 'Oh, how precious!' before they'd even realized what had happened, even though they know that consciously, they're afraid of me, of all three of us! All this time, I've likened being 'cute' to being prey, to being a squirming victim to play with- Sorry, by the way."

Fluttershy smiled. "It's okay."

"Right, thank you. -for my own amusement, but there's more than that!" Looking up at the sky as she stood still, Adagio pressed a hand to her forehead. "I can't believe I've missed it up to now; all I had ever wanted to do with something smaller and weaker than me was to make it squirm between my claws, so to speak, but it's not just an absence of threat to mark easy targets, it's a call of sorts, a siren's song that says 'Please, protect me,' 'comfort me,' 'Keep me warm and safe,' 'Adore me!'"

It was difficult keeping a frown entirely off her face as Fluttershy pondered what the sirens' upbringing must have been like, but now didn't feel like the right time.

Turning to face Fluttershy again, Adagio pointed almost dramatically at Angel. "That's what I felt just minutes ago; a little compulsion to show a flicker of affection toward a harmless entity, not because I knew it couldn't hurt me and therefore it was mine to play with, but just..." She shook her head somewhat incredulously, voice lowering to gentle tones as she stepped closer. "Instinct. Maternal, almost, a quiet, easily-indulged little will to be... nurturing, I suppose?" This time, it was a consciously-embraced decision to tickle Angel's ear with a fingertip, drawing a little smile from each of them as Adagio looked at Fluttershy. "Is that how it feels for you?"

Smiling warmly, Fluttershy nodded. "Sometimes, yes. It isn't always furry little animals that make me feel that way," she joined Adagio in lightly brushing Angel with a fingertip, the rabbit happily soaking up their mutual attentions, "but they're usually the first."

Nodding, Adagio pet Angel for another minute and turned to walk away. "I need to jog home for something, but I'll be back before classes start, so-"

"Wait!"

Whipping around, Adagio saw Fluttershy standing up, clutching a content-looking Angel in both hands, but with a worried expression on her face. This drew a concerned frown. "Sweetie?"

"Uhm-" Knowing Adagio was in a hurry didn't make forming the question tactfully any easier. "-I, I-I heard, yesterday, um, that you talked to Rainbow, a-and I'm not t-trying to accuse you of anything, but, um-"

Knowing where this was going, Adagio grinned wryly. "She told you I got her all riled up, did she?"

"Well, the way she told it, it kind of sounded like an accident, but...?"

Adagio's eyes widened. "'The way she told it'? That is to say, something other than 'That bitch was messing with me'?" Fluttershy nodded twice. "...Huh." The siren smiled a little. "Maybe we are making progress... Well," she said with a shrug, "I didn't mean to embarrass her like that, it was a serious question." Crossing her arms as she recalled the last time her curiosity had gotten her in trouble, Adagio made a slightly sour face. "I'd kind of hoped that not smiling at all would make it sound natural, but I'm sure I'll pin down the details sooner or later." She shook her head, smiling again. "In hindsight, I suppose I should have known better than to bring up anything of a remotely... private manner when talking to a high school girl. I remembered our deal, but I'm sorry if that worried you."

Rather than looking reassured, Fluttershy wore a contrite expression. "No, no, I... I don't think you did anything wrong." I thought you said you'd give her the benefit of the doubt, she chided herself. "I'm sorry, I guess I still get-" She was cut off by a friendly giggle.

"It's fine, Sweetie. After all," she said while pacing back to the bench with half-lidded eyes, "you and I both know how I can be about giving in to urges without thinking, right?" Fluttershy lit up again as Adagio leaned in to cup her chin in one hand. "What do you think," she asked breathily, "do I need to work on my... self-control?"

Despite her knees shaking, Fluttershy answered the question by covering Angel's eyes and leaning forward for a kiss. A wonderful moment later, they broke apart, Adagio smiled, said "Gotta run," and ran off in the direction of the sirens' house, leaving Fluttershy to gently fall backward on the bench.

Looking down at her pet rabbit, Fluttershy smiled and patted his head. "I might need to bring you along more often, if that's okay."

Angelius McMillan Bunniceus, stalwart protector of The Queen, offered a crisp salute. And The Queen smiled upon him!

---

Adagio rushed straight up the stairs and into her room, going to the dresser right away. Taking out her spiked headband, she gave it one last, lingering look before setting it on the dresser and tying her hair up with Fluttershy's ribbon again. Double-checking the bow in her vanity mirror, she was pretty sure she'd gotten it just right.

Suppose I should be glad that turned out the way it did, she thought with a little grin, picked up a new trick and the rabbit didn't see as much as I'd thought.

Picturing Fluttershy's possible reaction in the near future, Adagio chuckled fiendishly. When she'd started back down the stairs, she heard a call from the kitchen.

"Hey Dagi, that you? What're you doin' back here already?"

She moved to join them. "Just forgot something on the way out, Ria."

"Heh, damn. Had hoped school was closed today or something."

She arrived in the kitchen to see her oldest friends wrapping up breakfast. Sonata, sitting at the table in a short, pink nightie, was in the middle of that morning's sticky-note sketch to hang on the refrigerator while Aria, standing at the sink in just a light tank top and tight, skull-patterned panties, cleaned dishes. Adagio resisted the urge to comment on the either's state of undress, made easier when Sonata instead drew attention to Adagio's own fashion choice.

"Hey, you're wearing the bow again!"

This drew an over-the-shoulder glance from Aria. "All part of the plan? How's that comin' along?"

Adagio gave each of them a confident smirk, hands placed on her hips. The subtle, psychological effect made cuteness an insidious force, and that, she knew, made it a viable weapon. "I'll be gathering more data in the coming days, but with recent revelations? We may find ourselves working a whole new kind of magic."

Sonata stopped her doodling to look at Adagio in wide-eyed confusion. "Huh?"

Their leader chuckled. "What would you say if I told you there was a form of seduction that didn't strictly depend on sex appeal?" Speaking of seduction, part of her distantly wondered if Fluttershy would appreciate the present Adagio had left her...

---

"EEEK!!"

Half the class jumped as Fluttershy slammed her book shut, eyes wide, face flushed, and beads of sweat appearing on her brow. Ms. Inkwell was the first to ask.

"You okay there, Fluttershy? I know Antietam was a right bloody scene, but what we get in these books is the PG version."

Shaking with all eyes on her, Fluttershy ducked down, managing a tiny, abashed smile. "Y-yes, I, j-j-just, uh... saw a... spider?"

Inkwell chuckled, in that crazy-crone kind of way she did. "And squashed 'im good, didja? That there's how wars are fought!"

"I-I guess so."

Class went on with Fluttershy unable to hide behind her book like she usually would in this situation, but Miss Inkwell didn't seem to mind her following along in her head as opposed to trying to read through spider-squash. It was lucky for her that no one in the room questioned how she of all people could bring herself to hurt a small, helpless arachnid, as there was nothing of the sort in her history book. On that note, Fluttershy silently marveled at Adagio's dedication, both at how she must have figured out what pages the lesson would cover, and that she'd been able to deposit the photo there without Fluttershy noticing. Maybe it was when she was alone with Angel, but she wasn't sure. Could it have been earlier? An embarrassing time-bomb? Were there others?!

As she couldn't hide behind her book, Fluttershy desperately tried to focus on the lesson today.

After class, Fluttershy jogged to the nearest restroom, knelt down in a corner stall, and retrieved the picture from her history book. It wasn't really as bad as she'd thought in class, she'd only looked at it long enough to see a lot of bare, yellow skin, but it still felt pretty damning to be caught with to her. It was an up-close side view of Adagio's naked rear, apparently bent over her bed in a way that exposed most of one cheek and her upper leg, which was technically still tamer than what Fluttershy had seen on the covers of some of Rarity's fashion magazines. That, of course, didn't stop Fluttershy from feeling about a hundred degrees warmer when looking at it, or the caption on the back.

You were right, it does stick out a little...

"Angel," she whispered to the bunny in her bookbag, "I need you to guard this for me. Please keep it hidden until we get home."

She knew that it was a completely serious sign of his undying loyalty and his will to make her happy, but Angel's tiny salute made Fluttershy smile every time.

Author's Notes:

I was torn on whether to have Angel perceive Adagio to be a graceful goddess or a wicked arch-demon, but with most of the school treating the Dazzlings the way they do, I figured a change of pace was in order.

Also: You know that big, fat, super-chapter thing I've done a few times now? The ones where things went much longer than I'd intended, but I wasn't quite willing to cut content altogether? That's actually what the last few chapters have kinda been, only without the rushing to get it all done at once, and there's still another part that isn't finished yet. Hope to have that up within the next week or so, but after that should be the particularly interesting chapter followed by the slightly more interesting chapter I alluded to months ago.

...Of course, noting the pattern, those chapters are probably going to be a chapter or two each, what I anticipate to be Chapter 32 almost guaranteed to be BIG. Luckily, I should have the better part of the next month to get some writing done. :pinkiesmile:

Chapter 31: Cheeky Tactics

"So," began Rarity when everyone was seated, "latest update on the increasingly bizarre siren situation; you all remember the incident with Trixie not too long ago?" There were some affirmative nods. "Right, well, the word going around recently is that some measure of her 'relationship' with Adagio Dazzle must have been real, that their break-up is the reason behind her odd behavior."

Fluttershy kept any expression from her face as best she could. Changing little more than the name, Rarity was millimeters from the truth! Guilt that she was still keeping it from her friends wasn't doing the real culprit any favors, either.

"Then," guessed Sunset, "you're thinking that she's more or less lost her taste for screwing with people since what happened with Trixie? That that's why she hasn't really messed with anyone in... what, a week?"

"So goes the rumor," Rarity answered, "the general speculation is that her reaction to, err, Trixie's preferences-" this drew a few giggles, causing Rarity to tint pink herself, "-wasn't just over-dramatization as initially assumed, but at least partly an actual outcry of heartbreak."

Applejack rolled her eyes. "Yer really tryin' to sell us on Adagio singin' the blues 'cuz Trixie left her for her underwear?"

Pinkie almost laughed out loud at the sheer silliness of the statement, but awareness that none of the sirens would be singing anything any time soon made that line kind of a downer. Blue, even.

Rarity shrugged. "That's the way the story goes, Darling, and frankly, I don't have any better theories." She touched a fingertip to her chin as a thought occurred to her. "Do you think, perhaps, that something similar is the reason Aria Blaze seems so well-behaved? That she experienced a romantic loss of her own before their return and now can't bring herself to behave as brashly as we initially anticipated?"

Rainbow glanced over at the Dazzlings' table. "That... might actually explain a thing or two. Y'think all three of them have-" her eyes widened for a split second before shrugging and looking away. "-aaaactually, I'd rather not get wrapped up in talking about, y'know, gushy crud." There were a few chuckles around the table, but they moved on from the Dazzlings' prospective love lives.

Fluttershy, for her part, was grateful not to have been asked any questions, because she wasn't sure how much she could say on the matter without revealing something she shouldn't have.

---

The sirens, meanwhile, discussed the progress of their latest plan to make some friends of their own.

"Alright," Adagio said with a hopeful smile, "what do you have for me?"

Sonata raised a hand, which she usually forgot to do in class. "I tried doing that flirty, arms-folded-in-front-of-you pose and batting my eyes, but Flash just looked weirded out at me."

Adagio shrugged. "More than I usually get out of him. What about you, Ria?"

"Ermm..." Aria glanced away with an uneasy look on her face. "I, kinda, haven't really... tried anything yet...?" Her friends shared a look before turning to her with wide smiles. She gulped.

"Really," asked Adagio, an eyebrow raised in amusement, "even with everything you have at your disposal? I believe we've already discussed the merits of the Pouty Face."

"Y-yea, but-"

Sonata was all too happy to cut her off. "If you can't use that, maybe you could shake your head like a puppy. Your hair would flap around like a doggie's ears!"

Crossing her arms at the mental image, Aria grumbled her reply. "I'm not a dog."

Remembering her deal with Fluttershy, Adagio mustered her willpower to resist the urge to make Aria's situation much, much worse. Even if she had kind of earned it by doing nothing to help with the plan. "You don't need to do much, maybe just wear a ribbon, like me?"

"Ooh," Sonata interjected with a big smile, "you should wear a short, ruffly skirt, too! Those are cute all by themselves!"

Aria sputtered. "Sk-skirts?! Look, I told you guys, what I wore at the Battle was a one-time thing, and even then I had-"

Sonata gasped, happily clasping her hands together. "Stockings!! Does that you mean you'll wear the lingerie too?!"

"WHAT?!"

Adagio tried to help. "We agreed that you'd have to wear something showing a little more leg if you ever put on a full suit of lingerie, so-"

Aria unconsciously made the Angry Pout, to the delight of her two friends. "I'm not wearing a damn skirt!"

Eyes sparkling, Sonata held both hands to her cheeks. "So you're going in nothing but the lingerie?!" Smirking as she gave Aria a sultry look, Sonata mockingly fanned herself with one hand. "So daring! We only need to do something cute, y'know."

Groaning as she rested her beet-red head on the table, Aria gave her giggling friends a tired look. "Alright, alright, I get it, I'll do something before the day is out."

Adagio smiled beneficently, making a mental note to hug Sonata later. "That's all I'm asking." Does this still count as teasing? If only in a murder-by-inaction kind of way?

Letting out a little sigh as she righted her posture, Aria shook her head. "Why're we doing this, anyway? Isn't doing 'cute' little tricks the same as pretending to be somebody we're not?"

"Not exactly," Adagio explained, "putting on a consistent act is what we want to avoid, but there's no harm in expanding our repertoire a bit. Think of it as swapping out batting your eyelashes for quick, coy winks, exchanging slow, tantalizing finger-wiggling for energetic waving, or whatever you're comfortable with. Like I said this morning, it's essentially just another form of seduction, but with fewer sexual connotations-"

Grinning, Sonata finished for her. "-and thus more plausible deniability, which helps us look a little more innocent!"

"Hahahahaha, yes!" Adagio remembered that her laugh seemed to do exactly the opposite about a quarter of a second later, but kept it to herself.

Scratching her head, Aria nodded. "Guess that works. Hell, with our reputation, it might be worth it for that last part alone. Speakin' of, what'd you do today, Dagi?"

"I tried giving people sweet, friendly little smiles while holding doors open. I didn't exactly have a stop-watch going, but I think they might have actually walked a little faster!"

"Because they thought it was welcoming, or because they wanted to get away from you?"

Adagio's smile didn't change. "I have no idea."

All three giggled, Sonata in particular. "At least doing cute stuff is WAY easier than wearing high heels." Judging by the looks she'd been getting, nobody around here thought bruises were a turn-on.

"I'm sure you'd have gotten it eventually, Nata," Adagio said in a soft, encouraging voice.

Aria was a bit more practical-minded. "Maybe, but her tripping and falling all over the place probably wasn't doing us any favors." Sonata frowned, spurring Aria to try to fix it herself this time with a slightly sheepish smile. "But, I mean, it couldn't have been that bad, because everyone already knows you do the weirdest crap, right?"

Most people might have taken issue with the sentiment, but most people weren't Sonata Dusk. Managing a tiny smile, she sighed. "I guess, but I kinda just wanted to be sexy too, y'know? I'm the only one that didn't pop into this world with boots that were made for walkin'!" Walkin' with a little more of a hip-swing, anyway.

Holding a hand to her chin in thought, Adagio studied the ceiling. "I'd make a few suggestions, but I'm told they have standards here." Arbitrary standards. Honestly, her bathrobe was more modest than her dance outfit!

Sonata made an angry little pout of her own while muttering under her breath at her lunch tray. "I'd wear nothing but the lingerie, but she'd eat me alive for it."

Aria raised an eyebrow. "Y'mean Luna?"

Her head snapping upward, Sonata smiled. "Yea, her!"

Hm, thought Adagio, suppose that's a relatively bright side to controlling myself in school; much fewer visits to Luna's office. None, in fact. I wonder if she misses me?

---

Looking up from her sandwich as she sat in the teacher's lounge, Principal Celestia raised an eyebrow. "Luna? Are you alright?"

The vice principal shivered in her seat, just a faint tinge of red to her cheeks. "I... I-I do not know, Sister. I felt... a disturbance."

"...You've been drinking Zecora's special brews again, haven't you?"

Luna's brows furrowed in challenge. "They are healthy and delicious!"

Celestia rolled her eyes, continuing her lunch.

---

Following fifth period, Adagio once again found herself wandering the halls in something of a daze. Auto-pilot, maybe. She still had that peaceful, walk-in-the-park feeling going, but her reason for walking around a bit before sixth period had essentially been to find somebody to play with for a few minutes. That was off the table now, but the thought of going straight to her next class and sitting in silence didn't exactly draw her in. Still, she could meander about, passively observe her surroundings, overhear snippets of conversation, and just generally people-watch. It was becoming some kind of guilty pleasure, witnessing little scenes of peoples' lives playing out in front of her, making a few guesses as to the circumstances and context of what she heard, and speculating on the kind of lives those people lived outside CHS.

That making note of patterns could help her narrow down what exactly constituted 'normal' behavior was just a benefit on the side, really.

Adagio didn't keep an ear out for any particular voices when she did this, but she couldn't help hearing it when one spoke a little louder than the rest. Unsurprisingly, this time it was Trixie, whom might not have known Adagio was a ways behind her when she irritably shared her thoughts with one of her former(?) bandmates, the purple-skinned blonde. As usual, this included liberal use of arm motions.

"Can you believe the nonsense they're spewing? As if Trixie would ever have anything to do with that, that, walking suffocation hazard!"

Cloud Kicker giggled, trying half-heartedly to hide a little smirk behind one hand. "Dunno, I think you could do worse. Scariness aside, Adagio is pretty hot."

Trixie crossed her arms. From the sound of her voice, she was doing that darling little this-annoys-me pout. "That's neither here nor there! The notion that Adagio Dazzle lost her touch because she got her heart broken from a relationship with The Great and Powerful Trixie is absurd! Ludicrous! Baffling! Because it implies that Trixie was ever interested in her to begin with!"

"That's not what you were saying just before the Batt-"

Trixie immediately covered Cloud Kicker's mouth with both hands. "Youshutyourmouth!!"

While that little display went on, Adagio kept her usual grin as she strolled away. 'Lost my touch,' have I? Thank you for the free alibi, Trixie.

What was the saying? That the devil's greatest trick was convincing the world that he didn't exist? She'd suspected people would notice if she stopped teasing others altogether, and as she hadn't actually taken advantage of Fluttershy's offer to torment her in public yet (give or take her reactions to the pictures), she could see why outsiders might think she'd simply changed since her soul-crushing break-up with the young magician. The situation couldn't have been more perfect! With this, her group would be deemed less threatening, people would be willing to approach them, and they'd finally have their own piece of that Magic of Friendship pie!

Besides the little bit that I alone get to enjoy with Fluttershy in private, that is. Aria has her online buddy in the virtual worlds they explore and shoot up together, Sonata has her seventy-six thousand subscribers on that scare-prank channel she started running in her spare time (Sonata did not share her niggling sense of remorse in what they did with that webcam), and I have Fluttershy for just under an hour on weekday mornings.

She tried to tell herself not to worry about it, that it was fair that they found their own respective friend-types in various places, but when weighing what Aria had with DoomPrism, or what Sonata had with her commenters, against what she had with Fluttershy, Adagio felt like she was cheating them. It was like she alone had found the deep, meaningful connection they'd come in search of with rare, cautious optimism, and was keeping it all to herself. Weren't they not supposed to hide things from each other anymore? Sonata might have been doing it first, but-

"Hey!"

Turning, Adagio was just faintly confused not to see anyone until she glanced downward to catch sight of two freshman girls. One was grey with a silvery braid and glasses, though Adagio wasn't sure what it meant that the nervous look on her little face was leaning toward the 'torment target' kind of cute as opposed to the 'administer head-pats' kind. Was there any difference between the two, or was it a matter of situational context? Before she could decide, the dull-pink girl, whom the first was vaguely hiding behind, spoke up, her tone matching the irritated look on her face.

"Why did you stop being cool?"

Perplexed, the siren let her raised eyebrow speak for her.

The grey one tugged on her friend's arm, looking at Adagio as though afraid she'd be pounced on if she broke eye-contact. "L-let's just go, Di!"

Diamond Tiara didn't so much as look backward, dismissively waving a hand. "Inna minute." She focused on the formerly-cool upperclassman. "You haven't done anything that pissed off Luna lately, or any of that gooey-eyes talk, like-" she turned to face her friend with half-lidded eyes, gently tracing her fingertips along the skin just above her necklace of little, blue pearls, "Ohh, Silver, I could just chew on your ears all night..."

Silver Spoon responded by turning bright red and starting to sweat, her gaping mouth emitting only a quiet squeak as she shuddered, lost balance, and fell on her little rear, Diamond looking back at Adagio in perfectly calm, casual fashion. "Like that."

Noting that someone was probably going to be getting The Talk soon, Adagio focused on the question, answering with another. "Is there a reason I should?"

Diamond scowled a little. "Well, yea! You used to go around doing whatever you wanted, any time you wanted, that's what made you cool! What gives?"

Adagio chuckled, giving a little grin. "And what makes you think I'm not doing what I want?" Both girls were giving her confused stares now. The smile grew. "I toyed with those people because I felt like it, and now I don't." Technically not true. "Well, I suppose it's more like..." There was faint color to her cheeks as she giggled. "There's something else I want now, and doing what I did before would make it harder to keep. Do you understand?"

"No, what the heck are you talking about?"

Adagio was still smiling patiently. "Priorities, Little Miss. To get what you want; decide what it is you want most, then go for it with everything you have. If you want it badly enough, you might find yourself willing to part with something else to get it."

This, Diamond understood very well, smacking a fist into the open palm of her other hand. "Like a purchase! You give up money for a new snow-cone machine or whatever!" That her favorite upperclassman was giving Diamond a nod and a proud grin made her feel like she was trying on her mother's tall, pointy shoes again!

"I think you've got it." And with that, she walked off, having influenced the next generation. A bit. Kind of. Or not, time would probably tell.

---

"Eh, Fluttershy?"

"Eep!" Whipping her head to the side, Fluttershy did her best to switch her startled expression to a small smile. "Y-yes?"

"Ah know paintin' ain'tcher favorite thing in Art, but yer lookin' a little more nervous than usual. Everything okay?"

"Oh, uh, y-yes, just, y-you know... worried?"

Applejack gave her a little smile. "Aw, don't worry, Mr. Magnet knows you do yer best every time, even when it don't come out like you had in mind. Just relax and have a little fun with it, okay?"

Fluttershy smiled a little wider. "Okay."

Of course, she couldn't very well tell Applejack the actual reason she was nervous; the one that walked into the Art room just seconds before things got started.

"Aaaaaaaalright, class!" began Magnet with a flourish while Adagio took her seat, "today you're free to paint whatever your bursting little heart desires, to go wherever your muse takes you! Well, I won't delay the magic, begin!"

It was with a note of apprehension that Fluttershy saw Adagio sitting a row in front of her again, wide, plump curves resting on the stool in front of the easel she'd be painting on. Even if those jeans looked a little tighter than usual, she tried to focus on her own painting.

Adagio, meanwhile, did much the same, albeit with a side of experimentation as class went on. She knew that some people, for whatever reason, found clumsiness cute, thought making little mistakes was endearing, but where Sonata usually went overboard with it, Adagio would try something subtler. Namely, dropping things in such a manner that it wouldn't leave a troublesome mess (clean brushes, lids to paint containers, etc.), quietly saying 'Oopsie,' or 'oh, silly me,' then bending down to pick it up again with just a faint little wiggle of her behind.

It was difficult to gauge the reactions without looking at anyone, which would likely give her away, but she was sure at least one member of the audience enjoyed the show. Hiking her pants up an inch or two before class definitely made a difference!

---

When class was drawing to a close, Adagio wasn't feeling too confident about her double-helix eel. The conjoined areas of the body came out fine and she even got the teeth to look nice and sharp, but the little green spots along its external sides didn't seem like the right shade to convey bioluminescence. Magnet would say it was great, of course, as he was the sort to praise pretty much everything if his students did more than spit on the page. Without turning her head, she listened as he went around, paying particular attention when he got to Fluttershy's painting.

"Oh, what a magnificent peach you've got there!"

"Th-thank you," whispered Fluttershy, "it, i-it, uhm-"

"The attention to detail is outstanding! You're finally getting a feel for focusing on the individual strokes! Just look at those long, smooth curves, that nicely-rounded globe, and that shading!"

Adagio bit her lip to keep from giggling, but it kept going.

"It's n-nothing really, I j-just-"

"Ohh, look at you, flushing with modesty! Well, I won't keep you, but be sure to cherish the warm, tender feelings you felt when this image sprang to your mind!"

There was a tiny squeak that sounded vaguely like 'thank you.' Adagio was pretending to have a coughing fit.

Magnet moved on, not a hint of irony in his tone. "Oh, very good, Lyra, your dog has four legs this time! Wonderful job!"

Adagio might have called that Game for the day, but dear, honest Applejack had a few words of praise for her friend.

"It really does look good, Fluttershy. Why, it's so big an' juicy-lookin', Ah could just sink mah teeth into it! ...Why're ya hidin' in yer hair? It's a compliment!"

While she might have counted herself blessed for getting two teasing assists like that in one day, Adagio couldn't stop herself from releasing a short, but loud series of cackles just as Magnet was getting to her. He looked at her with a raised eyebrow before glancing back and forth between her and her helictical eel (h-eel-ictical?) in perplexed silence.

Letting out what she hoped was a sufficiently cute giggle, Adagio smiled sheepishly. "It, er, reminds me of home?"

Magnet beamed. "Splendid!!"

Author's Notes:

DT strikes me as the sort who wouldn't be afraid to speak her mind, even to her idols. More-so when she's not seeing what she wanted to see in them anymore.

Chapter 32: Dark, Stringy Confidence

Butterflies. Swarms and swarms of butterflies.

The feeling in her belly was so dense, so hectic, that Fluttershy was worried she might be sick. Still, she pressed on, slowly opening one of the big, glass doors to the mall and hesitantly stepping in. She came alone, as they'd agreed, dressed in a plain, green sundress and matching sunhat, a pair of white-rimmed sunglasses the most she could do to hide her face without reaching the point that it drew more attention. Or made her feel really silly. She still felt a little silly wearing what were ostensibly outdoor clothes inside, but other than the pair of Groucho glasses that Pinkie (for reasons unknown) stuck to her bottom one time, she lacked anything that could be called a disguise. Her heart beating a little faster with every step, she tried to remember what brought her to this point.


"Hey Sweetie, are you doing anything tomorrow?"

"Uhm, n-no, but... w-why do you ask?"

"Well... We're essentially a couple now, right?"


There had been some teasing and a tiny, nervousness-and-joy-induced panic attack involving the exact state of their relationship, but after that came a request. Friday morning, Adagio had asked her out. On a date.

Adagio Dazzle had asked her out on a date!

Adagio Dazzle had asked her ou-

"There you are!"

"EEP!!"

Fluttershy whipped around, catching sight of Adagio leaning against the You Are Here map-board by the entrance. She was wearing grey sweatpants and a grey hoodie with the hood drawn up, along with much darker, thicker sunglasses than Fluttershy's, but the smile was unmistakably hers.

Adagio stepped forward, deducing that Fluttershy looked nervous enough as it was without being teased about having kept a lady waiting, let alone her thoughts about how she might punish her for it. Besides, she wasn't sure what the rules were when both of them were ladies. "Ready to get started?" Her Sweetie gave her that hesitant, but hopeful little smile in response.

"Y-yes!"

They walked together, Adagio regularly stealing glances at Fluttershy out of the corner of her eye. Even in a dull frock, Fluttershy managed to look so graceful, so majestic, so serenely beautiful that part of Adagio was jealous. That part of her was immediately flattened by the awareness that the bashful beauty was all hers to cherish, in multiple (but not all) senses of the word.

There weren't a lot of people around the mall on that early Saturday morning, leaving Fluttershy and Adagio essentially by themselves as they walked. Just as planned! However, Fluttershy still looked a little more jittery than usual, prompting Adagio to address her with soft tones and a warm smile. "Relax, I'll be keeping an eye out for anyone from CHS the whole time, like we discussed, and if it looks like anyone recognizes either of us, I can be gone in seconds."

"Oh, n-no," Fluttershy said with a little head-shake, "it's not that, just, j-just..." She pulled her hat a little further down, though her smile still showed through. "W-we'reonadate!"

Blinking once behind her shades, Adagio chuckled. "Yes, Sweetie, just you and me today. The safeword is still Squirrel."

"Meep!"

"Hahahahaha!" Fluttershy's timid posture as they walked through the mall gave Adagio a plethora of great ideas, but nothing they could do without drawing unwanted attention. On that note, really hoping I don't look like I'm planning to rob someone. The innocent cutie willingly walking at my side will be enough to do dismiss such notions, right?

As planned, they headed to a clothing shop Adagio had visited before, a little store with a wide selection, but not a lot of traffic in one corner of the mall. Most importantly, the cashier didn't go to CHS, so they were likely free to take their clothes off together. Sharing this thought won her another squeak and some rosy-cheeked stammering.

"I-I thought we were j-ju-just, t-trying on outfits!"

Ohh, too easy. "We are. Why, did you have something more in mind?" Part of Adagio wanted to snatch Fluttershy's hat right off her head to better enjoy that precious, glowing little face as her Sweetie sputtered and pulled the hat downward again, but they really were here for practical reasons.

Given their talk Thursday morning, Adagio had come up with the next step on the Dazzlings' road to acceptance; tactical cuteness! Little gestures got some kind of response, Aria having reported that winking and sticking the tip of her tongue out at a few people, while a little embarrassing for her, won surprised, but not unwelcoming stares. That was a good sign, but Adagio remembered how everyone looked at her when she wore the bow. Well, if revealing outfits bolstered seduction power, some cuter clothes had to help out with this, right?

Adagio determined that she'd be the first to try a new look, to dress up in something a little more traditionally girly and wear it to school. For that to work, she'd need to find something 'cute,' and as Fluttershy was the one that gave her the ribbon (which she wasn't wearing today, having gone with a simple scrunchie for once), it made sense that she would be able to help Adagio find something suitably adorable, but reasonably dignified. Fluttershy seemed happy to offer her services to that end, even if there had been a bit of ribbing about just how eager she was to decide what Adagio would be wearing. That in mind, she let her guide cool down a little before voicing her first question.

"So, skirts: Strictly required?"

"Um, w-well..." She took a moment to think about it. "You don't have to wear them to look cute, but they are generally seen as more feminine, so they're a pretty normal choice for girls."

"Is it about showing leg, or potential to catch a glimpse of the wearer's undergarments?"

Fluttershy tinted pink. "N-neither!!"

That would be another factor that made Fluttershy the perfect partner for this; keeping away from anything too racy, anything that might detract from the image she was going for by leaning toward her old (and current!) one, was as easy as a game of Hot and Cold. That was the game they played while Adagio picked out and tried on outfits with Fluttershy offering critique and perceived threat level. Adagio needed no reminding that she could be too much for some people and that part of it was her general style. Spikes, they agreed, would have to be ruled out entirely, because there was nothing cute about the thought of puncture wounds. No, not even in a playful-kitten-nibbling-on-your-hand kind of way.

---

"Th-the design is cute, but, uhm... d-don't you think that top is a little... low-cut?"

"Perhaps, but the lack of fabric makes it look smaller. Smaller is cuter, right? Because I'm sure the same applies to my chest anyway, so-"

"L-let's try something else, please..."

---

"What do you think of this coat? Am I soft and huggable now?"

"W-well..." She was kind of always soft and huggable, at least in Fluttershy's eyes, but in regard to the addition of a long, dark coat...? "It looks nice and warm, I think, but even if we're not thinking about the season all that much, it's still a little scary."

"Even with all the fluffy trim?"

"Black is kind of a scary color, I guess... Sorry."

"Hm..."

---

"I-I don't think those pants are helping..."

"Why not?"

"They're... shiny..."

"So is the ribbon you gave me."

"And a little... tight!"

"And pink!" Adagio turned in place to be seen from different angles. "Pink is cute, right?"

"...It's d-definitely a certain kind of cute..."

"What was that?"

"N-nothing!!"

---

"EEEK!!" Fluttershy covered her eyes. "W-what are you d-d-doing?!"

"I thought I'd try the 'lovable dope' angle on for size. 'I forgot to get dressed today, teehee!'"

"Y-you can't go to school n-naked!!"

"Nonsense, it's just a question of how long I can stay there!"

"Adagio!!"

"Sigh. Fine, fine, back to the drawing board."

---

Fluttershy sat on one of the benches just outside the changing area, slumped over and still trying to convince her heart to slow down while fanning herself with her hat.

Dressed in her plain, grey outfit again, Adagio paced over and sat beside her. "You alright, Sweetie?"

Taking a calming breath, Fluttershy gave her a somewhat tired look. "Did you want me here today just to tease me?"

"While that's a fantastic idea and I may use it later, no. There aren't a whole lot of people I can talk to that understand the 'cute' look, and..." She looked Fluttershy in the eye, no trace of amusement or her usual predatory stare in her face. "I wanted to spend a little more time with you."

A pleasant warmth bubbled up from Fluttershy's chest. "R-really?"

Adagio shrugged lightly. "Well, we still see each other in Art, but I thought a little more wouldn't hurt. I know that technically, I'm free to come after you-" she lightly tickled Fluttershy, drawing tiny giggles, "-whenever I like, but you've probably figured out by now that I'd like to avoid the mess that would make for as long as possible. I don't mind keeping things subtle between us until you graduate, Sweetie, but the current arrangement does leave me wanting a little more. That said, I really would like your help with this, so if I'm just botheri-"

In a rare show of assertiveness, Fluttershy leaned forward to peck Adagio on the lips, smiling even as she turned rosy. "I-I wasn't complaining, exactly... And, when you decide you want things out in the open, I promise I'll be ready." She didn't need to be able to see through Adagio's shades to know she was staring back at her, helped by her mouth forming that surprised little 'o' shape, at least until it became a tiny smirk as Adagio turned her head away and chuckled.

"Well then..." The siren waited until she could keep her voice perfectly steady before going on. "I had an idea while getting dressed. Since none of my choices seem to be what we're looking for, I was thinking you could pick something out for me to try on, as you'd know better than I what to look for." She shrugged again. "Probably should have started with that, really, but I wanted to at least give it a try on my own. What do you think?"

Judging by the wide, wide smile, Fluttershy was wiling to accept these terms.

---

"How do you feel about hats?"

"If it fits on my head, I'll give it a go, Sweetie."

"Okay. Um..."

"Limited selection, hm?"

"K-kind of, but, uh... oh, these little hats might work!"

"Tiny hats are cute, are they? Alright, which would you recommend?"

"How about this one?"

A pleasant time was had trying on tiny hats, by Adagio and Fluttershy, but in the end, they decided that the ribbon was all the head-wear she would need. Luckily, this diversion bought time while Fluttershy got her thoughts together about the prospect of being able to dress Adagio. That was a hefty responsibility that called for careful consideration, but she managed to keep her thoughts clean when picking the first outfit.

"Sonata brought up ruffly skirts just the other day, so this might work."

"Really?"

"Yes. Actually, this, the white shirt, and long socks together all kind of look like the schoolgirl outfit back home."

"O-on second thought, let's try something else!"

"Huh?"

Mostly clean. There must have been some kind of unconscious interference. She'd do better this time.

The plain, ankle-length dress was certainly modest, but a little too dull for Adagio's liking. Not particularly cute, either. Next, they tried a biker jacket and brightly-colored short-shorts over dark tights with fashionable tears along the legs, but came to the conclusion that the 'bad girl' look was only cute when the wearer couldn't easily play it straight. This proved equally true when the pair indulged in a bit of pirate girl dress-up just for fun.

"Goodness," said First Mate Fluttershy while lifting her eye-patch, "they really have a wide selection here, don't they?"

"Indeed, but I suspect there are so few people here because none of it is brand-name. What's next?"

It took some thought and a bit of searching, but Fluttershy felt herself getting into the groove of this thing as Adagio stood before her in a striped shirt and knee-high socks, another ruffly skirt, and a bright-pink jacket. The wearer, however, looked just a little uncomfortable.

"Is something wrong?"

It was a bit like the feeling she got when wearing the ribbon in public for the first time, only much worse. "Are there any... other options? I don't think I like this one."

Fluttershy kept a little smile. "That's okay, we still have plenty of options to choose from."

Glancing down at herself, Adagio nodded. "True. But, this look is 'cute,' right?" Fluttershy's big, happy grin as she nodded drew a chuckle. "Alright then, at least we have a reference point."

The next few attempts passed in similar fashion. None of the chosen outfits looked bad on Adagio (saying as much earned Fluttershy a quick kiss on the cheek), but Fluttershy could see that none of it felt like her, like something she'd have worn on her own.

What's missing?

I think you know.

NO, that is precisely what we're here to avoid, or at least work around!

She liked Angel's ears, right? Maybe a bunny suit would-

YOU BE QUIET!!

Fine, try to ignore that body, but I'll be here when you need me.

There had to be more to Adagio's look than raw sex appeal, and thinking about it, Fluttershy knew what it was: Elegance! She was a lot like Rarity, right? The looks they'd tried up to now would have fit Pinkie Pie just fine (in hindsight, maybe it was the fluff? Another unconscious connection), but maybe something more graceful was called for. Looking around for a bit as Adagio silently followed behind her, Fluttershy stopped when they came to a dress being worn on a mannequin display.

The colors alone made Fluttershy think of brighter, gentler times, a white blouse with long, lace-adorned sleeves and a ruffled, exceptionally puffy, sky-blue, knee-length skirt over color-coordinated, polka-dot stockings, complete with hot-pink little shoes for just a dash of flair! Cute flair, that is. This wasn't even accounting for the bows tied all over the outfit, from the wrists, to the shoulders, to the collar, to the really big one over the rear of the skirt! It was huggably cute, but fancy!

Fluttershy looked at Adagio to find that the older girl had gone a little pale, her pupils shrunk to pinpricks.

"S-Sweetie," she said quickly though a little smile, turning Fluttershy to face her with a hand on her shoulder, "I was thinking; I've tried on a few things you'd like, and I'm starting to feel selfish having all the fun taking my clothes off in public..." As hoped, Fluttershy turned a lovely shade of red as she started to sweat. Adagio gave her a half-lidded stare. "I don't have anything untoward in mind," she said while gliding her fingertips along Fluttershy's spine, "but I was thinking that I wouldn't mind spreading the love a little."

"Uhm-"

"My plan is this," she said with a smirk, her lips drawing closer and closer to Fluttershy's ear, "you've helped me understand a particular look a little better, so why don't I help you with something you've been, shall we say... practicing...?"

Her heart beating faster, Fluttershy gulped. "Y-you mean...?"

"That's right," the sultry siren purred, "if you want to swing when you walk, I can show you just what you need to do it, in any outfit." Before any response came, Adagio quickly moved in to kiss her on the neck. She might have lingered longer, but lack of immediate witnesses or not, they were still in public. Regardless, she grinned with fiendish delight as Fluttershy melted in her grip...

This fiendish delight was impeded a bit by the shame felt for her own cowardice, but she was sure they'd have some fun anyway.

---

There was a mild sense of deja vu as Fluttershy again stood in a changing booth in her underwear, but this time, she was the one waiting for Adagio. The details were a little hazy, but they'd come to an agreement that if Fluttershy tried on something Adagio picked out for her, something that would help her to look and feel... sexy... no matter what she wore after, Adagio would put on anything Fluttershy could find for her without objection, whether it had anything to do with looking cute or not. Win-win, right?

Then Adagio swung the outfit over the door, the hook dangling from her index finger. "Here you are, Sweetie!"

Fluttershy gaped. For a split-second, she dared dream that Adagio had simply forgotten something, or that there was more coming, but she knew what she saw was exactly what Adagio intended for her to wear. It was a black, shiny string-bikini, one that left almost nothing to the imagination. Just looking at the thing made her feel exposed, even if she weren't already undressed! Before she could dwell on what her friends and family would think of her if they ever saw her in the same room with such a racy swimsuit, it gently swung back and forth from the hook on Adagio's finger. She sounded amused.

"Weeeell? Go on, take it!"

Looking at the tiny, skimpy thing, Fluttershy whimpered. "D-do I really have to, t-to... It's s-so-"

"Insubstantial? Barely clothing at all? Hear me out, but that's kind of the idea, Sweetie. Think about it; you'd never wear a thing like this in private, let alone where someone might see you, right?"

"R...R-right."

"Just like you'd never go swinging your hips for eye-catching effect, right?"

"Ri-... Oh."

Adagio chuckled. "I think you've got it. Put this on, strut around a little (or a lot, I'm not judging!), and... well, see how it feels. I'd recommend going naked of course, but-"

"EEK!!"

"Yes, that. Sooo..." She dangled the swimsuit back and forth almost tauntingly. "There's no doubt in my mind that it'll be a good look for you, but the safeword is still 'Squirrel' if you want out. What'll it be, Sweetie?"

Staring at the thin lines of fabric, Fluttershy felt herself sweating.

Would it even fit me? Does Adagio know my size? It looks kind of small, would-

Adagio stopped swinging the bikini back and forth. "Is that a 'no'?"

Spurred awake, Fluttershy grabbed the hook before she realized her hands were moving. "I-I'll do it!"

"Really?"

"Y-yes, j-just," just as soon as my knees stop shaking, "just give me a few minutes..."

There was a chuckle from the other side of the door. "Don't keep me waiting too long."

Looking down at the material in her hands, Fluttershy found it to be sleek and smooth. And thin. Painfully, embarrassingly thin. Still, if just putting it on might be like doing The Walk for an hour straight...?

There were a variety of funny feelings as she stripped naked and put on the swimsuit. Her legs never stopped shaking as her pulse picked up and she almost fell on her face, but the walls of the little changing room made it easy to catch herself. The first thing Fluttershy noticed about her new attire was that it was as small as it had looked and didn't quite fit her comfortably, most of all in the briefs. "Briefs" felt charitable, but she didn't want to use the other word for something she was going to wear. Part of her was getting middle-school flashbacks, but she managed to don the thing in such a way that she was, legally speaking, still decent. That didn't quite explain why, when wearing the tight, tiny, shiny strands, she didn't feel empowered or confident so much as naked.

That brought a slew of other feelings.

"Sweetie? You alright in there?"

"Y-yes, um... I'm w-wearing it..."

"Good. Now come out."

"W-WHAT?!"

"You heard me," she said with an audible smirk, "come let everyone gathered out here look on you with envy and lust!"

"G-gathered?!"

"Just a dozen or so. You still coming?"

"Um... D-do I have to?" Fluttershy whimpered.

"I've come out to show off everything I've worn today. Fair's fair, don't you think?"

"But, b-but-"

There was a little sympathy in her voice now. "It's not too late to back out, Sweetie," and then there wasn't, "but I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd love to see you in it! Or without, but baby-steps!"

"This is a baby-step?!"

She chuckled. "Well, a baby-step in high heels. So what'll it be?"

Fluttershy could practically feel the stares beyond the door, hundreds of big, judging eyes waiting to tear into her, to mock her every exposed pore and tell everyone they knew to do the same! "I, I-I c-can't, I-"

"Don't make me come in there, Sweetie, you won't like what I'll do." It sounded like Adagio was leaning up against the wall just by the door, her voice a sultry growl. "Or, maybe you want to find ou-"

The changing room door flung open. Fluttershy stood knock-kneed in the doorway with her arms stretched outward, eyes tightly shut, and her face a bright, hot red as she nearly hyperventilated while waiting to hear the jeers and, if she was unlucky, flashing cameras. None came. She dared open one eye to see only Adagio (who had stood out of door-swinging range, luckily) by herself, giving Fluttershy a smile that looked more sheepish by the second.

"...So... You did it... Good job..." Ohhh, I'm dead.

Glancing around nervously, Fluttershy saw not a soul in the area apart from her sneaky, evil girlfriend (squee?), but that didn't change how exposed she felt standing out in the open. "Th-there's n-no one here?"

"Um... No. Made that up, Sweetie. Haha?" In ordinary circumstances, Adagio might have been eating up every inch of the sight in front of her, but being caught in her lie left her considerably less composed than usual. There would be reflection later, that much was sure.

Fluttershy's heartbeat didn't slow down much as she connected the dots, but when she did, she managed a little smile of her own. "You were just... teasing me?"

The guilty siren's abashed grin remained. "Something like that. So... M-my turn?"

---

Sitting nude (she hadn't bothered with underwear that morning, just in case it might have been part of the get-up if short skirts came up) in the changing room, Adagio waited with her head in her hands.

Jellyfish. You are a pitiful, quivering jellyfish. You knew there'd be risks today, but trying to bluff your way out of getting a little embarrassed? She came here to help you, and you pull something like that? Whatever she'll make you wear for this won't be enough, you should be flagellated, tied to a pole and whipped in the streets!

...Would Fluttershy be the one doing it?

Ye-... N-... Um... Don't change the subject! You're a coward, and she's probably going to tell you so!

Off the top of her head, she could only recall one time Fluttershy had seemed genuinely upset with her, and that was when Adagio had implied that she'd make an animal do her dirty work. Fluttershy wasn't actually intending to get any measure of revenge on her back then, but now she well and truly had it coming. As soon as Fluttershy came back with her choice.

It really is taking her a while. Is she just letting me sweat it out first? Not sure if I should be impressed or not.

She silently kicked her bare legs in the air.

Heh, never thought I'd dread waiting for someone like this.

Fishing her phone out of the pocket of her sweatpants, lying in a heap by her feet, Adagio determined that she'd been waiting for nearly ten minutes to get her karma. Her pink, frilly, humiliating karma.

Is she having trouble finding that lace-riddled abomination again? Trouble getting it off the mannequin, maybe? Or, is she looking for something even more like a-

She was startled by a knock on the changing room door. For some reason, Fluttershy was keeping her voice down.

"Hey! I found something, s-so, uh... t-try this!" Fluttershy had to stand on her tip-toes to get the outfit over the door, but she managed without having to risk getting badly flustered again if Adagio was naked in there.

The sky-clad siren, for her part, was baffled. She took hold of the outfit; a simple, three-piece combination of a purple vest and miniskirt over a relatively shiny, very-dark-blue jumpsuit that reminded her of her dance outfit's tights, but to go over her whole body up to the neck and wrists. As she was trying to imagine what could possibly be undignified about the ensemble, Fluttershy knocked at the door again.

"Oh, and, uh, th-there are these shoes to go with it, but, I don't know if I can reach over the door, s-so, uh-"

Adagio felt herself smiling just a little. "You can come in, if you like."

"Eeek! N-n-no thank you, I, uh, I-I, I'll just-"

Chuckling, Adagio spoke softly. "I'll step out to get them when I'm decent, Sweetie, thank you... On that note, you're sure this is the one you want me to wear?"

"Y-yes...?" There was a tiny gasp. "Wait, i-it's not too racy, is it?! I was worried the tights would be a little too... t-tight, but, I mean, n-not that I'm saying you're out of shape, b-because your shape is very-NOWAIT! I, I meant, j-just, uh-"

The rambling wore on, but Adagio just smiled.

She's worried about embarrassing you. You get her to stand where people could see her in what amounts to a handful of string, knowing full-well how she feels about being stared at, and she's the one worried that her pick is too shameful?

In my defense, she does have some exhibitionistic tendencies.

You don't deserve her.

I know.

A tiny lump built in her throat, but she kept an even voice as she called out to Fluttershy, who had transitioned to borderline unintelligible squeak-talk in trying to explain herself. "Sweetie?"

"-notthatI'vethoughtaboutyouinabunnysuitbeforebecausethatwould-... uh... Yes?"

"This one is fine, thank you. I suppose I just thought, you know... perfect chance for revenge?"

"...Huh?"

It never even occurred to her. What does that say about you?

"I mean, the way you were looking at that dress on the mannequin, I kind of thought...?"

"Oh, that!" Fluttershy giggled in her usual sweet, innocent fashion. "That one was nice, but the colors didn't quite feel right and I wasn't sure if we'd be allowed to take stuff right off the display racks anyway, so I looked around a little more and found those. Together the look is simple, but elegant!"

Somehow, this seemed worse than if she'd been made to wear something nightmarishly doll-house, but Adagio hoped it still sounded like she was smiling. "I see. I'll be out in a minute."

Moments later, Adagio stood outside the booth in the purple vest, skirt, dark-blue, figure-hugging jumpsuit and sleek heels of matching color, doing a quick twirl to let Fluttershy see her from every angle. Her fashion consultant for the day grinned brightly.

"I like this one! The little vest and skirt give it an innocent, girlish look, but the dark, svelte tights cover up enough to keep it from looking too..." Her smile faltered as she tried to find the right word. "Uh-"

Shrugging a little, Adagio offered her guess with a slightly wry grin. "Whorish?"

Fluttershy immediately frowned, almost wincing at the term. "Please don't think of yourself like that, no matter what you wear."

Flinching, Adagio frowned too. "S-sorry." Speaking of things you should apologize for... "And, well, sorry about the swimsuit. As usual, I don't have much to say for myself, just that I really didn't want to wear that thing, which I know is no excuse for trying to manipulate you into letting it pass."

As the sentiment sunk in, Fluttershy's eyes widened slightly. "You... that was a trick?"

Unable to bear that gaze, Adagio hoped her hair would, in a near-perfect role-reversal, hide her face as she looked at the floor. "I know, I know, I'm no better now than I was before, just as self-serving and terrified of not being the one in control, just as-" She was cut off with a hug.

"It's okay."

Adagio could barely manage more than a whisper. "How is this okay?"

Fluttershy's mouth formed a tiny grin. "It's okay if I forgive you. Will you let me?" She didn't hear more than an unsteady breath in reply, so she gently pat Adagio's back. "I'm not happy that you didn't just tell me how you felt, but I wouldn't have forced you to do anything you didn't want to, and I still won't, just like you've never forced me."

"...That swimsuit was at least a size too small. Was it your idea to put it on anyway?"

"Well, no... but it was my choice." Adagio backed away from her a little, confusion clear in her beautiful face. Fluttershy answered with a smile and a tiny blush. "I didn't say 'Squirrel.' And you can say it any time you want, too." Even if it made her a little more self-conscious, she gave Adagio a little wink. "Fair's fair, right?"

And then Adagio broke into the biggest, wobbliest, almost tearful smile before squeezing Fluttershy closer, demonstrating a good understanding of chaste hugging as she cuddled into her without resting a hand anywhere questionable. "Thank you, Sweetie. Really."

She didn't respond verbally, just quietly cherished the warmth and closeness of the moment. Then, she begrudgingly remembered that they were still in public and that someone might see them at any moment, if they hadn't already. She looked around to make sure (the coast was clear!), but her head motion must have reminded Adagio too, because she broke away a second later.

"Are you hungry, Sweetie? I was thinking we could pick this up after grabbing a bite at the food court."

Eyes widening as her heart stopped, Fluttershy turned a deep, deep crimson. "P-pick... up...?"

Raising an eyebrow, Adagio smirked. "With the outfits, I mean. Unless you've reconsidered joining me in the changing room?"

"Agh!" Fluttershy's arms were a hectic whirl of motion. "I, n-no, I, I-I was, I thought-! Pick, pi-pick, with-! uhuhm-"

Giggling, Adagio pat her on the head and moved to put her sweatpants, hoodie, and sneakers back on. "Tell you what; I'll give you a minute to think about it, and if you barge in and ravish me before I'm done, I won't say 'Squirrel' for at least the first hour or three, but if not, I'll change and we can get lunch together. Fair deal?"

She shut the door almost in almost tauntingly slow fashion, leaving her steamed lobster of a secret girlfriend to quietly mutter to herself about squirrels and bunny suits.

Author's Notes:

Next time: Their first date continues!

You've probably guessed that I was hoping to have the whole thing happen at once. Taking a cue from what I learned several months ago, I'm not going to push to get 10k words or so worth of story done in the span of about a week, but I hope what I do get done will be enough until I get the point I had hoped to be at like a month ago.

Chapter 33: Mistakes Were Made

Following the purchase of Fluttershy's pirate uniform and the last outfit Adagio tried on (all of which Adagio insisted she be allowed to pay for, what with her abundant affluence and everything), Fluttershy put her hat back on and the two headed to the food court. They kept an eye out for anyone remotely familiar, but the only people in the area at the time were a few mall-cops that appeared to be on break, a small pack of twenty-something women excitedly chatting about a line of boots said to be equipped with built-in pepper-spray dispensers, an elderly couple, and a very, very fat man eating by himself.

They procured a meal (there had been teasing about Fluttershy wanting a side of big, juicy peaches while they waited for their order) and sat at a table by a corner of the area, but true to her word, Adagio regularly scanned their surroundings anyway.

Fluttershy couldn't tell if Adagio was just being considerate or if none of the options had appealed to her, but she hadn't ordered any meat. Either way, she wasn't sure if she should have said anything, because she'd long ago grown to tolerate people eating meat around her and had never tried to force her friends to do otherwise. They'd also procured a big bunch of fries in one of those plastic baskets lined with paper to share between them, which was where Fluttershy chose to start.

"Need any salt with those, Sweetie?"

Chewing, Fluttershy determined that the fries were a little bland, but she shook her head. "No thank you, I always feel a little bad about using salt."

Even behind Adagio's shades, it was clear that an eyebrow had risen. "Salt? You're not going to tell me that they get the substance from animals in this world."

Giggling, Fluttershy shook her head. "N-no, it's not that, just..." She briefly studied the nearby salt-shaker. "Well, even if you only sprinkle a little bit, not all of it stays on the food, so some of it just goes to waste." Unless you licked the plate clean, of course, but the funny looks she'd get for doing it had long since broken her of that perfectly practical habit.

Adagio still looked uncertain. "...And? They're specks of dust, Sweetie, I don't think anyone will miss them."

"Maybe not in one meal's worth, but like, cumulatively, you know?"

Folding her fingers under her chin as she rested her elbows on the table, Adagio studied Fluttershy's face for a moment, her own calm and neutral. "...Your reasoning is that adding salt enough times, no matter the ratio of salt consumed vs. thrown away, you'd inevitably have enough to fill a salt shaker when someone else would have needed it, correct?" There was a nod. "Does the fact that they don't charge extra for use of condiments factor in?"

"W-well, whether we have to pay for it or not, I'm sure someone does."

"Yes, a cost so low as to be utterly negligible." With an earnest expression, Adagio lowered her shades enough to look Fluttershy in the eye, though something about the effect drew a little blush from her economically-conscious girlfriend. It was something Adagio would have to investigate later. "Maybe it is a waste, but there are times that can't be helped, and you shouldn't let that stop you from taking what you want." Grinning a little, she winked. "I'm not suggesting you go snatching suckers out of people's mouths or anything, but..."

Turning a little rosier, Fluttershy smiled too.

Adagio went on. "Back when my group fed on negative energy, do you think that even the gems, Coltantian artifacts perfected over millennia of development, operated at 100% efficiency? Even if the energy in this world were more substantial, no offense,"

"None taken."

"we still only pulled in about 93% (give or take fluctuations in empathic convergence) of the power present at each feeding. It might not have made a difference in the end, but no matter what we did, something went to waste." She indicated the salt shaker with an index finger. "You could probably stuff that whole thing in your pocket when no one was looking (I know I don't have to tell a good girl like you not to, but please don't, as the mall-cops over there are already giving us funny looks), and the people running this place wouldn't do more than shrug their shoulders and move on, because the effort of recovering the missing shaker would be much more than what it took to grab another one from the nearest kitchen supply shop."

She smiled. "Honestly, I find there's a bit of catharsis to be had in indulgence, even just in tiny ones, like, say... buying a treat to enjoy every morning?" Fluttershy's eyes widening said she got the message, drawing a chuckle. "Maybe it's selfish, but-"

"But," Fluttershy said with a little grin, "if you're not at least a little selfish, you'll never be happy?"

Adagio beamed. "Right!" She smiled as Fluttershy boldly took hold of the shaker and sprinkled its contents into the fry-basket. Said sprinkling was done carefully, but still.

I really need to find a way to show appreciation for her actually listening to me, not just dismissing my philosophies as automatically wrong by virtue of not being her usual 'friendship and harmony' platitudes.

Not phrasing it like that felt like a good way to start, but before she could find the right words, Fluttershy spoke again.

"W-well, in that case, um..." She let the rim of her hat hide her eyes as she looked down at the table. "I-it's not about wasting anything, I guess, but, uh... s-something I wanted to know, b-but only if you don't mind telling me, uhm..." She had to look Adagio in the eye to ask. "What... wh-what was that, 'pressing charges' thing about?" Adagio blinked once. "You know, b-back in Principal Celestia's office, when-"

"Oh!" She scratched her chin, thinking back to the day she saw her Sweetie covered in frosting. Before her mind could wander to the usual places, she ventured a guess. "You want to know what happened that made Celestia grateful that I didn't pursue legal action?" The answer was a nod, which looked just a little cuter in that big hat of hers. The story was a little embarrassing for her, but Adagio didn't want to detract from the lesson of moments ago. Besides, she definitely owed Fluttershy for that bikini trick. She cleared her throat. "Alright, it started the week we returned to CHS..."

---

This world was very different from the one which Adagio and her followers had once known, a fact made clearer to her all the time. One big change was the school system, in that what they had running in this world was a sad, twisted little joke in comparison, though she couldn't really blame this species for not being as advanced as the Coltantians had been. To humanity's credit, they hadn't gotten themselves utterly annihilated yet. Yet. Adagio didn't see any atmospheric calibration spires in place anywhere she'd ever been in this world, so maybe that day was still a good ways off.

More to the point, they had strange classes here, enforcing instruction of things that may or may not be forgotten before the students' graduation whether they had any use past that point or not. Perhaps the most perplexing class was the one Luna had dragged her to; 'Detention.' Adagio could not for the life of her deduce the true purpose of sticking a half-dozen people in a room with a teacher that strictly tries to keep the room silent and nothing more. It was very odd, doubly-so as the class took place after school hours, but Adagio had managed to... make things fun, while she was there. Long story short, Adagio wasn't allowed in Detention class anymore, at least not with the other students and poor Miss Cheerilee. That, or she passed in one session. Hard to tell.

Luckily, Luna (who looked just a hair frustrated at the time) thought up a program for solo-study comprised mainly of locking Adagio by herself in a small room on the third floor. She even sealed the window with chains. Not big, heavy ones, but chains none-the-less. When the door was shut and locked, Adagio briefly analyzed the room, finding it to be a little cramped for an average classroom. Desks were pushed all the way to the walls and lined up in shorter rows than the usual arrangement, the teacher's bulky desk had to be shoved into a corner leaving very little wiggle room for the chair, and there was maybe a square meter of space in which to stand in front of the board. Not helping matters was the placement of stacks of boxes and some kind of bulky machine Adagio couldn't begin to identify in the back of the room, taking up valuable(?) learning space!

"Oh," she thought aloud, "perhaps... perhaps this is some manner of shop class? Am I to solve a puzzle of sorts?"

The room had little space, the management of which was a reasonably valuable skill by itself. Examining a few of the boxes, she found not all of them to be filled with various supplies and pieces of metal. Was it related to the big, bulbous thing in the back of the room? Thinking about it, they might have been pieces of the device, but more importantly, the boxes weren't filled to the brim, which meant space wasn't being utilized!

Looking to the bulky machine, she decided that taking it apart as best she could and stuffing the pieces into the boxes was the way to go. At least as long as just moving some desks out of the room (locked door and windows) wasn't an option. She approached the metal... thing, took hold of a knob of some sort between two fingers, and twisted it off with little effort. Nothing happened, so she deposited the knob in the nearest box and proceeded to remove a loose bolt, some kind of plate with a broken hinge, and another knob somewhere. Things only got worrying when she displaced a pipe by tugging on it really hard, steam spraying out of the opening with no signs of stopping. The small room quickly became warm.

Ohh, I should not have worn a hoodie and jeans today.

She wouldn't have worn anything at all, but these damn rules! Stripping right now seemed like a logical choice, but she remembered the whole reason she'd been drafted into Mystery Alone Time class in the first place had something to do with her having ignored the clothing rules again. If she continued to disregard those rules, she and the others might get thrown out, returning them to boredom limbo. The sweating siren remained dressed as steam continued to pour in.

She was probably going to get a bad grade in this class.

---

About forty-five minutes later, Luna walked briskly down the hall to retrieve the young felon, quickening her pace when she noticed the wisps of steam in the air.

"What is that little degenerate up to now," she hissed under her breath, "is there no end to the things she'll do for attention?" Unlocking the room as steam continued to seep from beneath the door, she gave the handle a twist and pulled... to no avail. She pulled harder, finding the door to be stuck tight. "W-what? Adagio Dazzle! Open this door!!"

The door-muffled reply came with obvious irritation. "What do you think I've been trying to do? You locked me in, remember?!"

"You mean you cannot...?" Luna's eyes widened in horror.

She is trapped in there. With what may be dangerous temperatures.

"J-just hold on," she shouted through the door while backing up, "I'll have you out momentarily!" Without waiting for a reply, she kicked the door as hard as she could, but it barely budged. She backed up to kick it again and again with similar results, even when she tried a roundhouse kick and a running start from several feet away. She kicked until it hurt to stand on that foot, but the door did not yield. There was no time to lament her foolishness for having deliberately chosen a room with a sturdy door in which to confine Adagio, but it had felt necessary at the time. Instead, she dialed an emergency number in her cellphone while shouting through the defiant barrier.

"Miss Dazzle! If you can still hear me, open a window to release some of the steam!"

"I would, but someone had them sealed with chains. Very kinky, by the way, do you use this kind of equipment often?"

Her face growing as hot as the vapor that continued to flow out from under the door, Luna grumbled a stream of swears under breath until the maintenance man picked up.

---

Twenty minutes later, a man in a jumpsuit stood outside the room with her, but Luna was no happier for it.

"What do you mean you cannot open the door?!"

He shrugged his shoulders. "I mean 'xactly what I said, it's a no-can-do. And it ain't just cuz'a the old wood in the doorway swellin' shut with all that heat an' moisture, there's a busted piece'a tech in there that's makin' all these fumes, right? They passed a law back in the eighties 'bout how ya can't go riskin' public places when there might be toxins in the air."

"T-toxins?!" Luna was nearly pulling on her own hair in exasperation. "If the room were full of poisonous gas, would she still be breathing in there?!"

"Well, breathin' poison."

Adagio offered her thoughts from behind the door. "I'm not breathing poison."

Luna pointed to the door. "She's not breathing poison, now help me get it open!"

"Yes, please help her get it open!"

The maintenance man didn't move. "But then we'd risk breathin' poison!"

The trapped siren sounded increasingly irritable. "This room is so fogged up I can hardly see the door I'm yelling at you through! If this were some kind of toxin, I'd die the minute I exhaled!"

Dire as the situation was, Luna noted Adagio's capacity to be a smartass as a sign of decent health. She turned to the legally-dogmatic dolt in the jumpsuit. "If we cannot open the door, how are we to retrieve the student inside?!"

"Uh..." He took his time in looking back and forth between her and the door. "I'unno. Break a window, I guess? That wouldn't be flooding the school, just the environment. They were way more lax about the trees and all that back then, ya'know?"

Luna cupped her hands around her mouth to shout through the door. "Adagio! If you cannot pry them open, break a window to increase air-flow!"

In the room, the sweat-drenched siren all but scoffed. 'Break a window'? I don't think so. Adagio smelled a trap. She knew that her group wasn't wanted in CHS, and trying to trick her into damaging school property, with a witness, at that, would be just the thing to justify throwing all of them out for good! It'd be the same as if she...

...if I were to take my clothes off again. That'd be against school rules too, wouldn't it?

Was this whole thing a set-up? Luring her into a little room, having her trigger the steam, and waiting until she could be caught doing something to relieve the heat? Were they trying to get rid of her so soon? Surprisingly, the thought of it actually hurt, making Adagio turn away from the door in disgust, though the sudden motion made her a little woozy. She'd have crossed her arms as well, but such an action had a way of conserving warmth in the body, which, along with her abundant hair and clothes, wouldn't do her any favors right about now.

Out in the hall, Luna grew more frantic with the trapped student's silence. "Miss Dazzle? I said you can break a window!" No response, does she not have the strength? "Adagio Dazzle! Just pick up a chair and swing it at the glass!"

Not going to work, thought Adagio, I'm not going to- She shakily fell to one knee, which was odd, because her head felt lighter by the minute! Actually, the ground felt relatively cool on her sweat-dampened knee... She sunk lower, meeting the welcoming tile floor with all-due haste. Ahhh, that's better...

"That sound," Luna said as she pressed an ear to the door, "I think she's collapsed! We need a ladder, now!!"

---

Following a third-story, window-smashing rescue that Luna had to carry out herself while the maintenance man bumbled about with questionably-necessary gasmasks, a very dozy and dehydrated Adagio was princess-carried down the ladder. It was a remarkable feat of balance by the vice principal as she carried the hooded girl, though the only witnesses were the oaf in the jumpsuit and a squad car.

There was a bit of explaining to be done to the police, first for why they appeared to be breaking into the school via a third-floor window, then why it was deemed necessary to enact seclusion of a student outside of an emergency situation. However, after having been allowed a long drink of bottled water, the girl in question surprised all present by insisting that the event was an honest mistake, that no harm was done (to her anyway, she couldn't speak for the window or the machine that the maintenance man had to climb the ladder to go in and fix), and asking that charges be dropped. The school was let off with a warning not to allow a repeat of this incident, something Vice Principal Luna solemnly swore on.

A little later, Luna sat on the school steps next to a slightly soggy siren, waiting in silence as she guzzled down her third bottle of water. When her thirst seemed just about quenched, Luna spoke quietly. "I cannot apologize enough, Miss Dazzle, I had never intended things to turn out this way. If I had known that old boiler were capable of malfunctioning to such an extent, I would have never selected that room for your detention." Truly, the timing for such a thing could not have been worse.

Having riddled out that she may have been a little hasty in her judgement of the situation before, Adagio hoped her reluctance to look Luna in the eye would be read as her usual insouciance. "Don't worry about it." More-so because the pipe breaking was my own fault in the first place...

However, Luna wasn't quite satisfied with this. "I'm afraid I must, as your life might well have been in danger. I cannot believe I am asking, but why did you not simply disrobe? Surely, the heat would have been more bearable without such warm clothing."

"Well..." Now Adagio looked at her, but only fleetingly. "There are rules about staying clothed in school, right?"

Something in Luna's heart sank. "You endured that Hell just to abide by regulations?" The only reply was a shrug. Luna had gathered that the sirens were foreign to this land in the same vein as Sunset Shimmer, but it was clear they did not understand their new(?) environment as well as she had. Perhaps assuming otherwise had been Luna's error. If their greatest crime (well, second or third greatest) was that they could not easily integrate with a new society, a new world, then Luna did not want to punish them further for trying.

"Perhaps there can be an arrangement," she said with a hopeful grin, "I will ask that you not remove your clothing under ordinary circumstances on school grounds outside of restrooms or locker rooms, but if it is a matter of life and death? You are permitted to strip naked anywhere you please."

Looking directly at her now, Adagio smiled. "I fully accept those terms!"

Luna smiled a little wider, sensing that some kind of understanding had been reached. Then Adagio asked a question.

"Oh, could I add just one more place to the list?"

Luna raised an eyebrow. "Where did you have in mind?"

She leaned over enough to bring her lips to Luna's ear and growled. "Your office, ten minutes."

Luna whipped her head backward, a murderous glare saying what the law would never allow her to. It was almost intense enough to hide her equally furious blush.

Adagio grinned cheekily. "So... It's a 'maybe'?"

Author's Notes:

Remember their little talk back in Chapter 17? This was the context. :pinkiehappy:

Alternate title: Sweet, Salty Selfishness

I've heard that Fluttershy has a Shining Armor of her own. That is, a hitherto-unknown brother that they're going to tell us totally existed this whole time and wasn't just made up for the sake of whatever they're doing that episode. I'm not thrilled about Maud Pie's introduction either, but she's at least kind of fun to have around.

That in mind, I'm disregarding FlutterBrother entirely in my work until sufficiently pressed to do otherwise, same with the rest of the Schrodinger's Family Members floating around.

Next time: History lessons with Adagio!

Chapter 34: No Pain, No Gain?

A feeling Adagio was getting better-acquainted with was the one that came when someone looked worried about her, with the most common cause giving her such a look right now.

"She locked you in a room... and if she hadn't gotten to you in time, you c-could have been-"

While she didn't like to scowl at Fluttershy, Adagio felt validated this time as she crossed her arms. "I'm not some frail little ragdoll, Sweetie, I'd have walked away just fine."

Aria's voice sounded in Fluttershy's head.

"You never get sick, Adagio."

Maybe she had a tougher body than her beauty would suggest? Were the sirens just really resilient in general? That or, considerable misfortunes aside, Adagio was some kind of lucky. Lacking any type of injury to immediately point to, Fluttershy wasn't sure she could argue that Adagio needed to be more careful, but she still wished she could do something to keep her safe in the meantime. Unable to think of any preventative measures off the top of her head, Fluttershy found herself just a little annoyed with Luna. "Are they even allowed to lock people in rooms?"

"Actually, no, that was what the officer wanted to address when he understood the situation. That said, I don't bear a grudge because I'd rather there be no additional friction between us and the rest of the school, I actually felt a twinge of guilt for assuming the worst in Luna, and..." Cheeks tinting pink, she sighed. Suppose there's no avoiding it. "The steam thing was completely my fault anyway."

Frowning, Fluttershy tilted her head. "I'm not so sure about that. P-please don't take this the wrong way, but it sounded like you barely understood the situation. Did Luna even actually say that it was supposed to be a punishment?"

Rolling her eyes, Adagio chuckled. "Nonsense, I'm sure there was a structured reason for the Detention class if I'd just asked, but to me, it was just another way to kill time."

Blinking slowly, Fluttershy re-checked everything she knew about school to confirm that yes, detention was a standard school punishment, starting from time-out in kindergarten. Even if that wasn't quite the same thing... Anyway, she briefly shared this knowledge with Adagio, who wore a skeptical face throughout.

"That makes no sense. A punishment is supposed to teach the wrong-doer not to do what they did again, often reinforced with pain. What pain is there in having to sit still for a while? How does it demonstrate not to do bad things anymore?"

Again, Fluttershy tried not to think about the sirens' upbringing. "W-well, um... I-I don't get detention very often, so I'm not sure, but, I think the idea is that the kids in detention would rather be doing something else, that it's really boring, though I don't know if it's painfully so."

Adagio raised an eyebrow. "Being stuck in a boring room for a while? Doesn't that already describe the hours of a school day? What does it say that their idea of punishment is to endure more of the same, but without so much as a subject to later be graded on and theoretically benefit from?"

There was a short silence as Fluttershy thought about it. She had no answer, but it did raise a question. "What, um... y-you don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but, what did they do for punishments in Coltlantis?"

"It depended on the crime, of course, as it would with any sane society." She snapped her fingers. "Let's say someone cheated on a test in Coltlantis. The most likely penalty they'd face would be similar to your detention, but giving the cheater an answer plate (we couldn't really use paper underwater, long story) and at least a dozen tests (custom-made for their punishment) to fill out, the number of tests multiplied for each time they've been caught cheating. They'd be required to get a perfect score on each and every one or do them all again, and with none of this bubble-in business they have here. Ironically."

It took Fluttershy a second to get the 'ironic' part, but when she did, she giggled, which drew a little smile from Adagio as well. "Then, the punishment for cheating in Coltlantis was something like forced studying?"

"The punishment for cheating on tests, yes, though again, it depended on the specific details. If the guilty couldn't or wouldn't do as they were supposed to, they'd typically be seized and led off to the nearest form of extreme discomfort, Cacophony Chambers being particularly popular. For certain values of the word, anyway."

She chose not to ask how often, if at all, Adagio and the others were punished. Their current punishment, which she already knew to hurt them badly, seemed like pain enough without being made to relive bad memories. If she wasn't already.

Didn't you say you'd stop doing things that hurt her?! What do you call this?!

It wasn't on purpose!

It never is! Just stop digging up her past before you really open old wounds!

Seeing an unfamiliar look on Fluttershy's face now, Adagio frowned. "Sweetie? You alright?"

Caught, Fluttershy flinched, but didn't want to risk Adagio's trust by lying to her face. "I'm s-sorry, I didn't mean to bring up bad memories."

Blinking twice, Adagio gave a sympathetic smile. "Don't worry," she softly replied, "I might miss my old form every once in a while, but I'm well and truly over my 'home,' and I'm sure the others are too."

She thought I was worried that talking about how people were punished would make her homesick? I don't even know where to start...

...Then again, if Adagio was willing to share, maybe this was a good opportunity? She hesitantly met Adagio's eyes. "W-well, then, um... would you mind if I asked a few questions?"

Adagio chuckled. "Always so curious, and yet I don't really know that much about you. I'm not opposed to telling you what you want to know, but I'd like some information in exchange this time."

Fluttershy smiled. "Sure!"

"Thank you." She didn't quite plan it, but this seemed like a fitting enough dating activity. "So, tell me about yourself. You use Equestrian magic, are you from another world too?"

Fluttershy had entertained the fantasy a few times when she was younger, but she still shook her head. "No, I was born in this town, and I've been here all my life."

Adagio nodded. "How about your family? You know Aria and Sonata are all I have, but-" the question came with a hint of a smirk, "-is there anyone you'll have to introduce me to some day?"

A prickly feeling working across her cheeks, Fluttershy gulped. "Uhm... w-well, there's just me and my mother now, and..." And I may need to wear a bag over my head if you two ever meet.

Strangely, Adagio either didn't pick up on a chance to tease her, or didn't care as she frowned again. "Something happened to your father?"

Blink. "Oh, yes, he... passed on, when I was a little girl." She managed a tiny smile before Adagio could respond. "Please don't worry, I've had plenty of time to grieve." This got an understanding little nod. "Is there anything else you'd like to know?"

"Hmm... Just this for now; what is it with the animals? Did a stray cat endear itself to you once, a talking animal cartoon leave an impression on you or something?" She considered the possibility that Fluttershy had acquired a cuddly little friend to help get over her father's passing, but wasn't about to verbalize it.

"Umm..." Scratching her head, Fluttershy wore an apologetic smile. "Sorry if this sounds a little boring, but I wouldn't say I took an interest in animals at any point in my life, I've just kind of always liked them."

Adagio nodded again. "I see. That's all I had for now, your turn."

Fluttershy's grin grew much brighter. Part of her felt like she was being asked to pick out her own Christmas presents! "You said once that, i-if anyone in Equestria remembered you, that they wouldn't remember when you only wanted to defend your home. Can you tell me about that?"

It wasn't exactly a fun story, but Adagio couldn't help giggling at the enthusiasm. "Before the three of us were thrown out of Coltlantis, we were essentially a protection measure for the city. The gems you saw were once very different; considered holy relics by the more superstitious, wonders of advancement in the field of magic by pretty much everyone else. In short, they were made to influence minds through song, something they did quite well. I, Aria, and Sonata were chosen (well, I earned the right to wield them through trial and chose those two as my backup for how well we harmonized together) to use the gems to fend off trespassers in the local sea. For reasons not worth going into, Coltlantis had some enemies, and many more factions they just didn't want poking around, so incoming vessels had to be intercepted."

"Luring them away?"

"Precisely. We'd go out, serenade the crews with pleasant melodies while implanting the idea of returning home or just visiting some other island-"

"Island?"

"While construction did begin well below sea-level, Coltlantis didn't sit entirely at the bottom of the sea during its healthier years. Would have made our jobs easier, certainly, but can you imagine foreign relations without somewhere to stop and rest on the surface? Not everyone had gills, Sweetie."

"Hehe! I guess not."

"Right, so, we'd steer unwanted visitors away, then most of them would fail to get home safely. Did you know that the sea is an incredibly dangerous place if you don't know what you're doing? I would have thought the people (all-encompassing term) serving as navigators on those vessels were aware, but it seems being sent off-course was all it took to ensure that they'd perish in storms, smash themselves into large rocks, sail straight into leviathan territory, or just go in circles until most of the crew was starved, insane, or both. Naturally, those who lost ships that had been on course for Coltlantis, whether they were welcome or not, blamed the city they couldn't reach without permission as having maliciously attacked them, which didn't help matters politically. Those in charge, in response, decided that scapegoats were needed."

Fluttershy's smile had long vanished. "I'm sorry."

Shrugging, Adagio briefly scanned the rest of the food court again. "Don't be, the shallow attempt at appeasement didn't work and they got what was coming to them anyway mere weeks after we left. Tell Princess Twilight that if her historians think it was the four or five fleets showing up at once that doomed Coltlantis, they're wrong; that conflict began and ended with hubris."

She picked up her drink by the rim of the glass, her focus on gently swirling it around as her voice grew a little too calm. "I might have felt a pang of guilt for taking the gems with me when Aria, Sonata, and I slipped out of the city in the middle of the night, but with how often our armed forces boasted their superiority over all others, regularly belittling the three of us for how much better they'd handle the trespassers, I just couldn't be sympathetic when they were overrun. The three of us watched from a distance as they fired up their last resort, and, well..." There was just a hint of grim satisfaction in her tone as she set the glass down hard. "Let's just say that they didn't brag much about that ever again, either."

Part of Fluttershy wanted more details, but her heart demanded that questions about Coltlantis be stopped right now. Adagio might not have been saying so, but Fluttershy could tell that the story bothered her.

Technically, you only asked her about the defending-her-home part, she told you the gory details on her own. Does that mean she's been wanting to tell someone this?

There was one way to get an idea. Fluttershy gave her an earnest little smile. "I see, thank you for telling me." That Adagio just smiled right back before taking a slightly more relaxed pose conveyed that she was probably happy to stop talking about it.

"Anything else, Sweetie?"

You were hurting her again. You are such an idiot. "Uhm, w-well-" She was surprised to hear Adagio giggling, a warm smile sweeping her anxieties away.

"Sweetie? I'm glad Coltlantis perished."

There was a slow, fearful blink. "W-what?"

More giggles. "Written all over your face, Sweetie, and you have nothing to apologize for. For reasons I'll go into if you still want to know, I'm not the least bit bothered that my birthplace was destroyed partly just because-" she lowered her shades to wink, "-I've had plenty of time to grieve." She just held a wide smile as Fluttershy processed that information, then erupted into little gigglefits of her own. When she came out of it, however, her face was serious.

"Can... c-can I say something?" A nod urged her on. "I'm not sad it was destroyed either." Part of her felt like a monster for even thinking it, but Adagio just raised an amused eyebrow as if to say 'Oh? By all means, do tell.' "Well, i-it's just that, in all the times you've mentioned Coltlantis? It sounds like a horrible place, the thought of living there is scary, and the thought that you and the others lived there is painful. More than that, a-and I know this is awful of me, but-" her head unconsciously retreated behind her hair, the rest coming out in a squeaky whisper.

Adagio, showing no sign of offense, leaned over the table a little. "Sorry, could you repeat that?"

"Um... I, I-I said... I'm g-glad it's gone, because..." She gulped, planting her feet firmly on the floor in the vain hope it would help her stop shaking. "If it were still s-standing, they might have let you b-back in some day, and you'd n-never be here... with me."

Her eyes widening, Adagio broke into a bright shade of red before giggling and looking away with an awkward, happy, embarrassed smile plastered on her face. "You're q-quite a charmer, you know that?"

Fluttershy blushed too, even if she smiled at what might have been praise. Whether or not Adagio was flattered by the sentiment that someone could be glad a city was destroyed to allow them to meet, she didn't want to dwell on.

"I won't speak for the others," Adagio went on when she managed to reign in the heat in her face, "but I think I'll count that among my blessings too. Was there anything else you wanted to know, Sweetie?"

They spent the rest of their time in the food court talking about the sirens' journey, how they'd been in their late twenties when they first took up the job, essentially teenagers as far as kelpies go, that they did it for a few years without incident before being banished, roamed Equestria for a few months causing chaos in a sort of revenge-by-proxy on the civilizations that aggravated Coltlantians in the first place (which Adagio conceded to have been kind of hollow), and got banished again. They'd only been here for a few years, though Adagio wasn't sure the exact date of their arrival, having explained that it was only when they lost hope of returning to their own world that they started keeping track. There was another short bout of apology and assurance that it wasn't necessary before they headed back to the clothes shop.

Author's Notes:

Adagio didn't tell the whole story here, but the plan is to have a bonus chapter at the end in which the full history lesson is delivered to a very willing listener. Anyone interested in reading that, or can I save some time and summarize with bullet points before moving on to the next story? :twilightsheepish:

I'm sorry to say that I don't think I'll be doing the regular, scheduled update thing anymore. I'm not dropping the story, but I would like a little more breathing room with it. Things are winding down by this point, so I hope to have it finished some time within the next few months, but in the form of updating whenever I've got the time/energy to put into it.

One of my first stories taught me that forcibly sticking to one thing can get exhausting after a while, and that's kinda been happening with this story here and there. Maybe it shows? An upside to taking the occasional break from this one is that I may focus on some other stories that have been burning a hole in my inspiration (not sure if that wording makes any kind of sense) for months, so hopefully one or more of those can be just as entertaining for you! :pinkiehappy:

On that note, the conclusion to the date should be all edited and proofread by tomorrow morning!

Chapter 35: Cherries, Salad, and Dark Fiber

When they returned, it was back to business; getting an idea of what looked cute on Adagio without making her want to retreat into her own hair. Lace and frills were generally excluded from this search, but Fluttershy convinced her to make an exception for an outfit built similarly to 'The Abomination,' but with much more restrained use of bows and ruffles. The black miniskirt and corset over a white, puffy-shouldered shirt looked pretty dignified on their own, even with the long ribbon tied into a bow over the behind, but the neon, hot-pink trims and bright red stockings gave it enough color to look almost friendly and a little flirtatious. Then Fluttershy was reminded that Adagio was wearing it as the older girl sat on one of the benches just outside the changing area.

"So," Adagio said with her usual smirk, folding one leg over the other, "what drew your eyes to this one, Sweetie? I mean, I definitely appreciate your choice, but one wonders..."

Feeling just a little too warm, Fluttershy couldn't decide whether it was better to keep her hat on to hide her face, or remove it in the hopes of cooling off a little while giving Adagio a full view of the damage. Does that rile her up even more? I don't think I've ever tested whether or not that makes a difference, but Sonata once said it was like blood in the water... "It, uhm, i-it looked... cute...?"

Studying the tip of her shiny, black shoe, Adagio chuckled. "I suppose it is, but I was thinking in more... specific terms." She started bobbing the foot of the leg she'd folded over the other one, a motion she found Fluttershy following closely. "I really like the stockings, this lovely, vibrant color is sure to draw some attention, wouldn't you say?" She grinned wider as Fluttershy's eyes snapped upward, her guilty little face starting to take the same hues as the long socks that now coated Adagio's legs. "Your pick here," she said while slowly sliding one leg across the other, "is especially interesting."

Fluttershy could only brace for impact. "Wh-why is that?"

"Red."

"Huh?"

"Bright red. Cherry red..."

It took a second for the full meaning to sink in, but when it did, Fluttershy slapped both hands over her mouth while making a particularly high squeak. This drew a triumphant laugh from her leggy tormentor.

"Oh, look, we match!" Even as she giggled, Adagio couldn't help feeling just a little guilty for flustering her like this again so soon. She stood up, paced over to the trembling, sputtering girl, and wrapped her in a hug. "Sorry," she whispered, "the safeword is still squirrel if you need it."

Gently returning the hug, Fluttershy smiled even as she remained flushed. "I-it's okay, but... thank you."

"No problem."

Well, small problem. Is she just not using it, or am I not pushing her as hard as I think? Idea.

"And," she said with an audible smirk, brushing one of her legs against Fluttershy's, "if I'm right about these stockings, just let me know when you want a lick."

---

The two sat together on the bench as Adagio gently fanned Fluttershy with her own hat, the human stop sign in a sundress dozily leaning on her shoulder. Steam was still rising from her head following the short meltdown, but that there still hadn't been a peep of the safeword left Adagio to guess that maybe Fluttershy was just a glutton for punishment. The idea filled her prospects for the future with awe and wonder, but for now, fanning it was.

Slowly regaining the ability to form intelligible thoughts, Fluttershy lay in a happy, hazy heap against her secret girlfriend, just enjoying (most of) the warmth and closeness. Then memory of why they were there trickled back, reminding her that this moment was brought to her by Adagio's talent for making everything... suggestive.

Maybe I should just pick something naughty. Just to get it over with.

WHAT?! Are you out of your mind?!

Technically, we're both 'in' our-

What did I say about being a smart-mouth in your own head?

Right, sorry.

It's okay. Anyway, do even remember what she did with something as innocent as red stockings? Why on earth would you give her something so easy to work with?!

Well, she'll probably make me pass out with embarrassment, but after that? Anything else would have to look tame in comparison, right?

That's-...!

Riiiight?

...No.

You know it's true.

She might just keep teasing us anyway!

If so, she'll probably do it no matter what we pick, so we might as well bring home some great memories for the diary, right?

You fool! You'll doom us all!

That's nice. Hold, please?

No, don't, don't you da-!

"Um, h-hey, Adagio?" Fluttershy turned her head enough to show her face, which had slowly returned to healthy temperatures, and spoke before she could stop herself. "Would you like to try on something skimpy?"

Adagio blinked twice, immediately cleaning out an ear with a pinky finger. "Sorry, Sweetie, I don't think I heard you properly. Once more?"

There was a short, but fierce struggle for control in the seconds that passed while Adagio gave her a normal, friendly smile. It was the gentle one she'd grown to love from her, the one that would probably melt most of the school's idea of her if they could just see it themselves. However, bold assertiveness backed by many memories of The Walk pressed forward, demanding that Fluttershy take a chance even as she started to heat right back up. "I-I said, w-would you like to t-try on something... s-sk-sk-skimpy?"

The leader of the sirens had made many fiendish, many evil smiles in her time. Aria and Sonata joked even to this day that some of the grins she'd cracked could make the gates of Tartarus slam shut as its residents huddled together in terror, that when she eventually died, her coffin would have to be sealed tighter than most relics of the dark age, because otherwise her smiling skull might have started an era of panic and dread if anyone laid eyes on it.

Those two were silly, but looking at her right now, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

---

Once Fluttershy could get her legs to work again, she headed to the nearest restroom. All clear. She was sure it would have been okay anyway, because they sold underwear here too, but it'd still be really embarrassing to have to write it in her diary.

Next, she got to work in searching the store, both giddy and horrified at the thought of what she was doing. Adagio was expecting it now, so there was no going back, but in her hunt for something like a bunny suit, Fluttershy found something even better.

Is... is that...? It looks kind of like... Oh my...

Once more, she was amazed at the range of choices they had here.

---

Adagio proudly stepped out of the changing booth in what could only be called a green, chainmail bikini with a leaf-shaped-bra, gold trim, and a long loincloth that hung down to her ankles, all held up with very thin straps. She thought of some kind of warrior druid from one of those fantasy games in which she'd had so much fun frying merchants, and could finally confirm to Aria that the garb wasn't as uncomfortable as it looked. Strangely. Pleased though she was with the outfit, she was tickled to see that Fluttershy seemed to like it even more. Maybe it was a nature thing.

"Sweetie? Not that I'm not loving the choice, but would you like to tell me what this is about?" For what wasn't the first time in her memory, Fluttershy exploded, rapidly alternating between English and Squeak.

"Omigoshomigoshomigosh!! You look just like an elven shamaness in an adventure series I really liked in sixth grade! You don't have vines in your hair or a pet flying beaver-shark on your shoulder, but-" she started hopping up and down, talking even faster,
"-Icantotallypictureyouwalkingonwaterortalkingtotheflowerstofindthehiddenwindcrestsand-" The rest came out as a series of rodent-calls that still had Adagio giggling with amusement until Fluttershy had to stop for several breaths.

"...So," the accidental cosplayer guessed, "you have such a fondness for nature that you wanted to see me looking... natural?"

Fluttershy paused in her admiration long enough to remember the series of thoughts that led her to this wonderful point, but there was nothing she could do to stop the smile that threatened to split her crimson face. The only replies that came out the first few tries were babble, but Adagio seemed willing to wait, the look on her face all but saying 'Oh, I know, but please, do go on...' Despite an increasingly warm blush, she tried.

"I, uh, I guess... I was thinking it'd be easier after something like this?"

Taking up a feminine hand-on-hip pose, Adagio raised an eyebrow. "For contrast, you mean? Going to extremes in one direction to get an idea of the range you have to work with?" She glanced down to admire herself. "Not sure if that applies here, but don't think for a minute that I'm complaining!"

Before Fluttershy could attempt to clear up that her intentions had been slightly different, she noticed the grin the nearly-nude siren was giving her. It wasn't a smirk, no sign of a vicious teasing coming her way, just a pleasant little grin, the one she sometimes wondered if Adagio only ever showed her. Was it because Fluttershy was already bright red and having trouble talking normally? Was Adagio just more comfortable being half-naked? Well, technically it was more like 4/5ths naked... And when she walked, the cloth could show a little more of her legs, so it might have been closer to-

Adagio chuckled. "I'd love to wear this to school, Sweetie, but I don't think Luna would allow it. Still," she once more struck her leg-out, hips-cocked, fingers-folded, arms-above-her-head pose, but her face remained the same, "as you were the one to come up with this, was there anything more you had in mind for me here?" She closed the question not with a wolfish smile, but a wink, which, paired with her friendly little grin, made Fluttershy's heart skip a beat.

Fluttershy beamed. "Y-you did it!!"

The response was a confused stare, even as she held the pose. "Did what?"

Her mouth working, but no words coming out right away, Fluttershy sputtered. "Th-that! The, y-you, you did something... cute! All by yourself!"

"Oh." She glanced down at herself, then smiled brightly. "Wait, then I'm more adorable the less I wear? Because that's the best news I've heard all-"

"Uh, n-no, I, you, I-I just meant, uhm-" It was too late. She was already picturing it. Backed up with a very recent and very vivid memory, even with how quickly she'd looked away at the time, the image of daily life with a naked Adagio sent another pack of fireballs straight to her cheeks. Fluttershy wasn't sure she'd ever been flustered so intensely so many times in such short succession, but it was getting to be...

Too much!

Rocking back and forth on her increasingly rubbery legs, Fluttershy managed to breath one word before falling backward. "Sq-squirrel!"

Giggling a little at today's curtain call for Fluttershy Theater, Adagio was a little relieved. She couldn't imagine what she could have done to finally hit the limit, but she'd confirmed that the limit could be hit, so she wasn't in danger of really hurting a girl that wasn't willing to stop for her own sake. That sounds romantic on paper, sure, but the reality of such a thing would be dangerous in a number of ways.

Well, she thought while pacing back to the changing room with a satisfied smirk, I suppose this means I won't have to get it out of her with a spanking after all.

---

Once Fluttershy had cooled down, she sheepishly explained her actual reason, started to apologize for objectifying Adagio again, got a chilling look from the girl who would decide for herself when she felt 'exploited,' thank you very much, and shakily re-worded the apology into saying that Adagio looked lovely in the elven shamaness outfit. This escalated until Fluttershy won a slightly flustered siren and a quick peck on the cheek when they were sure no one was around to see.

Getting back to work in earnest now, they tried a few more outfits, found a few they liked, two that looked better on Fluttershy, and had a short discussion about the merits (or lack thereof) of food as clothing in the context of coconut bras while dressing up as hula girls together. To give Fluttershy a better idea of how to perform dances that emphasized hip-swinging, of course. That had been embarrassing for her, but eventually, the two found what they deemed to be the winner.

It was similar to Adagio's dance outfit, and maybe that was part of what made it feel right. They found little pink palm-gloves and a puffy-shouldered jacket exactly like the ones she normally wore, high-heeled purple boots just like hers, but without the spikes, and pink tights with purple triangles. In fact, the main difference was that instead of a jumpsuit, they'd found a pretty, purple, gold-trimmed dress with a skirt no longer than anything Fluttershy's friends wore, cinched at the waist with a little ribbon. It was a bit of an oblong thing, with half of the skirt ruffled and the other perfectly smooth, but decorated with alternating gold dots... and the orange-gem/treble clef insignia Adagio normally wore. That couldn't have been a coincidence, and Fluttershy said as much.

"Right you are, Sweetie," answered Adagio, "this is where we got our outfits the first time. I'm not sure what it was that attracted us to the place, but I know it's owned by a company that specializes in variety in all its property. 'Dis-Corp,' I think."

Fluttershy scratched her chin. "That would explain the shark hats I saw."

There was a nod before Adagio glanced over herself again, doing a little twirl to appreciate the effect it had on a skirt. "So, this is the one? You'd like me to wear this to school Monday?"

Beaming, Fluttershy nodded. "Uh-huh! It's light, friendly, but elegant and, well... you!"

Chuckling, Adagio turned back toward the changing room. "Then I think we can call this a day. Meet me at the check-out?"

---

They walked out of the mall together, Fluttershy carrying bags containing her pirate outfit, the two outfits that Adagio had described as complimenting her more generous chest, and a little bowler hat that Adagio had said looked particularly cute on her. Adagio was loaded up on both arms with the outfits she'd be wearing in the relatively near future, starting with the last one.

"Thank you for your help today, Sweetie," she said with an appreciative smile before lowering her voice to a whisper, "I'd offer you a kiss, but we might be spotted." She even refrained from going into any detail for the sake of not drawing attention via Fluttershy's reaction.

Smiling, Fluttershy nodded. "That's okay, I had a lot of fun with you today." It tickled her heart that the sentiment drew a tiny blush from the hooded girl.

"The feeling is very mutual. So much so that I got you a present!" Quickly taking a little bag on the end of her arm, she offered it to Fluttershy. "Don't open until you get home, alright?"

There was a split second in which Fluttershy thought to refuse, that she didn't like letting Adagio pay for everything already, but both the little Rarity and the little Sunset in her head were frowning at her, so instead, she smiled and accepted the gift. "Th-thank you. So, I'll see you Monday?"

Adagio grinned back. "See you Monday. Take care, Sweetie."

---

The diary was well-fed that night, Fluttershy noting that other than their first date (squeeeeeee!!) having been an overall success, she now owned a pirate-girl outfit, the eye-patch messed with her depth perception, and that she was worried about being blindsided if she actually wore it. This led to thoughts about what circumstances other than a costume party could lead her to put on a pirate outfit, to wondering if Adagio was planning to ask her to join her and the others in a boat robbery or setting out for the high seas for a life of loot and plunder if the friendship thing didn't work out, to wondering if Adagio just really liked the outfit on her, to remembering that she saw Adagio stark naked for the first time.

The diary gained its first sketch of Adagio Dazzle. It would need to be buried with her now.

Lying on her bed with the secret tome on her stomach again, Fluttershy reflected that there were a lot of embarrassing moments today, but she was still glad she went. She got to spend some time with her clandestine girlfriend, learned a little more about the sirens, shared a little about herself, and helped Adagio to find something that would bring her and her friends one step closer to being accepted by everyone. All was right with the world!

...

Then she remembered the little bag from the end of the trip, quickly sitting up.

"Oh, I forgot to open it!"

She got up, jogged over, and drew the little strings open. What she saw confused her for a few seconds, at least until she pulled it out of the bag. Her face burned up yet again as she looked over the black, shiny string-bikini Adagio had gotten her to try on, dreading the sneaky siren's plans for it far more than any she could have had for the pirate outfit. Then she noticed something sitting at the bottom of the bag; a square piece of paper, written on with familiar, pink penmanship.

Thank you again for the help today, Sweetie. Some might leave off with the clothes and a hug, but you know me~!

If you ever want me to really show my appreciation, you only have to ask.
-Adagio Dazzle ♥

Part of Fluttershy knew better than to turn the paper around and see the attached photograph. Part of her knew better than to look at one of these even when her heart was already beating so fast. She looked anyway, seeing an extreme close-up of Adagio's face from the bridge of her nose down, eyes out of the frame, but the dark eyeliner she'd worn even through the date plain to see. Not quite as dark as the thing Adagio held tightly between her teeth, some kind of black, shiny thread or-

Fluttershy could almost smell her own blood as she lit up, went light-headed, and fell backward, shouting the only word she could manage before she passed out.

"SQUIRREL!!"




















She awoke hours later in a daze, wondering how the heck Adagio even pulled that one off.

Author's Notes:

No names thought up for Fluttershy's favorite(?) fantasy series, because I don't want to risk whatever I come up with getting enough development to matter. I've already got a spin-off (maybe two) in mind for this story (once it's done) and I'd rather not have that be it.

I saw this picture and loved the look. Visual aid!

Credit for image: http://mixiepie.deviantart.com/art/Adagio-Dazzle-as-Rainbooms-559059266

Check out Mixiepie's gallery, it's full'a dem Equestria Girls!

Chapter 36: Pressure

Being invited over to peoples' houses used to be a really special thing for Fluttershy, but making her first friends slowly pushed that wondrous sensation to just being a thing that still made her a little fuzzy inside. It went back to being extremely rare during the old Sunset's reign, but post-Fall Formal months had brought it back to just being a normal thing when her friends invited her over. All except for Rainbow's house, which, while home to perfectly nice, welcoming people, was kind of...

Big!

It was strange, because Rainbow's family wasn't exactly 'rich,' and they were definitely a far cry from 'poor,' but they just lived in this big, big house! It wasn't a mansion, but it had several rooms that were really, really spacious. Maybe Rainbow used to run around a LOT as a little girl and her parents wanted her to be free, but safely indoors? Either way, Fluttershy approached the slightly intimidating structure with every intent of lightly assaulting its front door with her knuckle, but her arm was seized and she was pulled inside practically the instant she touched it.

"Gladyoucouldmakeitrightthiswayplease!"

Rainbow was never the most patient person, but she seemed to be in an awful hurry today, with Fluttershy unable to utter a word as she was all but picked up and carried to Rainbow's room. Sitting on the bed (the only alternative being bean-bag chairs) there was Rarity, who smiled a little.

"Good morning, Fluttershy."

Fluttershy managed a quick wave in response. "H-hello."

Then Rainbow set her down in a seating position on the bed next to Rarity, looking back and forth between her and Rarity with a smile that was just slightly too wide. "So, you guys comfy? Can I get'cha anything?"

Rarity shook her head. "I think we'll be fine until the others arrive, and perhaps then you can tell us all just what it was that you of all people are so eager to share as to wake up before noon on a Sunday."

Ignoring the possible jab at her sleep habits, Rainbow giggled as she closed the door. "Well, about that." A very audible click signaled that she had no intention of letting anyone else in, or out, of her room at the moment.

Fluttershy felt a slightly larger pang of anxiety than usual, but apparently not as much as Rarity, whose pupils had shrunk to pin-pricks.

"R...R-Rainbow Dash? What are you doing? Why did you lock the door?"

There was a silence as Rainbow faced away from them. Standing with her hand against the locked door (yes, she knew they could just flip the knob the other way to unlock it again, but it was the principle of the thing!), she took a deep breath before turning around, her face solemn, but troubled. "I can't do this anymore."

"D-do what," Rarity quickly asked with a wide, nervous grin, eyes darting back and forth between her two friends, "lock the door like a silly girl? Yes, I agree, you really shouldn't do that anym-"

"I'll go first."

"Rainbow, please, you said you'd-... Wait, what do you mean by...?"

Motioning to the game console by the TV in the corner of her room, Rainbow's expression hadn't changed. "I've been playing games after school with Aria Blaze for weeks now. I didn't tell anyone because I knew things were kinda shifty between us and the sirens and I didn't wanna go blowing anything sky-high." The others looked back at her in mutual shock, but she was long past those feelings herself by now. "It started a little after the time I saw Adagio picking on Fluttershy in the gym, the day we-"

"She wasn't picking on me!!"

Fluttershy immediately slapped both hands to her own mouth, the words having escaped before she even thought about speaking. And at such volume! More startling than that was the look of wide-eyed shock Rarity was giving her... and the complete lack of one from Rainbow.

"Yea," she said while scratching the back of her head, "that's kinda what I thought since yesterday."

Fluttershy's world stopped.

"since yesterday."
"since yesterday."
"since yesterday."
"since yesterday."
"since yesterday."

It was a full minute before she could think things again, but when she came to, Rarity was sitting close to her, gently holding one of her hands as she apparently scolded Rainbow.

"-ust have known just throwing it out like that would be a terrible shock for her, what were you thinking?!"

Still standing by the door, Rainbow looked sheepish. "I'm sorry, really, but like I said, I can't keep this secret stuff up! You've gotta admit, going behind each others' backs like this is pretty messed up."

"Perhaps, but I thought we agreed that it was much too soon to go blowing whistles." She stopped to glance away with a little frown. "Though I wasn't aware they were seeing each other either." That sad, possibly hurt face turned to Fluttershy. "Honestly, Darling, we would have supported you no matter who it was."

Rainbow had crossed her arms, her face thoroughly unamused. "Speaking of which..."

"Err," Rarity said with a luminous blush, "well, y-you must understand my own reason for-"

"Please," the young athlete said as she clutched at her own hair, "please just say it already!"

Fluttershy, still feeling just a little overwhelmed, could only blink in confusion as Rarity grew redder. "Uhm... w-what... what's going on?"

Rarity gulped. "I've been seeing Sonata Dusk!!"

There was a long silence. And then Rainbow.

"Been doing a lot more than seeing her, I think."

The young fashionista reached a new shade of red. "RAINBOW DASH!!"

She grinned somewhat apologetically. "I'm just saying, maybe Fluttershy and I have secret siren friends too, but at least we're not banging ours."

She winced a little as Rarity choked, sputtered, and eventually passed out. The only reason, she guessed, that Fluttershy didn't immediately start fussing over her unconscious friend was because she'd gone white as a sheet. It was possible she'd fainted while sitting up, but she was the first to recover a few minutes later, drawing a smile from Rainbow.

"So, you have any questions? Because I know I do."

Fluttershy remained very still, if only in the hope that it would make her world stop spinning. Rainbow knew (she actually knew this time) she was with Adagio, apparently having seen them at some point yesterday. "When... when d-did you see us...?"

The speed with which she answered said Rainbow had been expecting that question. "Not sure about the exact time, but it was when you were fangirling over Adagio's leafy little outfit in that goofy clothes shop and-no, no don't faint! ...Aw, dangit."

---

Fluttershy awoke to the sight of Rainbow sprawled out upside down on a bean-bag chair.

"Oh good, you're up!"

"Uhm... y-yes..." She glanced to her side to see that Rarity was still down for the count, briefly checking to make sure her pulse was normal. Then memory kicked in and she flushed crimson. "So... y-you saw us?"

Sitting normally now, Rainbow nodded. "Yea. I was waiting for somebody to -aw, heck, might as well just- I was hoping Aria would accept my invite to hang out at the mall together, but while I was walking around looking for her, I spotted Adagio's unmistakable hair through the store window. It was just a little puff between some clothes racks, but I knew it was her. I moved in a little closer to see if she and the others were having some kinda shopping trip when I saw you hopping up and down and her lookin' all Level 26 Nature Priestess, but that's all I saw before I high-tailed it out of there. I mean, my first instinct was to walk right up and ask what the heck was going on, but then I remembered Rarity and it was like..." She scratched her head. "So, how long's that been going on?"

"A month or two, I guess?" Again, the words had come without Fluttershy consciously speaking them, easier than she'd have ever dreamed.

At this, Rainbow finally did look surprised. "Really? Wow. Looks like we've all been keeping secrets for a while." Her face grew guilty. "That's what I wanted to talk to you guys about today; I don't think I can live this way anymore. I mean, everyone knew when we started hanging out with Sunset and it was no big deal, what's the worst that could happen if we just came out with it?"

"Other than the sirens specifically having asked for distance, you mean?" Rarity had arisen from her mortification-induced fainting spell, gingerly rubbing her fingertips against a temple. "Sunset has tried more than once to blend their group with ours, if you'll recall, and they made it clear that that was something they didn't want."

"Why not?! If all three of 'em are okay with being friends with one of us in private, then why can't we all just-"

"Did you ever ask Aria? Whom, by the way, you never told me you were acquainted with even after learning of my secret?"

By the look on Rainbow's face, the words cut deep. "I'm sorry, I just didn't know how to bring it up with Sonata right there, y'know?" She sighed. "But, no, I never asked her about that." A glance at Fluttershy said she was having trouble following the conversation. "Uh, let's start from the beginning, okay?"

Taking a quick look at the confused animal lover herself, Rarity sighed a little. "Yes, let's. You both recall the day Sunset recounted the sirens' attempts to find company in the lunchroom, how they came to sit alone as they do now? I was suspicious of those three because Sonata had visited me in my shop for the first time just days before. She was only interested in clothes at the time, but I couldn't help distrusting her. Nothing came of it, so Sunset's assurance that they were on their best behavior left me a little more open-minded by the time she stopped by again. The two of us got to talking while she tried on shoes at my recommendation and she began to drop in more often, and..." Rarity looked away, a light blush Fluttershy recognized very well coloring her cheeks. "Somewhere along the line, we... grew closer. I, I wouldn't say it's love, but I do care for her."

A sniffle drew their attention to Rainbow, who rapidly rubbed her eyes. "Okay, okay, so stuff got all sappy with you guys after she started coming to see you, but you hid it so well that neither of you even made a face when you saw each other the time we went over to their table at lunch."

Never had pride and shame been so prominent in a smile. "Not making eye-contact was key, Darling."

Thinking back, Fluttershy had been too nervous to think much about her friends' expressions, but Sonata had seemed completely unfazed by their presence.

Rarity urged Rainbow to go on. "And shortly after that...?"

There was a nod. "Right, a couple hours later, I talked to Aria alone for the first time. I was playing soccer with the guys again and the ball went long (Bulk still needs to work on his restraint), so I went after it, finding Aria playing on a hand-held around a corner. I asked her if she wanted to join us, she said sports weren't really her thing (something to do with gym class having put her off), and I asked if she played anything else. I expected her to tell me to get bent now that it was just the two of us, but she looked me in the eye, all calm and relaxed, and said she played online sometimes. We traded screen-names-" she winked, "-I still use the one you thought up for me way back when, Fluttershy- and I started my first co-op game with her later that night." Rainbow chuckled. "She's actually pretty badass most of the time, but she stinks with grenades almost as bad as I do!"

As hoped, the comment brought a little laugh from her friends before she went on.

"I didn't wanna go making a big scene with any of this, but I figured just playing video games together wouldn't hurt anything, and it didn't, but then?"

Fluttershy's eyes widened a little. "That day at lunch, when you said...?"

Crossing her arms, Rarity looked slightly skeptical. "You were the most suspicious out of any of us, Rainbow."

Just slightly defensive, Rainbow nodded. "Yea, because me and Aria were talking just the night before! She got all cryptic when she told me Adagio had some kind of plan going, that even she didn't know all the details, and this being Adagio Almost-Freakin'-Won-The-Battle-Of-The-Bands Dazzle, I panicked!"

Rarity idly scratched her chin while searching her memory. "Miss Dusk did mention something about that bow of hers being related to some kind of plot that night, but she assured me it was nothing sinister."

Fluttershy blinked. "Miss Dusk?"

And then Rarity turned neon-red. "I-I mean Sonata!!"

Rainbow was averting her eyes. "Don't ask, trust me." Then she looked at Fluttershy. "Anyway, you defending the sirens that day makes a lot more sense now."

Feeling just a flicker of guilt for her long-held lie, Fluttershy looked down. "I, y-yes... And, um... Ad-dagio's bow? That came from me too, I gave it to her as a gift."

"Why?"

Fluttershrug. "T-to make her look... cute?"

Rarity clasped her hands. "Awww!" She approved of the sweet gesture, really, but felt the tiniest regret that the motion sent Fluttershy retreating into her own hair.

Rainbow took Fluttershy hiding as the cue that she wasn't exactly ready to share the story yet, so she proceeded with her own. "You guys probably remember that I tried talking to Adagio the next day and that Rarity invited me to swing by her place after school?"

Now it was Rarity that was trying her best to hide, covering her face with both hands. "Rainbow, please!"

"Relax, I'm just gonna sum up. We went to her place to see if we could find something I wouldn't feel so..." It was briefly her turn to blush. "exposed in, Rarity brought me to that big ol' back room, we found Sonata lying bare-ass naked on a big pillow with a rose in her teeth-" Rarity let out an agonized groan, though she was no longer the only one covering her face with both hands as Fluttershy squeaked, "-and that was how I learned they'd been, uh, t-together for a while." It was also how she learned that Sonata was maybe a little more emotionally fragile than she looked, because having her slowly break down in tears from embarrassment (plus the whole looks-like-we've-been-caught thing) when she noticed Rainbow was something else she really hadn't expected to see that day.

Rarity sighed, her face still crimson as she let her hands fall away. "Poor dear was absolutely mortified, but I managed to calm her down before long."

"After that," Rainbow picked up, "I agreed not to say anything because, y'know, who am I to tell people they can't get all mushy in private?"

Her shame finally starting to abate, Rarity smiled gratefully. "And we're both thankful, really. However, if she should ever offer to repay you in baked goods," there was a coy little wink, "it may be best to feign illness."

Rainbow snorted. "She hasn't gotten any better since that big ol' choco-glob, huh? Oh, well. Anyway, since then, I've been trying to think of a way to bring everyone together, what with me and Aria already being pals, I figured -that's platonic pals, by the way, she and I don't get naked and wait for each other in places,-" there was an unamused glare from Rarity, "I figured that getting a buddy for Adagio would be the last step." She looked at Fluttershy, who was at least composed enough to peer through her fingers. "Then I saw you guys together at the mall, ran home, and tried to work something out, but this is all I've got." She grinned at her two friends, clapping both hands together. "And now, I have no idea what to do, your thoughts?"

"Well," offered Rarity as she looked squarely at Fluttersly, "I'd rather like to hear about what's going on between you and Adagio, because Mi-Sonata never mentioned anything of the sort."

Fluttershy had spent the last several weeks thinking she'd have an easier time cutting her own tongue out than telling anyone what she'd been up to with the leader of the Dazzlings in all that time, but right now? She felt surprisingly calm. That is, her cheeks burned and her heart thudded in her chest, but all things considered, that seemed pretty mellow for having her biggest secret dragged out into the open. "W-well..." She breathed deep. Her friends had just told her about their secret friendships, so it was only fair she share her own, right? She was sure Adagio would understand, she of all people seemed to appreciate the Golden Rule.

"It... it s-started with a lollipop..."

---

"And... Th-that was how our first... d-d-date ended."

Following a pause, Rainbow whistled. "Damn. I'm surprised you haven't like, burst blood vessels in your face by now."

Rarity had displayed a vast array of reactions to the story, but right now, she looked a little flustered, lightly fanning herself with one hand. "Good heavens, Fluttershy, I think my heart would have given out weeks ago were I in your shoes!"

Somehow, it felt like praise, drawing a sheepish little smile. Fluttershy wasn't sure she'd stopped blushing at any point in her explanation, but it felt surprisingly good to share what she'd been hiding for so long.

With an appraising look, Rainbow rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Then, all those times you got all spacey at lunch, you were thinking about her?"

Despite Fluttershy's appreciation that Rainbow had cranked up her air-conditioning about a third of the way through the story, she still felt herself grow warmer. "Uhm... y-yes...?" She jumped with a start as Rarity draped an arm across her shoulders, which may have been an act of solidarity as her fellow siren-lover turned a little rosier herself.

"You can hardly blame her, can you? Those girls are nothing if not sightly."

Adding her own blush to the mix, Rainbow crossed her arms and found sudden interest in a nearby poster. "I dunno, I'm straight!" That the others quietly giggled at her said there were no hard feelings about that.

Fluttershy was happy to have someone that could understand what she had been through these past weeks, but then Rarity betrayed her.

"So, wait," she asked with a raised eyebrow, "you've been seeing Adagio Dazzle in private for all this time, and you two have really never...?"

"EEP!!"

To her own surprise, Fluttershy didn't completely lock up this time, she just burned about as hot as she would if Adagio had been teasing her. The shock of having been discovered mostly passed, maybe she was finally building up resistance to embarrassment? It was a pretty thought, though one cut off by the sound of Rainbow scolding Rarity.

"-nd you seriously just asked Fluttershy of all people about that?!"

Contrite though she was, Rarity seemed just a little defensive. "It was a valid question, she only became incomprehensible about four times when telling us about the kisses."

Their attention was seized when Fluttershy found her voice. Mostly. "Ad-dagio and I-I haven't d-done, uhm... a-anyth-thing like... that!"

The room was silent apart from Fluttershy's heavy breathing. And then Rarity again.

"...But not for lack of interest?"

Rainbow facepalmed as Fluttershy lit up to worrying temperatures. "Seriously?!"

Rarity again looked defensive. "What? I know it's a sensitive subject, but physical urges are perfectly healthy and like it or not, that kind of compatibility is important for a romantic relationship!"

"What the Hell does that mean?!"

"That it's not passionate romance without passion!"

"Yea? Then how have she and Adagio gotten as far as they did without doing it?"

"MEEP!!"

There was a lady-like scoff. "Well, they may not have formally combined yet, but-"

"That's formal? I mean, I know you write some fancy poems, but-"

"Oh, don't be so crass! As I was saying, those two might be relatively chaste for now, but if you were paying attention, there is clearly attraction!"

"Yea, well..." Rainbow didn't quite look sold. "What do you think, Flutter-"

Turning to look at her, they saw their mousiest friend dozily teetering back and forth where she sat, glowing red, steam rising out of her ears, and a big, dreamy smile on her face.

"Ha," Rarity said with a triumphant smirk while outstretching a hand, "pay up!"

Grumbling, Rainbow reached into her pocket, withdrew a few bills, then blinked, scowling. "Hey, wait a minute!"

Rarity laughed uproariously, barely composing herself enough to wipe away a tear. "I'm s-sorry, I do believe Sonata is r-rubbing off on me-hee-hee-hee!"

Even as she rolled her eyes, Rainbow couldn't help a little grin at the near-perfect reversal.

Author's Notes:

Alternate titles:
Burning Passion
That Pesky Blood-Pressure
Three Girls Getting Uncomfortably Hot in a Room Together

But those sounded misleading. :applejackunsure:

Cliffhanger-ish chapter. Long Author's Notes. To start, I'm not moving to a three or four week schedule now, I just took a break from this story for a while and got started on this chapter on Thursday. I think it paid off!

Alrighty, so I wasn't nearly as clever as I thought if people guessed that Sonata was with Rarity and 'DoomPrism' was too obviously Rainbow playing with Aria. Just a few more chapters and I might have pulled off a genuinely startling reveal there. Congratulations, attentive readers, this is now every bit as suspenseful for me as it is for you. :twilightsheepish:

That said, I feel like having hints that fit together coherently enough for people to guess the story means I've done something right, at least better than just dumping stuff out of nowhere, no prior evidence of the sudden thing making it smell like a retcon.
*Still a little annoyed about what they did with Shining Armor, more-so about their tendency to keep doing it!*
It is just a little frustrating when I can't respond to certain comments one way or the other without risk of giving spoilers, so for all those (usually quite accurate) guess/theory/speculation comments I flat-out ignored all this time, I'm sorry. :fluttercry:

Anyway, I hadn't really intended Sonata's penchant for occasionally burning things and Rarity pretty much having a Frollo moment to be linked, but darned if it doesn't kinda fit. Actually, I thought the biggest hint would have been Sonata's offhand thoughts about how they could use new outfits (which someone did pick up on later!), if not the instant-strip technique that Fluttershy even commented she thought only Rarity knew how to do. Or, maybe the way she figured out how to put on the lingerie she occasionally makes Aria uncomfortable with?

Speaking of Aria, I'm guessing 'prism' was what gave it away? Many months ago, I just went with something that I thought only faintly suggested rainbows with the initial intent of revealing that Fluttershy (in her fantasy-fanatic phase) had been the one to help Rainbow come up with a sufficiently cool-sounding name early in their friendship, pre-Sunset Shimmer, which Rainbow kept ever since. At the time, I thought it sounded subtle. :derpyderp2:

Speaking of details, if it feels like this 'reveal' chapter is leaving a lot out, well...
Three guesses what one of the possible spin-offs will be. :trollestia:

Finally, It occurred to me that I haven't had Adagio say 'Oh, sea spray!' in forever. It's not that she quit using the phrase, there just hasn't been anything she felt 'Oh, sea spray!' about lately.

Chapter 37: Soft, Gooey Centers

Once everyone had pulled themselves together, Rarity, Rainbow, and Fluttershy agreed that the next thing to do was to inform the sirens of what they'd shared together. Fluttershy, having been there before, led the way, though Rainbow had been startled to learn that her house was only a few blocks away from theirs. Both Rarity and Rainbow had been startled when Fluttershy reviewed her thoughts on Adagio possibly knowing where all of them lived on the way.

Fluttershy stopped everyone at the door (which remained as dark and foreboding as she remembered, most of all right now) and turned to quietly share something she may have skimmed over during her story. "Now, um, th-the sirens' house is, well... they aren't really from around here, so things might feel a tad strange, but please keep an open mind when we go in."

Raising a hand to her mouth in ladylike fashion, Rarity tittered. "Ohh, I'm sure it's just fine."

When they rang the doorbell, the sound of loud, rapid footsteps coming their way made Fluttershy nervous, but part of her wondered if the Dazzlings just didn't get that many visitors. The black door flung open, revealing a beaming Sonata dressed in a tube top and sweatpants.

"Hi, the-" Her smile was immediately wiped away with a look of wide-eyed shock, her voice fading to a strangled wheeze as she started to sweat profusely.

Smiling a little, Rarity tried to calm her down. "Hello, Darling."

Sonata's eyes shifted to her, then to her friends, then back to her, then she fell backward in perfectly stiff fashion, not moving or saying another word. Aria's voice was heard just seconds before she came around the corner, garbed in a loose, black shirt and tight jeans.

"Who is it, Nat-" For just a second after catching sight of the trio, she locked up like Sonata had, but seemed to do a lot better after the shifty-eye phase. She looked squarely at Rainbow. "...Jig is up?"

Just slightly remorseful, Rainbow nodded. "Jig is up, RuleBook."

Screen-name: RuleBook's eyes narrowed. "You caved."

Rainbow raised her arms in exasperated fashion. "I had to!!"

As was typical of the surliest siren, she crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. "Whatever. What now?"

"Can you get everyone together? I think we need to talk."

Nodding, Aria nudged Sonata with her foot, which apparently freed her from her paralysis as she sat up and shouted toward the stairs.

"DAGI, DR. SEUSS IS HERE!!"

While they waited for a response, Fluttershy noticed the perplexed stares she was getting. "Sonata calls me Dr. Seuss," she quietly, passively answered. The stares yet remained. She could only shrug. "Sonata calls me Dr. Seuss." She got two simultaneous 'Ohh's before Adagio shuffled into view from the upstairs balcony, overlooking the foyer. The sight of her drew a little blush from all three Rainbooms.

She was clad only in dark-violet, lacy underwear faintly covered by a long, black robe, open at the front with the shiny, silken sash hanging at her sides. The fabric was so thin that she might as well have been draped in a shadow as she stopped at the top of the stairs and looked down at the gathering. They could see even from there that she was wearing the usual layer of dark eyeliner as well.

Rainbow whispered to the others. "As if she needed more of that Evil Queen thing going."

Rarity shushed her, turning to find that Fluttershy was the latest paralysis victim as she beheld her secret lover in a state of undress, though with the added symptoms of a flushed face and light perspiration.

Definitely interested, she thought.

"What is this?" Adagio asked in level tones while pressing a hand to her own forehead, "I'm not sick or anything, so...?"

Just as with Sonata and herself the day their groups spoke in the cafeteria, Rarity spotted no flaw in the (according to Sonata) oldest siren's performance, not one lingering glance at Fluttershy, nothing shown in her expression save for mild curiosity in the form of a single raised eyebrow.

Suppose this is what the others will feel like when they learn what we've been keeping from them. Truly, the effect is chilling!

Aria nodded her head toward a doorway. "Let's talk in the dining room. Put on some pants, okay?" She headed off to wipe the dust off that chair pyramid, Sonata and their guests following. It was difficult to hear from the bottom of the staircase what Adagio had muttered about someone being lucky she wore anything at all as she paced out of sight.

Walking through the house, Fluttershy's warning apparently started to make a lot more sense to Rainbow and Rarity as they took in the sights. It was all as she remembered, give or take one room now having duct tape placed erratically along one wall like some kind of grey, sticky thunderbolt. The hooks and nets hung just where they'd been, she could see that the leaf-blower had been successfully deactivated (or run out of power) and put away, carpets and rugs were still strewn about, the ceiling-hammocks hadn't changed a bit, and the funny-painted walls gave her a weird kind of nostalgic feeling. Her friends, however, still seemed to be adjusting, with Rarity in particular looking ill.

"Man," Rainbow whispered, "dafuq with this house?" Aria must have partly heard her anyway.

"Yea, we got it back when we had our magic, okay? Hotels were too damn small and we couldn't make them feel any homier, so I hope you aren't here to tell us we have to pack up and go or anything."

Rainbow looked almost hurt by the thought. "No, no, nothing like that! There's just something the six of us need to talk about."

"Well, alright then," came Adagio's voice from directly behind them, earning three startled jumps. In addition to the bow in her hair, she was garbed in what Fluttershy recognized as one of her own selections from the mall; the skirt, vest, and blue jumpsuit combo, complete with the heels, she bore her usual smile. "Please, have a seat."

---

When explanations were through, five out of six girls were silent, the only sound in the room being the constant, near-manic, and slightly unsettling giggles of Fluttershy's no-longer-secret girlfriend.

Aria, leaning a little away from her, raised an eyebrow. "Funniest damn thing you've ever heard, huh?"

"N-no-ho-ho-heeheehehehehehe!" She took a quick breath, but the giggling didn't quite stop. "I th-think I'm just-heeheehahaha-I think I'm just in shaw-haw-hawk-hahahahahaha!"

Sonata, for her part, at least managed to sit in silence. Stone-stiff, bullet-sweating silence.

"Okay, uh," Rainbow bravely offered, "I'm glad you're not, y'know, having a psychotic episode over this or anything, but do you think you could, uh, c-cool it a bit?"

There was a little more laughter before she sucked in a breath, keeping a smile as she glanced back and forth at her two fellow friend-makers-in-secret. "I actually felt guilty for keeping it to myself for so long. What about you two?"

Aria, arms crossed as usual, shrugged a little. "Hey, I was just playing games, nothin' else." To her slight relief, Rainbow nodded in agreement. Now was NOT the time for a hurt, 'is-that-all-I-am-to-you?' lover routine, even as a joke.

Sonata looked much more contrite, her head almost low enough to touch the table. "It, just kinda started with clothes and...?" She gently face-planted. "M'm a bhd grrl."

Chuckling, Adagio shook her head. "Sorry, I didn't mean that to sound so accusing, most of all because I was apparently the first, just..." She flashed the girls across the table an apologetic grin. "Forgive us, this was something we talked about with Sunset Shimmer."

Rarity smiled a little. "Oh?"

"Yea," Aria confirmed with a regretful nod, "no going behind each others backs, no big secrets, no big lies, all the crap we've been doing anyway." She turned her head just enough to see her two oldest friends in the corner of her eye. "Sorry."

Rainbow said it before Fluttershy could. "Hey, if you're thinking it was a super-crummy thing to do, don't. Not just because we did it too and we're supposed to be all about the Friendship™ stuff, but because, I mean, we all kept quiet because we didn't want a huge mess, right? Because we all thought we were the only ones doing it until recently? But now," her smile was just slightly forced, "at least we can talk to each other, right?"

Warm grins were passed around the table, but Adagio wasn't entirely placated. "Perhaps, but where exactly are you intending to go with this? Does what we've shared today not leave this room, or can we expect everyone at Canterlot High to officially regard us as your latest triumph?" The confusion across the table said that not even Her Sweetie understood that last part. "We weren't the only ones to share in our soul-baring session with Sunset Shimmer, and she told us all about what she went through after you took her in."

"Ohh," Rarity said cautiously, "she did mention something like this..." She glanced at Rainbow and Fluttershy, who evidently didn't follow. "I've pursued the matter with Sunset, of what might come if we could do with them what we did with her? She explained it-" she quickly turned to look at the sirens, "-a-and do let me know if I mis-speak, but, the fear was that, seeing the three of you getting along with the six of us, the other students would immediately see you all as 'Sunset 2.0,' so to speak, that you'd be treated with only the pretense of acceptance by virtue of being near us at best, outright scorn and hostility like Sunset faced at worst?"

There was a short silence, broken by a whistle from Aria. "Sounds pretty much like what we talked about back then, yea."

"Well," offered Sonata, "things have kinda changed since then. We've been coming to school for months and nobody even calls us mean names when they know we're around to hear it, and even those people are pretty rare. So like, I don't think we even have to worry about being the school's bitches."

Rarity scowled. "Miss Dusk!"

The entire rest of the table, sans Rainbow, asked at once. "'Miss Dusk'?"

Rarity and Sonata shared a glance before mutually reddening, similarly giving their answer in unison. "N-nothing..." Both caught Adagio's cat-like smile, promising doom later for the poor soul who lived with her. For now, however, the Mistress of Merciless Teasing cleared her throat.

"Anyway, as she said, I think we've made enough of an impression that people giving us trouble as they did for her is a negligible risk, so the real concern is something far more... insidious."

There was a heavy silence, which is when Fluttershy chose to ask. "Uhm... Th-the, 'pretense of acceptance'? Wh-what does that mean, exactly?"

Aria shook her head. "Oh, come on, Squeaky, you're smarter than that. If people saw us with you guys, they'd be all 'ooh, look, the Dazzlings must be okay now, not because we give a damn about them or because they're just trying to live their harmless lives now, but because they're pals with our favorite band!'" She frowned a little harder than usual. "They'd just see us as accessories to you. Get it?"

Rainbow frowned. "I, yea, I think we get it. It'd be like how Sunset only dated Flash to get people to like her, way back when?" She was answered with three simultaneous nods. "But, wait, why is that such a bad thing? If they like you, they like you, so what if it's not for the best reason?" To her slight surprise, it was Fluttershy that responded first.

"How would you feel if you learned people were only even willing to talk to you not because they liked you for you, but for someone you knew?"

The first reply that came to mind was 'I wouldn't know because I'm so awesome,' but the words felt sour before she even said them. She turned to Rarity to see a frown that made her think there'd been experience there.

"It's an ugly feeling, Rainbow, rest assured."

"Yea," agreed Aria, "I mean, as it is? Everyone gives us a wide berth. If that changed overnight because'a you guys, because everyone decided they didn't care about what we did or, I guess, the stuff we still do solely because we were standing next to you, would you call that the 'magic of friendship'?"

They wouldn't, but Rainbow wasn't ready to give up yet. "So, what, you guys are just gonna stay like you are forever, never making any friends on your own?"

Sonata indicated the immediate gathering. "Hello, we made friends with you guys, remember? If we just keep at it, there's bound to be more!"

Leaning back with her arms crossed, Aria nodded. "They'll have to get used to us eventually, right? Besides, I think all of us would rather have few friends than fake friends."

"Indeed," Adagio picked up, folding her hands under her chin as she rested her elbows on the table, "which brings us to the inverse of the matter: Let's say that we made no secret of our involvement with the three of you up to this point and everyone didn't just go along with it. How do you think your peers might react if they learned what we," she used two fingers to indicate herself and Sonata, then Fluttershy and Rarity, "the four of us in particular, have been up to without their knowledge?" She was the only one at the table not to blush even a little. "Would your status as the school saviors be enough to ward off the hushed whispers and scrying stares, or would there be a sudden shift in trust now that everyone knew what you'd been doing behind their backs, whether it was any of their business or not?"

Rarity's eyes widened. "You're saying that we would be treated much like the three of you are?"

"Or worse, for you especially." She idly eyed the ceiling, thinking aloud. "Give or take demeanor, you're the most like what Sunset Shimmer once was, are you not? A social butterfly with nothing if not connections? 'Campus Queen' or something to that effect? It's not a guarantee, of course, but knowing how people are, that could change very quickly. That in mind," she actually gave Rarity a friendly little smile, "it might pay to be careful, no?"

Rather than showing fear or consternation at the idea, Rarity grinned right back. "I'm touched by your concern, Miss Dazzle."

Adagio would have gladly taken the chance to twist 'Miss Dazzle' into a question about 'Miss Dusk' and just what Rarity had in mind for her, but Fluttershy's presence reminded her of an earlier agreement. Shrugging, she wore a little smirk anyway. "Just be glad I have nothing to gain in ruining you." That drew a strangely satisfying look of surprise, but before Adagio could decide whether or not enjoying that kind of reaction meant she was still evil, she herself was surprised by Sonata leaning over to hug her arm.

"Aww, she might act that way, but she and Ria are total softies deep down!"

Fluttershy was happy to hear that for a number of reasons, one of which was for the sight of Adagio (and even Aria!) tinting pink as the rest of the table giggled. That neither said a word to deny it made her happier still.

"Alright," asked Rainbow, "so, what are we doing here? Do we just keep quiet about this until you guys can make some completely not-us friends on your own?" The sirens sharing a quick look before collectively nodding wasn't quite what she was hoping to see. "Can we at least tell Applejack, Sunset, and Pinkie?"

Aria raised an almost accusing eyebrow. "The more people you tell a secret, the harder it is to keep it that way."

This won a slightly guilty expression from Rainbow, but some of the tension left her shoulders when Rarity placed a comforting hand on her back. "Keeping secrets isn't Rainbow's strong suit to begin with, and the poor dear was more than a little distraught when she broke the news to Fluttershy and I."

"Don't call me a 'dear'!"

"Hush. I can't be certain how well they'd take it, but I am certain we can trust the others not to go spreading details we'd rather they didn't."

A silence settled over the table as Aria and Sonata looked to Adagio, who held Rarity's gaze for a long moment. She nodded. "That should suffice for now."

Internally, Fluttershy breathed a sigh of relief. This wasn't exactly a perfect resolution, but it wasn't an explosive disaster, either. Shortly after, the three Sirenbooming Rainbooms departed to inform the other three of what had occurred today, leaving the Dazzlings still sitting at their dining room table.

"Okay," began Aria the second she heard the front door close, "we're trusting all six of them, why?"

As usual, Adagio had an answer ready. "Because in addition to the fact that Rainbow Dash -bless her heroic little heart- was on the verge of making a costly mistake if she kept it to herself much longer, they must know that letting the cat out of the bag could prove harmful to their own friends as well as the three of us. Someone may still slip, granted, but this seems to be the safest option."

Nodding affirmatively, Aria kept her arms crossed. "The first time I played with her, I knew she was gonna be the one to talk first."

Sonata giggled. "I totally thought I was gonna blow it first!"

"You might have," replied Adagio, "had I pressed you for details that night a few weeks ago or inquired where exactly you've been sneaking off to." Her grin turned wide and murderous. "On that note..."

Tinting a lighter shade of blue, Sonata quickly got out of her seat. "W-well, I gotta-" Adagio had already latched onto her, holding her in a tight, but snuggly hug. It took a second for Sonata to register that that was what was happening, along with Adagio practically squeeing as she gently shook her back and forth.

"I'msoproudofyouuu!! I never even suspected you were meeting someone to go at it like- well, okay, I suspected, but my mind's always in the gutter anyway, so I'm still really proud!!"

"Oh-kay," Sonata wheezed as she was squeezed, turning back to her normal color, then a slightly darker shade of blue. Mercifully, Adagio set her down, but took hold of her shoulders to deliver her rapid-fire questions.

"Have you kissed? Have you frenched? Has she touched you? Has she made you squirm and shudder? Has she stuck it in your-"

Dark blue became bright pink. "DAGIII!!"

Adagio's eyes widened in surprise, but her smile didn't weaken. "Me?! Oh my, don't tell me you already need to spice things up with threesomes!" She gasped, though it was difficult to say whether or not she was just hamming it up at this point. "Or, are you both so vivacious that you're not completely satisfied with just each other?! Nata, I never thought you would turn out to be so-"

Sonata let out an agonized groan, giving Aria a face that pleaded 'Help me!'

No such thing was offered as Aria smirked, mouthing "You just have to accept her love." It was one of the most satisfying glares she'd ever gotten out of Sonata.

It wasn't what she'd been doing with Rarity that made Sonata so nervous, really, just what she knew would happen if Adagio caught wind of it. Pretty much what was happening right now. Realizing that Aria had a secret lady-friend too, Sonata grinned mischievously. "Oh, Dagi, aren't you going to ask Ria all about her Rainboom buddy?"

Adagio turned to look at Aria, but only got a calm stare back. "We play games together after school, but there's nothing more to it than that. Anything you wanna know?" To her slight surprise, Adagio did have one question.

"Yes; how is she with grenades?"

"Even worse than I am."

Two questions. "Truly?"

"Yep."

"Outstanding."

"Yep."

There was a quiet moment, then Adagio turned her focus back to a gobsmacked Sonata. "So, 'Miss Dusk,' hmm...?"

"W-wait," she sputtered, "what about your secret girlfriend?!"

The delightful glow Sonata was giving off did indeed remind her of Fluttershy, which reminded her that what she was doing now probably went a little beyond harmless questioning. This went double considering that some were asked more to see Sonata react to them than to actually hear an answer. Still grinning with delight, she let Sonata go and took a step back. "Alright, your turn. Shoot."

Before Sonata could ask, Aria shook her head. "If Nata and Hairspray have secretly been going at it like rabbits in lingerie-" a spastic noise from Sonata was ignored, "-then I don't think we really wanna know what you'd get up to. No shock that Squeaky is freaky, though. Always the quiet ones, huh?"

Feeling an odd little twinge of irritation, Adagio gave her an honest reply. "Actually, we've been rather chaste, I haven't slept with her even once." Two jaws dropped so hard that part of her was worried there'd be broken teeth. Those shocked, wide-eyed stares would have been priceless if not for the strangely piercing effect they were having on her, leading to a quiet attempt to clarify. "I, I know that's odd for me, and, I'm not completely sure what we have together, but I really do value her company."

Aria quickly grabbed Sonata to pull her into a huddle. "There's no way this isn't a trap!"

"I dunno," Sonata offered with a little frown, "she sounds pretty sincere to me."

"Sigh. That's what I was afraid of."

Giggling, Sonata grinned. "But isn't it kinda sweet?"

"...From her? Yes, disgustingly so."

"For the record, I can hear everything you two are saying."

The huddlers snapped to attention, finding a mildly bemused Adagio standing right where she was a minute ago. Aria opened with a hint of a smirk.

"So, what, you're going all touchy-feely now?"

Clasping her hands behind her back in slightly self-conscious fashion, Adagio shrugged. "I guess?" She felt herself growing steadily warmer under the surprised, searching stares, but she did not take it back. Aria looked a little lost, but Sonata lit up with glee.

"Wait, you get those tingly, fluffy feelings too?! The ones that make your heart beat faster even when you're just sitting there?!" It was by no means the rarest thing in the world, but they didn't see Adagio wearing a sheepish smile very often.

"Sometimes." The silent staring was actually starting to make her nervous, so she was thankful for Aria saying something as she scratched her head.

"The 'cuteness' plan you came up with, where you got that bow in the first place, were they...?"

Still a little flushed, Adagio nodded. "It wasn't exactly a collaboration between the two of us, but she was involved, yes." She held the edges of her miniskirt out with the fingertips of each hand. "This outfit, and a few others, were picked with her approval during our date yesterday."

Sonata touched both hands to her cheeks, possibly in an effort to contain her ear-to-ear grin. "You pick out clothes for each other?!"

Adagio giggled. "Kind of?" Mention of the mall date reminded her of something else, something that, for reasons probably relating to the fuzzy heart-vice as it squeezed her from within, she just wanted to tell someone! "A-and, uhm," the thought still drew a demure blush, "she said, s-said, uh..." Almost involuntarily, she covered her face with both hands. "She said she was glad Coltlantis burned if it meant we could be together!"

Sonata gasped, then Oooooh'd and burst into squealy gigglefits while Aria blushed, trying to cover a smile with one hand.

"Oh, damn! Getting serious, huh?"

Adagio could only reply with girlish giggles of her own. She couldn't remember a time she'd been more embarrassed, but didn't feel a hint of shame in it. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation. Was that why Fluttershy could return to her, day after day? Her thoughts on the matter were arrested by Sonata's angry pout.

"Heeey, wait a minute! Rarity never said she'd destroy a city for me, and we've already done it in every room of her house!"

Aria had no words.

Chuckling, Adagio resisted the (quite powerful) urge to inquire further, instead offering what little experience she could for this issue. "I think you have to wait until at least the first date before she'll declare that kind of love, Nata, might be considered too soon otherwise."

"We've spent time together at her place a lot, does that count?"

"If meeting for a little while on a bench on weekday mornings counts."

"Phooey!"

Author's Notes:

Reactions to the last chapter really surprised me! I figured that since people had pointed the relationships out, I wouldn't be fooling anyone that had seen those comments, which might have been fallacious thinking on my part, but as these (quite correct!) guesses had started months ago, I just thought the cat was pretty much out of the bag.

Not everyone thinks the same way, however, and maybe some others had their own theories, thought the clues were just random details like all those others I've been throwing around since the story began, and maybe some didn't remember stuff from chapters posted several months ago. That last one would be my own reason in most cases. :twilightsheepish:

Still, to those of you that caught on, with either pairing, bravo. :scootangel:

'RuleBook' because she's the only one that bothers to read the manual as opposed to riddling the game out on her own. That she's less adventurous than the others in more than one sense of the word was actually kind of an accident.

Chapter 38: Joy-Induced Saltwater

Setting up a picnic usually took a little longer than twenty minutes, but one phone call was all it took for Pinkie and Applejack to combine forces and put together a basket to bring to a table on the outskirts of Sweet Apple Acres. They didn't meet up out here very often, but Sunset, Pinkie, and Applejack all trusted the other half of their group when they said Sugarcube Corner was a little too public for what they wanted to share.

The basket wasn't touched until well after explanations were over, which meant there were no spit-takes, to Pinkie's slight disappointment. More distressing to her still was learning of the three secret friendships, as evidenced by her quivering lip and watering eyes, but none would have guessed that it was actually guilt that drove this reaction. When asked why, she collapsed sobbing on the table.

"I did it too! I've been friends with Sunset Shimmer for muh-huh-unths!!"

Sunset blinked twice.

"...Pinkie," deadpanned Rainbow, "we've all been friends with Sunset Shimmer for months."

Any sign of emotional turmoil vanished from the pink partier as quickly as it had come. "Gasp! Everyone was in on it?!"

Eyerolling, facepalming, and a dope slap followed before Applejack moved things along.

"So, lemme get this straight;" she indicated Rarity with one finger, "Sonata swings by yer place one day an' you never tell anyone 'cuz ya didn't wanna make a fuss, an' that grows into, uhh..." Turning rosy, she quickly moved to Fluttershy. "A-and, Adagio talks to you while yer' waitin' on that bench like usual, makes a habit of it, and you start to fall for her after a whi-"

"It kinda sounds like they didn't know that they fell oh-woah-oh for each other," interrupted Pinkie.

"Right. So we got you two hookin' up with two'a the sirens and-" she pointed to Rainbow next, "-you playin' online sometimes with the last one?"

She'd have been casually leaning back in her seat if picnic tables had something to lean back on. "Yep."

There was a skeptical eyebrow from Applejack. "And that's all yer doin'?"

The question drew a blush. "I'm straight, and I'm pretty sure she is too!"

Sunset's head tilted. "You asked?"

"W-well, no, but..." She started to smile self-consciously, letting out a nervous giggle. "Y'know the final boss-fight in Populace Immoral 5 I was telling you guys about? Where big, brawny Sirhc Greenvalley was punching the boulder in a volcano? I was playing as Sirhc at the time, and from her comments, I've got three guesses for why Aria's aim was way off during that part."

There were some slightly scandalous giggles from around the table before Rarity cleared her throat. "That does sum up the situation, yes, and we're all sorry to have kept the three of you in the dark for so long."

Grinning, Sunset dismissively waved a hand. "Oh, it's oka-"

"It kinda ain't," interrupted Applejack. Glancing around, she found that the table was dead silent, drawing a sigh. "Well, Ah mean, Ah don't wanna go makin' a big mess over this, but don't it make anyone else just a little uncomfortable?"

Her expression guilty, Rainbow's hand shot up. "Yes! Super uncomfortable, that's why I blabbed!"

There were some giggles before Applejack returned her attention to the three secret siren befrienders. "Now, Ah definitely don't think that what'cha done with those girls is a bad thing, just..." She shrugged, some measure of hurt clear in her face. "Why didn't any of ya tell the rest of us sooner? If ya wanted us to keep quiet, we could have, it-"

"It's," Rainbow interrupted, "really not as easy as it sounds, AJ, trust me." She gingerly clasped her hands on the table. "Like, even now, I'm just wondering who out of the nine of us is gonna slip and expose everything first, but I don't think any of us wanted to hide anything." She turned to Fluttershy and Rarity. "Am I right?"

Both nodded, though Fluttershy wore a particularly apologetic frown. "I-I'm sorry I never, I mean, y-you girls almost guessed it a few times, but I always covered it up, b-because-" She was startled by a hand on her shoulder, whipping her head in that direction to see Applejack giving her a gentle little smile.

"We get why y'all did it, Sugarcube, and..." She had to hide her eyes with her hat. "Shoot, if Ah were in yer shoes, Ah might'a done the exact same thing."

She was clasped in an especially soft and grateful Flutterhug, which she returned with a light pat on the back.

"Pinkie Pie," asked Rarity, "are you quite alright?"

"Sure," she answered with a perky expression, "why do you ask, Rari-bear?"

Rarity gave her a sad stare. "I saw that frown, Miss Pie. I know I'm in no position to throw stones for keeping secrets, but if there's something you'd like to put forward, now is the time."

Pink, poofy hair lightly deflating, Pinkie made her I-Just-Dropped-A-Cupcake face. It was a very sad face for Pinkie. "Well, I guess it's like, we could have been friends with the Dazzlings the whole time?"

Sunset frowned too. "It's really not that simple, Pinkie."

Pinkie flailed her arms in random directions for a few seconds, though as always, she was careful to keep it out of friend-smacking range. "IknowIknowIknow, but still! It's been way, super hard to give them space like you said (which is a weird thing to give someone, because then they wouldn't be able to breathe), so instead I just stayed away from them and that's been really hard too! But I did it, I'm in the same class as Aria in sixth period and Adagio in eighth, but I left them alone no matter how sad, bored, or generally un-smiley they looked, but now I know that we could have been throwing secret siren parties for weeks?!"

Internally bracing herself, Sunset kept an even tone. This was going to be painful, but the point had to be made. "And what would we be doing with them at those parties?"

Her brain in party-mode, Pinkie beamed. "Tons of stuff! We could play games, eat cake, sing son-"

"Sing?"

The table was silent for a long moment. Sunset sighed.

"I haven't talked to them about it since before they started coming to school, but they're probably still sore about their voices." She focused her attention on Rarity, Rainbow, and Fluttershy. "Have they said anything to you guys about that?"

Rainbow's wince said it had come up in conversation, and her guiltily rubbing the back of her head said there may have been hurt feelings at the time. "I, it, it might still be kind of a soft spot, yea."

"Indeed," added Rarity with a frown, "there's no song in the world, or Twilight's, that could be sung to win them over right now."

Adagio's voice echoed in Fluttershy's head.

"I, I suppose that we should count ourselves lucky we can still speak at all, but I can't help thinking of telling someone they should be glad only one of their arms was torn off."

That was what Adagio had said on the matter the day Fluttershy nursed her, and nothing had really changed since then. Looking at Sunset, she frowned too. "Has T-Twilight said anything, since the last time?"

Sunset shook her head. "Nothing substantial. Actually, judging by the long pauses between her messages and the occasional odd word-choice? I don't think she wants to say it, but she might not even know where to begin, with or without the gems."

"What about you," asked Pinkie, "you were a magical brainiac too, right?"

Even if she blushed a little at the title, Sunset cracked a smile. "Well, maybe, but I only looked into chaos magic for a few days as part of a project, so I doubt I'd be much help."

"They were Coltlantian artifacts," blurted Fluttershy, "some actually thought they were holy relics, but Adagio said they were more like magically-advanced, uh... things. Would that help?" The rest of the table gaped at her, which made her shrink down a little. "I-I asked about their home once, so..."

"...Well," Sunset eventually offered, "I guess that's something, but Coltlantis was destroyed over a millennium ago, and almost nothing is known about their methods. Still, I'll pass that tid-bit along to Twilight soon."

Though if I tell her that she was directly involved in destroying irreplaceable Coltlantian artifacts, she'll probably blow a gasket.

"Anyway," she said with a hopeful smile, "at least when the sirens have more friends of their own, letting go and moving on might be easier for them."

There was another of those long, quiet moments as the others traded looks. Rainbow resisted the urge to make fun of Equestria's weirdness with punny names again, so the silence was broken by Applejack this time.

"Ah'm just gonna say it; why're you so calm 'bout all this? You were tryin' harder than anybody to get closer to the sirens and they acted like you were a hole in their boot. Don't it bother you even a little?"

Sunset let out a little laugh. "Of course not, why would it?" Five stares held her, which had proven to be a worryingly effective tactic for making her spill her guts. She'd have lamented the loss her status as an incredibly convincing liar, but what she'd gained in exchange was too precious to even think about trading back, even if it drew a little frown from her now.

"Well, okay, I'm not thrilled that none of them ever came to me," the smile made a hesitant return, "but believe me when I say I'm much happier that this is happening at all. I'd love to have them join us at Sugarcube Corner sometime, but from what they told you three," she indicated the trio that had passed along the sirens' thoughts, "it sounds like we'll have to wait a bit longer."

"From what I gather," offered Rarity, a thoughtful finger on her lower lip, "Adagio has some kind of operation in the works, though I'm unclear on the specific details."

All eyes turned to Fluttershy, which only made her a little nervous this time. Just the same, her expression was warm and cheerful. "Our d-date yesterday, it was to pick up some cute outfits that she'll be wearing to school."

Rainbow's fist shot upwards as she rose to her feet. "Freakin' called it!!" It only took a few seconds of unamused stares for her to sit back down, smiling sheepishly. "Heh, heh... sorry."

Rarity might have liked to comment as well, but she knew that at the time, Adagio and Fluttershy had no idea of what she'd been doing with Sonata. That was the only reason she didn't take offense to not having been contacted for giving one of the sirens a makeover.

"If it works out," continued Fluttershy, "I think Aria and Sonata might be doing the same thing soon."

Pinkie clapped her hands together, beaming a bright, sparkly-eyed grin. "And that might finally get them some friends! All it takes to get started is talking to someone for a few minutes, and this might finally be the icebreaker!"

"Yea!"
"Eeyup!"
"Hear-hear!"
"Uh-huh!"
"Yay!"

The six of them spent a little longer ironing out details, first and foremost that no one was to go spying on the sirens when they were with their respective Rainboom buddies. It was easily agreed on, but Rarity wanted to make especially sure, for reasons Rainbow insisted not be asked. That led to Pinkie expressing her sustained surprise that Fluttershy was the one to tame Adagio, Fluttershy replying that she wouldn't put it that way, just that Adagio was holding back to make her happy, for which she was very grateful. Applejack then asked her about Art class and shared her new hunch about that sketch from a while back, both of which led to Fluttershy locking up and sinking under the table until she could be lured out with a juice-box.

A little later in the afternoon, the group dispersed, everyone having agreed to honor the sirens' wishes by continuing as normal until the time was right, then see how things unfolded from there. That there wasn't a single hint of opposition to embracing the three as friends was like a flock of pronking lambs in Fluttershy's heart; just warm and happy and covered in soft fluff. That, of course, led her to her still-kinda-secret girlfriend, who would probably like to know how things went with the others today...

---

DING-DONG!

Sonata answered the door again, smiling just like she did earlier today. "Hi the-... Dr. Seuss? What're you doing here again?"

Giggling a little at the silliest of the nicknames the sirens had given her, Fluttershy smiled. "I just wanted to let you three know that the others agreed to keep things private and that there's nothing to worry about."

"Oh, we know," Sonata said while patting one of her pockets, "Rarity already called to pass it on, but thanks anyway!"

"Oh." Somehow, it hadn't occurred to Fluttershy to do that. Did she actually have Adagio's number?

...Could she get it now? There was no reason why not, right? The worry had been that her friends would see it in her phone and now her friends all knew about it anyway, so-

"-euss, Earth to Dr. Seuss, do you read, over? KRRRSHK!"

Fluttershy blinked twice. "Whuh, huh?"

Sonata giggled. "Thinkin' about Dagi naked, huh? It's okay, I do the same thing wi-" She was cut off with a series of spastic arm movements as Fluttershy went all rosy.

"N-n-no! I, I-I wasn't-"

"Is that so?" came a familiar, velvety voice from just behind her as faintly muscular arms slid over her shoulder and around her midsection, "And, what about now?"

Turning her head, Fluttershy found Adagio holding her in a gentle hug, her arms wrapped around Fluttershy's torso. Despite the predatory gleam in her red-violet eyes, Fluttershy only smiled a dopey smile. "Hi."

Adagio giggled. "Hello, Sweetie." She doesn't look very surprised, was slipping out the window and creeping around the side of the house not sneaky enough? Or does she just expect this from me now? I'm happy to oblige, but still...

Neither that nor the nudity question from a moment ago were answered as Fluttershy stretched out her neck to deliver a peck on the cheek, to which Adagio responded with a long, soft lip-lock. This might have escalated further, but both were a little taken out of it when Sonata, hands pressed to her cheeks, all but shouted "AWWWW!!"

The couple blushed, but neither had stopped smiling, even when they heard Aria's exaggerated yakking noises from inside. Shaking her head a little at the purple prude, Adagio smiled at the soft, cuddly girl in her arms, her voice gentle. "Would you like to come in for a while, Sweetie? I'll be making dinner in a bit."

Quietly awed by the fact that the suggestion had come without a hint of suggestiveness, from Adagio of all people, Fluttershy smiled back. "S-sure!"

---

While Fluttershy certainly enjoyed the way Adagio picked her up and brought her inside in the traditional princess-carrying pose; the carrier's hands supporting her legs and back while the carry-ee's arms gently encircled the carrier's neck, a tiny part of her was opposed. She was left on the couch, Adagio sitting next to her, and Aria and Sonata occupying cushy chairs to their sides, by which point she determined that her tiny dissatisfaction stemmed from wanting to be the one doing the carrying. Whether or not she had the physical strength to lift Adagio for longer than a four-second emergency-sprint, she didn't know.

"So," began Aria without looking away from the TV screen on which her digital rampage was displayed, a controller in her hands, "everything cool with those three?"

Grinning, Fluttershy nodded. "Everything's okay, none of us will tell a soul until you want us to."

"On that note," said Adagio as she leisurely leaned backward on the couch, "we'll likely need to be careful about how that's timed, even when we have a social circle of our own. No need to hammer out specifics right now, but it would raise a few eyebrows if we revealed everything on the same day, most of all you and I, or Nata and Rarity."

"Yep," giggled Sonata as she picked up a controller and tagged into Aria's bus-throwing mayhem, "if we were all "Hey, did we ever mention that we've been secret friends with those guys for months now?", it'd probably be more fuel on the can't-trust-'em-as-far-as-we-can-throw-'em fire."

It was a point they hadn't discussed at Sweet Apple Acres, but one that had occurred to Fluttershy before. She shrugged a little. "I guess so."

"It'll work out," Aria said in almost apathetic fashion before nodding to a third controller on the coffee table, "wanna join in?"

Cyan eyes rapidly darted back and forth between the controller and the onscreen chaos a few times. "Uh, n-no thank you."

"Not into the rough stuff, huh? Guess I can respect that." Another virtual garbage truck was sacrificed to the vicious reaper of pixels, but Aria noticed that other than the fire and explosions from the TV, the room had gone very quiet. She glanced at the others to see Fluttershy sitting there wide-eyed and glowing while Sonata and Adagio made the exact same motion of looking back at her with a scandalous hands raised to their mouths, though they did little to hide the smirks. Her word choice sunk in, making Aria blush almost as brightly as Fluttershy. "F-for the love of, I didn't mean like that!!"

Sonata wore a wide, satisfied grin. "But you still totally said it!"

"I meant violence, gut-rending, bone-crunching violence!" She winced a little as Fluttershy covered her virgin ears, but the fluffy-haired punishment for this was already staring her in the face.

"And yet, you didn't just say 'violence,'" Adagio pondered aloud as she leaned forward, her smirk and raised eyebrow starting to make Aria sweat, "you said 'the rough stuff.' Why is that? Something on your mind lately, Ria? Something you want to share?"

Aria did her best to sink down into her seat. "No."

"You're sure?"

"Yes." She was equally surprised and relieved to see Adagio backing off so early, but maybe she wanted to behave in front of her favorite Rainboom.

"Alright then, but remember that you can always talk to us, about anything."

"Uh-huh..."

Things were quiet again as the onscreen action continued, but Aria didn't dare look at either of her tormentors. Then Sonata asked anyway.

"So, top or bottom?"

"ARRGH!!"

Two sirens giggled as another turned red, but even she started to chuckle by the end of it. The three of them carried on, Fluttershy just watching in silence.

They still smile, she thought to herself, even without their voices, without- well, I don't know if it meant more to them than anything in the world, but- even without something very precious to them, they can still smile.

And somehow, that made her sad. Not that they could find any measure of happiness, that was great! Just, that anyone could carry on despite a painful loss, and she knew there were a lot of them in the world, made her think of her father. He was gone now, and nothing would ever change that, so the best thing she could do was to let go. Was the same true of the sirens' voices? She didn't want to think so, especially when-

Once more, Fluttershy's world stopped. It was just an instant, but one in which her brain struggled to keep up with itself as a number of thoughts crashed together at once. Adagio, Aria, and Sonata would never forsake their ability to sing if they had any hope whatsoever of getting it back, which was why the subject probably still hurt them. The problem, Adagio said, was that when they tried to project their voices loudly enough, they broke, but their speaking voices were unchanged. She said she wasn't really sure about how it worked either, that something happened when they shouted, sneezed, got the hiccups, yelled, or laughed too hard, but talking at an indoor volume was okay?

If that was the case... Fluttershy had a theory. A theory that, while she knew it was foolish to put such hope in so soon, she couldn't stop from splitting her face in a wide, painful smile. This got the Dazzlings' attention as they paused the game to look at her.

"Uhh," started Aria, "Squeaky? You okay there? Lookin' kinda..." there was a flicker of a nervous grin, "haha, scary."

Sonata looked a little uncomfortable too. "Y-yea... What's she doing, Dagi?"

Their fearless leader studied Fluttershy with a hand raised to her chin. "I don't know, but..." A little smirk forming, Adagio started to blush. "I think I like it..."

Aria covered her eyes. "Wow, and, ew."

Sonata didn't. "Dagi, you're a real freaky bit-"

"I HAVE AN IDEA," blurted Fluttershy, startling the sirens into silence. She gave the three of them an apologetic little grin. "Uh, I-I mean... I have an idea, f-for, uhm..." Horror seized her when she realized what she was about to suggest, but if there was even the tiniest chance that she was right? It was an easy thing to test, and from somewhere in the back of her mind, a long-accumulated confidence stepped forward, bringing with it such certainty that if she was wrong, she'd let them throw her out of the house stark naked. She had the undivided attention of all three, the combination of their stares and what may come with the next few minutes kicking her heartbeat into overdrive and sending ripples of fire and ice through her skin.

"What if you sang quietly?"

Not even Adagio gave her more than a blank, numb stare of shock in response. Her confidence took a baby-step backward, so she had to say this quickly.

"I-I mean, if your voice b-breaks when you talk louder, and they're-it's f-f-fine when-when, the rest of the time, I-I thought, w-what if, what if you j-j-" she bit her tongue, the stabbing pain bringing tears to her eyes as she cupped both hands over her mouth. She feared she'd start bawling then and there, but a gentle hand on her shoulder reminded her that she wasn't talking to complete strangers, but someone she loved, someone that might have even loved her back, and two people that... well, she was pretty sure they trusted her.

Fluttershy opened her eyes, but nothing had changed. The world hadn't split open, the sky hadn't fallen, and the sirens didn't look even a little upset with her. If anything, they looked lost, trading unsure glances until Adagio, gently rubbing Fluttershy's back, asked a question in a soft voice.

"What do you mean, Sweetie? That if we're just quiet, we should be able to sing again? Did Sunset Shimmer say that, was it an idea from Twilight Sparkle? What brought this on?"

She needed a minute before she could steady herself enough to verbalize a reply. "I, n-no, it's not from anyone, it just hit me a second ago. You s-said that, uhm, I-I mean, I think you said, that it was only when you were l-loud enough, s-so, I mean..." She gulped, her heart shuddering at the very idea of getting their hopes up for nothing. "Have you tried? Just singing quietly?"

There was another silent look-trading session before Aria shrugged. "What would you sing when it's so quiet hardly anyone's gonna hear it?" She was almost startled by Fluttershy's instant answer.

"A lullaby?"

Another short silence, this one broken by Sonata bursting into gigglefits with a wavering grin. "W-what, like, just like that? Sing quiet and it'll work great?"

"Have you tried?"

"Why would-"

It was the forcefulness in her voice that did the startling this time. "Have you tried?" It was like a needle in Fluttershy's heart when Sonata looked back at her as though she'd been scolded. If she had pony ears, they would have been down.

"N-no..."

This time, it was Fluttershy that was startled as Adagio cleared her throat. The others looked to her as though she'd just said she was going to cut a finger off.

"Well," she uttered, "lullabies aren't exactly our bread and butter, but if there's even a chance...?" Aria and Sonata, her two oldest friends, watched her in stationary silence as she raised a steadying hand to her chest, closed her eyes, opened her mouth, and held a hushed note. None of them could rightly call it singing, but it was a far cry from the screechy Hell that had been their performance just before being booed off the stage at the Battle. She dared push a little harder, but backed down to softer keys when she felt her voice giving. Staying as low as possible, she varied things a little more, letting herself gently hum a few bars of the lullaby Fluttershy had sung for her the day she was sick.

And nothing was wrong.

It was soft, it was modest, but it was her voice, a much gentler version of what she remembered. Her heartbeat picking up, she opened her eyes to see her two band-mates gaping at her with their eyes nearly bulging straight out of their sockets and Fluttershy beaming the biggest, brightest, most dentist-worrying smile she'd ever seen her make. Adagio's speaking voice was soft and tearful as she smiled at the three of them. "Join me?"

The four of them practiced a lullaby together. Aria and Sonata were as shaky as Adagio had been at first, but the three of them worked out their range fairly quickly, singing very softly, but almost flawlessly for the first time since their gems were destroyed. When the lullaby stopped, it wasn't because the song was over, but because none of the four girls could hold together through their tears. She would deny it to her dying day, but Aria was the first to break down into inelegant blubbering as the sirens all but launched at each other, stammering and crying and and squeezing each other in clumsy, but fully-reciprocated hugs. It wasn't all happy crying, because overjoyed though they were to have even this much, they knew they'd spent the last few months without it for no better reason than having been too scared to try such a thing, but pain wasn't high on their list right now.

Emotionally raw though they were, the three didn't forget about Fluttershy, who was startled for different reasons when they latched onto her as one, their tears matched with her own, their grateful mutterings met with wordless blubbering that vaguely conveyed wishes for their continued happiness. It wouldn't make up for what they had lost, all of them knew that, but for now? It was something, and something they intended to cherish every day of their lives.

Author's Notes:

...I feel like with the way this chapter ended, I need to say that No, the story is not over yet. Things are winding down, but there are still several chapters left. With my wonky idea of what constitutes a 'chapter' at that. Next one is about Fluttershy hanging out with the Dazzlings for a bit.

Three guesses which of the Dazzlings' songs Pinkie liked best.

I wrapped up the picnic scene with Tell again, but only because the rest of it struck me as kinda boring conversation.

Seriously, Chris, boulder-punching. Why do it, even? Why?

Finally, remember when someone wrote a clopfic about this story? Well it happened again, and might actually keep happening! I'm as surprised as you are, honestly, unless you're not surprised, in which case, I may be in a minority in feeling quite surprised!

At this rate, I'm thinking I'll just post all recursive fanfics this story gets (clop and otherwise) at the bottom of the description, with notes regarding the chapters after which they're supposed to take place so no one accidentally gets spoilered. That might be easier, so I'm hoping there are no rules about not being allowed to post links to clopfics in non-clop stories. Didn't see any, will have to look again.

Chapter 39: Fun and Name-Games

Following an extended group-hug (VERY huggy, and tearful, and embarrassing, Fluttershy supervised), control of their emotions gradually drifted back in. Aria and Sonata somewhat sheepishly moved back to their chairs as Adagio gently held Fluttershy on her lap, almost as though she were afraid someone would try to take her away. Self-conscious though it might have made her feel, especially in front of witnesses, Fluttershy did not protest.

"Wow," muttered Sonata while steadying her breath, "that was like... cleansing, or something! Is that gonna be a regular thing when we have more friends?"

It took Fluttershy a second to realize that she was the senior... friendship... person... in the room, so she answered as best she could. "W-well, it's not exactly an everyday part of life, o-or every week, or even every month, but uhm..." She shrugged a little. "It does kinda happen, when it needs to."

Her arms crossed, Aria shrunk down in her seat a little, a hint apprehension in her face. "Does it have to be in front of, y'know, other people? This might come as a shock, but I'm not exactly... good with people."

Tilting her head a little, Fluttershy frowned. "What do you mean?" She could guess, of course, but she wouldn't have bet on any of the sirens, who had no trouble shaking their hips in public, having the same problems she did.

Aria shuffled a little, unable to sink down or cross her arms any further. "L-like, I mean..." She looked to her two oldest friends, almost hoping they'd make fun of her somehow so she wouldn't have to say it herself. Each of them just gave her warm, patient, judgement-free looks.

Dammit.

She sighed, looking Fluttershy in the eye. "Look, up to now, I've been keeping to myself to stay out of trouble, but like, that's not the only reason, y'know?" The look on Fluttershy's face said 'No, I don't know, please embarrass yourself by telling me.' Not in those words, maybe, but Aria knew there was no point in stalling now. "You might not hear a lot of people talk about it, but I actually did try making friends by myself when we came back, and it was always a disaster." She blushed. "Even when people weren't scared of me, I'd get all self-conscious and babble like an idiot. I even asked Photo Finish if she worked at the racetracks!"

Fluttershy blinked twice. Aria vaguely gestured with her hands in response. "Y'know, because, it's the racetracks, the horses go really fast and sometimes it's a little hard to tell who's in first, so like, they get a camera for, uh, photo-finishing... it?" The following silence was almost painful, but Adagio stepped in to save her. Kind of.

"Was that an adequate demonstration, Sweetie?" The answer came with a smile and one of those endearing little giggles.

"I-I think so, yes." Experienced with friendship and awkwardness, Fluttershy offered her best advice to her fellow babbler. "It might be a little scary at first, but when you get to know someone a little better, talking to them gets a lot easier." Realizing how that might sound condescending, she raised her hands defensively. "Oh, b-but, uh, y-you might have already known that, because you already know Adagio and Sonata, and you talk to them all the t-err, I mean, I would think you do, b-because, and, uhm-" She was cut off by Sonata's sudden gigglefits.

"Man, good thing you nabbed her first, huh Dagi?"

Chuckling, Adagio gently brushed a hand along Fluttershy's back. "Indeed." Adagio kissed her on the cheek before she could ask, Fluttershy's thoughts reduced to fidgety, happy-embarrassed muttering.

"So, anyway," Aria picked up with an almost apologetic little grin, "Doom came to me that one time at school, but other than that? I kinda hung back and hoped those two-" she indicated Sonata and Adagio "-would figure out the whole 'friendship' thing for me. Mission accomplished?"

Sonata blushed, averting her eyes while absent-mindedly scratching the underside of her jawline. "Well, Dagi and I might'a figured out something else first..."

Fluttershy squeaked, drawing a giggle from Adagio. "Ohh, don't be silly, Nata," she smirked while delicately brushing her fingertips along Fluttershy's spine, "we already knew all about that!" The shivers from the blushing girl on her lap just made her all warm inside! Aria turning rosy too was a delightful bonus.

"Yeesh, get a room!"

"I look forward to the day you hit puberty, Ria."

"Wha-?! I'm, I already-" Her friends giggling at her drew an angry pout, but it quickly transitioned to a wry little grin. When the laughter died down, she picked up a controller again. "So, Squeaky, I know I asked already, but you sure you don't wanna play with us? We do have some stuff that's actually less violent than the Vietnam war."

Almost without thinking about it, Fluttershy turned to look at Adagio as if seeking confirmation or approval, and got a little nod back. She looked back and forth at Aria and Sonata, both of whom were making faces a bit like Rainbow when she asked if she would come cheer for her at a sporting event, or Rarity when she was hoping Fluttershy would try on a design she made. It always tickled her a little when someone wanted her to be part of something important to them, drawing a slightly self-conscious grin.

"O-okay!"

She was startled by a sudden, relatively loud "Hurray!" from Sonata as she leapt out of her seat to switch discs in the right machine. As the loading screens ticked by, Aria handed Fluttershy a controller of her own.

"We'll have to get you a screen-name first, what do you wanna be called?"

"Uhm... F-Fluttershy?"

Adagio snorted, quietly giggling as she patted Fluttershy's head. "An online alias, Sweetie."

"Oh, right!" She hadn't really understood what Rainbow meant when she asked her to come up with a screen-name all those years ago, and if she'd known at the time that it would be seen by potentially thousands of people, she'd have probably put more thought into it than 'DoomPrism.' Awareness that it was practically a secret identity helped cushion the blow, but she still wasn't sure what to call herself now. "D-do, um, do you have any suggestions?"

Sonata rapidly shook her head. "You've gotta pick your own name, Dr. Seu-... Um..." She smiled very, very sheepishly. "Haha, n-nevermind... Do you mind if I keep calling you Dr. Seuss?"

She smiled. "Not at all." It kind of fit because she was at least reasonably talented in writing rhymes for the songs she wrote. Like the one that destroyed the Dazzlings' voices. The one that left them broken and miserable until Sunset found them. The one that-

"-eetie? Are you alright?"

Fluttershy snapped to attention, seeing Adagio's slightly worried face inches from her own. This was far too happy a day to dwell on something like that, so she banished the thought to the dark woods in the back of her mind. "S-sorry, I was just thinking of, um-" Idea! "w-what do you guys use for screen-names?"

"I go with 'RuleBook,'" answered Aria, "Nata is FriendlyFire, and Dagi switches her name all the time."

"Oh?" She looked at Adagio to see a mischievous grin. Her fluffy, trickster goddess started to giggle as Aria listed off names.

"Yea. I think it went Touch_Me, PillowTalk, -she made a lotta suggestive comments during that deathmatch- Harder_Please!, Alpha_Q, -don't say it fast-" Sonata was giggling too now, "If_U_Seek_Amy, -don't say it slow- The_Safe_Word_Is_Thank_You, and, w-well..." Aria turned pink. "Let's just say the first part of it was 'Mike' and leave it at that."

Adagio cackled as Fluttershy tried to decide whether she wanted to work out what half of those names meant right this minute. "Don't worry, Sweetie, I don't always go with something naughty."

"Yea," Sonata concurred, "just like 98% of the time!" She smiled wider when Adagio playfully stuck her tongue out at her. "Real-talk, though, the one you've got now is pretty innocent. Why would you pick 'MagnificentPeach' for a name, anyway?"

This one worked itself out in Fluttershy's head almost instantly, bringing up memories of Thursday's Art class. Certain now that Adagio had heard every word about her painting that day, in addition to the awareness that thousands of people might see that name, Fluttershy flushed painfully hot as her jaw fell open and Adagio again cackled in triumph.

Snickering, Aria shook her head. "So it was delayed dirtiness. You always played the long game, Dagi."

The fluffy mastermind wore a proud smirk. "I try." Granted, she didn't know Fluttershy would ever see it, but sometimes things worked out quite nicely on their own.

When Fluttershy had cooled down and Aria was configuring the game settings for a first-timer, Sonata smiled. "So, what're you gonna be, Dr. Seuss?"

"Yea," added Aria, "what'll it be, Squeaky?"

She again looked at Adagio, but this time there was just an encouraging little smile. "Anything you like, Sweetie." She sealed the statement with a quick kiss to Fluttershy's forehead.

That peck must have gone straight to her brain, because Fluttershy instantly knew what she wanted to call herself. She'd be lying if she said there was no bias in which of her three Dazzling-bestowed nicknames was her favorite, but if this was the name she was going to use when playing with them, she knew just the right one. She smiled.

"Can you make me 'Dr_SweetSqueak'?"

A trio of giggles delivered through warm, sincere grins faintly reminded her of the first time she saw Adagio genuinely smile.

---

Adagio didn't join the game, deciding that she was quite content to hold Fluttershy instead of a controller at the time. The first game was about teams of cartoon worms blowing each other up with bouncy grenades, haphazardly-aimed bazookas, and a bunch of other exploding stuff. It was violent, certainly, but just cartoon violence, the kind Fluttershy had come to grips with a long time ago.

Seventh grade was plenty long ago, thank you very much!

More importantly, it was all imaginary anyway, so she didn't even let the exploding sheepies (the very cute exploding sheepies that even went 'Baaa!' before detonation) bother her. Not a lot, anyway. That she was sitting on Adagio's lap may have helped.

"You getting the controls yet, Squeaky?"

"I think so, yes. These little worms are so cute!"

"Where are you going with that one? The other team is on the other side of the map."

"Oh, I know, I just like watching these characters inch across the landscape."

"Better still, going that far from the central battlefield means they have to either pull off some very difficult shots, or run down the timer to follow you."

"Huh?"

"Ooh, she's right! Ria, get to high ground with me on your turn!"

"Nah, I'll shoot 'em in the back while they're following her, only one of us needs to survive for our team to win the match."

"What's going on?"

"Don't worry about it, just see if you can nab some of those crates over there."

"Ooh, even the boxes are all cute and bouncy!"

"Hehe. Yes, Sweetie, just focus on the bouncy boxes."

"Wait, why is the water level rising?"

Fluttershy's love of watching cartoony worms make their way over the destructible terrain led her worm and most of the enemy team to a watery grave when the sudden-death timer ran out and the map began to flood. Sonata's carelessness with a grenade quickly cost her the high ground, but Aria's bazooka-sniping perch left her as the last one standing. Any sense of the death toll was lost on Fluttershy when she beheld the animations of a cartoon-worm victory dance.

---

When Fluttershy was warmed up to the mechanics of the game, they decided to play an online match, where Aria and Sonata spoke with their 'disguise' accents, despite Adagio's subtle pleas not to. They stayed in-character while explaining it to Fluttershy.

"Eet iz very sim-pull, Dahktah Sooz," Sonata said while possibly offending Photo Finish's ancestry, "we speek in dis way to hide ourselves fwom de worlt!"

"Why?"

Aria shrugged. "It begahn when Ah first stahted playeeng with Rainbow Dahsh, ami, Ah used zis voice in cahs one of her friends happahned to ovahheer me ahn ze microphone. Zen Nata 'erd an' joined in, an' ze two of us got Dagee to do it as well."

Just as Adagio feared, Fluttershy turned to her with wide, curious eyes. "Really?"

"Er, w-well..." She felt herself blush, glancing at Aria and Sonata in the vain hope that they might get her out of embarrassing herself in front of Fluttershy. As anticpated, they wore only amused grins, with Sonata showing particular enthusiasm.

"Do eet, Da-Jee, we arr not kom-pleet wit-out you!"

"Oui, show 'er your impres-shahn!"

Fluttershy didn't say anything one way or the other, but her eyes might as well have beamed the 'Pleeeeeeeease?' straight into Adagio's fluffy head. She sighed in defeat. "Alright, alright..." It tickled her a little how Fluttershy perked up when she cleared her throat.

"Vell," she asked in her Imitation Russian voice, "vaht do you vant to hear? I von't be joinink in zis match, so eet makes leettle difference how I speek." It was with a hint of anxiety that she watched the girl on her lap go wide-eyed and cover her mouth with both hands, though Adagio could tell by the position of her cheeks that she was smiling. "Sveetie? Everythink alright?"

Fluttershy moved her hands to cover most of her face, though that which was visible flushed red as she giggled. She loved Adagio's voice as it was, but a Russian (or was it 'Slavic'? Somewhere in Eastern Europe, she was sure) accent just felt right for her somehow.

Will she use that voice on the bench tomorrow? Would she tease me with it? Would I have to ask?

...Do I want to?

Peeking through her fingers let her see a smirk that said this uncertain wish was about to come true.

"Sveetie? Somethink you vant to tell us?" Adagio gently seized her prey by both arms, fingertips delicately brushing over her skin. Fluttershy shivered, but quickly shook her head in denial. Adagio's grin only grew more vicious. "No matter, I have vays ov making you talk..."

For the next minute, Adagio rapidly alternated between light (though chaste) caresses and aggressive tickles, her trapped victim going back and forth between shudders and loud, uncontrollable laughter. Sonata giggled merrily at the sight, trying to decide whether or not recording it on her phone would be going too far. While part of Aria was annoyed that Adagio apparently just got over one of the few things they could fluster her with (something about fake accents making her feel silly, which Aria determined to be plain crazy-talk), the rest of her was just glad not to be the one getting tormented this time.

The tickle target gasped for breath. "St-st-sto-hah-heeheehee! Ple-hee-eese, sto-ho-hop!!"

Snickering, Comrade Adagio relented, even if she didn't quite hear a 'squirrel' in there. "To be conteenued."

When Fluttershy had caught her breath, Fraulein Sonata smiled. "So, 'ow uhbout yoo, Dahktah Sooz?"

"H-huh?"

Offering Fluttershy a headset of her own, Mademoiselle Aria chuckled. "Ah zink she wahnts you to peek one of your own, ami, a voice to play weeth?"

"Oh!" Feeling just a little put on the spot, her mind stumbled for a moment. Then she remembered Rarity, and smiled. "Well," she said in her best impression of a posh, British accent, "I do believe I could emulate a vernacular from across the pond, if it pleases you. Would that be permissible, do you think?"

There was a loud second of silence, then all three sirens burst into gigglefits, Sonata's easily the loudest even without her fervent clapping. It made her a little self-concious to perform like that, but Fluttershy still smiled, doubly so when Adagio leaned in to whisper in her ear.

"Velcome aboard, Sveetie."

While Adagio's breath on her ear sent a tingly blush creeping up her neck, keeping her mouth shut kept her from making it worse. There'd be time later to work out exactly what she meant by 'Velcome aboard,' but for now, Fluttershy basked in the warm feeling of inclusion.

And then they shot cartoony rockets at stuff.

---

After a few online victories earned through strategic use of the sudden-death flash-flood, the four of them moved on to an eastern RPG. The sirens were most of the way through this one already, so Fluttershy asked them to explain the plot. To her surprise, Aria was having more trouble than she was.

"But if he's from the future, how did the space-whale attack in the first place?"

"He wasn't from the future, the ruined city in this world is the desolate remains of that very attack a thousand years ago!"

"Ahh, memories."

"Heeheehee!"
"Haha, yea."

"Wait, if the city was actually in the past, why is almost everything so low-tech during the events of the story?"

"Back in Equestria, they didn't have most of the technology you have here. Here in this world, they didn't have periodic attacks by powerful forces of evil until Sunset Shimmer arrived. Getting your world ravaged by big monsters on a regular basis slows R&D down a little bit, Sweetie."

"I guess so."

"Plus, y'know, the church telling everybody that techno-crud is what makes the space whale mad. That they still have those machines, like in the basement of the biggest temple, proves that it all existed already, that they've been using it ever since that city was destroyed!"

"I thought it was the punk-rock lookin' heretic guys that built it all?"

"It was the church guys that told us that, Ria, and they're the bad guys in this game!"

"Okay, okay, just answer me this; if this guy Wavus is just a 'Dream of the Optymysm,' why can everyone touch him?"

"He's a dream in the same sense that the summoned monsters are."

"The ones made of dead people?"

"Their spirit energy, perhaps."

"The same ones that turn into monsters out in the wild?"

"The difference is a sacrificial ritual, they explained this earlier."

"And, what we're trying to do to kill the space whale, that's gonna get rid of all of them too?"

"Pretty much! It's the only way to make sure the whale doesn't come back when we kill it."

"But, w-wait, if everything the Optymysm summon will go away once the space whale is gone for good, and Wavus is 'summoned' too, d-doesn't that mean...?"

"And that's why he hasn't told the girl yet."

"Oh... oh, this game is so sad..."

"Eh, I hear the sequel has a happier ending."

---

Fluttershy got to watch the spectacular final boss-fight and ensuing bittersweet ending. She kind of wanted to ask if she could come over again just to see that happier ending in the next game, but the thought of regularly coming over to the sirens' house made her mind wander. It came back to her when the main menu to a cartoonier, more cheerful game appeared onscreen. The sirens had apparently noticed her expression from moments before, explaining that a light-hearted game about defending your house from zombies with a magic garden would probably take her mind off of the tragic parting in the RPG.

It worked swimmingly.

"Eeee! All of these plants are adorable! Even the zombies are kind of cute!"

"My favorite's the walnuts!"

"The ones that die slow and painful when you use them as shields?"

"Aria!"

"What? It's how the game goes."

"War is full of sacrifices, and if not for those willing to give their lives, the rest might not see another day."

"..."
"..."

"...You took that better than I'd have anticipated, Sweetie."

"Heh, t-thanks. I mean, I guess it's k-kind of like-"

"Like when Wavus died in the other game?"

"SONATA!"
"Oh, poor Wavus!!"
"Aaand there it is."

It had worked swimmingly.

---

After a few rounds of defending the homestead with sunshine and vegetables, Aria suggested a game with a similar concept; defending a portal from waves and waves of goblins, but with medieval traps instead of a magical green thumb. As the sirens knew that this was a much more violent game, Aria signaled Adagio to distract Fluttershy so she could go into the options menu and disable the gore. Adagio obliged with glee.

"Hm... Sweetie, I just thought of a way we can play as a team."

"Huh?"

"I'll use you as my controller."

"What d-EEK!"

"Weird place for a start button..."

"I-I don't think that-Ooh-hoo-hoo!"

"Shoulder-triggers, good..."

"Pl-please st-Yipe!!"

"Ooh, I think found the analog sticks!"

"ADAGIO!!"

"Heeheehee! Sorry, Sweetie, suppose I'll need to... refine the technique before we can use it."

She took Fluttershy glowing red to mean the distraction was successful. That or Fluttershy's battery was running low. Cordless controllers were kind of a pain like that. Either way, she glanced at Aria, whose smile said they were ready to go, and Sonata, who set down the notepad she'd been writing on to begin the game.

"Remember, Squeaky," Aria said with a hint of a smirk, "on the other side of that portal are all the flowers and bunnies and innocent, rosy-cheeked orphans in the idyllic little village. You know what happens if too many goblins get through?"

"R-right..."

---

"Wow... New high score. I don't think anything even got near the portal!"

"No kidding, I barely got to shoot anything. What'd you do, Squeaky?"

"Huh?"

"We let you handle the traps while we defended the gateway with brute force. Just what did you set up?"

"Oh, um, w-well, it was nothing much, I just-"

"We've got some time until the next round, let's just go out and... Wow, that's a lot of springy-pads!"

"They didn't cost much to build, so when I got more points at the end of each round, I-"

"There's a network of these things!"

"I'm following it."

"Oh, it just leads to the water over by the eastern ledge. I felt bad for the poor goblins, and if the scarecrows I put up didn't convince them to leave, I thought the bouncy-boards would eventually take them to the harmless water."

"Does she know those 'scarecrows' are bombs? Or that goblins can't swim?"

"Shh."

"But, traps need a minute to reset after they're triggered. What, did you put all your extra points into speeding up the reset times?"

"...Is... i-is that bad?"

"Hehehe. Not at all, well done, Sweetie."

"Yea, yea, it was fine for Easy Mode, but I still wanna rack up a bodycount too. Let's crank it up to Normal."

---

"Phew, that was a little hectic. Happy now, psycho?"

"It was still kinda weak... What'd you do this time, Squeaky?"

"Um... Th-things were fine until the hobgoblins showed up, and they were kind of mean, so-"

"Ria. Come see this."

"I-I just wanted to protect the flowers and bunnies and-"

"Wow. You've got a real decathlon of death goin' here. Why'd you put freeze-cannons way up there?"

"Oh, well, the bat-creatures (they aren't very nice either) only come once in a while, and with the cannons' long recharge time, I figured it would be okay to let them freeze the bats solid so they would shatter on their own when they hit the ground. The sharp, slippery chunks of ice over that spot are good for slowing the rest of the horde down, too, so the swinging guillotine trap at the end of that walkway is more likely to catch more of them at once. The scurrying little rat-men compensate with speed over the ice, but their small health-bars mean they don't survive the burning coals before the guillotine, so it's only the bulk of the tougher enemies that survived everything else who get their heads chopped off. Is that okay?"

"..."

"Scary."

"I'm sorry!"

"Huehuehuehuehue~!"

"Uhm... Ad-dagio?"

"Don't worry about a thing, Sweetie, you did wonderfully. In fact, I'm curious."

"C-curious?"

"Oooh, she's givin' her the smirk of death!"
"Shh!"

"Mhm. Your traps were set so deviously, I can hardly wait to see what you have in mind for me."

"Wh-what?!"

"You know, something you've always wanted to do to me, something you'd have to be sneaky to pull off."

"N-noth, there's nothing I want to do like that!"

"Ohh, come now, there must be something you've thought ab-"

"No, I mean, if there was something I wanted, I'd never be sneaky about it, I would just ask you!"

"..."

"Oooh, Dagi's blushing too!"
"This girl is a miracle-worker..."

"I, I mean, I'd want to be sure it was okay with you first, a-and I'm not as good at being sneaky anyway, s-so... Is it okay if I just ask?"

There was a genuine smile. "That's okay with me, Sweetie." And then a smirk. "So, now that we're on the subject-"

"Jeez, Dagi, didn't you say you'd be making dinner?"

"Oh, right! Are you two still interested in fried onion curls?"

"Heck yea!"

"Hehe, alright then. Sorry, Sweetie, but...?"

"Ah, uh, o-okay!" She didn't exactly scramble to get off of Adagio's lap, but she knew cooking would be tricky if she didn't move. "D-do you need any help, or-"

"I'll be fine. Stay and play a while, would you? These two get ludicrously competitive if it's just the two of them."

"Do not!"

"Yea, 'cuz I totally wipe the floor with her."

"Oh, yea? Because that's not how I remember that last round in Better Bash Brothers going!"

"Y-you got lucky!"

"Lucky I'm so much better than you!"

"You little-"

"Girls, please, we have a guest."

Fluttershy giggled as the two bickering sirens tinted pink.

"Anyway, I'll be back in a bit. Play nice now!"

Calmer now, Aria cleared her throat. "So, Squeaky, how are you with puzzles?"

"I-I'm sorry?"

"Woah, apologizing already? That's not encouraging!"

"What?"

"I probably should'a brought it up earlier, but we've got at least one game with no combat, no fighting, not even any blood in the co-op mode."

"What was that last part?"

"Nothin'. So, you interested? I already played through with Dagi and it's no fun if you already know the solutions, so Nata here hasn't had anyone to play it with."

"I never even got through the single-player part, but I'm sure we'll nail it together, Doc!"

"Okay!"

---

Fluttershy found herself controlling one of two cute robots in a high-tech testing facility, Sonata controlling the other as they worked together to solve environmental puzzles with movable blocks, obstacles, switches that did things, and rift-launching mechanisms of some sort. Aria was there to offer tips when the two got stuck.

"Okay, remember that hover-walkway thing from a few rooms ago?"

"Yes?"

"The power source is wired up in this chamber, so you can use that to charge the next walkway."

"Oh, I see! So I just..."

A rerouting of energy revealed the way forward.

"Hurray!"

"Yay~!"

Sonata started across the hover-bridge.

"Squeaky, you see those levers by the start of the bridge?"

"Yes?"

"Hit middle one."

"But isn't that the-"

"No time, just hit it!"

"O-okay!"

The three of them watched as the hover-bridge disappeared, dropping Sonata into a pit of boiling acid.

"HEY!!"
"I-I'm sorry!!"
"Nyehehehehehehehehehe!"

"That, th-that was just mean!"

"I know, didn't think you had it in you."

"WHAT?!"

"You knew the switch would retract the bridge, right? Why'd you hit it anyway? Do you just like making poor Nata suffer?"

"B-but, I, y-you, I, but-"

"Muahahahaha!"

"Heeheehee. I think I see why Dagi likes messing with her so much, that face is pretty funny!"

"Haha, yea. Sorry, Squeaky, you okay there?"

"I, I'm, y-you're, you are such a-...!"

"...?"

"...Meanie!"

"...Ow. My fragile pride."

"Gasp! I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, I was j-just so frustrated, I-"

"PFFFTHahahahahahahahaha!!"
"Ogawd, it hur-hur-hurtshahahahahahahaha!!"

Fluttershy sat still, slowly going red under the dual assault of laughter until the two looked at her with wide, genuine smiles as they tried to reign themselves in.

"You're a riot, y'know that, Flutters?"

"Y-yea! I'm literally cry-hi-hing!"

Blushing for slightly different reasons now, Fluttershy smiled back. "Hehe. Thanks."

---

Dinner wasn't quite ready by the time they were finished solving sciencey puzzles, so Aria brought out one more game to entertain Fluttershy while they waited. It was right up her alley, too; a game about cutesy, singing animals!

Well, animal mascots.

In a run-down pizza joint.

Did she mention it was a horror game? No, no, where would the fun in that be? It had gotten dark outside, too, so shutting off the lights and leaving the television screen as the only source of illumination in the room in the name of 'ambiance' was icing on the cake.

Even better? Sonata had never played it either, so the two of them had no idea what to expect.

Aria just wished she had popcorn.

"What was that phone call about?"

"I-I'm not sure, I was kind of seeing what all the buttons did. This one moves the doors, this one switches through the little TV screens. Hello there, Mr. Bunny, how are you?"

"He looks kinda rusty."

"That's not very nice."

"Well he does! ...Hey, where'd he go?"

"You might have hurt his feelings. Mr. Bunny? It's okay, Mr. Bunny, I'm sure she didn't mean it."

"Totally did."

"Shh! Mr. Bunny? Mr. B-oh, there he is. And there's Mr. Bear in the dining roo-"

They were nearly launched out of their seats by the mechanical rabbit jumping at the camera while emitting an ear-splitting shriek. Fluttershy and Sonata had immediately responded in kind, though more out of terror than... whatever Mr. Bunny's reason had been.

"Ahahahahahahahahahaha!!"

"YOU SUCK!!"

"Heh heh heh! Ohh, that was great."

"Y'know what? I agree with Dr. Seuss: You're mean!"

"Yup. That's pretty much it for this game, but I knew it'd be worth a-... Squeaky? What're you doing?"

"Hm? Oh, I'm trying it again. I think I know why Mr. Bunny attacked us the first time and I want to let him and the others know that we're all friends here."

Aria and Sonata shared a cautious look.

"Um... The rust comment?"

"Hehe. No, I know they can't really hear us. It's okay, Mr. Bunny," she said to the game anyway, "I won't close the door and make you feel unwelcome this time."

"Uh, a-actually, you're supposed to-"

SCREEEEEEEEE!!
"EEEEEEEEEEEEK!!"

"..."
"..."

"O-okay, uhm... m-maybe if I try this..."

---

"I get it now, Mr. Bunny knows this is a security office, and he doesn't like it when the doors are left carelessly open! I'll just leave them closed and we can be friends through the screens!"

"Well, you're, uh, kind of getting the right idea, it's more like-"

"Oh, the lights just went out for some reason."

"Limited power supply."

"Oh, it's okay, Mr. Bear brought a light for-"

SCREEEEEEEEE!!
"OHMYGOODNESS!!"

"...Yea."

---

"This time, this time I know what to do; Mr. Bunny, Ms. Chicken, and Mr. Bear don't like the door open, but none of them like it when it gets dark, so I just have to-"

SCREEEEEEEEE!!
"AAAAAAA!!"

"Let me guess; that one's name is Mr. Fox."

"I like to call him 'Pirate Dave.'"

---

"Left hall clear, one in the kitchen, dining area clear, right hall is-DOOR! ...Clear. Mr. Dave is still behind the curtain, just have to-"

SCREEEEEEEEE!!
"EEEEEEK!!"

"Um... Look, Squeaky, are you sure you don't wanna do something el-"

"I'm fine!"

"Really? 'Cuz, you're starting to look a little twitchy and-"

"I'm fine! I'll work out their system, and then we'll all be friends! Heeheehee, yes, we'll all be friends, little critters, and by the end of the night, you're going to love me..."

"...I'm scared!"

"Shh!"

---

"We'll have a great time, a great time together, just stay where you are, s-staaaay there, and we'll be fine, everything will be absolutely fine, la-de-de-de-deet-de-da, hahaha! Ohh, where did you go, Mr. Bunny, where did Mr. Bunny gooo? Gosh, I wish I knew where Mr. Bunny went because it's not good when they go places, nonononono, it's not good at all, it's not good at all, why did you go somewhere, Mr. Bunny? Why did you go? Where did you go? Why and where did you go, why did you go to where? Don't you want to have a great time together? We could have a great time together, but not if you- oh, goodie, Mr. Bear is gone too, hahahahaha! That's fine, that's fiiiine, what was that noise? I don't like that noise, I don't like that noise at all, mn-nhn, because that noise means one of them moved again, but I don't see anyone on the cameras, I don't see-"

SCREEEEEEEEE!!
"AAAAAISEETHEMNOW!!"

"